Interlude: Mirror

“Third, taking:
Bone to wind
And mirror to fill.”
-Third of the three so-called ‘Mavian Entreaties’

Louis de Sartrons had been speculating to himself as to how long he would have to wait before his guest arrived and had ultimately settled for ‘less than an hour’. Which, given the sheer bloody chaos in the city and the difficulty to move around the streets – and so have information carried through them – he’d felt was generous of him. Which was why his face went blank when he entered the private alcove at Les Horizons Lugubres and he found someone already seated a the table.

“You are late,” the Scribe said, her Chantant flawless.

The head of the Circle of Thorns, for the first time laying eyes on a woman he’d crossed blades and wits with across half of Calernia, immediately tried to commit her appearance to memory. Obtaining a description of the Webweaver had so far proved impossible, but now he saw that she was –

/

– and ink-stained hands. Louis was debating how to pass the knowledge to one of his helpers as soon as possible when he realized he had nothing to pass. The moment his eyes left the Scribe he knew nothing of her: height, colour of the eyes, even if her hair was long or short. He knew not whether her skin was dark or pale, or indeed anything at all save that she had ink-stained hands. Fuck, Louis thought, made unusually vulgar by the depths of his irritation.

“I would apologize, but I see you helped yourself to the wine,” the spymaster replied.

Two cups had been filled, hers already touched, and though he had no intention of putting his mouth anywhere near something the Webweaver had poured he accepted the delicate crystal glass when she offered it. He settled into his seat, the two of them surrounded by swirling panels of bottle-green glass and hanging stone lanterns that seemed to transmute all of Creation in jade.

“Shall I begin by reminding you that your presence in Salia uninvited is an act of war when truce has been declared?” Louis mused.

“Then it is for the best I am not here,” the Scribe replied. “Given the seriousness of the situation, shall we dispense with the preliminaries?”

Louis felt rather cheated that after all these years of wanting to meet one of his few peers in the trade he’d have to set aside the games of their kind, but he had to admit there was little time to spare. Despite what appeared to be the Webweaver’s best efforts, Salia was on fire. Several of them, in fact.

“It would be judicious of us,” the thin man conceded. “It appears that you are looking for something, my friend.”

He’d been told the Eyes – or at least the faction among them not attempting to set the city increasingly more on fire – had hit yet another warehouse of the Silver Letters while taking a carriage to the Horizons. Whatever it was that Scribe was seeking, she was seeking it urgently.

“I am,” the Scribe said. “Two things, as a matter of fact. I will require your aid in finding them.”

Brother Simon watched the man drop, bleeding from the throat, and fall into the filth of the sewers.

Age was catching up to him, after his exertions in leaving behind the hospitality of the Holies, so he’d gone and rounded up a few friends. They had, in turn, sent for friends of theirs. One of the several results of that unfolding awareness had been Simon of Gorgeault’s presence in the sewers of the high districts, under the escort of thirty well-armed fantassins. The friendly young woman who’d just snuck up to the Silver Letter who’d failed to hear them approach and decisively dispatched him sheathed her short sword then waved the others forward.

The lay brother cast a lingering look at the corpse floating on the surface of the river of excrement and trash, grimly thinking that with the amount of corpses his band had sown tonight the rats down here would be rather well-fed. He’d been breathing from his nose from the moment his escorts had ripped open the grid over the river of filth flowing into the muddy fields of the Petite Oblique – better known as Constant’s Arse by Salians, as the drop into the Old River and rain-channels meant many threw their waste there for it to be washed away – and been grateful for the hurried pace into the sewers proper.

There’d been precious little crawling, for which he was thoughtful, for later in the underground tunnels the wealthy and highborn of Salia had built the sewers at near a man’s height so that whenever blockage was had it could be dealt with promptly and not stink up their beautiful manses should the wind grow capricious. Balthazar was not a fool, so the Silver Letters were keeping watch in the tunnels, but a quick and heavily armed group could tear through such a cordon if it struck without hesitation. They’d met with success so far, though Brother Simon had silently tempered the victories with the knowledge that it was only a matter of time until a corpse was found.

And the moment one was, the Silver Letters would come down here in force. Perhaps even with garrison soldiers, which given their better arms and armour would be even more troublesome to deal with. No, while his group had been able to enter the high districts by the sewers but leaving through them would be another story entirely. As it happened Simon had some notion, though the risks would not be small. Yet there must be a part of the district where the blaze was weaker, and given enough wet blankets and snow… It had better chances of success than assault, anyhow, given the numbers the conspirators had surrounded the districts with.

“Here,” a voice whispered.

Simon followed the gesture with his eyes and found indentations in the wall, with rusting iron grips above them. A makeshift ladder to return above, thank the Gods.

“Where will we be?” the old man asked.

“Maybe a street away from Prince Renato’s manse,” the same fantassin who’d been guiding them through the sewer said. “Can’t be sure if there’ll be people, so we have to move fast.”

It was agreed upon in murmurs, and one of the fantassins took the lead in climbing up. A heavy wooden trapdoor barded in steel was opened and lowered as quietly as possible and they all fled upwards one after another. The night wind was a blessing after the stink of below, Simon thought, even though it carried the scent of burning in the distance. There were soldiers in the distance to the side, piling up wood, but they were busy with their work and did not look their way. The infiltrators hurried regardless, closing the trapdoor as quick as they could and fleeing for the shadows. They were hailed the moment they arrived in sight of the walls of the Prince of Salamans, and even earlier than Brother Simon had believed they would be: Renato’s retinue was out in the streets in great numbers, as if preparing to leave.

Simon was not unknown to the prince himself, though none of the officers among the soldiers knew him by sight, yet the lingering stink of his travels by sewer earned him some consideration when he claimed to be at odds with the conspirators. The head of the Holy Society had attempted to have the Prince of Salamans warned that he would be coming, but the messengers must have been waylaid for he was unexpected. Prince Renato himself was having his horse saddled when Simon was brought to him in the outer courtyard.

