Chapter 71: Verge

“I am told awe is made half of reverence and half of fear. Let us find out, knights of the Callow, if terror alone will be enough to teach it to the likes of you.”
– Dread Emperor Nihilis I, the Tanner

The last of them arrived half an hour before dawn’s start.

Since I’d been granted my first command in the Legions I’d gotten used to the way that large-scale ritual magic tended to require more people than you’d think, at least when it needed to be done quick and dirty – as was usually the way, when on campaign. It was often a question of needing to pool power so no one died or burned out feeding the ritual though I’d lucked out more than I’d realized when Masego, in those days still the Apprentice, had joined the Fifteenth. There was a reason that Black had preferred massed spells to the old standard of ritual cadres when he’d rebuilt the Legions of Terror from the ground up after the Praesi civil war: it standardized the arsenal of a legion’s casters. It’d become increasingly clear over the years that the way it was mostly Wasteland highborn that used cadres of ritual mages along with their personal armies wasn’t a coincidence. The heart of the matter was that for a circle of sorcerers to be able to use a ritual together without significant preparations it required for them to be highly skilled, familiar with each other and learned in that particular ritual. That meant keeping mage cadres together, for the Legions, which Black would very much try to avoid since by simple odds it’d mean a lot of Soninke and Taghreb officers of noble birth forming cliques with disproportionated influence inside a legion.

One set of rules for the aristocrats and another one for the soldiers was something my teacher had spent decades trying to dismantle, he wouldn’t tacitly endorse its resurrection in the very institution he’d spent so many years shaping. The Fifteenth, and later the Army of Callow, had avoided much of these issues by simple virtue of having Masego along. I’d not understood the importance of the role he played in large-scale battlefield sorceries until our last campaigns, where his absence had effectively made disappear half our ritual arsenal into thin air and robbed me of the High Arcana savant I’d turn towards for answers whenever some strange phenomenon appeared. Oh, Zeze had taught my mages some rough and relatively simple rituals to use on battlefields: his Lightning Strikes and the Spears of Fire remained a staple of the Army of Callow, who unlike the Legions simply didn’t have enough mages to be able to afford massed spells as a tactic. But even with those, without his presence there was significant drop in range, power and rate of fire. It wasn’t just that he’d used to have rather impressive reserves, but rather that having Masego standing among a ritual was like having someone to conduct a choir. He made up for the imprecisions of others, guided through the stumbles and kept precise the manipulations in the way that someone who wasn’t him just… couldn’t.

Akua had once compared it to having one of the finest swordsmen on the continent running recruits through formation drills, and she wasn’t entirely wrong. Still, with the Dead King’s cut those days had seemingly come at an end and the crowd that’d gathered was not a throng of half-awed young mages taking Masego’s every word for sorcerous gospel. With the mere arrival of Hierophant and Archer, our company had grown to the sort of dawn tales were made of. Two black-winged goddesses, silently looming atop raised stones in the shape of great and terrible crows. The Doom of Liesse, veiled and silent but not grown much the lesser from her hour of folly. Hierophant, stripped of sorcery but still vivisector of miracles and the kind of man whose insights even gods flinched from. Archer and myself were perhaps lesser figures, for what mattered. All that was required from me in this thinning darkness was a steady hand and the wielding of Night, while she was here as the hand propping up Masego as well as one who had more than once tread the demimonde between Creation and the Twilight Ways without needing any guidance. Should the Pilgrim demur from coming, it would be Archer whose intuitions would be relied on when the burn was made. Yet Tariq did come, in the end, though not alone: bleary-looking and huddling inside a thick cloak of fur, the Rogue Sorcerer was with him. And with those last two there were none left to await, so I drew first blood against the silence.

“Morning,” I said. “Or close enough.”

Only Masego, I noted, was kind-hearted enough to reply with a full return of the courtesy. Roland shivered inside his cloak, and the Peregrine merely nodded. His face bore the manner of calmness that one wore around a foe, I thought, and though I’d known provoking a return to that was necessary to tie the Intercessor’s hands I still regretted it. It would have been pleasant, to be on decent terms with the unspoken doyen of Above’s champions.

“Dawn’s just around the corner and it’ll make everything more difficult when it comes, so I’ll spare us all the small talk,” I said. “Most of my advisors in matters eldritch say this is where making a stable gate into Twilight will be most straightforward.”

“You’ll need an anchor for the other side,” the Sorcerer said.

“If the aspiration was a clean cut followed by material shoring up, perhaps,” Masego dismissed. “Night is not so precise, from what I’ve observed, and none of the appropriate ritual substances have been gathered here.”

I glanced at Roland, who unlike most people subjected to Zeze’s mild puzzlement at their ‘ignorance’ did not seem to have taken offence in the slightest. If anything, he rather looked like he wanted to have ink and parchment on hand. That ought to take care of itself without my intervention, then. Good. The Rogue Sorcerer was by a significant margin the friendliest hero I’d encountered, and I had no intention of letting academic rivalry get in the way of that.

“The Hierophant is right,” I said. “What I’ll need, though, is… a sense of where to aim for. Which I don’t have, unlike some of you. Archer might be able to help, but the person atop this barrow with the deepest tie to Twilight should need no introduction.”

