Chapter 84: Declaration

“To concern yourself with wickedness and virtue is to raise partitions within your mind, expecting the world to heed them thereafter. There can be no sin, save for fettering.”
– Translation of the Kabbalis Book of Darkness, widely attributed to the young Dead King

Kairos Theodosian died before the light engulfed him. I couldn’t know that for sure, for the Tyrant of Helike had already been a half-mangled corpse by the time he rose, but some part of me just… knew. Night wrapped around me like a cloak, for without its cold embrace I would have been blinded, I watched as the brightness burned and consumed and finally ended. Of the boy-king who’d played half the crowns of Calernia, not so much as a speck of dust remained. The fury of the Choir of Mercy had swallowed him whole, though too late. Not long, truly, in the greater scheme of things, but in affairs like this a single beat could make all the difference in the world – and he’d clawed to him a great deal more than that. The fading light of his absence left me feeling disordered, for though Kairos Theodosian had been an appalling monster in some ways in others he had been almost admirable. I would not miss him or fall into the snare of remembering him as more than he had been: mad, treacherous and like poison to all he touched.  Yet neither would I pretend he had not been brilliant, in his own wicked way.

The world was better for his passing, but in some terrible way perhaps lesser as well.

In the gutted temple that’d been the seat of this lunacy of a trial, the dust settled and the darkness I had called down thinned until nothing of it was left. The Grey Pilgrim laid in a bed of shattered wood and ground, made unconscious by the heavy grip of the Choir that’d reached out through him. The White Knight’s hand still clutched the side of the broken altar where he’d stood as the living channel to Judgement, or perhaps the anchor around its neck. It was hard to tell if the Tyrant would have been able to bait – although could it really be called that, when all he’d needed to do was shine a light and let nature take its course? – the Tribunal into this disaster of a situation without the White Knight at hand to work through. And a disaster it had been, no two ways about that. Mercy would walk away from this with little singed save perhaps its pride, should even have such a thing, but Judgement? I could still feel in the air the weight of the power it’d thrown around, smiting the Hierarch into the ground again and again as he refused to bow to their authority.

I could still feel his power, too, the same heavy lingering furor that’d swallowed Rochelant whole. It had been more sharply wielded here, turned against the Seraphim instead of allowed to run rampant, and perhaps been stronger for it. It’d glimpsed things at the heart of the storm, images I hardly understood – a stele in stone, a woman dying – but one thing was clear: there had been power behind the Hierarch, and it was not simply the power of a Named. The weight had come from elsewhere, and it had been… oppressive. In every sense of the term. And though it had failed to cow Judgement, neither had it been willing to be cowed by it. More worryingly, when that stalemate had grown beyond what either side would tolerate the Hierarch had, for a lack of better term, pursued. I’d not felt a speck of power from either him or the Choir since.

Still, my eyes looked beyond as I waited. To the other thing that yet waited.

“And?” I quietly said.

“He was still alive,” the Hierophant said.

Masego’s feet tread across the scorched earth unerringly, his stride as sure and certain it had been even as Choirs raged and darkness swelled. What would the works of godlings matter, to one like him?

“That last strike by the Seraphim burned him clean through,” I said. “Not even bone left, Hierophant. What business does even the likes of the Hierarch have surviving that?”

“You mistake life for the wearing of flesh,” Masego replied. “I know not if it was willingly or by chance, yet the Hierarch sacrificed his own as skillfully as any Old Tyrant: the loss of flesh was taken as victory by the Choir of Judgement, and so they withdrew.”

Above us the afternoon sky grew darkened, and slowly the sky began to weep ash. It felt, looking up, like the dusk heralding the end of the worlds. Gods forgive us all, it might yet be.

“And he withdrew with them,” I softly said. “Hooked into the hallowed flesh by the ironclad belief he had the right to judge it.”

My old friend’s steps slowed and finally ceased as he came to stand by my side, shoulder-to-shoulder. Masego, wearing cloth over eyes of glass and the ragged dark robes like a doomsday prophet, seemed more the man of the moment than I. The truth, though, was that he had been spectator while I’d had my hands all over this blunder.

“I am uncertain what will come of it,” Hierophant admitted, tone displeased. “It may be that the man becomes an obstruction in all things, as a seal ever judged and judging.”

“Or he could be a poison,” I murmured. “Taint in the blood, changing what stood incapable of such until now.”

The latter, I thought, felt more like the parting arrow of Kairos Theodosian. Something wounded but not slain, a crippling rendered back unto the Creation that had so carelessly wounded him since his first breath.

“Let us hope it is that,” Hierophant said, and my brow rose.

He dipped his head to the side, conceding to the need for elaboration.

“A poison will be purged, whether it takes an hour, a decade or a millennium,” Masego said. “A seal, however, might just last until the convictions of either side falter. And before that moment, would sever Judgement from the rest of Creation.”

That would be… dangerous, I suspected. A Choir was no small thing, to have one removed from the machinery of Creation could not possibly be without consequence. And that was without even considering the matter of Cordelia Hasenbach’s angelic corpse-weapon: Gods only knew what might come of using it, now. Ash fell like rain onto the open-sky temple at the heart of Lyonceau, and I was forced to wonder if in my need to forge a better world I might not have doomed the world as it now stood. The Tyrant had been cryptic, as was his wont, but not beyond interpretation: the Bard had truly had a scheme afoot to slay the Dead King, and I’d taken an axe to it. I was not alone in this, it seemed, for the hidden sting of augury was undoubtedly a reference to the Augur, but it could not be said that a great deal of the blame to be laid did not belong at my feet. If I’d not tried to fix it, to make it better, the Intercessor’s scheme might have gone through and the Dead King would either be dead or marching towards death. He implied using the weapon would have had… costs, I reminded myself. It must have been the sight of those to come that’d led the Augur to turn on the Wandering Bard, however she’d done it.

Gods Everburning, how harsh must that price must have been that a hero would have shied from paying it to slay the Dead King.

“I can’t tell,” I softly admitted, “if I’ve made everything better or worse.”

A chuckle, deeply amused.

“Neither can anyone else, Catherine,” Masego told me. “Why would you be any different?”

I looked up at the sky, at the trails of ash left by the wrath of angels, and did not answer. It was not untrue, what he’d said. Perhaps not the answer I’d wanted, but when had they ever been?

“Too late to turn back now,” I said, letting out a long breath. “We’ll have to see it through to the end.”

A hand came to rest on my shoulder, lightly.

“I would have been disappointed if we did not,” Hierophant said.

The danger had passed, as much as it would ever pass in a place marked by the indignation of two Choirs, and so it was not long before the others began to trickle back in. The Rogue Sorcerer headed first to the Pilgrim – the right choice, I thought, both tactically and politically – and with visible relief pronounced him in fine health, save for deep exhaustion and a few bruises. Lord Yannu and Lady Aquiline lifted him up, with reverent care, and brought him out. The Witch of the Woods saw to her partner hesitantly, and I suspected she knew precious little of healing. She seemed pleased when Roland came to lend a hand, though less so when admitted that Hanno’s slumber was not natural, but otherwise beyond his ability to see to.

“Bring him out,” I said. “And if the Peregrine cannot see to him when he wakes, then the Crows will.”

The heroine rose to her feet, tall and shrouded in a cloak that covered a long tunic. The painted mask of clay on her face hid her expression, but not so much I could not feel the hostility wafting off her like smoke.

“As they did when the Choirs struggled against your kin under Below?” the Witch harshly said.

There was, I thought, something strange about her voice. I heard her speaking in Lower Miezan, but there were almost other meanings woven in – and with the Sisters warding my mind, I could almost discern what language she was actually speaking in. It didn’t sound like any I’d ever heard before, and I was a more than passing polyglot nowadays.

“I warned him,” I said. “Sve Noc would see to containment and nothing else. Be glad they did, or this entire town would be drowning in fire and angelic anger.”

“You brought down darkness after the Tyrant struck,” the Witch accused.

“And saved the lives of everyone on those grounds by doing so,” I flatly said.

“I could have warded us from the anger of the Ophanim,” the Witch said. “Had you not-”

“If you could have handled it better, you should have,” I mildly said. “You didn’t, so I stepped in. Whining afterwards is an exercise in pointlessness.”

“Every hero that speaks well of you ends up crippled, Catherine Foundling,” the Witch of the Woods snarled. “While you grow ever stronger. I wonder why that is?”

“Antigone,” the Rogue Sorcerer said. “This serves no purpose.”

“Neither does pretending she is our ally,” the Witch said.

“In the face of some foes, all those that breathe are allies,” the Sorcerer flatly said. “Pretending otherwise is how the day grew so dark in the first place.”

“Hear hear,” Archer drawled.

She’d sauntered in at some point and done so quietly enough I’d barely heard the sound of her boots biting into the ash. Throwing arms around the necks of both Masego and I – that could hardly be comfortable, given the height difference – she leaned forward grinning.

“We get you’re all pissed your boy Hanno got had, but maybe if you whiteclads better kept your eye on the bird you wouldn’t have to keep eating dirt,” Indrani said, tone was deceptively cheerful.

Her arms were tense, and I knew well how quickly she could draw her blades when it was time for killing.

“You offer insolence and nothing more,” the Witch said.

