Interlude: A Hundred Battles

“Under pale moon,
Across the snow
As the dead croon
And flies the crow
 
Did we not lose,
A hundred times?
Did we not win,
A hundred times?
 
Our iron wrought,
Saw use earnest
It rusted not
Left unburnished
 
Did we not lose,
A hundred times?
Did we not win,
A hundred times?
 
We came and went,
Unconquered few
We Tyrant’s get,
The tried and true
 
Did we not lose,
A hundred times?
Did we not win,
A hundred times?
 
Weep not for us,
For in the annals
Our stele reads thus:
A hundred battles
 
For we did lose,
A hundred times
And we will win,
A hundred times
‘till falls the age,
And end the times!”
– “Dead In A Hundred Battles”, Helikean soldier’s song

“I win,” Kairos Theodosian laughed.

“- death,” the Hierarch of the Free Cities said.

The Tyrant wished and the candle was lit.

No heartbeat passed before the wroth of the Choir of Mercy descended upon him: it was immediate and unflinching. Even as his lie echoed across the hall the curse laid upon him by the Grey Pilgrim tightened its grip, seeking to smother him. Ah, it was worth every irksome moment where he’d been denied the pleasure of blatant lies to now have the Peregrine’s little mistake smash the Ophanim in the back of the knee just before they could tidy up all the loose ends. Mercy’s cold purpose forced against him, an immeasurable sea of pressure against his soul, and the Tyrant of Helike was going to lose this. But he knew, even as his last good eye shrivelled in its socket, that he had bought a candlespan of life before that loss occurred. And that made all the difference in the world, didn’t it?

“I have vexed you, I see,” the Tyrant gregariously said, addressing Mercy. “Well, if you would allow me a-”

They did not, in fact, allow him a rebuttal. The full weight of the Choir’s attention descended upon him and he tasted blood in his mouth, as the Ophanim finally grasped that they would not be allowed to murder the Hierarch before they’d dealt with him. Stories were such a funny thing, weren’t they? Like, say, ‘wicked villain is sentenced never to lie again by the champion of a Choir, then in a moment of delightful hubris speaks such a lie’. It was the kind of story that’d need a thundering, righteous Choir to smite that uppity servant of Below. Not the sort of thing you could do while simultaneously serving as the hidden knife of the Heavens in someone else’s tale. It wouldn’t matter that the Choir had the capacity to serve in both roles concurrently. Fate would punish such lackluster commitment with failure on both fronts.

His left knee pulped. The Tyrant was not certain whether that was his own doing or that of the angels, which rather amused him.

Kairos has once been told he would not make it to his thirteen nameday, a prophecy croaked by the dry lips of the ancient thing that laid in the crypt deep beneath Helike. And it’d told it true, it had. A hero might have thought, perhaps, that their kind and benevolent Gods had cured them of their many miseries. Kairos Theodosian knew very well what manner of deity he served, though, and so never once deluded himself into believing this – indeed it was a relief, when he first came into his favourite of his aspects. Wish. What a pretty bauble it had been, seeing the wish of others. Even more so when he learned it could be used to do things, to bridge the gap between the possible and the not. For a price, of course. It was then the he understood the prophecy, forged anew by darker hands.

Twelve times the Tyrant of Helike would be allowed to see come and go the day of the year where he had been Named and die on the dawn of the last. The Gods Below, magnificent monsters that they were, had presented him with a beautiful dilemma: would he spend his thirteen years of reprieve in mediocre obscurity, or would he spend the years to reach for glory? For that was the nature of wishing: all could be had, for a span of the life he might have lived.

“I always was a spendthrift at heart,” Kairos confessed. “It is the nature of princes, my friends, to waste the treasuries of their fathers.”

Alas, the Choir of Mercy was growing no fonder of him. It must have been quite cross, he mused, that its greatest strength was hamstrung by its own champion. For Mercy was not the mightiest of the Choirs, the most farsighted or the most beloved: it was the most flexile, befitting of its purpose as the tier of loose ends for the Heavens. Yet now it must pass its thread through on very particular needle’s head before it could attend to greater purposes, namely the continued existence of Kairos Theodosian. Anaxares, glorious mad son of Bellerophon that he was, was attempting for force his verdict upon the dealers of verdicts, and though he was not succeeding neither was he failing. The Seraphim’s crushing strength slid over the Hierarch like water off a duck’s back, though his own burning indictment found bite but no flesh: even with Bellerophon’s fury at his back, the Choir of Judgement remained the Choir of Judgement.

It was like watching a man attempting to wrestle the sea, and every bit as gloriously absurd as that sounded.

The Ophanim, sadly, did not seem to agree. And in their impatience as finishing to choke out the Hierarch – oh, that one detail must have burned Tariq like acid when he’d emerged at the crucial moment and unleashed his patrons like a dagger in the side – they decided the time for subtlety was past. If a tight grip would not suffice, then a fist would have to serve. The Tyrant, Gods take him if he lied, had no parry against such a stroke. Even simply receiving it would burn through the last of his life in the bat of an eye. Of course he didn’t need to have such a parry, not strictly speaking. The Ophanim smiting this entire temple into barren ash would mean…

Darkness flooded the broken House of Light, the cold night soothing Kairos like a cold press as it cooled the blood seeping out of his pores. His head lolled back, the bone of his neck feeling like they were made of wobbling pastry, and he grinned malevolently as a match was struck a mere foot away from him. It was the sole light to be had, and it cast Catherine Foundling’s face into sharp relief as she lighted her pipe. She puffed, glowing red embers burning as she did, and spat out long stream of wakeleaf.

“You want to burn Kairos, burn Kairos,” his beloved enemy shrugged. “But you don’t get to burn the rulers of half the continent with him. Archer’s escorting them out, under protection of the Hierophant. Until they’re out of the way, hold your hand.”

