Chapter 69: Repute

“Assertion that the end justifies the means in in truth embrace of the Heavens, for it is they who will decide the Last Dusk and so all justice then derives from them.”
– Hektor the Ecclesiast, Atalante preacher

It was a little unsettling to see that even without the Name my teacher could still shed the face of Amadeus of the Green Stretch and become the Black Knight. A single sentence and humanity slid down his face like morning dew, leaving behind a cold-eyed thing weighing the necessity of harsh violences to visit. The Grey Pilgrim, on the other hand, did not look surprised. Troubled, the lines on his face deepening with weariness, but not surprised at all. The blue-eyed old man cast a glance at Black, fingers tightening with something like concern at what he saw, but the faint weight that was the attention of the Choir of Mercy scrutinizing him was batted away like overbold fingers. Perched atop the same stone where the Intercessor had sat, two great and shadow-feathered crows gazing down with merciless eyes. They had no claim on my father, I knew, and he was the kind of man who would rather die straight-backed than accept patronage. The extended warding had been offered as a courtesy to me, their thoughts whispered against mine, though all three of us knew they’d have mourned losing out on an opportunity to take a swipe at a Choir without starting a celestial war.

I breathed in smoke, disconcerted by the way it was warm and barely touched when it felt like that pipe had been lit for so long. Masego had told me, once, that there was no such thing as time: only the perception of it, and entropy’s ruining touch. I couldn’t quite grasp that, truth be told, for even entropy’s encroachment must be measured by something. Yet the disparity between the acrid smoke against my tongue, the weight of the dragonbone pipe still mostly-full, and the span of the conversation I’d had with the Wandering Bard? They’d lent me a glimpse, perhaps, at what he meant. Had I still been Winter’s Queen, such a sliver of understanding would have been turned into peril and artifice without batting an eye. As the priestess to dark goddesses, instead I hoarded it away the way I did so many other half-espied revelations and the secrets they led to. I had little wisdom of my own to offer, but I was not above passing through that which had been bestowed upon me by wiser souls.

“That is an accusation not without gravity,” the Peregrine said.

He flicked a glance at Sve Noc, as if he’d felt their intervention, though what he saw there had him recoil from the unpleasantness. The cold night went colder still, and as the stars above grew more radiant from the wroth of the Ophanim the Sisters cawed out in mockery – though their touch against my mind was agitated, as the attention of an irate Choir of Mercy felt like a burn on their godhead. To my eye, there were times and places where Sve Noc would cow the Ophanim should it come to a contest of might. After they’d taken a petty shot at Mercy’s own favourite son was not one of them, though. I cleared my throat, intent on distracting the angels by distracting their champion.

“You don’t look all that surprised, though,” I mused. “Something you’d like to say, Tariq?”

The white-haired hero turned his attention to me, and as expected the weight of Sve Noc’s chiding began to wane with the turn. You’re welcome, I uncharitably thought. Now please cease screwing with the hero I’m trying to convince, if you would. Komena cawed in irritation at my gall, though Andronike signified amusement. I forced myself to ignore the distracting dance of their thoughts against mine, for this was too important a talk to attend to it only half-listening.

“That though you’ve been known to have… broad an understanding of what constitutes as such an attempt, I have no difficulty believing there was dispute,” the Peregrine said. “Younger Bestowed might defer to my decision to take a chance on you out of respect, even if disagreeing, but the Bard is both my elder and greater in the service of the Heavens. She would not feel bound to yield to my decisions.”

I breathed out and did not clench my fingers, for it would have been an obvious tell of my sharply risen anger. A broad fucking understanding, was it? Coming from a man who’d tried to send me to my death or shackling down the spine of a redemption story, that was a little rich. He could try to pretend he’d kept his hands clean all he wanted, in the hands of a Named a story was no less murderous a tool than a knife.

“You admit to the likeliness of an ally’s attack and in the same breath castigate her for having a dainty disposition,” Black mildly said. “Come now, Pilgrim, if you’re in the business of betrayal at least have the decency to display some skill at it.”

He looked like a person again, and not a monster with a mask of clay, but beneath the calm affability he’d painted over his face I could see the blades were still bare. I’d seen him smile just as pleasantly before he Spoke and ordered Akua to nail her own hand to a table.

“I scheme no treachery, Carrion Lord,” the old hero bit back. “And jeering at me will not serve whatever purpose you seek from it.”

“And he’s going to stop anyway, isn’t he?” I sharply said.

Wondering, beneath the sharpness, if he was being so acerbic with the Pilgrim for the very purpose of my reining him in or if he was simply enjoying mocking a hero. Knowing Black, I grimly thought, it was likely to be both.

“If I must,” he nonchalantly shrugged. “Shall we then return to the Peregrine simultaneously absolving himself of responsibility for the actions of his ally while also refusing to denounce her? ‘Twas a charming bit of rhetoric. Add a few insincere protestations of friendship and it’ll be like I never left Praes.”

Ouch. That one had to sting a bit, especially when taken by someone whose understanding of the Wasteland would be through the latest horrors mighty enough to leave Praes and become a peril for everyone else.

“I do not condone attack, if attack was had,” the Grey Pilgrim sharply replied. “Do not speak for me, much less with viper claims. Yet neither will I pretend that all servants of Above will follow me in making bargain with the Black Queen. As for the Wandering Bard, her Bestowal forbids as much as it allows. Behaving with grace will ensure she neither wants nor can act against any of you.”

“She’s not a heroine, Pilgrim,” I said. “I’ve seen her make pacts on behalf of Below. If you don’t believe me, I’ll even ask the Sisters to let your little winged friends have a look at me to ascertain the veracity of what I saw.”

That either the Ophanim or Tariq Fleetfoot himself would feel entitled to have a look at my bloody soul simply so that my words would be given due weight was infuriating, but that was the nature of the game. Trust was ever in short supply, in matters such as this. Especially when accusations were being thrown around.

“So have I,” the Grey Pilgrim calmly said.

I went still with utter surprise. What?

“I suspect I am a great deal more learned in what the duties of the Wandering Bard entail than you, Queen Catherine,” the old man continued. “An envoy does not decide the substance of the offer they carry, and some of the bargains the Bard was sent to offer were dark indeed.”

“You know she has a greater game, then,” I pressed.

“I know that across the faces she has worn she has warred against Keter wherever there was war to be had, and ever done good over evil whenever the choice was given to her,” Tariq said. “That the Gods Above do not have sole claim on her works does not mean she is not a heroine.”

“The moment before this conversation began, she dragged me out for an aside,” I flatly said. “And she-”

“It does not matter what was said, Queen Catherine,” the Pilgrim told me. “For you were being tested, as I have seen others Bestowed be and once was myself. By choosing rectitude over baseness, you emerged unharmed and proved you were not a menace that must be seen to.”

“So you’re agreeing, then, that the Wandering Bard just took a swing at me,” I slowly said.