“Brother Simon,” the moustachioed Arlesite said. “I am told that the Holy Society has been protesting this lunacy.”

“It did even when I was still prisoner of the House of Light, Your Grace,” Simon agreed. “I am pleased to see you of a like mind.”

“There will be a reckoning for tonight,” Prince Renato warned. “One way or another.”

The lay brother mutedly nodded.

“I may have a method to smuggle Her Most Serene Highness out of the districts, if I may be allowed to speak with her,” Simon said.

The Arlesite prince’s face flickered with surprise.

“You do not know, then,” Renato said. “She is not here, Brother Simon. It was a ruse.”

Before Simon could ask where the First Prince had then gone, genuinely bemused, both of them turned when soldiers in the courtyard began to yell in surprise. The lay brother swallowed drily, when he saw what appeared to be an entire manse rise high in the night sky before being suddenly smashed downwards to a chorus of screams.

That, Simon of Gorgeault thought, rather changed things.

“It would be easier to look if I knew what to send my colleagues looking for,” Louis mildly said.

He’d promised nothing, not that his word given in such a situation would be of any worth at all. His duty was to Procer and Procer alone. Everything else was noise.

“The first is correspondence taken from one of the Empire’s safehouses,” she said. “It includes an entirely academic exercise by the Black Knight as to how one might arrange the assassination of Cordelia Hasenbach past of the vigilance of the Augur.”

Academic, was it? Louis knew of no less than twelve plots aimed at the murder of the First Prince since her coronation that could be traced back to either the woman in front of him or the black-cloaked devil she answered to. They’d been thwarted in part by the Circle, in part by Agnes Hasenbach’s unerring guidance and in part by the quality of guards Cordelia Hasenbach surrounded herself with. The only surprise here was that, if the Scribe was so desperately seeking to get her hands on the scroll that’d entice Balthazar into treason, it might genuinely be the Carrion Lord’s own words. It was a feasible explanation for why she might be trying so hard to find it: the revelation would be damaging to her master.

Or, his naturally suspicious mind whispered, after planting that ruinous seed the Scribe was now attempting to remove the evidence. Yet she had revealed that scroll’s existence to him while she must be uncertain of whether he knew of it or not, which meant whatever drove her was urgent enough she was willing to take the risk that the Circle would take the correspondence itself. Or that she infiltrated the Circle deeply enough she already knew of our awareness, he mused. In which case she is building credibility for a later lie. Ah, but he’d not felt this vital in in decades. It was like a stiff tonic dragging him back to the days of his youth, when the burning in his bones had not yet calmed. It was quite exhilarating, to want to crush someone so very utterly as he did the Scribe.

“As for the second, it is stolen imperial property currently held in a Silver Letters warehouse,” the Webweaver said. “Which is why you will help me, Louis de Sartrons.”

“There can be no legal theft of Praesi property while in a state of war with the Dread Empire,” Louis noted. “And that is a bold claim besides.”

“Also an accurate one,” the Scribe said. “For after the legionary detachment accompanying the Carrion Lord onto Lake Artoise by barge was wiped out, the boats were brought back to shore. And the Silver Letters had hired hands there, ready to claim first pick of what lay in the holds.”

The old spymaster forced himself to recall what he knew of the force that’d been found dead to the last on the barges, allegedly through some terrible miracle of the Grey Pilgrim’s. Numbers had been moderate, the only officer of note had been the veteran from the Conquest known as Marshal Ranker – Ranker, yes. A goblin.

“Goblin munitions,” Louis said with feigned serenity. “They seized goblin munitions.”

“The Silver Letters have been contracting alchemists in attempts to divine the recipe for our traditional munitions,” the Scribe agreed. “They have also brought into the city what I estimate to be three full cart’s worth of goblinfire.”

Prince Renato brought only a small escort when they sallied out, all mounted, and provided a mount for Simon as well. There was no point in bringing great strength, for they’d seen rise in the sky how such would be answered. No, best to flee if things went badly and for that horses and few soldiers were best. Brother Simon felt almost guilty of such wariness against what could only be one of the Chosen but not all such souls were kindly ones, much less kindly hands. The Regicide had famously held no compunctions in tearing through whoever stood in her way when she pursued a quarry and the lay brother had heard… troubling things about the Grey Pilgrim. Long before the man became involved with the Black Queen, too. The ten riders went down the street at a brisk trot, finding a graveyard of broken stone and corpses among which two silhouettes stood. One turned towards them, masked and cloaked in green, while the other spoke to a kneeling man. Simon spurred his mount onwards, casting his voice loudly.

“Hail, Chosen,” the lay brother said.

The hero who’d been speaking with a soldier glanced back, revealing dark skin to the torchlight, and Simon was thus able to name him: this would be the Ashuran hero that had been summoned by the First Prince, the White Knight. Whispered, among some priestly circles, to be in the service of the Choir of Judgement. The Chosen look back at the kneeling soldier, and before Simon could so much as speak another word the kneeling man’s head was rolling among the stones. Some of the soldiers behind him breathed in sharply at the sight, either shocked or afraid.

“You are not of these Silver Letters,” the other Chosen stated, her voice a woman’s. “Who then are you?”

There was something about the words that had Simon’s mind askew. Almost like the heroine had not been speaking Chantant, though obviously she had been.

“I am Brother Simon of Gorgeault, from the Holy Society,” the diplomat introduced himself.

“Prince Renato of Salamans,” the prince introduced himself, leading his mount to stand by Simon’s.

Brave man, the prince. Arlesites often were, though they had a way of turning that virtue into a vice.

“I am the Witch of the Woods,” the heroine said. “He is the White Knight. We seek the man called Balthazar Serigny. Do you know where he is?”

The White Knight turned to look at them, eyes utterly serene even as his sword dripped blood.

“We are here for a reason, Antigone,” the Ashuran said, almost chidingly. “To meet them, perhaps. Do you know where the First Prince is being held?”

