Winter II

“Good for a day, a man. For a year, a priest. For a decade, a Chosen. For a lifetime, a fable.”
– Alamans saying

“The western shore has held,” Princess Rozala Malanza announced.

There was a round of cheers, and even some of the royals among the crowd bent their pride enough to participate. Hanno found the customs of the Principate interesting, for much of the rules that bound their behaviour to each other were unwritten. This very assembly, for example. Though the city of Cleves was ruled by Prince Gaspard, who had commanded the defence of the principality for three months before the relieving armies arrived, when assembly was had in the prince’s hall the man always deferred to Rozala Malanza. The Princess of Aequitan, while leading such assemblies, in turn always offered Prince Gaspard the courtesies due to a close friend even though as far as Hanno could tell they could hardly stand each other. The grey-haired man that ruled Cleves was said to stand opposed to much the younger princess’ politics, for though he was only a lukewarm supporter of the First Prince he’d been hostile to the alliance led by Prince Amadis of Iserre – of which, Hanno had been informed, Rozala Malanza was part.

The almost bewildering amount of subtleties to every interaction between the princes and princesses in Cleves was difficult to understand, though often Hanno grasped the shape of what was taking place. Though what some had called his father’s unfortunate marriage meant that even within his citizenship tier he’d never been seriously considered for any of the committees, the dark-haired man himself had once been scribe to the Outer Tribunal. He’d seen the ways the higher tiers heeded conventions of their own that no mere scribe could understand, and the unseen pull those could have on the exercise of all things. Still, some aspects of this remained clear to his eye. In matters of war, Princess Rozala Malanza stood first among equals in Cleves. Even orders from the Iron Prince, fighting fiercely to reclaim Hainaut from the dead, would only ever be taken as suggestions – though suggestions well-heeded, for no man was half so practiced at the war against the Dead King as Prince Klaus Papenheim.

The First Prince of Procer was the highest authority of all, in principle, but she had so far refrained from handing out orders through her Order of the Red Lion. She was said, though, to be moving stone and sea to ensure supplies arrived on time and aplenty on all three northern fronts while pursuing a campaign of her own against the Carrion Lord’s army in the heartlands. Cordelia Hasenbach’s readiness to support a political enemy – Rozala Malanza’s hatred of the First Prince and her allies was an open secret – as well she could and without then meddling at every turn for the sake of the defence of Cleves had impressed the White Knight. Restraint and farsightedness were laudable traits, but especially encouraging when displayed by the ruler who was to be the backbone of the war against Keter.

“Princess Adeline’s army held the beaches until the enemy retreated, and Cantal horse intercepted a flanking force that’d made shore unseen,” Princess Rozala said. “Yet we would all have been days too late, if not for the intervention of the Chosen: we thank the Witch of the Woods and the Valiant Champion, who held the main force at Sengrin for three days and three nights.”

Another cheer followed, even more enthusiastic than the first. The royalty and their attendants turned their gaze to the heroines of the day, which Princess Rozala had requested attend – Raphaella usually did not, and Antigone had confessed finding the proceedings enormously tedious. The Champion was grinning as she preened under their praise, though, and the Witch seeming rather taken aback. Antigone detested cities save for the towering and airy labyrinths of the Gigantes, and as a rule was less than fond of crowds. She’d been forced to suffer both for some time during the defence of Cleves, which was why she was always so eager to take the field against the dead far from the capital whenever opportunity arose. Which was why she’d no notion of how high in the esteem of the Procerans she had risen, the mystery of her mask and aversion to speaking with them only adding to her allure. Already three poems describing the heartbreaking beauty she was hiding under the clay were floating around the city, one even rumoured to have been written by the eldest son and heir of Prince Gaspard.

“It was a victory, and one worth celebrating, yet we must not lower our guard,” Princess Rozala said. “The Dead still have a beachhead at Trifelin, and we’ve reason to believe the attacks on the western shore were meant to draw away some of our forces before an assault from the east.”

The mere mention of the name of Trifelin cast a shroud over what had been a rambunctious assembly. After the siege of Cleves was first broken and the armies under Princess Rozala bolstered the defences, a general offensive had been undertaken to reclaim the shores that’d fallen to the Dead King’s first wave of corpses. Along the shores of Lake Pavin, to the west, the campaign had largely been a success: Prince Alejandro of Segovia had ridden out with much of the Proceran horse and shattered the warbands that’d been ravaging the countryside. Even as a second wave of foot under the Princess of Orne had begun to march there to thoroughly sweep and then garrison the coast, near two thirds of the living armies in the principality had marched in pursuit of the retreating undead army that’d besieged Cleves. The pursuit had led to a mining village by the name of Trifelin, perhaps a day’s march from the northern coast and less than a week’s march from the border with Hainaut. The White Knight still remembered the battle that’d raged there, the utter brutality of it. It’d been the harshest defeat the defenders had been inflicted so far.

The Dead, they later learned, had found a shepherd’s trail leading to the shore of the Tomb that’d allowed them to quietly mass numbers. It’d been an ambush, the purported retreat of the undead a trap to bait the Proceran armies away from walls and defensible grounds. The undead had poured in from the sides when the army was still stretched out in a marching column, archers firing volleys one after another and undead leaping off slopes heedlessly. Often they were simply aiming to kill a soldier with their fall so that the dead man could be raised and turned against his comrades in the heartbeat that followed. It’d been bloody fighting, and Hanno’s order to send the Fortunate Fool ahead of the column had seemingly not paid the dividends he’d expected. Yet the tide had begun to turn when the Mirror Knight struck at a cliff until it collapsed atop him, allowing for a countercharge by Rozala Malanza’s cavalry that swept through the undead archers on one side. It was only moment later that the White Knight was found by the Fortunate Fool, who as it turned out had fallen down a crumbling mine shaft, and only then was the full horror of the trap revealed.

