Chapter 81: Devotional

“To have faith is to believe there is a plan greater than your own. And so the dreadful crowned are faithless one and all, for what plans could ever be greater than our own?”
– Dread Emperor Reprobate the First

“As I recall, the game requires three people,” I said. “I’ve only had half a cup, Kairos, it’s too early to start seeing double.”

Which was as pointed a cue as he could hope for before unveiling whatever nasty surprise he’d been keeping up his sleeve. The wretched little bastard grinned at me appreciatively, recognizing the extended hand for what it was. It was never pleasant to be forced to look in the eye the truth that I understood Kairos better than I did more people – and that it came naturally, without effort.

“I believe you’re familiar with the man,” the Tyrant of Helike mused. “He goes by Beiakim.”

In Ashkaran, that’d be Be-Iakim, which translated to ‘Child of Iakim’. The name was not unknown to me, for though it had been millennia late and in another realm I had attended King Iakim’s burial. It’d been in that echo that I had first heard the word Intercessor spoken by the lips of the man that would become the Dead King: Prince Neshamah, at one time the most obscure of King Iakim’s many children. That was on the nose, even by villain standards, but I couldn’t say as much without acknowledging Masego and I had stolen knowledge of the long-dead tongue from Arcadian echoes. Along with others things. Hierophant had plundered the thoughts of still-mortal Neshamah but I’d seen/

/. Still, this was a rather clear indication of our coming guest’s identity. Chittering gargoyles scattered as someone left the back of the shop to join us, some of them hurrying to bring forward a skull-adorned chair and place it to the side between myself and the Tyrant. The Dead King’s puppet, for I much doubted this to be the true body of the King of Death, made no pretence of still living. Though dressed in long cloths of purple and silver – the colours of Keter’s banner, as I recalled – it was a skeleton that I was looking upon. The bones were as polished ivory, much of them adorned with purple chalcedony and silver, and there was something lurking in the shadows of the empty eye sockets that was dreadfully vital.

“Catherine,” the King of Death greeted me. “How pleasant to see you again.”

“He is rarely so sweet to me, you know,” Kairos complained. “Favoritism is a sin, Catherine.”

“Might have something to do with all those betrayals you did,” I noted.

I then cleared my throat, gaze turning to the Dead King. Wariness quickened my pulse, but I could not show weakness in this den of tigers. They would not strike at me with violence, not here and now. It would have been more reassuring if those two were not some of the finest masters of twisted words living and dead. The dead thing claimed the skull chair, leaving me to wonder if Kairos had ordered it made for this very occasion or if he’d campaigned across a third of Procer with a spare skull thorne stashed somewhere in Helike’s baggage train.

“Beiakim, is it?” I said. “That’s new. Surprised you didn’t stick with the classics and go with Trismegistus.”

“If I had, I would have been robbed of the pleasure of your pretended ignorance,” Neshamah replied in Ashkaran.

“I don’t speak that, you ought to know it by now,” I replied without missing a beat.

“Dandelion mouse fishing,” the Tyrant proudly added in Ashkaran.

More or less, anyway. He was accenting the wrong parts of the words and there were some syllables he was pronouncing in what I figured to be the tradertongue way which just… didn’t work with Ashkaran. There was almost no commonality between the languages. He might have meant moue instead of mouse, now that I thought about it.

“Well said, Kairos,” I agreed.

“I suppose that, bereft of anyone able to share my humour, Trismegistus will have to do,” the Dead King said.

“King Trismegistus,” the Tyrant mused. “It has a ring to it. Might I offer you refreshments, Your Highness?”

I eyed the clothed skeleton skeptically. It had no, well, throat. I assumed the fact that he could speak at all was the result of sorcery, maybe some sort of runic trick. Likely I was looking at a small sliver of the Dead King invested in a construct, not unlike the crows that Sve Noc has sent south with me – and which, physically speaking, had about as much business talking as a skeleton. I had to say I admired Kairos a little for the amount of sheer pointless pettiness it took to offer the Dead King drinks he couldn’t drink. Say what you would about the Tyrant, but there was absolutely no one to which he would no offer at least one inconsequent slight.

“That will not be necessary, Tyrant,” the Dead King said.

I willfully ignored the chittered disappointment of a few gargoyles, unwilling to entertain exactly what it was that Kairos Theodosian might have considered fitting refreshments for the Hidden Horror.

“Come to attend the peace conference, I take it?” I said.

“As I told you I would,” Neshamah said. “I find I’ve lost taste for war, even in the defence of my ally.”

Keter had made bargain with only the Tower – officially, anyway, I thought as I glanced at Kairos – which meant it was Dread Empress Malicia he was speaking of. Might have been more apt to call her a shield or an excuse than an ally, in my opinion, but it was true he’d not actually struck before being invited out of his lair by the Empress. I was not unaware that killing Malicia might actually forced him back into the Serenity, though actually achieving that would be difficult considering Ater would be murder to siege and against all odds the Empress still had a firm grip on most the Wasteland. Pulling away the kind of forces that would be required to take Praes from the Proceran fronts would almost certainly collapse them, which made the plan rather unattractive. It might still come to that, if everything went to shit, but it was not the first or finest arrow in anyone’s quiver.

“It’s more than a few corpses too late to be claiming a fondness for peace,” I said.

“Mayhaps,” the Dead King said, “it is a few corpses too early instead. It matters not: I am a patient man.”

“How I love a pleasant evening with friends,” the Tyrant enthused. “Yet I believe there was talk of indulging a foible of mine.”

“Tower-raising, is it?” the Dead King said.

“Indeed,” Kairos smiled. “’tis an interesting game, though I believe it would benefit from a greater number of competitors.”

“Is there a single thing you don’t believe that about?” I drily asked.

That actually surprised a laugh out of him, and it ripped out of his throat in too ungainly a manner – spit touched his lips, his side convulsed – to be entirely feigned. Though I wasn’t all the inclined to play and the Dead King seemed largely indifferent, Kairos still adroitly pressed for us to indulge him. The rules were not all that complex, and I’d had vague memories of them. Each of the three of us would begin with a hidden amount of stones: either six, eight or ten. To win one of us must gather twenty stones, and those could be obtained both by taking from opponents as well as from the ‘kingdom’, a pile of fifteen stones all could see and take from. Acquiring stones had a tad more nuance to it, for taking from an opponent required the assent of the third while taking from the kingdom could be done without. One could destroy one’s own stones, one at a time, also without assent. The game ended in common defeat should twenty full circles pass without anyone having raised their tower, as the kingdom being plundered ‘rebelled’. The last detail was the ‘pledges’, bargain struck between opponents.

Anything could be agreed on, with the only forced detail being that a number of stones had to be ‘pledged’ as collateral by both sides. Should one of them then break the pledge, the stones would be obtained by the wounded party. The Tyrant covered the bowls with embroidered cloths after having a gargoyle move around the stones, and only then had them set on the table before us. I checked under mine, raising an eyebrow. Fortune had been a little too much on my side, these days: I began with six stones.

“As the most ancient king among us, I would invite honoured Trismegistus to begin,” Kairos said.

The Dead King’s eyeless gaze turned to me and I shrugged.