“She has freed herself from the trap of the traitors,” Prince Renato said. “Have you then come to support her cause?”

“There is no cause,” the White Knight said. “She is the First Prince, that is fact. What more need be said?”

“Then you must help us,” Brother Simon says. “For my colleagues will have gathered every sword they can from the city guard and the garrison, every loyal man and woman in the city, but even with the help of loyal princes and the retinues we will find it hard to take the palace.”

“See?” the White Knight smiled, glancing at his comrade. “Always a reason.”

Oh, Louis thought, those utter fools. Like no one had ever tried to piece together the goblin’s recipes. The Stygian Magisterium was said to have spent a fortune in repeated failed attempts, the Thalassocracy had a standing reward for any goblin munitions in any state and even the First Prince herself had briefly tried to have alchemists reproduce the ones known as ‘sharpers’ before admitting that whatever the process involved was the Principate simply did not have the sorcerous know-how to match it. And now a significant portion of the Eyes of the Empire was going around the city setting fires, when they should be well aware that all it’d take was a single drop touching flame and… and the city would burn green. As was the telltale mark of the Black Queen bringing her enemies to heel.

“Malicia wants to sink the Liesse Accords,” Louis said. “Yet you are attempting to protect them. Why?”

“Because I have been ordered to,” the Scribe replied.

Her closeness to the Black Knight was well-documented, true enough, and with the lifting of the veil over Iserre it had become possible to scry again days ago. All it would have taken was a face-to-face conversation with the Carrion Lord and the matter would have been settled. Of course, that much implied she had already been in Salia. That she had been here and that the Eyes of the Empire in the service of Lady Ime instead of herself had somehow succeeded at fomenting such schemes without her knowledge. Which was, in a word, absurd. The strife between Praesi spies was too recent, Louis decided. And though he dared not underestimate the Eyes of the Empire, neither would he overestimate them: the way Balthazar Serigny had been played, and likely other conspirators as well, was beyond the reach of most Praesi spies.

“It was your scheme, wasn’t it?” Louis de Sartrons suddenly said. “All of this was plotted in concert with the Tower. And then the Carrion Lord pulled your leash.”

The bones of the aftermath of the initial plot might have taken were still there. Cordelia Hasenbach dead, the House of Light irreparably discredited by the fire and the coup, Rozala Malanza crowned First Princess but illegitimately so in the eyes of most. Large swaths of the Principate would outright rebel, and even if the Dead King was beaten back there would be no keeping the Lycaonese in Procer after this. They’d fight bitterly to secede and many of Prince Cordelia’s steadiest allies with them. Either Keter devoured us whole or we’d collapse in the wake of our survival, Louis thought half-admiringly. And with the House perhaps purged and inevitably disgraced, there would be no one left to mediate between the combatants. It’d been a very comprehensive scheme. Terrifyingly so. Until part of the schemers had turned against it, anyway.

“If that were the case, such a plan would have been made when Lord Black was held prisoner by heroes,” the Scribe said.

“You need our help,” the spymaster smiled. “To find those munitions before half the capital burns green and your master ends up being held responsible.”

“You need my help,” the Scribe replied, “before half your capital burns green and hundreds of thousands die.”

“It will cost you,” Louis de Sartrons nonchalantly said.

Her eyes narrowed, but she answered through gritted teeth. Resigned. Oh, this was delicious turn indeed.

“What do you want?” she asked.

Praes had attempted to lay hand on Procer, Louis mused with a thin smile. As the charge of the Circle of Thorns ordered, it was time for the Dread Empire to bleed for presumption.

Balthazar felt his face turn ashen. His mind stalled, for a moment, in utter surprise and dismay. He nodded at Rosalie in acknowledgement afterwards, who once more this might had been appointed the carrier of ill news. This time, though, much worse than the last.

“You would do well to listen for once in your misbegotten life, you jumped-up fantassin,” Brother Bertran sneered, Arlesite accent thick. “If you expect to keep your station after Princess Rozala’s election you should learn-”

“Shut your fucking mouth, priest,” Balthazar the Bastard said, voice gone flat. “The rest of you, listen to me closely.”

There was a ripple of surprise among the crowd. They’d agreed to speak with him when he’d insisted that the damned door to the Highest Assembly needed to be battered down because of his prominence within the conspiracy, but none of these were used to being spoken to in such a manner.

“You dare speak-” Brother Betran began.

Balthazar glanced at one of his men and the priest’s nose broke with a wet crunch a heartbeat later. A sheath weighed quite a bit, especially with the sword still in it.

“If we do not enter the Highest Assembly and depose Hasenbach within the hour, everyone here is dead,” the large spymaster calmly said. “The princes of Salamans and Arans broke through the encirclement of the high districts and gathered a crowd of armed malcontents. They’re coming for the palace.”

“We have the run of the palace, Serigny,” Princess Clotilde replied. “We’ve retinues of our own and loyalists, as well as the walls. We could hold ten times our number, and I’ve doubts they have gathered such.”

“If that was all they had, I’d hardly care,” Balthazar grunted. “We could break them all at once. But there are two Chosen with them – the White Knight and the Witch of the Woods.”

“This is good news, Serigny,” Sister Adelie dismissed. “We need only send an envoy and they will come to our side, perhaps even bearing Hasenbach herself. She is a heretic.”

“The two of them have killed somewhere around three hundred people since they’ve entered the city, best my people can tell,” Balthazar said. “At least a dozen were priests. They are coming for our heads, ladies and gentlemen, not to lend a hand.”