It was a superb thing, the way the Black Queen could so address a Choir and expect to be obeyed. She’d survived so many close calls with angels she’d somehow come to believe she could match them, and through that utterly crazed belief become something that could genuinely give a Choir pause. And so Mercy found itself peering into the Night, wondering if the battle laid out there to be fought would truly result in its victory – and hesitating, for the consequences if it didn’t would be utterly disastrous. Against any other foe it would have struck regardless, but Sve Noc? The blood-soaked goddess of theft in victory? Losing might just have consequences. And even the villainess was preventing the full exercise of their power, she was letting through the wroth still shattering him bit by bit. Their hand held, and convulsive laughter escaped his throat until he choked on it. How long would it take for them to grasp that every time she got away with that, she came harder into the story of someone who could get away with that?

“You’re about to die,” the Black Queen told him.

“Well spotted,” Kairos cheerfully replied.

He spat out a thick glob of smoking blood afterwards, but it was well worth the trade.

“Now would be a good time to pay up what you yet owe,” the Queen of Callow said.

“Indeed,” the Tyrant of Helike mused. “Allow me then to grant you the greatest gift of all.”

The red burn of her pipe was the sole light in the dark, and what allowed him to be certain he was addressing her instead of an endless void. It also revealed her sigh.

“It’s a monologue, isn’t it?” she said, sounding resigned.

His fingers clenched, not out of surprise or dismay but because a swath of flesh and muscle on his arm had gone dead and dried up in the span of a breath, contracting the rest. Yet the rebellions of his own body were nothing new to him and did not truly distract from the great pleasure of having someone who understood. Not someone who agreed or sympathized, for indeed either of those things would have spoiled the broth, but someone who… followed the cast of his dice. It was such a rare, precious thing.

“Gods Below, Catherine,” he grinned, “why would it be anything else?”

His throne was half-sunken into he ground now, his attendant gargoyles made rubble, but still he clasped his scepter and his head loosely kept Theodosius’ crown. All was as it should be.

“It is said among my people that the hour of death is also the hour of revelation,” Kairos said, “for when the distance between life and death grows thin so do the veils that keep our eyes from hidden truths. My own father, for example, called me as grotesque imp as he died. Which was remarkably perceptive for the old drunk, I assure you. Still, I’ll admit stabbing him those seventeen times might have served as something of a hint.”

Talking should have, by all earthly laws, precipitated his death. Taken him tumbling down the cliff of annihilation, an already strained body and soul snapping like a twig under the added strain. Instead, the Tyrant of Helike found the trembling of his hand slowing, the blood in his throat drying. He was, after all, villain speaking his death-words: earthly laws were the lesser set of those now applying to him.

“I stabbed my father too,” the Black Queen mused. “Twice. And it wasn’t even the same person both times.”

Well, now she was just showing off. And by amusing him doing almost as much to kill him as the angels were, which was quite inconvenient.

“Don’t interrupt,” Kairos chided. “This is a monologue, not repartee. As I was saying, in the spirit of my rapidly approaching annihilation, I would therefore offer revelations.”

And did he not have a great trove of these to spill over the ground, painstakingly gathered one betrayal at a time?

“We begin with the corpse of an angel,” the Tyrant of Helike said, “though of course there can be no such thing.”

It was months ago he had first dangled that truth in front of her and knew she had been digging after it ever since. As well she should, for it was the very devil in the details – in a manner of speaking.

“In glorious old days,” Kairos Theodosian wistfully said, “there was once a woman who broke in Evil as one would break in a stallion. From triumph to triumph did she march, west and ever pursuing, until by the shores of a great lake she met in strife a hundred priests-elect of the Hallowed. And these holy souls did scour themselves to bring forth the great spirit they worshipped, one that cast judgement upon all it beheld, and behold her it did.”

Ah, what he would not have done for a glimpse of that grand moment. Truly, there never had been nor ever would be a match to Dread Empress Triumphant.

“For that presumption she slew it,” The Tyrant ferally grinned, sharp teeth bared, “bearing tall banner, and wrote her rage in blood across a hundred trembling tribes. That which was not a corpse sunk into deep waters, turning into bones that dreamt, and there was left to slumber. Some across the years learned of this, and of the great works that might wrought from such a thing, but none were so bold as to attempt to make a sword out hallowing petrified.”

Ah, but heroes lacked for such beautiful ambitions. The living kin of that dreaming thing came too easily to their help, he’d always thought, and so there was no need for ingenuity unleashed.

“That hoped-for boldness still escapes our kind,” he mourned, “but a lesser manner of soul did grow desperate enough.”

How could Cordelia Hasenbach not be, when doom covered her home and kin as the south tore itself apart in a war with no end nor meaning? There had been so little left to lose, and in the end the First Prince answered first to duty.

“This is no coincidence,” Kairos reminded his peer, “for indeed there are no coincidences. This one least of all, however, for it is a harsh sword long in the swinging. There is a thing out there that delights in intercession –”

He paused, allowing for dramatic arrival should it be in the cards. Only silence answered.

“No?” he mused. “No, I suppose not. Not while the Hierarch still breathes.”

Even should she wear a different face when she arrived, Kairos amusedly thought, all that would change would be that the crime of personation with intent to confuse the court would be added to her tally. If it was as he suspected, her very name would prevent her from putting herself in such a situation even should she desire it. Setting aside the thoughts, he returned to the thrust of his speaking, though he did not there was not anger in the Black Queen’s eyes. Ah, noticed his little trick had she? That the wards around Lyonceau made escape more difficult when the fabric of Creation was troubled. Which, given the presence of two Choirs in wroth and the high priestess of Night wielding the very stuff, was very much the case. It ought to keep the hostages close long enough for his purposes.

“And that thing, Catherine,” he drawled, “it has been waiting a very long time to kill another: one who claims rulership over dust and bones. But is a cautious crown that lairs to the north, one that does not often leave its shell. It took cornering and opportunity, to bait it out. Defeat on the horizon and victory at hand, how could even such a leery thing not be tempted? It scuttled out and lost a finger or two but got to witness the truth of its foe in exchange.”

One of his kidneys had just melted, the Tyrant dimly noticed. Oh dear, that was quicker than anticipated. Mercy was refining its technique.

“A fair trade, as these things go,” he rasped out.

He mastered his voice a moment later, with great effort.

“It would not have mattered,” the Tyrant said, “if not for the hidden sting of augury. You see, there was a plan. A warden for the west, besieged. Her ears open to whispers. And as the sky darkened, inch by inch the finger would tighten until the trigger was pulled.”