“Really?” Archer drawled, drawing out the word obnoxiously. “’cause look at how we’re standing right now, my sweet. Who are, again, the only ones keeping an eye on the bird?”

And like a cold sheet of rain falling on everyone, we were all reminded of the presence in the back that had yet to move or speak a single word. The Dead King’s vessel watched us all with his eyeless gaze, and it was true that while the Witch of the Woods was facing me, all this time Hierophant and I had been facing him. Indrani had spoken the observation lightly, but it had unpleasant aftertaste for much of the room – enough that the Witch briskly and oddly moved her head in a manner I assumed to mean the conversation was over. The King of Death said nothing, all the while. Now that they’d all been warned of his presence again, the others in the temple felt the same thing I had since the beginning: weight. The old monster was waiting, and as he did his looming presence grew oppressive without need of a single act on his part. If he’d incited quarrels between us, I thought, or even mocked and scorned us, it would have been different. It would have felt like he was part of this, a villain far more dangerous than most of our kind but not other. His silence, though, drew a line between him and us.

The Dead King was not involving himself in this because he was above us. Because he had no need of resorting to petty tactics when we were, to him, little more than children stumbling in the dark.

It flowed, after that, like a river settling into a riverbed. Like Creation wanted the pieces to fall into place. The White Knight was carried out by Roland and the Witch, carefully, and in the place of heroes came in the mortal crowns. Cordelia Hasenbach stood at the centre, the First Prince of Procer of regal bearing even in her riding dress but not quite successfully hiding how unnerved she’d been by the last hour. The Blood come to war north: Lady Aquiline and Razin Tanja, elbow to elbow and fitting there like a shield wall of two. The young ones, those, two, and rising. The old guard stood at their left, grizzled Lady Itima and grim Lord Yannu, both killers as fine as the Dominion had forged in my lifetime. And to the Warden of the West’s right, more than half of the Woe. Hierophant, ragged and of glimmering eye, foe and student both to the Hidden Horror. Archer, smile sharp as the blades at her hip, having walked through death and come out of it without fear. And I, last of all, leaning on the long staff of yew I had chosen over the sword of a Fairfax and all it would mean. All this assembly, and on the other side only the King of Death. Seated, silent, still.

Ash drifted down through the open-sky ceiling, coating us all in grey.

“There is a place,” the last king of Sephirah said, “in the heart of Levant, where the first pilgrim of grey slew many men.”

Red embers lit the hollow sockets, as the Dead King finally spoke.

“In that place lies a secret that Tariq Isbili will know,” Neshamah continued, “and it will tell you, should you be clever enough, of the doom you all so narrowly escaped by the grace of Kairos Theodosian.”

The malevolent redness lingered on Masego’s face, and he met that gaze with glass forged in Summer’s flame.

“Follow the truth, Hierophant,” the Dead King said, sounding almost amused.

Always more secrets, I tiredly thought. Always more schemes. Would there ever be an end, before either he was broken or we were?

“Enough,” the First Prince of Procer said. “You came to these lands, Trismegistus King, to this conference, and yet held your peace. Speak now to your intent, or begone.”

She must be afraid, I thought. Brave as she was, she was without power. Not even a trained warrior, as I understood it, and she was looking at the oldest and most powerful monster ever spawned by Calernia. Yet Cordelia Hasenbach stood tall and proud, eyes hard and bearing icy. I caught her fingers brushing against what looked like a necklace made of little fangs, under the sleeve of her dress.

“I have been considering peace,” the Hidden Horror said, tone nonchalant. “More than truce, peace. One enforced by treaties that you all seem so eager to embrace.”

I would not brook you signing the Accords, I thought. Else how could you be the sacrifice binding them together?

“But you are blind,” the King of Death said. “Even the finest of you, so very blind. And so I wonder now what purpose would there be to such a peace. None. Not when the Intercessor would still use you as tools whenever she so wishes.”

“You speak in riddles, of strangers,” Lord Yannu Marave of the Champion’s Blood said. “Your babble means less than dust.”

“It seems like the path of recklessness, at first glance,” the King of Death pensively said. “Yet it is more calculated a risk than waiting. Some chances never come again, no matter how long the wait.”
“Has age caught up to you, dead thing?” Lady Itimi Ifriqui sneered. “You speak senselessly.”

“No,” I quietly said. “He doesn’t.”

Red embers moved to me, the patient and inhuman mind behind them gracing me with its attention.

“That was a declaration of war,” I announced.

There was a thundering silence in the wake of the words I’d spoken.

“There is still time to the truce,” Cordelia Hasenbach sharply said. “Will you now break your word, Dead King?”

The Hidden Horror considered her in turned, before he let out what I could only call a fond bit of laughter.

“Hasenbach,” the Dead King said. “Yes, that is fitting. One of the old blood should be here, at the beginning of the end. Your line is a respectable one, Cordelia Hasenbach. Never once did the city of Rhenia fall to my armies, when one of your blood held it. None other can make the same boast.”

“Dawn has not yet failed,” the First Prince of Procer said. “Nor will it, so long as I breathe.”

The old monster shook with laughter.

“Let us do this properly, then,” Neshamah said.

The corpse rose, tall and robed and resplendent, and from the heights he had not left since we first came to this temple he looked down on us – with ember-like burning in the hollow sockets of his skull, red glimmering on the jewels set in the bones.

“There is no peace,” the Dead King said. “There is no truce. There is only the shiver before the blade claims your neck. You will fight and you will rage and you will weep, but in the end there can only ever be one end to this.”

The red burned, burned like red star that would swallow the world whole.

“I am the King of Death,” the last king of Sephirah said. “I come.”

Beginning with the crown of the head, the bones cracked and splintered and shattered. From the fractures the pale ivory-like bones turned to dust. The jewels broke and dimmed, the metals rusted and curled, until there was nothing left of the vessel at all.

Ash fell down from the sky, silent and soft.

And so it begins, I thought. Gods save us all, and so it begins.

166 thoughts on “Chapter 84: Declaration

  1. I wonder what this secret the Dead King is speaking of.

    Yeah … Judgement has had a really bad day, and Hanno’s has likely been worse.
    Judgement might be trying to use Hanno’s mind/consciousness to help excise Heirarch.

    Heh.
    A declaration of war by the Dead King. They only thought things were bad before now.

    Liked by 10 people

      1. caoimhinh

        I think it’s going to be really horrifying now, with the Kingdom of the Dead bringing out its worse weapons and dark sorceries, along with more presence by the Revenant Named.

        Oh, it’s going to be a horrible war, and will put to the test all their power, skills, talents and wits. It will force them to make sacrifices and create innovative strategies on par with the Princes’ Graveyard and wield sorceries and miracles like Thalassina’s destruction and the Red Flower Vales’ shattering. Since that’s the only way they will be able to face the true might of the King of Death…

        But that also means that Neshamah will overcommit, and commit the errors he has spent the last millennia avoiding, so it should also present the Coalition the story force and Narrative weight to finish him for good.
        Like Kairos predicted, the Dead King only fears the Intercessor, so now that the original plan she had was unmade and the weapon she wanted to point at him is unavailable, Neshamah believes he is unbeatable and a lasting victory is near at hand, which is a magnificent hubris in an old villain.

        Which is, quoting our favorite pragmatic father-daughter duo:

        Mistake

        Liked by 16 people

          1. Because smart as he is he has blind spot plus he has stanated in his way of thinking, he is not as flexible as he may think, remember what Kairos and Cat discussed at the end of the game of tower raising.

            Liked by 8 people

          2. He’s making this “Mistake” for several reasons:

            1) He believes that there is inherent risk in waiting. Technology and diplomacy moves forward. In twenty to fifty years the continent may well be largely “united” by the accords, have a fully functional magical accademy, and will no longer be beaten bloody by recent wars. The continent is currently at an unusually weak point, wrecked by their own internal fighting. Which version of the Calerin would YOU rather fight.

            2) If he waits, intecessor has time to make a NEW plan. If he attacks now while her most recent plan is bust and he has full intel on her movements, his odds are better.

            3) Supposing he wants to take over Someday, he will ALWAYS have to fight against the story in some sense. This is just a liability he has to face, one way or another.

            4) As demonstrated by Kairos, he is predictable in the same sense as General Juniper: He always makes the winning move. He can’t not. He can’t imagine someone not acting in order to win, and in the current circumstance, victory IS a reasonable outcome. He knows more than we readers do. He’s been flattening Procer for months *while softballing them*. If he actually puts the effort in now, then yes, from a practical sense (not a story sense) he has a good chance of winning. Raw power does count for something.

            5) Even from a story sence, Calerin is vulnerable at the moment- the present weakness of all their armies is the result of their own damn stupidity and in fighting. If he can spin the tale of “Crabs in a bucket act stupid and then get eaten by a fisherman” he may well make that stick.

            Liked by 16 people

            1. Zggt

              He knows once he wins, he could transform what he conquered the way he did Keter, create a continent where going against him is *unthinkable*. He’d be written in history as the great forger of the longest standing and most terrible empire in history. He’d last until the final showdown of Good vs. Evil, leading the charge for Evil.