He frowned.

“She would have if you were less than you are,” he said, as if it was evident. “You were not, and so this was merely confirmation.”

Black laughed, softly, the sound of it like cool silk.

“See, Catherine, there was nothing to it,” he smiled, sharp and cold. “The ordeal would only have stung were you a heretic, which makes wanton use of it perfectly permissible. Indeed, how dare any of us question the Wandering Bard’s right to pursue our demise whenever the whim takes her? How very impious.”

“He’s being a bit of a shit right now,” I said, “so it rather pains me to agree with him, Tariq. Even if you trust in the Bard – and Gods, I’d like to know what you have on her for that to be the case – then how the Hells does that translate to her getting the right to pull things like this? Nobody here is your fucking vassal, Pilgrim, much less Above’s. This wasn’t a test, it was a fucking act of war. And you’re defending her right to have done it.”

“I trust in a woman I have seen dedicated a lifetime to carrying out good deeds wherever and whenever she could,” the Pilgrim said. “I have known her to do this since before either of you were born, and in her deeds she has not spared heroes when they courted disaster. I do not know what she intended by acting as she did tonight, nor do I blindly presume it was righteous. Nor will I, just as blindly, accept your belief that she is… by your words, some manner of sinister immortal schemer?”

“You’ve seen part of her work,” I flatly said. “I’ve seen others, and they’re hardly pleasant. Her enmity with the Dead King is more or less the only thing I take as a given with her. She was part of the Lone Swordsman’ band, before he called down Contrition on Liesse. She was in the Free Cities before it all went to shit there, and she had a hand in Akua’s Folly as well – though the exact nature of what she did remains unclear.”

“And so she fought the occupation of Callow through every means at her disposal, when the rest of the servants of the Heavens forsook their duty to the fallen kingdom,” Tariq kindly said. “I’ve no doubt her actions were harmful to you or others beloved of you, but that does not make her sinister – only a foe you never evened your scores with.”

This wasn’t going to work, I thought. And it was why the Bard had been so utterly unworried about my talking with Tariq: she’d known she had decades if not half a century of a solid record with the man that’d weight against whatever I said. And the more I made this about the places where I’d fought her, the more this became a personal grudge between myself and his old friend. Bringing in Black’s run-ins with her would make it even worse, given that the Pilgrim would wholeheartedly endorse the decimation of the Calamities and the break-up of the partnerships that’d kept Malicia’s reign so strong. My teacher had mentioned she’d openly admitted to allowing a heroine to die so that Sabah’s death would be set in stone by a story, but she’d also likely been fucking with his head at the time so that his break with myself and Malicia burned all involved. And even if he believed us… well, Captain had killed more than a dozen heroes over the span of her career. From a practical Good perspective, trading a young heroine for the death of an old monster and the first crack in the Calamities would be worth it. I’d been counting on the shock of the Intercessor having acted on Below’s behalf to create the Night to jar him into re-examining their history, but there’d been no surprise. Which left me only with a second-hand memory in which the Bard had still outright advised annihilation over taking the bargain.

Shit. She’d covered all her angles there, hadn’t she? It made sense. The Grey Pilgrim had been Above’s foremost agent in the west of Calernia for at least half a century now, by sheer dint of the stories he’d have been involved in they would have encountered each other quite a bit. Plenty of time to work on him, which once more made sense considering how influential a man he’d been headed towards being for a very long time. No, it would have been absurd for the Intercessor not to foster strong ties with him: she was too old and too fair a hand at weaving to have left such an obvious loose end unattended. And to have attended to it in a manner that I couldn’t feasibly shake right now, I grimly thought. I had interests in common with the Peregrine, maybe even some shared principles, but also a red history that’d turned amicable only very recently. Hells, I’d killed the woman that’d probably been the closest thing he had to a friend without wings not even a week ago. Truce and my begetting the Liesse Accords was not enough to have him cut ties with the Bard. It’d be like going at an iron chain with a butter knife: how long had she spent to ensure the strength of those ties? How much time had been… Oh, oh. No, I’d been thinking about this all wrong, hadn’t I? I’d learned a few tricks in the art of bargains and how to wag my tongue instead of my sword-hand, but in the end I was not more silver-tongued than the silvertongue.

It’d been laughable of me to even try, because once more I was letting the Bard pick the face of our struggle.

The Intercessor had invested time and effort and trustworthiness in her relationship with the Grey Pilgrim, but while he trusted her he did not seem to defer to her outright. When he defended her actions, it was as an act of trust. Trust she’d earned over decades, and I’d tried to fight with respect mere days old. I’d been so fixated on removing the Wandering Bard from this entirely I’d missed the obvious: that the ties went both ways. That if she was relying on relationships she’d forged in the past to have a finger in every pie, then she had to live up to the terms she had set to those relationships. And considering the high esteem in which the Grey Pilgrim apparently held her, the standards she’d set could not be low. So if I made a reasonable request born out of reasonable – if, in the Pilgrim’s eyes, still unwarranted – fears then unless she had a damned good reason then she couldn’t go against it. No, wouldn’t be enough, I thought as I parsed out what doors it closed for her in truth. Relying on the decades of trust she’d be able to make apologetic noises but get away with it by simple virtue of producing one of various skeleton keys: it was necessary to beat the Dead King, allowing it would have caused suffering in years to come, had to prevent the rise of a great Evil. The Pilgrim would be angry, maybe, but the expectation would still be there that as long as the damage wasn’t too bad for the greater good I’d have to grin and fucking bear it. On the other hand, was I good? They couldn’t both treat me like Triumphant incipient and expect me to be their own personal Choir of Endurance. I’d surprised heroes pleasantly over the last few years because their expectations of me were low.

Well, they were certainly the easiest kind to live up to. Feigning indignation here would be risky, for though Tariq’s inability to understand that one could be good without being Good had left him strikingly naïve in some ways he was frighteningly perceptive in others. Thankfully, I wouldn’t have to. My jaw clenched and I did not have to look far for the anger. I’d stowed away the wroth, chosen the benefits of a clear head over it, but it had not disappeared. How many times was I supposed to let the whip crack against my back because my betters were not willing to see to their own? How many times was I supposed to let it go, that to kill me or mine was a virtue but that daring to crawl out of the ash alive – much less fight back – was a sin? I blew out the wakeleaf smoke, and the bitterness that lingered against my tongue was not only from the herb. There were parts of my father’s madness that I would never make my own, but some that’d always rung true: in the end, in their eyes we were not equal. And we’d never be people until we followed their rules and spoke their prayers, until we’d admitted that their way was right and ours was wrong.

“For small slights,” I hissed, “long prices.”

The Pilgrim’s blue eyes widened in startlement, and he raised his hands in appeasement.

“Your Majesty-” he began.

“Yes,” I coldly said. “That is who I am, Peregrine. The Black Queen. The Arch-heretic of the East. It seems you have forgot how we came to stand here on this night. Shall I help you remember?”