His only functioning arm snapped up, for the other was a desiccated waste, and he snapped his fingers.

“Death, dead,” Kairos said with relish, for it had been a pretty plan indeed. “That was the trick, you see: letting it eat someone’s whole world before they mattered, and then make them matter. Too late, then, to shake free of that story and the chains it brings. Quite a bit more would die along with it, of course, but then victory is not without costs. The clever crown caught on early, now, and it flees back to its lair. It would shed the chains binding it for a set more pleasing, if you let it.”

He met the Black Queen’s gaze, with his bloody red eye.

“Don’t let it, Catherine,” he said. “It does not deserve this.”

He hacked out a wet laugh, for deserving hardly ever mattered.

“And so here we are now, at the crossroads of it all,” Kairos Theodosian said.  “The crossbow has been forged, and aimed, but the hand that wields it is closed to intercession. Its quarry is a lion rampant, and forewarned, but there are a great many hunters gathering to hunt it. It would lair again, let the danger pass, but it cannot simply vanish – lest it be followed, crossbow in hand. To survive now it must either cow the hunters or break the crossbow.”

And even then, the Dead King would not ever truly trust the first of those two. Even cowed, the great Names of Calernia might still be nudged into rolling the dice. It had made striking fresh bargain with it after the Graveyard disappointingly easy. He’d been looking forward to the challenge of convincing Keter to ally again after betraying it so often and cheerfully.

“And so back it went to its old friend Kairos,” the Tyrant drawled, “who happened to have a grain of sand on hand that fit that hallowed mechanism quite nicely. There was a need for some expertise to see it through, which was helpfully provided, and now we arrive at the moment of truth.

He grinned, his teeth gone red for the bleeding of his gums.

“Yes, Catherine, I see the question is on the tip of your tongue. Say it.”

She studied him, unblinking.

“What happens when a Judgement-corpse is wielded, if Judgement is dead?”

The right question, as he had expected. She had yet to disappoint.

“Truth of truths, my friend,” he chortled, “I already gave you the only answer to that question worthy of being spoken.”

A Rochelant, when they had first begun this dance of theirs.

“That’s the entire point,” she softly quoted, “finding out.”

He’d be dead long before that riddle was answered, naturally, but what did that matter?

“Now,” the Tyrant cheerfully said, “you two distressing damsels stuck bargain with me in Salia, and I promised you a good reason to keep warring on Keter. I am a tyrant of my word, and so here it is: Keter will keep warring on you.”

Surprise, for though she was clever and ruthless and dangerous, she did have an inflated sense of the threat she truly represented to an entity like the Dead King.

“Your coalition does not scare the King of Death,” Kairos told her, not unkindly, “your petty assembly of armies and treaties which you so wastefully wring your hands over. He fears only one thing in all the world, and I have torn through the perilous nets she wove against him.”

The darkness thinned, and the Ophanim wasted no breath in stepping harder on his existence. Kairos spat out blood that looked like boiling pitch, burning a streak down his own chin. The hostages must be close to out of danger, then. Yet it was as had been ordained, for now that he had spoken in pride through the lessened gloom he was allowed to see if his pride was to be deemed arrogance after all. Was the net truly broken? Would a thousand years of fury and madness poured into a single man be enough to humble a Choir? For all his scheming and deals, the truth was that the Tyrant had no idea.

No longer was Anaxares the Diplomat flattened into the ground by angelic verdict, he saw, mended only by stubborn will. Yet that did not mean the Hierarch was winning. It was, to his eye, a shattering deadlock. The will of Judgement was hammering down from the Heavens, to no avail, yet Anaxares’ scathing dismissal of that authority was not resulting into his own judgement biting into the Choir’s flesh. It was a tight embrace between entities that could not bend and a man that would not. It would not be enough, Kairos saw. In time the Tyrant would be slain, and when that moment came Mercy would choke the life out of the Hierarch.

Too strong. Even after all the schemes and the lies and the hundred petty victories, the servants of the Heavens were simply too strong. Like a rat biting a lion’s tail, their rage had been a splendid but doomed gesture. Yet there was glory in that too, the Tyrant of Helike thought. In firing an arrow at the moon and coming close before it fell back down and took you in the throat. Even in defeat he would have no regrets, for –

“If you will not come to me,” the Hierarch said, rising to his feet, “then I will come to you.”

Anaxares of Bellerophon rose while under angel’s wroth, and for that insolence the flesh was peeled from his bones by fervent fire.

“Oh,” Kairos breathed out, genuinely moved. “Oh, you splendid madman.”

The Hierarch of the Free Cities was swallowed whole by shimmering heat that for a moment chased out of even the darkness of Night. And when it went out, he was gone. The White Knight dropped to the ground living, but unconscious, and the Tyrant of Helike felt a laugh bubble out of his throat. Not a rat biting a lion’s tail, how wrong he had been. This was a king swallowing poison. He was with them, now. Standing among them, obstructing like only the sons and daughters of Bellerophon could.

“Gods keep you, Hierarch,” Kairos said, and for the first time spoke the title with respect.

Gods Below keep you, Anaxares of Bellerophon, and it is a pride to call you Hierarch of the Free Cities, he thought. Die as you lived, my friend, without peer in your madness.

“And now we have a war, Catherine,” the Tyrant of Helike said. “The war that will bring this age to an end, one way or another.”

The Black Queen looked at him through the dying gloom, her face a cool mask.

“On your feet, Kairos Theodosian,” she said. “That much you are owed, and not a single thing more.”

It would have been a lovely thing, he thought, to dance with that one until one of them died of it. A lovely thing indeed. Matted in sweat and blood, one knee a ruin and both legs half-gone, the Tyrant of Helike pushed himself up. He stumbled forward, legs failing him, and knew he would die before he touched the ground. And it came, it came as he knew it would. Like a whisper across his skin, soothing the pain like a kind hand flicking dust away from his shoulder.

Below was watching.

The attention itself was as a question, for what man or woman alive had paid finer dues than the Tyrant of Helike? And so, at this later hour, he was asked for his wish. So many tantalizing possibilities flickered in the back of his mind. Curses that would rend the continent asunder, the strength to wound even the Choir that was about to take his life or even a loop in the hole – a few years more, if he could talk his way into keeping them. O Wicked Gods of mine, do you not know me better than this? All I have ever wanted of you was the answer to a single question, and only in this moment could it be asked. One staggering step forward, and he wet his lips as he spoke.