              I think that’s the gamble he was always going to take at a certain point. Every step he has taken has to become The Big Bad on the biggest scale. The Bard is the only one who has any sense of scale as to his plans, and he can be as certain as it gets that her plans have failed. Calernia’s internal strife has had the entire continent rip itself apart just now. So if ever there was a story about him making that step up succeeding, it would have to start at a point like this.

              The fact that he’s waited patiently until now means that pragmatically, he’s got a nice tragedy written for Calernia. It will be full of brave last stands, fighting old friends and enemies come back from the dead, grief, betrayal, and in the end everyone dies. It did work out for the Mizeans up to a point, and it’s safe to say he’s studied on how to go about it better.

              So, the timing couldn’t be better, the beginning of a story in which he comes out on top has basically already happened, and he has what is probably overwhelming force and enough savvy to give him a very credible chance to succeed even if everything will align against him perfectly from the very start.

              He considered expansion until that land was an extension of his will by a treaty that he knows will eventually be crossed by one Named or other, and making it a story of his slow and inexorable expansion over the ages, how he ground down even the strongest of resistance. Let’s not pretend that peace would be anything but that. The fact that he would have to give up such a good opportunity to act makes it too passive for a story about a Big Bad.

              So, when he talks about calculations, it’s for his actual endgame. His scope isn’t measured in kingdoms, it’s about exactly how high he can possibly rise over eons. From our perspective, Cat’s story is all that. From his, she might be another Triumphant and he can survive that.

              Liked by 1 person

          3. Also, I have a theory this WAS Intercessor’s trick.

            She set up a plan he would find out and thwart, all the while prepping a story of the continent coming together against him that he wouldn’t think was her doing and wouldn’t think of as a threat.

            I don’t think Catherine coming up with Accords directly on the heels of a known successful Bard plot was much of a coincidence.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Oh gawd.
              See this is the kind of thinking which inevitably leads to “That’s what she wants us to think!” no matter WHAT happens.

              Don’t get me wrong. We’re dealing with Bard- I think your paranoia is justified. It’s just….

              Oh gawd. Dealing with Bard is exhausting on my brain.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. See, that’s not actually how I came by that.

                I was saying she probably let DK have the intel on purpose within a chapter posting time of that event (although I did not at the time have an explanation for why she would, and like everyone else thought he was referring to her ultimate endgame and not just the specifics of her plan for thwarting him, which is what it appears to have actually been), and that she wants the Liesse Accords for longer than that (receipts and detailed explanation).

                I keep questioning that theory as new information comes up, and then new information keeps coming up that makes me go back to it again. Right now it looks to me more plausible than ever – because we’re at the end of Book 5, and it’s still a fitting coherent explanation for what’s going on…

                Liked by 1 person

            2. Eh…I doubt it. Revealing that Catherine and the Augur’s efforts to subvert the Intercessor’s plots were just another part of the Intercessor’s plots, like some cut-rate Xanatos parody, would go too hard against the flow of the story. Not the in-universe narrative grooves (though there’s an argument there as well), but the themes and patterns set up in the actual story which is being published and read on WordPress.
              The whole story is about Amadeus and Catherine striving to overcome and overturn the foul patterns in the systems which control their world; so far, on smaller scales, they have generally been successful, with failures being the result of their own flaws or deficiencies more than the Powers That Be intervening. Overturning ths at the last hurdle, having the Intercessor reveal that the Liesse Accords fettering her greatest tools and the Augur stopping what seems like a damn good plan were all a part of her true master plan would necessarily undermine some important part of the story’s themes, in a way that was never foreshadowed or otherwise alluded to. It would be unsatisfying, in a way that is painfully obvious to any but the most amateur writers.

              …Also, the stuff that Catherine et al have been doing has generally gone against the Intercessor’s obvious interests. There’s nothing to suggest that the Intercessor has secret plans that would require her to pretend to not want those things that would hurt her, instead of just letting those things happen and working with the people who would implement them to gain some goodwill.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. Augur, agreed. What has Catherine done that’s gone against Intercessor’s ‘obvious interests’? Other than Accords themselves, which very much ARE in line with Intercessor’s previously expressed preferences in some ways, especially if the ‘no Named rulers’ clause gets axed, which it’s likely to?

                Don’t forget, for a mastermind, it’s not your intent to oppose them that decides whether what you’re doing is against their plans.

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                1. Catherine has explicitly tried to stop the Intercessors plans. I’d call that “going against her obvious interests,” unless we presume that those interests are just a sham meant to trick Catherine into ignoring her REAL master plan. Which would be…kind of a dumb twist. I’m not saying it can’t be done well, I’m saying that it’s almost impossible to pull off, and the setup isn’t really there.

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          4. One thing that none of the people who directly replied to you seem to have brought up yet: Neshamah doesn’t seem to consider anyone other than the Intercessor a real threat now that Catherine isn’t on the edge of apotheosis. For the reasons others have noted, he doesn’t see the armies of Calernia as a threat to his own armies at this time, and he’s never considered the plots of mere mortals to be a serious threat to his own. The only possible threats he sees are strategic (the armies thing) and the Intercessor…whose big plans have been neutralized.
            Of course, we the readers know that underestimating the Carrion Lord’s scion is folly of the highest order, especially when you let hubris put you into a narratively-disadvantageous position. But this is literally a world filled to bursting with would-be protagonists, and the Dead King has defeated all that came before now. How is he to know that only this one has a web serial about her?

            Liked by 4 people

        1. Jessica Day

          I agree with most of this but he seems to see it as a calculated risk rather than a sure thing. I don’t think he sees himself as unbeatable. He definitely sees the odds in his favor though.

          Liked by 3 people

      1. Garrett Therkorn

        You know what they say. There’s two types of people on the world: those who keep backups, and those who have never had a hard drive fail.

        Somehow, I don’t think Judgement has had a hard drive fail before.

        Liked by 9 people

    1. I assume it’s the costs that the Intercessor is willing to pay to take him down, the price that made the Augur oppose her for it was too great even for a Hero to take down the Dead King. Now the sacrifices of her first attempt or perhaps his greatest wound taken will be used to further sway his enemies from listening to the Intercessor and mayhaps even stop even the likes of the Pilgrim from considering her an ally of Above.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        1. Considering it’s place on topwebficton, it seems to be working.

        2. I am neither the only one nor the originator of this, merely the first this time.

        3. While there are some people who don’t like it, and I’m sorry that you and others are amongst them, you do not seem to be the majority opinion based on likes these posts get.

        4. I disagree that it cheapens the moments. I am a commentator on this story, as are we all. Potentially every person here could change how you feel about part of this story, and I don’t feel I am representing any special risk in that area, at least on average.

        In conclusion, I deny your request. I have no intention of stopping unless Erratic requests this.

        Liked by 12 people

              1. Insanenoodlyguy

                Oh sure! I welcome the typo thread. I just don’t do them myself nor believe I should be trusted with that task. Not my strong suit.

                Like

          1. Insanenoodlyguy

            There are more likes on vote quotes then likes on people who say “i don’t like these vote quotes”

            This is hardly hard polling data, and I regret that I know you dont’ care for these (make no mistake Lillet, I like you. We have this odd alternating thing where our thoughts are either near in sync or inverse and strongly disagreeing and that’s kinda neat), but like I said, Erratic doesn’t seem to mind, and the guide always tends to have a high place on topwebfiction, so it seems this behavior is better received than not.

            Like

            1. Almost as if tapping a star was far, far easier (and more anonymous) than actively typing “This is dumb, why are you doing this”. Or as if the latter could result in some kind of negative outcome, like people bitching at you over the Internet…

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Decius

    Wait.. in what senses is “Judgement” currently damaged?

    Is it only the formal types of judgement, which allow an individual to be found guilty or not?

    Or are the other types of judgement, those which can determine if an act is wise or foolish, also impaired?

    Is everyone now literally incapable of forming correct judgement-

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There has been no hint that the godhood and its portfolio are so intrinsically connected that either cannot exist without the other, the Choirs merely excemplify and symbolise a virtue. Sve Noc is a twin goddess of Night, but nights and darkness existed before she ascended. Similarly, even the complete destruction of Judgement wouldn’t see to a part of human thinking to just seize to be.

      Liked by 7 people

    1. Zoolimar

      Seems like he decided to play into the story. No matter if he wins this war or loses it, this story ends with his demise. But it seems he is now considering it a worthy price for whatever he wants to achieve – at least part of it is dragging the Wandering Bard with him to hell.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. I‘m not sure that the story must end with his demise. He seems to know WB‘s masterplan and as long as he does not go on a continent spanning war of no holds barred extermination there are stories where he can conquer and survive. So yes it is a gamble but a survivable one.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. Zgggt

          It was hinted that the Dead King is a Name, perhaps this is not the first one, and that maybe Masego is being groomed such that his apotheosis will turn him to the next Dead King. The Dead King probably has contingencies for “needs to die”. Hell, Cat used those in her “dead for tax reasons” episode to deal with the Lone Swordsman. This doesn’t mean it’s the end for him, not even close.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Stories aren’t inviolable nor are they the complete answer. The Black Knight has slain many a Hero despite their stories, the likes of Traitorous defied tales, the Saint of Blades turned evil despite sticking to good in a manner that should’ve bend the Story to her will thanks to Tyrant’s meddling, and even Cat has during her Winter rampaging slain Heroes with a Story on their side with sheer brawn.