Trifelin was a mining village, and even as Cleves was besieged the dead had been expanding on the tunnels. The Hidden Horror had been laying this trap for months. The Fool’s warning made the difference: Hanno found Antigone and told her of what was coming. When the Dead collapse the tunnels under the outstretched army, the Witch still held the grounds aloft for half an hour through sorcery before collapsing unconscious. And so only six thousand died, at the edges of where the Witch had stood and worked her magic, instead of what could easily have been twice that – if not thrice. All those that died in the collapse rose before the dust had even settled, and though the Vagrant Spear and the Valiant Champion led a furious counter-attack against the undead that was the moment where Keter first revealed its Revenants: a dozen dead heroes and villains had hit the lines and broken the last of the Proceran army’s cohesion, routing it within moments. Hanno and Christophe found Arnaud Brogloise’s still mostly untouched infantry and led it in a rearguard action until night fell, which allowed most the army to retreat, but in the dark thousands more were hunted and slain by prowling ghouls.

Casualties at Trifelin numbered over twelve thousand, at the last count, and given that those losses instantly bolstered the Keteran forces by that much there had not been a major offensive in the northeast of Cleves since. The Dead King’s beachhead was being contained by a ring of fortresses, and Hanno had sent two of his own in the region to stiffen resistance, but those measures would not suffice. It was only a matter of time until the Dead resumed a general offensive, and Trifelin was likely to be where the hammer came down from.

“Prince Gaspard,” Princess Rozala said, “I would now invite you to share the latest news from Hainaut.”

Raphaella, disappointed to no longer be the subject of cheering, cast a curious look at him and Hanno shook his head. She was free to leave if she so wished. The Champion wasted no time disappearing into the crowd of officers, many of them clapping her back and speaking to her on her way out. The Witch followed closely behind after watching Hanno for a moment. Back leaning forward, head moving to the right. Apology for abandoning him to such an assembly, even if she felt in her right to do so. He replied straight-backed, rolling his eyes with chin raised and slightly moving to the left. Haughty amusement, without sting. She was chuckling under her mask as she left, curtly refusing to speak with the officers brave enough to address her.

“Prince Klaus caught the dead flatfooted at the Prisoner’s Mercy with his heavy horse and his spears, breaking ten thousand and the latest offensive against the capital,” Prince Gaspard said. “Keter has not fielded a great army since, for fear of losing it as well!”

The cheers that followed were hardy and desperate, for all knew the defence of Hainaut had been a losing battle and should Cleves’ eastern neighbour fall the principality would not be far behind.

“A great victory,” Prince Gaspard said when the cheering died. “Yet to achieve it much of the garrisons in the northern crags had to be stripped empty, and once ceded that ground will not easily be regained. The Iron Prince cautions us that the Dead now hold the shores of Hainaut without contest, and that they may begin marching reinforcements towards our northeast along the shoreline.”

It was an unsettling thought, and one that dimmed the enthusiasm that’d begun to bloom anew.

“An attempt was also made on the life of the Iron Prince and Princess Mathilda of Neustria, by some fresh manner of ghoul,” the Prince of Cleves continued, tone grim. “They speak to the monsters being more cunning than the usual breed, and possessed of the ability to squeeze through very small spaces. Princess Mathilda was attacked in a holdfast as she slept and took a wound.”

Uneasy murmurs passed.

“Mathilda Greensteel informs us that they die just as easily to steel as the rest, and shriek most satisfyingly when struck with fire,” Prince Gaspard drily added.

Laughter and some surprisingly fond words about Lycaonese valour chased away the uneasiness, likely as the Prince of Cleves had meant to achieve.

“I will be sending the Painted Knife to Hainaut to guard against further attempts,” the White Knight spoke into the silence. “The Repentant Magister will accompany her in scholarly capacity. It has been thrice now that undead still unknown to Cleves have been revealed in Hainaut, and I want them studied for weaknesses before they are faced on our walls.”

It would also prevent Christophe and Kallia from coming to blows again. The fury of their last argument had yet to leave them, and it was only a matter of time until it erupted once more. As for Nephele, a month or two proving the knowledge she had learned at the feet of the Magisterium could be used to fight the Enemy would do her a great good, and Hanno’s understanding was that the situation at the capital of Hainaut was a great deal less perilous than at Cleves. At least for the moment. A rest away from the frontlines would help her find her strength again.

“Would the Forsworn Healer not suffice in such capacity?” Prince Arnaud of Cantal called out. “How many Chosen must we lend to the Iron Prince before he grows satisfied?

Several faces darkened in irritation, others betrayed faint embarrassment: the demarcation between those who were not allies of Arnaud Brogloise and those who were. Hanno watched the man mildly. The prince was prone to bluster, and hardly a popular man even with his allies, but he tended to keep his calm when doom came to call. It was the reason he remained tolerated to such extent. That and Rozala Malanza’s deft handling of him, which was why so many eyes turned to the Princess of Aequitan in the wake of her ally’s comment. Still, there was something about Arnaud Brogloise that had him itching for the coin. A sense of wrongness that only the judgement of the Tribunal would truly be able to settle in his mind. Yet that would have been… unwise. If given reason he would without hesitation, but he had not yet been given reason. In some ways it was a shame that Kallia would soon leave, for among the heroes in Cleves her skills at moving unseen were second to none.

