Chapter 89: Sing We Of Ruin

“Fifty-five: if your powers are lost, they will nearly always return greater than before so long as the appropriate moral lesson is learned. With kindness and humility comes overwhelming martial might.”
-“Two Hundred Heroic Axioms”, author unknown

It was over.

The League’s soldiers withdrew, the hostility between the different forces open but reason prevailing just enough for battle not to erupt less than a day’s march from the capital of Procer. Considering the people involved, I’d not considered that a given. Secretary Nestor and his attending scribes withdrew for the night but requested permission to send an embassy under daylight. The clear intention was to request the presence of Secretariat scribes and chroniclers up north, and I accepted tonight as I fully intended to accept tomorrow. There’d be restrictions and conditions, but in principle I had not objection to their work. If I got lucky, maybe a report making its was south would even stir some Delosi to shed neutrality long enough to cease recording the end times and actively try to turn them back. A girl could dream. General Pallas and her kataphraktoi swore oaths and sent back half their number to claim their equipment and supplies still in the League camp, the rest returning with me.

Adjutant had finished speaking with Talbot and the remaining senior legate when I arrived – Tendai, wasn’t it? Sounded Soninke – though he opened his report by passing a dry comment on my ‘dragging yet another army home’. Like it was a bad thing, the wretch. As it turned out Juniper’s report had been essentially confirmed, with the sole fresh developments a few accusations of ‘Praesi treachery’ and ‘Callowan purges’ tossed around by soldiers that’d ended in brawls. One dead, from an unlucky broken neck, and both Tendai and Talbot had come together to hang those involved as per Callowan regulations. Adjutant argued for the growing urgency of intervention there, even if risking dire consequences to the compelled, but I had no order to give him. I hesitated still to speak when those words might just kill Juniper and Aisha, among others. I presented General Pallas to him instead and dropped onto his ‘drily humorous’ lap the work of getting the cataphracts settled.

There’d be talk later of how many soldiers Pallas was proposing to bring north, though it shouldn’t be more than ten thousand. Less, probably, though there likely to be the most finely drilled and commanded troops among the coalition’s armies. At least one good thing had come out of this otherwise ruinous night.

Archer wandered off, likely to check in on Masego though given the work I’d asked of him he was like as not to ignore her presence beyond what basic courtesy required. If even that much. Vivienne was speaking with General Abigail’s staff tribune to pick out what soldiers would be sent out as her escort, and I made a mental note of having the general formally granted the authority of a Marshal of Callow until Juniper could be declared fit to resume it. I’d no intention of promoting her to the rank, not for many years yet if ever, but to get affairs in order with the Army she’d need to have the weight of that authority behind her. Both the inherited structure of the Legions of Terror and the Hellhound’s preference for strict lines of command had resulted in formal authority being needed to get anything moving in the Army of Callow. Akua remained with me, a shadow shadowing mine, and though I could guess she wanted to address the fact that she’d been outed I did not approach the subject. It’d be out and about before long, I knew. If Malicia felt comfortable enough handing out that information to the likes of Prodocius and Honorion, it meant she was comfortable putting it out there.

I was still uncertain how my people would take it, on the Callowan side at least. If Akua had still been stuck in my collar save when I let her out I suspected it would have been taken as a long price, but ‘Advisor Kivule’ was not a prisoner or entirely unknown to the men. Like as not it’d cost me a few feathers in the eyes of the heroes in the Grand Alliance, too, though I’d not hesitate to call Cordelia a damned hypocrite if she spoke so much as a word in condemnation. She didn’t get to play that card when she had people lugging a Seraphim’s corpse around Procer. Truth be told, given the hour I probably ought to head to bed. The immediate necessities were seen to, and the rest was probably best approached with a well-rested mind and a clear head. Black was awake, there could be now that about that, because Scribe would have missed little of what had unfolded or left him to sleep during it. I was still not looking forward to that conversation, and arguably waiting until daylight for it would not be a bad idea. It’d allow Scribe’s people in the Eyes to learn more, and that when we held council we’d both have a clear idea of what was happening before decisions were made.