        So just because you’ve got a Band of Five doesn’t mean that you can slay the Dead King, even in Creation. There are ways around it, especially for someone as ancient as him. He may have gained Story immunity from any Non-Intercessor Named by simple virtue of the Story that either he or she must die by the other’s hand, that even all the Stories turned against him yet being but a pitiful tale of less than a decade old. Or by brute power he can negate it, even if it’s by sheer attrition. Saint could slay devils easily and indefinately, but even she was stuck in an endless scene of doing that without anyone to break her out of it.

        And that’s without the means he has at his disposal. If he has even just one Named with the power to change Stories (f.e. a Bard with the aspect Snap that both snaps one of their guitar strings and the Story that spelled DK’s demise), bye bye careful plans. It’s quite likely that Stories simply do not work or put him solely and decisively in the Inevitable Victor role in any and all cases when he’s in the Serenity, which Cat already seems to assume considering she’s striving for containment rather than defeat.

        So even if he did commit to a Story, and quite likely he didn’t or one in his favour, then that will not suffice by itself regardless of anything.

        Liked by 6 people

      3. JJR

        I think all stories lead to him losing at this point, but that need not mean demise. He could become trapped in Serenity instead, Sealed Evil in a can.

        From there un-living forever might not be to hard. Just go all “evil is not a toy” on any villain foolish enough to bring you out and make sure there is always a convenient reseal method always available to the heros.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          No, hes going for “the dead continent”

          “Long ago, this continent was called Calernia. But a dead king came, and now the dead rule there. We do not go there.”

          That’s the story he wants. His kingdom writ large. As long as he doesn’t say “and then the world!” It can work.

          Liked by 11 people

  3. JJR

    “I would not brook you signing the Accords, I thought.”

    As it turns out, this is a non-issue, with the declaration of renewed war from the Dead King. But what could Cat do to stop him? If he got his naked phalanges on a copy all he needs is some ink to put his name to it. Given what we have seen of it and its purpose (reducing the collateral damage from Named fights, forbidding magic WMDs) most of it stuff he does anyway to prevent would be Heroes from getting story openings against him. Sure, they could mostly ignore his signature, and it in no way would stop the war against him; but it still seems like he could go ahead and sign it, if only to thumb their noses.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jane

      Well, it is a treaty; that creates certain commitments that simply pledging to uphold certain principles does not. If he’s not considered party to the treaty, then when he tries to punish a villain flying a doomsday weapon, it’s an act of war instead of an ally upholding international norms, and will need to be treated as such. Granted, the rest of the world can’t exactly do much to punish him, but it changes how things are interpreted.

      Likewise, he can’t call upon the benefits of the treaty; if said villain decides to use the doomsday weapon on him, then he can’t call upon the other signatories to punish him or her should they manage to survive his counterattack and limp into Procer. Which further complicates the fact that nobody else would recognize his commitment to track down and punish those who breaks the Accords, since it’d become a whole thing if he pursued them into Procer on his own.

      Oh, and I guess he couldn’t go to Citadel. And with that many Named around, it might even be enough to make it inconvenient for him. That might sound minor at first, but he’d probably really want the opportunity to check on the next generation of people who will try to kill him.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. JJR

        Yeah, I guess I was thinking of the Accords as a list of principles/promises that anyone could chose to swear to if they wanted. It’s not like anyone is going to force the Dead King to use Demons or magical plagues on civilians after all (ok Bard might, to turn the story against him) And those things are a part of it, yeah there’s also the mutual commitments to take actions to enforce the accords, which I can see how all the other parties and just flatly reject the dead King from being part of that.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Andrew Mitchell

      > If he got his naked phalanges on a copy all he needs is some ink to put his name to it.

      That’s not the way signing international treaties works. Let me illustrate: If the Ukraine got their hands on a copy of the treaties that underpin the European Union, and their President signed it, that’s not going to make Ukraine part of the EU.

      Liked by 11 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          Maybe if he asked the new fae court for arbitration or something, but otherwise it’ll still be a piece of paper. There’s no story in “I stole this and wrote my name on it neeiner neeiner.”, and Arcadia can enhance stories but it doesn’t make them out of nothing.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. JJR

            There is a story about lieing so hard the it becomes truth though. You don’t even have to know the name of the guy whose signature you are forging. “Signed The King of Winter.”

            Liked by 2 people

            1. magesbe

              That wasn’t a lie that turned into a truth. That was a lie that the fey decided it wasn’t worth calling them on, because while they were 90% sure that it was a bluff, what if it wasn’t and the King punished them for it?

              Liked by 3 people

            2. Insanenoodlyguy

              Different deal. The puss in boots style of lying gets you places, and you can make the lie truth by going in deep enough. But it requires a certain panache. Even Cat in her boldness mustered this, even if it was “the size of your lying balls is so gigantic I actually want to see where this goes.”

              But the dead king doesn’t have that kind of absurdity. Nothing about him is silly or funny, at least on purpose. The closest he’s ever gotten is as a foil to ranger as her straight man. He could never pull off “No see, I signed the accords and am a member.”

              Now Kairos, that magnificent bastard could have pulled it off. Somehow made a story where in the end, somebody asks cat or cordy, and they grit their teeth and say “his name is on it. He’s here with us. He must be a member.” Because acknowledging it is the only way to make whatever work. But he is dead, and I don’t think wearing his corpse would have let him pull it off.

              Liked by 3 people

            3. That wasn’t even much of a lie, considering it came on the heels of Cat seeing Skade in the distance and musing that the King of Winter is clearly inviting them.

              She just… made it more colorful.

              Like

  4. Jane

    I mean. Foundling did warn the White Knight not to do this. It’s hardly her fault that two Heroes decided to risk Judgment on striking down the Tyrant. Blame her for saving everyone else present at the cost of giving Heirarch the time he needed, perhaps, but “Unknown consequences for a Choir” vs “The probable death of everyone on the continent” isn’t exactly firm grounds for a scolding, if you ask me.

    Well, I guess I can give her “I would have told you that I would handle containment, if I weren’t as bad as Masego at social situations”, at least. But that’s still not really Foundling’s fault.

    I wonder, is the Dead King suggesting that the angel-corpse-weapon has high costs associated with it? A sort of “The weapon will kill your greatest foe, at the cost of the lives of everyone else present” kind of deal? Otherwise, the most likely implication would seem to me to be that the Dead King would have felt he needed to kill everyone else present to sabotage the plan for the weapon – but I don’t see the connection to Pilgrim, then. Or that the Grey Pilgrim would have felt a need to kill everyone else present for some reason if he were conscious, but I can’t imagine many reasons that could be.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Jane

      Oh, or perhaps it’s less of a weapon, and more of a revival – and the angel corpse is either a bit more strict than the choir it represents, or has some manner of influence on it (residue from Triumphant? A long-sewn seed from the Dead King? Influenced by the Bard’s plan in the way that Heirophant was influenced by the Dead King earlier?) that would make it super destructive in a way they didn’t anticipate.

      A wild guess, but it sounds like the kind of thing that they’d want to keep secret.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Give Nessie’s comment to the bard back when he found out her plan of “They would all turn against you if they knew what you were planning”, I’m guessing its that the angel corpse has SIGNIFICANT collatoral damage. Like… “continent wide, possibly blasting us a new wasteland” level damage.

        Its the kind of thing that will work, at a price far higher than Cordelia would be willing to pay unless she was garunteed failure otherwise.

        Bard thinks its a good deal, everyone else…. not so much.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. *Gasp*

          Are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting? That what Amadeus knows and revealed was but a conspiracy within the conspiracy, and that Praes’s wasteland state is the result of the costs that the Intercessor is willing to pay to defeat DK? That the means that the Intercessor is planning to use, requires a sacrifice that turned a huge swat of land into the Wasteland that spawns Evil and monsters at a generational frequency.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. YES! Not only that, but Bard was also behind the Man eating Tapir’s, the invisible sentinent tiger army, AND the Lord Traitorus’s secret snow globe collection!

            (In all seriousness though, there *is* a theory that she is behind “the girl who climbed the tower”)

            Liked by 3 people

  5. copaceticcockroach

    This is the part I realize that the closer we get to this paramount battle, the closer we get to the end. I want this climax but I don’t want this to end. And I can’t help but think that the last line means: Gods save us all, and so the end begins.

    Liked by 14 people

    1. Mary Gentle

      I’m with you on this one. I know it’s a really bad idea when a novel outstays the amount of story it has to sustain it — but I kind of want to go on, always reaching for the ending of this world’s story, but never actually reaching it.

      Maybe what I mean is, I don’t mind if the story meanders round a bit on the way to the end. Or a lot. 🙂

      Liked by 8 people

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          Yeah, I’ve been wondering about that too. There does seem to be too much metaphorical ground left to cover in just one book… However, I do recognise that this may just be motivated reasoning on my part because I really don’t want this series to end anytime ‘soon’ (for any version of soon).

          Liked by 1 person

  6. So even dead Kairos still has some surprises, now i want to see if there is some genius that manages to guess just what did he save them from and how.