“There is no need for threats,” the Pilgrim evenly said.

And yet I could see it in his eyes, the rising awareness of who it was he was dealing with. Remember, you arrogant old priest, I thought. Remember that you did not take me for Triumphant come again without reason and then curb your fucking priestly tongue.

“You sing the praises of she who strikes at me and declare her worthy of passing judgement upon my works,” I mocked. “You, Tariq Fleetfoot? By what right?”

I grinned, sharp and vicious.

“You are not victor here on this field,” I said. “You are the defeated, breathing only by the grace of the aspect I ripped out of you with my own hand. Your plots I shattered, your armies I routed and your own Choir stepped aside when faced with the glare of my purpose. And now you strut about like a green boy, arrogating the rights to lecture me when it is only my mercy that spared your throat my boot.”

“This is not the talk of an ally,” the Grey Pilgrim warningly said.

“You do not behave like one,” I snarled. “And if you can only conceive of amity as vassalage, then this truce is at an end.”

“You have sacrificed much to deliver it,” the Peregrine reminded me flatly. “And through such savage actions you would end any chance of the Accords being signed.”

I laughed, full-throated and cold.

“You think I’d give you a choice?” I smiled. “You think I chose peace because I fear the other path? I’ll not fight the Grand Alliance, Pilgrim. I’ll leave and let you die like whimpering dogs, alone in the dark.”

I took a step forward, limping, and he drew back.

“I’ll return only when I have the full might of the East behind me in array of war, and when I come back wherever the veil of night falls all will have a choice,” I snarled. “You can take up a sword and join my war against Keter, or you can do it as a walking corpse. If treaties and alliances fail, I’ll take steel and fire to the Dead King as Dread Empress, Victorious.”

His eyes went cold.

“You will find me waiting at the end of that road,” the Grey Pilgrim said.

“At the end?” I grinned. “You’ll be the first damned thing I step on, Peregrine.”

He looked at me searchingly, looking for lie or weakness, and found none. Harsh as my words had been, Gods but the truth of them simmered in my belly. I had chosen peace, but I was not beholden to it. And if the only way through was crowned in dread, then so be it.

“What do you want, Black Queen?” the old man finally asked.

“WANDERING BARD,” I screamed out into the night. “INTERCESSOR.”

I waited a beat, to see if she would appear. She did not. No matter, it would be enough to attract her gaze.

“You spoke for that faceless thing, Peregrine,” I said. “And so now you answer for her as well. If you shelter and safeguard her, then you are responsible for her actions: if she schemes against me or mine, if she moves against truce or Accords, then I will take it as betrayal from both of you.”

My jaw clenched.

“That will not be without consequence.”

And I would tell every soul willing to listen. I’d tell the First Prince, I’d tell Princess Rozala, I’d tell the Blood and every hero willing to hear me shout from behind a blood wall. But most of all, I’d just told the Pilgrim himself. From now on, if she acted against me she was knowingly fucking over the Accords and the truce that was the only thing keeping Procer standing in the war on Keter. If she pulled something, she now had to justify it to Tariq as something more important than the death of several million people. Silvertongue or not, there wasn’t much that would even those scales. This was, I ruefully thought, the principles of the Accords used once more: the practical realities of Creation being used to restrain its stories. Ties went both ways, didn’t they? Sure, if the prize was worth it the Bard would make her move anyway. But she’d lose the Pilgrim, and when she did strike I fully intended on being ready for her. If you’re without ties, you have no strings to pull, I thought. If you keep them, though, then a strong enough tug on the strings makes it a thin line between puppet and puppeteer. Tariq looked tired and grieved, but I was out of pity to spare.

“At dawn I’ll begin work on the gates into the Twilight Ways for the armies,” I said. “Be there or not, as you wish.”

I began hiking my way back up before he answered, intent on returning to the soothing warmth of fire and booze and good company. And before the end of the night, I thought, there would be a need to speak with Masego. He’d get whatever he needed to test his Quartered Seasons theory, even if I ended up cutting corners elsewhere for the allocated resources.

Deicide, sadly, was unlikely to come on the cheap.

184 thoughts on “Chapter 69: Repute

    1. Zggt

      My theory is that the Bard has been working for a long time to create a situation which can finally kill her. She’s been pushing Cat into a situation where she’ll have to make a choice: permanently finish off one of the Dead King or Wandering Bard, with the secret sauce being how she made sure to have Masego’s magic taken in order to nudge Cat to choose her as the immortal to kill. We’ve read to many mustache-twirling villainous gloating from the Bard (especially towards Black) for her to be about justice – it’s like she was *trying* to get Above to kill her on principle.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. > ow she made sure to have Masego’s magic taken in order to nudge Cat to choose her as the immortal to kill.

        That can totally go both ways, given it was DK who actually took the magic. And I can easily see where sorcery could be the Wrong Path to go after the oldest sorcerer on Calernia.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. stevenneiman

        Personally, I think it’s more like the antagonist from the first Matrix movie. I forget his name, but his thing was that he wanted to wipe out every threat that he was tasked with dealing with so that he could quit. In his case that quitting probably just meant leaving the Matrix but in her case it would likely be real death.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Lily

        Catherine says she doesn’t feel she has it in her to stab a Bard even before the Lone Swordsman, so this is very obviously gonna end one way.

        Like

      1. Shveiran

        Right? I mean… scratch trusting the Bard, I’ve nothing against that. How could he not? No beef there.

        But it seems to me that Tariq has spent a long time minimizying suffering by employing whatever means necessary, and used as a way to call himself different from the Blacks and Cats of the world the reasoning that it is impossible to do good without being and therefore doing Good.

        So far, I’m on board. I mean, I don’t like it, I think it is a myopic approach, but I can see where he comes from.

        But now it turns out he not only knew the Bard made deals on behalf od Below, but he did so himself? Well, fuck this shit, why did he have such an hard stand in Book 4? The world is black and white until it isn’t?
        I’ll be the first to admit that contest matters, and we lack ANY specific, but he didn’t ear any point in my book here, and certainly lost some. I mean, maybe they were small deals, on another level compared to a “Evil Fey Queen of Callow”, but unless Catherine jumped the gun and just assumed being involved in the spiral of the Sisters wouldn’t shake him, but if she was right… good god, that was a whole race being turned into ritual fodder ad infinitum. If that is forgivable how can anything else be condamnable?

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          You misunderstood the line, I think.
          “She’s not a heroine, Pilgrim,” I said. “I’ve seen her make pacts on behalf of Below.”

          “So have I.”

          He did not also make offers to evil, but he’s seen Bard do such things. Obviously this thing with Tyrant wasn’t a surprise to him for this reason.

          Liked by 9 people

        2. >But now it turns out he not only knew the Bard made deals on behalf od Below, but he did so himself?

