Interlude: Bone

“Here’s the only justice I care to bring across the Vales: a sword in a just hand.”
– Queen Elizabeth Alban of Callow, the Queen of Blades

The stone hit the man square in the cheek and he screamed in pain as bone broke blood began trickling down. Another few followed, though most were detritus snatched off the street instead of loose pavement. This was the first time Sister Marie ever saw a stoning with her own eyes, though some of the older scriptures did mention the practice in specific circumstances –  traitors in Salamans had been dealt with in such a manner, in those ancient days when the Arlesen Confederacy stood and the Gigantes still tried to bring their rebellious escaped slaves to heel on occasion. A case could be made, Sister Marie decided, that in these troubled days a northern in Salia was close enough to a traitor for… this not to be without precedent.

“Please,” the man begged. “I’m not even Lycaonese, it’s a-”

A clump of thrown ice interrupted the man’s words. Was that a tooth Sister Marie had glimpsed? Hard to tell, for the torches cast only wavering light and the screams of the crowd were distracting. Odds were the man truly wasn’t Lycaonese – he’d hardly be the first one with a vaguely northern name to be dragged out of his shop tonight to stand before the judgement of the crowd – but it hardly mattered. The young priestess’ sermon had whipped up a frenzy in the odd hundred Salians who attended her temple regularly, and it was not an easily quelled thing. Brother Rémi, who stood between her and the Holies, had been clear that nothing must be said that would temper the righteous wrath of the people against Princess Hasenbach’s attempt to make herself a queen.

“Procer is no queendom,” Sister Marie screamed, to the approving roar of the crowd, “it is an assembly of the highest in the eyes of the Heavens, and let all tyrants-”

Her eye caught sight of a glinting thing, spinning. She turned in surprise as a dark-skinned man caught a coin with an open palm. The crowd had parted around him without even realizing it, Sister Marie realized. Like a school of small fish around a larger one. Calm eyes found her own, serene in the midst of the screaming chaos. A heartbeat later there was a burn of blinding Light and she felt searing pain going through her skull before she felt nothing at all. Sister Marie’s headless corpse fell to the ground, everything about the neck turned to ash.

“Disperse,” the White Knight evenly told the crowd.

Louis de Satrons found, to his surprise, that he must have missed field work. He did not consider himself a sentimental sort, but there was a strange pleasure to seeing to the necessities by your own hand. Like filing a nail, he thought, or cracking a joint. The man before him the dark room was awake, though the hood on his face had been enough to cow him into stillness for now. Perhaps the Silver Letter agent even believed that by keeping his focus he’d be able to retrace his steps to this particular safehouse. If so, the head of the Circle of Thorns commended him for his dedication. Not that it would help.

“Proceed,” Louis ordered.

The hood was ripped off by one of his helpers, and the unremarkable face of a middle-aged man with luxurious blond curls was revealed. The spy blinked at the sudden restoration of his sight, but found he could not see well: surrounded by glowing magelight orbs, the man was bound sitting in the sole island of light within the interrogation room. Louis’ own presence would be reduced to a voice from the dark until he wished it otherwise.

“You’re making a fucking mistake, whoever you are,” the spy called out.

“My mother,” Louis said, voice dry as dust, “was a huntress of great skill. Stag, boar – even geese and swans in our lands by the shores of Lake Artoise. She insisted I learn, but I never succeeded at sharing her enthusiasm for the affair.”

“They’ll know I’m missing,” the man said, fear beginning to win over anger in his tone.

Few good things ever happened to bound men in dark rooms being told wistful stories.

“If you return me to my people I’ll argue leniency,” the spy tried. “Otherwise they’ll fucking rip you apart, I don’t care how high your birth is. I’m a Silver-”

“Letter,” one of Louis’ helpers completed from behind the prisoner. “We know.”

“Then what do you want?” the prisoner hissed.

“From you?” Louis said. “Nothing you will not give soon enough.”

He slowly rose to his feet, then glanced to the side. There was quite the selection awaiting, for the Circle’s facilities in the city were well-equipped.

“But there is one part of her insistence I thank my mother for, to this day,” Louis de Sartrons mused out loud. “For she was old-fashioned, and demanded I skin and cut my kills myself instead of allowing a servant to do so in my stead.”

His fingers closed around the flensing knife, elegantly inlaid with silver.

“Look, I’m willing to talk,” the spy hastily said. “Just tell me what you want to know and-”

“You know nothing of import,” the helper said. “Your position is that of a bottom-feeder in Balthazar’s band of beasts.”

“Then what is it you want?” the spy desperately said.

“For you to scream loudly enough that it will carry to our other prisoners,” Louis mildly said.

It truly had been kind of Mother, to ensure he would learn young to have a precise hand with a knife. And how to use it, too: there was surprisingly little difference between a stag and a man.

Under the skin, anyway.

“What’s the damned holdup?” Prince Arsene yelled from atop his horse.

Balthazar Serigny supressed a sneer. The man had insisted on coming yet barely left the palace grounds before beginning to complain about every little thing. The tall spymaster discreetly palmed a knife in the long sleeve of his greatcoat and barreled forward on foot, elbowing the soldiers ahead of him so he could reach the front of the column. There was little difficulty in finding out what the trouble was when he’d arrived there, however. The men and women in their way were a ramshackle bunch, a patchwork of different arms and uniforms when they even had either. There was Salian city guard in there, and garrison as well, but others were civilians: many fair-haired and older, Lycaonese veterans who’d dragged themselves awake and into the streets in the name of one of their own. The loyalty Hasenbach still commanded among her kind even after abandoning them to the wolves was outright disturbing. Some youths in elaborate arms and armour, clearly highborn and perhaps even distant royalty, had gallantly gathered as well. They were the loudest by far. Their challenges to the soldiers that were in principle led by Prince Arsene of Bayeux – and in practice by Captain Julien, who Balthazar owned – were both boastful and improbable, as was Alamans custom.

The spymaster was reluctantly impressed by the young woman who baldly asserted she would kill them all with half an icicle, one handed, if they dared to take another step forward.

Still, this was a waste of time and time was his most dangerous foe at the moment. With every passing moment that old fuck Simon had been loose in the capital for longer and the chances he’d found Hasenbach rose. And though Balthazar’s middling esteem for the man had dropped even further when he’d failed to sniff out such a large conspiracy amongst the Holies, there was no denying that the Holy Society had a wide array of friends and hiding holes in the city: if Brother Simon got his hands on the savage, the coup was unlikely to recover from it. Which meant there was no time to humour the fools who’d raised a ramshackle barricade across the street, barring the way to the near three thousand men the conspiracy had gathered to smother any chance of Hasenbach’s escape in the crib. There were a few hundreds at most and would be swept away in moments if it came to blades. The head of the Silver Letters shoved aside one of his own soldiers, who was standing around hesitantly as insults were hurled at her. Fucking Salian garrison, they had no spine and hardly more pride. The former fantassin approached the barricade and raised his voice.

“By order of the Highest Assembly, you are charged to disperse,” Balthazar called out. “You are aiding treason and heresy by standing in our way.”

That saw some hesitating, for both offences he’d named were capital ones and there tended to be generous in doling out death when it came to rooting them out. A hirstute, bearded old man – drunk, by the looks of him, leapt over the barricade with only a long knife in hand.

“Crook,” the man said, Lycaonese accent thick. “Crook and servant of crooks. Hannoven fell for you and now you slide the knife.”

“You will not get another warning,” Balthazar called out, ignoring him in favour of the crowd.

Lest dawn fail,” the old man screamed, and hundreds roared it out with him.

Fools that they were, they charged out from the barricade. Balthazar hastily retreated, loudly calling for a shield wall to be formed, and the slaughter began.

Francesco grit his teeth and struck again, finally smashing through the wooden shutters. The others let out a whoop of joy and Anselme helped him clear away the broken remains before going through the window. Moments later the other man opened the door from the inside and the lot of them went into the shop, a few looking for any coin that might be kept by the drapier but less ambitious looters simply grabbing every roll of cloth and displayed tapestries they could. It was all a sin, Francesco knew, but virtue did not fill stomachs. That pretty tapestry displaying verses from the Book of All Things might, though, so while ashamed he carefully unhooked it before folding it under his arm. From the ripping sound to his side, not all his fellows had been so delicate in taking it. What waste.

“Drop everything,” a woman’s voice called out. “Or you’ll not leave here alive!”

The drapier herself had come out from the back, he saw when he turned. She was overweight and long past fifty, so the sight of her brandishing a slender duellist’s sword while in a nightdress was more laughable than worrying.

