Chapter 68: Apropos

“A good liar finds every lie a fetter.”
– Arlesite saying

It shouldn’t be possible, I thought. How did this somehow not qualify as direct intervention? I was looking at myself standing between the Peregrine and the Carrion Lord, smoke coming up from my pipe hanging still in the air like it’d been frozen stiff. The Bard had what, stolen my soul out of my body under the nose of Sve Noc and slowed the flow of time to a crawl? Considering anything sorcerous touching upon time was known to be requiring the kind of power that’d break a kingdom to steal away a mere heartbeat this had to be a Name thing, but even if that proved true this was… My fingers clenched. No, Cat, you damned fool, I grimly thought. You’re looking for a heavy-handed miracle when this one’s the reigning queen of smoke and mirrors. I’d stood here before, though I’d been brought into such a folded moment by another old monster’s will. The difference was that the Dead King preferred titanic scenes – an old crusade assaulting the walls of Keter, the chaotic field some had already taken to calling the Princes’ Graveyard – while the Intercessor had subtler tastes. A lighter touch that hinted at powers she likely did not possess, but who could know for sure? Some sardonic jest at my expense, or an attempt to rattle me?

“Going in circles, are we?” the Bard drawled. “That’s fine. We got time, Cat.”

This was an illusion, I thought, or perhaps a memory made into something both more and less. Yet it was exquisitely woven, I’d admit, for the silhouette of the Intercessor perched atop the old stone was flawlessly touched by the cast of starlight that could not truly exist. The shoddy lute on her lap, more driftwood than instrument, was as much one of her signatures as the shining silver flask in her hand. This thing of many faces and a hundredfold in years, there were some who might call it a god. One that sat astride the boundary between the Gods and Creation, like some fickle high priestess of inscrutable designs. And for all that Kairos Theodosian had whispered in my ear secrets of her nature, there was still much more that remained unknown to me.

“So it seems,” I finally said. “What name do you happen to go by these days, Almorava?”

“Marguerite of Baillons, at your service,” the Bard said, bowing foppishly.

“Does it not get tedious?” I curiously asked. “Trading names and faces so often?”

“You’d be surprised what people can get used to,” the Intercessor said, then looked me up and down. “Or maybe not. You’ve had an interesting few years, haven’t you?”

“Same as you,” I calmly replied. “Heard you a little spot of trouble down south. Tyrant’s a tricky one, eh?”

“You get a particularly sharp one every few centuries,” Marguerite nonchalantly admitted. “Mind you, that boy’s not making it to thirty.”

I don’t think he’s trying all that hard to, I thought. I did not voice it, though, for though Kairos Theodosian was my foe and had betrayed me many a time – and would again, given occasion – I would still choose him over the Intercessor every time.

“Is this a warning, then?” I mildly asked. “That I need to fall in line if I want to make it to that age?”

She laughed, dark-haired and blue-eyed and looking frightfully young for what I knew her to be. Barely out of girlhood, and on such an ancient creature that was almost obscene.

“Shit, Cat, you think this is what – some kind of intimidation racket?” she grinned. “Behave now, young girl. No more slaughtering your enemies or I’ll slap your buttocks with a wooden branch.”

Her tone was gently mocking, though her face turned serious quickly enough.

“This is a favour I’m doing you, Catherine,” the Wandering Bard said. “Because you’re trying real hard to do some good and it might even work. If you stop getting in your own way, just the once.”

Ah. So we were starting with the friendly, smiling face then. Like I’d swallow that.

“I do make it a point of always believing ambiguous immortal creatures without question, when they assure me they’re doing me a favour,” I prettily smiled. “So, do I need to sign something before you take my soul or will a spoken bargain be enough?”

I winked exaggeratedly.

“For the first of my three wishes-” I began.

“You really are a terrible asshole,” the Intercessor said, almost admiring. “Hells, I bet even Nessie gets a little vexed at times and he’s gotten pretty hard to ruffle over the millennia.”

I was never going to get those wishes, was I? The disappointment only grew with the passing of years.

“You would know,” I smiled.

A heartbeat passed as she studied me.

“Spinning this out won’t allow the sisters to take you out of here,” Marguerite sighed. “You can stop trying to delay now.”

Shit. And I’d been trying to hard not to actually think about it just in case she could pick up on things like that.

“Fine,” I said. “You want to talk, Bard, let’s talk. What do you want?”

“I’d like for you to not help Nessie wiggle out of this, is what I’d like,” the Intercessor said. “I don’t mind your Accords, Catherine. I think they might even do some good for a century or two, before they become a noose around the neck of Calernia. If you get them signed, well, congratulations. But you’re about to scrap most your efforts before the year is out, and while that’s mostly on your head and I’d usually abstain from the mess what does matter to me is that you’re endangering more important endeavours.”

Even if we’d been under the noon sun instead of under the veil of night, I thought, I would not have been able to read the woman perched atop the stone. She’d been a weaver of words for longer than Callow had stood and though the Wandering Bard was hardly unbeatable or infallible she was not someone I’d ever have a solid grasp on. Still, even knowing she might be spinning a web of lies tailored exactly for me I had to keep her talking. When else was I ever going to have the opportunity of stealing a glimpse of what she intended?

“And what would those endeavours be?” I pressed.

“Killing the Dead King,” the Intercessor said. “For good. Not a soul-shard or an inhabited corpse, not his endless legion of expendable intermediaries. Neshamah King, he who once reigned over Sephirah and so doomed it.”

“I’ve no quarrel with that end,” I shrugged.

Which was nothing but the truth. Creation would be better off without the Dead King, there was no denying that. I fully intended on seeing it done, too, if the price for it was not ruinously steep. That did not mean, though, that whatever the Bard had planned was to be blindly welcomed. Assuming she was speaking the truth, which I would not. And now, I thought, comes the demand. Oh it’d be disguised, but the tricks being plied on me were not unfamiliar. A common enemy, a common striving, had first been established. Then it’d been hinted that she would not oppose my own heart’s desire, seeing the Liesse Accords signed, so long as I did not begin a feud with her. Now she’d make her demand, reasonable and modest, and she might even go a step further by throwing in a bribe. Some secret that’d be of use to me, or a light nudge that’d help me along the way. So, I wondered, what was it to be? Was I to bite my tongue when it came to sharing with the Pilgrim what I knew of her? Or perhaps it’d be something subtler, a particular secret that need be kept.

“Good,” Marguerite smiled. “Then when he offers you a truce – and he will, that much is certain – do not put your weight behind accepting it.”

I pushed down my surprise, keeping my face a bland mask. What? I’d considered the offers Neshamah had half-extended while in Liesse, since the end of the battle, the truces of ten or a hundred years. Tempting as they were, in retrospect the former more than the latter, I’d been growing increasingly inclined to refuse them outright. The long game was his more than ours, in the end, and the Dead King would never had made the offer if he did not gain from it more than we. Yet this was not what I’d expected of the Bard. I’d taken this little aside of ours, much as she pretended otherwise, as a tacit admission that my speaking against her to the Pilgrim might do damage. That she must prevent it. Yet she now spoke as if her great concern was war on Keter and nothing else, which was raising my hackles. I’d seen her act in the name of Below as well as Above, which meant she was not the heroine she oft presented herself as, but what she truly wanted did remain a mystery to me. The destruction of the Dead King was a believable striving for this entity, along with the admittedly chilling notion that there was little she was not willing to sacrifice to see it done, but it was… too clean. The two scheming immortals, plotting and scheming across the span of history with Calernia as their pawns?

It had the shape of a story to it and that was what had me wary. The Bard’s trade was the peddling of stories, and I could not help but think I was being sold one right now.

“And why shouldn’t I?” I said. “A reprieve would allow us to gather stronger forces before marching on Keter.”

Was I playing into her hand, I thought, by keeping her talking no matter my true intent? I could not know, but ignorance was cure to nothing at all even lies taught something of what was.

“You’d be clinging to the wrong story,” the Bard calmly explained. “In truce he will ‘hold’ the territories he seized in Procer. And after the truce runs out, you’ll take them back from him. Drive him back to Keter. And that’ll be your victory.”

She paused.

“And so nothing will change,” she said. “Oh, I burned a shard of him when he got greedy in Arcadia. That’s a loss for him, it is, but it’s a drop in the ocean. I did not wait centuries to let him slip away now, Catherine Foundling, not when he could be destroyed instead.”

“You’re implying that if the war is unbroken by truce, our victory will be in Keter instead,” I slowly said.

That by cutting a deal, we’d dilute the substance of the triumph that could be had. Which, while sounding to me of a repugnant repudiation of the practical for nebulous ‘principles’, sounded quite a lot like some of the hero-talk I’d heard over the years. No truce with the Enemy and all that. And coming out of the Intercessor’s mouth it was a lot harder to dismiss, I thought, for though I still doubted the virtue of such a stance I wouldn’t deny that as a story-knife it might just hold up. The more complicated a tale the less strongly it bound, in my experience, and I doubted anything short of steel fetters would keep the Dead King dead. Besides, this entire affair assumed we’d be able to win the war in the first place. Which was far from certain, in my opinion.

“He needs Keter, you know,” Marguerite idly said. “Everything else he can spare, but Keter? Without it he’s no longer the King of Death, he’s simply Evil in a box – and that, my dear, delivers him into my hands sure as dawn. So he’ll fight for the city tooth and nail, and that’s how he ends.”

“If that’s true,” I said, “why would he ever wage war? Why not simply close the borders of his kingdom and avoid the risk entirely?”

After a grisly demonstration of power or two, harsh enough they were seared into the Principate’s cultural memory, it was unlikely Procer would try his lands again. Few rulers would be fool enough to seek war with the peace of death to the north when there were better lands south and east to annex instead.

“Because I haven’t given him a choice,” the Bard candidly said. “If not regularly bled of strength by a war he’ll gather enough to try something genuinely dangerous, like conquering another Hell or ingesting another kingdom into the Serenity. So I’ve arranged for the war to be taken to him, again and again.”

“Not this time, though,” I said. “He’s the one who wanted to sally out, and he’s taking risks. Why?”

She laughed, fiendishly pleased.

“Because he’s been cornered, Catherine,” the Bard said, “by the passing of time. The Kingdom Under will have taken the entire continent underground soon. And on the surface cities are getting larger. Sorcery and learning keeping crawling forward. Larger, more stable alliances are forming. By the time there is a Twentieth Crusade, it’ll be able to win.”

“So he needs to do something now,” I said. “A sweeping change of some kind.”

“Oh, he caught onto that some time ago,” Marguerite said. “There’s a reason Procer is such a bloody mess. Ever wonder why the dead strike so often at the Lycaonese while the Alamans by the lakes are an afterthought?”

Because there are much fewer Lycaonese, and they lack allies in the broader Principate, I’d thought. It was much more feasible to slowly eradicate the northerners and their smaller population than it was with the lakeside Alamans, whose principalities tended to be more populated further from the coasts regardless.

“You’re implying he’s been sabotaging the Principate,” I said.

“He’s been sowing hate between those tribes since before there was a Principate, Catherine,” she replied. “Keeping them estranged, shaping their stories one incursion at a time so that when the black days come they’ll be too far gone to band together.”

“If you’ve known for so long then why did it come to this?” I flatly said.