“If you’re robbing him, I’ll assent,” I said.

The Tyrant of Helike pouted but handed over his stone, which the Hidden Horror deftly took and slid into the cloth-covered bowl before him.

“So Malicia twists the Thalassocracy’s arm so it’ll leave the Grand Alliance,” I lightly said. “And now the two of you are here, thick as thieves. Now, if I were a suspicious sort, I’d suspect some sort of coalition was being assembled.”

A counterweight to the Grand Alliance, in a way. The Dread Empire, the Kingdom of the Dead and the League of Free Cities bound by treaty. With that in mind, forcing Ashur on the fence made a great deal more sense. Malicia had been trying to make an alliance there for decades without successes, but the Thalassocracy lived and died on trade: when its ports were closed by blockade, it quite literally starved. It could not petition to re-enter the Grand Alliance the moment the wight fleet sailed away if doing so cost it closed ports across the entire League, the same of Praes and the displeasure of the Dead King. Trade with the League of Free Cities was Ashur’s lifeblood, much more so than trade with Levant and Procer. Oh, I doubted the Thalassocracy would turn on the Alliance even then. But it would suddenly have a great interest in remaining neutral, one that’d be highly encouraged by how absurdly lucrative it would be for Ashuran trade to become the middleman between the two great alliances. This had Malicia’s mark all over it, precise violence followed by the subtle chains of coin and politics.

Of course, there was one little detail in the way: such an alliance could not take place without the assent of the Hierarch of the League, and I suspected Anaxares of Bellerophon would rather eat his own sandals that bargain with the likes of Malicia or the Dead King. Not for the Evil involved, but rather the crowns. Sisters bless that highly inconvenient madman. I stole a stone from Kairos as well, with the Dead King’s amused assent.

“Catherine,” the Tyrant said, “if you would-”

“No,” I said.

The Dead King refused as well when Kairos’s gaze moved to him. The Tyrant took from the kingdom, still pouting.

“There would be advantages to endorsing peace with such a coalition,” the Dead King said. “I’d think such a gesture would sway all its members into signing your Accords.”

And there was the bribe they wanted to throw my way. Even if Praes and the League came out as allied with Keter – which I still figured at least somewhat unlikely – the Grand Alliance might still try its luck. The League’s armies were marching south and depending on Procer to ward off hunger, Praes dealing with the loss of two major cities, one of them lost to goblin rebellion that’d birthed the Confederacy of the Grey Eyries and now threatened the Wasteland’s south. It’d be damned risky to push through with war in such a situation, but it was a gamble that might be made. It couldn’t be made without me, though. I brought to the table the Firstborn as well as the Army of Callow and the Legions-in-Exile, and if war came out the eastern front would be my kingdom. In effect, if I refused to press through with war then the Grand Alliance had little choice but to accept peace. My pulse quickened with excitement. Not because the offer was one that pleased me, for it did not, but because of what it implied.

The drow were marching on the Kingdom of the Dead with the intent of seizing it as their home on the surface. If the Dead King had known as much, he would have realized that his offer was not so tempting after all – it involved selling down the river my own patron goddesses and the nation that was arguably my steadiest ally, while they were all carrying out a plan I’d been the one to suggest in the first place. No, if the Dead King knew then this was a botched offer. Which meant he’d not yet found the Firstborn marching towards him, and they might yet launch their assault from the north with the benefit of surprise.

“A meaningless gesture,” I hedged. “You could forge the kind of doomsday artefacts forbidden by them in the Serenity by the dozens and without access we’d have no way of knowing.”

Silently, I assented to the Hidden Horror once more stealing a stone from Kairos then in quick succession did the same.

“Inspection might be considered, should the inspectors not bear Names,” the Dead King said.

“Catherine-”

“No,” I said without turning.

“No,” the Dead King said, before Kairos could even ask.

The Tyrant took from the kingdom again.

“Gods,” I muttered. “She really scares you, doesn’t she?”

“You believe it is fear of the Intercessor that commands my interest in your Accords,” the King of Death stated. “In a sense, you are not incorrect.”

My brow rose. That was quite the admission, coming form the Hidden Horror himself.

“So long as the Liesse Accords stand, I have no need to war against Creation,” the Dead King calmly said. “I lose nothing in observing such a peace, even on the terms of another.”

An ivory finger pointed at Kairos questioningly and I absent-mindedly agreed. The Tyrant complained about the unfairness of being so brutally and repeatedly plundered, but neither of us leant much of an ear to it.

“No need,” I repeated.

“What is it that you believe I gain from such ventures, Black Queen?” the Hidden Horror asked. “Wealth, bodies, fame?”

We both knew he had need of none. His wealth was beyond measure, he had a Hells’ worth of human farms to harvest and the Dead King was the most storied being on Calernia bar none.

“You keep your story alive,” I said. “And shape it in the cultures of those who live in your shadow. It’s not about invasion, you know the risks in that. You were pruning Calernia so nothing that could strangle you would ever grow.”

That was the conclusion I’d come to, after my latest chat with the Intercessor. The Wandering Bard might nakedly have tried to manipulate me, but she’d not necessarily been lying about everything. There was no denying it was unlikely to be a coincidence that the Principate had never had a Named ruler. Someone must have had a hand in that and given that the Intercessor worked best through Named she did not strike me as the obvious culprit there. The routine of tower-raising continued, Trismegistus assenting to another theft of Kairos and the both of us refusing the Tyrant’s attempts to break out of encirclement.

“You miss the forest for the trees, Black Queen,” the Dead King said. “Why is it that all that grows in this garden of Creation would so seek to destroy me?”

I frowned.

“You’re saying you were warring on the Intercessor, not on Calernia,” I said.

“I was denying tool to my opponent,” the Hidden Horror said. “You would do this for me with your Accords. What need have I then of pursuing the matter further?”

I paused. Ghastly as what he was implying was it sounded terribly, well, believable. Neshamah as a mortal prince had already recognized the dangers in bearing a Name, for all the power they brought, and so carefully arranged his apotheosis through the work of years if not decades. He would not have forgotten those early lessons after touching the godhead, him least of all: undead did not change, at least no in the way that the living did. His only invasions had been under the shield of alliance or invitation, and it could not be denied that he’d been cautious about intervening on Creation. He’d been utterly monstrous when he did, but then it wasn’t his soul I was putting on trial. That ship had long ago sunk at the bottom of a deep, black sea. It was the sense in what he said and horrified as I was to admit it rather fit. If he’d been using scorched earth tactics against the Intercessor instead of pursuing conquest of any sort, some pieces of the puzzle began to fit together. Cordelia Hasenbach had nearly gained a Name, hadn’t she? Which meant the Principate had been growing into a nation where the ruler might be Named, which the Dead King would see as a direct threat.

Which explained him taking Malicia’s offer over mine, among other things. He wasn’t really interested in taking lands or helping the Tower: he wanted to thoroughly dismantle everything about the current Principate that might grow into a danger to him, and there was no world in which I would have allowed him that loose of a leash. The Dread Empress, though? So long as Praes and its breadbasket stood, she hardly cared about what happened to the rest of the continent. I’d been invited to Keter to bag two birds with a stone: the Dead King could have a look at the latest fool to touch the outmost edges of apotheosis and simultaneously use my presence as a way to finally secure Malicia’s agreement after months of negotiations. Now, though, large parts of Calernia had come together in a coalition, which as a story was poison to him. War, even if he had the advantage in strictly military affairs, carried other risks if pursued.