“Surely you did not mean to imply that the Chosen are ours to command, Arnaud,” Princess Rozala smilingly said.

The prince’s already blotchy face reddened.

“Of course not,” he said. “Only, perhaps, that in times of war royal wisdom is best heeded and-”

“Royal wisdom was heeded,” Hanno evenly interrupted. “That of the First Prince of Procer, when she granted the heroes of the Tenth Crusade leave to deploy as they would in accompaniment of her armies.”

“And surely one must not court even the shadow of Her Most Serene Highness’ displeasure,” Prince Alejandro of Segovia said, tone masterfully straddling the line between earnest and sardonic.

Prince Gaspard sneered at the handsome younger man in distaste, but all held their tongue. As Hanno understood it, hard words were still occasionally exchanged over the fact that all the reinforcing royals had voted and even agitated against the measures in the Highest Assembly that’d provided gold for the refurbishing of many of the fortress walls they now fought behind. Prince Alejandro was still on occasion heard to bitterly say that Cordelia Hasenbach’s scheme to spruce up Lycaonese lands with Arlesite gold had paid rather unexpected dividends at this late hour, though only in his cups and in carefully chosen company. When the reinforcing princes had first come, for all their help they’d still been remembered by the people of Cleves as the royalty that’d nearly tossed Cleves and Hainault to the dogs so that Iserre would not suffer Praesi raids. Their reputation had starkly improved since, but their offences were not yet forgot.

“As you say,” Hanno agreed. “That aside, the Silent Guardian and the Silver Huntress have now been at the fortress ring for three months. I will be recalling them for rest and recuperation. As this will coincide with rotation of troops among you as well, I would hear of the designated commanders’ preferences.”

He made no promise to heed them, but he would at least listen. The amused look Princess Rozala cast him made it plain she’d noticed as much though the man meant to accompany her own forces, Prince Arnaud Brogloise, seemed blind to the subtlety.

“I’ll want the Witch of the Woods,” the Prince of Cantal said. “And call the fool anyone who‘d choose otherwise.”

“As was explained at previous councils, Antigone’s ability to work great magics means she is best kept in reserve so she can blunt the Enemy’s offensives,” the White Knight patiently replied. “As she did so recently at Sengrin.”

“Offence is the very essence of war, young man,” Prince Arnaud asserted. “Why, if you were under my command we’d already-”

“I thank you for your contribution,” Hanno serenely replied,

His gaze moved to Princess Rozala, ignoring Prince Arnaud’s spluttering.

“I don’t suppose I could talk you into shaking loose the Valiant Champion?” the Princess of Aequitan smiled.

“I had meant to send the Vagrant Spear to relieve the Silver Huntress,” Hanno admitted. “And the two of them…”

The dark-haired princess sharply nodded, too polite to outright grimace. It was not that Raphaella and Sidonia were at odds, much to the contrary. After some stilted awkwardness due to the significance of Raphaella’s Name to Levantines, they’d become fast friends. Which, for women who were bound to the Champion’s line and the Slayer’s line, meant hunting very dangerous monsters together, drinking every bottle of hard liquor at hand and finding people to either brawl or sleep with. Inherently there was nothing terrible about this, but it did tend to cause some degree of damage to their surroundings. Less than ideal, on the frontlines. It also tended to cause betting pools to form, which Hanno had been told Alamans disapproved of on grounds of impiety.

“Lady Spear has a talent for striding the wilds, I’m told,” Rozala said. “A good fit to relieve the Lady Huntress at Hochelin fortress, given the heights. It is Sautefort I am wary of, for they’ve been seeing larger numbers try their walls lately. A steady sort will be needed.”

“I had been considering the Myrmidon,” the White Knight said. “Yet I can see your concern. She is not the most talkative among us.”

She spoke none of the Proceran tongues, but if she stayed with heroes who could understand her native Aenian she’d likely never bother to learn any of them beyond a handful of words. It would have been good for her, the steady fighting and camaraderie slowly easing her into the learning. Hanno was not, however, beyond acceding to larger concerns.

“The Mirror Knight will ride to replace the Silent Guardian, then,” he said.

There was a thrum of satisfaction in the room, as there always was whenever Christophe was mentioned. Though the Procerans had been duly thankful that heroes had come to help their support against the Dead King, it’d rankled some that so many of the Named they must rely on and occasionally obey were nearly all foreigners. The Mirror Knight, very clearly Alamans and of respectable birth, had been the darling of those since they first heard of him. He remained highly popular with Procerans as a whole, helped in that by the unusual strength of his Name. His growth had not been in wild spurts, as it was for some Named, but the steady regularity of it remained troubling to Hanno. What manner of Evil was Christophe meant to fight, that he would need such strength? Something to see to after the war. There were more pressing matters. It might be needed to send someone with the Mirror Knight, Hanno decided. When exposed to long to the admiration of his people without counterpoint, Christophe tended to lapse into regrettable arrogance. A steady presence at his side reminding him that his power was meant to serve and not be gloried in could only do him some good.

“Three cheers for the Mirror Knight, then,” Prince Arnaud of Cantal loudly said.

“And all our other trusted comrades among the Chosen,” Princess Rozala added, a tad more diplomatically.