    Also because even if it is near imposible of almost guarantied to end badly i still ship Hanno and Cat i have to say a certain someone *cough*Antigone*cough* may be jealous, even if not for a romantic reason as a friend (well the later is less jealous and more looking out for a friend)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. gbevis

      The feather of an angel nearly enslaved an entire city and bound it to a holy war on the Tower. The whole body of an angel, should it be weilded by “the warden of the west” might have enslaved the west against Keter. Kairos saved them from that fate.
      But now Justice is dead.
      Who could wield the corpse of dead Justice without automatically enslaving the continent? Is it someone whose motto is, “Justice only matters to the Just”?

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Inay

      “Also because even if it is near imposible of almost guarantied to end badly i still ship Hanno and Cat”
      You and me mate, you and me. The probability of it ending tragically is half the charm haha

      Liked by 3 people

    3. I am seeing lots of comments thinkng what Kairos saved them from is the maic sword, i disagree in part because what does whatever is in levant have to do with it? i suppose it could but i think not, is probably something else that may or may not involve 1 or more choirs.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. edrey

    Well, i have a theory of how was the bard plan, making the dead king attack, the augur making for the details and manipulating all countries.
    Making cat the arch enemy lead Callow to reform their army like that landless king of callow and Juniper able to rescue the legions, there the story of the unconquered and how a king of callow hanged seven princes and one, just like that debt with larat. Cordelia, with the lost of her home, the chaos in the city and the arch enemy of the east arriving in a few days created the story of the warden of the west, from there the bard would take things directly in her hands since she could appear with cordelia anytime. Details like the coup should be a combination of the understanding of tariq, cat and the love of scrive and malicia for black. In this world stories and fate make up for all else and the bard is just the best at it

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You mean that her plans were to make a Pattern of Three or mayhaps even a Band of Five (from which the Thalassocracy’s ultimate Named now got shafted by that story’s plug being pulled prematurely, and the fifth one likely being either the Dwarf Named we’ve seen or maybe a Free Cities or Praes Hero) using the single most powerful and also strongly country-bound monarchs?

      Pilgrim, even without his crown a revered king. Cat with the sword of the Fairfaxes, she of Callow’s stalward defiance. The Warden of the West, first since ever of the Hasenbach line First Prince and a combined monarch warrior of duty. Whatever the Thallasocrats would’ve brought. And nr.5. Combining under them the entire continent against the Dead King. And then Cat turned evil. And there’s no WotW at all. Which also screws up sailing T’s Named ascension. Maybe the Drow are willing to let her borrow Rumera? Urgh, this is such a mess.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Gamer7956

        Kyros told us the plan last chapter, if through metaphor. He said that Bard’s plan was to have the counter started by “someone who did not matter”, then make them matter once its too late. I.e. someone without a name, who the Dead King is already too far gone in attacking when they gain a name. Specifically Cordelia Hasenbach. Sure there were bound to be Plan Bs but that (I think) was Plan A.

        Liked by 8 people

      2. Jacob McNeer

        More specifically the band of 5 was (most likely) supposed to be composed of The White Knight from Ashur, The Grey Pilgrim of Levant, The Warden of the West of Procer, The Good Queen of Callow and The Dread Emperor of Praes. Every single hero/villain was supposed to represent a major power on Calernia (except Hanno who instead was the neutral leader/arbiter) but Kairos and free will fucked everything up. Hanno’s out of the action for as long as judgement is, Tariq gave up his ability to represent Levant in anything when he gave up his crown, Cordelia and Catherine both straight up refused their names, and Amadeus’ love for Alaya kept him from seizing the throne when he was supposed to (most likely in the aftermath of The Doom of Liesse) so he is merely a claimant instead of being comfortable in his name.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Wasn’t Cat supposed to become the White Knight had she been turned Hero instead of Villain though? Or is that just a fan theory? Hanno might not have become if everything went according to plan for the Intercessor. And instead of Praes maybe either the Bloom or Black’s path to ‘redemption’ was already set in stone kinda.

          Or maybe Tyrant by making the Hierarch also screwed up the plan to make one of the Good Free Cities produce a Hero that united them after being Tyrant.
          Creation: Ah yes, now behold as we shall create Tyrant’s opposite to compete with his bid for the Free Cities.
          Tyrant: I’m not in charge of the Free Cities, that guy is.
          Creation: … Who’s that?
          Tyrant: Only my bestest friend with whom I share mutual eternal friendship. Also he’s the Hierarch.
          Creation: But… But… If the Free cities are already unified then I cannot give you a nemesis worthy of your evilness.
          Tyrant: *Looks longingly at Cat* Huh? Sorry, what was that? Actually, nevermind, I’m going to go do things now.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

            Not just a fan theory re: White Knight Cat. It’s from one of the alternate histories briefly explored when Akua unleashed the Fourfold Crossing on Cat.

            Liked by 2 people

        2. Jacob McNeer

          In fact, I think I have figured out exactly how events were supposed to go according to WB. Black was supposed to have decided to rebel against Malicia after the Doom of Liesse but still go to the Red Flower Vales to repel the initial assault of the crusade because he recognizes that Praes can’t afford to have a civil war while they’re in danger of being invaded. After he repels the initial assault he has Warlock collapse the pass to buy him time and announces his claim for the throne. Meanwhile the battle of the camps happens like normal and Tariq becomes Cat’s “honored guest.” Cat grudgingly helps Black in the civil war because of both the pressures of her army and because Black is her best chance at an ally against the Crusade, leaving the Duchess in charge of protecting the pass. (Because she has Black as an ally and doesn’t have to worry about Malicia’s backstabbing, Cat isn’t desperate enough to go to Keter or the Everdark and thus doesn’t lose her mantle.) Because Black isn’t rampaging throughout Procer, Tariq stays with Cat and gets to work on her. During the campaign Cat reveals her plan for the Liesse Accords to Black who is still in his “win the war, break the mold/world” mindset and thus not impressed with Cat’s “end/contain the war, better the world” way of thinking. Within a year Black is the Dread Emperor and Alaya has fled into exile in Keter.

          Alaya, as she always does when she is desperate, falls back on the old Praesi ways of grand evil plans and releases the Dead King into Procer in return for helping her get her crown back. Keter invades Procer and Procer turns most of its attention north. Levant is split, on one hand the Dead King is an existential threat to everyone and must be stopped, on the other hand Callow still has their Grey Pilgrim and honor demands that they rescue him. So they dither around south-eastern Procer, sometimes heading north to confront the Dead King, sometimes heading south to unclog the Red Valley Vales and attack the lightly defended southern part of Callow, depending on who won the most recent honor duel. Eventually the Saint of Swords has to head down there and give them a push towards an enemy. Which enemy they fight is of no concern of hers, so long as they Fight. Ashur, having no means to reach Keter by sea, instead decides to continue the attack on Praes. Initially Callow and Praes stay neutral due to pragmatism, Mantle!Cat’s hopes that the invasion will convince the Alliance to sign a peace treaty/The Liesse Accords, Tariq’s influence and Black’s “evil winning the war” mindset. Instead they decide to focus on improving their own position and repelling Ashur’s raids. To that end Cat and Black pool their magical resources together and send Warlock and Hierophant to defend Thalassina.
          The Ruin of Thalassina plays out exactly as it did in canon except there is no conflict between Masego and his parents because he never went to Keter and there is no noble because Black killed them all. At the same time as the Ruin of Thalassina, Kairos “persuades” the League to invade Procer. Masego’s disappearance and a repeat of the Doom of Liesse are like a slap in the face for Cat and reminds her what she’s supposed to be fighting for. She decides to be more proactive in her pursuit of peace and decides to offer her support to the Alliance against Keter in order to prevent further tragedies. In order to make it official she decides to go to Salia, in person, with her army (for protection, and because of the Mantle’s influence and in order to avoid doubling back to Callow after it’s over) to become a signatory of the Grand Alliance and propose a peace treaty and the Liesse Accords. The loss of Warlock (one of his last remaining friends) and a city under his protection due to both grand villainous sorceries and godly intervention cause Black to start to see things Cat’s way and he agrees to support the Liesse Accords. The weakening of his position from losing Warlock, recent revelations provided by WB as to the exact nature of Alaya’s bargain with the Dead King (putting her back on the Dread Throne), and a newfound appreciation for the Liesse Accords all cause Black to follow Cat’s lead and go to Salia in the hopes of a peace treaty and the Accords. However he is still wary of joining the Alliance and fighting the dead king as that is firmly in the “not my problem” category. Cat and Black, with their armies and Tariq, in a compromise between needing to get to Salia as quickly as possible and not wanting to seem threatening to the people they are trying to form long term treaties with, begin to gate into south-eastern Procer around Iserre.

          Meanwhile the League is tearing through south eastern Procer like wild dogs with Kairos playing both the Proceran and Levantine armies like a fiddle, Masego has gone mad and stolen Liesse, the Dead King is attacking northern Procer quite effectively and Malicia, sensing an opportunity to weaken the alliance before Callow can join, plays her last few cards and orders her agents inside Salia to attempt a coup. The Augur still manipulates events enough to give Cordelia the choice, but with the increased pressure of the unresolved southern and Callow situations (Cat and co. haven’t gated in yet so the prince’s graveyard hasn’t occurred yet and Cordelia has no idea where Cat and co.’s armies are going or what their true intentions are) she accepts the Name and becomes the Warden of the West.