“First Prince isn’t a Name,” the Intercessor sighed. “That’s what I work with, like your teacher told you. Names. I can’t touch the Nameless outside of some very narrow boundaries. And what a funny coincidence it is, that the Principate took the shape it bears to this day after Nessie and his friend in the Tower ran roughshod over it. You following me yet, Foundling? Kairos isn’t the only one who’s ever pulled a fast one over me. The entire bloody nation has been a fire in my lap since its founding.”

It was, I thought, believable enough. Though there was one detail more than the rest I focused on.

“Narrow boundaries,” I repeated, hinting at a question.

She looked amused.

“You spoke of me,” the Bard said. “It was enough, given who you are.”

And wasn’t that just the loveliest of ambiguous sentences? Who I was. It might even be true, given that I’d avoided speaking of her as much as I could. The last time I could recall, in truth, had been with the Tyrant of Helike and we’d been hiding behind the madness of the Hierarch unleashed on that night. She would not have known anything that was spoken in that carefully forged blind spot, Kairos having no doubt made it largely to check her. And that, more than anything else, was what had me convinced she was lying. Because it was a pretty story she was selling me, but she did in fact have a way to get to the First Prince: the Augur, her cousin and most trusted of advisors. She’d had that way in for years now, and still the Tenth Crusade had headed east instead of north. There was, I thought, a greater game afoot than she would have me believe. Oh, if I pressed no doubt she’d have an answer for me. A reasonable one, too, as for why it had all unfolded the way it had. But my instincts were screaming I was being had, somehow, for some reason. Why would you tell me any of this? Why are we having this conversation at all? You’d have me believe this is your first true opportunity, but since when would you see this as an opportunity at all? A sculptor does not owe a chisel an explanation.

Gods Below and Everburning, what was her fucking game?

“What are you, really?” I quietly asked, looking into eyes that were not the first she’d ever worn. “You’re Named, but like none I’ve ever seen. And for all your pretences you’re not a heroine.”

“I’m what was made so that no one ever eats the world,” the Intercessor said. “I am herald before the ruin; envoy when it waxes beyond restraint. What I am has no name in any tongue still known to the living or the dead, and many have gone mad seeking it. I’ve had as many faces as there are graves and never once did I taste true death.”

The old thing smiled.

“I am not an arbiter,” she said. “When the hour is kind, I am granted kind purpose. When the hour is wicked, I do what I must. And when the hour is mine, I seek the story that will free Creation. Until I have found it, you grasping thing, I see to the monsters that slip through the cracks. So crawl through the muck and do the passing things you can, but do not once presume to meddle in the greater works beyond your understanding – I will not tolerate the meddling of amateurs.”

She had given me, I thought, I reasonable enough answers. Not justifications, and only barely would I call them explanations, but it… held up. More or less. Enough that I could glimpse the shape a tale that’d make sense of it all. And that was why I doubted it, but I did have to wonder – had I sunk too deep into lunacy, that a plausible tale was enough to have me disbelieve? Had I become like Kairos, baring knives at the faintest hint of weakness? Or is this kind of hesitation exactly what she wants from me by doing this? The trouble here was that I had so very little to bring out as argument if I wanted to qualify the Intercessor an enemy in the eyes of the Pilgrim. She’d pulled strings for the death of Captain, it was true, but Sabah had spent a lifetime as an enforcer for my teacher and through him the Tower. She’d had a hand in the sundering between Black and Malicia being so deep and bitter, but again what sin would that be in the Pilgrim’s eyes? I had the words of Kairos Theodosian, which to Tariq would be less than nothing, and the memories of the Sisters when they had sought out Below and encountered the Bard as an envoy. Which, while less than sunny a cast for the Intercessor, was not utterly damning. What else could I bring up, save the words of the very Dead King we were not gathering against? Even I could not that deny that for all the hints of more sinister intent I’d seen her put the finger on the scales for Good rather more often than the other way around.

I had little to say, which begged the question of whether or not I was truly looking at an enemy. Oh, she’d sought my death once or twice – but then I’d been a rising villain attempting to claim Callow and considering the amount of deaths I’d personally brought down on Creation since I couldn’t fault her on principle either. In strategy, perhaps, but then given the scale she worked on it would have been painfully arrogant of me to pretend I knew everything she did. I kept my fingers from clenching, for it was too obvious a tell. Was that the answer, then? That I was to kneel and trust in the benevolence of some eldritch creature’s designs, to step only where she deigned to let me step and babble out thanks for the privilege? No, I thought. Even if all she’d spoke was true, she no more owned the right to shape the Creation than any of us. She was my enemy, come what may. But not one I could face tonight, with preparations so feeble. If she caught even a hint that I was coming for her… I’d only be able to act in surprise once, and I doubted there would ever be a second chance. I clenched my fingers and unclenched them, allowing the conflict I genuinely felt to touch my face.

“You’ll back the Accords?” I asked.

“I’ll let them stand on their own merits,” the Intercessor said. “Neither more nor less.”

I spat to the side.

“Then we’re done here, Bard,” I said.

She peered at me, seemingly amused.

“That we are,” she agreed.

I blinked, tasting the warmth of smoke in my mouth, and Tariq Fleetfoot’s face creased.

“Why must we speak of her?” the old hero asked, tone wary.

And this was the moment, I thought, where I hinted arrangement had been made and began to bide my time until I could strike. Plotted behind bling spots with the Hierophant and learned from the sharp madness of the Hierarch. Like a clever little villain attempting to snuff out a great light. It was a story, I realized in a moment of cold dread. I’d been sold yet another story, on the sly, and come so very close to embracing it wholeheartedly. I’d not bit the bait when she’d approached me as a smiling offeror of advice and bargains, so she’d changed the story. The immortals warring over the world I’d again refused, silently as I had, and in doing so tumbled down the most dangerous of the three stories she’d woven. Believing it was my own notion every step of the way.

“I do believe she just tried to kill me,” I thoughtfully said. “So let’s drag out into the light every dirty little secret I know about her.”

Back in the old days, if I’d gone down the hill to meet the Exiled Prince in an honourable duel he would have made sport of me. I would have been, after all, fighting him on his own terms. Why would I offer the Intercessor the courtesy I’d refused him, even if clothed differently? I would not fight a weaver of stories the way she wanted to be fought, damn her.

Elegant had never been my strength, so time to drag us both into the mud.

202 thoughts on “Chapter 68: Apropos

  1. Cap'n Smurfy

    “I do believe she just tried to kill me,” I thoughtfully said. “So let’s drag out into the light every dirty little secret I know about her.”

    Not gonna lie, this was the most satisfyingly, cathartic moment in this entire story. Up there with Rumena punching Saint, Cat claiming the sword in the Stone, Hierarchy smacking down Bard and of course, Thief’s “Yoink”ing of the sun.

    Liked by 29 people

      1. RoflCat

        Bard approached Hierarch at one point to try and get him to get into his Hierarch role and lead the League.

        He said I’mma fucking put you and the Gods on trials and she pissed off.

        Liked by 4 people

    1. Cap'n Smurfy

      By smacked down I meant a verbal smackdown, not physically hitting her. And yes when he told her he’d put her on trial and she was in the body of a League citizein. There was a reason she disappeared for a while and showed up as a Proceran when she reappeared.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Johannes

      Now that I think about it – do we know exactly how old Rumena is? At least if I didn’t mix up anything he might be even older than the sisters and even Neshamah.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Shveiran

        I think it’s pretty much a given he’s older than the sisters, considering he was a general when Komena was serving under him.
        Why do you think he’s older than Neshamah, though?

        Liked by 2 people

  2. JJR

    What sort of story has Cat gotten herself into now?

    Some sort of Rebellion against Fate thing?

    Rage against the Heavens?

    Those do tend to go poorly for villains, that way we can have stories about hubris and the downfall it brings.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. parahacker

      No, I think she’s going for a type of story her world hasn’t really seen much of, yet. Probably because without mass media or even a printing press, the strategy doesn’t have as much traction, you can’t be as quick as our own media could working bottom up. But the top-down approach would still work.

      She’s going to tell what she knows to as many people as practical to be effective. Starting with Pilgrim, but I doubt she will stop there. Bard works through Names and stories, yes, but her strategy is aimed for nations and generations, the Named are only the means. Those means become much less effective if everyone knows who is being used, even if not exactly how. And she has some notion of the how, as well.

      Though she still lacks the why. Only Neshama has that at the moment.

      Liked by 9 people

    2. She would have if she’d gone with the idea she has in the last moments of the conversation – having Bard believe she was agreeing and plotting in the dark.

      Instead, all she’s doing is sharing information – what rebellion? What rage? She’s letting other people figure out what to do about what she knows, don’t shoot the messenger~

      Liked by 5 people

    3. The last story she rejected was a version of Rage Against the Heavens (plotting against them in secret); she’s going instead with something longer-term, and likely more…. practical.

      I note that she’s now joined the club of folks who are happy to have a friendly chat with an enemy (in her case, both DK and Cat), even while continuing to try to kill them. On the flip side, even as Neshamah threatens to reveal a secret of hers, she’s gifted Cat with a pair of his secrets — a vulnerability to turn against him, and a strategy to destroy him that even Pilgrim can accept.

      And yes, she’s confirmed that her own role is to keep the game going. Neshamah is threatening to gain power beyond the gods’ ability to restrain, so she is playing against him. Cat is trying to break the game a different way, so Bard tries to lead her back into the territory of closed, finite stories.

      Liked by 8 people

    4. mammon

      The story she got herself into was the one of the Scheming Villain. The perfect plan alike Traitorous that is bound to fall to simple ‘We’ll never side with Evil and will always defy you to the last man.’ attitude that Good has with its annoying habit of being backed by Creation to be unbeatable. No matter how well she’d plan it, the Bard and Creation would always see for her to lose at the exact worst moment of time, namely the one where all her chips are in the game and she cannot back out any more, for the most devastating bullshit win for Good.

      Traitorous might win his victories, but unlike Bard he schemed against Heroes that he could fool into stories that he was bound to win. He’d never be the villain in the third act, he always ensured a victory by making the Heroes bound for a win after two acts of losses the mentor for a new Hero, so that they are instead the prologue greater Hero deemed to lose and himself the Villain in the first act who cannot possibly lose again. Essentially Heiress except knowing to never let things come to a conclusion where he’s bound to lose. Against the Bard though, such a strategy could never work because she’d never fall for it or make him a filler villain in her war with Nessie.

      If Cat had done the same, then she too would merely be another inconvenience in her everlasting war, the newly introduced Villain of act 124 beaten in act 124. In the Odyssee or the Poetic Edda, Odysseus or Thor don’t have to first lose to the villain, they just need to establish how capable it is but they can win in the same fight. Bard is essentially that long-running Hero. That is, if she couldn’t beat Cat in other ways or through her endless bag of intermediaries.

      If you’re talking the new story she’s now embarking on, it’s still vague but it’s probably rebellion against the Heavens indeed. Though instead of the Heavens, the Good and Evil in general. We’ve already seen quite a lot of hints that Amadeus has already turned it upside down and the effects showing themselves (Procer invading with a long-prepared ritual for unfair advantages, and the Grim Binders using generations of prepared secret rituals to be unbeatable only for the Broken Bells to defeat these necromancers with valour and goodness).