On the other hand, signing the Liesse Accords meant that so long as he did not provoke the living realms he wouldn’t be up to his neck in crusades anymore. What was curtailing a few of his worst habits in the face of that? Shit. It fit together well enough I couldn’t be sure if this was true or an exquisite lie – the only kind the likes of the Dead King would deign to employ. The Firstborn might be able to find a home among the tall grasses of the Chain of Hunger, I thought. It’d certainly give the Mighty something to do other thank killing each other. Another circle passed according to our habit, Kairos’ stone slowly dwindling at our hands. No, I decided, that entire approach was mistaken. The Intercessor being an enemy did not mean her opponent was an ally, or indeed ceased being an opponent.

Leaving the Dead King to rule his realm and garden horrors in the Serenity was not the same thing as admitting that Stygia’s slavery was not mine to curtail, or that Praesi blood magic would not end because I found the practice disgusting. On the other hand, was it really my place to make a decision that would see at least dozens of thousand die? No, even though I probably had the influence to force the outcome either way. It was something that Cordelia Hasenbach needed to be brought in on, and likely the Blood as well.  Another circle passed, the Tyrant complaining at how dully uninspired our playing was. My eleven stones could not be in the lead, no matter who it was that’d begun at ten stones, but soon enough the rising threat would see the game beginning to have real conflict.

“This isn’t a decision I can make in haste,” I said, biting my lip.

It was a lie, I thought. Unless the rest of the Grand Alliance flinched, the decision was already made. And I remained skeptical that the League would fall on the side of this scheme, no matter what the Tyrant wanted. So long as the Hierarch lived it was unlikely and should be he slain I rather doubted Kairos Theodosian would be elected to the office instead, or anyone for that matter. Which would mean the end of unity between the city-states, every ruler able to bargain for their own people again. Malicia might have full coffers and the influence to sway some, but she wouldn’t even get most the cities on her side. It’d turn into a quagmire that would effectively take the League out of the war, which was more than acceptable. That would leave Praes and Keter, and a fight that could be won.

“There is yet time,” the Dead King said. “Consult your pawns if you must.”

Another way around the table, leaving me at twelves stones – and Trismegistus at either fourteen or sixteen. One more, then, I’d assume he’d begun at ten.

“Lovely Catherine,” Kairos tried.

“Flattering,” I said, but shook my head.

The circle passed, and I now had thirteen stones in my bowl.

“Truce for seven turns,” I offered the Tyrant. “Neither theft nor assent against either of us. I’ll pledge six stones over it.”

“Alas, I only have one stone,” Kairos smiled.

I frowned, counting in my head, and that should mean he’d begun at eight stones. The Dead King was only three away from winning, then.

“What happens if you can’t pay the full pledge?” I asked.

“One pays as much as one can,” the Tyrant said.

“Offers stands, then,” I said.

I glanced at the Dead King, whose gaze conveyed amusement and little else.

“Denied,” Kairos grinned.

My brow rose. Interesting strategy. The moves continued in quick succession. I allowed Kairos to be robbed once more by the Dead King to turn up the pressure then myself took from the kingdom, as did the Tyrant. I reiterated essentially the same offer for fewer turns and a lesser pledge but was once more turned away. The Dead King took from the kingdom, bringing him to nineteen and I gazed at the Tyrant. Unless he wanted to throw the game, if I took from the kingdom he’d have to ask from my assent and take from the Dead King. It’d be better for me to take from the kingdom, there were only four stones left in it and they were the only way to gain stones without someone’s assent. So I smiled back at Kairos, and from the kingdom’s bounty rose up to fifteen stones in my own bowl.

“A pointless exercise,” the Dead King suddenly said. “It is not a game that can be won save through the idiocy of another.”

Hollow sockets gazed at Kairos.

“Should you require it for the settling of my boon I will continue until the end, but this can only lead to a common loss,” the Hidden Horror said.

He wasn’t wrong, I thought. Cannibalizing the rest of the kingdom with Trismegistus would bring me up to sixteen while he stayed stuck at eighteen, but after that Kairos would have no real incentive to do anything but assent to the Dead King and I robbing each other while he profited from the side. Our possessions would then slowly equalize until we all lost.

“I got all I bargained for, Trismegistus King,” the Tyrant of Helike grinned. “The debt is settled in full.”

“Then a pleasant evening to you both,” the King of Death said, rising to his feet.

He did not bow, for haunted bones or not he was the Dead King, and left without further deigning to speak.

“Tell me a game of tower-raising isn’t what you asked for in exchange for bringing him to Salia,” I slowly said.

“That would be a lie,” the Tyrant piously said. “Although I’ll confess, this affair was not meant for my own benefit.”

My eyes narrowed. Kairos Theodosian smiling took the last stone in his bowl and rolled it against his own palm, before tossing it behind him.

“You would have destroyed your last stone,” I said.

“I have lived on no terms but my own,” the Tyrant of Helike tranquilly replied. “And when the day comes, as it does for us all, it is on my terms I will perish. That is my nature, Catherine Foundling. That is the truth of me.”

And with Hakram’s game, he’d also tried to show me the nature of the Hidden Horror. Who’d not considered for a moment, I thought, that any of us could take any action in this save that which benefited us the most.

“He wouldn’t keep to the Accords,” I quietly said. “That’s what you were trying to tell me. It’s not in his nature to suffer his will to be leashed.”

“Neither of them would tolerate your little orderly world, I don’t think,” the Tyrant mused. “And who could blame them? It’s a dreadfully dull one you have painted. Yet for all your occasional snivelling self-righteousness, you’ve not been boring. And you’ve indulged me, so I shall return that favour with a boon of my own.”

The odd-eyed boy leaned forward.

“Here is the first secret: angels cannot be seen by the Augur, save if they allow it,” he said. “Neither can the Intercessor, the Dead King and yourself.”

He smiled.

“Here is the second secret: one who has made treaties with the Queen of Callow will soon break them.”

He grinned, red eye shining malevolently.

“Here is the third secret, and the last I offer this night: the Twilight Paths can lead to places not of Creation.”

Kairos Theodosian dropped back into his cushioned seat, a grin like a knife still stretching his lips.

“Sweet dreams, Catherine Foundling.”

135 thoughts on “Chapter 81: Devotional

          1. Sir Giggles

            It seems like the first two or three comments on every chapter are asking people to vote. It gets very tiresome. I’d rather see actual discussion, rather than the same thing on every chapter.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Would you vote if it wasn’t asked for?

              Does this request actually move you to rescind your vote out of contrary spite, or does it just fail to move you to do something you weren’t going to do anyway?

              Or does it actually succeed at providing you with a convenient way to do something you’d only do if it was made convenient for you?

              If it’s not that last one, you’re not the target audience for this. Our loss. Lots of people are, though…

              Liked by 5 people

        1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

          Based on prior experience I’m pretty sure this is EE’s way of conveying that a character’s train of thought has been magically derailed; a similar effect cut off Brother Simon’s attempt to describe Scribe’s appearance to himself.