          He hasn’t, like Insanenoodleguy said.

          TBH the more I’m trying to stay pissy @ him wrt this, the more I realize it’s actually kind of reasonable for him to view Bard as a big fat exception to all the rules. Because, y’know, she is. She serves Below AND Above.

          And he DID believe in Cat’s benevolence, his attitude towards her was not ‘lying evil villain’ but ‘a hysterical child with a nuclear launch button’. It is, if anything, consistent with him being trusting in the judgement of someone many times his senior.

          And I suppose Bard did not go out of his way to challenge his beliefs in a way that would let him pick up on Amadeus’s meanings )=

          Liked by 2 people

        3. luminiousblu

          Think about it this way. If you allow the Bard to have something approaching the Author’s Fiat, then she serves both Above and Below, the same way Sauron didn’t exist and wasn’t causing trouble until Tolkien wrote him in. Tariq knows that the Bard advances the agenda of Below, he simply trusts that the endgame is the victory of Good.

          Like

  1. Gunslinger

    Dread Empress Victorious… I like the sound of that 🙂

    It’s remarkable how frustrating Tariq can still be (especially since we see things from Cat’s pov) so it sure was fun to see Cat go all Villain on him.

    Liked by 17 people

  2. Someguy

    Pilgrim isn’t a string, he is the pivot of the weighing scale turning wherever easiest. You don’t build relationships with him, it’s pointless since he already smothered his own nephew, You just use and discard him at will.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Cicero

        Not a non-sequitur at all. It’s evidence that the Grey Pilgrim prioritizes actual effects above relationships. As such depending on a relationship to restrain him is dangerous and pointless. Look at how he abandoned the Saint and acquiesced to Cat killing her.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. …Catherine is not depending on a relationship to restrain him. Catherine is depending on the relationship to restrain BARD.

          Relationship, in this case, is not a TERMINAL GOAL, yes. For either of them. It is simply evidence contributing to decision making of ‘who can i trust’ ‘who should i trust’ ‘what should i do’.

          Liked by 10 people

      2. geoffpburns

        The only ones Tariq wouldn’t sacrifice for the greater good would be his sister Yasa and his lover Sintra, but they’re both dead so everyone is fair game even the Saint of Swords, or his nephew or random town folk and sailors who catch the plague meant for Black Knight’s army. He will shed tears but it won’t stop him from doing what needs to be done.

        Building trust though, is not a waste of time. That’s what the Wandering Bard has done over decades.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. Shveiran

          He likely would, but I see no fault in that.
          We are talking about a man determined to steer the world toward what he perceives as the greater good. I often disagree with his position, but if that is his goal then I’m sure glad he leaves personal at the door.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. geoffpburns

            Weighting people lives on scales and judging their loss against some greater good is inherently problematic. Sacrificing other people or even himself seems to be a recurring theme with Tariq. Maybe using Forgive helps square the tally in his mind.

            He hasn’t completely lost his perspective he is still unwilling to sacrifice million of people when the benefits are uncertain and is willing make compromises with villains to avoid this.

            Some decisions seem further down the slippery slope than hie strictly needs to be like using biological weapons or attempting to manoeuvre Cat into a lethal position twice, not because she *would* be a problem in the future, but because she *might* be a problem in the future.

            Liked by 2 people

  3. Should’ve known it wouldn’t be so easy, Cat. Though it does make me wonder what the Dead King thinks he has on Bard that should turn everyone against her.

    All hail, Dread Empress Victorious.
    Triumphant was insufficiently ambitious.

    Hmm, I wonder which target of deicide she’s consulting with Masego about. Quartered Seasons suggests something to do with Arcadia and the Fae Courts. It could also refer to the Sisters each having half of Winter (ie, a quarter of the Winter/Summer dynamic).


    Tariq, an ally making an attempt on the life of someone you owe big time isn’t really an ally.
    It’s not okay to let that slide, but you went further and defended it.

    Cat isn’t negotiating because she thinks she can’t win fighting. She’s negotiating because she doesn’t want to make a desert (out of the rest of Calernia’s surface) and call it peace.

    Liked by 17 people

        1. Shikkarasu

          I grew up across from a graveyard. It was the most peaceful place I knew. According to many therapists, however, technically correct (although the best *kind* of correct) does not necessarily equal healthy.

          What I’m saying is, you’re not wrong, just an Old School Villain.

          Liked by 8 people

        1. Faiir

          I always see reader’s as the gods.
          Like enough readers fanboygirling over a character gives them literal plot armor, so each character strives for their niche, since they die if they’re not unique enough.

          I think it was around Bumbling Conjurer when the heroes band had two comic reliefs. There were people saying “Too much overlap!” and bam, one dies the next chapter.

          Liked by 9 people

          1. Sun Dog

            It does hang together disturbingly well. And we have a ringside seat to these entertaining events, many of which the main characters are not privy to.

            Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m certainly not one of up Above.

            Liked by 3 people

    1. Sun Dog

      It may or may not be the same thing, but they were discussing some time ago the possibility of Autumn and Spring Courts. Now there is a third Court, or perhaps a second with the previous two united, I’m wondering if Masego isn’t planning to impose the four seasons schema on Arcadia to either leach power from it, weaponize it somehow, or even force the Dead King into a position and thus a role and story they can use to end him.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Faiir

        Effects of ‘loss’ against Sve Noc:
        – becoming an effective ruler of a country
        – regaining full control of her body
        – gaining harder to ward against power
        – getting out of multiple story-based death scenarios
        This must have been such a horrible loss to Cat.

        I wish I was losing like this every day!

        Liked by 6 people

    1. Axel Rafael

      I wholly agree. Plus, it just sounds super epic 😀

      Actually, I think that a few books ago, there was a fan theory about her possible dread empress title, and someone actually proposed dread empress victorious.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. erebus42

        Honestly if for whatever reason they can’t kill the Bard, I hope someone manages to find a way to hurt her. Maybe curse her so she is unable to keep down alcohol regardless of the body she take…

        Liked by 6 people

        1. IDKWhoitis

          I think Cat imposing a prohibition of alcohol on Calernia might be one of the more effective strategies for “killing” the Bard. Forcing the Bard to go sober would be the cruelest thing Cat could do.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Hah. Prohibition wouldn’t force anybody to go sober, because Cat would need to actually be a god to truly enforce it. We tried it here in America, near the beginning of the 20th century … a constitutional amendment, one of the most difficult legal maneuvers to make in the American system.

            Ten years later we amended it back, but it was too late — by then the Mafia had gained a solid foothold in America, and they’ve kept that to this day. Not that our leaders learned from the experience — barely 50 years later, we launched the So-Called War On Drugs, which did the same for organized crime from the rest of the world.

            Liked by 4 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Those no longer exist in the Arcadia that’s seen from Calernia. The new Court is a unified Fae Court that doesn’t belong to the Season theme of before.