      Either Cat or the Bard may use that to their advantage here. Cat to essentially make the New Good a weapon against the Old Good and Bard as it’s Avatar. With the Angels still being based on the morals of a time where slavery was still Good-allowed, and their behaviour still clearly being based on that system (The Hashmallim seeing no issue enslaving 100.000 lesser beings for their ends and the Seraphim deeming only the White Knights that don’t question the angels’ will and judgement without allowing their own will and law over or aside the Choir’s.), Cat can make a strong case now that Amadeus heralded in a time of more equality and less racism and slavery.

      The Bard could have a gazillion ways to turn it into a different frame or to turn things against Cat though. She even has the know-how on just pushing the red button and having the Gnomes nuke Cat and all her allies out of existence if Cat is about to pull a too devastating win over her.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. >the Seraphim deeming only the White Knights that don’t question the angels’ will and judgement without allowing their own will and law over or aside the Choir’s

        Except, y’know, Hanno’s the first Judgement hero like that that Bard knows of.

        Don’t generalize from examples EXPLICITLY STATED to be the exception to the general rule.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. > With the Angels still being based on the morals of a time where slavery was still Good-allowed, and their behaviour still clearly being based on that system

        Well, there’s an interesting point here. From a modern Western perspective, it’s easy to say “oh, the peoples of Calernia have progressed past the ideas of their creators”. But this isn’t actually a world that’s based on “progress”, which is actually a fairly new idea in our own world. More to the point, in our own world, slavery didn’t get outlawed because people “learned better”, it mostly went away because it stopped making economic sense.

        AIUI, the first age of slavery (think ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, up through Classical Greece or so) was ultimately killed off by the leather horse harness, which let animals work more efficiently than the wooden yokes and collars previously used — specifically, putting the animals’ work-to-food ratio for fieldwork above that of enslaved humans. In the modern age, it was the increasing population of free citizens, combining with the ongoing development of industrial and agricultural machines.

        And in the modern age, slavery and its moral equivalents persist in some very specific contexts: One is places which don’t have access to modern machinery and other agricultural methods (e.g., parts of Africa). Another is work where technology can’t replace human effort (“migrant workers” picking delicate fruit in America), or where the work is unpleasant enough that you can’t keep workers at it unless you force them (sex work, some factory work). Or it can just be a case where the numbers of people involved are such that a company couldn’t afford to give them living wages, much less benefits: Many hotels, factories, construction companies, etc use undocumented immigrants, precisely because those don’t get protection of the labor laws.

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  3. laguz24

    Wait, if Cordelia is becoming so powerful and acting kind of villainous then she might be developing a name, Crap. Also, so this is why she is so ok with saint setting fire to the rest of the principate. I also don’t want to see what Procer under the wandering bard’s influence would look like. Callow and Praes bleeding eternally. The Underdark, mass of warring tribes. Levant, ruled by nobles so prickly they kill each other over what to have for breakfast. League of free cities, run by and run for madmen. Wandering Bard, personally I am waiting for the moment when the dead king tells us what her goals are and upends everyone’s plans.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. >Wait, if Cordelia is becoming so powerful and acting kind of villainous then she might be developing a name, Crap.

      OH.

      That tracks.

      Heroic or villainous, if Cordelia develops a Name, Intercessor gets much better leverage in this war, and that’s WHY she prodded Laurence to set Cordelia’s designs on fire.

      Liked by 7 people

        1. >we’ve seen what she tried via Saint

          I’m saying getting Cordelia a Name IS what she’s tried via Saint.

          And getting Cordelia a Name would start a new cultural tradition – exactly the one she’d been lacking, a unifying Proceran cultural narrative.

          Liked by 3 people

  4. Andrew Mitchell

    Loved this:

    “I’m what was made so that no one ever eats the world,” the Intercessor said. “I am herald before the ruin; envoy when it waxes beyond restraint. What I am has no name in any tongue still known to the living or the dead, and many have gone mad seeking it. I’ve had as many faces as there are graves and never once did I taste true death.”

    The old thing smiled.

    “I am not an arbiter,” she said. “When the hour is kind, I am granted kind purpose. When the hour is wicked, I do what I must. And when the hour is mine, I seek the story that will free Creation. Until I have found it, you grasping thing, I see to the monsters that slip through the cracks. So crawl through the muck and do the passing things you can, but do not once presume to meddle in the greater works beyond your understanding – I will not tolerate the meddling of amateurs.”

    How much of this is true, I wonder? Most of it aligns to what I’ve been saying for a long time. But “I seek the story that will free Creation.” points to Liliet’s view that WB is seeking the same thing as Catherine; and end to the games between Above and Below. And, if that’s the case, then it’s clear (“you grasping thing”) that WB does not realise Catherine’s true intentions.

    Liked by 12 people

    1. NerfGlastigUaine

      My own wild mass guessing theory was that Bard wants to rage quit from her job, either by breaking the game, breaking the world, or breaking the Gods. Now however I think that’s a little too simple and neat. Doesn’t quite fit right, but who knows.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. WuseMajor

        I’ve been suspecting that Bard wants to retire and started training a replacement. I can’t help but think that Cat would be horrified to find out that the reward for trying to help humans escape the games of the gods is that they make you a referee. And that the current one wants to bring her on as her assistant.

        Liked by 5 people

    2. Faiir

      Note that even if Bard and Cat want the same thing this does not make them allies.
      Bard may not want Cat to meddle, since she’s an inexperienced, grasping thing.
      Cat cares about the losses on the road to her goal, and Bard doesn’t seem to (more than ‘Oh, what a loss!’).

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        True.

        > Cat cares about the losses on the road to her goal, and Bard doesn’t seem to (more than ‘Oh, what a loss!’).

        TBF if I’d lived 3000+ years watching people come and go I imagine I might feel the same way. 🙂

        Liked by 7 people

          1. Faiir

            Actually, are we even sure Bard exists between appearances?
            You know, I kinda expect her to appear, do the stuff, then reappear a month later in another spot.
            In this case thousands of years could be subjective months.

            Liked by 3 people

              1. Cap'n Smurfy

                I don’t know it works as nicely as that. Bard was clear that she goes “nowhere” when she’s not around. Considering her reaction in that scene and the lethal levels of alcoholism I can’t imagine she goes from one appearance to another without experiencing the time in between in some manner. And that time in-between is unlikely to be pleasant.

                Liked by 4 people

    3. >But “I seek the story that will free Creation.” points to Liliet’s view that WB is seeking the same thing as Catherine; and end to the games between Above and Below. And, if that’s the case, then it’s clear (“you grasping thing”) that WB does not realise Catherine’s true intentions.

      I’m not sure.

      “I seek the story that will free Creation” very much tells me that Bard DOES expect Catherine to be onboard with the idea, because otherwise it’s a very sharp tack in her own boot. I mean it’s a sharp tack in her own boot either way, but if she didn’t think Catherine might be interested in that purpose, she wouldn’t have put it there for no reason.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Faiir

        Sooooooo….
        Is the Bard the person Cat’s going to defeat only to learn that she was misunderstood her all along, and then Cat picks up her flask to continue Bard’s work?

        ^
        I can’t make this sentence both understandable and sounding correct >_<

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Nah, it’s perfectly understandable and a very specific and clear trope… and I think that’s what Bard is angling for 😀

          But given Catherine’s record with the Mentor Death trope so far… 😀 😀 😀

          Liked by 3 people

    4. talenel

      I think it’s different. The story with Immortals often is that they do not change. Not without significant contact and attachment to a mortal. And Bard has definitely not gotten close to any mortals.

      So Bard has been crystallized into who she is. And she is a disillusioned, exhausted woman who wants it all to end. Who hates her all of fellow creatures, who she sees as weak, as ultimately impotent and evil and doomed. She is, in essence, a nihilist who sees all efforts as futile. And all attempts to change the world as the the pathetic vainglorious attempts of an arrogant people. Of grasping things who will never know better than she does.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. …I don’t think so.

        Oh, she’s called Cat a ‘grasping thing’, but I think that’s for Cat’s attempts to go higher in the meta. The earthly attempts to make things better, she actually very much respects.

        We have Epilogue 2 as her POV, and an interesting thing about it is that give or take a few thing about expectations of success all the sentiment she expresses in there matches what she’s told William outright.

        I think, with her age and absolute lack of peers she actually likes, in order to hold on to her identity and sanity, she makes a habit of being frank&candid about her own emotions about things. Her “grasping thing” was in response to Catherine essentially not accepting anything short of “here is the eldritch me” as the answer. She constantly volunteers her opinions and remarks, like telling the Sisters that she wishes they’d refuse because the immortality they’ll get is worse than death “but we both know better”. They are mostly ignored by everyone as much as by Catherine, but they’re a way for Bard to establish out loud again and again that she has her own emotions and opinions and not get lost under the weight of her duty.

        So no, judging just from her attitude towards William, who she wanted to see the best in, she doesn’t hate all her fellow creatures, especially not for being weak. Disillusioned and exhausted and wanting it all to end, I’m seeing. But probably only for herself, not for everyone. Would be nice if she could rest and someone else could take up the job…~

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Shveiran

          I think you have called back to that chapter other times, but even after another re-read I really don’t get what it supposedly proves.

          Bard is a very cryptic character, whose goals and powers are still obscure, and whose inner monologue is not particularly outspoken.
          She is intriguing, but… we still know next to nothing. In a year, maybe we’ll be able to look back and see how it all crafts a picture, but… now? All we have is the corner piece with a bit of sky.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. In this case, I’m just saying we can take her word for:

            – feels bad for Contrition heroes every time;
            – generally hates the exact same thing she likes about villains;
            – gets hope from seeing the bottom of the barrel dragged up (ie Amadeus’s plot);

            uhhh what else has she said. I don’t remember any more concrete statements, but these are my point here.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Shveiran

              1) This is highly subjective, but to me those lines read like… like the Guide gets me every time, you know? A story capable to emotion you, even if you read or see it time and again.
              Not like… something real. I mean, I love this novel but I treat it as a novel. I won’t screw life priorities over it. There is a level of… detatchment I am unable not to focus on.
              It doesn’t sound like she actually cares, it’s what I’m saying.

              2) I’m not sure what you mean.

              3) I can’t seem to find the quote, but isn’t that something she told, rather than tought?
              IF SO, then I’m not sure why we should take that at face value coming from the Bard.
              I mean, it’s not like she is a straight-forward, simple character; whether or not she proves to be an antagonist in the end, we can’t really trust what she says to be true just because she said it. It’s not really evidence.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. >3) I can’t seem to find the quote, but isn’t that something she told, rather than tought?

                Yep, it’s something she told William to cheer him up before the final battle.

                https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/heroic-interlude-prise-au-fer/

                >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
                “These are some of the most successful villains in the history of the Empire,” she said. “And they became that by going through the motions of being Good.”

                The dark-haired man’s brow rose. “They are most definitely not.”

                “Oh, I’m not arguing that they are,” the Bard said. “See, I think that we are born Evil. Because Evil is instinct. It’s that animal part of us that wants things for ourselves no matter what it does to others. It’s been dressed up in philosophy since, but that’s the heart of it.”

                She smiled mirthlessly.

                “But I want to believe that when the Gods made us, they gave us thought as well as instinct. We teach ourselves to be Good, William. Because we want to be better. It’s not as easy but maybe, just maybe, if we do it long enough it will be what comes naturally to us.”

                “So you’re saying the Carrion Lord is trying to be Good?” he said sceptically.

                “I’m saying these are the first villains in a long time who’re going with thought instead of instinct,” Almorava replied. “It’s why they’re weaker, too. They’re leaning in the wrong direction and it has cost them.”

