Chapter 67: Starlight

“Without enemy, without backbone.”
– Callowan saying

I didn’t even have to say anything.

Black had been watching me discreetly ever since midnight’s threshold, and a simple nod of acknowledgement did the trick. Unlike me the green-eyed man had no connection to the wards that surrounded the tumulus, but by using me as a tripwire he’d effectively learned of the Peregrine’s arrival mere heartbeats after I did. Just because the man had lost his name hardly meant he’d ceased being perceptive – or dangerous. I slowly rose to my feet, hand reach for my yew staff, and watched from the corner of my eye as the former Black Knight drew away from the circle that’d gathered to listen to an old campaign story of Grem One-Eye’s. Hakram’s eyes found me, silently questioning in the dark, but I shook my head. The fewer people there for those talks the better, for though I trusted Adjutant as I would trust my own hand the Grey Pilgrim had no reason to do the same.  I’d not further muddle the waters of what might already be troublesome talks simply for the base comfort of having Hakram at my side. I slipped away, not unseen of my friends but at least unquestioned, and tread between the dark silhouettes of the stones raised by the ancient Mavii. Far above stars hung in the night sky, pale constellations set in ink. Leather boots creaking against the snow I advanced, the edges of the cloak on my back skimming against smooth stone.

Tariq Fleetfoot stood a few feet further down the slope, upright and steady for such an old man. Robes of faded grey fell loosely down his frame, so used as to be halfway to raggedness, and the last wisps of white hair on his head stood out starkly as he gazed up at the stars. He did not have a staff, the gnarled old thing he’d snapped over his knee as the finishing touch to the Twilight Crown. In the days since that he could have easily found another, I knew, yet he had not. It tasted to me of a loss, something surrendered that would never be had again. None who’d given away their crown would ever find a way to fill that void and the lack of a walking stick was the least of it. Black drifted out of the stones a heartbeat after I did, tread quietly as the long coat he wore trailed behind him. Tariq’s jaw shifted, as I looked, a tensing so slight I might have missed it were I not already studying him. Wariness, I thought. The Pilgrim recognized Black’s footsteps, near silent as they were, and he was wary of the man they belonged to. I knew not what had passed between those two when my teacher was held prisoner, before his soul was mutilated, but the cold spite in the Carrion Lord’s eyes and the strain in Tariq’s shoulders did not speak to anything pleasant. Still, they were both pragmatic men in their own way. Like it or not they were in the same boat, and neither would be inclined to behave in a way that might just tip it over for all of us.

“Your Majesty,” the Pilgrim calmly said. “A beautiful night, isn’t it?”

“Iserre has its beauties,” I acknowledged.

The old hero half-smiled, then turned to dip his head respectfully.

“I invited myself to an evening of comradery, and for that I apologize,” Tariq said.

“You should,” Black noted. “I brought liquor, at least. Is your presence meant to be the gift?”

There was a slight pause, then he muttered heroes in a scathing tone. I sent him a warning look, but he was visibly unmoved. A consequence, I grimly thought, of having me try on those when I’d been a great deal less dangerous than I now was.

“Apologies twofold then, Black Queen,” the Pilgrim lightly replied. “Yet I believed it wiser to have this conversation away from prying eyes, and before too long had passed.”

An opportunity he’d not have again soon, I understood even if he did not spell it out. I was not all that surprised that the Peregrine had somehow slipped past a dozen layers of wards, patrols and watchmen to arrive unseen in the very heart of my camp. He was, after all the, the Grey Pilgrim: appearing sudden and unexpected was his wont, as much a part of his Name as the ashen-coloured robes. But he’d pulled this off because I was apart from the rest of my army, and my watchful patrons. If he’d tried to pull this on the tent where I slept, the Sisters might just have taken offence and good luck trying to keep that quiet.

“You were not unforeseen,” I said. “I require no apology.”

“Your kindness is appreciated,” the old man said. “I received the papers sent by the Lord Adjutant, Queen Catherine. They were… an interesting read.”

Well, it wasn’t like I’d expected the man to gush, slap me on the back and ask where he had to sign. Had I hoped for that, just a little bit? O Night, yes. I was in no way above easy victories when I could have them, which was tragically infrequent. Fingers tight on the dead yew in my grip, I carefully stepped down the slope until I was standing at the hero’s left. Black, never one to allow subtle theatrics to pass him by when they cost nothing, nonchalantly cut through behind me and came to stand at my left. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes, knowing it’d only further entertain him.

“I expect you have questions,” I said.

Objections, too, but best get the clarifications out of the way first.

“Those were not the full text,” the Pilgrim said.

“The simplified manuscript,” I said. “Though no tricks were plied, Peregrine. I did not hide anything I thought might be contentious, only removed the many inkwells’ worth of minutiae that the full treaty will need to properly function.”

“Function,” Tariq repeated, blue eyes crinkling. “Yes, that is the word I was seeking.”

He breathed out, mist rising up easily on such a windless night.

“I have issue, as you must have anticipated, with some of the laws you would set,” the old man said. “Yet that is not so great a thing, for even if your terms were accepted without amendment I would wager the Liesse Accords being harbinger of more good than not.”

The Pilgrim’s already-crease face, wrinkled by long years of saving lives and taking them, grew serious.

“And so I must ask, Your Majesty,” he said, “what it is you intend as the function of your Accords? Their purpose, for I have glimpsed the lay of your work and it is neither salvation nor abolition.”

Oh, that was an ornate way to put it but no less true for that. I’d known from the very moment the thought of the Accords had begun to haunt me that there was only so much I could accomplish through them. It’d be a pretty thing, a treaty that promised a hundred or a thousand years of peace between all who signed it, but that was a fool’s dream. Old Terribilis the Second, the canniest of the Old Tyrants in so many ways, had once said that armies were like water: they took the path of least resistance. The line had stuck with me, even more than the rest of the Commentaries, and I’d seen since that the wisdom of it ran deeper than Terribilis had claimed. People, more often than not, took the path of least resistance. Because it was easier, because it was encouraged, because no one liked to struggle or get hurt. If I raised a dam in the way of our own nature – and, like it or not, people had been waging war one each other since the First Dawn – then perhaps it might hold for a time but it would inevitably break. And perhaps wreak greater destruction than before for the containment attempted. I could not change what lay at the heart of mankind, or orcs, or goblins or even the drow for that matter. I was not even sure the Gods could, and even at my most arrogant I’d never claimed to reach those heights. What I could do, though, was create a set of rules. Not too limiting, lest they be bucked, but limiting enough that never again would a city be broken by the strife of Named.

“I told you the first time we ever spoke,” I said. “What I cannot break-”

“You will regulate,” Tariq softly finished. “I remember. You spoke of your teacher too, that day.”

Black looked mildly curious, eyeing us both.

“He cannot conceive of a word where he does not win, you said,” the Peregrine reminded me.

And this is not a victory, he left unspoken. I’d known that was going to be one of the harder parts to navigate, though, for some time. That the Accords required trust in more than just me on the side of Below’s champions, lest trust in them die when I did. Part of me wondered if my teacher would take as an insult a remark I’d never intended to make it to his ears, though I stood by it still, and I flicked a glance to the side. He did not seem aggrieved, though only a fool would take what could be seen on Amadeus of the Green Stretch’s face as the sum of his thoughts.

“Yet I have lost,” Black said. “Undeniably so.”

I stilled. I’d not expected for him to speak in answer, save perhaps to send the occasional measured barb towards the Peregrine. Indecision warred in my mind, for though the Accords were my creation and I was circumspect of letting my teacher speak to or for them I could not hold them in my arms like some babe in need of soothing. They would grow larger than me, I knew, from the moment they were signed. They must, for if they did not this was no more than some Old Tyrant’s madness: though I would have chosen law and treaties rather than an invisible army or fortresses aflight, the doom of it would be just as certain. And so, though if felt like control of this was slipping through my fingers, I kept my mouth shut.

“Have you?” Tariq mildly asked. “You stand free once more, a leader of armies. Aligned with one of the rising stars of our age, shielded from judgement and assured seat and voice when the lay of this war and what will follow is writ. Have you lost, Amadeus of the Green Stretch?”