“We’ll take the sword too, thank you,” Alessandra chortled, mocking the woman they were robbing.

It was a hard crowd he ran with these days, but with a crime to his name the city guard ran him off whenever he tried to attend the First Prince’s alms-givings. Who else was he to run with, if he did not want to starve or die of cold out in the streets? Francesco caught a flicker from the corner of his eye and saw a coin spinning up – and though it spun so well and high it should have touched the ceiling instead it vanished. There was some hooded figured leaning against the doorsill behind them all, but Francesco barely noticed for the silhouette that’d spun the coin moved like the wind and then Alessandra’s head was rolling on the floor. The man, for Francesco now saw it was a man, paused to take a look at Anselme before killing him too.

One stroke of his longsword, that was all it took, and as the looters began to flee the stranger repeated the process again and again. A look, a strike, a death. The drapier had pissed herself at the sight, though he could hardly judge her since he’d done the same. The man finally turned to him, tall and dark-skinned and with eyes that Francesco met entirely by accident. Within he saw a spinning coin, silver, one side bearing crossed swords and the other laurels. And then it ceased, and laurels was what he came back to himself and knew this to be a glimpse of madness. The stranger’s sword rested against his neck, and he tapped it lightly with the flat side.

“Amend your ways,” the White Knight said. “While you still can.”

Then he moved to the side and Francesco flinched in anticipation of a changed mind or a cruel game coming at an end, but the man instead took a look at the drapier – who’d fallen on her knees and dropped the sword, trembling in terror.

“You have reason to be afraid,” the stranger coldly said. “They see all.”

There was a flash of light and the drapier’s charred corpse tumbled back, half the face whispering ash. The man took a last glance around before walking out of the charnel yard, the hooded figure following him without a word.

Francesco threw up and nearly choked on the filth, for he was weeping in relief.

“Interesting,” Louis de Sartrons said, washing his hands clean in a water basin.

He dried them with a silk cloth before setting it aside. The full weight of his attention went to the woman at his side and the report she had recited by memory. Promising that she would have such talent for recall without any notes, though Louis was in no position to make an official commendation. If it turned out that the Silver Letters had not been used by a foreign power, then his ordered abductions and torture of their members would be taken a gross overreach of the Circle’s mandate. Should this be the case, he would confess to having abused the resources of the organization out of his deep personal loyalty for Cordelia Hasenbach and take full responsibility. For that fiction to be kept, however, it must appear as if he’d acted on his own unknown to his peers. A commendation on record would rather strike a discordant note.

“It appears that as far back as five months ago the Silver Letters began unearthing Praesi infiltration,” his helper said. “Interrogation of a captured spy yielded information that led them to several safehouses, including two holding scrolls and correspondence. Balthazar Serigny is said to have taken great personal interest in the findings of the second one.”

“And we missed operations of this scale?” Louis frowned. “How?”

“Of all these, only the two Eyes of the Empire in Madame Soucillon’s brothel were known to us. Their capture and death were made to look like criminal activity, however, so they raised no alarms,” the woman replied. “As for the rest, the Silver Letters appear to have found a genuine Praesi spy chain unknown to us.”

That the Bastard had not passed along everything related to the Dread Empire to the Circle of Thorns at first opportunity was impolite, but not outright damning. It could be argued that the Circle’s inability to ferret out the Praesi had voided obligation for the Silver Letters, and this incident in and of itself was not enough to justify the assault on them Louis had ordered. As he had said earlier, however, it was an interesting detail.

“Have every known and suspected Praesi infiltrator in the city looked in on, immediately,” Louis de Satrons finally said. “And it is time we deploy all our… acquisition assets.”

“Sir?” she murmured, sounding surprised.

“Find me someone who had a notion of what was in that correspondence the Bastard took,” the spymaster order. “Neither gentleness nor discretion are any longer a concern in achieving this.”

“Are the firebreaks ready?” Balthazar asked.

The wind had picked up, though by the standards of Salian winter this was still a rather mild night. Though the tall killer knew that decisive action was needed for Hasenbach to be put down, he had no intention of burning down the entire capital. Though Princess Malanza might be grateful for what he’d done, she’d still have to order him killed to appease the mob. Not being a fool, he’d ordered firebreaks to be dug around the high districts and great masses of snow carted up to prevent the fires about to be lit from spreading. It would be enough, most likely. With a little luck it’d even snow later that night or come morning, and even the embers would be put out.

“They are,” Captain Julien agreed. “Are you certain this is wise, sir? Lots of royals have manses in this part of the capital. They might take issue with returning to ashes instead of a nice salon.”

“These are hard times, Julien,” Balthazar mildly said. “And we’ve confirmed that Prince Cordelia has set mages to summoning demons to take back the city somewhere within the districts. The ritual must be disrupted no matter the costs.”

The other man did not believe him the slightest, though he was wise enough to keep silent. In truth, though for those of some learning this was a wild accusation Balthazar had not chosen that particular excuse without reason. Few Procerans knew much of magic and it was well known that Hasenbach had brought some of the magickers back to prominence by founding her Order of the Red Lion. Those with little knowledge of sorcery, which happened to be the overwhelming majority of the Principate, would find it believable enough. As for the learned, they would know well enough not the cross a broadly popular First Princess with great command of the Highest Assembly and the enthusiastic backing of the House of Light.

“So be it,” Captain Julien said, murmuring Gods save us all under his breath.

For all his dithering, he was prompt in having the fires started. Balthazar had ordered they begin with the northmost sections and rake their way down, to flush out Hasenbach if it was possible: it was still best to have her imprisoned instead of dead if possible, though not so such a great extent he’d let an opportunity to put an arrow in her pass. The high districts had sewers, which he had watched by his people, and every way out of them was currently held by soldiers and guards. The noose would not be slipped, not by a woman who was suspected to have a broken leg. The torches hit the oil-soaked bundles of wood and roared out, beginning to spread into the attached manse. As the fire crackled merrily Balthazar the Bastard smiled, for he’d have the savage in chains before dawn even if he had to go street by damned street.

Lieutenant Pauline had been feeling nauseous for near half an hour, now, and emptying her stomach had helped absolutely nothing. She was city guard, she told herself, she wasn’t meant to handle messes like this. There must have been at least two hundred corpses scattered around the street where the ‘authorities’ had clashed with the ‘rebels’, most of them belonging to the poor fuckers who’d gone after garrison soldiers under Julien while armed about as well as your average street tough. The shield wall had scythed through them like wheat, though stubbornly quite a few had kept coming. Some old veterans and garrison men stayed loyalist had tried to get a shield wall of their own going, but Captain Julien had brought archers and there weren’t enough shields on the rebel side to be able to even remotely take an organized volley.

The whole thing had been a massacre, and the smell of it was now lingering in her nose and mouth even when she covered it with cloth and faced wind blowing the other way. Gods, if only she’d not had a taste for poppy brew. If her debts had not been so deep the Silver Letters would never… It mattered not. They were deep as could be, and she owed to the wrong sort of folks. Hasenbach had been a decent enough sort to the people of the capital but not so saintly Pauline would burn down her own life for the First Prince’s sake. Weren’t no saints anywhere in Salia, as far as she could tell, and a woman had to take care of herself when the going got rough. She just wished the stench would go away.

“Stack the bodies together properly,” she yelled through the cloth. “The carts need to be able to pass through the street when they’re carried out. And all of you just standing around, lend a fucking hand would you?”

Only her own guards heeded the instruction, the idling soldiers and fantassins – Silver Letters, most likely – ignoring her outright. Considering they made for half the hundred she’d been left with, it was no surprise this bloody mess was going on forever. Even if the damned carts did finally get here they’d all be stuck waiting until guts and corpses no longer clogged the way. The Bastard ran this coup, looked liked, and he’d not trusted her enough to let her guards handle this alone. Fair enough, but the man could at least have left her with more than godsdamned watchers if she was to have this street cleaned up enough it didn’t look like a butcher’s yard under morning light.

“Half of them,” a man’s voice calmly said, “were hardly even armed.”

Lieutenant Pauline nearly jumped out of her own skin. The man who’d talked was some tall foreign fucker, though well-dressed. Probably one of Balthazar’s, if he’d made it through the other blockades unimpeded. Maybe he’d know when the carts would be coming. There was a hooded woman at his side, the guard then noted, and she could see bits of a mask in the shadows beneath. Yeah, definitely some sort of spies.

“They were armed enough,” Pauline grunted. “And you’re sounding awful judgy for one of theirs, I got to say.”