          Liked by 3 people

      1. ethericsentinel

        For those of us who vote every week, it’s helpful when someone posts the link. This is also standard for most web novels.

        Why complain? You can just read the next comment thread.

        Liked by 5 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Nope, they count as another realm. Arcadia, the Hells and whatever is they call the place where Angels live (likely the Heavens) are realms not in Creation A.K.A the mortal realm.

      Fun fact: The Hells are to the left of Creation, said by Wekesa in one of the Villanous Interludes.

      Liked by 9 people

        1. Morgenstern

          Hey, so with the Twilight Ways in existence, *everyone* can reach *every* place in- and outside of Creation? Fun. What kind of beings will battle for this kind of access, do you think…?
          *mulling it all over

          …and what did the Augur see that either Intercessor or DK – or both of them – wanted her to see (while keeping from her view other things)?

          Liked by 2 people

  1. That last line though really clicks it again for me how unnerved Cat must feel that she understands and relates(?) to the Tyrant better than anyone else. Hakram mentioned I think in book one or 2 how whenever Catherine gets the knife-smile, things are going to be absolutely fine no matter how dire the situation. What does absolutely fine look like for the Tyrant?

    Also we’ve had a criminal lack of Hierarch and his pedantic ways.
    Also, it’s voter’s appreciation day (or was that yesterday?), so here: http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=a-practical-guide-to-evil .

    You know what to do.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Shequi

    So anyway, what is it that’s missing between the 4th and 5th paragraphs? The format with the // is similar to how Louis de Sartrons memory goes when he can’t describe Scribe in the recent “Interlude: Mirror” chapter, so there’s obviously a section missing from what happened with Catherine there.

    Liked by 15 people

    1. Anon

      Did we ever find out what happened to the demon of absence back at the battle of camps? We know it probably killed a few heros but do we know if the heros successfully killed it?

      Liked by 3 people

          1. anon

            I mean wasn’t there some discussion before about how the number of seats for Procer in this book (back when Caramel Hazelnut was said to hold the majority of votes) are less than the number of provinces mentioned in the earlier books? Like 21 vs 24 or something I think? Granted it could just be that the DK wiped them off the map though.

            Like

    2. Sparsebeard

      Thinking about it, I suspect it’s in fact the real conversation between the three amigos hidden from prying ears… ready to be remembered at the right moment.

      The subsequent conversation would then be nothing more than a ploy…

      Liked by 7 people

    3. caoimhinh

      What she saw in Keter: Neshamah’s apotheosis.

      I wonder if Sve Noc took that memory from Catherine. They are influencing her in more ways than simply reading her thoughts. Notice, for instance, that Catherine now swears in the Sisters’ name.
      Instances of Cat saying “Sisters bless me” “by the Sisters” “Sve Noc forbid” “Sisters damn it” and such variations have been appearing with more frequency in each chapter, both in her thoughts and a bit in her speech.

      So I would suspect Sve Noc, rather than it being Catherine forcefully sealing her own memories. The other option is the Dead King being able to steal that knowledge from her, which is unlikely since Sve Noc is protecting Catherine; he seems capable of detecting knowledge related to him, though. He knew she has knowledge of Ashkaran from the beginning, and reading Neshamah’s echo’s mind was enough to have Masego possessed, so who knows.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Morgenstern

        Marked like this? That’s no error, it’s author’s marks for something having happened in world. We’ve seen it before 😉

        Scribe and Intercessor, so far, if I remember correctly. But at this instance, I was actually wondering if the DK was there before his reveal, listening in, having access to things Cat thinks that very moment and snipping them away, despite goddesses’ protection. It might just be the Intercessor being similar to Bard in that seeing her anyplace anywhen cannot be “transcribed”… who knows. We’ll see ^^

        Liked by 3 people


  3. So … that’s not exactly what anyone would call promising.

    Hmmm. Someone who has made treaties with the Queen of Callow covers a lot of potential people.
    Probably not the dwarves. Not the drow.
    Queen of Callow isn’t explicitly Cat, allowing for treaties that predate her.

    Leading candidates are probably Tariq or a (rogue) Matron. I don’t think Malicia ever made a treaty with Cat/Callow and I doubt shy of her predecessors ever did either.
    Could maybe be the Deoraithe, going for independence, but that seems unlikely under the known circumstances.
    Could maybe be the Fae, but keeping one’s word is a big deal to them, but maybe they can consider Cat giving up Winter as becoming someone other that who they made a deal with.

    The Twilight Paths can be used to invade Serenity, bypassing the gate in Keter. That’s going to be hugely useful.

    Kairos is hax and bullshit. How the hell does he learn this stuff.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Sparsebeard

      It could also be the DK himself, the truce was a deal made with the queen of Callow or callowan nobles for all we know…

      Still, that’s the kind of things I fully expect to be a twist out of the left field but forshadowed. I mean, Tariq betraying his word would be almost as predictable as Kairos at this point…

      Liked by 9 people

    2. Novice

      I disagree, I think the dwarves are the most probable. They could have just made a deal with the DK and gave him info about the Everdark being empty in exchange for maybe a truce or lands the DK previously held. After all, they don’t really have as much incentive to siege Keter as the surface-dwellers. They have the entirety of the Everdark to play with right now.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Shveiran

        It’s possible, yet the DK is the only contender with the dwarves as real power on Calernia. They have no interest in sabotaging the war effort when it could lead to them having litterally no contender for underground expansion. Any concession obtained this way could, realistically, be pried from cold dead hands (after they stopped moving).

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Novice

          To be fair, it’s kinda hard to assume things from the dwarves since we know next to nothing about them aside from the leader of their expeditionary force. Everything about what’s going on in their seat of government is pretty much opaque.

          I’m basing my thoughts from the fact that the dwarves look down(heh) upon the surface. The people in power might be arrogant enough to think that the Kingdom Under can’t rely upon the surface or that they themselves could pull one over the Dead King.

          Again, this is all just speculation.

          Liked by 3 people

    3. konstantinvoncarstein

      In my opinion, if we combine the information about the treason and the Twilight Ways, the Tyrant is saying that the perpetrator of the former is Neshamah, who will be using the latter to open a new front.

      Liked by 4 people

    4. Shveiran

      It’s true that “Queen of Callow” could refer to someone other than Cat, well spotted.
      However, it is “one who has made treaties with”, not “someone belonging to a side that made treaties with”.

      Considering that Callow has been under occupation for a long time and had a king as its last monarch pre-Conquest, I’d say the only entities that could count as having made a deal with a Queen of Callow not Catherine and still being around are the DK and the Bard.
      Of the two, I think the Bard is the only one to not have made a deal with Cat beforehand?

      You are right, don’t get me wrong: I think this is the kind of “technical-truth” Kairos would abuse, I’m just saying this is a very narrow broadening of the possible subjects.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Titles could arguably count as entities separate from their current holder.
        As in, “the Duchess of Daoine”, or “the Prince of Iserre”.
        Similarly, it’s possible that Names could be viewed in the same sort of light. Ie, “The Warlock”, “the Black Knight”, or “the Wizard of the West” could refer to a current or past bearer of that Name and arguably be covered.