Part of me was almost offended on my teacher’s behalf, for I had seen victories of his making and they had little in common with the stuff of these days. Yet there was another quieter voice in the back of my mind that, while not agreeing with the Pilgrim had said, found it was not senseless. For someone who’d been a severed soul mere days ago, Black had returned to a degree of prominence with almost blinding swiftness.  The itch was there to speak up, to intervene, because there was too much riding on this talk and this night for me to feel content in silence. I mastered it with some difficulty, knowing stepping in now might end up disastrous. My teacher had turned to look at the Pilgrim, pale green eyes considering, until he suddenly let out a biting sting of laughter.

“A victory, Peregrine?” he scorned. “This night, this moon, this year? The span of my days I have spent in the service of that searing, fleeting thing that’d even the scales for the smallest of instants and you would claim this to be it?”

The dark-haired man, though those locks now knew white as well, laughed once more. It was a sound like a bag being peremptorily emptied, a cup drunk to the last drop. More will than instinct.

“Those few I love are dropping like flies,” Amadeus of the Green Stretch harshly said. “My kindred atop the Tower spirals ever deeper into old follies and the order I have worked my hand to the bone raising has burst like an overripe fruit. The manner of things that have been lost…”

He shook his head, then smiled. Thin and wide and much too sharp, the blade-smile I’d come to know so well.

“These have been calamitous years, Peregrine,” the Carrion Lord said. “What gains were had always came at too high a price, and while I will not partake of regret neither will I shy from the truth that not a single of those games proved worth the candle.”

“You bleed,” Tariq acknowledged. “You rage, frozen and bitter as that poison is. But you are not cowed. You have ruled, but what do you know of rules? Am I to believe you will now put a yoke around your neck out of sentiment?”

The old hero eyed the aging villain with disdain.

“There is only so much of that in you,” the Pilgrim said. “And it never bore more than a feather’s weight on the scales, Lord of Carrion. I have seen the laws that would be the fabric of the Accords, and I see good in them for even if the children of Above will find their hands bound in some ways it is but a pittance to what it will cost Below’s favoured monsters. You will be stripped of manners of terror and brutality in myriad, forced to measure your wickedness and moderate your cruelties. You will be bound by fetters and told at the edge of the blade that ambitions cannot be without restraint. I see nothing, have seen nothing, in you that would take any of this as more than wasted ink.”

“It must be a pleasant world to live in, where any that stand opposite of you must be either grasping or grasped,” Black smiled. “Either the creature of the Gods Below or their apostle in wickedness – either way, what sin can there be in breaking us?”

He chuckled.

“Well, if I must be wicked to hold regard then wicked I shall be,” the Carrion Lord said, eyes coldly glinting. “I’ll speak for the crooked and cruel, pilgrim of grey, and give you the answer you deman.”

Under starlight the dark-haired man took a dramatic bow, and I could see in the cast if his face that he was relishing this. The chance to speak without measuring every word, considering the consequence on the balance of his Role and Name. To… cut loose, after a lifetime of ironclad control. Praesi, I thought, not entirely without fondness.

“The first conspiracy will bloom,” the Carrion Lord said, “before the ink is dry.”

My fingers tightened. That was not what I had expected of him. Or wanted. He grinned, a slice of pale bone cutting through the dark.

“We will twist around the spirit of every rule while obeying the letter,” the green-eyed man said. “We will lie and cheat and hide our sins, while dragging into light those of our foes and rivals. We will seek to twist the laws as a tool for our ambitions and a sword to slay our enemies. We will hide behind every protection afforded and make red art of the details that save or slay. We will defend our advantages and seek to unmake yours, never once faltering in our callous greed.”

The grin went wider still, a madman’s grin. A challenge.

“And yet we will uphold the Liesse Accords, you broken old thing, and wage war on any that would unmake them,” the Carrion Lord said. “Merciless Gods, you think they tip the scale in your favour? Your entire breed are servants of stillness, shaped from the clay of recoil. You came out victors of the Age of Wonders, but this… Age of Order will be ours body and soul.”

“You are mad,” the Grey Pilgrim said, tone hushed.

“That may well be,” the Carrion Lord laughed, “but am I lying?”

Tariq’s face tightened.

“Peace will smother your kind out of existence,” the old hero said. “This I know and have seen many a time. Under law you will reach too high and pay the price of vainglory.”

“Why now, Tariq Fleetfoot,” the Carrion Lord replied with languid amusement, “that rather sounds like a wager.”

The Levantine’s fingers clenched.

“This could have been a beautiful thing,” he said. “The principles of Good made into law, however slightly. You soil this by your very existence.”

“I have only ever recognized one sin and one grace,” the green-eyed villain replied. “Your whimpering sense of virtue is as dust to me, Peregrine. Choke on it and perish, as you should have decades ago.”

Well, this was just lovely. Still it rung close enough to an accord from both sides that I wouldn’t be interceding for everybody if I stepped in now. You know, before two of the most powerful people on the fucking face of Calernia started pulling each other’s pigtails and calling their Gods a lie. Charming stuff all around, though I’d give it to Black that while he might have been a vicious shit about this he’d at least more or less gotten results.

“Glad to see we’re all friends now,” I said, perfectly willing to keep repeating the sentence louder and louder until objections died out.

Neither of them contradicted me. Well, would you look at that. Maybe they were clever after all.

“I am in agreement with the principle of the Liesse Accords,” Tariq tightly said. “Though when talks are had in Salia, I will argue against the articles I believe to be unsound.”

“I expected no less,” I said.

It was an effort to keep my voice steady, to keep the sheer fucking triumph out of it. Because if Tariq was in agreement with even just the principles of the Accords, then I was pretty sure a majority of living heroes would fall in line. There were probably heroes out there more powerful, but there were none more respected or influential. Getting Below’s side of the fence in order would be trickier, but if Black held the Tower and the Tyrant’s head ended up on a spike? It could be done. The fucking shape was there, now. It could be done. My excitement ebbed, though, when I remembered this conversation was not yet over. And that what we had to speak about might shake the foundations of the rest, if it went poorly. I hesitated on how to bring it up at all, and to hide the indecision reached for my pipe once more. Black gave me a mildly disapproving look.

“Wakeleaf is an ungainly vice,” he said. “One of the few things I ever agreed with Tikoloshe about.”

“I’ve tried that wine you keep bottles of,” I replied, stuffing my pipe, “and I’m not getting a lecture on ungainly vices from a man who regularly drinks something that tastes like rat poison. Muddy rat poison.”

“The mud makes all the difference,” my teacher pleasantly agreed.

I passed my palm over the pipe, black flame bloom amongst the stuffing, and breathed in sharply. Well, indirect talk had never been my strong suit so it was doubtful trying my hand at it now would somehow yield success with the godsdamned Grey Pilgrim of all people. Direct it was, then. I breathed out, let the smoke rise up towards the night sky and took the plunge.

“Pilgrim,” I said, “we need to talk about the Wandering Bard.”

Except I didn’t.

I was, instead, standing to the side of the three people – the Grey Pilgrim, the Black Queen and the Carrion Lord – standing in the starlight and snow as they spoke. I could even see the smoke wafting up from both my mouth and pipe. Shit, I thought.

“Catherine, Catherine, Catherine,” a woman’s voice said, sounding almost pained. “You were so close but now you’re fucking it all up.”

I looked at where the voice had come from – to the side, perched atop one of the raised stones, the Wandering Bard was seated. Slender and dark-haired, with blue eyes and a rather attractive face. The accent, though, I had recognized. Alamans.

“Really,” I said, “Alamans? What, where there no other bodies left?”

The Bard cocked her head to the side, looking surprised and more than a little amused.

“That is uncanny,” she muttered.

Raising a silver flask I’d not seen her grab, she shrugged and took a swallow.

“Right,” the Intercessor grinned after wiping her mouth. “So I’d say it’s about time we had a little chat, you and I.”

204 thoughts on “Chapter 67: Starlight

    1. Stormblessed

      Thank you so much for pointing out the reference to the older chapter. I had forgotten that moment so your comment was able to allow me to better enjoy this chapter.