Namely the man who had once borne the Twilight Crown, for however short a span. Bearing a mantle like that left marks, I’d know that better than most. It was no coincidence that I’d been able to feel this very place’s affinity with Arcadia long after having divested myself of the last of Winter within me. The Grey Pilgrim eyed me warily, though he did not outright decline. As expected of the man, he could already tell where this was headed and was less than enthused.

“Oh,” Roland said, shivering from the cold. “Resonance, to shape the depth at which the damage will be inflicted. Yes, that would work. A brute force solution, though.”

Archer could serve that purpose as well, but her ties were nowhere as deep. She’d tread the grounds of Twilight for longer than any of us, journeyed through its nook and crannies and even stood open-eyed while the transition from stolen shard of Arcadia to a realm took place. None of these were small things. But the Grey Pilgrim had given the last crown and borne the burden of giving the Twilight Ways their face and shape. The difference was extensive and would likely make a difference in my being knocked out for a day or a week. Figuratively speaking, one hoped, though my advisory triumvirate had not been willing to commit to it.

“Fine tools come from refinement over years and decades,” Akua said. “This is work without precedent, Sorcerer.”

The last word she spoke with the faintest hint of dubiousness. Had I been worried about the wrong Soninke, then? Shit. She was usually better about this stuff than Zeze, but then this one was a hero as well as a practitioner.

“He is correct,” Masego noted. “This is not unlike making a gate by melting stone and shaping it into a threshold.”

“And we’ve so many people observing to establish if there’s a better way to do it, next time we must,” I said, cutting in before pride could get anything started.

Mages, huh. And I thought it was the brawlers like Indrani and myself that had troubles with surfeit of swaggering.

“And how is this resonance to be acquired, Black Queen?” the Grey Pilgrim asked.

I suppressed a grimace.

“A close look at the traces Twilight left on you,” I said.

“Soul-gazing,” Tariq flatly said.

Little thick, coming from a man I was pretty sure had an aspect essentially dedicated to that and constantly used it on everyone, but I’d cut him so slack considering who’d be doing that gazing. Namely the Sisters, who for all my occasional appreciation for them were not the kindest or best-inclined of entities on Creation.

“An intermediary will be provided, should you so wish,” I said, inclining my head towards Akua.

Wouldn’t be as precise a reading, as for all her talents the shade did not benefit from the indescribable senses and perceptions that sprang from apotheosis, but she was talented. What she did pass along to me would be more than enough, and as she was not sworn to serve the Sisters the scrutiny might be more acceptable. Maybe. I wasn’t sure where Mercy would fall on that, much less Tariq himself.

“And who would you be?” the Pilgrim openly asked, eyeing Akua cautiously. “We have met before, that much is undeniable. And yet I now see you standing as a bound spirit before me.”

They’d met? I frowned, raking my memories and finding no instance. Even during the Princes’ Graveyard there should have been no acquaintance. The Battle of the Camps, I realized. Akua had run around wearing my body while I’d been stranded in an endless Winter nightmare and she’d even fought an assembled band of heroes. The Pilgrim would have had a look at her then, and though she had body of her own now I supposed the substance of what she was had not changed too much.

“I am one in the service of the Black Queen of Callow,” Akua smilingly said. “Naught else is of import here.”

“You chose this appearance,” Tariq frowned. “But are not bound to it. What are you, spirit? I have never seen the likes of you, not even in the olden-most barrows of the Brocelian.”

“Dawn’s coming, Peregrine,” I flatly said. “She’s bound to me and can wield Night without being in the service of Sve Noc. There will be no more offhand a manner to see this done, if you’ll accede to it at all.”

“Presumably the Ophanim would slay all here, if attempt was made to wound your soul,” Roland pointed out in an aside.

“That is a presumption, yes,” Masego calmly agreed.

Archer smothered a smile, and to be honest so did I. It was hardly the time, but the earnestness he’d spoken what would be a boast in another man’s mouth made it amusingly endearing. The Pilgrim’s eyes were closed, no doubt conferring with the Ophanim, and glimmered still with Light when they finally opened anew.

“So be it,” the Grey Pilgrim said. “Trespass not, spirit, lest you find more than you bargained for.”

“Worry not, Peregrine,” Akua amicably said. “I’ve always held angels in high esteem.”

It was an effort not to choke. I supposed she technically wasn’t lying, considering she’d wanted to use one of the Hashmallim as fuel for her doomsday fortress. After all the posturing I’d expected some degree of ceremony, but what unfolded instead was the shade striding forward and silently asking for permission before laying her hand on the Pilgrim’s shoulder. He acceded with a nod, and closed his eyes once more as hers remained wide open. After a long moment she let out a long breath and jerkily nodded towards me. I hobbled forward and raised my hand, which she caught by the wrist: the sliver of Night she’d called on seeped into my own. I’d expected this process to be far beyond my ability to fathom, but to my surprise found it rather familiar. It was not unlike the sensation of opening a fairy gate, the sense of the needle going through the fabric and being… fated, for a lack of better term, to leave the cloth again in another place. What Akua had sensed from the Pilgrim and passed to me was not so sharp and narrow, but it was kin to that. A way to put it, I thought, would be that fairy gates under Winter had been the act of needling while what the shade had shared was having touched the cloth. I already knew from experience that trying to grasp the knowledge perfectly would result mostly into a searing headache, so I let it linger half-known and instead breathed out.