“I do not judge,” the dark-skinned man refuted. “Though judgement has been passed on you nonetheless.”

“You’re not one of Balthazar’s,” Lieutenant Pauline said, stomach sinking.

“No,” the White Knight said. “Though I expect we shall meet in due time. I shall mark the exculpated, Antigone. For the rest, do as you will.”

The woman cocked her hooded head to the side as the wind suddenly picked up, and the last thing Pauline ever saw as a blade shining like the sun.

“And you are quite certain,” Louis de Sartrons said, “that it concerned the Augur’s limitations?”

“Yes,” the dark-haired prisoner said. “I saw only part of the scroll, but it claimed to contain the Carrion Lord’s own thoughts on the matter.”

And there it was, the trap the Tower had laid. It’d been done cleverly enough, the emaciated spymaster had to admit. If that scroll had been found on the first foray of the Silver Letters, Balthazar would have recognized it for the dangled bait that it was. Instead it’d been a progressive, heady climb for the other spymaster: information extracted that led to more, operations successful but never too easily, until he’d found quite the cache of compromising documents including this particular scroll. Likely Serigny had held some doubts as well, but ultimately decided that not even the Empire was so callous as to sacrifice near a hundred spies and hirelings altogether to simply feed someone information. He never quite had gotten the measure of the Eyes of the Empire, had he? Oh Balthazar had prevented their successes on occasion but there was a reason that the Webweaver’s pawns were for Louis and his peers to deal with and not the Bastard. Clever as Balthazar could be on occasion, he was used to the deceptions of the Ebb and Flow: shifting alliances and secrecy, the labyrinthine procedures and precedents of the Highest Assembly paired with blackmail and the occasional assassination.

And the Tower did use those means, it was true. But the Tower was a cursed beast that swallowed its own tail, there was no gambit too ruthless for it. Worse, after the Scribe and the mysterious Lady Ime had wrested the reins from the hands of their predecessors they had proved to be exquisitely deft hands at the game. Some of the ways the Circle’s agents in Mercantis had been dislodged had been so superbly executed that Louis had been more admiring than angry when reading the reports. Under the tenure of those two, the Eyes of the Empire had become the peer of the Circle of Thorns in every way. He had a great deal of respect for that society, and he’d studied them for decades: this had the telltale marks of a Praesi conspiracy all over it. It was always their preference to fund and empower local turncoats rather than to introduce a plot of their own whenever possible. Under Dread Empress Malicia the Empire had turned again and again its wealth into poison flowing through the veins of the Principate, and this was no different.

Yet when the reports from the other order had had given began to pour in, what had been clear instead became muddled.

“Pardon me,” Louis said. “I don’t believe I heard you correctly.”

“They are killing each other, sir,” the helper said. “It is not a coincidence, we’ve ten separate instances confirmed of known or suspected Imperial agents fighting.”

A factional struggle between the Eyes? It was said that the Black Knight and the Dread Empress had sundered ties, but the Circle had been dubious given the lack of follow-through on either side. It would not be the first time that those two feigned quarrels to draw out foes and slay them. It was not, however, impossible.

“In seven out of ten instances, the party being attacked was trying to start a fire in the city,” the helper recited. “In two out of the seven, magic was used by the attackers. In all ten instances the attackers won and retreated. We have several being followed.”

The mages, Louis thought, were the trouble here. The great advantage of Praes spies was the ability to transmit what they learned by scrying, which greatly complicated ascertaining if a suspect individual was truly in contact with handlers. Which was why the Eyes so carefully guarded the identities of their mages in Procer, often preferring to lose an entire band of spies on the ground rather than endanger that more important component. Two had already been outed tonight, and more might follow. Which meant either this gambit, whatever its meaning, was worth burning them and potentially a very significant potion of the Eyes of the Empire in Salia – if not all of Procer.

Or, he grimly conceded, there truly was factional fighting within the Eyes. Between the Empress and the Carrion Lord, or more practically speaking Lady Ime and the Scribe. The former was said to never leave the Tower, if she even truly existed, but the latter… She was alleged to have been in the heartlands at some point in the past, though the information had been judged unreliable. It was not impossible for her to be in Salia at this very moment. One side was attempting to start fires, another to prevent such actions. It could not be that arson itself was the liability, for given the utter chaos in the capital it’d be nearly impossible to seriously contend that Praes had been responsible for the fires. Not when Balthazar’s band of pawns was happily starting a few without prompting.

“The riots will grow worse, if the fires take hold,” Louis frowned, thinking out loud. “Both those of the First Prince’s partisans and those of the conspirators.”

More specifically the House of Light, who could stir the people to anger like few others. Still, Cordelia Hasenbach was not without friends in Salia and remained popular with the people – in particular soldiers, retired or otherwise, but also artisans and the poor.

“Fighting has begun in earnest between our own people and the Silver Letters,” his helped noted. “As well as the Eyes and the Silver Letters, though that has been infrequent and we believe possibly accidental.”

Louis de Sartrons’ eyes sharpened.

“Where?” he asked. “Where are the Eyes and the Letters clashing?”

The particulars had to be sent for, but the ember of inspiration had struck and slowly he followed the thought to its conclusion. As always, the devil was in the details. One might credibly conjecture that at the moment there were four assemblies of spies in Salia: the Silver Letters, the Circle of Thorns, and what one might venture to term the Praesi arsonists and the Praesi hatchets. The hatchets, as it happened, were the key. Because as descriptions were confirmed it became clear that there were significantly less of them than the arsonists – this was known because some of their executioner crews were sighted several times.

The Praesi arsonists were being clipped away by the hatchets with methodical precision before they could light fires in vulnerable parts of the cities, where it might easily spread. Now, the hatchets did not intervene when Silver Letters and arsonists fought but they themselves had raided several Silver Letters safehouses. Which meant that the Praesi ‘hatchets’ were trying to prevent the ‘arsonists’ from carrying out a plot, while most likely trying to get their hands on some damning piece of evidence. Meanwhile the Silver Letters were being fallen upon from all sides, including the Circle’s more martial assets, while lashing out essentially blindly.

The hatchets were being used to contain and clean up a plot someone had evidently judged ill-advised. Given their small numbers but efficiency and eerily skilled coordination, as well as their precise strikes at Silver Letters safehouses, Louis believed he knew who was heading them. He sent for his coat and arranged for an escort to accompany him back to Les Horizons Lugubres. The other members of the Circle would be long gone, by now, but it was not they he intended to meet.

“Sir,” the helper said as he was led out, “I had a room set aside as you ordered. Who should I let the watchers expect?”

“Oh, you might say she’s an old friend,” Louis de Sartrons smiled, “Though I expect she’ll let herself in.”

The princes were folding, and Balthazar could almost taste the victory in the air.

The last two royals in the city that were not already at the Highest Assembly had sent messengers expressing they would not be setting out to attend, and that they would go accompanied by their retinue given the disorder in the city. They’d ordered that the blockade was to move aside for them and their escort when they arrived, which Balthazar had arrived – so long as only men on foot and by horse came, and every single one was inspected before being allowed to pass. They’d grown desperate now, enough that neither Prince Renato of Salamans nor Prince Ariel of Arans had even brought up that the head of the Silver Letters was torching the district where their own manses stood. They’d recognized it for a lost cause, and they were falling in line. Captain Julien had protested letting the retinues out in the city, but they were less than two thousand in whole so Balthazar had disagreed. They were elite soldiers, true enough, but they could not seize the city with so few. If they took the palace they might be able to hold it against greater numbers, but Balthazar had ordered than only twenty soldiers be let in by prince and any attempt to force entry with more be met with violence.

Given that the conspiracy’s own soldiers were the ones on the right side of walls and gates, at the moment, even if the two princes had struck an unlikely alliance they simply did not have the strength to take the palace with steel. And even if they did, by some miracle, they could not defend it: while it might be true that the servants in the palace had been fond of Hasenbach, and some even protested her seizing, he had Silver Letters among their number that’d open secret ways into the palace if it need be retaken. Watching another manse burn down, the ferocious-looking man waited at the edge of the blaze’s warmth for the latest word out of the palace. By now the Holies and Princess Clotilde ought to have crowned their pet princes, and the decrees could start being passed in earnest. Cordelia Hasenbach’s deposition would likely be the first. The soldiers had begun piling the wood by the walls of another manse, while another detachment briskly inspected the servants and lesser nobles that’d come out of the last before sending them south in small groups, when the messenger did arrive. One of his own Silver Letters, he noticed, Rosalie. Less than pleasant a person, but utterly without scruples and so reliable for all manners of work.