It was over, the succession of twists and turns that’d swallowed up my night. Or at least it ought to be over. If it was, though, why would my shoulders not loosen? Like I was awaiting a blow I was clenching onto myself, my instincts screaming there was something yet to come. And there were not, I thought, a thousand directions from which further trouble could come. So grimly I sent Akua away for the night and, cloak trailing behind me, limped towards empty smithy the Carrion Lord had claimed as his home for the duration of the conference. There were no legionaries at the door, or near either of the two windows, which was… unusual. Black had been the one to teach me that a Name was a useful thing but that it was no substitute for people watching your back. His Blackguards might not have been able to do much against a Named assassin, but there weren’t a lot of those and there were lot of the regular kind. Especially when you crossed Praesi nobles. The heavy wooden door was not locked and did not resist when I pushed it open. The burning glare of the lit furnace within blinded me for a half a beat, flames roaring tall and proud.

The shadows they cast on the walls of the smithy, which had been stripped bare of much it would contain during warmer seasons, were long and shivering. Amadeus of the Green Stretch sat alone by a blackened iron anvil, his drab grey tunic and worn boots making him look like an aging shopkeeper instead of the Black Knight of Praes. On the anvil was a bottle, and not of wine. An empty one had been set on the ground by the anvil.

“Catherine,” the green-eyed man greeted me. “An eventful night for you, I am told.”

It was so genuinely taken aback by the slight slur to his voice I didn’t manage to entire hide my surprise. I could not remember, in all the time I’d known him, seeing my teacher even half as drunk as he clearly was right now. Not even once.

“You too, looks like,” I said, flicking a glance at the bottle.

“Salian brandy,” Black replied, tone amiable. “It struck me as fitting.”

Shit. I wasn’t familiar with the Salian kind in particular, but brandy was hard liquor. Not necessarily the hardest-hitting stuff, but if he’d really drunk more than a bottle of the stuff I could only be reluctantly impressed he wasn’t falling down his Legion-issue folding chair. This isn’t like you, I almost said, but bit down on it. I’d never seen him like this before, true, but then when I’d been young he’d still had the Calamities with him. People he could unwind with, as I myself did with the Woe. Who was left of that for him now, save for Scribe? So instead I snatched a cup from his table and braced my staff against the side of it, freeing my other hand to claim the other folding chair. I bit down on a hiss of pain as I limped forward to the other side of the anvil, dropping my seat there as pale green eyes followed me. I let out a sigh when I sat down, glad for the rest, and set down my cup atop the iron by the side of his. Without a word he filled it with brandy, and his own again.

“What are we drinking to?” I asked.

“Epiphany,” my teacher said. “Harsh mistress that she is.”

That was not a promising start, I thought, and drank deep of my cup. The brandy burned on the way down and if I’d had swallow of that at sixteen I suspected my eyes would have watered. It was smooth on the tongue, so clearly good stuff, but it couldn’t be called anything but heavy.

“It’s been a day,” I agreed. “And a night, even.”

“Yes, it has,” he mildly said. “Eventful enough I’ll confess the tumult blinded me, at first. Time to think set that weakness to rest.”

“Kairos took us all for a ride,” I said. “Our enemies a little more than us, which is the saving grace of this, but everyone took a few bruises. It’ll be months if not years before we can really glimpse the scale of what he wrought.”

“Kairos Theodosian’s schemes are of only passing interest to me,” Black said, pausing to knock back a quarter of his cup without batting an eye. “No, it is the moments that led to his swan song I have been dissecting.”

The conference. Malicia. It won’t matter, Scribe had warned me. He always forgives. I might not love the woman, or even like her, but I that did not mean she had been wrong in this.

“Scribe told you about the Legions-in-Exile,” I guessed.

“I knew within an hour of your knowing,” Black agreed. “And now I ponder how it all came to be.”

“It must have been a contingency the Empress had in place for years,” I said.

Another quarter of his cup went down his throat. The breathy slip of laughter he let out after that had my fingers clenching in dismay. It was… unpleasant, seeing him like this. So close to losing control, when control had always been at the heart of him.

“Decades,” my teacher corrected. “The sheer breadth of possibly compromised individuals is simply staggering, viewed in retrospective. I assume it is the consequence an aspect. Wekesa would have noticed such a contingency were it sorcerous in nature and told me of it.”

Most likely, I silently agreed. Masego had rubbed elbows with Juniper for years while holding an aspect related to sight and then eyes forged of Summer flame without noticing a damned thing, so I was not overly surprised that the Warlock had caught nothing. Named power could imitate sorcery, but it should never be mistaken for it – it answered to different rules, took different shapes.