“For I have seen crowns broken and forged anew, snatched a star from the starlit sky and traded a season for half the world,” I whispered in Crepuscular. “Now that dawn crawls forward unbid, o Sve Noc, grant me might to wield and the conceit to wield it fearlessly. Where there is rampart let my hand make a road, and Creation deny not my will.”

The crows cawed, a resounding cry like the crack of a whip against the night sky, and Night flooded my veins thick and pure. I almost lost my foot but at my side Akua held me up by my elbow, having left Tariq to stand alone, and I gasped as I forced my staff of yew to rise.

Deny not my will,” I hissed once more.

Night struck out, like a wave and a strike of thunder, like a flood raging down a riverbed long gone dry. And where it found resistance, I clenched my fingers against the long haft of few and burned Creation. Scarred it, so that the blackened and bleeding scabs would stand at the threshold and mark the path to be taken. It was like riding a tide, every moment a struggle, and I swallowed a scream as I felt my strength ebbing. I would not break, not before the work was done. Not even when the coolness of Night lazed like smoke in my veins, tainting my every sense, and in the far distance I felt the distant glare of light marching like a harsh vanguard.

“Catherine,” Akua whispered against my ear. “Catherine, you have to stop.”

Was she holding me? When had she? Some pried off the hand that’d gone around my waist and it was put around a shoulder at least. Someone taller than I. I grit my teeth, for all the distractions had loosened my grip on the Night – the work had slowed, suffered. Long and delicate fingers joined mine on the staff, and like a miracle the veil on my eyes lifted. Ironclad will became intertwined with my own and I shared a feral, savage grin with Hierophant without either of us ever looking away from the howling darkness before us.

“You can still wield,” I whispered.

Ashkaran, I dimly realized.

“A god rode my mind, Catherine, for many months,” Hierophant whispered back. “I have learned things.”

Power billowed out, and I was no longer a fool of a girl clinging to a tiger: we were Woe, standing side by side, and though we were battered things no creature in this world or any other had ever earned submission of us. We painted in Night with bold strokes, feeling those around us flee backwards for the storm in the making. Komena laughed in the back of my mind, and it was eagerly that she opened the floodgates between us. Andronike hesitated, until a splash of Night boiled stone like water and we shaped it like clay without ever glancing – after that there was a well of hunger, and Gods Below but the power they granted us. Raised stones melted away into liquid strings like festival banners, spinning into roiling winds of Night. With four hands we sculpted the stone prayer to long-dead gods of Arcadia and usurped the old sacraments like thieving masons in the garments of priests. Two tall pillars, covered with words that were a godless prayer in a dead tongue, were molded and carved. And atop them dropped down the closing of the threshold, a stone like door being slammed shut. Woven from the scabs and burns, sealed in rock where the nature of it could be obscured. Power would fade in time, we knew. But the hurt, the scar? Some transgressions had weight by virtue of being what they were. This would hold for a very, very long time.

After an eternity we half-fell to the ground, Masego’s fingers clumsily leaving my staff as I used it to steers us away from tumbling down like drunks. We still crouched, exhausted and exhilarated, as the sense robbed from us by the scale of what we’d wielded and built slowly began to trickle back into our minds. We’d felt something like this once before, in Dormer. There’d been more of us, though, Adjutant and Archer as well. We’d marched forward into the heart of the enemy, bearing the story of the Woe like a banner. This had been a smaller thing, I thought, the Queen of Lost and Found and the Hierophant crafting a miracle out of power and pride. But, Gods… it’d been like a drink of the sweetest of wines, like honey on the soul, and some part of me almost wept that it’d ended.

“Look, Cat,” Masego croaked out. “Look.”

I followed his trembling finger and beheld the gate of stone we had raised. The runes inscribed on the two great pillars that I knew, just knew, were twenty feet tall and twenty apart were no as gibberish to my eye where before I had known them as if they were my native tongue. But the thrum of them, the crawling flow of power going up them through the barrow like they were rooted there, it sang to me. Of the Twilight just beyond, a mere smear of blood on stone away. And all that power was kept bound, kept locked, by the rough and massive stone pressing down – and the scars it held within, like a secret under seal.

“It’s beautiful,” I said.

And it was, in its own terrible way. We stayed there in the snow for a long time, at the heart of a circle of raised stones we’d unmade and forged anew, a barren barrow-top caressed by the winds. We stayed there until dawn crested in the distance, the faraway lights that’d be the final touch on our work.

“’lo and behold,” I murmured.

The first rays of the sun struck the stone and, as if reflecting from the spiralling runes and stretches of ancient symbols, spun like a dust whirl between the tall pillars. Just long enough a glimpse could be had of the realm beyond, of the endless starlit sky and the shady hills that could be journeyed to any journey’s end.

“There’s always something more, isn’t there?” Masego whispered. “Another horizon, another wonder. Another threshold to cross into deeper unknowns.”

It was his own truth he spoke, I thought, but in I heard the echo of Indrani’s as well. But what was restlessness in her, wanderlust, in him was instead awe.

“We’re not done yet, Masego,” I said. “We’ve bled to get where we stand, and when we come out on the other side we’ll not be the same people who began the journey. But we are so very far from done.”

He nodded, slowly

“Tomorrow will be ours,” the Hierophant agreed, tone tranquil the way old and dark waters were tranquil. “And if there are any who would deny us that, we will Wrest it from them with bloody hands.”