          Once Cat and co. arrive in Iserre she and Tariq try to convince everyone that they are actually there to make peace, not war. Due to Mantle!Cat’s lack of subtlety, Kairos being Kairos, Black’s snarkiness, Saint’s assrod, and the Levantines refusing to believe that Tariq is legitimately on Cat’s side the prince’s graveyard still occurs. However, Black replaces the Rogue Sorcerer in the band and Mantle!Cat is stuck in her “I want to give up the crown at some point but I’m the only one who can deal with the problems we’re currently facing right now” and ” lesser evils for greater goods” mindsets so she lets Rozala give up her crown and become the 1 in the “7 crowns and 1” oath. Most of the arc goes as it did in canon with Cat’s winter powers taking the place of Rogue’s aspects allowing them to get through Liesse. Saint still goes berserk and attacks the crown but one of Black’s new aspects as Dread Emperor allows them to put her down despite Kairos’ sudden yet inevitable betrayal. Mantle!Cat has much less patience for Kairos’ bullshit and kills him after the betrayal in the throne room. Then because she is stuck in “Self-mutilation/destruction to achieve my goals/victory” mode she volunteers to sacrifice herself. Tariq still attempts to sacrifice himself instead but because Cat still has her Name-esque senses she catches him in time and knocks him out. Cat attempts to put on the crown but Akua stops her forcing Cat to allow her to put on the crown instead by using the precise wording of Cat’s oath to Vivienne. Thus Akua, in an act of penitence, saves the very people she had once tried to destroy and lays the foundations for peace in the very city her unending ambition had destroyed. Because Akua was a part of Cat’s mantle, it was destroyed along with her and Cat was no longer the Queen of Winter. During Akua’s sacrifice, Cat felt everything she felt in her final moments and unknowingly helped shape the new realm. Afterwards, while Cat is wandering around a city rebuilt, with more splendor now than it ever had in life, a city that evokes longing, regret, ambition, arrogance, madness, brilliance, power, introspection, hope and most of all CHANGE with an almost frightening lack of subtlety, she comes across a yew tree and Good King Fairfax’s sword stuck in a stone. She draws the sword from the stone and becomes the Good Queen in the same place where her chance at becoming the Black Queen was taken away. Unnoticed by her, Tariq looks on proudly and Black hides a bittersweet smile.

          After the Levantines stop pointing blades at Cat for knocking their Grey Pilgrim out, the group heads onward to Salia. Black, after seeing the Dead King mind controlling his nephew in order to pull off an over complicated doomsday scheme, decides to go all in on joining the Grand Alliance and helping to defeat the Dead King. Because now, the Dead King has made it personal AND insulted his professional pride as a new age villian. Anaraxes, after hearing from Cat and co. as well as WB about what the Dead King is doing in Serenity, declares the Dead King an Evil Despot and Arch-Dictator against the People. While he refuses to become a member of the Grand Alliance (he still views all the other rulers as duplicitous tyrants) he does agree to enter the League into the war against Keter and sign a temporary truce with the Alliance until that is over. The conference itself goes smoothly due to Cat having a good Name, and the lack of Kairos making it so that Malicia and the Dead King can’t attend. When the conference is not in session Cat begins to instruct Cordelia in namelore and stories while Cordelia tutors Cat in the finer points of politics. The Liesse Accords are signed with a loophole put in them that member countries can use the banned tactics against nonmember countries.

          At some point the Band of 5 emerges to use the angel not-corpse with White Knight as the Leader, Dread Emperor as the Lancer, Grey Pilgrim as the Heart, Good Queen as the Big Guy, and the Warden of the West as the smart guy. They eventually agree (to Black and Cat’s dismay) to keep the angel corpse in their back pocket in case they need to use it. Eventually the situation becomes so dire that they do use it, most likely involving a self sacrifice by either Hanno or Cordelia, to kill the Dead King (and a significant amount of the continent).

          Liked by 2 people

          1. magesbe

            I’m not sure that was the Bard’s plan (way too many steps, and the more steps a plan has the more likely it’ll fail), but damn if I wouldn’t read that fanfiction/AU.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Jacob McNeer

              Not really in my opinion. Bard is a chessmaster that puts Thrawn to shame. That combined with the fact that all of the main players are pretty easy to predict if you understand what they want (which is usually pretty obvious with Named) and their personality (also usually pretty obvious with Named). Betting on Black putting his ideals ahead of Malicia turned out to be a bad move, but their relationship had been fraying so a big push (such as Malicia supporting a superweapon while simultaneously destroying decades of work building the semblance of trust between Callowans and Praesi and nearly getting his protegee killed) could have feasibly completely severed the ties between them. Cat breaking the soul-scaffolding to kill Akua was a shoe in considering her tendency for purposeful self mutilation and her knowledge of stories. Cat coming up with the Liesse Accords after one of her cities nearly got destroyed by angels and devils then did get destroyed by a huge magic ritual was also fairly predictable considering her personality and history. Everything after that is just one predictable action leading to another based upon the players (Cat, Black, Kairos, Dead King, Cordelia, Tariq, Laurence, Hanno and Anaraxes) personalities, motivations and methods. She also has the advantage of working with Named whose core personality and motivations are far more inflexible than most people making them even easier to predict. This is especially true for Mantle!Cat and the Dead King.

              In other words Bard only had a few steps that she needed to perform. everything else would fall into place like a row of dominoes. Also, big complicated plans are a villain’s weakness only and Bard’s neutral.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Big complicated plans are ANYONE’s weakness in this universe.

                Named get free will, and this free will fucking with any mastermind’s plans is the narrative irony step 0. Bard isn’t exempt from narrative laws, she’s in fact more subject to them than most people.

                Like

  8. WuseMajor

    At some level, I do have to wonder why the Wandering Bard cares about taking down the Dead King so much? Most of the time he doesn’t really seem to be too much of a problem and, given how “pragmatic” he is, it seems like antagonizing him only really provokes him.

    What is it about him that worries her so much?

    So, if the Tyrant wanted to spike everyone’s plans here at the end, as much as possible, I’m curious as to how he managed to betray the Dead King. Because it looks like he just helped the Dead King survive a climactic and apocalyptic story that would have ended with his death. So, how did he screw over the Dead King too? Also, presumably he tried to screw Cat and everyone else in the room too, because the final climax of his life should have been to screw everyone six ways from Sunday, in addition to screwing Two Choirs of Angels.

    Granted, it might be that the Tyrant had a decent idea of the kind of force that Cat can bring to bear and, knowing that the Dead King doesn’t really take her seriously, figured he’d maneuver things so they end up fighting, because Cat will definitely Hurt the Dead King. Maybe he figured out a way to make this a pyrrhic victory for Cat (not that she has any real others).

    Liked by 4 people

    1. My guess as to why WB keeps bringing down DK?
      Because if she doesn’t, DK *will* pull out some universe destroying bullshit, given enough time. DK *will* attempt to usurp the gods above and below.
      He ain’t quick.
      He’ll take centuries and centuries to get it done.
      And then he will WIN, in the most absolute sense of the word.

      She NEEDS to fuck with his plans. She NEEDS to stop him. She may have thousands of years, but defeating DK isn’t easy. Every time she tries is the work of generations. She knows she’ll probably fail, and she needs to line things up more carefully than even Kairos, because DK is WAY more savvy than Judgement.

      So she’ll toss crusade after crusade his way, and maybe convince the Ranger to use Keter as a hunting ground. She’ll look for bait, and stories and weapons and she will fail, again and again.
      Until she wins.
      Or he does.

      Liked by 7 people

    2. He told us this, didn’t he? His final words including that he ended the Age of Wonders. Perhaps that Age is fettered to the strive and vendetta of these two ancient beings, and he will end it by ending them both with the events he set in motion. DK cannot be killed within the Age of Wonders, nor can Intercessor be stopped during it. If we’re talking inviolable Stories, this very age might be their plot armour, and if not then they may be maintaining it by their existence.

      But whatever you assume Tyrant saved DK from, I doubt DK would be hurt even a bit by a Story that simple and shallow. He would’ve died a dozen times over it if something like this would suffice. Each Crusade likely had Named as powerful as the ones we see here too.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Sylwoos

        Shoot, this just made me put Tyrant last words in perspective and they might have way more story weight than we thought. Remember when Cat said that if he get a curse, it might stick even if it have no right to? Well, Tyrant proclamation was his favor from the Gods Bellows, so he might very well have put a end to the Age of Wonders, LITERALLY.

        Meaning we already are no longer are in the Age of Wonders, and pretty much every story precedent related to this age have been sweep aside by Gods decree. Tyrant last words crippled both Bard and DK in a way nobody have realized.

        I found it weird when he made a remark about DK arrogance and nothing came out of it. No way he would have let somebody think they are out of reach without jabbing a dagger in their flank. Well, he did. DK will be going into this war with a wound he’s unaware off, and this might be his undoing.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Sylwoos

          And now that I think about it, Black previously called this new age, a age of order.

          So what better transition between the Age of Wonder and the Age of Order than the moment a mortal men used mortal laws to judge Judgement itself? This isn’t just a favor from Bellows, Tyrant created the perfect event to symbolically start a the new age. Laws will rules this new ages, and their power will be on par with the choir and demon of old.