      Liked by 13 people

    2. You know, it occurs to me that Cat has a newly-vacant gizmo for containing souls, and a couple of dark goddesses handy. The heroes used that very gizmo precisely so they could contain Black without actually killing him… and Bard only teleports when her life is in danger.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Ebert of Alamans, scholar errant

      Far be it from one of my field to inject bias or take offense, but i must admit to being somewhat put out. That aside, on to the subject of the day.

      The impalement and presentation of heads on stakes is a practice as ancient as it is barbaric. The first documentation of this practice is found in a pre-Miezan field journal of an unknown officer prosecuting a series of raids on Orc-held territories. This officer notes that their foes would mount the heads of slain opponents on spears or poles and lightly annoint them with oils and minerals, leaving them in the sun for days before tanking them down. The officer indicated that this had a deleterious effect on morale and supposed it to be psychological warfare.

      In reality, according to “101 Traditional Orcish Recipes” by Sturn Blackhand, the more plausible explanation is that the Orcish nomads were simply preparing the heads to serve as trail rations.

      For more information on the use of display of mutilated bodies to enact political or martial effect, please see my publication, “Two Heads Are Better Than One: Mutilation as a Sociopolitical Tool.”

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Soronel Haetir

    Has she ever been seen to pull this trick before, of pulling people into some in-between space? Certainly she’s been seen to just fade into a conversation but I can’t recall her doing it and not involvig whoever happens to be around.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Yeah, she has been pulling more powers out her ass in recent chapters.
      When she spoke with Amadeus in Epilogue 4, she apparently made it so everyone was asleep and unable to wake up, or maybe stopped time for everyone except Amadeus to have their conversation.
      She was also capable of appearing on Masego’s mind to converse with the Dead King’s fragment that possessed Hierophant, and was visible to Masego too.

      Now she forcefully Astral Projected Catherine while stopping time. She is likely to pull more tricks out of nowhere in future chapters, and since we never really knew her capabilities, it’s just gonna be taken as her revealing powers she had but simply never used before.

      Liked by 5 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Amadeus was under constant observation, it was just that moment when everyone was asleep.
          The Bard explicitly says that “if they were going to wake up, this conversation wouldn’t be happening” and also mentioned taking advantage of Providence.
          She definitely did something.

          Liked by 8 people

          1. Or she didn’t and it was a genuine luck from Below. She basically came to him with a choice of either running away and going on his evil way, or not. The first thing is what he would’ve done, would she not come, and I am pretty sure is also a thing that Below wanted him to do.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. caoimhinh

              Then that would mean an intervention by the Gods Below. She appeared on her formal capacity as Intercessor, not as a Heroine, after all. Either way, that would mean a supernatural factor involved.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. No, no, no, a providence does not require an intervention from Above, and Cat’s been saying something along the lines of “we Villains got our providence too, how would I come by Hakram and others otherwise”.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. Whatever you want to call the mysterious factor that resulted in Black ENTIRELY COINCIDENTALLY coming upon Cat in THE EXACT RIGHT dark alley at THE EXACT MOST DRAMATICALLY APPROPRIATE moment…

                  Liked by 2 people

          2. Thanks for the reminder; I actually don’t think that indicates a direct action, given the wording you’ve cited. I think that indicates something honestly rather scarier. I think Bard is stating – claiming, if you’d prefer to maintain skepticism here – that she was able to read the lay of fate. She didn’t make everyone fall or stay asleep; instead, she was able to appear in exactly the moment or span of time when everyone else in camp would fall or stay asleep naturally. And I would argue that is much, much worse.

            For example, it offers some insight on how her various intercessions have mostly escaped wider notice. Imposing sleep is something that can presumably leave traces that a skilled eye could find. Being able to identify and make use of the exact moment when the conditions she wants will be occurring naturally is, on the other hand, completely and entirely traceless. If that’s something she can do at will… well, fuck.

            Liked by 6 people

            1. caoimhinh

              Here’s a screenshot from that chapter.
              She is ambiguous in her speech, as always, but either way it indicates a supernatural intervention, due to the sheer number of coincidences piled one over the other.
              Amadeus was under constant observation, and kept asleep by spell except for eating and going to the bathroom, plus any Hero would have been able to wake up easily yet they were all sleeping deeply, the spell that kept Amadeus unconscious failed, and the Heroes won’t wake up. That’s not normal, nor simple luck, it’s Providence A.K.A Divine Intervention that messes with Causality.

              All other stuff could be simple luck, but that the Heroes are kept asleep goes beyond it, which is why that’s the thing Amadeus points out as the weirdest and most curious thing.

              Liked by 3 people

            2. > I think Bard is stating – claiming, if you’d prefer to maintain skepticism here – that she was able to read the lay of fate.

              She has said as much outright before… iirc “some of us get a look at the script”. And it’s clear that she gets a lot of milage out of the unlooked-at places and moments — IIRC even one of the heroes was seriously perturbed when she stepped out of his blind spot or suchlike.

              At the same time, I suspect putting the guards to sleep for a few moments wouldn’t be too hard, as long as it only affected Bard being able to have that conversation.

              Liked by 2 people

      1. >When she spoke with Amadeus in Epilogue 4, she apparently made it so everyone was asleep and unable to wake up, or maybe stopped time for everyone except Amadeus to have their conversation.

        What she SAID was that circumstances aligned so nobody would wake up if she wasn’t there, and she was not interfering with that part of the story. Which is slightly more subtle than, , , this, , ,

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Censa

        She didn’t put anyone to sleep. She came from “nowhere” and was inserted into the “story” at a a convenient moment where the heroes keeping Amadeus captive would not wake up. She implies both that the providence of her “role” is at play, and that there’s a chance they could wake up nonetheless. Remember that the bard cannot influence creation directly, or so we’ve been led to believe.

        >“I’m rather more curious as to why none of your fellows have awakened,” he said. “Their senses should be sharper than that.”

        >“If they were going to wake, I wouldn’t be here,” Marguerite shrugged.

        >“Convenient,” Amadeus said.

        >“Eh,” she hedged. “I don’t need to tell you how tetchy providence can get. Even with loaded dice you have to roll.”

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Matthew

        It’s all the same power. Just as she is the same role in different bodies… she has let’s call it, “Voice of the intercessor” which is the ability to have a one on one chat with any character in the story outside of the perception of others.

        It will always be a slightly different mechanism because if it was the same it could be broken.

        Liked by 4 people

          1. Sparsebeard

            Are you sure time stopped? I interpreted it as them still talking and perhaps Bard was puppeting Cat, thus the :

            “You were so close but now you’re fucking it all up.”

            As in, by mentionning her, Cat was giving bard the ability to interfere and mess up the talks…

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Andrew Mitchell

              Yeah, it’s not explicitly stated that time’s stopped, so other interpretations are possible. I think we’ll find out next chapter one way or the other.

              Like

    2. hakureireimu

      I suspect that the Bard always could, and always have been going to the in-between space to spy on other people. The Elves call her the Keeper of Stories, and you need to witness the stories to keep them. So I think that’s how she seems to know everything.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        I read “Keeper of Stories” to mean that she keeps the stories going. But I’ll be the first to admit that could well just be my bias showing because, for a long time, I’ve been saying the Bard’s role is to keep the stories going.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. talenel

    It is beautiful how they both see it as a victory. And how they childishly refuse to accept the other’s interpretation. It’s like two crotchety old men who stubbornly refuse to see from another’s perspective.

    And that ending was so nice. I hate this cliffhanger though.

    “What, where there no other bodies left?”

    Should be were not where.

    Liked by 14 people

    1. >It is beautiful how they both see it as a victory. And how they childishly refuse to accept the other’s interpretation.

      I don’t think that’s what’s happening. Tariq, definitely, but Amadeus is quite literally playing devil’s advocate, and explaining why villains would ever get onboard.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Decius

        Amadeus is playing his own advocate, and explaining why he would get onboard.

        The devils get shafted a little bit by the limitations on summoning devils, but they aren’t expectd to be signatories any more than the angels are.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. >Amadeus is playing his own advocate, and explaining why he would get onboard.