      The last paragraph of “Deicide doesn’t come cheap” refers to the quantity of resources that she thinks they will have to invert on Masego’s research of Quartered Seasons Theory.
      The god they want to kill is the Dead King.

      Liked by 5 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Yep, though even at this point Catherine has never referred to the Intercessor as a goddess, not even once.
          Maybe because Cat sees the Bard as an instrument of the Gods, rather than someone who reached Apotheosis, plus the Bard is certainly more restricted than other gods we have seen (Neshamah, Sve Noc, the King and Queen of Arcadia).

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Insanenoodlyguy

            The Bard’s entire system is designed to avoid Apotheosis.

            Undying? She dies all the time. Unchanging? She literally can’t stop changing on a constant basis. No longer bound by frailty of the mortal shell? She doesn’t stay dead or grow old, but otherwise her existence is perpetually suffering so great she tries to stay permanently drunk.

            It gives her the long lived long view while assuring maximum flexibility.

            Liked by 5 people

      1. konstantinvoncarstein

        You’re right🙃 The DK? I tought that the deicide had something to do with the opening of a gate to the Twilight Ways, but your theory makes more sense🙂

        Liked by 3 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Yeah, since they already had the necessary deicide for the making of the Twilight Realm by Tariq’s death after putting on the crown, though that was cheated by resurrecting him XD

          Every talk of deicide besides that has been about the Dead King.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Decius

            So far every time Cat has attempted deicide or something similar she has ended up in some kind of arrangement with the target.

            The fey courts, Sve Noc, and most recently with the Pilgrim.

            Why should the Dead King be any different? She already has a relationship with one of DK’s nemeses, who has a claim on the Dead King’s magic and a Name fit for seizing a Godhead.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Sparsebeard

              The DK did make an effort to keep negociations an option (and Cat and him even talked about it).

              Plus, he succeeded in extracting info that he though would help him from the Twilight…

              All in all, Neshie signing the accords in the end wouldn’t be that much of a stretch…

              Like

  4. edrey

    well, that is cat for you. Dread empress victorious, that is what i call a great name, i am really want to read about the faces of the nobles after this
    also, i am really sure that the bard was the one who tricked the courts to invade callow.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Nah, that’s just giving him a faiir warning.

      “Either be my ally now, or I will amass power by myself and march against the Dead King when I’m ready, and by then you will all be screwed in more than one way. I’m not the one who needs this peace that I’m offering, I’m just the one rational enough to work for it.”

      Liked by 9 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Depends, does the assassination attempt a couple of years ago in Keter count?
          Callow has gone through secession from Praes under Catherine, so they aren’t exactly allies anymore.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Faiir

            I think they’re technically still allies? Unless the Legions ‘in exile’ don’t consider themselves soldiers of the empire anymore, they wouldn’t team up with the Army of Callow otherwise.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Insanenoodlyguy

              The Legions in Exile are Blacks, Body and Soul. As noted already, they consider Cat as Black’s heir on the whole. They would not obey her giving them an outright treasonous order, but since her orders could be summed up as “I want to keep you alive and also we are working to get Black back, it’s some name shenanigans but you know how that goes”, that wasn’t so hard to swallow. And even then, any reluctance would be based on BLACKS Loyalty: We are Loyal to Black, he is Loyal to Malicia, betraying Praes is betraying Black. But Black is back. If he says “We are conquering Praes, time to be Emperor/make a new Empress” all the hesitation evaporates.

              Liked by 5 people

  5. caoimhinh

    “Quartered Seasons theory”, eh?
    Masego is going to weaponize Time and Entropy.
    I wonder if he will go Gold Experience Requiem on Neshamah and lock him in a time loop, or what.

    Either way, it’s gonna be awesome

    Liked by 5 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Yes, it’s from “Komi-san wa Komyushou Desu” chapter 195.

        You can also find it as “Miss Komi is Bad at Communication”, it’s a Japanese school life comedy Manga. It’s pretty funny and an amazing source of reaction images XD

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Andrew Mitchell

    Another brilliant chapter. Yet again, EE continues to surprise me.

    1. GP already knows about the Bard’s dealings on behalf of Below. WHAT?!?
    2. Of course Bard has built up a strong emotional bank account with the Grey Pilgrim, duh.
    3. And then Cat FUCKING TURNS ALL VILLAINOUS and ACTUALLY HOLDS THE GREY PILGRIM TO ACCOUNT FOR HIS BULLSHIT. ❤ ❤ ❤

    Absolutely delightful…

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Morgenstern

      I wonder what “dark” deals he actually knows about, though. How “dark” those actually were, compared to the deal offered to the Sisters (with the option on the other scale being: “here, have genocide instead”).

      Like

      1. caoimhinh

        It’s a preaching of Above.
        “the end justifies the means, the end of all creation is decided by the Gods Above, so all justice must then come from them.”
        It’s a fallacy because it ignores the fact that there are means that go against the teachings of Above, so they are unjustifiable. But it’s a religious propaganda from Atalante, so don’t worry about logic on that.

        It reminds me a bit of what a preacher said to me once: “God is just, not because he can only act in a just manner, as he is not constrained by justice, rather, God decides what justice is, so whatever God does becomes justice on account of being done by God.”

        The epigraph reflects on the chapter on Tariq’s attitude of justifying whatever the Wandering Bard did as something done for the Greater Good (notice how he didn’t even care about what Catherine talked with the Bard just now, he won’t listen unless he is forced to do it). On a conversation with Liliet on the comments of one of the previous chapters I had predicted that this would be his reaction, because that’s how Pilgrim is, despite him knowing that the other person is telling the truth, he will simply go “it’s just that you think this is true, but you are mistaken” whenever someone tells him something that challenges his worldview.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. > “God is just, not because he can only act in a just manner, as he is not constrained by justice, rather, God decides what justice is, so whatever God does becomes justice on account of being done by God.”

          Which is Team Morality (if not Blue and Orange Morality) in a nutshell.

          Liked by 4 people

  7. IDKWhoitis

    Amadeus must be very proud of his daughter. She’s all grown up now.Threatening heroes and old monsters, and meaning every last bit of it. Being able to hack at her own plans when they do not serve the original purposes.

    Also, I wonder how Masego will serve in his function as an adviser. Will he be forced to use Akua as a medium for the shenanigans Cat wants to pull?