                “I don’t see how that makes anything better,” the Lone Swordsman sighed.

                “Earlier, you spoke of a root cause. People being people, was it? Except people are learning, William. Even the other side’s noticed, to the extent that they try to bastardize what we are. They say that the Heavens gave us laws, but that’s not really true is it? What they actually gave us is guidelines, to make a better world. And it’s working.”

                The Wandering Bard rose to her feet. Almorava wasn’t pretty, though in some light she could be called striking. The dark skin, curly hair and strong nose made her face interesting to look at but not so attractive to be intimidating. Normally she had her lute, but tonight it was nowhere in sight. She always wore the same clothes of silk and leather, but this time they were freshly cleaned. And for once she doesn’t smell like a brewery, William added a little less kindly.

                “Day by day,” she said. “Year by year, century by century – we’re making Creation a better place. Even the bottom of the barrel is pulled up when you hoist the whole thing.”

                “It’s a pretty thought,” the hero said. “Doesn’t help all of us who live in Creation now instead of in a hundred years, though.”

                “I know,” she said, laying a hand on his shoulder. “But I don’t want you to put that sword into that stone thinking it’s for nothing. We’re part of something larger than us, William of Greenbury. Something that uses us sorely. But…”

                “Good doesn’t have to be nice,” he quietly echoed her words from earlier. “Just righteous.”
                >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

                oh, and immediately after, wrt your point 1)

                >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
                He’d shivered, when she’d said his full name. He’d never told it to her, and no one had called him by that in years. What felt like a lifetime ago. Almorava stayed close to him and for a moment he thought she was going to kiss him. She’d certainly not been subtle about being attracted to him, or to quite a few other people. If she did, he would turn away. Instead she lay her head on his chest and looped her arms around him, sighing quietly. After a moment he hugged her back.

                “Every time,” she whispered. “You poor Contrition fools break my heart every time.”
                >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

                2) is a quote from her convo with Amadeus. “There’s something I actually like about you. It’s also the thing I hate the most, but it does tend to be that way with villains”

                My entire point is that EVEN THOUGH SHE SAID IT RATHER THAN THOUGHT, I think there’s no reason to presume it a lie. Again, every sentiment expressed here lines up with what she THOUGHT later, too.

                And yes, she detaches herself! How many people do you think she’s seen die? How many people has she led to die? OF COURSE she’s detached after it’s happened. It’s absolutely not the same thing as not caring!

                Like

  5. NerfGlastigUaine

    Well, that was close. Or it probably was. Or she did exactly what the Bard expected. Or it was a Xanatos Gambit with no right answer. Fucking Bard. Who knew that a character who does nothing but talk could be so utterly bullshit.

    So in the grand tradition of PGtE comments, does anyone want to make a wild and unsubstantiated yet hilariously confident guess at what Bard’s ultimate goal/plan/scheme is? Come on all of you, step up and take a swing!

    So far, all we really know is that Neshamah thinks he knows Bard’s plan. He finds it base and beneath them and tells Masego it’d doom them all (he may be lying). Of course, he could’ve been fooled by Bard into thinking he fooled Bard. Oh, and Kairos also plays some role. Probably.

    Apocalypse How, World Domination, Flipping off Cthulhu (Gods), actually telling the truth here (doubtful), or baking the World’s Largest Cake. All possible endgames for our lovely little conniving schemer! So c’mon fellow readers, it’s time to guess!

    Liked by 7 people

      1. Well, that’s her job… but “when the hour is mine, I seek the story that will free Creation”, that sounds like she too is plotting against her “betters”. Was Arcadia one of her successes, or failures? The “early draft of Creation”, caught forever in a loop of stories… but even there, one among them managed to overturn their cycle.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          That’s a really good point. Arcadia has moved on from their stasis.

          Do we know that the Bard was involved with Arcadia or did she only come about when creation was created?

          Liked by 3 people

    1. haihappen

      Unsubstantiated and outrageous claim on what will happen? Count me in!

      So, first, I think that the Bard did not lie. Not that It can’t, but It simply does not need to: Implying and omitting are usually enough to paint the picture you want others to see.
      And yes, it seems the Bard just tried to ensnare Cat in multiple stories, all towards the “greater goal”.
      My personal though is the Bard likes its Tanatos Gambit a little too much. To be fair, it works most of the time, so why not use it?
      To get a sense of the goal lets see what the Bard tries/tried to accomplish in the mid-future:
      * Eliminate Cat from the equation (She seems to be a Wild Card, uncontrollable)
      * Preserve It’s own mystique (Cat spilling the beans would be bad in this regard)
      * Force a battle between Dead King and everyone else, best at Keter.

      The whole thing reeks of a plot inside a plot. The destruction of the Dead King is not the end goal, merely a step towards it.

      Possible greater goal: “Humble the Dwarfs”
      The Bard said itself, the Kingdom Under soon spans the entire continent. Reasonably, if they succeed in this, the next logical step is take over the surface.
      Could assaulting Keter serve a means to drive Him under ground, literally? Which would give the Dwarfs something to worry about and stifle their expansion a bit.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        > Unsubstantiated and outrageous claim on what will happen? Count me in!

        🙂 🙂 🙂

        > Possible greater goal: “Humble the Dwarfs”

        Interesting ideas there. I hadn’t really thought much about them but they may well play a much greater role in the final book.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. Honestly I think everything she’s told Catherine here is the truth. “A good liar finds every lie a fetter” in the epigraph is a hint. Why add complications when you can achieve your purposes by framing the truth in a way that lets you set exactly the hooks you want?

      Over the course of this conversation, Catherine could:
      – realize that Bard isn’t playing against her and get off her case because she’s not her enemy;
      – accept that Bard is necessary for defeating Neshamah, and get off her case for the sake of that goal;
      – appreciate Bard’s full purpose and personal goal and ally with her in it or at least get off her case because it’s fine with her;
      – get scared of what she’s meddling in and get off her case to avoid getting steamrolled;
      – not take any of the above and decide to secretly plot against her.

      ALL of these outcomes would see Bard’s purpose done.

      And “I believe she just tried to kill me” CATHERINE YOU ARE THE ONE WHO PICKED THE LAST, AND THE ONLY LETHAL, OPTION

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Faiir

        We’ve seen Bard supposedly ally with people and then leave them on their own.

        Since she’s:
        1. unaccountable (we don’t know any way to actually hurt/stop her if she wants to do wrong)
        2. untrustworthy
        3. stupidly powerful (through her meddling)
        4. actually wants to meddle
        I don’t see much difference between saying “Yea Bard, do your thing” or converting to Greater Good – in both cases you’re expected to “believe ambiguous immortal creatures without question, when they assure you they’re doing you a favour”.

        I’m still firmly in Bard = the Enemy camp.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. I’m kind of curious to hear Hanno’s opinion about Bard now – after all, he’s genre savvy to an even more unhealthy degree than Cat (Rafaella and Alkmene bickering gives them plot armor as comic relief!), and his band was used as a tool and mostly broken in the process, in that plot.

          Liked by 3 people

              1. Shveiran

                …are we talking about the same guy, here? Because he hasn’t been able to use narrative to his advantage on either of the two challenges we saw him face.

                Now, granted, Black is very good at that and Hanno is clearly very competent. He is planner, and a clever one, as well as aware of the power of narrative.

                Just…”more aware than Cat”, really? Black had him eat a pattern of three out of his hand, and by this point I feel the Black Queen has plainly accomplished more with Story-fu than her mentor.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Mmm.
                  “Being aware of something” and “being able to use it to your advantage” are two different things measured on two different scales. Cat periodically loses track of narrative implications of things, too (see: the beginning of a pattern of three with Pilgrim).

                  I probably exaggerated when I said he was MORE hyperaware than Cat.

                  But we haven’t heard Cat consider which of her friends get comic relief plot armor.

                  >Black had him eat a pattern of three out of his hand

                  ?

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Shveiran

                    Black3Hanno: Amadeus’ parting words with Hanno were “enjoy your victory, White Knight” before the other beheaded the body double.
                    If I’m not mistaken, I think he commented he “now had a pattern of 3 with the White Knight” after he returned from the Free Cities.
                    Considering that could be considered a draw (they were both incapacitated) that means the Black Knight was guaranteed a victory over Hanno.
                    I’m not sure if that still counts after he lost his name, though? I think so, but we have no clear evidence. The only similar change we saw was Aqua, and she changed her Name only after the pattern was resolved.

                    Cat just dragged the rogue sorcerer though a hook and chain to grant him precisely that armor, and constantly considers what she and their friends do in terms of what stories it shapes. Indrani was scared by that even while Cat was in the fullness of her mantle, and her clarity has only grown since.
                    Hanno, again, is competent in this regards, but all we’ve seen so far is him being aware of the matter and trying to step carefully while facing a pivotal battle – a moment where he knew he had to pay attention.

                    I agree that’s leagues above most character, and he definitely belongs in the big league.
                    But Cat, Pilgrim and Black have shown a lot more skill, in my opinion.

                    Then again, Hanno is not someone we have seen a lot of yet. He may yet prove to be a story-fu black belt, why not?

                    Liked by 3 people

                    1. >If I’m not mistaken, I think he commented he “now had a pattern of 3 with the White Knight” after he returned from the Free Cities.

                      No, he didn’t. It wasn’t a pattern of 3, the fated defeat was bc of the coin judgement.

                      >Cat just dragged the rogue sorcerer though a hook and chain to grant him precisely that armor

                      …quote???

                      >and constantly considers what she and their friends do in terms of what stories it shapes. Indrani was scared by that even while Cat was in the fullness of her mantle

                      Yep, Indrani was scared by the thing Cat does WHICH ALSO CONSTANTLY FEATURES IN HANNO’S NARRATION

                      >Hanno, again, is competent in this regards, but all we’ve seen so far is him being aware of the matter and trying to step carefully while facing a pivotal battle – a moment where he knew he had to pay attention.

                      Which one?

                      >But Cat, Pilgrim and Black have shown a lot more skill, in my opinion.

                      I am yet again not disputing that????

                      I am not saying Hanno is a master of USING stories to his advantage.

                      I am saying he is remarkable AWARE of them (without changing anything, mostly going with the flow)

                      Like

        2. Shveiran

          Me too.
          But the most important point, to me, is that for all the reasons you listed, the Bard could never be trusted. We have no idea what she wants, she sees farthest than most, and is an extremely skilled liar and manipulator.
          Catherine, or anyone else with a relevant goal, has no way too cooperate or ally with her: you can trust the Bard and allow her to guide you, or start the uphil struggle that is trying to prevent her from manipulating you. There is no way for a realtionship between peers to be established.

          Liked by 2 people

      2. Agent J

        > CATHERINE YOU ARE THE ONE WHO PICKED THE LAST, AND THE ONLY LETHAL, OPTION

        It’s kind of in her nature. Bard’s approach was the exact kind of thing that’d have Cat’s instincts screaming enemy. The way she was shifting stories and all too subtly manoeuvring Catherine somewhere would only ever put Cat on edge and there’s only one response she has when figures of obscure motives are putting her on edge. Murder them… or set fire to the board. Okay, she has two responses.

        Either way, Indrani had the right of it when Pilgrim tried to pull the same bullshit back in the shattered shard of Arcadia that became
        Twilight’s Way.