        Point is … we just don’t have anywhere near enough information to narrow down the potential candidates.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Shveiran

          Possible, but in my opinion that feels unlikely.

          To have the previous rulers or Callow as teh true menaing of “Queen of Callow” is indirect but misleading only through implications.

          To have “one who holds the same position as someone who previously made a deal with” to stand in for “one who made a deal with” is disingenuos, and untrue.
          It’s kind of like going “well, you’ll notice that this here legal document was signed by Shveiran, but since I’ve been knighted I go by Sir Shveiran, and thus it’s null and void: I owe you nothing”. If you squint a lot, it can pass for technically true… but it’s not. It doesn’t hold water, and for all its stupidity the Pilgrim’s curse had weight. You can easily go around it, but I expect skimming the line too closely would cost you.

          Liked by 1 person

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          That’s the one thing we know will hold though. Interlude already said the truce holds up. It doesn’t preclude the Dead King from doing some other sort of betrayl, but that one he’s sticking to, if only for his own self interest as he doesn’t want to hand this kind of “I Lied” as Ammo to somebody like Cat.

          Liked by 3 people

        1. Shveiran

          I guess the Good King had a Name, so the elves wouldn’t shoot him. Then again, making a deal with earthly powers? Filthy, human earthly powers?

          I dunno, it’s definitely possible, but I’m not seeing it.

          Liked by 1 person

    5. skovbenjamin

      I feel like it could be a reference to Catherine only recently being recognized as queen of callow. During all of her previous negotiations she was treated with as the queen in callow.

      I’m not sure what the implication of this could be but wanted to bring up this information

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Sparsebeard

    Well, it would seem that getting the DK to sign the accords wouldn’t be such a boon in the end…

    Still, they will probably be used by both sides as a distraction. Seeing that the real problem of the destructive forces all sides can bring to the others means that plotting is sure to be used to reduce the loses and try to ensure victory.

    However, any dally-dallying means that there is a risk the isolated forces of the Empire Ever Dark are singled out by the DK and destroyed.

    And yeah, I can’t hate Tyrant, he’s just having fun. Just keep him entertained until you’re ready of end him Cat, if you make it interesting enough he’ll probably walk to his doom willingly lol.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Or if you make it look as if the other party is trying to manipulate Kairos’ fate or free will. He took it deeply personal when the Skein was spooling back time and predicting the future.

      Liked by 6 people

  5. erebus42

    Awww. I just realized that Catherine is probably the closest thing to a real friend the Tyrant has (and probably is capable of having). I meant he probably did all that at least partially to fuck with her, but still she’s the only one who ever bothers to take the time and play with him. For someone who lives their life with the constant knowledge of it’s imminent end that probably genuinely means a lot to him. Is he still likely to betray her? Absolutely. But of everyone else I think he probably hopes that -if not him- she’ll be the one to end up on top.

    Liked by 15 people

    1. Shikkarasu

      I do’t think Kairos cares who wins. He’s a little blue/orange in that respect. He’s been saying since he was 12 that it isn’t the end that matters, nor how he’s treated, it’s how you play the game.

      Kind uncle? Pitiful and pandering. Drunk Father? Useless and ineffective. Black Knight? Guilty of half-measures. Kairos juggles enemies to see how many and how long he can go because he’s the only one insane enough to try and it’s not like he’ll live long enough to deal with the consequences. In return his name keeps his illness at bay, just long enough for him to finish digging his own grave.

      In short, as long as Cat dances to her own tune and hates compromise she will be a kindred spirit. And as long as she fights him she’s another enemy to juggle. It is a form of love. Twisted and unhealthy, but sincere and platonic. She is literally what gets him out of bed in the morning.

      Liked by 6 people

  6. edrey

    Kairos is so nice. the first secret shouldnt be about the inability of the Augur but the Augur herself, the second could be Procer but cordelia is not a fool, the Pilgrim wont risk millions, so it must be the Dwarfs telling the DK about the Drow, i see the bard hand here,
    the third could be the fae, the golden bloon, the hells or even the heavens. i bet is the Dk attacking Salia and then blaming Malicia but who knows, well kairos.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Andrew Mitchell

    Called it. Specifically, that the Dead King’s agent would be the third player.

    But, more importantly, what do you all think about Karios’ boon to Catherine?

    And you’ve indulged me, so I shall return that favour with a boon of my own.”

    The odd-eyed boy leaned forward.

    “Here is the first secret: angels cannot be seen by the Augur, save if they allow it,” he said. “Neither can the Intercessor, the Dead King and yourself.”

    He smiled.

    “Here is the second secret: one who has made treaties with the Queen of Callow will soon break them.”

    He grinned, red eye shining malevolently.

    “Here is the third secret, and the last I offer this night: the Twilight Paths can lead to places not of Creation.”

    Three secrets; all reasonably direct statements that, as we know, cannot be untrue. That’s quite a boon.

    Who’s going to break the treaties? The goblins? The dwarves? The Sisters? Levantines? Procer? Pilgrim?

    What places outside creation? Hells, I assume so. Heaven, maybe. Arcadia, probably. Wherever the Wild Hunt have buggered off to. The Golden Bloom? (I think this last one has the most intriguing potential. Commenters here have talked about the possibility of getting the elves involved.)

    Liked by 5 people

    1. caoimhinh

      The third secret is no surprise, as the Twilight Paths are in themselves a realm from outside creation, they are a shard of Arcadia stolen then transformed by the sacrifice of a god. The premise of being able to travel outside Creation is exactly why they are useful, enabling people to save travel time. In fact, Cat and co. should already be grateful that Neshamah apparently can’t use those roads to strike at them… yet.

      I think the most important secret that Kairos shared is the second one, as it pertains to a breaking of treaties and thus would be something significant on a national scale. In the current state of affairs, that could create quite a mess.
      A lot of candidates there:
      The worst-case scenario would be Dead King breaking truce and attacking again, but then it would be pointless to do so why trying to sell a peace treaty.
      The Dwarves backing off on their end of the bargain would be a huge hit, but it’s also unlikely.
      The Goblins betraying Callow is a possibility, but it also involves a huge risk for them. Who knows what has been happening in the East while the narration has been focused on the West? High Lady Abreha (whom the last time we knew of her was sending envoys to Callow) and the Goblin Federation hadn’t been idle, that’s for sure.

      The first secret is, in fact, inaccurate. Maybe a piece of second-hand information (which would mean it is tinted by the pride of who made the statement). The Augur can see those beings of power and predict them, but it is risky for her and if she is found then they will strike at her through the vision. Yet as we learned in the recent interlude, Agnes has learned from those experiences and managed to find a way to see along the edges of their power.

      she was already touching the limits of what she could do: trying to peer around the edges of the darkness that shrouded the Dead King was a thing of horror, the endless chorus of screams and crazed laughter. Or even worse, deeper in, the chilling serenity of the voices worshipping him as a god. Yet she had seen things, learned things.
      The Black Queen, at least, was brutally straightforward in her refusal to be seen: thrice the Augur had woken up fallen in the snow, livid claw marks that soon faded on her arms and the taste of blood in her mouth.
      Yet she had learned from that too, and from that learning shaped finer sight. Or had it been the other way around? Had she first glimpsed the Wandering Bard, and learned from this? Or had she only seen the shadow of any of this, and taken all sides of the crossroads in other lives? It was hard to tell the difference, sometimes.