“lo,” he croaked out, “and behold…”

Another step, his knee giving out. If he could only prick his hear, he thought he might…

“I have…slain-” he whispered.

Ahead of him the veil lifted, and terrible light was revealed. And in that moment he finally heard it.

“-the Age of Wonders,” the Tyrant finished, smiling with pure childish joy.

And to the sound of applause only he could hear, a moment before light engulfed him, Kairos Theodosian died.

343 thoughts on “Interlude: A Hundred Battles

  1. Shveiran

    The Hierarch strains my suspension of disbelief, and it’s starting to affect my enjoyment. Can someone please help me make sense of this?

    I understand narrative is a powerful force multiplier in this universe, but the thing about multipliers is that the number you multiply DOES affect the outcome.
    Thoughout the story, we saw that narrative doesn’t gurantee you a win, it just makes it more likely; which means it has to be possible in the first place.

    And power-wise… I’m not sure this adds up.

    Where does Hierarch get the strength and weight to fight a Choir to a stand-still?

    Is it the years of Bellerophonians worshiping the “will of the people”?
    I don’t have a problem with that, but… Bellerophon is a city. On Calernia. How old can it be? Everything else on the surface of Calernia seems not to have been around for too long; 1000 years seems likely the upper limit, not? I think its being generous, honestly.

    So if that amount of people x time is enough to bring Anaxares in the same league -though an indirect link incidentally, since it wasn’t belief addressed to him or even his Name – how comes Sve Noc isn’t walking all over Choirs?
    They were directly worshipped by an Empire of drows, to whose soul they had a direct link if Hierophant is to be believed, for over two millennia.

    Yet we have been told that Sve Noc are, if anything, slightly less than a Choir.

    So is it his undying faith in the will of the people?

    Because if so… the implications trouble me.

    The world is full of obsessed people. If this is all it takes, how is it possible that Calernia isn’t a weirder place?
    Sure, I get it: it takes one in a million to have that kind of faith. One in a billion, maybe, and many may die before they get anything done.

    But Calernia has existed for a few millennias. That is a lot of billions. How come the setting isn’t filled with madmen that have reached apotheosys?

    If I keep someone in a dark room, sew his eyelids shut, and tell him that the sun is cursed and has toxic light that poisons your skin, does that invent skin cancer?

    I… don’t understand the rules anymore.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Sunsfury

      So as I understand it, Bellerophon has been a hive of raging madness ever since it has been founded, somewhat of a shrine to Below a la the Everdark, without any actual Named. Named are based upon culture, and Anaxares is the embodiment of Bellerophon in pretty much every way. We have seen that determination backed by a story is a powerful thing, and what seems to be Bellerophon’s only culture is raging against Tyranny and Foreign Despots for The Will of the People is Law. Anaxares, though sheer ignorance that it shouldn’t be possible (combined with the Tyrant’s machinations), is applying the core belief of Bellerophon – that people are the only ones who can rule people – directly on Judgement’s foreheads.

      Liked by 12 people

    2. Vortex

      I think it makes perfect sense. Catherine has repeatedly beaten people far more powerful than her by wielding the Story in clever ways. Now we see the Hierarch doing the same, except of course even with the story of a thousand years of Bellerophon citizens behind him, he lacked the power to beat them, so he used his power to join them instead.

      Liked by 13 people

    3. Thorium

      The complete and unshakeable belief of a madman built on the iron-willed fanatical faith of an entire city-state for 1000 years, given a Name and enabled by a set of very specific circumstances carefully set up by one of the greatest manipulators there are.
      That is not something you get every day.

      Liked by 12 people

    4. The key thing is that the Angels, Devils, Demons, while not properly part of Creation, are still part of the System — they are subordinate to the Gods Above and Below… and also constrained in their dealings with mortals.

      Call it Greater Creation: Arcadia was the prototype, but was then left in as a resource for the mortal world. Angels, Devils and Demons as team leaders and referees, but still subject to the rules of the system, especially Story. And the players/game-pieces the host of mortality, subject to the power of Story, but also capable of wielding it not only against each other, but even against the other members of Greater Creation.

      Liked by 7 people

    5. Gabriel

      I think the main difference here is that Bellerophon is all about rejecting tyrants, and the adherence to the law as written by the people. The choir of Judgement is in direct opposition to that.

      And as mad as it seems, to the Hierarch, and to all of Bellerophon (and to anyone who adheres strictly to the law, without thinking about it), they’re in the right. The Choir of Judgement IS trespassing and abusing its authority. And so the story is against them.

      Add to that the fact that the Hierarch have aspects linked only to that, to this madness of a tribunal. And we’ve seen in Rochelant that he is really powerful, able to break a whole city by his Name only, without acting beyond a revolutionary tribunal. Give me another Named that can do that (without acting beyond “I am here to judge tyrants”).

      Finally, he’s not on par with them, he’s able to survive them. The Choir of Judgement could refuse the challenge at any time, putting everything to a stop, with the Hierarch unable to act at all. But as Kairos told, they CAN’T bend.

      And so he manages to get inside them, a judge inside a tribunal (make sense in a story). Of course he’s going to be obstructive as hell, since he’s from Bellerophon, but that’s not the story here.

      Liked by 12 people

    6. jack

      A God Died in Bellerophon.

      That city marks the death of a bird god, and their Truth of ‘All of us are free, or None of us are’ was written on it’s bones.

      And then none of them were free. Bound by their own laws and their own chains.

      The moment Judgement tried to claim authority over them, the people who had broken their chains to man, and slain the Bird-God that tried to stop them, it made itself vulnerable.
      That it did this in Anaxares’s court, after having their champion submit himself to Anaxares’s law and Judgement, simply lent him more and more power over them.

      In ‘reality’ he’s a just a named human and they’re Gods, or at least angels, so they should massively overpower him, but in the ‘story’ that they stumbled into, he was the Authority Of The Court Of Bellerophon, and they were the petty and arrogant creatures who believed themselves to be above Law and Judgement.
      They then tried to kill him, in his own courtroom.