          Y’know except for that literally not being his reason why. His own reasons he actually completely conspicuously leaves out because he’s a drama queen who’s too proud to admit he’s less villainous than Tariq thinks he is

          Liked by 2 people

      2. Amadeus would be playing a devil’s advocate, if he did not happen to both agree and be a devil in the question. I mean he is posturing a little about how “well if I were a bad person (which I am obviously not) I would think something like that”, we all know what he is about. Cat said he can’t conceive a world where he doesn’t win. I am pretty sure years of win streak and moral highground as a physical reality did the same to Tariq. They are really quite eerily similar. All Black sees is how new world will help HIM win. All Tariq sees is how new world will help HIM win. Both are missing the entire point. I am pretty sure Amadeus is not playing a devil’s advocate, he is just explaining how all his life he was fettered and forced to measure his brutality anyway. But Tariq is not wrong in that the establishment of common code of conduct, coupled some basic degree of restraint will really cut Villains population. Because as you can see from history, there were VASTLY more Villains of a “Not Black” kind. And those would not live under Accords. I think Black had forgotten that he is very much an exception to the rule. If Accords enforced will let only Villains of the kind of Black and Malicia (and Aqua, really) live, it would be massive win for a Good TOO.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. >all his life he was fettered and forced to measure his brutality anyway

          Forced? He literally wanted to FORCE EVERYONE ELSE TO. Find me a quote where Amadeus goes “gee I sure wish I could torture some kittens without repercussions”. He tried to give a morality-based rebuttal to Catherine’s point about his shit in Procer, even (if badly)

          >I think Black had forgotten that he is very much an exception to the rule. If Accords enforced will let only Villains of the kind of Black and Malicia (and Aqua, really) live, it would be massive win for a Good TOO.

          Accords will shift the stories, and numerically the Kairos kind of villain will proliferate to balance the scales.

          Oh, it will be a massive win for sanity and prosperity. But that’s Black’s own point, too. “A government is meant to function”.

          He hasn’t forgotten a thing. His own position on the topic is not “I want this because it will help villains win”, although I wouldn’t be surprised if he really could come up with enough arguments for that to genuinely hold up the position, his own position on the topic is “I have worked my entire life to make this happen”.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. “Forced? He literally wanted to FORCE EVERYONE ELSE TO”

            I got an impression that he wanted to do that because they did it wrong, not because there was something wrong with an idea.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. oh hey I found a quote

              >“It is worse than inconvenient,” Black said. “It is flawed. The Wasteland has made a religion out of mutilating itself. We speak of it with pride. Gods, iron sharpens iron? We have grown so enamoured with bleeding our own we have sayings about it. Centuries ago, field sacrifices were a way to fend off starvation. Now they are a staple of our way of life, so deeply ingrained we cling to them given alternative. Alaya, we consistently blunder so badly we need to rely on demons to stay off destruction. We would rather irreparably damage the fabric of Creation than admit we can be wrong. There is nothing holy about our culture, it needs to be ripped out root and stem as matter of bare survival. Forty years I have been trying to prove success can be achieved without utter raving madness

              Sure does strike me as him seeing something wrong with the idea(s) o.o

              Liked by 3 people

              1. Sparsebeard

                I like how Praes’ ways can pretty much serve as a metaphor for the “American” way of life (by which I mean the culture of consumption taken to the extreme, for exemple cars, over-packaging, one-use consumables, meat, etc., no offence meant to americans as this is also the goal of much of humanity outside the USA).

                I mean, for exemple :

                Centuries [Decades] ago, field sacrifices [coal] were a way to fend off starvation. Now they are a staple of our way of life, so deeply ingrained we cling to them given alternative.

                Liked by 3 people

        2. > All Black sees is how new world will help HIM win. All Tariq sees is how new world will help HIM win.

          And thus they both demonstrate why both sides will sign the accords.

          > the establishment of common code of conduct, coupled some basic degree of restraint will really cut Villains population.

          And that’s why there are so few evil people prospering in our own world, with its national laws, WMD treaties, and no capacity to summon devils. /s 😉 Seriously, Amadeus is dead right — villains will work with whatever structure they’re given. Just look how our world’s bullies generally know how to work the rules… and they luurve Zero Tolerance regimes, which let them set up their victims for punishment with no discretion allowed to the authorities.

          Liked by 3 people

  3. Wait. What the fuck.

    Dammit. Wandering Bard strikes again, changing the fucking rules on everybody.

    Progress towards the Accords? At least some. Hopefully, it’ll survive the Intercessor’s interference.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Amadeus knows that lawyers are Evil, hahaha.

      “We will twist around the spirit of every rule while obeying the letter.”

      That sounds about right, the new generation of Villains will be pragmatic, and fight by the way Black taught Catherine in Book 1: Win despite the rules.

      The Heroes, on the other hand, are more likely to be compelled to act on the spirit of the law, and think about the good of the people, what is just, and what is right. It’s exceptions like Pilgrim and Saint who are capable of becoming well-intentioned extremists (like Tariq killing with a plague a whole town to hunt down Black, or Laurence thinking a Crusade without qualms that burns down Procer is the solution for erasing the corruption) and those acts of extremism are explicitly banned by the Accords.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. konstantinvoncarstein

        Yes, the spirit of the law is more important. But if Villains can change, why not Heroes too? The could use Pragmatic Heroism, like the Lone Swordsman.

        Another solution would be an increase in the number of oracular Heroes, would could give an enormous boost to the Good nations and act indirectly.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. konstantinvoncarstein

            He was extremist and an bad person, but he used means not traditionally associated with Good. So we know Heroes can adapt and ignore the spirit of the law for the Greater Good.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. laguz24

              You mean lesser evil, and the extremism and deviation from heroism actually hampered his role. For example, the thief told him that if he kept on acting like a jerk he would get a fate befitting of one, contrition does not give out omniscient morality licenses.

              Liked by 2 people

        1. caoimhinh

          It’s due to their nature.
          A Hero will do what’s right, not what is lawful. Like an activist making a protest, or a Superhero acting as vigilante to catch criminals that the cops won’t.

          A Villain will pursue their own goal, manipulating the laws for it. Like a politician pushing a law that oppresses people or benefits only a certain sector, or an ambitious businessman doing cruel but legal things, like cutting down an area of forest to build stuff there.

          A Villain would refuse refugees at the border and excuse himself in the laws saying he is in no obligation to help, while a Hero would open the border to help the people that are in need, even if the laws said otherwise.

          Catherine is reflecting on such things in this chapter, one can’t change the nature of what lies in the core of people, but can set a scenario for it, a set of rules for that nature to manifest without it going overboard and having two groups of Named nuking it out and taking cities with them.

          William was not a Pragmatic Hero, he was an Anti-hero and not very pragmatic at all. Besides, he was xenophobic, racist, murder-happy and obsessed with both vengeance and penitence. William is the kind of Named that would be put down by the new generation post-Accords.

          It is true that Heroic Named will emerge that will be capable of using the laws to their favor as Villainous Named will do, but those will be a rarer breed.

          Liked by 7 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Indeed. She is not one who cares about Above and Below, after all. What she cares is about the people, she wouldn’t care whether the leader of a nation is Hero or Villain, just that they take care of the nation and don’t fuck up the rest.
          That’s the entire reasoning that led her to join the Legions of Terror in the first place: even if they were the Villain side, they were the ones that offered a chance for a better Callow without furthering the bloodshed beyond the point it had already reached.

          Liked by 6 people

        2. KageLupus

          The best part is, someone is still going to try to summon a demon. The Bad Guys are not going to want to just give up on their magical nukes, and someone is going to be arrogant enough to think that they can summon a demon and keep it hidden from everyone else until they need it.

          But, under the Liesse Accords, *everyone* is going to have a reason to root out and expose people breaking the rules. Heroes because that is what they do, and Villains because it is an easy way to undermine your enemies. I guarantee the first time someone gets caught summoning a demon or breaking one of the other Big Rules under the Accords, it is going to be another Villain that narcs on them.

          Black’s whole argument here is that team Below will use the Accords as a way to scheme against each other, and therefore will self-police instead of all of them just ignoring the rules. Smart Villains will work inside of the law, and will not hesitate to use it to call down angry Heroes on their enemies if they can. And since most Villains are going to be arrogant enough to think they can get away with bending the rules because they are clever, more of them than not will want to stick to the Accords so they can use them.