A great deal of consternation ensued. The Holies, in particular, remained unconvinced that the Chosen would not embrace their cause. Amusingly enough there was talk of Hasenbach having seduced the White Knight, or the Witch of the Woods, or both as well as the less salacious talk that she might have lied to them so they would misunderstand the situation. One even suggested they were in truth Damned and not Chosen, though there were few takers. The more practical suggested envoys be sent to the Chosen regardless, to ‘clarify the situation’ to which Balthazar agreed mostly so they’d cease their shrill whining. Fear, though, finally got the lot of them moving. They all knew that so long as Hasenbach was the First Prince, they were all rebels. Deposition followed by an election, even a hasty and dubious one, would change the situation. The White Knight was said to be a scrupulous observer of the law, when there was law to be had, and even a parchment hat was better than none at all when it was raining outside. Their soldiers and guards were sent to hold the fortifications around the palace, key parts of the inside carefully garrisoned as well, and then they finally marched on the Chamber of Assembly. A strange procession of priests, highborn and spies. Only four soldiers, enough to carry a large bench that they immediately began ramming into the ancient doors. Once, twice, thrice and then the doors opened. Seated on the tall seat of her office, flanked by soldiers and the bearded Master of Orders, the First Prince of Procer awaited them all in the full and resplendent regalia of her rank.

“Hasenbach,” Balthazar snarled. “Why are you here?

“The Highest Assembly is in session, traitor,” Cordelia Hasenbach said, face a mask of frigid contempt. “Where else would I be?”

125 thoughts on “Interlude: Mirror

    1. It would be nice if those people who started vote threads would also start a typo thread. In too many posts either the typo thread is buried or it simply doesn’t exist at all.

      who once more this might had been appointed the carrier of ill news.
      Change might to night

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Shveiran

          Ah, but you see, that situation would never have occurred if the stairway had not beensecured by the Black Queen. With the Stairway open, Hasenback’s uncle would have been hot on Black’s trail with a large force and his experienced insights, quite possibly cornering him without outside interventions.

          Instead, the forces trying to encircle the Black Knight’s expedition were led by inexperienced commanders and down a forty-thousand strong army at the Legions’ back.
          Truly, it was that situation that caused the Pilgrim’s intervention, so it is ultimately Cat’s fault.

          Also, if Amadeus had been killed it is possible Scribe would not have chosen this way to mourn him; and it was the threat of the Black Queen that forced the Pilgrim to stay his hand.
          Again, clearly Cat’s fault for existing.

          Mhm, I appear to be slipping climbing all these mirrors. Hand me those suction caps, will you? I’m sure I can climb the Unlikely Cause Mirror higher than this with a little assistance.

          Liked by 7 people

  1. Cicero

    My my, Cordelia has some big brass ones.

    I’m guessing there is some code against murdering people in the Highest Assembly, such that simply killing her would make the proceeding utterly illegitimate.

    Liked by 19 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Yeah, there’s a reason they didn’t try to murder her, but rather kept her prisoner while they held the session of the Highest Assembly without her.
      Killing her right now will have them hanged as traitors no matter what.

      I’m surprised the Holies actually believed that the Heroes would side with them, are they so high-level hypocrites that they believe their own lie?

      Liked by 14 people

      1. Hardric62

        No, they just remember that moment the Saint of Bitches indulged and enforced their brainless shenanigans with the whole Arch-Heretic debacle, completely unaware that she was doing so in order to make the whole country burn to be replaced by something ‘worthy’.

        Mouth-breathers, all of them.

        Liked by 12 people

        1. caoimhinh

          I expected them to at least be conscious of their own bullshit. I’m astonished of how they actually believe themselves to be the good guys.

          It’s the kind of surprise one gets when realizing the scope of things. Like, you know someone is an asshole but then you see them beat a child, so you get surprised of how far his “assholery” goes.
          I know the Holies are hypocrite and corrupt bastards, it’s one thing to see them pretend in front of others and spout lies to sell themselves as good, but I didn’t think they would still belive themselves to really be good.

          I’m guessing Balthazar felt the same when he saw the Holies were convinced Heroes would join their cause.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. You don’t really understand how people work, do you? :3

            Of anything, the first person you have to convince is yourself. Everyone’s a hero of their own story, Actual Card-Carrying Villains From Praes nonwithstanding. Everyone LOVES to believe that they’re in the right, and it takes a serious clarity of thinking (or serious cultural slant a la Praes) to actually PERCEIVE being in the wrong.

            And these aren’t people remarkable for their clarity in thinking.

            They could be making deals with actual devils and still believe they were doing the will of Above somehow, because it’s just more comfortable that way.

            Liked by 2 people

      2. Shveiran

        I think the Holies are simply secluded away from the Evil vs. Good strife, safe in Salia, ever hearing of events only through so many intermediaries that the grim details of reality are filtered away.
        They believe in a simpler world, were white and black are clearly divided.

        Now that they first find themselves faced with a complex, close-at-hand issue, that brings them to believe that since they are good and on the side of Good, it only stands to reason that anyone opposing them is wicked and Evil.
        Since the Chosen clearly aren’t Evil, why wouldn’t they side with them?

        Many among them are not in bad faith. They simply have what we feel is a flawed perception of reality. You can be despicable and still be perfectly coherent with your own vision, after all.

        Liked by 8 people

      3. DoOd

        I wouldn’t say they’re hypocrites, rather that they are incredibly conceited.
        I mean they believe that them declaring someone a heretic makes it so in the eyes of the Heavens.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Shveiran

          Playing Devil’s advocate here, but why wouldn’t they?

          They are the highest institution of what the perceive as the most important church on Calernia (the Lanterns and the Callowans are clearly barely more than backwater tribes, and don’t get me started on the League…). It’s not like the Chosen are in the habit of being from the cloth, and when they are they go around smacking Evil rather than play politics or research scriptures.
          Above doesn’t point down to condemn heretics on its own, so why wouldn’t they think it’s their job?
          If not them, who?

          One could call them judgmental, of course, but that is the idea behind the Gods Above, isn’t it?
          That Above has a plan, a way of living mortals should strive to uphold because that way lie good things. And mortals do not, they need to be corrected. Through teaching, through exemple, through scolding, through punishments, through Light and Fury… The methods may vary, but the core belief is that there is a truth, and if you are not trying to following it you are doing it wrong.
          It makes perfect sense for them to point at Villains and say “That! That is the epithome of what you shouldn’t be doing! Say no to Blackqueening, kids!”.