      Stalemate seems pretty believable to me.
      The story they entered weakened them down to petty criminals, and empowered him as a figure of True Authority.

      Liked by 24 people

    7. Insanenoodlyguy

      Any other day, any other time, any other choir, it wouldn’t have worked. But Kairos set it up:

      Justice made itself accountable to the law, then refused to answer for the law and tried to kill the judge. You asked about force multipliers, well the biggest ones were given to him by the Choir fighting him them-self. This was the heroic equivalent of a villian saying “I am invincible” and TURNING INTO A GIANT SNAKE.

      Liked by 16 people

      1. erebus42

        Yeah, people often focus on the fact that the fatal flaw of Villains tends to be pride, but they forget that hubris has killed more heroes (not that the Angel’s could be considered heroes anyway but still) than any villain or any monster.

        Liked by 6 people

    8. Halinn

      His power comes from the mandate of the People. From where does the Choir of Judgment derive their authority, for if they claim it ex nihilo, they are most definitely Foreign Tyrants.

      Liked by 6 people

    9. One thing to remember is that the Heirarchs particular combination of madness and Name did not arise naturally. His type of madness rejects the very concept of Names. Meaning he had to be forced into a ruling name to become Named.

      So ya, even thousands of years might not be enough for such a situation to arise.

      Liked by 7 people

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

      The only rule you need to understand in this story is the rule of the cool mate. This isnt the kind of story where you set up the rules of the magic system and tell a story in the confines you set up.

      There is a story on Youtube that actually reminds me of practical guide, ᴛʜᴇ ʙᴇꜱᴛ ᴀɴᴅ ᴡᴏʀꜱᴛ ᴅᴍ ᴇᴠᴇʀ.

      Liked by 5 people

    11. Scmrph

      Gotta say, reading a capstone chapter like that and without even intending to scroll down to comments seeing your first paragraph, it was kind of a buzz kill. I won’t argue the point because I think the other responses do a good job, just pointing out its not great when such a critical comment is the first thing one sees after the chapter.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Scmrph

          They were the only top level comment when I replied and right at the top. Like another poster said it was right there after Tyrants death, impossible not to see. It’s a fine comment but if your the first replier maybe wait a bit or give a disclaimer and some empty space.

          Like

          1. Second page of the comments. It hadn’t yet started when they were posting, as evidenced by them being at the top of it. They had no way of knowing unless you’re suggesting they should have counted top level comments before theirs before posting.

            Like

      1. The only choice that matters

        I don’t really see why you feel the need to clamp down on any criticism. It isn’t like he was spewing hatred and venom, he made well articulated and clear points . If seeing an argument this mild upsets you i don’t really understand why you even look at the comments.
        Trying to smother anything that isn’t unrepentant gushing in the crib seems like such an inherently toxic attitude to me.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Mary Gentle

          I don’t think it’s wanting to see “gushing” comments rather than criticism that’s the problem. I read that comment directly after the climax of the chapter — not because I wanted to, but because I scrolled down to read the Tyrant’s death, and the comment was right THERE on the screen in front of my eyes. I couldn’t not read it. And it was a bit like the floor dropped out from under me.

          I wouldn’t for one minute want to stop people expressing criticism. It was just unfortunate placing. I finished the chapter wrung-out with emotion, and then the comment that was immediately there made me feel “….oh. 😦 ”

          At the same time, I also knew that I had no particular right to be brought down like that. It wasn’t like anyone was trying to make my emotions go ‘graunch’.

          If there were a sharp division between story and comments, it wouldn’t have happened, but there isn’t, so from time to time it will.

          Liked by 6 people

    12. Nash Equilibrium

      I think the most important thing in this standoff is that, from my read, it’s not about the Hierarch at all, he’s been the Tyrant’s patsy since day one. The Tyrant created him (through the name), created the incident to bring this up, set up the trial itself, set the location, and prepared it as almost a ritual to enhance the Hierarch’s power for this one thing.

      Anaxares could never have set this up on his own, and would have lacked the power even should he have tried, his will be damned. Even with all of the setup, the choirs would have won were it not for both Kairos and Cat getting in their way. It took all of this to create the result we read, so I think that narratively the outcome was justified. I just don’t think the Hierarch was an actor with any degree of agency in it, he was just the delivery device that Kairos wielded (a la the Intercessor).

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Oh, but in the end it was still all Anaxares who won here. Sure, Kairos delivered the bomb gift-wrapped, and the bomb did not have legs on their own on which to walk, but it was still the bomb that exploded.

        Yes, I know this metaphor is tortured. Hush.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Marco A Valente

          Yes, it was his show, but I’d argue that the conditions that allowed him to stand here and judge judgment itself are as, if not more, important than his torturously mutilated but consistent logic that allowed him to stare down a choir and remain unbowed. He might have the ability, in principle, to stand against a choir like he did, but in creation stories aren’t absolute, so he still needs the power to see it through, and that’s what the Tyrant provided, though focused imagery and arcane rituals. Without it I’m pretty sure that he wouldn’t be able to do it so effectively.

          After all, his story is much weaker thematically than Cat’s was when she bullied Contrition, to my read. There are large portions of his case that just don’t hold up, and so there’s a totally reasonable argument to make that the Hierarch has no right to judge anyone either. I suspect that without the Tyrant being in some ways the focus of this through his interaction with Hanno the entire narrative would fall apart.

          Tl;dr Tyrant was MVP in this beautiful ending.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. caoimhinh

            Yep, this needed a lot of piled up preparations to pull off.

            The Choir of Judgement would have struck Anaxares and then maybe leave after a while, if the wards around the court and the town weren’t set in place.

            The Choir of Mercy would have choked Anaxares and prevented him from fully proclaiming the sentence, if Kairos hadn’t interfered.

            The Ophanim also would have simply killed Kairos and then proceed to kill Anaxares if Catherine hadn’t interfered and made them pause until the rest of the people left the town.