          It is honestly a pretty beautiful system, since it gives enough people on both sides of the coin a reason to want to join and enforce it.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. >But, under the Liesse Accords, *everyone* is going to have a reason to root out and expose people breaking the rules. Heroes because that is what they do, and Villains because it is an easy way to undermine your enemies. I guarantee the first time someone gets caught summoning a demon or breaking one of the other Big Rules under the Accords, it is going to be another Villain that narcs on them.

            YES.

            >Black’s whole argument here is that team Below will use the Accords as a way to scheme against each other, and therefore will self-police instead of all of them just ignoring the rules. Smart Villains will work inside of the law, and will not hesitate to use it to call down angry Heroes on their enemies if they can. And since most Villains are going to be arrogant enough to think they can get away with bending the rules because they are clever, more of them than not will want to stick to the Accords so they can use them.

            >It is honestly a pretty beautiful system, since it gives enough people on both sides of the coin a reason to want to join and enforce it.

            Yep.

            And it sure answered the more meta question of ‘would Accords work with villains’ but absolutely didnt answer the immediate question of ‘why are you, personally, working on this’

            Liked by 3 people

  4. Hellspirit

    Damn you Friday cliff!!

    But damn this chapter had lot of substance for little settling. Definitely the kind of of chapter that I’m going to need to reread a few times ^^

    Liked by 4 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Thank you~
          I just add the direct link to the image on Imgur. WordPress turns that into a miniature of the image, and clicking on the image sends you to the full size of it.

          Really convenient, I’m fairly sure WordPress didn’t do that before, maybe it’s a recent update?

          Liked by 2 people

  5. WuseMajor

    If they weren’t so inherently dismissive of each other, if they could actually sit down and explain their points of view, if they could actually listen, I suspect that Amadeus and Tariq could develop a level of grudging respect for each other. But I don’t think they’re capable of it.

    So, is this where you’re going to explain that you’ve been training a successor, Bard?

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Decius

        Agreeing to the Accords doesn’t require not hating each other. Following the Accords doesn’t require not hating each other.

        None of Pilgrim’s or Black’s goals are even slightly inconvenienced by them hating each other- while they might both personally WANT to kill the other (again), they both recognize that doing so right now would be counterproductive to their actual goals.

        Liked by 4 people

    1. More like Tariq needs to sit down and listen to Amadeus explaining his point of view.

      And Amadeus needs to stop being a pissy 5 year old and actually explain his point of view even if it makes him look better (he won’t)

      Liked by 3 people

        1. No, I mean better.

          He would have to construct an argument along the lines of “actually I don’t WANT to summon eldritch monstrocities and commit atrocities” and that is, y’know, far too close to ‘trying to justify himself’ for him to not be too proud to do so.

          Liked by 2 people

    2. caoimhinh

      At some point, those two are gonna have to sit down, share some bad liquor and have a long and heated but honest debate like the old philosophers of yore.

      Then they can go back to continue hating each other, but at least with more understanding of each other.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ah, but for that, Amadeus has to be willing to defend his point of view and present himself in better light.

        I’d say ‘pigs will fly first’ but pigs HAVE flown in Guide, so , , , MAYBE???

        Liked by 2 people

    3. laguz24

      No, I think by mentioning the wandering bard it gives her the power to do this by making her plot-relevant and here is where she throws her spanner in the works.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. edrey

    so the bard is more powerfull than angels and lesser gods to just take cat from her body without anyone noticing? especially the sisters. well that is scary, what you would expect of the equal of the dead king

    Liked by 4 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Probably she has access to some advantage due to working for both sides of the Gods.

      The good thing is that she apparently can’t hurt others directly, or at least that has been the pattern so far, she could just be restraining herself and actually capable of fighting.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. mavant

      I think this is just “specific trumps general” in play. You don’t have to be more powerful, just more specialized. I don’t know the name of the tvtropes page for that but I’m sure there must be one.

      Liked by 6 people

  7. caoimhinh

    Ah, Tariq, that short-sightedness is why Amadeus disdains you so much. Once again we are shown that the old Heroes didn’t even turn their gaze towards Callow until Akua’s Folly and they were summoned for the Tenth Crusade (which Catherine already reprimanded Pilgrim about). If he had paid attention and knew Praes and Callow situation of the last couple of decades, he would know why Amadeus laughs.

    All one has to do is look back at the last decades of Praes and one will see that it already operates without “Below’s favoured monsters”. Praes was be stripped of manners of terror and brutality in myriad by Amadeus (and Alaya too), who forced the Legions of Terror to measure their wickedness and moderate cruelties. The current Legions are no rapist, sackers nor blind hordes of killers, they are soldiers that obey laws and codes of regulations with strict discipline. Praes stopped using Demons since Amadeus rose, the whole reason the Conquest happened was because they left behind the old methods of monsters, wickedness and senseless cruelty.

    That’s why Amadeus now laughs at Tariq thinking Villains will be weakened under the Accords’ laws. He is living proof that that is the real way to lasting victory. Pragmatic Villains fighting wars in the way Black and Cat have are gonna be kicking the Heroes’ collective assess.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. edrey

      that because he doesnt have the knowledge beyond his little stories, the Yan tei should be beyond his understanding, ruled by heroes and villains at the same time

      Liked by 5 people

    2. konstantinvoncarstein

      The Accords gives and edge to the side of Good, because so they don’t have to worry about flying fortresses or zombie plagues. Now that the danger come from another direction (tactics and strategy), they just have to adapt their methods and use their resources accordingly.

      Pragmatic villainy allows Villains to win only if they are more clever than the opposing side.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Honestly, I don’t think the balance will tilt either way, because the balance was ALWAYS enforced by narrative luck. If heroes get less of an object level disadvantage they’ll just start getting less providence to make up for it.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. Shveiran

          That’s a clever read, and you may be right.
          It never occurred to me that this was the cause of the heroes’ luck, but it is possible… I’m not sure that’s how it works, though. Maybe that’s something more linked to Above

          Liked by 3 people

      2. Decius

        Flying fortresses and zombie plagues aren’t a weakness of Good.

        Every. Single. Attempt. Failed.

        Flying fortresses, zombie plagues, and the like are a weakness of Evil, in that they always create a BandOfFiveHeroes which will defeat them, and the BigBad ends up being the person who uses them.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Shveiran

          Long term, which is how Cat and Black thinks, yes.

          From the point of view of heroes and, you know, people, Villains get to do all this crazy stuff that allows them to interact with the world and change it large scale and also cause massive destruction.

          It’s easy to see why Cat and Black don’t mind giving up the flying fortresses and the zombie plagues, but… it’s not hard to see why the Good guys would be quite happy to see them go, either.

          Liked by 6 people

      3. You’re assuming Good cares about mortal intelligence and power beyond controlling and limiting it. A very common theme of Good is stripping away power, not giving it. Named aside. Like how most Good nations limit sorcery and not just the harmful stuff. Procer bans magical healing and they are far from the most fanatical followers of Good.

        Villains accuse Good of being stiff and stagnant for good reason. It is actively opposed to change or improvement, even the benign kind. Good reacts to Evil with violence and sometimes saves lives, it doesn’t actually do much good for people. Heroes that change the world for the better instead of just ‘saving it’ or healing it are basically non-existent.

        On the opposite side of the coin, as mad as the Highlords are, they have managed to gain their people decades of natural lifespan and a ridiculous percentage of ‘gifted’. Things Good would never ever let their followers have. Inventor and mage Names are both the providence of Below.

        Night is about improving, becoming stronger and more skilled. Light is about enforcing the existing order, it heals and weakens.

        Praes has been wasting their talents on attempted conquests. A sane and peaceful Praes is much scarier. Malicia knows this.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. “Like how most Good nations limit sorcery”

          Like how? Procer just had them lose in a power struggle and just being Jaquinites in general. Ashur suffred from a terrible case of overspecialising. Levant is weird in every way already, plus I am pretty sure being a mage and not a Binder is a disresprect for the Honored Ancestors.

          “Procer bans magical healing”

          That’s just greed, I am afraid Gods don’t give a duck.

          “Villains accuse Good of being stiff and stagnant for good reason.”