    And while Akua is being brought up, we still haven;t seen Viv…

    Liked by 7 people

  8. erebus42

    It’s a shame they don’t have Mics to drop in Calernia.
    It certainly makes sense that the Bard and Tariq would be tight so this turn of events while a bit disappointing isn’t that surprising. I suppose if anyone would be on board with her usual “burn any innocents and allies neccesary so long as the big scary threat gets taken care of in the insuing wildfire” tactic, it be the Pilgrim.
    Honestly though, Tariq had this coming. I get that his thing is the whole wise old mentor schtick and that probably influences him into thinking he’s above everyone and into trying to take control of the situation but still…read the room dude. She’s the fuck-mothering Black Queen. She just got finished handing you and the Grand Alliance your collective asses. Keep track of your fucking position man. I know you have that whole thing about not being a ruler but your people as well as the vast majority of people in Calernia are kinda depending on her not telling you guys to fuck off.
    Also, I’m sure that whole speech probably brought a tear to Black’s eye.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. > I get that his thing is the whole wise old mentor schtick and that probably influences him into thinking he’s above everyone and into trying to take control of the situation

      This is a good note, thank you for bringing it up; we have Black’s analysis/diagnosis that a Name usually influences the thinking of the person holding it, and IIRC he also indicated that it does so more strongly the more heavily you lean into your Name. Pilgrim has been leaning hard into the Role of Wise Old Mentor for literally decades now. That should probably get foregrounded more often in character analyses of him.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Yeah… notice that this line:
      > “This is not the talk of an ally,” the Grey Pilgrim warningly said.

      … came before any actual threats. That was Pilgrim’s response to merely being reminded that Cat is a power in her own right. Pilgrim really is a slow learner… and also pretty damn ungrateful. And note that when Cat did come out with a threat, it was to the effect of “I’ll take my bat and balls and go home… and if I have to do that, then the next time we meet it won’t be as allies”. (I’ll also note that Pilgrim’s threat to stand in her way is pretty dubious — how long is he actually likely to live at this point?)

      Cat not only saved the population of Issere, but held off on killing Saint until the latter made it clear that she was trying to burn everything — the country and its residents, the shortcut for the armies, and the party, including Pilgrim himself. Oh yeah, and after that she resurrected Pilgrim’s sorry ass (at considerable risk to herself, given she was confronting a Choir) when she didn’t actually have to, and in fact she had been trying to take the bullet herself.

      Just today, I saw a quote from Zadie Smith, presented in the context of race relations, but fairly applicable here: “In the end, your past is not my past and your truth is not my truth and your solution – is not my solution.” Pilgrim keeps reverting to his old habits — assuming that as the Senior Hero, he’s in a dominant position to everyone around him. The Twilight adventure should have taught him otherwise, but like I said, slow learner.

      It occurs to me that both Saint and Pilgrim have demonstrated in their separate way that heroes really need a retirement option. Pilgrim may not be axe-crazy like Saint, but he’s still way past his sell-by date.

      Liked by 3 people

  9. ActionKermit

    I love how Cat makes her future villainy contingent on the Bard messing with the Accords when the Bard just said she wouldn’t mess with the accords mere minutes ago.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. ninegardens

    This…. feels like it actually might be the stupidest thing Cat has ever done.

    She doesn’t KNOW the game the Bard is playing.
    Either she’s bluffing, in which case ummm…. the Bard will catch on.
    Or she isn’t, in which case she has just handed Bard a lever with which to control her, with which to force her hand- to force her to turn against the Grey Pilgrim (a very popular hero), due to the actions of an ancient monster he has no control over.

    And either way, she has just pissed off an ally who was behaving in a fairly reasonable manner given her “Broad interpretation of a murder attempt”.

    So she’s trying to threaten the bard into not fucking with her?
    Is she crazy?
    The Bard is GOOD at this game. The Bard can kill you without anyone knowing that its her. Its easy. It’s not like the old monster leaves a receipt after setting up the rube goldberg machine that kills them.

    She’s effectively created a situation where the Bard has every incentive to go directly for the kill and no incentive to give future warnings, play nice, or softball her in any way.

    She walked into this situation set on attacking the Wandering Fucking Bard with barely any plan…. then made up a new plan half way through…. and ALL of these plans were fricken’ stupid. What was she thinking? (Yes, I know we just read a chapter of her thinking. Its still dumb)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      You know, that’s a good point.

      She may be betting that the Bard won’t want to kill her yet. If she does then the Dead King gets to stomp all over half of Calernia and probably makes permanent gains that will be very hard to unmake in the centuries to come.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. John

      If the Bard provably messes with the Accords, that doesn’t force Cat and the Pilgrim to fight – it just forces the Pilgrim to disavow his support for the Bard in order to keep Cat friendly. He’s all about the greater good, and the Bard’s nebulous contributions can’t plausibly outweigh Dread Empress Victorious burning all Calernia to the ground.

      If he’s looking at things rationally, Tariq knows perfectly well it’s possible to attempt to murder Named by manipulating their narrative – he’s done it himself, to the same target, VERY recently. He’s just having a hard time fully accepting the new political situation.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        > … can’t plausibly outweigh Dread Empress Victorious burning all Calernia to the ground.

        I don’t think that’s what Victorious is going to do. She was threatening to take over Praes and built its strength while watch the Dead King burn half of Calernia to the ground.

        Liked by 6 people

      2. ninegardens

        >Tariq knows perfectly well it’s possible to attempt to murder Named by manipulating their narrative – he’s done it himself, to the same target, VERY recently.

        Tariq tossed a redemption story in Cat’s direction back at the battle of the camps, and CAT interpreted it as a murder attempt. We have every indication that Tariq did not interpret things that way- he was her avowed enemy while she was a villian because of *handwave handwave* effects on the balance of creation. If he had tossed her a redemption story, and she takes it HE DOESN’T WANT the story to kill her. It might. Its not without risk. But the fact that “redemption story = Pilgrim trying to kill me” was Cat’s opinion, not necessarily Tariq’s

        >If the Bard provably messes with the Accords, that doesn’t force Cat and the Pilgrim to fight – it just forces the Pilgrim to disavow his support for the Bard in order to keep Cat friendly

        But she just promised that she was holding him accountable for Bard’s future actions and that there would be CONSEQUENCES. She didn’t say “Look, if Bard screws with the accords, can you agree to say that that would be a bad thing and disavow her for that”, she said “I will leave Nessie to burn your house down.”

        IF Bard provably interferes with Accords.
        But Plausible Deniability is Bard’s whole schtick practically. She’s good at it. She has a million and one ways to arrange for some intermediary to set your house on fire. This makes threatening her much less effectually, and it makes threatening some else on behalf of how you interprete her actions even more Janky.

        And this threat especially doesn’t work if the thing you are threatening to do entails cutting your own arm off, abandoning an alliance YOU NEED, and then handing half the continent to a horror that you have sworn vengeance on.
        Either people believe that Cat would do this (in which case they believe she is an EXTREMELY unreliable actor), or they believe she won’t (in which case the threat fails).

        Liked by 3 people

        1. > But the fact that “redemption story = Pilgrim trying to kill me” was Cat’s opinion, not necessarily Tariq’s

          Tariq, as a hero, can afford to dismiss the way redemption stories often kill the redeemed — “well, if that what it takes for a successful redemption”. Cat is under no obligation to concur.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. ICSM

            She did hin at it, however, by the name she chose for herself.