The word sang, and the world with it, as my old friend found the truth of third aspect and we sat silent in the warm light of dawn.

104 thoughts on “Chapter 71: Verge

    1. You need to start a typo thread too, every time. Otherwise it never gets fixed.

      were twenty feet tall and twenty apart were no as gibberish to my eye where before I had known them as if they were my native tongue.
      Change no to now

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Rob

        In case this is useful for later editing 🙂

        “tread” is used oddly in this chapter (and various others in the past) — the past should be trod or treaded; tread is only present




    And is it just me or does Wrest have a sound similar to Take? I see miracles and horrors alike before us, and none to say which is more dreadful. And I am so fucking excited.

    Liked by 22 people

    1. SilverDargon

      Oh man that is EXACTLY what I thought when I read that line. So now he has one aspect to see basically whatever he wants to, one aspect to destroy those things should he choose to, and his last aspect to take what he doesn’t destroy for himself.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. RoflCat

        Can’t remember where it was said, but didn’t Cath say something along the line of “I’ll use what I can get, and what I can’t, I’ll break it”?

        Zeze’s following her lessons well.

        Liked by 13 people

      1. Well, the literal definition of “wrest” has “take away by force” as one of the primary definitions of the word – e.g., as here:

        How aspects actually work and by what principles they do so can be difficult to say even when you’ve actually seen them used sometimes, so idk how it’ll work in practice at this point. But if we’re going by word definitions I think the literal meaning of the word supports my reading of the aspect more than yours at the moment, if I’m understanding you right anyway.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. Adam Panshin

          Well, going by common usage… You Take a thing away from someone else, at which point they have lost it and you have gained it. You Wrest control of an event or organization, at which point it continues under your direction.

          So by that standard, where Cat’s Take would steal an Aspect from someone else and whatever the Rogue Sorcerer does seems to steal or copy magic from others, I expect Masego to Wrest magical workings away from other people rather than steal their *ability* to do magic. Does that include the chains by which the Dead King controls his undead armies? We’ll have to see.

          Liked by 10 people

        2. We need to keep in mind its Masego we’re talking about, so the literal and exact definition is important (like the one you linked).

          Google gave me these definitions as well:
          forcibly pull (something) from a person’s grasp.
          distort the meaning or interpretation of (something) to suit one’s own interests or views.
          “you appear convinced of my guilt, and wrest every reply I have made”

          Liked by 4 people

          1. > Wrest refers to the thing he did just now.

            Ambiguous. Aspect invocations are usually not referring to something retroactively; Hakram did announce Stand that way, but Stand is reactive rather than proactive as an aspect so I think that’s a meaningful distinction from Wrest. And “lend a helping hand” is not in any way a definition of the actual word “wrest”. He didn’t take anything from Cat at all ever – as far as I can see he helped steady and guide her hand while the Night always remained hers. That ain’t wresting. So I’m honestly very, very dubious that Wrest could be in reference to that per se.

            Liked by 3 people

        3. KageLupus

          I would imagine that Wrest has a much more confrontational aspect to it’s use. Taking a thing is simple by comparison, since when you take something the other person loses it and you gain it. Wresting a thing is a forceful act, there is a contest involved that I think would let it backfire. If Masego tries to Wrest a miracle away from a god, it could fail and the feedback would probably put him out of commission.

          Wrest also has a more immediate connotation to it than Take did. When Cat Took an aspect she had a bundle of power that she could use when and how she saw fit. Wrest feels more like it is taking control of a thing that is happening right this second. The catalyst was him joining in on Cat forming the Twilight Gate and helping her control the process. I would assume that the aspect would act in a similar manner, where he takes control over what someone else has started.

          But Wrest probably makes up for those weaknesses by having broader applications. Cat could really only Take aspects from other Named. Masego should be able to Wrest control over a wider variety of things. Spells, rituals, miracles, probably not aspects but there might be some edge cases there. If he gets the ability to control the shape or outcome of the things he Wrests then it would be a huge swing every time he pulls the aspect out. Imagine taking an enemy’s ritual and subverting it so that it hit their side instead of your own. Not only did they waste the resources that when into the ritual, but they also suffer its effects. That is going to seriously mess up whatever plan the enemy had.

          Liked by 9 people

          1. magesbe

            You are incorrect. Take can take magic as well, she did it multiple times to Fey. She stole the Duchess of Withering Winds’ spell, and the Princess of High Noon’s wings. And it’s implied she could have even tried to steal Summer’s Sun with it, just that doing so would have killed her instantly.


    2. Steven Neiman

      It’s also worth noting that his other Aspects sound a lot like massively powered up versions of his old Apprentice Aspects. Glimpse became Witness, and Deconstruct became Ruin.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. But damn, Third Aspect for Heirophant. I wonder what Wrest will do or allow him to do, exactly. Should be pretty good (for him), though.

    Yep, Masego can still utilize miracles and non-Gift-based supernatural power. I feel like that’s going to be an unpleasant surprise for somebody down the road.

    Really, Tariq? You’ve soul gazed how many people (including Cat) with Behold and now you’re going to on about privacy rights and you don’t want Cat to examine yours herself so she can craft the gateway to Twilight?

    Liked by 8 people

      1. Shveiran

        It is. Though… Well, Tariq has never been shy about using it on enemies and friends alike. Yes, from his perspective the Ophanim is a force of Good and thus never malignant, and it is not hard to see how the Sisters would be a more scary entity even to folks on the other side of the fence.