          I’d argue that. It is also the case of “but if we could experiment on people, we would move science so MUCH FASTER”. The problem is that extremes suck. Always. Accords attempt to tone them down.

          “it doesn’t actually do much good for people. Heroes that change the world for the better instead of just ‘saving it’ or healing it are basically non-existent.”

          True. You will find Villains doing same as even more non-existent. That is not, in fact, a coincidence.

          “On the opposite side of the coin, as mad as the Highlords are, they have managed to gain their people decades of natural lifespan and a ridiculous percentage of ‘gifted’.”

          And also they managed to make their agroculture run on human sacrifice. Good stuff all around. I am sure they don’t sacrifice Highborn though. And I mean, not like eugenics is, dunno, inhumane. I wonder why noone tries it though… Makes you think.

          “Inventor and mage Names are both the providence of Below.”

          First is a baseless speculation, second is an outright lie.

          “Night is about improving, becoming stronger and more skilled.”

          laughs in drow

          “Praes has been wasting their talents on attempted conquests.”

          It has. And it kept them weak. While Good tried to fight the symptoms instead of the problems. And it kept them weak.

          I have no idea what you trying to say there. Good being stiff and judgemental is the same as Evil being mad and self-destructive. One is forbidding science in a fear of making an atom bomb, another is jury-rigging one and blowing it in your backyard for funsies. You will notice that neither i a very productive way of living. That is not, in fact, a coincidence. Just a different way to keep people in check. A game where the only way to win, is not to play, but you can’t win if you don’t play. Ingenious.

          But make no fucking mistake. Evil is not good.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. I wasn’t trying to compare the two from a moral standpoint. I got a little off topic but the point was a peaceful world with rules of behavior on named benefits Evil societies far more than Good ones because it would restrain their worst impulses, protect them from (some) meddling kids and allow them to advance science and sorcery more smoothly.
            They are by nature more competitive and driven. They adapt and grow naturally where Good does not.

            Liked by 2 people

        2. >You’re assuming Good cares about mortal intelligence and power beyond controlling and limiting it.

          Huh. Actually, this is a topic that should probaby be discussed more: what do you think is the point of the wager? Like, what is it they are actually betting ABOUT?

          >Like how most Good nations limit sorcery and not just the harmful stuff. Procer bans magical healing and they are far from the most fanatical followers of Good.

          …source????

          Liked by 2 people

        3. laguz24

          I do agree, and that is one of the reasons I have problems with the white knight. He got his name through the failures of mortal justice and he leaves it alone. He does not try to change anything or do anything to make things better for people like his mother. In fact, he helps it continue via protecting the systems from crucibles that force change.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. >he helps it continue via protecting the systems from crucibles that force change.

            What crucibles that force change?

            Your daily reminder that absolutely no-one outside of Praes has any clue about what Amadeus has been doing with its internal politics and economic structure, and from the point of view of every single outsider he’s just classic villain #194 Now With Some More Competence.

            We will have to see Hanno’s reaction to the Accords, first 😀

            Liked by 2 people

              1. ninegardens

                He will no judge them… but if they put restrictions on what he can do, is this going to be a problem for him (or the Choir he represents).

                Come to think of it… what are the rules regarding Angelic advice/patronage? You can’t drop a Angelic mindbomb, but do the accords Forbid Hanno and Tariq getting Angelic feedback….

                I feel like this was commented on… should check it out.

                Liked by 2 people

    3. I think there’s a bit more to it, too.

      >“It must be a pleasant world to live in, where any that stand opposite of you must be either grasping or grasped,” Black smiled. “Either the creature of the Gods Below or their apostle in wickedness – either way, what sin can there be in breaking us?”

      Yes, then Amadeus proceeds to make the point of the wager villains will make on this.

      But first? First he’s bitter, that Tariq is unwilling or unable to see the true victory that he is after.

      (You could have explained, Amadeus. But you didn’t and you never will because you’re proud and you’re bitter and you won’t)

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Shveiran

        (also, because he doesn’t believe anyone would listen and based on what we have seen so far I’M NOT SURE HE’S WRONG; that may change in the future, sure, but the tricky part of the future is that it hasn’t happened yet.)

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Like, yes, for a truthteller Tariq is an incredible dumbass and incredibly awful at parsing implications of what he sees.

          You know how you get around that? You say clear, unambiguous, literal truth, plainly, explicitly and at length, and have him verify that everything you say is exactly correct.

          It’s not like Amadeus doesn’t know how to work truthtelling to his advantage!..

          Liked by 3 people

          1. caoimhinh

            That’s the problem with Tariq, he won’t consider that truth as being correct, just “this is what you believe”.
            That has been his way of reacting to those uncomfortable truths ALL THE TIME, ever since Catherine first met him and told him that she would open passage to Praes if that’s what the Crusade was after, or when she told him that Amadeus was a reasonable person that would listen to offers and proposals of change for the betterment of Praes.
            He said that too, when Catherine first told him that the Bard is also a servant of Below “I’m sure it seems that way to you but…”
            And in this chapter, when Amadeus told him that Evil would obey the Accords and actually benefit from it, Tariq refuses to believe it, and when Amadeus further elaborates, Tariq’s response is calling him a madman.

            We can’t forget that despite everything, Tariq is a religious fanatic.
            His creed and calling may be to the alleviation of suffering and pulling from that angle can get him to act in many ways, but he still stubbornly refuses to accept truths that go against his worldview, even if the Angels tell him that the person speaking is not lying, Tariq will just go “you just think this is true, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually true”

            Liked by 1 person

            1. >That’s the problem with Tariq, he won’t consider that truth as being correct, just “this is what you believe”.

              He was asking about Amadeus’s motivations. That is what I am saying Amadeus COULD and SHOULD have explained, BUT DIDN’T, because he is a DISASTER. When Amadeus goes on an impassioned speech, everyone tends to believe him even without truthtelling, and body does he have things to say about old-school villainy and collateral damage…

              …but of course he will not say them in a way targeted to make a hero’s opinion of him higher. Never!

              Liked by 2 people

          2. Shveiran

            Being a truthteller doesn’t make someone willing to listen.
            The problem is, if enough distrust is thrown around, the “Saint” argument is impossible to disprove. You can always find a way to twist someone’s words and assume the worst of them… or assume you didn’t find a way because they are very clever, but they still have a vicious objective.

            I mean, really, I’m not sure their previosu chat even counted; this may be the first instance were an honest discussion between the two is possible, and I’m not totally positive Tariq is ready to listen still.

            Could Amadeus be more proactive? Sure, no arguments there.
            I’m just saying… there is a point where the opposition is too much to overcome with honest proactivity. That’s how we got the Keter arch, and though Winter may have played a part in the way she chose out of it, the corner Cat was backed in by Tariq and Cordelia was very real.
            And they are they reasonable ones!

            Liked by 2 people

      2. caoimhinh

        He wasn’t bitter that Tariq couldn’t see the victory Amadeus is after, he was bitter at the Hero’s attitude of self-righteousness. That paragraph was a call to the Heroes’ pretense that they can do anything they want because they are the Good Guys, the pretense that the world is black & white, and the ignorance of thinking that all Villains are the same.

        Amadeus has twice explained things to Tariq, both on the reactive nature of Narrative and Heroics, and how being Villain and Hero does not determine someone’s actions. But Tariq still refuses to accept it, because those are uncomfortable and painful truths, a hard pill to swallow.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Dainpdf

    Bit of an odd point: they’re both arguing their side would keep to the rules… because they would be winning. This doesn’t really support the stability of the Accords, because both seem to be saying that if their side does start to lose they would drop the Accords like a hot potato.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Not exactly.

      Tariq claims that Villains won’t abide by the Accords, that whenever they try to obey laws they grow discontent and break the rules. However, he believes that if the Accords were to be obeyed then the Heroes would still win, as it severely limits the Villains’ side, far more than it limits the Heroes’ side.

      Amadeus, on the other hand, is happy with the Accords because they regulate Villany and force them to be pragmatic, and he has been the greatest example of that as a winning strategy for decades. So he laughs with disdain at Tariq, because Pilgrim has apparently not been paying attention to the way Amadeus and Catherine win their battles.