            Victorious. If that’s not a threat to fulfill GP’s worst fears and become a new Triumphant, I dunno what would be.

            Triumphant has a very poweful story. Cat may crash and burn at te end, but that story alone will allow her to blow calernia to kingdom come if she so wants. The mere hint of the possibility of a repeat of that story has moved GP’s to action. Now she has outright stated she will take that mantle if he doesn’t play ball.

            Liked by 3 people

          2. JJR

            Until recently he had a way to undo the death caused by redemption stories. Unless the aspect didn’t work for redemption deaths. Still, if Cat had leaned into the story he offered I would expect that he would rather Cat not die.

            Liked by 2 people

        2. Agent J

          The redemption in not very recent. The rule of three was very recent. Tariq was aiming for a draw at the Princes’ Graveyard so as to use the third and lethal confrontation as a knife bared at the Black Queen’s throat.

          Because stories kill and he’s too experienced and genre-savvy to pretend he doesn’t know that.

          Liked by 3 people

        3. Shveiran

          This isn’t a Fey oath, is Cat setting the stage for diplomatic pressure because, even now, she is not handed enough goodwill without placing her sword on the table.

          Nothing she just did made her any more vulnerable to a swing from the bard than she was before.
          What it did, is warning Tariq that if his side keeps going after her she is under no obbligation to keep playing ball. Which is a pretty basic premise of an alliance: you stop killing me and I stop killing you means a truce, not an alliance. They are marching north to save people who swear allegiance to Above; if Above still acts like all sworn to Below are murderable, why the hells are Callow and the drow marching by their side? They’ll take their shit and leave.

          But this is contingent on the Grand alliance considering and acting like bard is an ally.

          So if the bard takes another swing at Cat and succeeds? Well, she’s dead, but she would have been dead anyway. Nothing changed.

          If she does and misses, though? Then the Grand Alliance and Tariq get to make a choice.
          They can break their ties with the Bard, or they can see them severed with Callow.
          The latter ends with Callow and the drow retreating to one day fight alone, after fair warning and justifiable reasons.

          Honestly, it is nicely done.
          Tariq and the Grand Alliance needs to choose whether or not they want an alliance; if they do, they need to act like it, or they don’t get to expect Callow to keep playing ball to this bullshit.

          Liked by 8 people

    3. Insanenoodlyguy

      All of Bard’s power is indirect. Remove the influencers, you remove her power, at least for a significant amount of time while she rebuilds.

      Cat’s counting on what you just said. She wants to deal with this shit once. The way she’s set it up, if Bard comes at her, it’s going to be the big play. Not 10 million little background chips, because doing all that is too much risk of discovery, and if Cat is going all or nothing, she’s not going to do this because she knows Cat will jump the gun if she even thinks it COULD have been bard, because she knows Bard can do things direct. If anything, she might kibosh one or two things she had no hand in just because it looks too much like her. Cat doesn’t believe Bard won’t go after her, she’s said as much. But she’s now ensured that when Bard does, she’ll go all out and hard. And Cat does great in the chaos that is an utter clusterfuck.

      Liked by 6 people

    4. > And either way, she has just pissed off an ally who was behaving in a fairly reasonable manner given her “Broad interpretation of a murder attempt”.

      I would not call Pilgrim’s attitude reasonable. More like arrogant, patronizing and ungrateful.

      Liked by 3 people

  11. Well now the Pilgrim will help keep the Bard in line… Until the Bard sacrifices him. He’s not going to be alive much longer to threaten the Bard. And the Bard will spin it as Cat leaving him alive to back the Accords but then disposing of him when there was no further use for him, and this Bard will take out Pilgrim and Accords in one swoop.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. ninegardens

      And remember, Cat is still the Guarantor of Kiaros’s kangaroo caught judging Hanno, with the Pilgrim’s life acting as collateral. A default I can see both Bard and Kiaros trying to trigger, despite the fact that Cat really doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) want to be harming Peregrine in any way.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Shveiran

        And isn’t it so very damn irritanting that the oldest Calernia hero is going to be in need of saving from certain death twice… just after finally stopping being an antagonist?

        Liked by 2 people

  12. Aside from other points — Cat has just floated the option of taking the Tower herself, with ample foreshadowing. But that’s something she’d previously been shying away from, not to mention that both she and Bard had been planning to put Amadeus there.

    Also, she has the treaty with the Dwarves to consider….

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      Yeah but there is also the simple reality of fate: Amadeus has only heard part of the song, and he knows it wasn’t for him.

      i’m still thinking that somehow, against all odds, it will be Akua.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think “wasn’t for me” is a decision he made, not the property of him hearing the song. I think when the song is heard, the song’s opinion (so to speak) is that it’s for that person exactly.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Cap'n Smurfy

    “I trust in a woman I have seen dedicated a lifetime to carrying out good deeds wherever and whenever she could,” the Pilgrim said. “I have known her to do this since before either of you were born,”

    Pilgrim really doesn’t have any understanding of just how old the Bard is, does he? I know it wouldn’t change his opinion but he really doesn’t seem to know Bard is literally the oldest individual on Calernia.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Alivaril

    I’m a bit saddened by how relations with the Pilgrim went downhill so incredibly quickly after the whole “We’re better than this, so imma rez your dyood, K?” of a few chapters ago. I didn’t really expect Cat’s attempt to amount to anything, but still; I liked friendly Tariq, Arch-heretic of the West.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      the problem was, he wasn’t treating her like a proper ally, he was treating her like what he specifically fialed to make her: the reforming villian who still needs a swift kick every so often to keep them marching in the right direction. You can talk down to that one as she needs to reshape her morals. You don’t talk that way to the woman you need who kicked your ass when she’s telling you a friend just tried to kill her. Not without pissing them off.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. Eh, I could be wrong but I think this is just akin to the Hero-Villain equivalent of setting healthy boundaries in a relationship. One party shrugs at a story-based murder attempt from a friend of theirs, the other party makes the point that if this shit keeps happening they’ll take their shit and go home before coming back along the only path left open (i.e., FIRE AND THE SWORD). For all Tariq’s situational naiveté he’s too Practical Good to make that into more than a blip in the relationship IMO. We’ll see, though.

      Liked by 4 people

    3. Ah, his WAS him being friendly, though.

      “You were tested and found worthy” is a perfectly normal and acceptable thing to say to a young hero proving their chops step by step. And that’s the groove Cat slotted into in Pilgrim’s mind: a villain queen who is actually really secretly a hero, and proving that step by step.

      With all the associated starry-eyed obedience, idealism and trust.

      Only, y’know, Cat doesn’t have those, and Pilgrim has no idea. He doesn’t realize that Cat has been on this path for much longer than he’s known her and is thoroughly sick of any kind of proving herself anymore. Given that so far it’s involved torture, soul ripping and crucifixions, Cat might have an allergic reaction to the very CONCEPT.