      P.S: The Golden Bloom is in Creation, it’s the forest next to Daoine. The Elf settlement inside was teleported to Arcadia when this whole mess started, though, so reaching it wouldn’t be too hard, but it would be a mess to even talk with them as they apparently kill anyone in sight. Which is kind of weird considering the Forever King tried to prevent Akua’s Folly by sending two ancient and strong Elves to kill Akua (yet they were stopped by Bard) so maybe they aren’t quite as evil as everyone thinks? Calernia’s knowledge of the Drow was wrong due to lack of contact (even with some Drow living as mercenaries through Mercantis), so anything is possible.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        > The Goblins betraying Callow is a possibility, but it also involves a huge risk for them. Who knows what has been happening in the East while the narration has been focused on the West? High Lady Abreha (whom the last time we knew of her was sending envoys to Callow) and the Goblin Federation hadn’t been idle, that’s for sure.

        This seems to fit the current situation the best.

        > P.S: The Golden Bloom is in Creation, it’s the forest next to Daoine. The Elf settlement inside was teleported to Arcadia when this whole mess started, though, so reaching it wouldn’t be too hard

        I’m pretty certain the whole Golden Bloom is gone; as stated in this quote from https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2017/07/05/chapter-16-shambles/
        [“The Tower’s used the emergency channels to inform everyone of general rank or higher that the Golden Bloom is phasing out of Creation,” Juniper told me.]

        Liked by 4 people

          1. Andrew Mitchell

            IIRC Cat’s pattern of three with GP has been broken by Book 5 events. But you’re still right that it could be GP; for example, the Bard could have talked him into not backing the Accords.

            Liked by 2 people

                1. Insanenoodlyguy

                  He agreed to be a captive in Callow and then left. He even notes during the battle that this has ensured Cat will always have an edge against him, one of the reasons he had to try such extreme measures to have a real chance against her.

                  Liked by 3 people

                  1. Shveiran

                    Mhm, I don’t know. I think that’s like mixing apples and oranges?

                    I mean, to have a pattern of three you need three somethings, right? So what do you count these as?

                    Although… Uh, you may be right now that I think about it.

                    He broke his word when he left, then again when he didn’t do all he could to help Masego. It kind of works.

                    I still hope you are wrong, though. After all this time and effort…

                    Like

                    1. He was absolutely going to do all he could to help Masego, then followed the guidance of an ally in a split-second event that didnt have space for him to consider this ally’s relationship with his other (situational) allies. He can be said to have been tricked into that as accurately as anything.

                      No betrayal was involved.

                      Like

              1. magesbe

                That was not a deliberate betrayal. He delayed helping because he trusted that the Bard knew best in this matter. It was not an intentional slight against Masego. We literally see his PoV. He wasn’t thinking about screwing over anyone, just that Bard was asking him to wait a second or two.

                For all he knew, helping too early would just lead to the DK killing Masego outright, or maybe them being too closely linked together and killing the fragment would kill both.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. ChillyPepper

                  It is a betrayal, and he knows it enough to not tell cat about it afterwards. His intentions are always well and good, it means nothing to the other side.

                  Like

      2. The Elves residing in the Golden Bloom are nominally Good, and the kind of things Diabolist was doing in Liesse are not the sort of thing anyone wants to have happening.

        Even if you are a bunch of xenophobic racist genocidal assholes who will kill any non-Hero who gets too close to the Golden Bloom.
        That said, I believe Akua was also working on getting information about/access to the source of power used by the Deoraithe to empower the Watch. Who are enemies of the Elves.

        I’m pretty sure that there’s statements from EE saying things to the effect that the Elves of the Golden Bloom really are as bad as people think they are.

        Liked by 5 people

          1. Eh, assuming the Dead King gets beaten back, the Elves will return with the Golden Bloom to Creation, eventually.

            And murdering the Elves and reclaiming the Bloom is on the racial to do list for the Deoraithe. Problem is, Elves are ridiculously OP.
            On the other hand, most of Calernia isn’t going to mind the Deoraithe killing the Elves, but neither are they likely to help, though I think that might be part of the deal they have with Callow. So I don’t anticipate dealing with the Elves anytime soon, even discounting the probable losses the Dead King will inflict, then there’s Malicia to deal with, probably Kairos and Hierarch, and we can’t forget about Bard, unless the Deoraithe reclamation of the Golden Bloom happens in a sequel series.

            Liked by 4 people

        1. Crash

          Completely unrelated but ever since it has been pointed to me that the Deoraithe could well be a representation of native people it has been shedding a new light on a lot of stuff through the story and it has just occurred to me that the empowering of the Watch through the spirits of ancestors is literally the whole concept of shamanism and power in the knowledge of the previous generation realized. The spirits have granted the Watch its power.

          Liked by 2 people

  8. NerfGlaistigUaine

    And this is why I love Kairos. He is a true Unfettered. He’s super smart, chaotic and fun. This is a man who cares for nothing but the dance and until the very last step he moves to his own beat.

    Erraticerrata, please, please, please make a Kairos-like character the protagonist of your next work. A true villain protagonist with no scruples, no greater good, just pure chaotic evil is one I would absolutely adore, especially one written with your skill.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Shveiran

      It would be near-impossible to write a satisfying book that revolved around one such character: you experience the narrative world through the eyes of the protagonist, and if he cares about nothing but the dance, it means what he does has no weight in your eyes because even the dance impacts nothing. It doesn’t come off as satisfying.
      Here, Kairos works because he’s at odds with the other characters, which allows you to feel he is playing with fire near an orphanage. On his own, it wouldn’t really work.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. NerfGlaistigUaine

        No weight does not necessarily mean uninteresting although it does become harder to write. You can want a character to succeed without dramatic stakes, although again, it’s hard to write well. However, there can be weight by showing the world around him, the other characters who care, the effort and suffering they go through crushed by the gleefully uncaring protagonist. It would create a character you both hate and love; hate b/c he pointlessly destroys all the hopes of the other characters you love and love b/c he’s, well, Kairos.
        I think it can be done and done well. And I think Erraticerrata can avoid the cardinal sin of making a great card-carrying too sympathetic when he doesn’t need to be. It’s why I couldn’t get into the show Lucifer. He’s the motherfucking devil who’s supposed to be a magnificent bastard, why does he have so many scruples? Why does he care so much? Choose whether you want him to be a suave evil bastard acting for shits and giggles or a sympathetic misunderstood bad boy! Sorry for rant. Anyways, I don’t think it’s impossible and I think Erraticerrata can pull it off if he chooses to.

        Like

    2. laguz24

      He would be a total bore, like boba fett, there is only so much of backstabbing, betrayal, and I don’t care what happens before it gets old and the minute it does he is over. He is fun to watch but not that fun to see the inside the head of.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. magesbe

    My question is, what does Catherine have in common with angels, the Dead King, and the Intercessor? It’s easy to say that the Sisters’ protection causes it, but the statement seems too specific for that.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. magesbe

        That doesn’t line up though. Auger totally saw Cat in that interlude, it just was only for a moment before the sister’s intervened. Maybe I’m nitpicking on wording, but it seems like something might have changed since.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Don’t get too hung up on exact wording. Kairos meant that Augur cannot watch her and get useful information beyond “protected by the Sisters”. That is true, as of that interlude.