          Liked by 2 people

    2. Decius

      There is now.
      There was mention of a rule that allowed the assembly to convene in emergencies after a summons regardless of whether a normal quorum was present. It had been mentioned that the time had already elapsed but they couldn’t get in.

      Cordelia has been the entire highest assembly for long enough to conduct any business that she wanted to. Any pretense of legitimacy or ex post facto legitimacy that the conspirators might ever have hoped for is gone, since the Highest Assembly was duly convened and has already done everything to counter the attack.

      And, of course, Cat is going to arrive just before the city burns with goblinfire, as is traditional.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. Shveiran

        Oh. OH. That is actually pretty clever, I hope that’s what she went with. I was mostly thinking she picked that hiding spot because no one would have looked for her there, but your suggestion is so much better.

        Liked by 5 people

      1. Decius

        Technically yet, The time since summons were sent has elapsed, so the assembly convened without the normal quorum. The same gambit that was going to allow the conspirators to pass their coup has instead allowed Cordelia to pass hers.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          Hmm, everybody’s been talking about how Hanno might actually get a “don’t kill” from his coin on Cat, but now I’m thinking it might not even come to that. the way events are converging, the heroes are sure to arrive at the peak of tension, and Hanno is likely going to flip a coin on Corrine Hasselhoff for allying with the Arch-Heretic

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Andrew Mitchell

            > Hanno is likely going to flip a coin on Corrine Hasselhoff for allying with the Arch-Heretic

            Just so long as he doesn’t do it on Cordelia Hasenbach, we’re all good. 😉 (I got a chuckle out of your version of her name.)

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Huh. I wonder what Louis is going to want from Scribe.
    Also, definitely Malicia’s people are the arsonists.

    Yeah. The White Knight and the Witch of the Woods are not going to deal kindly with Serigny and his conspirators. Hanno is Judgement’s minion. And the Choir of Judgement is going to be all kinds of “the letter of the Law”, not the spirit of it.

    Haha. Cordelia has played them, even if she didn’t see this coming.

    I wonder what’s going on with Augur.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. jesdynf

      That’s a *huge* assumption. Cordelia’s thrown a lot of villian flags recently, and her dredging project is still proceeding, and the Seraphim are unpredictable by mortals per design.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Cordelia is, as yet, not Named, and the lawful First Prince of Procer. So no bypassing her legal position by being a Villain.
        And while her actions have likely been against tradition, they have been within the boundaries of the Law of Procer.
        As long as she doesn’t call upon Hanno to exercise Judgement upon the situation, or otherwise give him reason to flip the coin on her, Cordelia is presumed to be in the right as far as he is concerned.

        He doesn’t judge, and she’s still the lawful ruler of Procer being faced with an unlawful coup attempt.

        Liked by 17 people

  3. caoimhinh

    People in the comments in previous chapters: Hmm, a city on fire, seems like Cat will be blamed.
    Catherine:
    Other people in the comments: Nah, there’s no Goblinfire, that’s her trademark and without it she won’t be blamed for this.
    Catherine: *Sees the flags rising and her Narrative instinct triggers* Did they just…? Oh, fuck, no…
    Scribe: “They have three full carts’ worth of Goblinfire.”
    Catherine: Godsdamn it! *Looks to the Realms beyond Creation, to the Gods and the Readers* You just had to say it, didn’t you?

    Hahahahahahahahaha

    Liked by 31 people

  4. JJR

    “As was the telltale mark of the Black Queen bringing her enemies to heel.

    “Malicia wants to sink the Liesse Accords,” Louis said. “Yet you are attempting to protect them. Why?””

    This is just so great. The guy recognizes that Cat would be blamed for the fire if it happens even though it wouldn’t be her fault. But still thinks all those other times were legit.

    Liked by 23 people

      1. Shveiran

        You mean the same guy who just went “Oh, so you want MY help saving MY city from being erased from the map in such a way that it discreedits both our religious and temporal institutions, throwing our country into a terrible civil war that would destroy us forever even if we weren’t also being invaded by the greatest villain of the Continent and his undead army – an invasion, let me just had, that we have been so far straight-up losing? WELL THAT’S GONNA COST YOU MISSUS.”

        Fucking Procerans, man.

        Liked by 10 people

        1. TBF, his point is “Oh so you want my help COVERING UP EVIDENCE OF YOUR INVOLVEMENT in setting our everything on fire? And you’re blackmailing me with our entire city possibly getting set even more on fire to get me to do it? You think you can just do that and I’ll go along with it?”

          Don’t teach hostage takers that they can get anything out of you that easily. Remember Cat’s response to Akua’s threat to the orphanage?

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Shveiran

            Aside from the fact that Scribe in this instance is less of a terrorist and more like a renegade terrorist that is offering to help you stop the other terrorists, so refusing her demands is a bit different IMO…

            …I can get behind the logic of “no deal with terrorists because otherwise we’ll be back here in a month when the next violent bastard wants something.” But context matters.
            It is reasonable to use this approach when the threat you face is limited – as in, say, an orphanage or even a full city because there is so much more at stake that youd’ be surrendering.

            Here… well, if Salia falls it’s likely Procer and life on Calernia’s surface are both screwed. That’s not a good moment to play chicken with one of your very few options. You have a shot at preventing the apocalypse, QUIT WHILE YOU ARE AHEAD. Don’t play chicken with these fucking stakes, man.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. You should recognize a negotiating tactic known as “bullshitting with a straight face”. I doubt he would actually let Salia burn, but to let such an amazing leverage just pass you without even trying to use it is, frankly, stupid. I guess this is how your own preconceptions change what you are reading. I do not assume all Procerans are asshats, so I see his “let them bleed” for leveraging a weakness, which is smart and not presumptious, while you apparently think Procerans to be asshats, and so see it as arrogant presumption that everyone will bow and scrape to literally save your ass from fire.