        ———

        “And you say such an approach would be a mistake,” the Pilgrim carefully said. “It would be considered hostile?”

        “More like a waste of time, and probably her a trial on her patience,” Archer absent-mindedly said. “If she notices, which she will, because you’ve tried to kill her a few times so she’s paying attention.”

        “Look, you’re trying to deal with us like we’re skittish fucking horses in need of your reins,” Indrani said. “Throw that to the side, ‘cause that ride ends with your throat cut open. Probably by me, ‘cause let’s face it I’m quicker on the draw than Hakram. You want to know what she wants? Sit across a table with her with a decent bottle and politely ask.”

        ———

        I actually think the Bard knew this, that she was preying on Cat’s nature as much as Cat was preying on the nature of Saint, Tyrant, and the Pilgrim during the Princes’ Graveyard. That the only lethal outcome was the one Bard was aiming for, knowing full well Catherine would naturally be disinclined to bite at the other stories.

        As for the implication I’m reading in your statements, that Cat would have been better off allying with the Bard instead of actively antagonizing her? I don’t buy that. Even if she’s as apathetic to the Accords as she suggests, her very existence should not be tolerated anymore than the Dead King’s, at least by Catherine.

        She’s the antithesis of Cat. She serves the Gods as “envoy when it waxes beyond restraint”, while my perspective on Cat is that she serves mortals against the predation of the Gods. To shatter their shackles and restraints. If the Bard supports the Accords, than they do not go far enough. Though, I suppose that’s rather the point. To sideline and not eradicate the Gods need for conflict and “dues”.

        Either way, Cat is the last person who’s goals can be reconciled with the Bard’s. Hells Black just wants a genuine win for Evil and that could be reconciled. Catherine wants the Pricks Above and the Wretches Below to shut the fuck up and keep Calernia out of their godsdamned pissing match.

        Ergo, Bard must die by the end of this.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. >As for the implication I’m reading in your statements, that Cat would have been better off allying with the Bard instead of actively antagonizing her? I don’t buy that.

          Nah, that’s not really my implication. My implication is only that Bard would have been fine with those outcomes as well, which means describing the whole conversation as Bard “trying to kill her” is a bit disingenious on Catherine’s part.

          >That the only lethal outcome was the one Bard was aiming for, knowing full well Catherine would naturally be disinclined to bite at the other stories.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. FUCK
          THIS
          SHIT
          lets try again

          > That the only lethal outcome was the one Bard was aiming for, knowing full well Catherine would naturally be disinclined to bite at the other stories.

          You’re suggesting a very specific level of Cat-prediction to Bard. Which is I mean exactly what Cat is thinking, but the thing IS that I think she’s… indulging her paranoia. The truth is somewhere between Bard hoping Catherine takes one of the earlier baits, and Bard expecting exactly the outcome that happened – Catherine has good instincts, and Bard has acknowledged that about her to Neshamah out loud.

          I would say this was a test, on a level. If Catherine manages to pick the outcome that gets her killed, RIP because that’s exactly the level of thinking on which she’d be an unpleasant nuisance. If Catherine takes the earlier outs, well she’s no threat. If Catherine manages to pass the whole of it, though – well, she’s rewarded with some juicy juicy intel on top of what she already had.

          I refuse to believe Bard entirely didn’t see an outcome this simple coming.

          (It’s specifically the simplicity of it – the world split into two possibilities “does Catherine change her mind on talking with Pilgrim or not”, and Bard would have considered the second one too)

          >She serves the Gods as “envoy when it waxes beyond restraint”

          You do remember that ‘wax’ is the opposite of ‘wane’, right? She stands AGAINST ruin when there’s TOO MUCH of it.

          >my perspective on Cat is that she serves mortals against the predation of the Gods. To shatter their shackles and restraints.

          One character in this chapter has said she seeks to free Creation. Remind me again which one it was?…

          >If the Bard supports the Accords, than they do not go far enough. Though, I suppose that’s rather the point. To sideline and not eradicate the Gods need for conflict and “dues”.

          Mhm. They deliberately don’t go too far, so that they won’t be controversial and instead will be effective.

          >Either way, Cat is the last person who’s goals can be reconciled with the Bard’s. Hells Black just wants a genuine win for Evil and that could be reconciled. Catherine wants the Pricks Above and the Wretches Below to shut the fuck up and keep Calernia out of their godsdamned pissing match.

          And Bard’s “when the hour is mine, I seek to free Creation” refers to?…

          >Ergo, Bard must die by the end of this.

          My prediction about how this is going to go:
          Bard agrees.
          Catherine does not.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. That Guy

            Masego referred Creation as a set of boundaries(bindings) set by the Gods.
            One of the Original laws is that something cannot be created from nothing.
            Freeing Creation could be viewed as finally settling the Bet and ending Creation.
            I seriously doubt Catherine would want that.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. > I would say this was a test, on a level. If Catherine manages to pick the outcome that gets her killed, RIP because that’s exactly the level of thinking on which she’d be an unpleasant nuisance. If Catherine takes the earlier outs, well she’s no threat. If Catherine manages to pass the whole of it, though – well, she’s rewarded with some juicy juicy intel on top of what she already had.

            This. You can’t trick a force of nature… but you can negotiate with it according to its own rules. Come to think of it, this arguably applies to both Bard and Cat herself.

            Liked by 3 people

          3. Agent J

            > The truth is somewhere between Bard hoping Catherine takes one of the earlier baits, and Bard expecting exactly the outcome that happened –

            I agree wholeheartedly. All I’d add is “hope, but doubt”. If Cat is willing or able to not be a dangerous wild card Bard would be perfectly happy to not have another fire to put out, but given our girl’s full name is Catherine Fire Foundling, she never really believed that was going to be an option.

            > I would say this was a test, on a level.

            Again, agree. Which is why I likened it to Pilgrim’s play with Roland in Twilight’s Way, and quoted Indrani’s poignant commentary on the matter.

            > You do remember that ‘wax’ is the opposite of ‘wane’, right? She stands AGAINST ruin when there’s TOO MUCH of it.

            It’s a difference of interpretation, Liliet, not my having a poor grasp on the English language. The line is preceded by,

            “I’m what was made so that no one ever eats the world,”

            So what’s the ‘ruin’ she’s talking about… and whose? We know that immortals were made static so they cannot, over accumulated time, acquire the power/knowledge to threaten their Creators. Likewise, mortals were made, well, mortal so that, even with the ability to grow and evolve they will never have the time necessary to gather enough power/knowledge to threaten their Creators.

            Which brings me back to the quote, “I am herald before the ruin; envoy when it waxes beyond restraint.” She’s the balance the Gods use to check their creations should any manage to break the shackles.

            > One character in this chapter has said she seeks to free Creation. Remind me again which one it was?…

            Is it the ambiguous immortal creature? Because, unlike Catherine, I don’t actually make it a point to believe those without question when they assure us they’re doing mortals a favour.

            > Mhm. They deliberately don’t go too far, so that they won’t be controversial and instead will be effective.

            Controversial with the other nations? Perhaps, but I’m of the belief that she also didn’t want to give the Gods an in. Grant them the right to stomp both feet on the scales because she’s overreaching and trying to deny them their “due”.

            > And Bard’s “when the hour is mine, I seek to free Creation” refers to?…

            I am a purple elephant with pink polka dots. This is evidently true, because I have stated it to be so.

            More seriously, is that really her goal or just a plausible goal she knows Cat would agree with? How much has what she’s been saying actually true. Not all of it, surely. Cat caught her in one lie already. If uttering her Name was enough to garner her attention she’d have been part of Cat and Kairos’ horse trading show.

            So, if not 100%, how much truth has been spoken here? Most of it? Half? None? Hells, even if what she’s saying is true, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t weaponized that as well. Or that it makes her a workable ally. William trusted her to the hilt and where is he now? Pilgrim trusts her to the hilt and his best friend’s a rotting corpse. The Ashen Priestess trusted her without question and she was, essentially, bled at the altar so as to grant them enough weight for Sabah’s head.

            Whether her schemes succeed or fail, her “allies” drop like flies and their goals or may not be accomplished.

            So, if you can’t trust her word on her own stated goals, and you can’t trust her schemes not to involve your brutal murder, and you can’t trust her to treat your own goals as anything more than the quaint affectations of a delightfully sentient chess piece then which of the stories this eldritch creature offered would honestly be the most palatable to someone as ruthless, pragmatic, genre-savvy, strong willed, and hyper paranoid as Catherine Bloody Foundling.

            Answer: None of the above.

            Which is what she chose.

            Black had was right. Better to knock your own ass out than to talk to that thing. And if you’re, unfortunately, just an astral projection stuck in a conversation with her, than the best move is to do as Cat did. Ignore the bitch and do whatever you were going to do anyway.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Andrew Mitchell

              > our girl’s full name is Catherine Fire Foundling

              That’s “Catherine Goblin-fire Foundling.” 🙂

              > More seriously, is that really her goal or just a plausible goal she knows Cat would agree with?

              > And if you’re, unfortunately, just an astral projection stuck in a conversation with her, than the best move is to do as Cat did. Ignore the bitch and do whatever you were going to do anyway.

              Well argued!

              Liked by 2 people

            2. >I agree wholeheartedly. All I’d add is “hope, but doubt”. If Cat is willing or able to not be a dangerous wild card Bard would be perfectly happy to not have another fire to put out, but given our girl’s full name is Catherine Fire Foundling, she never really believed that was going to be an option.

              Mhm. Honestly, I suspect Bard might have been HOPING more for the outcome that really did happen – though that’s speculation 😀

              >Again, agree. Which is why I likened it to Pilgrim’s play with Roland in Twilight’s Way, and quoted Indrani’s poignant commentary on the matter.

              Mhm ❤ ❤ Cat caught her in one lie already. If uttering her Name was enough to garner her attention she’d have been part of Cat and Kairos’ horse trading show.

              No? First of all, Bard never said that she couldn’t talk to Catherine before now, merely implied it, and there’s a difference between outright stated facts and implications, because it’s the implications that are meant to mislead.

              Second, Catherine says herself that this part makes sense: Kairos has carefully crafted a blind spot for her using Hierarch.

              What Catherine questions is, in fact, the reason WHY would Bard want to talk to her.

              > am a purple elephant with pink polka dots. This is evidently true, because I have stated it to be so.
              >More seriously, is that really her goal or just a plausible goal she knows Cat would agree with? How much has what she’s been saying actually true. Not all of it, surely.

              See the epigraph. Why would she tell lies if truth is perfectly usable to craft the desired implications?

              >Hells, even if what she’s saying is true, that doesn’t mean she hasn’t weaponized that as well. Or that it makes her a workable ally. William trusted her to the hilt and where is he now? Pilgrim trusts her to the hilt and his best friend’s a rotting corpse. The Ashen Priestess trusted her without question and she was, essentially, bled at the altar so as to grant them enough weight for Sabah’s head.
              Whether her schemes succeed or fail, her “allies” drop like flies and their goals or may not be accomplished.

              That much is true as fuck.

              …What were we arguing about, again?

              Liked by 2 people

            3. Fuck,, I accidnally scrolled pas haf your commenary when first answering.

              >We know that immortals were made static so they cannot, over accumulated time, acquire the power/knowledge to threaten their Creators.

              What, you mean Neshamah’s interpretation that he explained to Bard like she was naive about it?