Wine was promptly sent for. Hanno was not all that fond of the drink, truth be told, or even drinking spirits as a whole. Yet Procerans drank wine by the barrel whenever they had an excuse, toasting even their worst enemies without batting an eye for the right vintage. Attendants returned with glasses already filled – it would be different bottles for the royals and the officers, Hanno suspected – and a shyly smiling young woman in Cleves livery offered him his glass.

“Thank you,” he replied, then paused.

Like an itch on the back of his neck, a hum in his bones. The attendant paled, thinking she’d given offence. Hanno calmly set down his glass on the table to his side.

“I’d suggest taking cover,” he kindly said,

In the same moment he unsheathed his sword, feeling his Name roar in his veins.

“The Enemy comes,” the White Knight roared along with it.

Bells began to ring outside, and a moment later claws the size of a horse tore the ceiling open. A sky-shaking scream erupted from the fanged mouth of the gargantuan winged beast half-revealed through the tears, and even as he felt the Light well up in him the White Knight could not resist but to feel the slightest bit thankful.

The attack, after all, had come before he was forced to drink the wine out of politeness.

77 thoughts on “Winter II

      1. Not really.
        I mean, the only thing we know about his Aspects is his Dawn Aspect, and all that does is make him a little stronger/faster/tougher/better each dawn.

        Sve Noc and most of the drow (including all the ones with any power) have, prior to Cat, been doing nothing but sitting in the Everdark for centuries, if not millennia. They’ve been even more out of play than the Dead King as far as the rest of Calernia is concerned. Plus, they’ve been locked in behind the Gloom.
        When the Mirror Knight was getting his Name, it probably would have been some point after the Conquest, but before Cat became Squire.
        As such, Ranger had recently been active on the stage as part of the Calamities.

        If Mirror Knight were a dwarf, I could perhaps buy him being aimed at the drow and Sve Noc; or the Dead King. But he’s a human, a Proceran.

        I think his most likely intended target was Ranger. Second would probably be Dead King.
        Assuming, of course, that there actually was a “destined target” his Name and Aspects were designed to overcome.

        Liked by 10 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Maybe, but it’s still worth a consideration.
          The two who we know possess a seemingly endless growth are Ranger and Sve Noc, so they are the likely candidates.
          We also must keep in mind that the Gods can see into the possible futures, even Named like Augur, the Angels and Sve Noc can do it to some degree.

          What leads me to believe Mirror Knight might be a Hero customized to fight Sve Noc is his power asociated with Dawn and his high proficiency in fighting sorceries (his shield can reflect them) so that would give him an edge against the Drow, who rely on dark miracles and are weakest at the coming of dawn.

          Also, a Hero can be a multi-purpose one, they aren’t meant to fight a single Villain, even if their first Villain might be the one that settles the kind of Hero they become. Maybe he was made just in case the Heavens needed to take down Hye and the Sisters.

          Liked by 4 people

        2. KageLupus

          Mirror Knight doesn’t have to be a counter to Sve Noc specifically. Instead he could be a general balance in case war against the Drow ever becomes necessary. Even if he couldn’t take on the goddesses themselves, having a tool in your toolbox designed to counter the newly minted Empire Ever Dark seems like a good call.

          Getting stronger at the exact moment your enemy becomes weakest seems like a really powerful narrative lever. Just imagine, Mirror Night vs some Mighty have been fighting for hours on end. The Drow has the Mirror Knight on the ropes, slowly wearing him down over the course of the entire night. Just when the final blow is meant to be struck, dawn arrives. The Drow falters, Mirror Knight gains his second wind, and the fight shifts towards the inevitable victory for the side of Good.

          I would bet dollars to donuts that Mirror Knight has or gains an aspect that has to do with Light or Sunrise, or some other abstraction that would make him more effective against the Drow. Tariq was able to summon a false dawn that weakened the entire Drow army. While I doubt that the Mirror Knight has that kind of power in his back pocket, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for him to gain a more localized version of the same effect.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Decius

            The drow have already started to bid for rights against Dead King.

            The narrative could very well be that the drow fight Dead King to a draw during the night, and then at dawn the Dead King starts to turn the tables against the drow… enter Mirror Knight to save the day.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. The Gods do seem fond of Xanatos gambits. Could be that all of these theories are right and the gods sculpted the Mirror Knight in such a way that no matter how things pan out he’ll be a great ace in the hole.

              Liked by 3 people

      2. Ranger, Sve Noc, Dead King. Why is no one mentioning Hierarch? He’s quite literally the only one with a false light which can be reflected by a mirror. Just because Wandering Bard didn’t see that madman’s creation in advance, doesn’t mean that the gods didn’t either.

        They may have made this tank of a Named to counter him, whatever is leftover from the Tyrant as a more dangerous Named if he lives that long, and perhaps the No Longer Repentant Magister with whom specifically he was at odds at last chapter. They may have made a steadily increasing Procer Named with a notable lack of other Procean Named to make him stand out more popularly, in order to prepare someone to hold and defy with sheer reflecting gritt the man who’d judge the gods themselves.

        Either that or there’s a gorgon about to use that mirror shield against, as is the origins of the tale in Greek mythology.

        Liked by 4 people

      1. NerfGlaistigUaine

        Well, SoS said he’d be stronger than her in a decade. If she wasn’t exaggerating then I could definitely see him accruing enough strength to take a swing at Ranger. Likely win too if he’s got a story at his back.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Agent J

          For all his Aspects may be broken, hers are absolute bullshit. She’s also got centuries of skill and practice backing it up, plus elven racial traits that boost her ridiculously. He could take a swing in thirty years, he’s still going to be left crawling through the mud with his guts spilling out.