              The truth is somewhere in the middle, but you need to understand the context. Black and Cat need Salia as it is a place for negotiations, they need Procer being alive and not on fire. So Scribe will try and put out fires and find goblinfire regardless of whether or not Circle will help her. So they will get her assistance anyway, while she needs their. Not to mention, it is at least hinted that she expects them to return both munitions and documents back, and perhaps this is what she must pay for.

              On the other, other hand, we can see it in Piligrim, when he was startled by Cat proclaming that she does not actually fear violence, and if pushed will burn Procer to the ground. It may very well also, at the same time be that kind of basic assumptions that Scribe and Black are helping them because they are not monsters who will without a blink eat alive a hundred thousands babies if that will get them what they wanted. You know, an understandble mistake. In that case blackmailing them for a genuine attempt to save them is assholery.

              So, if he believes that Scribe saves him out of goodness ofher heart, he’s an asshole, if he believes that she saves him because it benefits her, he’s a smart guy.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Shveiran

                I’m aware it is a negotiating tactic. It is still a stupid one, when your back is to the wall. What you could gain is not worth the risk you miscalculated and the other side will actually call your bluff.

                If the asshat fits, let him wear it 😉 But the “Fucking Procerans” was justa jest; my jab was meant at his chosen approach.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. No, it’s not stupid. For many reasons, but most of all because it had worked. It is annoying as hell to deal with, but he had a pretty good read on the situations. Scribe just started fucking Malicia in the back, she would not turn halfway around cause it’s too hard. She came to him, that is important. Besides what she’ll do if the bluff falls. Start working with Malicia again and burn the place to the green, failing her master in the process? Nope. Abstain from putting out the fires and risk burning Salia and failing Black’s orders in the process? Nope. It’s basically freebie, all you gotta have are guts to go through.

                  Like

  5. RoflCat

    Who want to bet that whatever Louis is planning to ask of Scribe, she already knew he would ask that and judged it acceptable cost, and is the whole reason why she even showed herself in the first place.

    Like, she already knew where the texts and the goblinfire are, but rather than using Praesi agents to take it back she’s using Procer’s own hands to do it thus whatever they plan to spin about it, it can’t be pointed back to her.

    Because they’re handing it to her in a trade, either he has to out himself as making deals with THE ENEMY or he has to keep quiet about it.

    Liked by 16 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Also, she can very well kill him when the deed is done. If he asked for information, dead men tell no tales (not accounting for Necromancy, but there’s counters for that too). If he asked for a physical object, she can get it back, and if he asked for her collaboration in doing something, she can go back on her word.

      Louis feeling like “Hah, I got you now, Scribe, you need me and now you are gonna pay!” in this chapter, seemed like a huuge mistake that a veteran spymaster should know by now that he shouldn’t do.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Hardric62

        I want to bet that he knows that. The wrapping is all for the form. Everybody at the table is smart enough to know that he will be asking for pretty much what Scribe is ready to give up. With more or less haggling for appearances (probably less, they are rather smart people with a severe emergency).

        Liked by 9 people

      2. As I said on the last chapter, Necromancy doesn’t seem to allow for interrogation unless you’ve already got the person alive to start with, in which case it becomes just a subset of “you have them completely in your power, with mages”. The only undead we’ve seen to retain their memories and personality, were either known to be pre-prepared (Scribe1!Cat), or plausibly so (DK’s Revenants). Otherwise, they’re just an anonymous spirit or spell animating a corpse.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. My guess is that he’s going to request more aggressive action against Ime’s network from her. It’s something she can do immediately (so no going back on her word later) and it can’t exactly be undone. It’ll drain both her resources and Ime’s, meaning draining Praesi resources period, and the best part, it’s something that doesn’t go contrary to Scribe’s immediate prioritized goal (cleaning up the mess and ensuring Praes has a firm position in negotiations). In choosing between tactical gain and strategic loss, she’ll have to eat the strategic loss here.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. laguz24

    Cat: The city was on fire and it wasn’t my fault.
    Cordelia: Hide where you are least likely to be found, and p.s. what name do you think Balthasar will be getting if he lives that long?

    Liked by 3 people

  7. caoimhinh

    “You need our help,” the spymaster smiled. “To find those munitions before half the capital burns green and your master ends up being held responsible.”

    “You need my help,” the Scribe replied, “before half your capital burns green and hundreds of thousands die.”

    Ah, Procerans, even when dying and desperate, they still try to pretend they have a high hand. I mean, sure, it’s not good to show weakness to a strong opponent, but there’s a limit to how much you can bluff. The only reason Salia isn’t already on fire is that Scribe is handling the situation (that she caused, but that still shows she’s got the undeniable upper hand). It seems to have worked this time, but that could have ended very badly for him.

    In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Louis gets himself killed due to whatever he bargained with Scribe.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. > In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Louis gets himself killed due to whatever he bargained with Scribe.

      I doubt it. The Practical Evil folks are actually pretty good about keeping their word, and Louis is very much on the right side of the story. Of course, if he gets too greedy, that could scotch things, but he’s probably too sensible for that.

      Liked by 5 people

  8. JJR

    I have to wonder if that bit about the plan being “an entirely academic exercise” is actually, in the most literal way, true. Augur can apparently see even just intent, so putting together a plan with the intent of carrying it out might be seen. But if it really was just a total hypothetical that they have no intent to follow up on. Maybe that hides it from sight. That said, I’m still not sure how it goes from purely academic to plan being followed without tripping the Augur alarm. Well, the story did mention the Silver Letters controlling the Augur’s mail (I think), but it’s still a tight deadline to shut down her mail before she sees that they plan to do that and get a letter out.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Decius

      If the plan as a whole is completely academic, and the agents enacting parts of the plan are merely testing an academic hypothesis, or unaware of the nature of their actions, then perhaps that’s the nature of the blind spot.