          Like

    1. It’s just confirmation that she really is up there with the high-rollers:

      Catherine Foundling has fought demons directly, and bent angels to her will. She has cast aside a Name and a Fae throne, yet gained power beyond either. She signed on with Sve Noc as their representative and intermediary, but by the same token, they are also her mentors… and last time she had a mentor, she rose far beyond him.

      The Dead King suggested that “renouncing” apotheosis was not so easy, and the Wandering Bard said that “because of who you are”, Cat can call her anytime. The greatest of Heroes and Villains alike look on her works with varying combinations of respect, awe and fear.

      Mortals say that Fate and Providence shape their lives, and must merely be endured, but Cat has taken them in hand, and made them tools and weapons for her purposes. And where most people live out stories, Cat writes them.

      Liked by 6 people

  10. WuseMajor

    I mean, I’m pretty sure she has at least one deal going on with Kairos right now. If we’re talking “sudden, inevitable betrayals” he’s kind of the obvious suspect, especially since he’s the one telling her about this.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      I doubt it. Just one Choir is a pretty tough opponent, and we know there are at least 5 of them(Contrition, Judgement, Endurance, Mercy and Compassion). The power needed to destroy them is more than anything on Calernia could provide, and that story is those of an over ambitious mortal going against the Heavens.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        Agreed that on her own she can’t possibly win that fight.

        However, by then, Grand Marshall “Godkiller”,”The indomitable”,”Stab all the shiny fuckers” Abigail will be leading her armies. The only way to defeat her would be to catch her while she’s asleep and keep stabbing and never stop till you have more blood on the outside then inside because you are not going to beat her on the field, any field.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Very interesting!
    Here is my theory: the ones who are about to break their treaties with the queen of Callow are the Dwarves. Because it would absolutely fuck with Cat plans, and would be relatively unexpected, since Dwarves keeping to their words is such a big trope.
    It would probably come from dissensions among them, one faction that want to shank the Dead King and the other that want to remain cautious, and the cautious one win. Obviously with Nessy or the Bard manipulating things from the shadows. It would open many narrative avenues for an arc in the Dwarven kingdom.
    The cautious faction that won would represent the conservative part of their society and its inertia, and the conflict to have them fulfill their oaths would help expand the story.
    And lets be honest, the accords can live without the rats and elves because they don’t do diplomacy, the giants are isolationists and have yet to recover from Triumphant, but without the signature of the Dwarves, the strongest mortal kingdom of Calernia, they become kind of pointless. And an arc in their kingdom would be a perfect excuse to sell the accords to them.
    Of course, it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I want an arc focused on them. Really, I promise =)

    Another interesting thing in this chapter is what happen during the game. The two “big” players that are focused on each other deny everything to the third “smaller” player and only stop doing so when one of them is about to win. It remind me a lot of Nessy and the Bard swatting Cat’s attempts to make the accords as a side-thought while they are focused on each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. grzecho2222

      Hero: There’s nowhere left to run. Nowhere.

      Kairos: Nowhere, my dear? Oh, now you don’t really mean that.

      Hero: Oh, but I do!

      Kairos: Nonsense, child! If you’d Iost all your faith, I couldn’t be here, and here I am! Oh, come now. Dry those tears. You can’t go to the ball looking like that.

      Cinderella: The ball? Oh, but I’m not–

      Kairos spreads butterfly wings.

      Fairy Kairos: Of course you are. But we’ll have to hurry, because even miracles take a little time.

      Hero: Miracles?

      Fairy Kairos: Uh-hmm. Watch. What in the world did I do with that magic scepter? I was sure I–

      Hero: Magic scepter?

      Fairy Kairos: That’s strange… I… I always–

      Hero: Anyway, you must be–

      Fairy Godmother: Stopped? Of course not. Where is that scepter? I– Oh! I forgot. I put it away.

      Sidekick: Look-a what he did!

      Love Intrest: Duh… duh… How’d he do it?

      Fairy Kairos: Now… let’s see. Hmm… I’d say the first thing you need is, um… a pumpkin.

      Hero: A–a pumpkin?

      Fairy Kairos: Uh-huh. Now, um… Now… the magic words. Uh… Oh… Ahem!

      (Singing): Salaga doola menchicka boola

      Liked by 2 people

  12. ninegardens

    So…..
    I think Kairos might have just moved up the list of “Cats greatest Allies”.

    Like seriously, this guy is a frickin’ magician:
    “Hey, I’ll invite the DK to the peace talks… but also go about explicitly reminding the other speakers as to exactly WHY they don’t want him to sign… and the bastard won’t suspect a thing.”

    He loves Cat. He loves that she GETS him, that she knows how to play the game, that she sets up his line, and understands his subtle jokes. Even if she doesn’t laugh along, and even if she *hates* him for his past treachery, he likes her, and one can’t help but suspect that when he eventually throws the game and annihilates himself (as he has just suggested he will eventually do), he will do it to the cost of Cat’s enemies, not Cat.

    Because he doesn’t LIKE the Dead king. One can’t help but suspect that Kairos views DK much the same way he viewed Amadeus- a terrible boring winning machine made of gears and misery.
    He might jump around for the Evuls, but based on this scene, you can’t help but suspect that at the end of the day, DK is truly Tyrants enemy. And he WANTS Cat to beat him.

    And what about Intecessor? Fate made flesh?
    Well…. If Bard is truly the monster she appears to be then she stands for all that Kairos despises. (If she is herself against the gods, their monster bound in chains, this may change slightly)…

    But Cat….. Cat is another player in the game. Cat is an honoured adversay. Cat is his AUDIENCE, and no matter what happens, at the end of the day, I don’t think he will be willing to damn her.

    He’ll probably betray her again (multiple times), and work against her purposes….

    But I can’t help but think that at the end of the day, he’ll be offered one last chance to betray her and destroy all she has made.
    And He’ll refuse.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. laguz24

      He won’t because she is fun and does the dance with him. Amadeus, Dead King, and especially Bard. They are the ones on top, the inevitable grinding machines of the way things have always gone and what he always hated, he literally got his name by pulling on the string of fate. Cat is still on the trek upward, not on the keep what you have plateau.

      Liked by 3 people

  13. There is a pretty big thing that Cat seems to be overlooking about the counter-alliance. The Bloom is inhabited by infertile good-ish elves that live in nature or at least control weather and stuff, and their equally infertile and previously stagnant and isolated counterpart of the Drow recently changed massively.

    This balance might have some mayor effects on the alliance being forged, especially considering DK would remember exactly what happened to the elves thanks to being around at the time. If creation balances them out, then the elves may join DK and Praes if Cat commits the Drow against them, and vice versa.