      Liked by 14 people

      1. Decius

        Tariq correctly identifies that there will be Villains who break the rules. What Tariq does not say he sees is that there will be many Villains who follow the rules and will be happy to use that rulebreaking as a reason to kill those Villains and take their stuff, with the full assistance of the heroes who also follow the Accords.

        There will also be Heroes who ignore the rules. The same Villains who follow the rules will get assistance from the Heroes who follow the rules to hunt down the chaotic Heroes, kill them, and take their stuff.

        Having a primary behavior of “If I can get away with it, kill people and take their stuff” is not something a Good person can have, and so that provides a benefit to Evil Named who follow the Accords.

        Oversimplified, I know, but also reduced to archetypes.

        Liked by 6 people

    2. Cicero

      At first that would be the case. But as time goes on, and no one remembers any other way of doing things, there will be some stability lent merely by the weight of tradition.

      Of course, every once in awhile a villain or hero will arise that see that breaking the rules could gain them greater victory, but will they be able to persuade enough of the other heroes or villains to believe the same?

      If someone ends up breaking the accords it will be the heroes, because the villains will be too difficult to unify. Yet the very nature of heroism makes rule breaking difficult in the first place. If it happens it will be under the banner of an anti-hero… and that might empower villains as well.

      Liked by 7 people

  9. IDKWhoitis

    If Kairos is allowed to lay a single filthy mitt on the Accords, he can assure a great deal of tomfuckery down the line for champions of Below. With very precisely worded vague laws, to allow for some creative reinterpretations down the line.

    Ex. “While The Accords prohibit the usage of Class IV and above devils in mortal conflict, it does not specifically prohibit using Class IV and above devils to combat other Class IV devils that happen to be in the nearby vicinity. Since entities on both sides are technically immortal, although what happened to that city caught in the middle is a great shame, this case is not subject to protections under § 66 of Devil Usage, Subsection C, clause i.”

    I would imagine Hierarch would be a good Supreme Court Judge, he is fairly impartial, and his belief in the power of law is strong enough to make reality scream in agony at the twisting. He also seems to have a fairly decent understanding of laws, systems, and the roles of government.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      Catherine, Tariq and Cordelia will be watching the text like hawks, ready to prevent such loopholes to be created. And Kairos would be alone against 4.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        You forget Black and Hierarch will/may be aiding him. Also, Good™ has to let some stuff pass on purpose, because actually banning too many things will not give Villains a reason to follow it at all. There will be several cases of enforcement that are too hard to ascertain or just plain impossible to check and enforce. In those cases, just outright banning the practices will erode the authority of the rest of the Accords, just like have unenforceable mortal laws.

        And you can’t ever be sure with Kairos, he could easily move around a couple commas on the last draft, certify he changed no words, and cause a shitshow later on. (did you ever hear of the 5 million dollar case over a missing comma?)

        Liked by 5 people

        1. konstantinvoncarstein

          No, I didn’t know of it🙃 But everyone will check anything that Kairos touches to prevent this.

          I was specifically speaking about the loopholes concerning the use of devils. Black will not accept this kind of things. But yes, maybe Hierarch will.

          Liked by 4 people

        2. >You forget Black and Hierarch will/may be aiding him.

          Seriously? You seriously think Amadeus would help Kairos fuck up the Accords? Mr “I would ban diabolism if I thought it was enforceable”?

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Decius

            Yes. Black would totally leave in a loophole for something that gave him a net advantage down the line. Not for diabolism, because he doesn’t think that would give him an advantage.

            But if Named are forbidden to rule, the Emperor cannot be a Named. The Chancellor, or Viceroy however, are not rulers.

            Liked by 1 person

              1. Yeah, they definitely hate each other’s guts. Remember how literally the first thing Catherine said on meeting Kairos for the first time was “wow, he [meaning Black] must have wanted to kill you so much“? And how Kairos’ speech to Hierarch when he was having his Name inflicted on him included a whole segment where he’s basically raving about how much he hates Black? Those two will share a common point of view when Hell freezes over, maybe.

                Liked by 5 people

            1. >gave him a net advantage down the line

              Gave him a net advantage for what? Keeping a functioning government (his actual goal)? Accords do that without loopholes, he wouldn’t want them destabilized.

              Liked by 4 people

          2. To be completely fair, Kairos was not caught using diabolism, nor were his underlings. After all, Demons are many things, but fun they are not. Unless there is a Demon of Humor.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. erebus42

              That sound’s both terrifying and awesome, but I think EE could pull it off. Honestly, his and Wildbow’s awesomely existentially horrifying demons are probably some of my favorite monsters in fiction and I kinda hope we get to see a bit more of them before this story is through.

              Liked by 3 people

  10. Silverking

    …You know, I’m not sure if Bard is actually for or against the Accords. Namely because she doesn’t seem to have skin in the game either way. Cat wants lasting peace for her country, Pilgrim wants to prevent unnecessary suffering, and Black wants Good to finally be held accountable to the same set of rules as Evil (no more “bargains with Evil can be ignored whenever”). Bard, on the other hand, might just be…apathetic. The Accords are a plot device, a gimmick, something that Story and the ravages of time can bolster, exploit, or destroy as necessary. The welfare of the people and the sovereignty of nations are as dust; all Bard cares about is to keep the game of Above and Below going, and the Accords don’t explicitly block that. On the other hand, if the Accords fall through, the game will continue regardless.

    No, as of right now, the only real value the Accords have to Bard is that they are something that a few of the chess pieces are willing to agree to as part of the Epic Clash against the Eternal Enemy, and (more importantly) something that the slippery Cat is willing to bend over backwards to keep alive.

    Liked by 10 people

      1. Shveiran

        There is a lot of speculation about the Bard, right now.
        For instance, I’m pretty sure her role is to ensure the struggle between the two sides never dies down, and is thus very much against anything that brings both sides to the table and agrees on rules of engagement.

        We shall wait and see, I suppose.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. >Bard, on the other hand, might just be…apathetic. The Accords are a plot device, a gimmick, something that Story and the ravages of time can bolster, exploit, or destroy as necessary.

      I think the Gods are, for the reasons you outlined. That doesn’t mean Bard necessarily is (and I don’t mean she’s against 😀 )

      Liked by 3 people

  11. Mammon

    Wandering Bard: And then I appear at the exact right time to stop Cat to talk about me and only cement my awesome ability to manipulate in the story. Because the sisters aren’t actively watching this or intervening, they won’t be a bother. And with Pilgrim still on my side there won’t be anyone powerful enough around to interfere.

    Rumera: No.
    *Appears and slaps WB up the head with a rolled up newspaper. Which is a slab of stone because there’s too little wood in the Underdark to use paper for such a task.

    Mr. Silent Steps: No.
    *Grabbed her silver flask unnoticed a few moments ago, filled it with mushroom beer, pocketed it back to her, and now flicks her forehead dismissively*

    Mighty Jindrich: I cannot actually feasibly sneak up on you, but I’m powerful and enough of a public favourite to make an appearance nonetheless!
    *Dramatically bursts through a nearby wall and body-slams her with no subtlety.*

    Masego: No.
    *The rest around the fire pit quizzically look at him suddenly speaking up, and a few minutes later wonder where that smell of fae-fried flesh comes from.*

    Scribe: No.
    *Has been here the entire time, throws away the newspaper she prepared to borrow Rumera’s one and smacks WB up the head with it again.*

    Liked by 5 people

  12. Aotrs Commander

    Why is everyone assuming Black was speaking for villains? He said the wicked, that includes a LOT of the heroes as well. FRACK’S SAKE, Pilgrim, you OWN POEPLE butcher people over every slight, let alone Procer is just one big pile of knives and power-brokering only marginally less sharpened than Praes itself!

    If Taric was ever under the delusion that no-one would ever rules-layer the accords, or that only the “villains” would, he clearly hasn’t paid attention to anything that has ever happened in every nation ever in Calernia’s entire history.

    “This could have been a beautiful thing!” HAH! For someone who is supposed to be Discount!Gandalf, you are as naive as a child, Pilgrim. And dangerously so.

    Also, fuck you, WB.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. >If Taric was ever under the delusion that no-one would ever rules-layer the accords, or that only the “villains” would, he clearly hasn’t paid attention to anything that has ever happened in every nation ever in Calernia’s entire history.