      Scribe or Black know or suspect that Scribe being unaware of the full nature of the plan is important to the Augur also being unaware of it, which is why she needs to acquire it. Once she has it, she can INTEND to give Malica’s agents orders to carry out the plan, immediately revealing them all to the Augur who can help wrap the situation up nicely.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. mamm0nn

      It’s purely academic, until they’re certain that the Augur’s gaze is elsewhere. They already reasoned that she cannot be aware of everything at once, so if focussed on f.e. the Dead King this plot can be turned from academic to real without tipping her off.

      Liked by 3 people

  9. Why are people still sure the White Knight is going to turn on Cordelia and others trying to create an alliance of Good and Evil against the dead? He’s shown himself to be a very reasonable hero, aside from his lack of options between “die, sinner” and “eh, go on, not my problem”. He seems like the hero whose Good is closest to being a non-deontological good out of all the heroes (aside from those firmly in cahoots with the Black Queen), for all that it’s based on the rule of the coin.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. IKR. Hanno is doing his best and avoiding all the obvious pitfalls of his position (judging people based on which side they are on while missing bad shit from ‘his’ side, escalating conflicts by accusing the mob, failing to draw conclusions from available information, ignoring people who are also trying to help, )

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Shveiran

      Because he is not “reasonable”, he is the enforcer of a law no one can either learn or change.

      Hanno’s desires are, ultimately, irrelevant, because he won’t act on them.
      His one noteworthy trait is that he trusts the Seraphim, which makes it a given that if a major decision comes up (like, say, “should I ally with this Villainess to save the world or is it actually a bad idea?”, which is not exactly a question one could blame him for asking, given the possible repercussions) he will look for the Seraphim’s seal of approval.

      Believing this is not quite the same as comparing him to a murderhobo. It is simply pointing out that the only mercy or compromise Hanno will ever have are those sponsored by the Seraphim. Do we know what that Choir thinks of Cordelia or Cat? No.
      Can we know? No.
      Do we have an idea what would factor in? No.

      We can speculate all we want, but let’s face it, there is no way to know until it happens.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. ninegardens

        I mean yes… but also… certain comments made in a certain adjacent interlude chapter (–> ) may hint that he is more open to change than we might at first assume.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. No? He routinely murders strangers on the say so of Seraphim. If they told him to stab the Witch of the Woods in the face, we’ve seen nothing that even hinted he wouldn’t do it.
          He might feel bad afterwords, but he would do it.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Shveiran

          What shieldredblog said.

          It’s not that we haven’t seen Hanno as a kind, humble soul in other chapters.

          It is that we have never seen him so much as doubt, let alone disagree with the Seraphim. His personal opinions and virtues are irrelevant //when discussing his likely actions and choices// because they won’t weight on that decision’s scales. Only the Seraphim will.

          Liked by 1 person

        1. Shveiran

          You keep saying that, but I don’t think it works like that.

          EVEN IF we assume that the Book of All Things is a perfect transxposition of the Seraphim’s views in all other languages, something I’m not sure we can do because:
          a) translation doesn’t work that way, errors are made and can easily become relevant
          b) who wrote that thing? The Angels? Or men?
          c) The Choirs are not of one mind on how you should act in practice; they squabble, they disagree, they champion different virtues. So why are you assuming the Book of All Things perfectly matches the Seraphim’s view?

          EVEN THEN, the Book is not a code of laws, it’s scriptures. Trying to use it to define what earn you eradication in a concrete, practical situation leads to madness. It’s not how it works. Unless there is a passage that says “the following things will get you smote by the Choir of Judgment, yo: number 1, abusing your religious authority to push a mob to stone a fool, number 2…” it won’t work.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Valla

            With regards to the book of all things I believe this backs up shveiran’s point

            “The passage went on to say some pointed things about villainy being a twisting of that tendered purpose, and so Evil as well as evil, but I’d always taken the Book with a grain of salt. It was a beloved and well-worn story in Callow that some ancient Count of Denier had used that very passage to argue that it was in fact impious not pay taxes promptly and in full. Once words were put to ink, anybody could put them to use and those particular words were so old none could say who’d first written them – more than simply the purposes, I suspected that the words themselves had shifted over the centuries. They couldn’t not have, after all, considering no one in those days had spoken Lower Miezan before said empire came to Calernia and the Callowan manuscripts of the Book were in that language. No translation could be perfect, my expanding repertoire of spoke and written languages had made painfully clear.”

            Ch 40 Entreaty

            Liked by 1 person

  10. Cap'n Smurfy

    “They have also brought into the city what I estimate to be three full cart’s worth of goblinfire.”
    Ooooh. There’s no escaping blame for the fire now Catherine.

    “As was the telltale mark of the Black Queen bringing her enemies to heel.”
    Yup there it is.

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Valkyria

    Well well well. Quite ballsy of you Cordelia.
    Also… just damn badass. She doesn’t even need to enter a room to make a dramatic entrance. That’s some ruler quality right there.

    Also poor Cat. She’s most definitely going to get blamed for this somehow. Even if the Goblinfire doesn’t light up, its very existence will “prove” she was somehow involved in this.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. JJR

        “Multiple spymaster who should be by all rights be at odds with eachother are instead collaborating to deflect blame away from the Black Queen (known city burner). Clearly she did it and has blackmail on one or more of these spy ‘masters’.”

        Liked by 2 people

  12. mamm0nn

    “The Silver Letters have been contracting alchemists in attempts to divine the recipe for our traditional munitions,” the Scribe agreed. “They have also brought into the city what I estimate to be three full cart’s worth of goblinfire.”

    Damn it, Scribe. I know you’re too factual and not bantering to go for each easy dunk, but really? You couldn’t have added the following?:
    “Which they’re trying to locate by burning every alchemy shop, and all the houses around it too for good measure.”

    Contrary to the rest of the chat, I think that the Scribe is still responsible for both sides of the Eyes’ actions. The eyes in Salia only recently regained connection with the Tower, same as the good kingdoms the knowledge of Praes isn’t all-knowing without reason when it doesn’t have to be so, and this scheme is so subtle there’s no reason for Lady Ime to have learned of it.