          Aspects and a Sword are her literal bread and butter. She’s not going to be outdone in that field. If someone’s gonna kill her, they’ll have to do it as Cat did with Saint and strike from an angle she can’t predict or defend against.

          Basically, I’d sooner buy that the Tyrant could kill her than the Mirror Knight.

          Liked by 9 people

          1. NerfGlaistigUaine

            She’s powerful and with broken abilities, not invincible. Summer managed to fight her to a draw although admittedly that was a goddess. In thirty years he’d be more than thrice the strength of Saint. Add in a story to provide him with an edge and I could see him taking it.

            The argument is moot anyways b/c we haven’t seen Ranger’s upper limits. Anything she’s done so far though, I could buy Mirror Knight doing with enough time to gain power. That you think there’s no way she could be beaten even with Mirror Knight’s ludicrously broken mechanic says more about her hype than about her or what we’ve seen so far.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Mirror Night

              The Queen of Summer is extremely powerful and is the equivalent of a powerful Mage in addition to her Physical Abilities. She also has plenty of experience. Physically sure Mirror Knight could get to Hye’s level but skill wise no and he won’t have that level of magic.

              Liked by 5 people

              1. NerfGlaistigUaine

                Overwhelming power is one hell of an equalizer. And if his Light increases too, he could go full Magic Knight. Again, speculation is useless here b/c we know so little about the powers or potential of either.

                Liked by 3 people

            2. Taichi22

              The thing about Ranger is that she isn’t so much powerful as ludicrously skilled. As we saw in her battle with Summer and infiltration of Keter, she isn’t the heaviest hitter (though she does hit hard), but rather that she’s all but impossible to kill. She’s not quite capable of killing gods, because gods can’t be killed with a sword and enough skill — they’re fundamentally above that, but they also can’t do anything to her because she can wriggle out of anything. In that regard, the Mirror Knight would be fucked against her, because he’s still fundamentally vulnerable to mundane/slightly magical means, and, though he might be powerful, power means nothing if he can’t touch her.

              Her name was mostly shaped by Elves and other things hunting her — her abilities are first and foremost those of a survivor, then of a hunter, ironically.

              Liked by 5 people

              1. NerfGlaistigUaine

                Do we have any evidence that gods are fundamentally above being killed by swords? I always assumed Saint could do it, and we’ve seen Captain kill a god with nothing but fangs and claws. Also, her name being a survivor first is pure speculation. All we know is she’s been hunted by elves and that she loves nothing more than the fight, no evidence as to which shaped her Name more.

                It’s hard to beat two plus centuries of experience, but we’ve seen that experience isn’t everything, Spellblade dwarfed Ranger in experience and he wasn’t a match skill-wise. It’s possible Christophe could grow to surpass Ranger in skill, especially since we’re not quite sure how his power progression works in that regard.

                Again, it’s all moot though b/c we don’t know enough about Ranger’s limits, all we have is speculation and that she’s probably strongest in Calernia currently. It just seems absurd to me that ppl assume she’s impossible to surpass even with the absolutely broken powers of Mirror Knight.

                Liked by 4 people

                1. Trebar

                  We don’t know the upper limit of Dauntless Mirror Knight’s ability, nor his growth patterns. If he grows exponentially, I could see him getting enough power to be able to stand toe-to-toe with Ranger. With a Story and Providence at his back, that could push him over the edge for a victory, although actually killing her may not happen. She could LOSE though.

                  On the other hand, with only linear growth or worse, tapering growth, I don’t think he would reach the necessary power levels.

                  Liked by 4 people

                  1. NerfGlaistigUaine

                    Lol, yeah, totally Dauntless. But 10 years of linear growth puts him at Saint levels, if he had exponential growth that powerful he’d be fighting the gnomes at his peak, not slumming it in Calernia. Again, Ranger’s got a lot of hype but I don’t think she’s more than 3 times stronger than Saint, although these things are a bit hard to quantify.
                    I wonder if Ranger has it in her to lose. I could see her fighting to the end no matter what.

                    Liked by 3 people

                  2. laguz24

                    Personally, I think that this puts him in a very dangerous position. Him being the obvious powerful perfect hero beloved by all puts him on the track to be killed off in the first act while the plucky underdog saves the day. Seriously, in the story being the underdog makes for providence more likely to be on your side.

                    Like

            3. Agent J

              Most responses here seem to boil down to “but story!” Yea, no. That’s not so invincible a thing. Black’s made a career out of sidestepping them entirely and Catherine snaps them over her knee with pleasant regularity.

              A woman who never leaves Refuge save to hunt monsters and a random knight prone to arrogance don’t have a lot of story potential. Otherwise, the Saint would have found whatever buffs she needed to see the job done. Especially with so obvious a story prompt as “crawl away while holding in your spilled guts and don’t return until you’ve improved”.

              Lastly, let’s not pretend hype isn’t a power of its own. A carefully manicured legend is an oppressively powerful story itself.

              Liked by 7 people

              1. NerfGlaistigUaine

                My argument is that Mirror Knight has insane power potential that will potentially let him surpass Ranger and the skill gap can be bridged. Story is just an additive, an extra hand on the scale. And you can’t discount its effects while pointing to it in the same comment about hype and legend. Also, huge hype and legend of a villain or even just non-hero is exactly the type of story that spurs on the hero to make a last-minute comeback victory overcoming all odds.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. Agent J

                  Story is nebulous and fluid. Watching Cat and Pilgrim duel with it like rapiers shows that well enough. My contention was with how many commenters were going, “well, duh she’ll lose. Cuz story!”