              >Controversial with the other nations? Perhaps, but I’m of the belief that she also didn’t want to give the Gods an in. Grant them the right to stomp both feet on the scales because she’s overreaching and trying to deny them their “due”.

              Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean. Catherine doesn’t want to mess with the Gods’ Game too much because that’s what gets the board flipped over.

              Liked by 1 person

    3. Decius

      Bard is aware that she’s in a story, can only interact with characters who either have special significance to the story or are otherwise aware of it….

      Bard’s goal is that PGtE doesn’t end, because that’s the only way for her to die with no hope of return. Bard is not limited to appeals to the characters, but is also capable of interacting with the readers and author to that end; it won’t be as directly as with the characters, if she is good at it, because readers realizing that a character is interacting with them are likely to reject the work, which is one of the things that can permanently cause her to no longer live.

      Liked by 4 people

    4. Dresdenfle

      My guess is that they Bard just wants to die. She’s been forced into this role for who knows how long, never even living out a full lifetime. That sounds like a punishment from the gods, maybe for fucking up and helping the creation of the Dead King. We already know there is usually a balance to these things, so below gets an immortal tool, and above gets one as well. The only way she can die is for Neshama to die

      Liked by 3 people

    1. It might be actually Neutral Hierarch-style, with tentative allegiance to whichever side the current holder believes will help their purposes. I could genuinely see Cordelia turning to Below in this situation, but I don’t think I see her developing a Name bound to it, since her philosophy and her goals remain very… distinct from Below’s.

      Liked by 5 people

            1. denimcurtain

              Well it arguably did become an issue at times. Not one that kept her from having a villain name but she has been chastised by the below through the lessened power at least once. You could also argue that her current lack of a villainous name reflects the evolution of her philosophy. Black stands as another example.

              Don’t know if I’d say that means Cordelia can’t get a villainous name but a philosophy incongruent with evil actions does affect support from the Below.

              Another perspective worth considering is that I don’t think you can become a villainous name by accident. It’s a choice, right? If so then acting villainous shouldn’t mean as much as people are thinking. After all, Hierarch was able to reject that choice.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. Shveiran

                Cat lost her name by embracing a bigger mantle, and doesn’t have a Name now because she is doing something unprecedented and new. She may get a name, but there isn’t yet enough of a culture behind it to shape it. Villany is not the problem here.

                Black lost his Name by acting NOTKnightly, not by acting Good. He was starving a country at the time, for Sisters sake, not handing out flowers.
                The conflict came by him no longer being an enforcer for Praes, but someone doing his own thing. That put too much stress on his Name, already weakened by his staying clear of tropes, and his overuse of his Aspect turned him into a claimant of the Emperor Name.

                Likewise, Cat’s Squire weakened when she steered away from Black’s will and orders (the Knight she was apprendicing with) like when she didn’t kill the Swordsman. She went against him, while also not planning to backstab him, and that brought her outside the shape of the Squire.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. denimcurtain

                  Their actions were arguably driven by their ideology. I understand that you can attempt to untwine all that but I don’t think it makes sense to dismiss it out of hand.

                  Liked by 1 person

            2. Yes, but Catherine has deliberately chosen to ally herself with Below and villains, her Role revolving around that. Black Queen was a Name based on her allying with the Empress and turning on Good fangs bared; I don’t think we’d have liked what would have become of Catherine had she gone down that path.

              Cordelia’s Role, what she’s desperately doing, is preserving her country and those she sees herself as responsible has. Any positioning she does is not something she’s committing to as a philosophical argument (unlike Catherine with her ‘justification matters only to the just’), it’s a move made out of desperation. Any alliance with Evil she might make would be a situational thing, not impacting what the core of the Role that she would be creating is – unless you are saying that there’s a cultural imperative in Procer for a ruler Name revolving around being Evil?

              Liked by 4 people

              1. Shveiran

                I’m saying that there is nothing inherently not Below about protecting yours, so long as you refuse any limit coming from outside with regards to how you can act out that mandate.
                As Faiir says, “gather personal power to make the world as it should be” according to your interpretation.

                Cordelia and Cat both are willing to take whatever choice they feel is necessary to achieve their goals and protect their own.
                Cat may have preeched the “Justifications only matter to the just”, but that has always been bullshit. She was still taking a stand at Marchford because she was unwilling to leave her people to die: nothing had changed.

                The difference between the two is not one of MORALITY, it is one of AVAILABLE TOOLS.
                Cordelia was simply immersed in a name-poor culture with a goodish-morality (or rather, a goodish coat of paint) while Cat could ally with Below or die immediately. That’s it.

                Liked by 3 people

          1. Faiir

            From my POV the Below’s philosophy is “Gather personal power to make the world as it should be”.
            She very much follows the first part (her solution to internal issues is taking more power for herself) and has a strong view of how the world should look.

            Going from (Strong should protect the weak) -> (I’m strong) -> (I should protect the weak) doesn’t seem that far?

            So I don’t really agree that anything fits below? You can still fail the ‘personal power’ part (the Below clause), or ‘world should be as I expect’ part (the general Name clause) 🙂

            Liked by 3 people

            1. I’d quibble with “as it should be” – that suggests a moral imperative, which doesn’t really line up with Below as I see it. If anything you could pitch that as a description of what many Above-aligned Named seem to want. I’d call it more “make the world as you’d like it to be.” That’s not intrinsically incompatible with wanting to make things work right (take Catherine for an example), but neither is it really inherently the same IMO. In Venn diagram terms the circles overlap (which is why Cat has, albeit eventually, been able to establish common cause with outright Heroes without switching teams herself) but they definitely aren’t just the same circle.

              Liked by 6 people

            2. I mean from that point of view literally every hero falls under Below’s philosophy. So wrt this I’m using “Below’s philosophy” to mean “variations that aren’t literally Above’s philosphy”

              Liked by 2 people

                1. Training to take on stronger enemies and protect people more effectively is also seeking personal power (just not the political kidn), so yes Saint most definitely did.

                  As did Champion etc, most heroes. Tariq belongs if anything to an exception category in that he didn’t want to be a Hero in the first place, and was reluctant to follow the Ophanim’s guidance except that it allowed him to do so much good.

                  Liked by 2 people

      1. > It might be actually Neutral Hierarch-style, with tentative allegiance to whichever side the current holder believes will help their purposes.

        IIRC we have Word of EE that there are no Neutral names as such. From the way you describe it though, it sounds like probably you mean more a variable-allegiance Name? Where whether they’re a Villain or a Hero depends on what story they’re in (which EE has confirmed is a thing). Personally I’d call Ranger a clearer example of that though. Given that Hierarch’s signature aspect is basically a spontaneous French Revolution-style Reign of Terror I doubt he’ll be winding up in any Heroic stories anytime soon, or ever.

        But regarding your larger point, yeah I’d def agree that even if Cordy gets a Villain name I doubt very much she’ll become a proponent of capital-E Evil any time literally ever. She may be an atypical example of her people, but deep down she’s still Lycaonese to the bone. Her version of a Villain story would be something more like “well-intentioned extremist/madwoman” – the classic “they meant well but they went too far and had to be stopped” plotline.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. >IIRC we have Word of EE that there are no Neutral names as such.

          We don’t. People keep saying that but it’s not recorded anywhere, and it’s likely the comment on there being no cultural imperative for Grey Knight on Calernia was confused for that.

          >From the way you describe it though, it sounds like probably you mean more a variable-allegiance Name? Where whether they’re a Villain or a Hero depends on what story they’re in (which EE has confirmed is a thing).

          Which is explicitly in the narrative a thing, see: Squire.

          Anyway, yes, that’s exactly what I meant.

          >But regarding your larger point, yeah I’d def agree that even if Cordy gets a Villain name I doubt very much she’ll become a proponent of capital-E Evil any time literally ever. She may be an atypical example of her people, but deep down she’s still Lycaonese to the bone. Her version of a Villain story would be something more like “well-intentioned extremist/madwoman” – the classic “they meant well but they went too far and had to be stopped” plotline.

          Mm!

          I just really hope not – or that there’ll be another resolution )=

          Liked by 4 people

          1. > We don’t. People keep saying that but it’s not recorded anywhere, and it’s likely the comment on there being no cultural imperative for Grey Knight on Calernia was confused for that.

            Huh, yeah. I just read/searched through the Google Doc for Word of EE because I’m like that, and yep. Unless the both of us have missed something elsewhere, that seems to be a mostly-baseless assumption that people (including me!) just kind of cottoned on to in the comments.

            Although, given that the Gods seem pretty invested in their established dynamic I wouldn’t be surprised if any properly Neutral-type Names that cropped up got quietly pruned back out by the likes of Bard (along with the Named holding them, I’d expect) as extraneous to requirements/potentially muddying the desired dichotomy from being clearly drawn.

            > Which is explicitly in the narrative a thing, see: Squire.

            Lol I know, that was what the parenthetical in the bit you quoted was about. Thanks for confirming I did read your meaning correctly, though.

            > I just really hope not – or that there’ll be another resolution )=

            Same! The more I look at it, the more it seems to me that Saint’s (presumably Bard-prompted) speech to Cordy was in the way of a story-based trap that Cordy wouldn’t have the perspective/background to spot and avoid – a pretty damn clever mode of assassination, honestly. I mean, the speech’s main effects were to a) make Cordelia markedly more desperate and b) alienate her from the Heavens. Which has a pretty clear shape to it. And villain stories have a very high likelihood to be fatal for the villains in them, particularly when the villain in question lacks any background or training in story-fu.

            But hey, who do we know who excels in breaking story traps and is heading to Salia right hecking now? CATHERINE AND CORDELIA FUTURE BFFS CONFIRMED. Of course, things were always leading that way since it’s the only way it would make sense that Cordelia will be officiating at Cat and Rozala’s wedding. 😛

            Liked by 3 people

            1. konstantinvoncarstein

              I don’t think there are neutral Names. We learn in the prologue that Named are empowered by Above or Below. Which means there are either Heroes or Villains.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. > We learn in the prologue that Named are empowered by Above or Below.

                Don’t take the holy book too literally.

                It’s canon in-story that Ranger and Archer are ambiguous, and Thief switched allegiance without her power source having any problem with it (when Catherine’s Squire name reared and bucked just at her not killing a hero).

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Shveiran

                  But that’s because Ranger and Archer are names based on a loner that does her own thing, Thief is the Name of someone who is being a dick mostly against people who deserve it, and Squire is a path toward Knighthood whereas Cat went against her mentor’s will without being willing to stab him over it.

                  The lack or presence of Name conflict is linked to the Name’s shape, not with their allying or not with the other side. There is no real inconsistency, just a different criteria.
                  A Name like the Uncompromising Crusader may be strained by allying with a Villain, but in general, the mere fact they are cohoperating brings no problem.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. Eh, the quote from the Book of All Things in the prologue does state that

                    > Through the passing of the years grooves appeared in the workings of Fate, patterns repeated until they came into existence easier than not, and those grooves came to be called Roles. The Gods gifted these Roles with Names, and with those came power

                    but it’s not like we haven’t seen before that the House of Light/Book of All Things can shade the truth to suit their narrative. If they gave the Gods credit for something they didn’t directly do to feed their religious narrative, who would be able to prove them wrong? So how can we just take the fact that they say it as proof that they’re right?