    More important and damning, Scribe likely found and controls all the Eyes’ scrying means in Salia to prevent the tower from knowing anything she doesn’t want to know. Given the situation, Ime may not know that Salia is burning at all until a messenger by foot or a carrier bird reaches the Tower by the old ways to notify her of this. Which wouldn’t have happened yet, probably.

    Or also likely, Black scried the Scribe and told her of the situation and/or the NameLore that the Scribe got herself in. Or the moment that the first prince ‘miraculously survived’ and threw a neat operation into an undeniably evil coup, Scribe saw the writing on the wall and that she was now in a Story with a conveniently appearing Chosen, destined to get her killed. Forget the Preasi beast biting it’s own tail, this is the Scribe about to be swallowed by her own scheme and using Black’s tricks to (at least try or flawlessly) slip the noose by being the lesser evil fighting the greater evil that wasn’t her all along.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ciara

      That’s not contrary to the chat at all. This chapter spells out that Scribe is directing both factions of the Eyes:

      “‘It was your scheme, wasn’t it?’ Louis de Sartrons suddenly said. ‘All of this was plotted in concert with the Tower. And then the Carrion Lord pulled your leash.’

      ‘If that were the case, such a plan would have been made when Lord Black was held prisoner by heroes,’ the Scribe said.”

      Scribe set this whole game in motion while Black was a captive with the intent of toppling Cordelia and leaving Procer to get bullldozed by the Dead King. Then Cat freed Black and filled him in on her latest schemes, he Skyped Scribe and now she’s picking up after herself because Black is 100% Team Cat and Cat needs Cordelia in charge and Procer relatively intact.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Some Smartass

        I don’t think Scribe’s change of plan was purely because Amadeus said so. She’s entirely capable of disobeying him when she thinks he’s wrong or “compromised.” I think she also likes the effect Catherine’s scheme has on him; he clearly wants to live in this new political landscape where villains can win, not just die creating it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The chat, as in these replies. The main thoughts on most posts seem to be that it has now been confirmed that the Scribe indeed schemed all this, but her hatchets are fighting the torchers of Lady Ime because the Tower is pursuing a different agenda and Ime overrode Scribe’s authority. Chat seems to think that the Tower is aware of this, I think that Scribe by negligence of undoing her previous orders or even by ordering the torchers post-revelation of the Chosen and the failed coup, is responsible for both sides of the Eyes’ actions even now.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. >The eyes in Salia only recently regained connection with the Tower

      No. Only Iserre had scrying blocked, along with the Observatory not working. The Salia/Tower connections were working the entire time.

      > this scheme is so subtle there’s no reason for Lady Ime to have learned of it

      Is it subtle? Is it really? I don’t think Ime and Scribe have completely independent non-intersecting networks, and Scribe had no reason to be deliberately trying to hide from Ime something that Ime would be equally interested in doing. There’s no reason for Ime to NOT be involved in this.

      And if this was all Scribe’s operation, why the fuck could she not have simply called off the people setting fire to everything? I’d considered she might be deliberately staging this to show off that she’s helping, last chapter, but if the goblinfire thing goes off it’ll spiral out of her control catastrophically. (And I don’t think she’s lying about the goblinfire)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s true that scrying in Salia might’ve been working all along, though wouldn’t Iserre be enough in the way to cause interference? But it doesn’t quite matter, Scribe most likely controls everything that goes through those scrying means by virtue of being in Salia and Named.

        Considering the current hostilities between Black and Malicia, I see no reason for Scribe to not similarly keep Ime in the dark or at least be passive-aggressive about it. She knows Black’s current view on Malicia and the Tower, and if the First Prince and many Princes are kept out of the loop until the coup happened then it is certainly subtle enough until the first die is cast. So yes, it’s very reasonable to assume that she would keep this subtle enough that Ime wouldn’t find out about it just because.

        On the goblinfire, who’s to say she hasn’t already found it months ago? She’s Named, she’s here to screw things up royally, she has had plenty of time, and there aren’t too many places where the Silver Letters could research that level of alchemy secretly. That she wouldn’t have found the goblinfire or at least its general location is just as likely as that she had it and quickly removed it when finding out that the plans changed.
        Or, also still very much possible, there was no goblinfire to begin with. You really think she couldn’t pull off a bluff with her powers erasing the knowledge of what her tell looks like? Or, also possible, there is goblinfire but for obvious reasons of secrecy and privacy the Silver Letters stashed it in some remote town where there are simpler reasons to keep any accidents quiet.

        Whatever the case, whether she is willing to let the goblinfire burn and Salia burn with it if it comes to that (she’s still a Villain after all), that she removed it long ago, or that there was never in Salia to begin with, I don’t see anything wrong with my theory.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Shveiran

      True, but last time she did in a deserted mountain pass in a spot with almost no infrastructure.

      My guess is that such a solution would be much more costly when deployed in a city.

      Still. Girl is resorceful, she may have more tricks up her sleeve.

      Liked by 4 people

  13. Author Unknown

    Boss, we found a bunch of goblin munitions and want to study them. We need funds to set up a hidden lab in the middle nowhere, where it will be safe and secure.

    What? No, no. How will I micromanage everything from so far away?

    Where then? This stuff is that dangerous green fire that is impossible to put out.

    I have just the place, under my bed, what could possibly go wrong with me there to guard them. Though it might make the mattress a bit lumpy…

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Nairne .01

        Well, he is so desperate for revenge that he just falls into the trap known as “people will believe what they want to believe” – even if its an easily discernable trap if he just stopped and thought about it for a moment

        Liked by 3 people

  14. Cat’s pyromaniac tendecies (no matter how much she denies them!!!) are so common they are being weaponized against her xD, now we just know at least 1 house will burn green….and we know at least some people will blame Cat xD

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I was talking more about the INTENTION, that and maybe either the house of some noble or a warehouse from the letters could burn green, just 1 of those would be enough to blame Cat in the eyes of some people (mostly those who are a little idiotic and believe every rumour they hear).

        Liked by 1 person

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