                  Yes, a Legend’s hype can be used as a weapon against said legend, buuuuut, well, no one is more hyped than the Dead King and he broke how many Righteous Holy Crusades?

                  As for the original argument of Mirror Knight’s insane power potential, yes he does. But my point is, so does Ranger. Learn, Perfect, Transcend is such absolute bullshit. Bullshit, I remind, that she’s had for a couple centuries at least. And still has. I don’t see that gap being bridged with what Mirror Knight brings to the table. Black can fill a mansion with the heroic corpses he’s piled up over the years. Mirror Knight has yet to show anything that makes me believe he could have survived Black back in the day. Or could survive Cat now if he were a main antagonist instead of a heroic mook under the real threats of Pilgrim and Saint. If all he has to his name is a daily power boost, he’s not banging on Ranger’s level.

                  Liked by 4 people

                  1. NerfGlaistigUaine

                    That power boost is significant enough to explicitly put him above Saint in just ten years. I don’t know how you could possibly think he wouldn’t be on Ranger’s level in time. Of course he hasn’t shown power now b/c he’s not that strong now. He’d get ragdolled by heavy hitters judging by his Camps performance. His whole schtick is future potential. Ranger is powerful and broken but she doesn’t keep getting more powerful, or at least not at Mirror Knight’s rate.

                    As for Dead King, he’s the most careful and far-sighted villain there is. The whole point is that even with all his hype he’s managed to survive so long by always minimizing risks, planning ahead, shaping what stories can come about. Pretty sure Ranger wouldn’t do the same, she seems more like a “fuck it, I’ll kill you regardless” type.

                    Liked by 1 person

                  2. > If all he has to his name is a daily power boost, he’s not banging on Ranger’s level.

                    Eh, not necessarily. For one thing, it matters a great deal if said power boost is in the form of a daily “deposit” into his Power Bank or if it’s in the form of interest compounded daily. Let me give an example.

                    Let’s say Mirror Knight’s current Power Bank account is, let’s say, 1000 Power Units as a non-weak but definitely not Saint of Swords tier Named. Now, Saint of Swords is mad beefy Name-wise so let’s say her account stands at 30,000 Power Units, making her thirty times as powerful as Mirror Knight is right now. Mirror Knight’s daily power boost is stipulated to be comparatively small, so let’s say it amounts to a 0.1% daily rate of interest. That works out to be the same thing as a 36.5% yearly rate of interest compounded daily.

                    After ten years of that, Mirror Knight’s balance would stand at 38,404.56 Power Units (to be precise). Stronger than Saint of Swords indeed. And after twenty years at the same daily rate of interest it would be 1,474,910.27 Power Units. Or close to 1.5 million, to take some of the digits out of it. Which is insane, and actually pretty strong evidence that Mirror Knight’s daily boost is in fact *not* in the form of compound interest. Or else Hanno wouldn’t be “concerned about what you’d need that much power for” so much as “terrified of the all-consuming global apocalypse that is apparently just a generation away”.

                    But even if it’s “just” a daily deposit that still winds up making him hella strong. Let’s say that instead of 0.1% daily interest, it’s “just” a daily deposit of 10 Power Units. 10 added to 1000 is a comparatively small addition indeed. But there are (to make it easy) 30 days in a month, and 10 times 30 is 300. Not so small after all. After ten years of 10 Power Units being added daily, Mirror Knight would still be at 37,000 (10 years times 12 months times 300 units added a month = 36000). The growth potential of that is less insane since after twenty years he’d “just” be at 73,000 instead of being in spitting distance of 1.5 million. But I think it still makes it clear that you shouldn’t be scoffing at the growth potential of consistent daily growth with no cap.

                    Liked by 2 people

                  3. Also, while Ranger’s method of power accrual doesn’t have a hard cap, it does have a soft cap. And she probably hit it a while ago.

                    What I mean by that is her trio of Learn, Perfect, Transcend relies on her finding opponents who know techniques that are still new to her. So she can Learn their technique, Perfect the usage of it, and then Transcend the normal limits of perfection. Which explains why she’s so focused on fighting the most dangerous enemies available – it’s literally the secret to her power growth. But at this point, her supply of enemies dangerous enough to teach her something useful has grown very short indeed, and presumably it has been so for a while now. Because it isn’t just whether she learns something new, it’s whether the new thing is meaningfully more powerful than the stuff she already knows. Which became statistically unlikely a while ago. So Ranger’s continued growth at this point is likely incremental at best, and functionally non-existent at worst (depending on how dire you estimate that shortage of usefully dangerous enemies to be).

                    Liked by 3 people

            1. But Ranger never GIVES the right story for that, which is why I believe Christophe was not meant to stand against her at all. Nobody is meant to stand against her, that’s HOW she survived for so long – by never provoking anything that wasn’t a story about her either winning or getting away unscathed. She is not a great Evil to get a hero custom tailored against her. She shaped Saint, but Saint never actually fought her again, which I believe is entirely characteristic of Ranger’s personal brand of handling the narrative. She’s a staple of the setting, a part of the landscape, one that is entirely inoffensive to any story that matters.