“Have I missed the election of First Princess Rozala Malanza?” Balthazar amusedly asked.

The red-haired woman grimaced.

“You haven’t,” she said. “The Highest Assembly hasn’t even officially convened yet.”

He was, for once, more utterly surprised than furious. For a moment, at least, then fury claimed its due.

“What?” Balthazar hissed. “Are they all drunk? It’s been most of a bell, what could possibly be taking so long?”

“They can’t enter the Chamber of Assembly,” Rosalie said.

He blinked, unsure how to respond to that. Had some enchantment been laid upon the threshold?

“They don’t have the key,” she explained. “There was only one, in the hands of the Master of Orders-”

“One of Hasenbach’s,” Balthazar frowned.

“No one can find him,” Rosalie said. “He must have fled the palace. I have our people looking for him, but he could be anywhere by now.”

In principle that was a blow, as the Highest Assembly could only hold session within the Chamber and any motion passed outside of it would not be binding, but only in principle.

“Are you telling me no one can simply batter down those doors?” the spymaster growled. “Given their age a few good soldiers ought to be enough.”

“Princess Clotilde has refused,” Rosalie darkly said. “And the Holies have agreed. They say it would cast into doubt the legitimacy of Malanza’s ascension to break open the Chamber.”

“Of all the bouts of bloody lunacy,” Balthazar cursed.

He called for a horse, after that, and for Prince Arsene as well. This part of the city was under control, now it seemed they were needed back in the palace. Balthazar Serigny would see this coup succeed even if he had to batter down the fucking doors himself.

149 thoughts on “Interlude: Bone

      1. Tom

        Yes, he carefully identifies each member of the Thorns as he invites them to speak, but he’s unable to pay any attention to the identity of his extremely knowledgeable helper except for noting her incredible memory? And in the later portion of this chapter it seems like he’s barely aware of this person’s presence even though they’re feeding him a ton of information. It’s definitely Scribe.

        Liked by 4 people

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      It Judgement time! I am happy to see that Hanno is not just a thug who slaughter everyone on his path. The Balthazar’s future is becoming darker and darker. I suppose the Witch will extinguish the flames.

      If the “hatchets” are Scribe´s agents, who are the “arsonists”?

      Liked by 7 people

        1. Hmmmmm

          Remember Cat’s threat to ascend the tower if the Accords weren’t signed? Maybe someone – perhaps Scribe, perhaps not – wants Cat to topple Malicia.

          Or less narratively adept, maybe someone wants to prevent the accords, or put a stop to the longterm peace between Callow and Procer.

          Liked by 3 people

      1. caoimhinh

        He kinda is. The problem of being sworn to the Choir is that he is affected by their extremist view. It’s either absolution or death, he doesn’t have a middle ground. It’s true that the coin doesn’t order everyone killed, but Hanno’s only response to a guilty verdict is to kill.
        That being said, it does get the job done. Decisive action is what’s needed now.

        I’m inclined to think that the hatchets are Scribe’s agents because they have won 10 out of 10 clashes against the arsonists (who then would be Malicia’s agents), but that’s weird considering that they are preventing the situation from escalating out of control.

        Could it be that Amadeus contacted Scribe and she accepted his orders, but she had already carried out her plan so it was impossible to stop it, and now it is Malicia’s agents taking advantage of the situation to further create chaos in Procer?

        Liked by 4 people

        1. >It’s true that the coin doesn’t order everyone killed, but Hanno’s only response to a guilty verdict is to kill.

          I mean, that’s because nothing short of a death sentence gets the gulity verdict. Everyone who doesn’t merit it gets a warning and a second chance because it’s not actually Hanno’s job to police petty crimes

          >I’m inclined to think that the hatchets are Scribe’s agents because they have won 10 out of 10 clashes against the arsonists (who then would be Malicia’s agents), but that’s weird considering that they are preventing the situation from escalating out of control.

          >Could it be that Amadeus contacted Scribe and she accepted his orders, but she had already carried out her plan so it was impossible to stop it, and now it is Malicia’s agents taking advantage of the situation to further create chaos in Procer?

          I thought of that as well 0.0

          and then I immediately thought of Scribe deliberately creating that impression in order to come dry out of the water

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Insanenoodlyguy

            This. The coin has come up heads a lot, but consider that of the people we know enough to judge, it spared one guy committing the same crime as two it killed and condemned the following:

            A woman preaching up a riot dragging innocents to be stoned to death

            Soldiers who killed loyal civilians

            The fucking Black Knight.

            I mean, are there any judgement calls here wed really dispute? We all love black but he established himself a monster back in chapter 1

            Liked by 2 people

    2. Can we start rumors that Grey was raised with necromancy tho?

      Who knows? White Knight is a loose cannon but by gods he gets results.gif! Anyhow, who else is imagining white knight with a fedora, neckbeard and katana.

      Liked by 4 people

  1. Alivaril

    Starting last chapter, I started to suspect that the Scribe was actually trying to shore up Hasenbach’s rule instead of overthrowing her. This chapter pretty much confirmed it. The House of Light, the faction most likely to ignore or undermine treaties made by the Arch-Heretic of the East, will find its power decimated. The traitors likely to complain about tyranny are being removed. The longer Hasenbach remains in power, the more time the Accords will have to gain steam before someone can cut them down.

    In other news…

    The spymaster was reluctantly impressed by the young woman who baldly asserted she would kill them all with half an icicle, one handed, if they dared to take another step forward.

    Cat, is that you?

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Sparsebeard

      More likely, she prepared the plan then, Malicia, Bard, Balthazar or even Scribe herself put it into action… Only for Scribe to be contacted by Black and thus aborting the whole plan…

      That’s my guess for now at least, I still kind of think that Bard is using the events to try and turn Cordelia Villain, although it seems a longer and longer shot.

      Liked by 8 people

    2. Hardric62

      I thought the same after reading the latest chapters: too botched for the Scribe to side with these mouth-breathing duckers.

      Of course it does raise the expectations on Cordelia’s shoulders too, since betrayal or nto, she will have to ‘justify’ taking back power and most likely shattering the House of Light… Cordelia will just need the Accords now, because if she achieves nothing there, Procer will be finished anyways.

      Now thatlooks more like a Scribe scheme… Or she actually managed to goad the local Eyes in action while keeping her own loyalists under tight onctrol to also add ‘purging my organization’ to the list of things achieved.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Honestly I think the coup being botched is an argument in *favor* of Scribe’s influence. If she’s going for maximum damage then she doesn’t want a neat clean transition with a smooth transference of power. No, she wants a botched coup running around trying to put someone on the throne who doesn’t want to be there but whose apparent complicity will fracture the country, without actually succeeding, ravaging civilian faith in both the church and the government in the process. Heck Scribe’s perfect endgame is probably just the natural progression of this exact clusterfuck, except with Cordelia properly dead.

        And hey, Scribe’s literally right next to the person who’s trying to find Cordelia and smuggle her to safety, isn’t she?

        Unless Black gets Scribe to stand down sometime in the next couple of hours or Hanno gets all up in Scribe’s business, I suspect that Procer will not having a functioning government or a clear line of succession for half its positions come morning.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. >Honestly I think the coup being botched is an argument in *favor* of Scribe’s influence. If she’s going for maximum damage then she doesn’t want a neat clean transition with a smooth transference of power. No, she wants a botched coup running around trying to put someone on the throne who doesn’t want to be there but whose apparent complicity will fracture the country, without actually succeeding, ravaging civilian faith in both the church and the government in the process. Heck Scribe’s perfect endgame is probably just the natural progression of this exact clusterfuck, except with Cordelia properly dead.

          ^^^

          With the amendment of “Scribe’s perfect endgame without/before communication with Amadeus that Cordelia is an ally now”.

          WIth that communication, the perfect endgame looks like this: Cordelia regains tighter control at the cost of resources she could use to pressure the easterners in negotiations, and Scribe comes out smelling like roses because she helped

          Liked by 4 people

        2. > …or Hanno gets all up in Scribe’s business,

          Scribe has a very powerful defense against Hanno, namely not being there. 😉 IIRC, Hanno doesn’t even have a divinatory aspect. WOTW could possibly nail her down, but I’d consider even that chancy — Scribe’s certainly had to evade powerful sorcerers before.

          Liked by 1 person

    3. The fun thing about this coup is that it concentrates INTERNAL power in Hasenbach’s hands, while weakening Procer’s overall position. This is perfect for the eastern coalition since they can both treat with Hasenbach more confidently that she can enforce whatever she agrees to AND make fewer concessions.