    Especially if the Duke of Cloudless Noons (Which I’m still convinced must be out there somewhere, Cat couldn’t get the Last Mantle of Winter without the Summer Queen being both enabled and obligated to create an equal but opposite action at the same time.) went to the Bloom and changed it up as well. Maybe with an equal but opposite reaction, in that he won and gained control of the Bloom by tyranny and Saint levels of unyielding stubborness, at the same moment that Cat lost and gained control of the Drow by cooperation and understanding. Or some other Named emerging to change things up.

    The moment the Drow changed this much by a Story being woven for Cat, which is definately the case with the dwarves mobilising exactly when she entered and stuff, the same must’ve happened with the elves in parallel manners. Cat might’ve been manipulated by Creation to go to the Underdark exactly because something was about to reach it’s pivot in the Bloom.

    Cat is considering the balance of Calernia, without assuming that Creation already has some counter-weight in place to not give her free reign.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. magesbe

      The Drow are not infertile, just relatively uninterested. Which is evolutionary speaking a bad thing (there’s a reason why humans have sexual desire), but they totally can have children. They just usually don’t.

      Also, the only reason why Cat inherited all of Winter is because she was already of Winter before the rest of Winter decided to fuck off and become Fall. The Summer Queen almost certainly had not given a mortal a mantle of Summer before the joining between Summer and Winter, and after said joining she didn’t have power over Summer to give someone such a mantle. I would be shocked if a Summer counterpart to Cat showed up.

      The Elves join with the DK? Frankly I feel like they have a smaller chance of joining the DK than the rest of Calernia. They hate non-Elves, but have some respect for Heroes. The same cannot be said for Villains.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m not 100% sure but still pretty sure that race-wide infertility was a side-effect of the rituals and immortality-gaining and their pre-Cat state of eternal self-decay. The events even stated that Cat finally found someone who had a kid once so that she finally knew whether she was looking at a woman to compare her to the rest, showing how utterly rare this event was. While many drow are so young that they don’t remember the glory days, they’re not new either.

        Those post-apocalypse generations wouldn’t have been affected by the rituals of their previous civilisation and/or over time they could have ended the whole shebang by paying off their debts of unborn child years of lifespan by sheer time passing. And thus this combined with what we’ve seen, suggests that there weren’t any Drow generations past the pivot of She Noc’s first step to godhood and turning the Everdark into their domain whole.

        And when you look at how the fey work, that would most definately be a thing that would have to be done. Not after Summer and Winter married, but the moment before they did and when their balance still applied. Cat’s reward as the last Duchess of Winter in Creation created a massive disbalance and a chance for a whole new Winter Court to come into being, so sheer balance at the time that she was given it would still dictate a balancing reaction by Fey rules. The two courts were now finally at peace, but with a seedling of their conflict sown to continue their eternal war. Just without their participation.

        So when you ask me whether there should be a Duke of Summer created to balance out the Duchess of Winter created, then I’d say for this universe of course it has to be. A Villain like her without mirror Hero in case she beats the regular Heroes, Creation is too seasoned for that. A court of Winter that has no counter-balance at all, the fey would never operate like that. And a freaking Court of Twilight being created by the first of the Night by the death of Dusk and the rebirth of Dawn, without there being a newly formed lesser god and/or Court of Day? That’s the kind of perfect Story balance that I find more illogical than a Duke of Summer not existing, in this universe operating by these rules.

        And with the elves, they don’t have to side with DK. They’ve just got to side against Cat for balance, and that’s when the political concrete shoes called the Deoraithe come in. Callow’s North will essentially ensure that Cat and the Bloom will have to be at opposite sides of the conflict, whether that means the Elves joining the counter-Alliance or joining against DK to prevent Cat deciding that there won’t be war. Whatever Cat will decide, thanks to Deo the politics are already set that the elves will be forced by events and pivots to be opposing her. Remember, being a Good country doesn’t immediately mean you side with the other Good all buddy buddy and cannot have alliances of convenience with Evil ones.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. > I’m not 100% sure but still pretty sure that race-wide infertility was a side-effect of the rituals and immortality-gaining and their pre-Cat state of eternal self-decay. The events even stated that Cat finally found someone who had a kid once so that she finally knew whether she was looking at a woman to compare her to the rest, showing how utterly rare this event was.

          To narrow it down a bit for you: Catherine, who was not looking because she was busy conquering the place and this was only a passing curiosity, finally stumbled upon someone who she happened to know had just personally given birth to a child becoming one of her Peerage.

          If nisi didn’t regularly, if passionlessly, have children, such an event would be infinitesimally unlikely.

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          1. It was never defined when she had a kid, it might’ve been from before Sve Noc ascension step 1. So when there was still fertility. And you know that Cat spends more of her off-screen time on that kind of nonsense than she should, right?

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  14. Kel the Seer

    It would be very in characger for Kairos’s first secret to be wonderful misdirection. So, the Augur cannot see Cat or the DK directly, but only infer from their imoact on Creation. But she can see Kairos just fine.

    Which means that this whole game was a setup. The Augur, only seeing Kairos’s side of the conversation, but knowing that the other two ‘Major Villains’ are there? Or maybe just Cat after her chat with the First Prince? How would she interpet this whole scene?

    Would it focus on the game or the conversation, or some odd amalgamation of both? Would she see Cat and DK “allying” against the Tyrant as they all increase their wealth at the expense of a kingdom that cannot defend itself. That could aeasily be interpeted as the villaind having secret alliance to divy up a weakened Procer. Especially in loght of Cat’s recent admission that she went to Keter to do more than stymie Malicia’s plans.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. > But she can see Kairos just fine.

      When he isn’t in their company.

      It works like a cloud, shrouding them themselves and their works, including anyone in their immediate vicinity. The angels’ effect is likely more targeted/localized, leaving their heroes visible at all times except when the angels are directly present. Which, by the way, implies to me that Agnes cannot predict results of Hanno’s coin throws except the same way any mortal can try (Neshamah ain’t getting laurels, for example).

      Anyway, no, Agnes could not see this game, or the entire shrouding would be pointless by Catherine being as good as completely visible whenever she is surrounded by not-personally-shrouded mortals, which is most of the time.

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

    I feel like we are setting up for a big plot twist. Tyrant might end up being the hero and martyr of this arc which might explain why we keep saying we dunno what he wants, why he keeps getting badass screentime, why we are building some weird rapport with Cat.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ninegardens

      See, personally I see him being a thorn in the side THIS arc… but in a way that screws over other players as well… and LATER he does something reckless and cool. Maybe not as a martyr as such… but… useful.
      This arc feels like diplomacy, there isn’t really anything to martry AGAINST it would seem.

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  16. Hierophant had plundered the thoughts of still-mortal Neshamah but I’d seen/

    /.

    Is the narrator losing her thread here because of some memetic thing where Catherine can’t talk about what she saw, or is this an editing mistake?

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  17. “I don’t speak that, you ought to know it by now,” I replied without missing a beat.

    It’s not stated, but I’m assuming she said that back in Ashkaran, right? Catherine has never missed the opportunity for some deadpan humor.

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  18. Nesh is right, though, there doesn’t seem to be any way to force a victory for yourself.

    Going backwards, if you win, you had to start your turn with 19. That means you got to 19 on the last turn, and BOTH opponents didn’t agree to let one of them take from you. Why wouldn’t they?

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