              Liked by 6 people

          2. Insanenoodlyguy

            Story beats power level every time. The fucking Scribe could kill Ranger with the right one. Not likely, but possible. You don’t have to become stronger than a big bad, you just have to become strong enough that the story buffs close the difference.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Shveiran

              Precisely. Where we disagree, I believe, is how ridiculously powerful one would have to be for a story to be enough. In Scribe’s case, for instance, I doubt there are enough tropes to ride even if she could grab them all somehow.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Insanenoodlyguy

                Remember that “impossible ” brings a character down if they take that far enough, having completed the circle. Ranger better not be unstoppable if she wants to live.

                Liked by 1 person

          3. Also, Ranger worked with Black. I can’t see her letting a Hero tailor-made to fight her just accumulate power until he can win, no matter how much she likes a good fight. If it ever looks like the Heavens made him to kill her, the Mirror Knight will probably not see too many sunrises after that.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Ranger isn’t even a villain. She’s not doing this Black style, she’s doing this in her own style. She’s more likely to invite him to train than to recognize him as a threat. I could see her getting a losing pattern of 3 against him and perfectly surviving it because he has no actual beef with her. Nobody does.

              Heroes don’t get buffs against anyone they deign to challenge, as Exiled Prince proved against Catherine. Heroes get buffs in situations where their intervention is needed and helpful. And for all that Hye is an ugly gremlin of a person, she’s not a villain.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Ranger-Hye actually is a Villain. Technically speaking.

                But she’s a very nonstandard Villain in terms of what and how she does things. She is a Villain, but her Story isn’t expressed in the ways that typical Villain Stories are.
                She’s the epitome of “do what you want” … but what she wants is to be the best at what she does, continual self improvement, and to not have to obey rules because they’re rules – the only rules she cares about are her rules. She doesn’t care about being publically known as the best at whatever, as long as she knows. Her cause is herself and her own interests, but she dodges a lot of the normal pitfalls of that because she doesn’t care about imposing her beliefs and wishes upon other people, they can do whatever they want for all she cares, as long as they don’t bother her.

                I also suspect that the Name of Ranger, at least, prior to Hye, was one of the Names that could be empowered by Above or by Below, depending on the current bearer of the Name. Hye may or may not be enough of an influence on the Stories about Ranger to make a permanent shift in the Name … assuming she ever stops being the Ranger for whatever reason.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. We have had characters explicitly state in-universe that she isn’t actually quite a villain.

                  Also, Names aren’t empowered by either Above or Below, unless they get to literally wield Light or Night Lite. Names are empowered by narrative grooves. Don’t let Book of All Things propaganda get to you, Gods don’t actually actively personally decide who’s a hero.

                  Liked by 1 person

        2. naturalnuke

          What would the story be in that case? Always A Bigger Fish? No One’s Untouchable? She is of the odd self possessed story that doesn’t lend itself to intersecting much. Unless it be the story of how she got in over her head when challenging the mirror knight?

          Liked by 5 people

          1. NerfGlaistigUaine

            That would be an issue. IF Gods Above are shaping him to be her counter then I’m sure there’s some story in mind. Think the most potent one would be if Black dies and Ranger comes out to avenge him. Then it’d be old monster comes out of hiding and is defeated. Like Grendel’s mother. Or hell, Ranger might attack first, she loves the challenge, and that opens up a lot of possible heroic stories.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Gods Above don’t actually actively interefere in this, there is no evidence indicating anything short of the process being fully automated. And as there is no forming narrative against Hye, there would not be a hero tailor made against her either.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. NerfGlaistigUaine

                I thought certain Names being made as counterweights to others suggested a guiding hand in stories, although it’s admittedly not strong evidence. It’s kinda unclear how much the Gods actually interfere, except that Gods Above do so more than Below. To be honest, the development that shocked me the most was when Ashur used a piece of a God at Thalassina. Everything up to then suggested that was impossible so it really hit me out of left field.

                Liked by 1 person

          2. Yeah, I don’t think it fits.

            I’m actually kind of worried about this, because currently all Evils of the continent seem to be accounted for. What the FUCK is Christophe meant to oppose out of what we know about??? Is there something else coming???

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Insanenoodlyguy

              The horned lords of the chain of hunger, at last offered a solution to their endless bellies, sally forth in the name of the dead king. Something like that. There’s possibilities.

              Liked by 1 person

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        A new Chapter (Cat’s POV) or Interlude (other POVs) every Mon, Wed and Fri, with an Extra Chapter (like this one) with the first update every month.

        EE’s output is extremely reliable.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. My very own name

    Oh fuck. We’re going to have to wait a whole month for the next chapter D:

    Hanno is such an absurdly good strategist, both of battles and of personal feelings.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. caoimhinh

    Oh, Mirror Knight is meant to fight the Drow and Sve Noc… interesting.

    Makes sense, given the nature of his power, his ability to reflect sorceries and the gift of rising stronger each dawn, which is in direct opposition to Night’s nature and a way to prepare an opponent for a power that has endless potential.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Apocalypse Kraken

    I love the mirror that Hanno provides to our own dear Catherine.

    Also, I totally ship Hanno/Cat between the increased personal focus on Hanno and their recent interactions

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I love multiple things about this:

    1) the clarification of the princely dynamics in the north! All of the defense and chain of command and grudges shit is FASCINATING;

    2) Hanno noticing what Cordelia is like and gaining respect for her. No matter what he said in Salia, ‘she is the sitting First Prince and so it is obvious’ was not the ENTIRETY of his logic during the coup :3

    3) more heroic Names and elaboration on some dynamics between the heroes!!!