            And even then, the Angels would have eventually won, as Hierarch lacked the power to kill the Seraphim, and Kairos would have died by the Ophanim’s hand in a short time. But Anaxares managed to take the battle to the Angelic Realm where the Seraphim are, so now they are still locked into a stalemate in another realm, which causes the Choir of Judgement to stop functioning as they need to deal with him first before carrying any other judgment (kinda like Mercy needing to kill Kairos before choking Anaxares, lest Fate make them fail at both task if they attempted to do both at the same time) thus giving Hanno an ethereal “NO SIGNAL” which knocked him unconscious immediately.

            So while Anaxares didn’t kill the Angels, he didn’t lose either, and is in fact stopping them from carrying judgment over Creation again until they destroy his soul or break his will.

            Under Bellerophon’s law, enough draws count as a win.

            Liked by 12 people

            1. Marco A Valente

              I hadn’t made the particular connection of “enough draws equals a win” but that is so appropriate.

              I thought this chapter was overall brilliant, but I can understand why people feel that having the Hierarch be the crowning actor is underwhelming considering he hasn’t struggled to build the set of his victory in the same way that Cat or Kairos have. That’s why I was trying to say that this was Kairos’s scheme and that allowed it to succeed. But yes, it succeeded in such a quintessentially Bellerophen fashion. It’s beautiful.

              Liked by 6 people

    13. A lesser magic can defeat a greater one if it is MORE SPECIFIC.

      Heirarch has less general power then Sve Noc…. but Kairos has lined him up so he is doing the ONE THING he is good at. Sve Noc have more total power than Anaraxes, they can toss around miracles every day, based on whim, while he sits around doing nothing…. but there’s also a question of precision.

      A car has more power than a dagger, but the dagger will still you if it gets shoved through your eye. A lockpick and screwdriver can take a door off its hinges just as well as any grenade.

      Liked by 6 people

    14. You’re thinking of it as force multipliers instead of as a story.

      The thing about Anaxares of Bellerophon is that he is NOT WRONG. His logic is internally consistent. The angels WEREN’T elected and weren’t given right to judge.

      It is the nature of the Choir of Judgement to be JUST. They do not ‘arbitrarily smite whoever they want’. They judge. They follow internal laws.

      And a judge cannot just pass a verdict on the basis of ‘blah blah my sword is bigger than yours’.

      Overwhelming power just… doesn’t work, here. It’s misaimed.

      Had Anaxares been willing to be cowed, to bend, in the face of Judgement showing them what they saw, in that moment they would have proved themselves right – as he comments himself as it happens, looking away would prove they were right about judging on the basis of something no mortal can know.

      But he did not bend, he did not let that argument stand. He COULD face their logic and still say they were wrong.

      So… they kind of didn’t have a next move from there. Police brutality ain’t a winning story, not in a heroic narrative.

      Mercy could interfere because this whole justice and judgement thing doesnt concern them altogether. They’re going for greater good, whether it’s just or not. They could ignore Anaxares’s point and go ‘yeah you might be right but going into that would lead to needless suffering and not prevent any so off with your head’.

      This isn’t a computer game, where your hit takes off a set amount of opponent’s HP. This is… more like chess, where a pawn can take a queen if it’s in position to.

      Liked by 10 people

    15. You overestimate the Choirs. They are not omnipotent, nor are the greatest of demon hordes or faerie courts. Mortals have a power all their own. It doesn’t take a ludicrous amount of force to wound a Choir, just a level of dedication and forethought that is almost unheard of…and, of course, a combination of “access to a Choir” and “belief that a Choir should be wounded” that is basically inaccessible without a convoluted plan of some kind.

      Liked by 3 people

    16. stevenneiman

      The Everdark is surprisingly lacking in actual stories. Their version of service to below is too self-centered to concentrate story power the same way it concentrates Night. By contrast Bellerophon has an intense focus on a single story, which is refusing to acknowledge anyone or anything as special or beyond their rules. This laser focus was paired with the story common to the whole League, which is that Heirarchs get things done. I think on some level almost everyone in the League since the death of the first Heirarch has been secretly hoping in their heart of hearts for another Heirarch to show up and sort out whatever they perceive to be the problems with the League. As such, Anaxares has an immense amount of story power focused through a very precise lens. Furthermore, his own personal fanaticism has more of a multiplicative than additive effect of what he’s capable of. Because he is completely and utterly devoted to the idea that everyone is subject to his notion of justice and no other, it’s very hard to beat him with this style of raw power. Especially because the thing that Justice is tuned for is defeating people who don’t care about being just, which I think makes it metaphysically awkward for it to strike at someone who is as certain in his own moral rectitude as they are.
      I think it’s a little like trying to use Contrition on a newborn.

      Liked by 5 people

  2. SilentWatcher

    Its not about the Power of Belief, but about the Story. Sve Noc was made of Sacrefice and Shadow, there is no way they can match a choir without a Story at their back, because how many Stories are there where Evil Gods fail against the Light? The Hierarch on the other hand, has the Madness of Bellerophonon behind him and his Story is that even Choirs must abide by the Laws of League. He needed this Trial and the Transgression of League Laws. He couldnt match a Choir if he just atacked them without reason.

    Liked by 14 people

  3. Responder

    >how comes Sve Noc isn’t walking all over Choirs?
    >They were directly worshipped by an Empire of drows, to whose soul they had a direct link if Hierophant is to be believed, for over two millennia.

    >Yet we have been told that Sve Noc are, if anything, slightly less than a Choir.

    The two crows which are a sliver of Sve Noc are slightly less, we haven’t seen their full might.

    >Sure, I get it: it takes one in a million to have that kind of faith. One in a billion, maybe, and many may die before they get anything done.

    >But Calernia has existed for a few millennias. That is a lot of billions. How come the setting isn’t filled with madmen that have reached apotheosys?

    You’re overestimating the population. It sounds like there’s *maybe* a few millions sentient beings on the surface, maybe 10 million if we’re being generous. It’s estimated that Earth has had a total of 107 billion humans total across many millennia, if there was even a billion total sentient being to have *ever* walked on the surface of Calernia I’d be surprised.

    That being said, a fair number have gone through an apotheosis. Dead King, the Sisters, Triumphant seems to have (or, if not, stil killed an angel which is the concern you’re having), etc.