        But still… this is not really a surprise, is it? He had to know his sight and bond to Twilight would be of great assistance in this task, and it is a vital one to bring the armies north…
        I don’t know, it would have been nice not to see him drag his feet on this one.
        I’ve warmed up a lot to him during the first arch, as we got to see his perspective more clearly; and yet, though I stayed stationary during arch 2, I’m cooling down yet again ever since his rebirth.

        It’s like… be better, man! We are trying to save the world here, could you try being a bit more proactive? You were a lot more on your game when you were with an invading army, and that is kind of sad.

        Liked by 6 people

          1. Shveiran

            Oh, I’m not arguing he is contrary for the sake of being so, just that I feel is not actively trying to be helpful, and he has no good reason to.

            This instance in particular is not really significant, it’s more the general attitude since he came back from the grave.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. I mean, you ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed and then it takes you a little while to get past it and not be unilaterally grumpy and out of sorts? I suspect Pilgrim’s got some of that right now, but for being dead instead of being asleep. I mean, IIRC it took a lot out of Cat to bring him back with a pilfered aspect, and she wasn’t the one who was dead or the one who was actually having part of their soul cut out. Not to mention that even after the way she took out Saint she’s probably like four decades younger. Cat could mostly recover from her side of it after some sleep, but I’d bet Pilgrim is still feeling it and trying not to telegraph that fact.

              Anyway, upshot is I’m prepared to give him, idk, another week or so of in-universe time before I start getting too impatient with his post-resurrection self.

              Liked by 7 people

            2. I’m… not getting that feeling?
              I’m getting the feeling he’s really off his stride bc he’s used to being the like teacher/guide and Cat is not letting him do/be that and he has no idea how else to act.

              Liked by 5 people

              1. Andrew Mitchell

                I think that makes a lot of sense.

                Pilgrim had been running in an extremely well-formed groove and was a very strong hero as a result. He’s still a very strong hero but he keeps trying to go back to his groove and Cat keeps kicking him back out again. 🙂

                Liked by 4 people

                1. Yup.

                  His groove is not ‘volunteer to have your soul inspected for knowledge needed for a ritual’, so it takes him an extra couple of minutes to process that.

                  He is not the smartest boot in the drawer.

                  Liked by 4 people

  3. Valkyria

    This was magnificent. Totally worth the wait too.

    I mean it was totally awesome and stuff but I also tried to imagine what it has to look like from the outside…
    Cat, leaning on her staff, chanting words in a foreign language, burning up with power (i might have an anime like picture in my mind here xD) and a swirly abyss of darkness and Night just in front of her, forming giant pillars with weird symbols …
    yeah she’s totally got the grim mysterious priestess vibes going there.
    I sure hope GP didn’t get a heart attack from all that dark Heathen Magic.

    Liked by 8 people

  4. Wrest, to take back something. I think Masego will be able to steal magic from others or at least something similar to the Rogue sorceror. Based on his relationship with gods. I believe he will be able to grasp miracles as well. Truly a dangerous being has come into his own.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Komplode

      Wrest is usually used in the context of power, I get the impression from context that ee meant it in this sense. To me this suggests that Masego will forcibly be able to yoink people’s and gods (maybe even uppercase) power from them. This could be their magic, aspect or even bestowed? Maybe even narrative weight though that might be op and is (to me anyway) stretching.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. DoOd

        The way I expect it to work is that he’ll be able to take control of a spell, miracle or aspect.
        i.e. GP fires his Light death beam at Cat and Masego takes control and wipes out the whole levantine army with it. (or he just Nopes Bard’s reincarnation aspect)

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Sylwoos

          Simply taking control of a spell is the kind of half-baked thing Cat would think off. We’re talking about Hierophant here, he’s way more refined than that.

          If he’s attacked by Pilgrim’s Light beam, he won’t care for the beam, he’ll go straight for the Light itself, Wrest it out of the hand of the Choir and wield it as his own. To take forcefully the power of gods is exactly the kind of thing we should expect from the Hierophant.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Still thinking its temporary. Instead of building up an arsenal of OP shit the way he had been up to Thalassina, he now can power up to the exact measure of the opponent(s) and beat them with their own power. Then he’s down to zero again.

            It sounds v in line with his character (he is used to his power as a utility that has always been available to it, it’s like a limb, but he doesn’t really care about being able to wipe muggles or w/e its swinging it with gods that hes into) and it cleans up narrative vulnerabilities of being OP

            Liked by 2 people

    1. IDKWhoitis

      The narrative is slowly being pulled towards an Armageddon type scenario where good and evil put aside differences for one last strike to stop a catastrophic threat. All the Names involved will have to be big names, or they will simply be red shirts by the end of it. I’m even worried if Roland will make the cut, because the Heroes already got the Witch of the Woods. Although the novice being the only survivor can also theoretically apply.