      And if Louis of Sartrons walks away with the impression that it was Malicia causing a mess and Scribe is helping clean it up…~

      Liked by 7 people

      1. … you know I don’t want to give Scribe *too* much credit, but she has very neatly organized a situation and position for herself where she can choose between plunging Procer into unsalvageable chaos and what you just described basically on a whim, at any point in this process that she so chooses. I hesitate to credit her with that much Xanatos-fu, but …

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Soma

    Hey EE, I saw something about a the site being compromised on a reddit post, and a malware link having been posted in place of Harp. Can we get an update about what happened?

    Like

    1. caoimhinh

      Seems to me now that Scribe was contacted by Amadeus and brought to heel, but the plan was already in motion so she couldn’t stop it. Now Malicia’s agents want to take advantage and make it worse, so Scribe’s agents have to clean after the mess she caused.

      The hatchets have beaten the arsonists 10 out of 10 clashes, so those must be the ones led by Scribe. The last time we saw Black’s agents fighting against Malicia’s agents (when Malicia assassinated a third of Cat’s court, Anne Kendall, and Ratface) they knifed them too, so it seems like Amadeus'(and Scribe’s) agents are a tier better than Malicia’s.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. >Now Malicia’s agents want to take advantage and make it worse, so Scribe’s agents have to clean after the mess she caused.

        Now Scribe has a perfect opportunity to both fuck Malicia over and make herself / her faction look good.

        I’m just not buying she couldn’t have stopped those arsonists without taking to the streets. This is most definitely performative for the thorns’ benefit.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. > The last time we saw Black’s agents fighting against Malicia’s agents … they knifed them too, so it seems like Amadeus'(and Scribe’s) agents are a tier better than Malicia’s.

        I wouldn’t go that far — Malicia’s agents may have gotten killed, but not until after they fulfilled their mission — and getting killed meant they couldn’t be questioned. (I don’t think we’ve seen anyone using necromancy for interrogation, and from what we know of the world rules, it’s not clear if that could be done without capturing the victims alive in the first place.)

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Soma

      This is literally not filler. It is setting up the upcoming parts to the story. What happen here directly impinges on the plot. It’s like the exact definition of not filler. Being dismissive to integral parts of the plot will not improve the story, even if you enjoy other parts of the story more.

      Liked by 22 people

  3. Huh.
    This is interesting. Infighting between the factions of Praesi intelligence? I wonder which faction is which – and who the factions are.
    I suspect that the arsonists might be Malicia’s and the hatchets are Scribes – and Amadeus managed to contact Scribe to get her to not remove Cordelia(yet), but Malicia’s loyalists continued with the plan designed to retrieve Amadeus morphed into a plan to weaken Procer, remove Cordelia, and possibly put a number of Princes and Princess that are owned by Praes onto the Assembly. After all, going with the plan Amadeus is currently running with ends with him as Dread Emperor – which is something Scribe has wanted and believed should happen for decades.

    Yeah. Hanno and Antigone are going to stomp all over the conspirators.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. NerfGlastigUaine

    This chapter is awesome. The changing POVs, the action, the intrigue, the characterization, all superbly written. The story in general is amazing, but this chapter is a real gem even among the rest.
    If Scribe is responsible for the hatchets, then why? Did Black manage to get into contact with/convince her?
    Can’t wait for the fallout from this debacle. A failed coup on the eve of an alliance instigated by the unpopular sixth ranger of said alliance is going to make shit go all the way down.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. If Louis walks away from this with the impression that Scribe, personally, is a friend, on top of Procer ending up weakened but more united over Cordelia, then this whole scheme will be nothing but pure profit for the eastern coalition.

      It’s amazing is what it is.

      Liked by 4 people

  5. Razorfloss razor

    This is turning into a a complete cluster fuck of epic proportions. Cat is going to have a field day and Abigail will probably be there crying over how much she would be somewhere else.

    Liked by 10 people

  6. Musings

    Hatchets = White Knight and Witch? Ironic misinterpretation/ misunderstanding by sj old spymaster, because they really are “the hatchet of the heavens” and there was no reason to expect them to be there?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. caoimhinh

      I considered that for a moment. But they said there were confirmed and suspected agents fighting, plus this part convinced me that they weren’t talking about Hanno and Antigone: “We have several being followed.”
      The White Knight is moving only with the Witch of the Woods, so the Circle of Thorns’ agents can’t be following several if there are only two. Besides, Hanno is using Light, which would immediately prove that he is not a Praesi agent.

      I do find it weird that the different groups in the city hadn’t picked up already the presence of the two Heroes, they aren’t being subtle about it (and aren’t killing everyone either). Balthazar said that the conspirators went to have Assembly almost a bell ago (so about 4 hours), so they should have gotten reports of the pair going around killing rioters by now.

      Liked by 7 people

        1. caoimhinh

          They have actually killed a lot, even the killing of the dozen people looting the drapier’s shop would have been noticed and there were a hundred with Lietenant Pauline though Hanno said he would mark the exculpated so not all of them would be killed.
          And Pauline initially thought Hanno must have been one of the Silver Letters men because he would have to make it through other blockades to get there, so Hanno almost certainly killed other people off-screen.

          Also, the very first killing on this chapter was a priestess in front of a crowd of “odd hundred”.
          News really should have spread by now, considering it’s been over 4 hours since the riots started.

          Liked by 5 people

              1. Shveiran

                Ehm, they are two top-tier Named in a city with a single, non combat-related other Named (plus a captive, non-combat other and on fire besides.

                I’m… not sure what anyone else could have really done about them?

                Liked by 6 people

                1. caoimhinh

                  True. But I’m not saying they should (or even could) have been stopped. I’m saying they should have been noticed by now, at least by the spymasters with webs of informants running around the city.

                  Liked by 2 people

          1. > They have actually killed a lot, even the killing of the dozen people looting the drapier’s shop would have been noticed and there were a hundred with Lietenant Pauline though Hanno said he would mark the exculpated so not all of them would be killed. […] News really should have spread by now, considering it’s been over 4 hours since the riots started.

            I think you’re overestimating how easily/quickly news can travel in a moderately riotous city (i.e., one where any non-looter, non-rioter, non-involved civilians are staying right the fuck indoors) in a pre-industrial tech society when the conspirators don’t even have scrying-based communication to circumvent their technological shortcomings magically. Nobody’s calling any of this in to dispatch. It’s messages carried on foot or maybe on horseback or nothing, and who knows if those messages (if any, depending on the scenario – who’s running to the guards about some random looters getting killed in the midst of all this, for instance?) make it or for that matter if the people they’re going to are still there when they arrive or have moved elsewhere already. And that’s not to mention I think you’re overestimating how likely it is that any of the actual Silver Letters would have been among the “exculpated”, or how interested any of the random drafted city guardsmen or lynch mob members would be in doing anything besides going home, hugging their families, and maybe having a good cry in the bath after witnessing the White Knight meting out judgment amongst them.

            tl;dr – I would consider the lack of wide awareness of Hanno and Antigone to be very plausible at this stage personally, even setting aside any Providence-based shenanigans.

            Liked by 4 people

          1. Oh, and that he has no compulsion to flip the coin in the first place. Note that mob that he just told to disperse – somehow I suspect he flipped only on the priestess.

            Like

        1. ninegardens

          I would really like to know WHY it is pinging on several of these people (The Drapier? A random city gaurd with debt problems, who seemed to just be helping to move the bodies? Or did I misunderstand those?)

          Liked by 3 people

          1. prentice barry

            the city guard was the second in command of cordelias that betrayed her to the letter openers because they blackmailed her over her debts after getting rid of the loyalist commander, as for the drapier i dont know but i suspect they may have been an agent of someones thats done some shady/murdery stuff considering the sword appeared to be of rather good quality if the looters were gonna take it as well and she seemed to know how to use it

            Liked by 1 person

            1. ninegardens

              Re-reading, it does seem that this is the case, with Hanno acting pissed off at THEM PERSONALLY, more so than even the riot agitator. Didn’t catch that the first time, apparently too much else going on.

              You know, evaluating the ethics of Hanno appears to be running into a bunch of weird situations, in that Earth justice systems are built entirely on the fact that “We don’t trust humans to make this decision, therefore we create a SYSTEM, a PROCESS, to remove bias, demand evidence, and prevent crazy people running around with swords murdering people based on their own personal ideas of justice.”.

              And he is really really violating all of that.