                    I mean, you say:

                    > The lack or presence of Name conflict is linked to the Name’s shape, not with their allying or not with the other side.

                    but it seems like you could at least plausibly also state that as “the lack or presence of a Name is linked to the Name’s Role, not with their allying or not with a side.” And even in the Book of All Things it reads like it’s saying the Roles took form prior to the Gods getting involved.

                    Or, maybe it is all from the Gods in one way or another – Amadeus was certainly ready to ascribe the loss of his Name to the Gods Below, and he’s hardly a believer in the Book of All Things (to say the least). Or, maybe the Gods gave Names power in the beginning but now the Names hold power regardless of the Gods’ specific will in the matter. Personally I’d call it indeterminate, really – I personally lean towards Names growing directly from Roles, but I’ll admit that has as much to do with my individual preferences as with solid textual evidence.

                    Liked by 1 person

            2. >Although, given that the Gods seem pretty invested in their established dynamic I wouldn’t be surprised if any properly Neutral-type Names that cropped up got quietly pruned back out by the likes of Bard (along with the Named holding them, I’d expect) as extraneous to requirements/potentially muddying the desired dichotomy from being clearly drawn.

              Do they really seem so? Based on what?

              I mean, yeah, Bard appeared to kick Hierarch’s ass into gear, but he’s kind of a major political figure. I imagine folks like Ranger get genuinely left alone as long as they’re not meddling with anything.

              >Same! The more I look at it, the more it seems to me that Saint’s (presumably Bard-prompted) speech to Cordy was in the way of a story-based trap that Cordy wouldn’t have the perspective/background to spot and avoid – a pretty damn clever mode of assassination, honestly. I mean, the speech’s main effects were to a) make Cordelia markedly more desperate and b) alienate her from the Heavens. Which has a pretty clear shape to it. And villain stories have a very high likelihood to be fatal for the villains in them, particularly when the villain in question lacks any background or training in story-fu.

              The problem with this is, Cordelia is Bard’s COUP here. She’s scribbling all over the lines Nessie patiently and carefully drew, rejoining the Lycaonese to the Principate meaningfully and getting the whole CONTINENT together to fight the good fight. She’s also got Augur by her side, which gives Bard leverage.

              No, it’s story bait alright, but an assassination doesn’t make sense as a goal. Not every story that POTENTIALLY COULD end in a person’s death is ultimately meant to, don’t listen to Catherine’s paranoia.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. > Do they really seem so? Based on what?

                Based on the fact that settling something by matching each side of that dichotomy up against the other is the only reason that Creation exists at all. That’d be the first thing that come to mind, and I’d call it a (more than) sufficient reason by itself.

                Regarding Ranger though, I meant something different by “properly Neutral-type Names” that I think I didn’t communicate clearly when I said it. Ranger doesn’t really *drive* any stories with any greater weight than “I’ma hunt it, because I’m cool like that”; outside of that she’s a participant in stories, but not a driver of them, and there’s no particular difficulty in slotting her into them even if she might get slotted into different sides depending on the story. Put another way, she might change sides because she’s got no ideological commitments outside of “I DO WHAT I WANT, DAD” but she doesn’t stand apart from them *and* drive stories that meaningfully diverge from the Good/Evil dichotomy. You alluded to Bard “kicking Hierarch into gear”; remember that her pitch to him wasn’t “be a hero”, it was just “pick a side, because you have to pick one” and her failure state was that he refused to. So Ranger might get largely left alone, but I doubt very much that Hierarch will be, and I don’t think anyone like him would be let be either regardless of whether they currently held major political power.

                > The problem with this is, Cordelia is Bard’s COUP here.

                If you take Bard at her word, maybe. I’m going to respectfully decline to do that. Remember that Nessie’s take when he got a peek at Bard’s goal was “they’ll all turn on you if they know this”; do you really think “I want to kill the Dead King and bring more unity to Procer and also the continent” would result in literally *anyone* turning on her, much less *everyone*?

                Liked by 2 people

                1. > drive stories that meaningfully diverge from the Good/Evil dichotomy

                  Yep agreed.

                  >Remember that Nessie’s take when he got a peek at Bard’s goal was “they’ll all turn on you if they know this”; do you really think “I want to kill the Dead King and bring more unity to Procer and also the continent” would result in literally *anyone* turning on her, much less *everyone*?

                  1. Absolutely nothing could possibly result in all people/heroes/Named turning on Bard if told by Neshamah, they simply wouldn’t take his word for it.

                  2. I’m not buying Neshamah really won that one. The trick with a spell hidden in a body was too simple.

                  Like

                  1. 1. What? No. The quote from Nessie wasn’t “they’ll all turn on you if I tell them this” it was “they’ll all turn on you if they know”. That’s very much different. The point I was making wasn’t anything about whether DK will be telling people whatever it was he saw, the point was that whatever DK got a look at can’t have been anything as innocuous as what Bard is claiming or DK wouldn’t have had that reaction to it.

                    2. We’ll see. Overestimating someone can be just as much of a mistake as underestimating them. And literally the origin of Dead King was him successfully getting one past the Intercessor, and I expect neither of them have gotten dumber since. According to Neshamah at least, each of them have successfully won exchanges against the other over the course of their mutual history. So unless your thesis is that Bard has been deliberately throwing the encounter and losing on purpose every time Neshamah thinks he won each and every time over the course of literally millennia without Neshamah even realizing it (in which case she’s literally unbeatable as unless Neshamah’s an easily fooled idiot – he isn’t – she’s functionally omniscient to have pulled that off and might as well be a God-with-a-capital-G), then he definitely is capable of getting things past her.

                    But like I said, we’ll see. 🙂

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. No, I think normally he pulled one over on her by acting in her actual blind spots while she was busy elsewhere. That situation was actively monitored by her and had more than one agent fully willing to follow her instructions without explanation.

                      Liked by 1 person

  6. SpeckofStardust

    The fact that at no point did the bard tell her not to gun for her has me very much thinking she wouldn’t mind the whole dying part. Now she implied it so heavily it was felt but she never said it.
    So… bard is aiming to die. That’s my guess in the ring.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Or Bard’s just confident that her essential self is honest-to-goodness(and treachery-to-evil 😉 ) immortal and indestructable.

      Consider that this is a world where magic can damage mortal souls (see the immediate aftermath of Warlock’s strike and Masego’s break). Bard has nevertheless survived 3000 and more years in this world, including repeated face-offs with an immortal undead god… who is definitely capable of manipulating souls, because we saw where he’d carved off a bit of his own..

      Liked by 5 people

  7. laguz24

    For the question on who wanted to rule over their creations vs guide them to better things. Personally, I think that that line is split between good and evil. What divides good and evil is the focus on the individual vs the community.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Faiir

      I don’t really agree – the split seems to be more on “Do as I want you to” for Good and “Do whatever you want” for Evil.
      Both can lead to either good or evil situations from our point of view – Good can be a Benevolent or tyrannical Dictator, while Evile can empower either psychopathic murderers or Cats 🙂

      The biggest push against Good in the comments seems to be “We want to screw ourselves up on our own terms!”

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        > Good can be a Benevolent or tyrannical Dictator

        Either way, there’s still a dictator…. And that’s the problem.

        > “We want to screw ourselves up on our own terms!”

        Exactly! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I think Evil wants their creations to rule over their other creations. That’s what WoG about nearly all Names on the evil side of the fence having powers to impose their will on others implies. While Good wants to guide everyone to better things with a focus on community yeah (also in WoG).

      Liked by 4 people

  8. Xinci

    Indeed I wonder at what lies she may have told. Though to be honest I presume her coments may bring the wrong conclusion simply due to warped perception. From the Neshamah’s own revelation I can presume freedom is indeed what she seeks. What the entails for a entangled world is probably the main element of antagonism Masego could have given Cat information on.
    Quite interesting to see how exactly the Dead King was weakening the Lycaonese, though I am a bit surprised he hasn’t been tailoring expansions on the sly underground. Specifically would have thought he would adapt specialized underground undead given his expertise in tailoring specialized undead. If stiffness was the issue on creating new forms then surely traps like the one he layed for Masego could get him the workforce he needs? That particular method seems relatively safe for him. Though I do suppose he is…wasteful, so perhaps thats why he didnt try to adapt to the issue in a multi-pronged manner.

    This was a excellent confirmation on what the bard is, role wise at least and a bit on her abilities.Do wonder if she meddled with the Sisters so they haven’t remodeled the Drow(though Cat structuring them into enforcers for the Accords would probably keep them off of the “grey goo” category that necessitates intervention from Bard. So quite a enjoyable chapter.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. edrey

    yeah cat, shot her under truce baner just like that prince. but the question now is how?
    contacting the Dk should be possible, the hierarch is a blank point and he has that vision aspect, and the sisters know about it since the last epilogue.
    he is the key in the end

    Liked by 3 people


  10. Fucking Bard.
    She needs to dealt with, preferably in a permanent manner.

    And I don’t think we can trust anything that she says about the Dead King and the Tower meddling in the formation of Procer to keep the First Prince from becoming a Name.
    Though … there’s probably some measure of truth in that the Dead King has tended to attack the Lycaonese instead of the Alamans for reasons of his own. I’m just not sure we can believe her about what those reasons might be.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Shveiran

        I was thinking about that… WHY does Procer have so little Names? There doesn’t seem to be a reason for it given what we know of Name lore.
        I mean, an alaman Poet Duelist? A lycanoneese Champion or Defender?
        It’s not like the Procerans do not have an established culture… so why isn’t it happening? If either DK or WB are intervening, how can they possibly be achieving this result?

        Liked by 4 people

          1. Shveiran

            Right, but even assuming that’s true, my question is HOW has he done it.

            With the tools at his disposal, I can easily see how he could be crafting divides between the kingdoms. But how could he be preventing Names from appearing?

            Liked by 4 people

            1. SpeckofStardust

              Because every story involving the dead king is group of ‘heroes’ dying to stop him, like its not just a single better then you person, -anyone- can do this its groups and cities and armies of people
              Like reread all the interludes of the fighting up north. Single great heroes arnt the people we read about.

              Liked by 3 people

            2. By manipulating the culture. He doesn’t need to get rid of all Names, just the martial ones, and he doesn’t normally care about villains (see: Salutary Alchemist). Make sure stories and songs about such folk lose popularity or otherwise get lost, discredit sorcery, keep the priesthood squabbling with the princes, etc.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. Shveiran

                But look, these explanations aren’t really enough.
                Even if the “by being so great an opponent I overshadow the opposition” works, that’s only a thing for Lycaonese would-be heroes. We have been told most of the rest of Procer forgets they have a war in the north most of the time to go warring around the country or abroad. Procer has a huge military and conquering tradition, a strong House of Light presence, and Principates with an hard-on for duels!
                Why don’t they have conquerors, schemers, strategist, healers, prophets, duelist, knightly, warrior Names to waste? I don’t get it.
                They have a clear identity, known beyond their borders too… what messes with that?

                Liked by 2 people

                1. They dont have the kind of identity that most of their population cares about. Every peasant in Callow will take out their attic sword for a Shining Prince or a White Knight; you think the average Proceran peasant has a single fuck to give about the courtly duelists?

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Shveiran

                    No, but what do borders or national average paesants have to do with it? Procer is huge, and several Principates have, say, an Alaman culture.

                    I’m totally on board with the fact that this is the reason we don’t have, say, a named First Prince. That is by necessity a Proceran name, and we lack a Proceran culture.