      To put an end to my rambling :
      I don’t think a new Hero will make an appearance, at least not one that survives longer than 5 minutes into the DK Fight.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Skaddix

        I mean in terms of a Final party. I think Cat is lock, Hanno is lock, Masego and Indrani have good odds (since the DK caused relationship drama and made it personal by killing Indrani), Witch is likely. That leaves you with a flex spot since any party has room for a core 5 and 6th Man swinger. I don’t expect much in terms of major new heroes introduced.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. I’m dubious regarding Witch making it on the roster; she’s a heavy hitter for sure, but on a meta-narrative level she really hasn’t gotten a lot of face time whereas Roland just spent a whole arc appearing on-screen with the protagonist of the Guide. Also, unless he dies (again) first Pilgrim is definitely also a lock. And since he already died in a noble sacrifice once, I don’t see him doing a repeat, at least not before the final confrontation. It wouldn’t have the same punch twice unless there’s something giving it extra weight.

          So I’m thinking final party roster as Cat, Pilgrim, very likely Masego and Indrani, Hanno I’d also give good odds at the moment though I wouldn’t quite put him down as a lock, and then for the last spot I’d say Roland is the most plausible as the most direct arcane countermeasure available. Unless Tyrant pulls the ultimate weasel move and gets himself included in that band of five also (please no). Sixth ranger could be Hakram to back up Cat if he isn’t holding things down elsewhere or, hilariously, Akua. Or, more hilariously and paranoia-inducingly still, Bard herself.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Skaddix

            I mean I say Masego can do Roland’s job right now what they both lack right now is raw magic power right now which the Witch has.

            As for GP i expect him to die before we get a final party plus I am not sure I take him without his rez. I figure his best use is doing the mentor death power up for a Hero. Give him the proverbially passing the torch moment.

            From Cat’s side though I think Cat, Masego and Indrani are all locks.

            Liked by 2 people

        2. Agent J

          Hanno has been rather tangential to the story thus far. His escapades in the Free Cities was a C plot at best, his part in the crusades were a B plot and over rather swiftly, he’s been holding ground in the North well enough, but Catherine did more on that front by herself and did so without even being in the same half of the country.

          All this, and his original purpose of being the heroic foil to Catherine the Black Knight died three books and several plot lines ago. He got a flashback, so the EEs of Above and Below deem him important enough for that, at least, but the Witch? She’s been on screen once and has no personality we can properly discern.

          Hanno’s band is going to have to come in hard with a loud boom of personality and gravitas if they’re to endanger Roland who’s already managed to endear himself to Cat, the audience, and the Audience.

          I mean, he’s literally the Underdog as far as mages go. I mean he’s the only Named maybe mage in Iserre, yet every named former mage is his better by leaps and bounds. He’s sharp with his tongue and is just barely keeping up with all the living legends of the age that surround him. He’s even got a mysterious backstory! That’s worth two flashbacks and a monologue!! He literally can’t die until we figure out just what his deal is.

          To summarize,

          Cat’s a lock, because she’s the bloody protagonist.

          Indrani’s a lock, because someone’s gotta be the resident Stabber of Bad Things on the team and she has history with the Asshole Who Murdered Her. (Could be switched out for Champion if Heroes insist on skewing the Band in favour of Good).

          Tariq’s a lock, because he was literally revived for this.

          Masego’s a lock, because he is nettled and the resident expert on almost everything, and more pertinently, the matter of gods and how to kill them.

          Hanno’s a lock, because why have we kept getting snippets of his life and actions if he’s not going to amount to anything. And also he’s been loudly touted as the “Greatest Hero of the New Generation”.

          And if there’s going to be a Sixth Ranger it’ll either be the Mysterious Sorcerer(?) or the Mysterious Spirit(?).

          Boring witches we neither know nor care for are unlikely to suddenly become relevant this late in the Apocalypse game.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. DoOd

            I thought Hanno would try to have his choir pass judgement on Hierarch and then Hierarch will accuse the whole choir of being Foreign Oligarchs and their laws being not of the People thus erasing the whole choir out of existence.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Agent J

              The Hierarch is mad and there is power in that. Maybe even in enough to smite an angel. But I highly doubt he could erase a whole choir.

              More importantly, are you suggesting that Hanno has been given all this build up, just to get bent over and reamed by Anaxares? Cuz… I’m not against that.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. DoOd

                Well if Judgement is accused of something, they must judge themselves.
                If they then judge themselves guilty … we all know that the only answer to a guilty verdict from them is removal.

                Liked by 1 person

                  1. They’re certainly capable of trying to break the rules of the Narrative.
                    Remember, the Hashmallin tried to deny Cat the resurrection she earned through the Story, so she had to Take it from them.
                    And the Ophanim would normally be hugely opposed to Cat, yet they allowed her to rip out and use Forgive on Tariq.

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. DoOd

                      The Hashmallim denied Cat’s resurrection because she was not contrite; she did not conform to the absolute that governs them and so had to take her resurrection forcibly.
                      The Ophanim seek to alleviate suffering. Allowing Cat to resurrect Pilgrim, their most devoted tool would fit right in with their function.


        3. Decius

          Masego versus Dead King is a lock. My money is on a 1v1 that DK narrowly wins, incapacitating Zeze, followed by the rest of the band vs Dead King and Revenants, where Rumena buys the farm for angst’s sake and everyone else is defeated, at which point the Bard Enters, Stage Right and starts to try to talk DK to death (to life?). During the time freeze Heirophant recovers enough to use Wrest on the Bard, then take over DK’s power. Most of the Revenants are pledged to the Accords in a manner endorsed by the Pilgrim, making them strong enough to be credible.