    We’re not saying it’s common, but it’s not unheard of, and merely being crazy and obsessed isn’t enough to get someone a Name. Torturing someone into believing a non-truth doesn’t create an ironclad belief that they’re willing to fight for no matter what.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I think the biggest thing that people are missing is that YOU CAN WIELD MULTIPLE STORIES AT THE SAME TIME. Not JUST a major story with side quests and side stories, BUT MULTIPLE MAJOR STORIES ON BOTH SIDES. ON.BOTH.SIDES. Anaxaphres just wielded multiple major stories that had all arrived AT THE SAME END PATH. Story wise the choir literally just “Became evil” by placing Itself above the law and killing the one that tried to punish it. Godslaying,Good vs Evil(Like I said earlier, Anaxapheres is the good!) The Wrath Of The People(Which was a major story in of itself because if that “bird thing” was a god then they have already KILLED A GOD) Madness, Named, and Ascent To Apotheosis. And probably one or two more that I cant think of as I’m at work right now. All these stories plus the story that The Tyrant wove around this situation makes me wonder How this honestly wasn’t a one shot kill.

      Liked by 6 people

  4. SpeckofStardust

    … the mad lad (not to be confused with the mad man) Asked as his dying wish to see and hear the applause of the Gods Below. I have no words.
    While the Mad Man has ah, has effectively entered heaven to explicitly screw judgement over for an unknown amount of time, possible forever.

    Liked by 13 people

    1. SITB

      Anaxares only dunked on Judgement, not the entirety of Creation. Stuff relating to the Seraphim (like the dicussed angel corpse) is now up to grabs, but the greater world will keep on moving.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. gingerlygrump

        It is the closing statement of the dying Tyrant that concerns me, “I have slain the Age of Wonders.”

        True, Malicia wrote The Death of the Age of Wonders decades before, but she didn’t actually kill it.

        What is the Age of Wonders? Is Namelore as old as Creation, as old as Arcadia?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Mary Gentle

          And what, exactly, follows the Age of Wonders?

          I hope something exciting, but I’m thinking there’s a “follow THAT!” quality about the death of an Age of Wonders.

          The Liesse Accords would be nice, but not — stunning.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Not stunning? Buddy. Buddy.

            They haven’t stunned you yet, perhaps. The world they would build has only been alluded to, not painted in all its glory.

            But it will not be any smaller than the Age of Wonders.

            A literal capital of the continent, where all the nobles, mages and adventurers study and mix together? How is that less colorful than periodic flying fortresses and angel smitings?

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Mary Gentle

              I’m not your Buddy, Pal… (Sorry, came over all South Park for a moment. 🙂 )

              OK, I concede it could be colourful. I guess. When it’s painted in glory, I may well agree with you. Until then — come on, it’s angels and flying fortresses!

              After… I guess there could still be ventures into the Everdark, and goblins with hand grenades, and stuff, but… Eh. I guess I’m just a sucker for Classic Villainy. ‘The Age of Everybody Using Medium-Level Villainy and Heroism’ doesn’t quite grab me the same way…

              Liked by 3 people

              1. Insanenoodlyguy

                Don’t underestimate story potential. Heroes and villains regularly in the same place interacting and learning together. This is going to make all kinds of weird pairings. Rivalries, romances, seething hatred, and of course, unexpected but necessary team ups. It’s going to get interesting.

                Liked by 6 people

              2. What do you call a thief who steals a treasury: a robber, or a queen?

                That is a question of the Age of Order.

                It’s going to be great.

                I cannot describe the colors to you if you have no frame of reference to conjure them for yourself, but… have you read Circle of Magic by Tamora Pierce? It comes close to what I see.

                Liked by 2 people

        2. GoldenCookie

          Nay. The Age of Wonders was an age, and that was all. Now that it was slain, the future era is to be determined by whoever can seize it, whether it be the Dead King’s slaughter or the Black Queen’s Otome Game Academy. The Age of Death or the Age of Order.

          Liked by 7 people

        3. Age of Wonders is the time period where history was decided by grand gestures, wars of Good vs Evil, Crusades, angelic intervention and flying fortresses.

          A lot of grandeur and a lot of death as backdrop.

          Amadeus is the one who dealt the first blow, and has been steadily strangling it the whole time in partnership with his Empress.

          It is time for it to die, and something better to be born from the ashes. A new groove Catherine is cutting in creation: even villains being expected to strive for the common good, peace being accepted as better than war as a universal truth, and everyone who cares caring about every part of their society, not just the one that worships the same gods. An age of responsibility and learning to get along, an age where the word ‘vigilante’ can be born and have a specific referent (as opposed to those who aren’t). An age of interconnection, an age of new horizons. An age where the bar is set higher.

          Age of Order, perhaps. I expect there be a lot of chaos still; an age of Order vs Chaos, perhaps.

          It will be glorious, and it will be better.

          Like

  5. You know, the only person living that knows what happens in the church is now Cat.
    She was the sole audience to both a semi-apotheosis and someone being congratulated by Below.

    Everyone is going to wonder what the hell happened in the church once this ends. Zeze is going to be pissed that he didn’t see what happened. Cordelia is also going to be pissed now that her weapon is a wildcard. Hanno is going to be confused because his Choir got fucked. Archer is probs going to be the most chill.

    Liked by 12 people

  6. Dan Lawrence

    But he has followed in the footsteps of Triumphant, and even one upped her in showing that an *entire choir* can be neutralized by a committed villain. That’s going to leave a mark in the story of creation.

    Men are no longer forever subject to the control of angels; should you be clever enough, or mad enough, they can be vanquished.

    Liked by 12 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      Reading all the comments above, I now think there have been three times that fit the statement:

      1. Duke of Violent Squalls in Arcadia.
      2. When she stabbed Assassin who was pretending to be Black.
      3. When she really stabbed Black.

      Liked by 4 people

  7. Crash

    Of note, it occurs to me that if the Free Cities are to be the City-States of Ancient Greece and Helike is to the Macedon equivalent, Kairos is our very own Alexander the Great.

    Honestly, that is beautiful all on it’s own don’t you think?