              But at the same time, this ISN’T earth, and we do have angels and I guess… it comes down to whether or not the society is willing to accept a social contract where “Angels have the right to judge” or not.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. > You know, evaluating the ethics of Hanno appears to be running into a bunch of weird situations, in that Earth justice systems are built entirely on the fact that “We don’t trust humans to make this decision, therefore we create a SYSTEM

                That’s what we do in parts of the modern world, specifically those parts influenced by the European and American Age of Enlightenment. Before that, and even today in some benighted parts of the world, trial by Providence was/is very much a thing.

                Perhaps the least objectionable version of that was trial by combat; but the pattern also included, for example, trial by having holding a hot iron — depending on how the accusers arranged that, it could range from a test of fortitude right up to demanding a miracle in order to prove the innocence of the accused. And then there was witch-dunking and the like, whose justification was explicitly “if they were innocent, then the drowned shall go to Heaven, but if they survive then they were obviously guilty, so execute them”.

                The Enlightenment and its shift to secular authority was in large part a response to the fact that increasingly, large numbers of people of different faiths were living in the same jurisdictions, and had to actually get along instead of killing each other in holy wars, or executing each other as heretics/infidels/blasphemers. In this situation, it also became increasingly obvious that God was not generally intervening on anybody’s side.

                In the Guideverse, things are a little different: The Gods Above and Below still seem basically aloof, but they are represented by their empowered agents, and there’s rarely much difficulty in telling which side a Named is working for.

                Above grants powers to their priests as well as Named, but it seems that it doesn’t directly discipline either — if their behavior is egregious enough to qualify as a “menace to the public”, then a hero can deal with them like any other threat. Infighting among the priests of Above may be anomalous… but even the split within the House of Callow didn’t get either side smited!

                Even among heroes, some do have angelic backing, but it seems that many or most don’t. The White Knight looks downright anomalous compared to the Gray Pilgrim (whose angels don’t give instruction even on request), the Saint of Swords (no angelic patrons), the Lone Swordsman (did he even have any explicitly angelic powers?) and likely the Witch Of The Woods (no angelic patron or powers have been mentioned, even when she was throwing down with Warlock).

                Below, in contrast, explicitly grants power essentially to those who grasp it. Aside from Named, they allow anyone to call on demons or devils who has the power and knowledge to bring them from the Hells to Creation. Those who also have the power and knowledge to bind and control such creatures, get to survive the experience. 😉

                Liked by 1 person

  7. WuseMajor

    Thinking on this, I find it amusing that Balthazar considers Princess Malanza’s likely reaction to finding the entire capital burnt to the ground, so he’s careful not to do so….and then we find out that the Eyes are apparently trying to make it look like he had less control than he thought and went ahead and set the entire city alight.

    There’s a part of me that kind of wishes I could have gotten to see his reaction if that had happened and he actually had to explain himself to someone. I bet he would have been irritated to find the Arch-Heretic sympathizing with him as he tried to explain how he didn’t start the fire.

    Liked by 10 people

  8. Nairne .01

    I honestly wonder what this will be like when Cat comes here with Black and all the other villains.
    What will Hanno do? Will the Choir of Judgement let him leave the eastern villains long enough so they can help against the Dead King? Does Bard have any control over that?

    All those questions are very intriguing.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. laguz24

      What I wonder if Hanno will kill Cordelia and when will Hanno learn restraint. Because killing proceran civilians is not going to get him into Hasenbich’s good books.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        Honestly, so far he seems to only be killing those that deserve it. He’s also soothing the unrest. I think he’s very much a net positive in the current situation.

        Mind you, that could all change in the next Interlude or two. We’ll see! 🙂

        Liked by 6 people

            1. MagnaMalusLupus

              The exact bit I was referring to was “…he seems to only be killing those that deserve it.”, and the merchant does not seem to have done anything to deserve execution. Do you disagree? What actions did you see the merchant take that warrant immediate death?

              Liked by 3 people

              1. JJR

                Again, “that we are aware of”
                You’re assuming that we’re aware of all the relevant facts in this case. But, we aren’t, maybe later it will be explained that the merchant was doing something super evil under the table. Or maybe we never hear about them again. With so little to go on judging Hanno’s judgment is premature.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. ninegardens

                  I really don’t think it is…. if we are applying Earth logic.

                  Earth logic (at least in many countries) has a VERY strong taboo against extra judicial killing. You aren’t ALLOWED to just walk into a house and murderize someone because you think they are a bad person. Why? Because the kind of people who DO do this are often biased, or racist, or on a personal vendetta, and this type of escallation of violence leads to blood feuds and things. We have judicial systems to measure out violence for us, and to do it in a way that society as a whole agrees to.

                  Even without knowing anything about the Merchant, we ARE in a position to say “Wooowwww Hanno- you just killed some person why no judge, no jury, and not even explaining what the hell they did wrong.”

                  By Earth Society standards, executing someone without even giving them the chance to plead their case, deny their guilt, or even explain to passers by WHY they are being executed is a whole bunch of capital T Tyranny. If one of your friends flipped a coin and then decapitated someone on the bus home, you wouldn’t NEED to know the full backstory in order to know that this was way beyond the pale, and that anyone with that much faith in their lucky coin was nutzo.

                  So yeah- even if we have no clue what the merchant did, we have plenty of information with which to evaluate Hanno here.
                  By Earth standards that is.

                  But PGtE does not take place on earth, and we apparently have perfectly well informed angels floating around, and as long as you have faith in those angels to Judge fairly, it all makes sense…..
                  It’s still kind of the Equivalent of the US sending a drone strike into a foreign country*, and then saying “No no, its okay- they were a bad person. Trust – We have evidence, we can’t tell you. we got some totally legitimate judges to sign off on this thought, so everything’s fine”.
                  Even if the Drone pilot trusts in those judges, and maybe even has a taste of the evidence provided to them…. the ethics of this sort of situation is by no means clearly in Hanno’s favor

                  * [Here I’m purely using the “foreign country” to try to illustrate the difference between in creation and outside creation. The metaphors a bit wonky, but there aren’t that many good real world examples here.]

                  Liked by 3 people

                  1. I disagree.

                    First of all, the Choir of Judgement is recognized in Procer as an entity allowed to pass these kinds of judgements. Hanno was asked to arbitrate a dispute at the Vales for a reason.

                    Trusting a bunch of angels on the topic of judgement and trusting the US government on the topic of drone strikes are rather different. Why? First of all, history and precedent – for everyone on Calernia to assume the Choir of Judgmenet can be trusted, they must have acted damn trustworthily before, while the US government… yeah. Second, incentive – the US government’s incentives for drone strikes are only very weakly correlated with morality/ethics of the situation, while the angels have no incentive EXCEPT the morality/ethics of the situation. Third, degree of precision involved in the action – drone strikes have collateral damage, Hanno judges person by person. Four, amount of knowledge available to those making the decision. US government consists of humans and can only act on the intellgence it has. Choir of Judgement has access to all of person’s actions and reasoning throughout their life.

                    The real life justice systems don’t exist in the complicated trial form because somehow the process of a trial is a magical ritual that gives their judgement legitimacy. They exist in the complicated form because we don’t have access to a perfectly judging Choir of Judgement, so we make do with what we have.

                    Yes, I’m taking the narrative’s assertions about angels at face value. I have no reason not to, from the evidence observed so far.

                    Liked by 4 people

                    1. ninegardens

                      I agree that the angels are not corrupt/morally flexible/ biased in the same way as a foreign nation’s government… But I’m not convinced that I’d label them as “Trustworthy” either. They seem…. a bit too alien for that. (I agree, they do have better information)

                      By alien I mean…. Choir of contrition seem to think the mind bombing a city for the sake of waging war on some other city is Totally okay.
                      Choir of mercy is… I ain’t gonna say evil, but their focus on “the greater good” makes them sort of… a bit blue and orange morality by human standards. They are, at the very least, kinda spooky.
                      To be fair, the choir of judgement seems to be the CLOSEST that we’ve seen to human level ethics, but the point is that they are still a black box.

                      I mean…. okay perhaps a different metaphor….
                      Imagine on earth if someone used “Machine learning” and “Artificial intelligence” and created a black box that (as far as we could tell) seemed to be pretty good at accurately judging people. You can’t see inside, you can’t know how it makes its decisions, and its NOT using any legal set up you’ve ever seen…. but generally the people it judges as bad seem to be kinda legitimately awful.

                      …. would you trust a person who ran around beheading people because this box told them to? How accurate would it have to be? What would you think if the box just kind of never told you HOW it was making its decisions, or even why?
                      Do you trust the genie in the coin?

                      If I changed the words and said it was a “genie of judgement” or a “demon of judgement” or a “callibrated neural network” of judgement, does this change things?