          Yup, we are definitely in a new age and the narrative rules have been rewritten without anybody noticing.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. It’s probably more in it’s fledging stage, these things wouldn’t be too easily lest either side would’ve won decisively or the likes of Black could’ve changed things much faster and easier. Maybe something like a Pattern of Three:
            -The Accords first shunned (defeat after defeat for about two books now) become acknowledged and a political inevitable of the Alliance.
            -Tyrant’s swan song. A draw in everyone’s book.
            -Whatever third act, climax and victory this will end in.

            Liked by 4 people

    3. The Wandering Bard is the moderator of creation. The Dead King is so powerful that no hero has been able to take him out for a long long time. I feel like all entities who achieved apotheosis is on the Intercessors kill list. They’re game breakers so to speak so the Bard steps in to fix the problem.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Well, I don’t think the Deoraithe gestalt or that one orc god in the Steppes are much of a threat. Or Sve Noc as long as she keeps to the drow.

        All entities that have achieved apotheosis and are aiming to break the balance further in their favor, now…

        Liked by 1 person

    4. caoimhinh

      My guess on how Kairos betrayed or screwed the Dead King is that by correctly reading Neshamah’s nature, Kairos has just manipulated events in such a way that the Dead King will overcommit in the fight and make mistakes, thus being vulnerable and killable.

      Neshamah only feared the Intercessor’s plan, so by disrupting the Intercessor’s plan Kairos has ensured that Dead King will think himself invincible, as in “these guys can’t hurt me now”, which is something we have led to believe Neshamah is too smart to do, but if all this time he was only cautious when the Bard was involved, and in his hubris believes that the efforts of others do not matter or affect him… well, that might just be the fault in his nature that he just can’t change since he is an undead thing.

      By removing the only thing that the Dead King saw as a threat, Kairos successfully baited him into going fully into war. And that’s how they will beat him.

      That’s my current hypothesis, at least.

      As for why the Bard is so focused on destroying the Dead King, my guess is like Ninegardens’s: the Dead King keeps making grasp towards more stuff and his power and influence grow with time. The Intercessor can’t have that, even if he is slow in getting there, she needs to stop him.
      We know that Neshamah tried to conquer a second Hell, and even tried to make the stolen shard of Arcadia that’s now the Twilight Roads into his second Serenity, which in both times had the Bard intervening to screw him.
      The first time she set the Elves from the Golden Bloom against him (it was then that he got the Spellblade as a Revenant), and during the conversation they had reminiscing about that time, she stated that it was because having a second Hell was “too much”, so she couldn’t let him have that; there’s probably some sort of power-up he would get if he got a second Hell.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. > she stated that it was because having a second Hell was “too much”, so she couldn’t let him have that; there’s probably some sort of power-up he would get if he got a second Hell.

        Power of precedent. Consider how Kairos noted that every time Cat bosses around angels, she deepens the precedent that “she gets to do that”. Neither Bard nor either set of primal Gods wanted Neshamah to establish himself as The Conqueror of All the Hells.

        And yeah, I think the key stroke against DK here was luring him to overcommit.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. Nairne .01

          That’s probably on the mark. I imagine though that having even as a simple calculation of power having the force of two hells bear on a third and so on would create a pretty unstoppable snowball effect.

          Liked by 2 people

    5. Bigomon

      It may be a self fulfilling prophecy: if DK gets as powerful as he wants to, he can be a threat to WB, so she tried to destroy him. But by surviving multiple attempts, he established himself as someone who will not go down easily, and reinforced this bit by bit. Eventually he can reach a night that allows him to destroy her – by destroying everything that she is bound to. So she is getting desperate the closer he gets to this point.

      Liked by 4 people

    6. > At some level, I do have to wonder why the Wandering Bard cares about taking down the Dead King so much? Most of the time he doesn’t really seem to be too much of a problem and, given how “pragmatic” he is, it seems like antagonizing him only really provokes him.

      As I understand, he only doesn’t present much of a problem most of the time BECAUSE BARD KEEPS TRYING TO KILL HIM. He’s going ‘gee of course I’m too pragmatic to try to conquer everything’ BECAUSE it comes with consequences and traps and opening himself up to the Intercessor, not because he doesn’t want to. He wants to. She’s stopping him.

      If you don’t know what a sysadmin does, it’s a sign the sysadmin is doing their job right.

      Liked by 4 people

    7. > Granted, it might be that the Tyrant had a decent idea of the kind of force that Cat can bring to bear and, knowing that the Dead King doesn’t really take her seriously, figured he’d maneuver things so they end up fighting, because Cat will definitely Hurt the Dead King.

      I think it’s that. He thinks Cat can beat him, and he knows DK doesn’t think so. So he’s fucking him over by giving him exactly what he wants, and in a way fucks over Catherine the same way (though he expects her to come out on top, judging from his words in their post-tower-game talk)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Her first meeting with death gave her a shake of confidence, but then she found her equilibrium, and the second time she charged right into it without fear or doubt. You think she didn’t know going to Masego the way she did in the Liesse throne room had a 90% chance of killing her? She just knew it also had that same chance of waking him up.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Hm, no comment on this? How? Is it just me?

    What is going on with Masego? He’s being WAY too assertive, direct and social! Masego is never this extravert! What does this mean? What can this mean? Did he behold the Choirs and learn social interaction from them? Or is it just EE writing him a bit differently for a few paragraphs? Is he really Tyrant in a wig with two cantaloupes or what kind of madness is this?

    And on the thing buried in the place that does the thing that DK ominously omen’d at:
    -50 silver laurels that it is proof of the sacrifice and its scale that the Intercessor is once again willing to make to kill him.
    -100 silver laurels at a 1:4 ratio that this has something to do with that period of Praesi history that has been scoured clean with a demon of Oblivion, the payout being in my favour because it’s also quite likely that EE forgot about that and his style long since strayed from that kind of lore.
    -3 golden laurels and a band of 5 silver ones that Cat is going to try her dandiest to ignore it and not go despite the Story pulling her to go because she knows Stories and the Dead King enough to know it’s likely just stalling for time or setting her in a Story that cannot kill DK.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Eh, Masego was at first assertive, funny and sarcastic, he just disdained un-academic subjects (as shown during Book 2 and part of Book 3); then he got changed into socially awkward and unable to understand or use sarcasm since the latter part of Book 3 and the chapters afterward.

      That said, Masego in this chapter is not displaying social interactions or assertiveness in that sense, he is simply analyzing a subject (what just happened to Anaxares) and making academic speculations (what exactly happened to the Choir of Judgement, and whether it is temporary or permanent) like the accomplished scholar he is and always has been.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Masego is cast as what we’d call being on the autistic spectrum. But even in our world, it’s a mistake to oversimplifly what that means. Autistics can be very social, it’s just that their style and limitations are different from other sorts of people. Consider:

        > “I can’t tell,” I softly admitted, “if I’ve made everything better or worse.” / A chuckle, deeply amused. / “Neither can anyone else, Catherine,” Masego told me. “Why would you be any different?”

        That is very much the wisdom of an intelligent and mature autistic.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. Yes, I know and love how Masego is a properly displayed Autist in a written sea of terrible ones. I myself have a light touch of Autism (Hence why the odd diversion of writing style and habits immediately stood out to me.), so I can both relate and understand the basics behind his habits and quirks. While he’s indeed acting within the boundaries of an Autist, especially a well-adjusted one, he’s not acting within the established Masego character with little development of character to explain a change this rapid.

          “You mistake life for the wearing of flesh,” Masego replied. “I know not if it was willingly or by chance, yet the Hierarch sacrificed his own as skillfully as any Old Tyrant: the loss of flesh was taken as victory by the Choir of Judgement, and so they withdrew.”

          Masego can understand manners of speaking, but the one I’ve seen wouldn’t use it by himself unless prodded. The wearing of flesh seems much too vague and with exceptions for him to use, especially in a world with ghosts and demon-doors and the likes. While I understand phrases and use them, I see the exceptions and incorrectness of these sayings. Masego by being such a precise scholar has been shown to only find it all the more difficult to separate the phrase from its exceptions and mentioning only the former.

          And then he compares Hierarch to old tyrants by act, while from what we’ve seen the Hierarch didn’t sacrifice his body rather than consider anything not needed like his jaw as irrelevant. The paper and table technically weren’t necessary either, but they were mended because they were seen as necessary. Between him and Old Tyrants there is a distinct difference between their motivation and act, not to mention that old tyrants sacrifice people and parts of their kingdom than taking actual wounds, and to Masego such a comparison should’ve at least warranted a correcting footnote muttered afterwards. If not making it an inherently inapt comparison.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Mengha

            I thinks that, regarding his manner of speech, we see this difference because he’s come into his own as the Heirophant. His words are very un-Masego-like, but they are very much the words of a Heirophant. It’s also notable that EE referred to him as the Heirophant much more than usual in this chapter to indicate this.

            It’s a small thing but I’ve noticed that EE uses Names rather than names when they want to indicate someone acting less as their own individual person, and more as the Role in the Story. At least while in Cat’s perspective, when writing in the perspective of others’ I think EE uses Names more often.