      >“This could have been a beautiful thing!” HAH! For someone who is supposed to be Discount!Gandalf, you are as naive as a child, Pilgrim. And dangerously so.

      Agreed. That was kind of tragically pathetic of him, I genuinely expected he’d see the ‘and everyone will rules-lawyer the fuck out of this’ thing coming 1000 miles away. Did he not pay any attention at all to Kairos’s rise? He probably didn’t, did he. This is the same man who went “wait, people can do… both good AND evil depending on whether someone’s in their in-group or out-group? what sorcery is this?” at 30+yo.

      And he completely missed what Amadeus was bitter about, and completely 100% took his act as “mwahahaha watch me be the devil” at face value.

      Like, god, wow. He was making a point, Tariq, not actually proposing you a wager. And you call yourself a truthteller?

      Liked by 7 people

          1. Depends on the system being used.
            Some have flaws/negative qualities that one can take that basically mean lolnope to trying certain things.
            And I’m pretty sure Tariq doubled down and took all of them when it comes to “understanding other people”.

            Dude is seriously clueless. And if he didn’t have the Ophanim riding shotgun in his skull, I’m pretty sure he’d be long since dead because of it, even with the survivability benefits of being a Hero.

            And he’s got a power that literally lets him see people’s true motivations and desires. Not that it seems to help him much. He’s so dependent upon it that his “skills” without it have atrophied, and even with it, he’s really bad at using what it gives him.

            It’s a damn good thing that he realizes he’d be a shit ruler and has stayed away from getting stuck with the job.

            Liked by 3 people

              1. Hence the quotation marks around the word “skills”.

                Although he did manage to have an apparently long running affair with the ruling noble of another city. Though maybe that’s because she smacked him with a large enough clue bat enough times.

                Liked by 3 people

                  1. Well, his ability to deal with people without constantly leaning on Behold is basically gone.

                    For that matter … his iteration of the Behold is an always-on, passive, Aspect, though considering how much the Ophanim like him, there might be active functions to it as well.

                    Huh. Now I kind of want to know what he got himself into that he got Behold as an Aspect. Because I’m pretty sure it is in his second Aspect slot, and his first Aspect was the one all the Grey Pilgrim’s have had – the star one, Shine, I think it is.

                    Liked by 3 people

                    1. We know that, it was in his extra chapters. He faced his brother and didn’t know how to figure out if he really killed their sister, so he prayed for angelic guidance. Other highlights of the extra chapters include him being genuinely surprised someone can be good to their own people and shit to outsiders, at 30+ yo.

                      So, yes, he was always like this.

                      Liked by 3 people

      1. ninegardens

        I mean… he probably DID expect people to rules lawyer the accord’s…. he just didn’t realize that the game of rules lawyering would be enough to keep the “Villians” playing by the rules.

        Black is pointing out that the rules make a new battlefield and Villians are going to screw with each other and you on the new battlefield. Grey was simply thinking “Sure, they’ll probably rules lawyer AND cheat AND simply ignore the rules… how in the hell are we going to enforce any of this… why would someone accept such extreme constraints.”.

        I mean… we understand Black, but I’m not going to fault Grey for the fact that he’s spent his lifetime fighting monsters that make Kairos look calm and composed. Even if Black isn’t representing himself, he is representing something that Grey knows to exist… and Grey has been on the recieving side of Black’s most ruthless tendencies (And, to be fair, vice versa).

        Liked by 4 people

      2. erebus42

        Yeah, consistantly being told you’re on the side of “good” and that you and yours have the moral high ground in any given situation simply on principle combined with a pretty high win streak to act as validation from the universe will certainly lead one to have a pretty simplistic and warped perspective on things.

        Liked by 4 people

  13. ““I can’t,” he quite reasonably pointed out. “Small steps… what happens to be your name, at the moment?”

    “Marguerite of Baillons,” the Bard replied.

    He snorted.

    “Alamans, truly?” he said. “Were all the other bodies taken?””

    ““Catherine, Catherine, Catherine,” a woman’s voice said, sounding almost pained. “You were so close but now you’re fucking it all up.”

    I looked at where the voice had come from – to the side, perched atop one of the raised stones, the Wandering Bard was seated. Slender and dark-haired, with blue eyes and a rather attractive face. The accent, though, I had recognized. Alamans.

    “Really,” I said, “Alamans? What, where there no other bodies left?”

    The Bard cocked her head to the side, looking surprised and more than a little amused.

    “That is uncanny,” she muttered.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Cap'n Smurfy

      I believe this chapter can be best summarized as follows.

      Pilgrim: “Laws and Rules will make the world a better place for Good.”
      Black: “You think Laws will help Good? Bitch please, we’ll ruleslawyer the Hells out of you”
      Cat: “Can we just not?”
      Bard: “Sure”
      Cat: “Oh God’s damnit!”

      Liked by 8 people

        1. ninegardens

          Thanks heaps.

          Also, while re-reading that …

          >> “That seems unnecessary,” Amadeus said. “I am, after all, entirely at your power.”
          “Pilgrim’s orders,” the Rogue Sorcerer said.
          “That is unfortunate,” the dark-haired man said. “It is not too late to save your parents.”
          – Epilouge 4
          Along with….

          >. Roland finished the last syllable of the incantation he’d begun, protective panes of translucent sorcery forming around Indrani’s body. Too late to be of use even presuming they would have held, which the Pilgrim doubted. Tariq did need to look at the young man’s face to know it had gone ashen, burning guilt flaring at the thought of having been too slow. A loss tied to deeper fears, fears that Tariq could do nothing to soothe away. To meddle too much in the conflict that lay at the heart of Bestowal was a danger to all involved….
          -Reverberation.

          Interesting…..
          Rouge Sorcerer HATES being too late.

          How the Hell did Amadeus KNOW that.
          …. I’m wondering if Roland’s parents are locked up in the tower or something…

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Andrew Mitchell

            > Interesting….. Rouge Sorcerer HATES being too late.

            > How the Hell did Amadeus KNOW that. …. I’m wondering if Roland’s parents are locked up in the tower or something…

            Good pickup. I suspect Amadeus (via Scribe) had previously (before the battle in the Vales) learned about the Rogue Sorcerer and his drives.

            Liked by 2 people

  14. Cap'n Smurfy

    I believe this chapter can be best summarized as follows.

    Pilgrim: “Laws and Rules will make the world a better place for Good.”
    Black: “You think Laws will help Good? Bitch please, we’ll ruleslawyer the Hells out of you”
    Cat: “Can we just not?”
    Bard: “Sure”
    Cat: “Oh God’s damnit!”

    Liked by 4 people

  15. Daniel E

    This could be a perfect Scooby Doo moment. Bard pulls off her mask, revealing.. *gasp* She was General Abigail this whole time! On a serious note, where do we stand on the theory that Bard is effectively the Story incarnate?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      I don’t know about “The Story” (there are, after all, LOTS of stories) but I’m fairly sure that the Bard’s purpose is to keep the stories going.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Bard is a person, and ‘the story’ is a law of the universe. It’s like saying someone is an incarnation of gravity – I’m just genuinely not sure what the fuck that means and what the implications are, practically speaking?

      Liked by 1 person

  16. JJR

    ““Why now, Tariq Fleetfoot,” the Carrion Lord replied with languid amusement, “that rather sounds like a wager.””

    Interesting way to put it, seeing as how creation itself is apparently to determine a wager between the gods.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s not ‘a way to put it’, it’s a direct reference. What Amadeus is saying is, basically, “you cannot assume the villains will see the same cause-effect chain here as you, because the disagreement on that is the core of the difference in the first place”.

      And then Tariq throws a micro-tantrum about it because… I’m genuinely not sure why. Did he visualize the Accords as getting rid of all villains forever period? What the fuck is this ‘could be beautiful without your existence’ image?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. laguz24

        You just gave me an idea. What if the fey world was a world where the gods above and below created what the opposites did. The winter fey was rule-bound to act despicable and evil without reference to motive. The summer fey was obnoxious and rule enforcers without any reference to morality. these were essentially stereotypes from the other side below does not recognize morality and views power before ideals while above believes ideals come first and power is later given.

        Liked by 4 people

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