      And then there’s the fact that even applied to your typical idealistic young hero THIS IS KIND OF FUCKED UP, and Pilgrim has just… lost track of that along the way. See enough young ‘uns come and go, you start forgetting that actually every single one of them didn’t have to do this and every single one of them deserved better. His normal has shifted along the way. You know the reasoning that every minute Superman spends maintaining his secret identity and talking with this friends is a crime, because in that minute so many murders happen that he’s not preventing? Tariq is far down that road when it comes to powerful Named, and he doesn’t realize how far he is from the shore anymore.

      Tariq was friendly. He assumed Catherine was coming from the same perspective as him – oh, of COURSE unfair bullshit gets heaped onto the apprentice hero, that’s just how the story goes, pip pip cheerio.

      Only Catherine has already BEEN through her apprentice phase and has ended it with STABBING the previous Cryptic Mentor for the peak his bullshit reached.

      He was being friendly, and kind of an idiot about this.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Oh, I don’t know.
        I think Cat technically has some idealism in her. But it’s a very focused and specific kind of idealism, and it has very little to do with the kind of idealism Tariq would expect to see in a new Hero he’s mentoring.

        After all – are not the Accords born out of a specific set of ideals? The ideal of a world where Named and religion don’t fuck things up for everybody else as much. A better world.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Yeah, you’re not wrong. And Catherine studied under one of the biggest idealists in the setting, given the amount of bullshit his ideals managed to survive largely intact… and that’s the part Tariq isn’t getting. That he isn’t the first. That to THIS road she is not new. That they are not offering her something fresh and precious, that Amadeus had been teaching her how to be a better hero since First fucking Summerholm, and that while she would not mind their approval and affirmation, she has solid enough ground to stand on already, and things to protect on that ground.

          Tariq doesn’t understand that her diving headfirst into Hero Shit is not her abandoning her old teachings but following up on them, and so she is not a green initiate.

          He will not understand that until he understands some more of Amadeus, I think.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. A criitque, because that’s how he engages with things. She may well be better than him, but he’s not likely to admit it. 😉

            Notice how this chapter started with Black putting on the scary:
            > It was a little unsettling to see that even without the Name my teacher could still shed the face of Amadeus of the Green Stretch and become the Black Knight.

            But then Catherine takes her turn:
            > “Yes,” I coldly said. “That is who I am, Peregrine. The Black Queen. The Arch-heretic of the East. It seems you have forgot how we came to stand here on this night. Shall I help you remember?”

            Liked by 1 person

            1. >A criitque, because that’s how he engages with things. She may well be better than him, but he’s not likely to admit it.

              …I don’t think so? He’s straight up told her before that she’s better than him at all of this.

              Sure, he’s not going to launch into a stream of compliments…

              Like

  15. oliverwashere

    To me, it seems like Catherine ended up taking the story of the cornered villainess taking a hostage to stall the heroes. I’d imagine those paths usually end with the heroine sneaking around and defusing the threat without the villainess noticing. In this case, could the Bard be heading to Praes next to make it as hard as possible for Catherine to win a claim for the tower?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Except that’s not really what Cat is doing here.
      She’s saying, “I’m trying to help you against one of the greatest Evils that ever was and in the process establish a lasting mechanism to prevent the worst atrocities committed by everybody else – so stop fucking trying to stab me for offering to help you because my patience for being stabbed by the people I’m trying to help (ie, you) is running out and if you won’t let me help you without trying to kill me (again) in the process, I’m going to go home, let you lot get massacred, and then any of your survivors won’t have a choice but to do things my way.”

      I don’t have a good analogy ready to go for this …
      Hrmm.

      The only times Cat has gotten Tariq to play fairly has been when she’s exerting leverage and twisting his arm into negotiating instead of insisting on his way of massively one sided deals in his favor (assuming, of course, that he’s giving anything for what he’s getting out of it, which he often isn’t) or nothing. I suppose the initial “no angels/devils/demons, no torturing prisoners” deal wasn’t something she needed to leverage him into, but he presumably expected it to benefit his side way more than it would hers.

      Also, I’m not sure how you think Bard can do to prevent Cat from being able to claim the Tower without in some way attacking Cat. It’s not like Cat is going to be deterred by the High Lords or Malicia or a new Dread Emperor/Empress or anything they might do. The worst that could be done, I think, would be a new and Malicia/High Lords aligned Black Knight and/or Warlock, and that would just make things somewhat more difficult for Dread Empress Victorious.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. > The only times Cat has gotten Tariq to play fairly has been when she’s exerting leverage and twisting his arm into negotiating instead of insisting on his way of massively one sided deals in his favor

        This. That said, I would never assume there’s nothing Bard can do. What happens if Malicia dies, and Black and Cat are facing a whole crop of claimant-Emperors? Of if Praes descends completely into anarchy?

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Any other Claimants to succeed Malicia would most likely be High Lords, and so probably would be opposing Cat/Amadeus anyways.

          Honestly, Bard taking out Malicia would probably make it easier for Cat/Amadeus to take the Tower, not harder. Remember, Malicia has hidden contingencies (via a combination of Speaking and her Rule Aspect) in all Legion Generals and in most of the upper ranks.
          Plus, Malicia going down may or may not have consequences regarding the Dead King’s invasion.

          Honestly, the only thing that would be a serious, mission-critical-level obstacle would be if Callow turned on Cat … and as good as Bard may be, I honestly don’t think she’s that good. At least, I don’t think she could pull something like that off in the kind of timeframe she’d have to work with. Especially not if she’s trying to be subtle about it.

          Liked by 4 people

  16. Soma

    …and everyone at the fire just heard that. Well, probably not, but there was a bit of screaming, about some sort of minstrel, somewhat close to the same stones everyone is camped around. Cat should beware Robber ever hearing her claim that she’ll take up the mantle of ‘Victorious’ in any scenario.

    I look forward to the questions about what that yelling was. Well, maybe Cat and company just travelled a longer ways than was my impression, and nobody heard it.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. nipi

    Hmmm… been wondering about all the heroes Cat killed during the prelude of the Tenth Crusade. We havent seen her use any lesser trinkets she should have obtained from them.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. ninegardens

    Okay, so new crack theory:

    What does Bard claim her schtick is:
    Makeing sure no one screws up badly enough to destroy the world.
    How does she do it:
    Words

    Who else likes keeping a lid on other peoples skills and tech:
    Gnomes.
    How do they do it:
    Scarlet Postcards.

    That’s right people, The Wandering Bard is secretly three Gnomes in a trenchcoat.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      I don’t think I’ve said it on here, but i have wondered if Bard’s actual original form, back in a language nobody (on the surface, at least) remembers, was in fact a Gnome.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Raved Thrad

        If she really wanted to be known far and wide for her evil, she’d take the throne as Dread Empress Cuddlebunny. Nothing could be more terrifying than that.

        Liked by 1 person

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