                      We DO know that the choir judged Black for death… even though (despite all his monstrous crimes and flaws), he is demonstrably a BETTER person than any person in his position can be expected to be. … maybe Judgement doesn’t care about that. Fair enough, but still… kinda short sighted.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    2. @ninegardens, essentially I would say the difference is precedent.

                      This new person with a black box would be extremely untrustworthy becuase the precedent we have for them is all the other people with great justice ideas, and in our IRL world this precedent states that odds are harshly AGAINST the black box person not going off the rails.

                      Choir of Judgement has been operating in Creation for its entire history, and people KNOW they are trustworthy. Like… there’s evidence. Historically it has worked that way every time. You can’t compare it to something new popping up becuase it not being new is the entire source of its legitimacy.

                      Black is indeed an interesting question. My impression is that the Choir of Judgement’s approach is largely consequentialist, although with a different twist on it than Mercy’s. “What seems likely to happen if we tell our man to kill this person” vs “what seems likely to happen if we tell our man not to kill this person” seems to be the key decision making criterion. Like how Hanno spared the looter guy because there was still a road for him to take to be a better person… and unlike Black, he wasn’t likely to cause hundreds of thousands of deaths in collateral damage along the way.

                      Either way, there are plenty of approaches easily recognized as legitimate that would lead to Black being given the swords option. Sure, a coherent justice system the coin does not make, but it’s not meant to. It’s an emergency hole plug, not a peacetime balance keeping system. Note how on most people (ie the mob the priestess was inciting, approximately everyone up until now) Hanno just doesn’t flip the coin.

                      Liked by 1 person

  9. Shveiran

    So,
    we finally have a chance to see Hanno in action when there is no flag-based solution to uphold. Which means we finally have significant data to (start to, admittedly, as this is only a beginning) judge his character.

    Personally… I’m not impressed.

    Let’s leave aside the “I do not judge” thing (ofcourseyoufuckingjudgeyoumoronYOUARESTILLCHOOSINGWHOSHOULDBEJUDGEDBYFLIPPINGORNOTFLIPPINGTHATISNOTANEUTRALCHOICE) ahem, sorry about that, it kind of irks me.

    My main issue is… Hanno is a tyrant.

    Ever since the early 18th century, the idea that a citizen should be able to know a law in order for him to be justly punished according to it has been a staple of this branch of pholosophy.
    The Choir moves according to ruler of its own, and the problem with that is not whether or not we agree with them, it is that we and Calernian folks alike do not know or understand them enough to be certain on how the scales will measure.

    Let’s use the exemples above, for instance: Hanno spared a looter who fell in with a bad crowd after he committed an unknown crime, and also spared the crowd who stoned a poor fucker to death, ordering it to disperse after executing the agitator. Why? They were not brainwashed nor anything, they still picked up the stones and killed the poor sod. Why was that not murder? We don’t know.
    Later, he tells the Witch that he will “mark the exculpated”, so apparently it is not a given that lending your arms to the coup, actively murdering people and burning a city is not a guarantee of guilt (though admittedly it’s possible that no one was actually exculpated, we didn’t see that).
    Why? We don’t know.

    The Choir judges with scales of its own, arrogating itself the right to condemn you for breaching the rules even if you don’t know what the rules are.
    And… that is not just, by any definition fo the word. It doesn’t matter if the rules are good or not, it’s still basically saying Hanno and Judgment get to kill whoever they see fit for reason of their own.

    You can be arright with that. Hanno is far from the only character here that says “I know what’s best, so I’ll impose my will on the world”.

    But that is the textbook definition of a well-meaning tyrant. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Well, so far he hasn’t killed anyone that didn’t really deserve it.
      It is a dick move on his part to summon the Coin of Judgement at his first chance, but if the verdict is death then that person had done some shit that earned it.

      The problem is that it’s too extreme, Hanno’s only punishment is death, whereas he should at least have the possibility to look for other options, other sentences. But he is a machine with only two settings: harmless or deadly.
      And while that is useful in dire situations like the current riots, it does have a tendency to escalate things. If two parties called Hanno to arbitrate in a dispute over possession of something (like land, a building or whatever), he would summon the coin and kill one of the two parties (or both, if they have both committed serious crimes), where the expectation was that he pointed at one group and say “you are better, so you take this.” or something like that.

      That’s why he is a hatchet that’s better to have pointed to Evil and not close to ordinary people, otherwise, as his intervention heralds a slaughter. He is the White Knight and sworn to the Choir of Judgement, he is a tool of war, a killing machine.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. >If two parties called Hanno to arbitrate in a dispute over possession of something (like land, a building or whatever), he would summon the coin and kill one of the two parties (or both, if they have both committed serious crimes), where the expectation was that he pointed at one group and say “you are better, so you take this.” or something like that.

        That has actually happened, and he killed one of the royals involved. THE THING THOUGH is that he only did that because he was specifically asked to arbitrate. And he did not kill the other party. And we don’t know what the person he killed had actually done.

        Otherwise, he would simply refuse to arbitrate. As long as the coin lands laurels, Hanno has no further input. That’s literally the only judgement he’s willing to execute – the death sentence from the Seraphim. Anything else he doesn’t weigh in on.

        So no, not a tyrant, and does not escalate.

        >Hanno’s only punishment is death, whereas he should at least have the possibility to look for other options, other sentences.

        So he lets off the looter completely. Anyone not worthy of the death sentence is let walk, and yes, that does not a complete justice system make. Because that’s not his job in the first place. He’s there to staunch the bleeding, not to build up the immune system.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Shveiran

          @cacaomhinh: “so far he hasn’t killed anyone that didn’t really deserve it”.

          Says who, the Seraphim?

          What did the looters do that the spared one didn’t? We don’t know.
          What did the looted merchant do? We don’t know.

          Why was stoning not an issue? We don’t know.

          And that’s why I say

          @Liliet: “not a tyrant”

          that he is. This is not justice, it’s rule of might.
          I don’t like how you hack, so I chop you. I have the power to.
          This is anything but murder only if you ascribe value to the Seraphim’s morality and we can’t do that because we don’t know what that is.
          It’s tyrannical, it’s what it is. This couldn’t be further from the rule of law.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. >This is not justice, it’s rule of might.

            Everything is. State’s monopoly on violence is guaranteed and enforced through might.

            And note that the drapier was terrified of him despite him clearly wielding Light. She knew what she did, whatever it was.

            I have no reason to assume the Seraphim’s morality is anything other than the common shit from the Book of All Things, like ‘don’t murder’.

            Like. There are actual gods with actual teachings in this ‘verse. The Seraphim are not outside context entities, they’re p much formally recognized as ‘proper authorities’ – the princes had asked Hanno to arbitrate a dispute at Vales for a reason.

            Liked by 4 people

          2. And stoning was not an issue because with the priestess heating up the crowd dead from clear Light-based heroic intervention, those people weren’t going to continue causing trouble. The problem was solved, doing anything to the civilians would only escalate the situation, which is not something Hanno’s after here.

            Liked by 3 people

          3. Sparsebeard

            @Liliet

            A due process is important! There is a reason why known criminals are let go if it ends up that evidence against them was not aquired in due process (for exemple, confessions without reading their rights or search without mandate).

            Unless Procean law recognise the right of angels’ chosen to be judge, jury and executionner, this is murder plain and simple (although I wouldn’t be surprised if the Law did permit it).

            Just imagine the consequences if he decides to flip his coin on Cat, Black, Tyrant or any member of foreign delegations during the peace talks… he’d probably be the first Named to be slain by the accords lol.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Decius

              I think it’s more a matter of the angels’ law choosing to allow Procerean law to exist.

              I have a strange suspicion that what his coin actually measures is closer to intent or reverence than it is to lawfulness.

              Oh, and if he tries to flip a coin on Cat then a raven is going to snatch the shiny thing out of the air. If he tries it on Heirophant something much more interesting would happen. Gods Above and Gods Below are going to have a bad time assisting against gods in melee range.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. >Oh, and if he tries to flip a coin on Cat then a raven is going to snatch the shiny thing out of the air.

                Only if the story is right for it. Komena and Andronike’s capability against a Choir depends directly on what exactly the conflict is and whose domain it’s more in. They can block angels peeking because stealth is Night’s thing, but when Cat came to have a chat with Mercy over Pilgrim’s dead body all they could do is help her not faint, and barely that.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Decius

                  Raven. Shiny thing.

                  The domain conflict might not be resolved, but the *form* that those actions take is also important.