    4) HOW GOOD HANNO IS AT THIS SHIT. He handles them like a kindergarten teacher juggling his charges. A VERY GOOD KINDERGARTEN TEACHER;

    5) how well Hanno and Rozala understand each other and how well they work together!!! This Makes Me Intensely Happy;

    6) won’t you look at poor Rozala, being brute forced into learning diplomatic skills ;u; I wonder if Arnaud did this on purpose, if it was a deliberate conspiracy of his and Cordelia’s to groom Rozala as a leader of opposition who was actually not a fucking idiot and also passably competent? She did pretty damn well at the Graveyard. “Your majesty, would you please start taking this seriously?!” <= icon and I love her

    Liked by 7 people

    1. KageLupus

      I don’t think that Cordelia set Rozala up as her foil, but I do agree that Arnaud is playing the fool to support her. I would guess that Cordelia recognizes that Rozala in particular is more concerned with the Principate surviving rather than just pushing her own agenda. Sending Arnaud to keep an eye on her and support her at the same time seems like a good call all around.
      Knowing that he is just wearing a mask really makes watching his actions interesting, for me. Every time he says something it ends up being kind of dumb, but always in a way that lets someone gain a little more face or respect or control of the situation. It is honestly super well done and impressive, both as a character and just in the writing of him.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. MHM.

        I would bet that he voiced the ‘HOW DARE HEROES NOT SUPPORT US PERFECTLY’ position in large part to vaccinate everyone present against it and ensure that nobody can have so much as a passing thought about it without associating it with his particular brand of aggressive stupidity~

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Andrew Mitchell

      > 5) how well Hanno and Rozala understand each other and how well they work together!!! This Makes Me Intensely Happy;

      Hanala ship confirmed!

      > … I wonder if Arnaud did this on purpose, if it was a deliberate conspiracy of his and Cordelia’s to groom Rozala as a leader of opposition who was actually not a fucking idiot and also passably competent?

      What a clever insight. Given the level of foresight Cordelia has consistently demonstrated, I think you’re almost certainly on the money here.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. > What a clever insight. Given the level of foresight Cordelia has consistently demonstrated, I think you’re almost certainly on the money here.

        It also makes for an interesting counterpoint to Malicia’s style of rule. Because it was mentioned in a different one of these chapters (the ones about the Regals) that one of the things Cat learned from Malicia was that it was useful to control your own opposition. But that’s about controlling your opposition to make it tractable/easily defeated. If the interpretation being offered here is correct (and I do find it plausible at minimum) then Cordelia is also manipulating her opposition, but she’s doing it to make her opposition more competent (without their permission, lol). So that if she loses, at least her country will still have a chance to be guided by somebody who’s not an idiot. That’s really different, and I think that’s really interesting.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. AGREED. And it’s exactly something Cordelia would do – drag the whole thing up by raising the bottom of the barrel, too. She was initially not after personal power but after dragging the Principate into the mud, which means she’ll find interest in making sure ALL factions are competent and get along well.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. laguz24

          The difference is that Malacia is immortal and Malacia’s opposition isn’t interested in doing the same things. They’re after personal power and an empire is just a tool. There is no point in raising the bottom of the barrel if the bottom of the barrel sees moving up as a mistake. Iron sharpens iron and all that, if I cannot rule the empire there is no point in having an empire etc.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Not wrong! Tho if my (slash other fans’) theory about Amadeus becoming DE Benevolent is correct, I suspect that he’ll make changing that a part of his mission based on the quoted excerpt we’ve gotten from his inauguration speech.

            Like

  5. laguz24

    I love the fact that Hanno chooses to fight whatever new horribleness that the dead king can come up with rather than drinking wine with princes, oh Hanno, never change.

    Liked by 7 people

  6. Joshua

    This is probably more of a reflection on me than anything, but holy hell this was painful to read.

    Can anyone do me a favor and sum up this interlude for me so I don’t miss anything important, because my eyes were sliding off the words. I literally could not get past the first three paragraphs with all the city names, hero names, ect being thrown around once per sentence.

    Again, nothing against the author, this is probably my reading comprehension skills craping out right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      Don’t worry too much about understanding this. I don’t think any of those details are going to matter much in the long run. I’ve already forgotten most of it myself. Note also, that this is an Extra Chapter, not an Interlude, and so is not essential for understanding and appreciating the main story line. It’s just something that adds to our understanding of the world, the battle against the Dead King and our appreciation of some secondary/tertiary characters.

      Two highlights for me:

      1. The battle at Trifelin “numbered over twelve thousand at latest count” – a major loss for Procer – and the area is likely to be important later.

      2. Hanno demonstrated his nuanced insight into the discussions and their meanings. He ‘gets’ people extremely well.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Joshua

        Thanks! I’ll try to come back tomorrow and see if that helps me understand. I also just figured out where winter 1 was, which will probably help me understand since this is a continuation.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Extra chapters are basically fanservice. If it’s not serving you as a fan, you don’t actually have to bother.

          Although if you’re having trouble orienting yourself in place names, dynamics, people and events, the extra chapters can provide a helpful shoring up 😡

          Liked by 2 people

    2. 3. The Dead King finally brought out his Revenants.

      4. The Dead King’s fondness of tunneling warfare got reemphasized again in a big way. It’s definitely a recurring thing.

      5. The Dead King is still pretending his army size is significantly dependent on Procer’s dead, he’s not pulling out the stops and using the true armies he’s built in Serenity.

      6. The Mirror Knight came up again and it got reemphasized that he’s probably meant to fight something capital B Big way down the road.

      Liked by 2 people

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