                    What I don’t understand is how that translates to lacking LOCAL names in comparison to other countries. The reason why they lack a centralized culture is because the divides are still to vivid… but that means local culture still has pretty solid routes.
                    Alaman culture, for instance, we know is rooted in the ideals of dueling poets. Do alamans paesant care? Possibly not, bt they recognize and know the shape, much like Callowans knew the shape of the Wizard of the West even if the country lacked a solid magical tradition. Since Procer is huge, how can a shared culture among even a few principates not be enough while a single city state is enough to power something like the Tyrant?

                    Am I missing something?
                    Don’t get me wrong, the points you all raised are absolutely valid, I just think they are too little to cause such a strong effect, compared to what we know of the rest of the world.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. > Do alamans paesant care? Possibly not, bt they recognize and know the shape, much like Callowans knew the shape of the Wizard of the West even if the country lacked a solid magical tradition.

                      Ah, but Callowans cared about their Wizard of the West, even despite not being wizards themselves. The caring is in fact the key part here. It’s not a story if nobody cares.

                      Stories have to be compelling, and Proceran nobility simply doesn’t produce those. They aren’t compelling for their subjects, by and large.

                      I’m sure there have been a FEW noble Named. But it never became institutionalized.

                      Like

      1. > I think it’s a hint that Bard hasn’t told a single lie here.

        Or else a hint that the lie she has told will doom her. Though I do agree that in practice, she hardly needs to lie… enough to tell each party the truths that will move them according to her plans.

        Liked by 6 people

  11. Thanatoss

    I was thinking about it for a while. Spreading knowledge about Intercessor is good defence against her… or is it?
    I honestly see it hard to fight her in any direct way but no matter how much Intercessor knows and how much experience she has. You can not predict someone’s next move if he wants to be unpredictable, especially someone like Cat, Tyrant, Hiererch

    Liked by 3 people

                1. I’m saying it doesnt matter what Bard thinks it is when the shape of the story insists it isn’t. If the story says that if the target thinks it’s an attack that’s their own personal problem, then that’s what Bard has to work with.

                  Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly I think only the last one was a trap. It was “agree to back off, or get railroaded into a bad story”, and Catherine spectacularly managed to flip off all the chances to back off only to be offended by the last option left.

      Liked by 5 people

          1. ninegardens

            Personally, I think Amadeus plan of “Maybe I should beat myself into unconciousness with this rock” may have been a wise course of action (as a general strategy, not from this chapter but a past epilouge).

            Liked by 4 people

    2. She describes three:
      > I’d not bit the bait when she’d approached me as a smiling offeror of advice and bargains, so she’d changed the story. The immortals warring over the world I’d again refused, silently as I had, and in doing so tumbled down the most dangerous of the three stories she’d woven.

      And the final trap:
      > And this was the moment, I thought, where I hinted arrangement had been made and began to bide my time until I could strike. Plotted behind bling spots with the Hierophant and learned from the sharp madness of the Hierarch. Like a clever little villain attempting to snuff out a great light. It was a story, I realized in a moment of cold dread.

      Notice how this would have split Cat and the other Villains away from Pilgrim and the Heroes.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Honestly I think it a test more than a trap. “Is this much provocation enough to throw Catherine Foundling into classic villainy? No? Oh I am surprised, this is my surprised face” (remember when she told Neshamah Catherine takes to flipping the stories on her like a fish and it just doesnt work? yeah. she knew the odds on this one)

        Liked by 2 people

          1. On one hand, I’m with Catherine here.

            On the other hand, how many hero journey stories have you seen where NO-ONE on their side is that kind of dick to them EVEN ONCE?

            Like

  12. Cthulhu

    I am probably going to get laughed at for this thought….but is the entire story of a practical Guide to Evil written as a response to Tolkein’s “On Faerie Stories” and this theory of sub-creation?

    I doubt anyone would care (other than me and maybe a dozen other people in the world), but it fits, I think, and ….if so, its brilliant. Instead of a teleological narrative, or even an endless dance of stories that always repeat, it instead posits a world where there are stories but no capital-S stories. The story is about transcending narrative or even ending narrative altogether.

    It is the opposite of romance, and deeply antagonistic to much of the tale. It calls for an end to tropes — to tell new stories, that have different endings.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. As much as the Bard claims to have no quarrel with the Accords, I think she’s lying through her teeth. She said so let them stand on their own merits, but how well would they stand on those merits with Katherine dead, as the Bard just tried to make happen?

    And she straight up told us why she would want the Accords broken too. Procer has been a thorn in her side since its inception, because it is not ruled by a Named and therefore the Bard has a limited ability to work through it. The Accords propose to turn every nation into just such a thorn. By limiting the scale of Named conflict and removing Name games from politics, Cat would be de-facto removing the Bard from Calernia’s gameboard. Their corner of the world would be free to grow and develop without her influence. For once the cards would be simply allowed to fall where they may.

    And that is the antithesis of the Intecessor’s mandate, regardless of what her personal plans may be.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. > She said so let them stand on their own merits, but how well would they stand on those merits with Katherine dead, as the Bard just tried to make happen?

      I mean that was a trap Catherine nearly walked into on her own. If she was going to be like that period, Accords wouldn’t be able to stand either. Catherine not getting herself killed like an idiot IS a part of the ‘merits of the Accords’.

      And at that, Catherine wasn’t going to just spontaneously keel over dead in the middle of talking with Pilgrim. If she fell for the trap but had the sense to set up the Accords BEFORE going on to set the trap for Bard, Accords could be a thing even with her dead, considering they’re deliberately constructed to not NEED her in the lead role.

      > The Accords propose to turn every nation into just such a thorn.

      And it’s not going to work, as Black brought up. Removing Named from leadership is exactly the kind of ‘trying to dam the river instead of redirecting it’ that Catherine tried to avoid, but stumbled into it headfirst anyway. That article’s not going to stand, and who would know that better than the Intercessor?

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Ebert the Alamans, scholar errant

    The consumption of wakeleaf has quite an interesting history. The earliest records of wakeleaf being used as a stimulant come from the Baalite Hegemony, which colonized the area currently known as the Thalassocracy of Ashur well before the Miezan occupation.

    The Baalites wrote that the common laborers of the field were prone to pick and chew the freely-growing weed when beginning their day or when tired, spitting the resulting juice into mixture of mud and herbs and applying it to the face, neck, and armpits. Over time, evolution of wakeleaf use has passed through tinctures, teas, and other applications. Currently, the most common method of use is inhalation of smoke created via combustion of the dried leaf of the plant. New trends include whole-body steaming and inhalation of vapor produced by adding concentrated wakeleaf extract to water and applying heat.

    For more information on the use of wakeleaf and similar pleasurable pursuits, see my work “Vices of Calernia: Aragh to Wakeleaf”.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. ninegardens

    Okay, so…. can we compile how much Cat actually DOES know about the bard?

    (I’ll try to stick to chronological order)

    She met Bard in Summerholm acting… like a tots legit hero that talks to much.

    We know that Akua encountered WB while releasing the demon back in book two:
    > “Wow,” the heroine huffed. “Rude.”
    But…. I don’t think that she’s told Cat about that.

    Thief has told Cat, Bard was sketchy… and if I remember correctly, Thief may even suspect that Bard set the Lone Swordman up for the Angel Mindbomb.

    Black has Intel on WB actions down in the free cities.

    WB showed up after Liese when Black was exploding the superweapon….

    If memory serves me well she saw Bard chatting with Nessie in the memory place on the way to Keter.

    Annnnddd Cat saw WB granting offers to Sve Noc sisters.

    Finally, she has intel from Kiaros and Nessie….

    …. as far as Dirty Laundry goes, what does she even think she HAS that will persuade Pilgrim not to trust her.
    Actually, come to think of it, what was it that tipped Cat off that Bard was High level threat to Creation in general (not just a powerful “Good” hero). What makes he so sure that Bard is actually a monster, as opposed to just a regular hero type.

    Are there any I’m missing?
    (Note, only interested in ones Cat could know about. NOT in such things as Bard getting elves to leave Akua alone)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. ninegardens

      Also: a random line from to her discussion with those elves:

      >”“This is my game,” she hissed. “Amateurs are not allowed.””

      Interesting to see this come up again- calling people meddlers and amateurs and telling them to piss off…. much like she has here with Cat.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. >Actually, come to think of it, what was it that tipped Cat off that Bard was High level threat to Creation in general (not just a powerful “Good” hero). What makes he so sure that Bard is actually a monster, as opposed to just a regular hero type.

      This question has literally come up in this chapter.

      Basically, no, Cat has nothing that indicates that. However, she does not appreciate tyranny and puppeting, and Bard is doing too much of that for her liking.

      Even if Bard is a hero type, she doesn’t want this hero type.

      >I had little to say, which begged the question of whether or not I was truly looking at an enemy. Oh, she’d sought my death once or twice – but then I’d been a rising villain attempting to claim Callow and considering the amount of deaths I’d personally brought down on Creation since I couldn’t fault her on principle either. In strategy, perhaps, but then given the scale she worked on it would have been painfully arrogant of me to pretend I knew everything she did. I kept my fingers from clenching, for it was too obvious a tell. Was that the answer, then? That I was to kneel and trust in the benevolence of some eldritch creature’s designs, to step only where she deigned to let me step and babble out thanks for the privilege? No, I thought. Even if all she’d spoke was true, she no more owned the right to shape the Creation than any of us.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. > She met Bard in Summerholm acting… like a tots legit hero that talks to much.

      IIRC, there were “tells” even there .. in conversations with Cat and/or Black, she spoke familiarly of historical events for which the history itself had barely survived, and which a mortal bard really shouldn’t have known about.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Daniel E

    Anyone else reminded of Odin’s spiel during Bard’s exposition? Odin: “I am also called hyath and true-guesser. I am all-father, gondlier, wand-bearer. I have as many names as there are winds, as many titles as there are way to die.” And now Bard; “I’m what was made so that no one ever eats the world,” the Intercessor said. “I am herald before the ruin; envoy when it waxes beyond restraint. What I am has no name in any tongue still known to the living or the dead, and many have gone mad seeking it. I’ve had as many faces as there are graves and never once did I taste true death.”

    As much fun as it is to rag on Bard and be amused by her antics, that particular paragraph gave me a shiver. Bard is a monster, quite possibly older than time itself, or at the very least was birthed at the beginning of everything.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. IIRC she’s said something about her “punishment”.

        Wildly uninformed but mythically plausible guess: Back In Ancient Days, when the gods were a lot chummier with mortals, she challenged them in some fashion. Perhaps she was the first to seek to master the power of Story, but she actually tried to write and spread her own, made-up stories instead of recounting stuff that at least more-or-less happened.

        Liked by 2 people

  17. Peter

    Power in this world is like water flowing across the ground. In the beginning the ground was flat, but the power of stories eroded the ground underneath, making groves where power could collect and flow. Over time, the most common, most well defined stories became deep casyms etched into reality, paths where power flowed with most ease, but also powerful torrents that were impossible to swim against.

    The wisdom of the Named boils down to using these currents when they bring you closer to your destination and avoid going against the current. Also making sure you don’t fall into the water by mistake.

    The dramatic irony is that one gains power by diving ever deeper into the flows of water, but by diving deeper you surrender yourself more and more to the ebbs and flows of the current. It also becomes that much harder to resurface.

    Liked by 2 people

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