          Liked by 2 people

        4. I don’t believe there’s going to be a single 5 man band party in the end. I think it’s going to be a group effort in a much more diffuse way, more like a mass ritual with everyone doing their part than a hack-y ‘story says we win here’ 5 man band.

          Like someone is idk holding open the portal to Hells, someone is constantly healing everyone else, someone is fighting the army off to the side, someone is scrying, someone is targeting DK’s weak point through the scrying, etc. Some of it might be a 5 man band, there might be multiple of those involved – likely that.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Sparsebeard

        I don’t feel like the DK is the final enemy though, I mean, he might be one of the few who actually will try talking before coming to blows with Cat. Heck, I wouldn’t be (that much) surprised if he sent an emissary at Salia…

        Well, maybe not, still, I feel that him and Cat are too smoth operators to simply destroy themselves one against another.

        Plus, it would kind of be anticlimatic for an antagonist introduced so late to be the Big Bad. I mean, Bard or even Black or Akua fit the bill much better (not that I think it’s gonna be one of those two but still).

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Komplode

      For me it’s the dwarves I want to see more of, how their ‘deep’ fits into Gods and gods and where it stands with the Intercessor, something doesn’t get called deep without being v old. Also their culture seems pretty bad ass, that might be cause it’s been left so vague and up to imagination tho

      Liked by 3 people

  5. IDKWhoitis

    I have a feeling that Wrest is going to be used on DK or Bard by the end of this. Like it’s practically made for prying loose *something* no mortal should bear. Whether it be control of a hell gate or undead or even the Gift. Or alternatively, a flask, if Cat wants to piss off the Bard…

    Liked by 7 people

    1. I think it’s pretty clear that says at least as much about Roland as about Masego lol. But fundamentally yes, if we don’t get Professor Masego of Cardinal I will consider it a massive unfulfilled tease.

      Liked by 5 people

        1. Wants definitely, not sure if he still expects it after this much exposure to other people. But you’ve got a good point that for Masego pointing out the ignorance of others (calculating “ignorance” on a steep curve, mind) was always about letting them know so they could correct that. Moving from there to “let me help you correct that” would be a step forward still, but it would be a very natural step forward.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Mhm!
            Note also what this chapter says about him teaching the Fifteenth’s mages rituals and how differently they went with or without him. He has actual patience for teaching and guiding, and I don’t recall him ever complaining about it – like Cat was actually startled to realize how much of it he was doing.

            Liked by 4 people

  6. Daniel E

    Wrest sounds like a play out of the Rogue Sorcerer’s arsenal, though admittedly more violent. I imagine Rogue can take sorcery from a dead or severely weakened opponent, whereas Wrest would allow taking from someone who is at full strength, so long as Hierophant’s willpower is stronger and/or more flexible. Kindof like magical arm-wrestling.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Komplode

      Imo wrest will be much more versatile than Rogues magic trick, I think Rogue and only learn one use sorceries whereas Masego will be able to take and use people’s power whether it be magic, name or divinely bestowed for a limited time period

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Andrew Mitchell

    Woah, that was a m a z i n g. Seeing Masego and Cat work together like that was a real treat, and now Masego has his third aspect as well. Wrest sounds very appropriate.

    A prediction: Pilgrim’s going to find out who Akua is and it’s going to be a factor in the negotiations in Salia.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. caoimhinh

      My bet is on Kairos casually mentioning Akua during the coming peace talks.

      And he would probably be like:
      “Oh, was that a secret I was not supposed to say to others? Nice.”

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Shveiran

        It certainly seems plausible at this stage, yet I’m not really sure why it is a relevant point.

        As I’ve argued before… so Cat has bound the soul of her enemy into her service. Oh no?

        I mean, the soul-cutting can hardly be a major thing, can it? Cat messed with a Villain’s soul, the Heroes cut a Villain soul… It doesn’t seem like anyone was indignant when it was Black’s, so I could maybe see it raising a few akles if it was a hero’s soul but… the Doom of Liesse? Come now, indignation would be ridiculous.

        So… is it the slavery? I mean, I can see how that could be a problem, sure, but it’s not like she is torturing her to death. The alternative was what, just killing her and burying her on consacrated ground so that no wraith would come out? Locking her up somewhere she would eventually escape from?
        It’s arguable at best that any of the alternative options would be better, from a moral OR practical point of view. Which isn’t to say it can’t be argued, but… a game changer, really?

        Unless it is the “mercy” aspect that is a problem? In that case, I can see how some Heroes (those we could say graduated from the Saint school of problem slashing) may have a problem with that, but even so A) it’s not like she is getting off scott free, B) even if she was, how is this a bigger issue than allying with the former Black Knight, to whose death Cat already opposes and C) are the Good guys really going to complain now about how Cat is not murdering ENOUGH people? For Sisters’ sake, a few chapters ago the bloody Pilgrim let the Tyrant go with nowhere near this much of a sanction, and no one even suggested it might have been a mistake.

        Don’t get me wrong, I think you are right and this will likely be an issue at some point. I just… I see the foreshadowing, but I don’t really get the shape this problem should have. Am I missing something?

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          You’re neglecting the Black school of thought. Where it’s not about the morality or lack thereof of the act itself, but rather the judgement in doing it at all. Namely “This is too goddamn dangerous, not killing her gives her a chance to do more horrible things, and the bound slaves of villians are never as under their control as they believe.”