            Liked by 9 people

          2. caoimhinh

            Actually, notice that he only said “You mistake life for the wearing of flesh,” as a correction towards Catherine’s reply, when he informed her that Hierarch was alive when he pursued the Angels.

            Cat: “And?”
            Hierophant: “He was still alive.”
            Catherine:“That last strike by the Seraphim burned him clean through. Not even bone left, Hierophant. What business does even the likes of the Hierarch have surviving that?”
            Masego:“You mistake life for the wearing of flesh.”

            That keeps to his character of someone who further clarifies stuff in more inaccurate terms for those not as versed in the subject. Plus, he’s been practicing on using metaphors as explanations ever since he first met Cat, he’s an expert now.

            Liked by 6 people

      2. Yes, but we’ve always seen Zeze as not touchy and purely academic. He allows hugs, but it doesn’t sound like him to initiate the kind of physical contact like standing next to Cat and placing his hand on her shoulder. And his way of speaking sounds not like he’s carefully considering what he states purely as a scientist, he speaks in Story terms.

        The real Zeze wouldn’t just call it a seal and keep it at that, he’d never mention any Story and social understanding while adding a lot more academically correct tones and definitions to it. He’d always say the right things, but often with Cat having to translate it to what this meant to the Story. But now it was like he was moving as if Creation and Story were pulling the strings, deciding his words. The very way his grammar and statements are structured are fundamentally different.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. People influence each other; it never goes in just one direction. Cat has, I believe, changed from her association with Masego. The things you’re noting as Masego doing differently? Those can be summed up as Masego taking the trouble to explicitly address things to Cat’s perspective. They’ve been friends/working together for long enough for that to be very plausible to me.

          Also, you seem to be presenting speaking as a scientist and speaking of story concerns as opposed concepts. I disagree. Narrative has objective force/weight in this universe. Masego grew up with Uncle Amadeus and is now close friends with Cat and has spent the vast majority of his operational career as a Named (as opposed to his mostly study-based time with his fathers) with her also. If anyone would decide to become Calernia’s first narrativologist, it would be Masego. I’m just looking forward to when he proposes a standardized unit of measurement for gauging story weight. Personally, I’m hoping that in line with the naming convention for “newtons” he decides to call his unit of measurement “foundlings”.

          Liked by 7 people

          1. Agreed that he would be likely the most able to weigh Narrativism considering his viewing of the world, but this isn’t that but his actions changing. He has for a long time known these things, though in the way that Cat does it he doesn’t know stories that well (same as how Hakram and Vivi can barely glance into the paths that she gazes down deeply). But he wouldn’t change himself over that, nor has he ever seen the need to change his speech patterns this greatly as Cat more and more managed to understand what he says as long as it doesn’t involve difficult terms.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Idk, man. Those speech patterns really don’t look that different to me. “You mistake life for the wearing of flesh” is no more poetic/imprecise than “the godhead is a trick of perspective”. For that matter, it’s a useful clarification as a response to Cat’s misconception of what constitutes a contextually valid/relevant definition of life here; he’s explaining that it doesn’t matter that the Seraphim burned Hierarch’s flesh away in their last blast of power, as in fact he pretty much let them do so to lay a trap (which worked). And he isn’t comparing Hierarch to the old tyrants in terms of his act but in terms of the skill with which he acted, which is not the same thing at all. This all seems pretty normal for Masego/Hierophant to me; no offense, but I really don’t get why people are reacting to this as if it represented some major shift.

              Liked by 7 people

            2. Yeah, I don’t see much difference in speech pattern as such here.

              What is really new is Masego appearing to pay attention and care about the situation at hand, and have thoughts about it. “Neither does anyone else. Why would you be any different?” and “I would be disappointed if we didn’t” are what’s new, what he wouldn’t have said before.

              But… his fathers died at Thalassina because they disdained detailed understanding of the opponent and missed the big picture implications of what they would be going up against. He relied on his scholarly understanding instead of paying attention to context and got possessed by the Dead King and nearly killed the rest of his family – literally did kill the one of them he might just care about most.

              I’ve been expecting this change to come around since Book 4: Masego actually opening his eyes and getting jolted out of his comfort zone of not needing to pay attention to global events because he can just trust his family about it.

              Remember Masego who counceled Cat on dealing with grief in Book 2 over her crippling after the demon fight? Remember Masego who dismissed ‘bah, treason’ becuase he knew Amadeus and Catherine would come to an arrangement easily in Book 3? Remember Masego who ended up consoling Catherine and promising he won’t leave her when she tried to console him about his loss of sorcery?

              He has always been someone who saw like this, and he has always been someone who paid attention to those he cares about. The only thing that changed is that he has recalibrated what is and isn’t worthy of his scholarly analysis, and that changed for a damn good reason.

              Masego has grown up, and we see the adult him now. This is the adult him, the equilibrium he’s settled into.

              Liked by 4 people

  10. laguz24

    This makes me wonder if the Dead King has faced many villains in the past since only Catherine has given him trouble and the Bard is something else. While all the Heroes are like an open book to him. Also, this makes me realize how bad the Bard is at story crafting. She sees things through the story but forgets that people have desires beyond and behind the story. All it really took was someone talking to her in a garden for too long and all of her plans started crashing down. Seriously, I wonder what her total success rate is since her real strength comes from the fact that you can’t take her off the board.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. She also usually works multiple steps removed from the immediate situation.
      Plus, I’m pretty sure her procedure for less extraordinary circumstances is to set things up so that the worst case scenario is a null value event or series of events, but it’s more likely that even in the absence of a complete victory, she makes gains in this and/or other plans she’s got arranged.

      Think about her stopping the Elves from killing Diabolist – Bard’s (apparent) best case scenario is that Diabolist wins against Cat, Amadeus, and Malicia, reverting Praes to Classic Old School Villainy, rather than Amadeus’s New Practical Villainy. A worst case scenario is almost what happened, which still gave casus belli and a major unifying incentive for the Crusade. About the only way things could have turned out worse? Malicia (for some reason) not trying to claim the Diabolist’s work and not putting a wedge between Amadeus and the Tower – which since Malicia helped Diabolist pull it off seems like it would be a strange and sudden shift. But still, net gain for Bard, if lesser.
      Eh, actually, the actual worst case scenario probably would have been the Fae killing Diabolist. But that’s still a null value event for Bard.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. The Dead King has fought as least one Dread Emperor that tried to invade Serenity through the Hells.
      It’s unclear whether he fought Triumphant but considering she conquered all of Calernia it’s quite likely that she at least took all but his castle-city from him.
      He likely fought with the drow both pre- and post-Everdark isolation on multiple occassions.
      His fight with the Horned Lord(s) is vague, he might’ve killed and taken that augur on his own initiative rather than having fought it more truly.
      We all know that he greatly fears the Matrons and that he respects Cat because she blows through her teeth like goblins do, with the Triumphant comparison being a mere excuse.

      There’s not much precedent for true intelligent and capable Villains fighting him in established lore indeed, other than the first example of the Hell wars. Which are hard to gage because there’s literally no written history left on it and the people remember that particular DE as a fool which is more a manner of history written than their actual competence. They may have been extremely capable, or indeed just a buffoon compared to their peers.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Yeah…. the histories of Dread Emperors/esses is weird, on the grounds that like…. Dread emperor Sorcerous was considered a fool for their failed attempt to steal Callow’s weather…. and then you have a Amadeus interlude on the history and you find out that NO, that plan actually MADE SENSE, it just sounds crazy.

        Obviously many of the leaders were truly nutzo…. but its also likely that many of them were more competent than their legacy might suggest….

        Liked by 3 people

        1. konstantinvoncarstein

          Minor correction: it was an Empress that tried to steal Callow’s weather, not Sorcerous🙃

          And yes, some of them were remembered as madmen while having accomplished much. There is that Emperor that build most of the Praesi roads but is remembered only for having morph himself into a giant spider🕷

          Liked by 8 people

      2. konstantinvoncarstein

        He allied himself with Triumphant, she even went to Keter and slept in the same palace as Catherine. Neshamah used her in the same way as Malicia, to get an invitation outside the Serenity and be the monster.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Yes, but to assume that they didn’t also fight would be a more far-fetched presumption. Even if Evil defeats Evil and Iron sharpens Iron wouldn’t be the case, and both may not be, but the question is whether he has faced many Villains. One way or another, even if they were allies from day 1 all the way to the end, he faced her and would have to deal with an equal peer and potential opposition or threat that is a Villain rather than a Hero. Still counts as experience dealing with Villains.

          Liked by 6 people

    3. > Also, this makes me realize how bad the Bard is at story crafting. She sees things through the story but forgets that people have desires beyond and behind the story. All it really took was someone talking to her in a garden for too long and all of her plans started crashing down.

      Yeah, that… really does make me think that it’s Neshamah who’s bad at reading her – or she who’s good at adapting to his expectation to pull wool over his eyes.

      That was never the real plan, methinks.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Isi Arnott-Campbell

    “I looked up at the sky, at the trails of ash left by the wrath of angels, and did not answer.”

    Okay, so, I’ve never complained about this, but EE has a remarkably consistent habit of using “wroth” instead of “wrath.” I’m pretty sure this is the first instance of him using “wrath” in the entire series, and I hope this is something that lasts.

    Liked by 3 people

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