                  And now that I think about it, as long as Zeke is able to see, Hanno invoking the angels is going to be a bad choice.

                  I wonder what the result would be if Hanno passed judgement on Pilgrim and/or himself.

                  Liked by 2 people

              2. “I have a strange suspicion that what his coin actually measures is closer to intent or reverence than it is to lawfulness.”

                I don’t think reverence has to do with it, but yeah, motivation/intent definitely seems to matter, from what we’ve seen in Hanno’s backstory.

                Like

            2. >There is a reason why known criminals are let go if it ends up that evidence against them was not aquired in due process

              So what is this reason?

              >Unless Procean law recognise the right of angels’ chosen to be judge, jury and executionner, this is murder plain and simple (although I wouldn’t be surprised if the Law did permit it).

              I’m pretty sure it does.

              >Just imagine the consequences if he decides to flip his coin on Cat, Black, Tyrant or any member of foreign delegations during the peace talks…

              Why would he?
              Heroes of Judgement are not known for their, pun entirely intended, bad judgement. Particularly this one.
              (Also, I’m not so certain it’d come up swords for Cat&Black at this point… kind of wanna see that)

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Decius

                The actual reason is that when evidence is acquired improperly and used against a suspect, there is no actual reason to refrain from collecting evidence illegally.

                A different method would be to make confessions under rough interrogation admissible, but prosecute the interrogator for using illegal methods. That’s not going to work for numerous reasons.

                The Choir of Judgement has no such regard for rights, so the entire concept is not applicable to them.

                Liked by 1 person

    2. > Ever since the early 18th century, the idea that a citizen should be able to know a law in order for him to be justly punished according to it has been a staple of this branch of philosophy.

      Not sure which 18th century philosophers you’re referring to (I like philosophy, but it’s been a good while since I’ve actually studied it and a lot’s slipped away), but I can tell you that at least in my country it’s explicitly legally established that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Because if it’s illegal, then it’s illegal. It’s not situationally illegal based on whether any given individual committing the crime read the applicable law ahead of time, it’s just illegal.

      The seraphim-based justice Hanno is meting out is harsh and that makes him a scary mofo, I’ll grant you both those points. But he’s not a tyrant; I mean, just on a definitional level I’d hesitate to call him a tyrant just because he doesn’t seek to rule. He, and/or the Seraphim he invites to act through him, could definitely be called draconian judges. “Tyrants” I do feel is a misnomer regardless of how you feel about the judgements being imposed though.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Decius

        “Must be able to know a law” is different from “knows the law”.

        It’s why laws can’t be retroactive, why mens rea is a thing, and why being sufficiently mentally incompetent is a possible trial defense.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. Fair, that’s clearly a meaningful distinction. “Looting bad” or “don’t do a lynch mob” don’t exactly seem like moral principles it would be impossible to figure out, though, nor does it seem that anyone Hanno has seraphim’d in the face has been not of sound mind.

          Liked by 4 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      If you’re right, maybe this ties into the fact that Vivienne was too busy to attend the gathering by the fire. And, why was she too busy, Cat asked her to pull out all stops to find out what it was that Cordelia had dredged out of the lake….

      Hmmm… Jacks confirmed…. Maybe. I’d say a 15% chance that you’re right. But its fun to speculate.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. Shveiran

      I like this theory a lot, but the Circle of Thorn spoke of “known imperial infiltrators”. The Jacks are the new players, so I don’t believe they could have played so exquisitely as to present themselves as spies from a different country; that’s a bit too much finesse for no real gain… I mean, it’s a cover story that would still have you watched like crazy, isn’t it?

      So… unless the Circle is mistaken (which is far from impossible, of course) the hatchets are Eyes of the Empire.

      Liked by 6 people

    3. caoimhinh

      Another quick thought: What if the “corpse that’s not a corpse” that Cordelia is dragging out of the Lake is one of the ancient Gigantes of the Titanomachy?

      Liked by 3 people

  10. Aotrs Commander

    Well, thank you EE, for introducing me to a genuinely new sensation: Being Pleased To See Hanno.

    I’m not sure what it says about my mood (given the events in the UK of the last couple of days) or how low my regard is for Procerans, but I found Hanno’s handling of the situation to be delightful and very cathartic.

    I guess, like a stopped clock, even Above and the Choirs can be right on occasion…

    Liked by 10 people

    1. >I guess, like a stopped clock, even Above and the Choirs can be right on occasion…

      I think they’re right most of the time? William was an outlier in the ‘even other heroes didnt want to associate with him’ direction.

      Liked by 6 people

        1. You’re missing a huuuuge amount of context there.

          The Crusade was not meant to lead to a Proceran occupation, even if Amadis Milenan thought otherwise. Had it been successful to Cordelia’s plan, she would have had the clout to insist that Callow be left to its own devices after being split up into smaller regional states. What exactly they would do with Praes was not yet determined, but the basic objective was to break the villains’ rising power.

          The heroes had a good handful of evidence that the breaking was needed. The occupation of Callow had already led to a city being destroyed and a hell portal opened in the heartlands (and sure, Warlock redirected the other side, but the weakening of the fabric of reality is still there). The Calamities already proved willing to meddle in foreign wars in favor of the side doing the human sacrifices. Fucking Still Water was deployed.

          Yes, factually, had they gone for diplomacy, everything would have been fine as Catherine is basically a hero herself, as is in many ways her teacher. THEY DID NOT HAVE THAT INTEL. THEY DID NOT HAVE ANY REASON TO ASSUME ANY OF THAT. The idea of the current Praesi government being a force for Good long-term is exceedingly unlikely and would not occur to anyone normally – and it’s not like Catherine tried to share that intelligence. She didn’t actually tell Cordelia about the Accords in their Hero Winter talks, and she sure as fuck had no contact with the heroes.

          Yes, the heroes were acting on insufficient information / bad intelligence. In that sense you are correct. However, this is a huuuuge outlier.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. MagnaMalusLupus

            >after being split up into smaller regional states.

            Considering that those states would have had Proceran leadership, it was most fucking certainly an invasion. Now you can try to justify that however you want, but the fact that the crusade was only launched at a politically convenient time, and also conveniently glazes over the fact that the last hero in Callow had basically tried to do a Contrition based version of Still Water on the entire city beforehand, goes far enough to context on the other side. The crusade was a politically motivated invasion of Callow by Procer first and foremost. Anything else to say on the matter are justifications.

            Liked by 8 people

            1. >Considering that those states would have had Proceran leadership

              They wouldn’t have. Again, had Cordelia succeeded, this is what she would have gone for – LOCAL leadership, by people dissatisfied with the Black Queen.

              She, ah, rather underestimated the amount of support Cat has, I got the impression.

              >Now you can try to justify that however you want, but the fact that the crusade was only launched at a politically convenient time

              What do you mean? What other time there was that wasn’t politically convenient that the Crusade should have been but wasn’t launched at?

              >and also conveniently glazes over the fact that the last hero in Callow had basically tried to do a Contrition based version of Still Water on the entire city beforehand

              This is relevant to the point how, exactly?

              Liked by 1 person

  11. I find it fucknig incredible that Balthazar let the Princes out WITH RETINUE. Which he did NOT proceed to carefully one by one identity check.

    0% chance Cordelia is still inside.

    Also, luv Hanno.

    Also, it’s amazing how many plausible explanations there are for the spy infighting – and nearly all of them make Cat’s coalition look good

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Shveiran

      But he did check them. I don’t know how to quote, but:

      “They’d ordered that the blockade was to move aside for them and their escort when they arrived, which Balthazar had arrived – so long as only men on foot and by horse came, and every single one was inspected before being allowed to pass.”

      Considering you can’t really hide Cordelia inside a man or a horse without a lot of creative necromancy, I’d say inspected here means identified?
      I mean, the wording could be better, but there is litterally nothing else they are searching for, so I don’t think it means just bodily searched. It’s a “proven to not be Hasenbach” pass they are handing out.

      Liked by 13 people

  12. My very own name

    I have just discovered a liking for fast paced spy intrigues. Looking forward to the end of this coup!

    From what has been said about Scribe, I don’t think that even if Black managed to speak with her, she would actually listen. Her schemes are her schemes, and Black is possibly “compromised”. The hatchets killing the arsoners would mark Scribe (and by extension, Black) as trustworthy, but only if the initial conspiracy was made out to be Ime’s work. And all the paperwork related to the trap would lead one to think of Scribe more readily than Ime, so we’ll see how they spin that story.

    And we also have whatever Vivi is doing during the campfire, so more plots coming to a head.

    Liked by 4 people

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