          Liked by 3 people

          1. I don’t think the heroes have a horse in this race though. They haven’t actually dealt with Akua (which is part of the chip on Cat’s shoulder: they did NOT help deal with the fae or the Diabolist but now they’re coming to help ‘liberate’ the people from those who actually protected them from that?) so if Cat is like ‘i have this under control’ they are most likely going to be ‘sounds legit’.

            Esp Tariq who can actually look into Akua’s soul and confirm that it is indeed under control.

            Or warn Cat if it isn’t.

            Y’know either way there isn’t the uncertainity of ‘but is she fooling you’. The heroes just… don’t care.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. I suspect that Sve Noc could defend Akua’s psychic privacy at need, but they’re going along with Cat’s game here. Having his Behold get no-sold by Cat is just one of the reasons Pilgrim’s been increasingly at sea for this last couple of arcs.

              There’s also the point that, if Akua was to go rogue… how much could the heroes do about it without Cat’s consent? If anything, they might hope that the “infighting among villains” would give them an opening against Cat.

              Liked by 4 people

  8. edrey

    i believe that Wrest should be way more powerfull and vesrsatil than Take from Squire or Hold or Steal from Thief, one is a transitional name and the other just a weak name. he should be able to take from powers and objects to knowledge and souls. i just worry that the pilgrim just hear him said his new aspect, that is trouble

    Liked by 3 people

    1. An interesting point. But are we sure yet that it wasn’t an actual use? He was just touching Night and it was well established he’s not sentimental regarding the feelings of the Crows. He wouldn’t take Night from them as a gift or for a pledge of service, no. But if they didn’t want him just taking the power then they shouldn’t have left it just lying around like that. I mean, carelessness like that is really more of an invitation, isn’t it? Never forget, Masego may be bae but he’s still Praesi.

      …Wait does that mean he’s technically Baesi?

      Liked by 7 people

    2. Darkening

      Nah, cat got Break after she snapped the angel sword. Doesn’t have to have the dramatic declaration/use to get an aspect. Hell, learn just sort of appeared out of nowhere for her.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Gamer7956

        At the same time, learn was more of a passive, always on aspect (Like all three of Rangers, according to her chapter) – there was no defining moment.
        Though I would argue Wrest was used with Cat to shape the portal. I think Wrest is likely to be taking control of power from Gods – spells/miracles in progress specifically. Taking control – even only partial – of a god fuelled miracle definitely comes under that.
        I don’t think Zeze is going to be able to take permanent power – that’s Roland’s shtick. He’s more of “You’re incompetent/in my way, give that here’

        Liked by 3 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Hmm, Roland doesn’t seem to be able to take permanent power, he stores up spells and wards to spend them later. Take was a permanent usurpation of power, and would stay with Cat until she decided to Take something else. Even William’s Aspect of Rise recharged itself when in Cat’s possession, that was a permanent steal.

          I expect Masego’s Wrest to be something like forcefully taking control of a power and permanently gaining some sort of authority over that, even if not over all that power, over some part of it. Maybe even a permanent insight on its workings that enable Masego to replicate it (that has been his whole schtick as Hierophant, after all).

          Liked by 2 people

    1. No, Masego lost his sorcerous ability, not his Name. There’s plenty of non-Named sorcerers running around, and also a fair number of non-sorcerous Named — and that latter group now includes Masego.

      The interesting thing is, Masego’s previous Name of Apprentice was directly tied to sorcery. His current Name of Heirophant was certainly nurtured and supported by his sorcery; a lot of people (surely DK, and initially Cat) probably assumed that without sorcery, Masego it would lack a power base.

      But IIRC both the Name and each Aspect weren’t triggered by sorcerous feats but rather by his repeated run-ins with various gods and demons. And just on basic meaning, a heirophant is not a wizardly or sorcerous role, it’s a priestly role. Masego has become, by stages, a sort of Villainous cleric — one who does not beseech the gods, but confronts and dominates them.

      So, he’s just the guy to stand up to… some undead immortal asshole who dared to rank himself among the gods, while still tampering directly in mortal affairs.

      Especially paired with a woman who had godhood thrust upon her, but responded with “who, me?”, renounced divinity, and switched over to working in the service of another godhood.

      (And while Sve Noc may be new to true godhood, they had a helluva long apprenticeship — and since their final ascension they’ve been acting like proper gods and working primarily through their servants.)

      Liked by 4 people

    2. caoimhinh

      Nope, just a couple chapters ago he was shown using it to confront Sve Noc when they offered a deal to him in his tent. Catherine explicitly said that his Name was flaring with power against the flood of Night in the tent.

      He lost his Gift, his magic, which Akua described as a physical thing, not a metaphysical thing, so I’m guessing it’s more like he lost the capacity to store mana in his body, so he can no longer cast spells.

      He still has Hierophant as Name. In fact, the first clue we got that he still had his Name was when Cat grabbed him right after vanquishing the Dead King’s fragment that possessed him, and we saw that his glass eyes still worked despite losing his magic (they are made with his Sorcery, but were his very first working as Hierophant, encapsulating Summer Flame inside, if he had lost both magic and Name, the eyes would have stopped working).
      Up until Masego’s confrontation with Sve Noc, many were still speculating whether losing his magic meant losing his Name, but that was the confirmation he still has it.

      Liked by 3 people

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