    Liked by 7 people

      1. Crash

        Honestly, aside from me being terribly slow at times, I’ve been waiting for the moment of Greatness, because I figured in a world of stories it wouldn’t be just a title, this is it I would think.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Jacob McNeer

      Yeah, Helike is Macedonia/Pella, Bellerophon is Athens, Stygia is Sparta, Atlante is either Delphi, or Olympia, Penthes is Corinth or Crete, Nicae is Rhodes and Delos is (for lack of a better option) Delos.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wishun

    Kairos was the Joker of this universe.
    So insane he slips off the edge of the scale and backs into “super sanity”; so crazy that he comprehends the deeper Truth.
    This world is a show, with Above and Below as the audience.
    And say what you will about yon fallen Tyrant, he put on one hell of a show.

    It takes a genius like a corkscrew to harness “David vs Goliath” and “Humble Man self-sacrifices to thwart the Arrogantly Powerful” to a villain’s cause.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. It also takes prioritizing aesthetic over self-interest.

      Imagine what Kairos could have been like if he’d not been pushed into the corner he was in by Above’s worshippers. If he’d not decided that being a villain was the path he wanted to commit his entire being to. If he’d actually found a cause to fight, scheme and laugh for that wasn’t ‘make evil gods clap’.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Fern

        The Gods Below don’t give the ability to scale endlessly as a philosophical counterpoint to Above. It turns out, they’re bored as fuck and just want entertainment 😂

        Fuck the avengers, if I was immortal and had thirty years I’d totally construct the path for warlock to go ham just for the action packed b-plot climax. Sure beats the shit out of idiots using punch lasers

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

      Not killed, I don’t think. He’s in their midst now, obstructing their duties. He forced his way into honorary membership (!) and is using the position to filibuster them.

      I could be wrong about this, of course.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. caoimhinh

      He went to the Choir to kill them, yes. But Anaxares lacks the power to kill them, while at the same time the Choir of Judgement also lacks the power to destroy him or break his will.

      So now both sides are locked in a stalemate, and they can’t do anything until they finish the trial, which can’t finish because Anaxares will not bend and the Seraphim don’t have enough power to forcefully erase him.

      Liked by 5 people

  9. Fern

    Fuckin….

    I love this book, a whole lot. I’ve known since the end of book 2 that this thing is something special, and the death of the Tyrant is gonna be one of my favorite literary excerpts for a while. So completely obviously foreshadowed, yet none the less fascinating for it.

    Two things:

    Did hierarch just deify himself, or is he dead? I can’t tell 😵

    MY FUCKING CRACK THEORY GAINS MORE FUEL YES I’ve been thinking for a while that the whole setting and the gods above/below are just essentially audiences and the moments of “attention” we’re seeing are them rewarding Named for a good performance, and the gnomes only became so powerful because the Gods are literally trying to keep creation in a certain genre. Kairos, the one who played the whole thing as a game from start to finish got the ultimate vindication in death: creation is a show, and he just fucking murdered his performance. He’s definitely getting a Divine Emmy for this shit.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. > Kairos, the one who played the whole thing as a game from start to finish got the ultimate vindication in death: creation is a show, and he just fucking murdered his performance.

      Usually “dying on stage” is bad, but this time…. 😉

      Liked by 6 people

  10. Is everyone forgetting that Cat is going to pay what is owed and what she can do? This is apart from the Wish as that was under his own power even as the Gods Below granted it. Resurrection is one of her tools now.

    The Kairos might be annoying, but he was useful at the same time and wise in the ways of story-fu. Considering the company that our Black Queen keeps (like Robber), he could fit in and be part of the future. Kairos is finished as the Tyrant politically, and stripped of his toys. However, the best part of him is clearly his mind. The world will be a poorer place without him so that might not happen just yet.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      No. She got to use resurrection the once. No more. And it’s a horrible idea. He’d feel robbed. He’d make you regret bringing him back like few others on principal.

      Liked by 7 people

  11. Daniel E

    Bit late to the comments, so I might have missed this question; Does this mean the Choir of Judgement is effectively in stasis? Not harmed, but unable to use its’ power while grappling with the lower-case (but still very strong) judgement of The Diplomat?

    Also, brilliant observation by Kairos – Every time Cat mouths off to Angels (and even Demons on occasion, don’t forget the Tower’s door knocker) & gets away with it, she adds a groove into Creation. Soon, Cat being able to tell Above & Below what to do or not do will be a perfectly normal fact of life. Seasons change, gold is shiny, and the very pantheon itself heeds the words of Catherine Foundling.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      > Does this mean the Choir of Judgement is effectively in stasis? Not harmed, but unable to use its’ power while grappling with the lower-case (but still very strong) judgement of The Diplomat?

      Yes, that seems to be very much the consensus in the comments.

      Liked by 5 people

  12. Barrendur

    Well played with Kairos — but otherwise this update just felt like a dust-storm of Name shenanigans; messy and unclear. And as to the climactic scene: It left me thinking, “Well, okay, if that’s what you say this all meant, you’re the author” … but I still didn’t find the outcome convincing or satisfying.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Daniel Tabakman

    I think it’s that Judgment just tried to subvert a judge, thereby attacking itself.

    I think the differences between above and below where just made by the interceptor, and death, each one trying to get heros and powers on their side.

    The Tyrant just showed that there is no difference between above and below, that’s why Cathrine is the center of the story “there is no good or evil, there is only power and what you want”

    This was Kairos’s gift to the world, the shattering of the illusion of the differences between good and evil, the internal contradiction within good, and the realization that death is coming for all of them.

    Liked by 5 people

  14. I really liked this update, and also just want to praise a verse of the opening song.

    Weep not for us,
    For in the annals
    Our stele reads thus:
    A hundred battles

    That’s kind of great. Way to go author!

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Well, I suppose that they can still hope that the Corpse of Judgement will still work if they can get Anaxares to agree with the rest of the Tribunal that the Dead King deserves smiting.

    Though honestly using an angel corpse against the Dead King never struck me as the greatest idea in the first place.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I mean… in some sense Anaraxes point is that the Choir of judgement don’t have an open book of laws that people can look at. The people have no power to DECIDE what laws are applicable.

      The eyes of Judgement, combined with the lawbook of… well maybe not Bellephrone, but SOME mortal editable lawbook, would be a pretty reasonable system.

      Liked by 4 people

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