“Or he might not have,” Black then genially said. “It appears that the many warnings I received of sentiment being more blinding that I believed were accurate.”

“The writing was on the wall after Akua’s Folly,” I reluctantly said.

Not for reluctance to speak the truth, but knowing how deeply painful it was to him.

“Oh no, not when it comes to Alaya,” Amadeus of the Green Stretch softly said. “It is Eudokia I gravely misread.”

Fuck, I thought, and kept my face blank. I’d waited too long. All this time I’d been agonizing over whether I should tell him or not, if the likely fallout was worth the honesty, and somehow it’d never occurred to me he might just figure it out on his own. How much did he know, though? I’d gotten a confession and explanation, while he must have simply pieced together details on his own.

“It is a bad habit, forcing lack of expression,” Black chided. “You still do it sometimes, when taken aback. It reveals that you know something, by consequence of revealing you have something to hide.”

I grimaced. He drank again.

“Not that confirmation was truly needed,” he noted. “Your request with a private conversation with Scribe stood out even at the time.”

“I did not know whether I should tell you,” I admitted.

I might have, I thought. I liked to think I would have. But I would not lie to him and pretend it had been a sure thing.

“It would be ill-done of me to rebuke you for behaviour I instilled in you myself, largely through example,” Black said, sounding darkly amused. “Though it is a fresh novelty to be treated in so high-handed a manner by anyone save Malicia.”

“Scribe, she believed, believes she was saving your life, you know,” I said, then hesitated before continuing, “and I’m not sure I disagree with her.”

“Would you like to know how I inferred what happened?” the green-eyed man idly said, filling his cup anew.

I’d yet to finish mine, or him his, but down the bottle went. I slowly nodded, though I was not sure I actually did. He drank from his cup and I matched him, the brandy’s burn a pleasant distraction from the roaring heat of the furnace and this miserable conversation.

“In the moment it bled me, that Alaya stood in that hall and saw me only as a hindrance,” Black said. “That she had not, beforehand, even attempted to speak to me so it might be made into a game of silk and steel. That she’d considered a decision that so wounded me to make as inexorable, a betrayal assured – so assured there was no need to even attempt conversation.”

He paused.

“Then I made myself cease to think of her as Alaya and began to think of her as Dread Empress Malicia,” he mildly said. “And I still saw an unexplainable mistake from a woman whose judgement I yet hold in some esteem.”

“You figured she knew something you didn’t,” I said.

“The moment Eudokia intrigued to pass the blame onto her for the botched Salian coup, everything that followed was set in stone,” he mused. “Either I had ordered this, and now stood her foe. Or I had been deceived, and anything spoken to me could aid Scribe in furthering her attacks. Or potentially reveal how they had been anticipated and answered. Either way, even a secret missive would have been a foolhardy risk.”

I drank again, deep, since what I had to say was like as not to be unpleasant to get through.

“That doesn’t excuse anything,” I said. “She’s still the ally of the Dead King. She still spent decades seeding commands in the minds of people. No one forced her to order the Night of Knives, Black. Hers might have been choices with reasons to them, but that does not excuse a single fucking thing. You’ve been preaching personal responsibility to me since the day we met – why would she, alone of all the people in Creation, get a pass?”

He held up his cup to the light of the furnace and it cast a streak of shade over his eyes.

I trust people to act according to their nature,” he quoted. “Anything more is sentimentality. She said this not long after her formal claiming of the Tower, when there was still talk of who might be her Chancellor. It was the talk of Ater for weeks and remains her words most often quoted in Praes. I never thought much of the saying, for it presumes much, but it speaks to the woman who spoke it.”

The cup went down, and the green gaze was pensive.

“Malicia seeded commands preparing for a betrayal, and that betrayal came,” he said. “I blame her for this no more than I blame you for the terrible habits your learned at my side, though I would chastise another for them.”

“Brandy makes you chatty,” I said. “You’re muddling cause and consequence, Black. Fucking with the minds of your subjects is something that deserves answer. It’s not a betrayal to recognize that. You’re just being…”

I bit my tongue.

“Sentimental?” he finished, slightly slurring. “So I am. Eudokia said the same, when we spoke.”

I went still.

“And what else did she say?” I slowly asked.

“That she regretted her actions,” Black said, tone dry. “And would not repeat them. That she understood it had been a mistake. I thanked her for this, naturally, for it was a needed lesson to us both.”

And yet she was not here, drinking with him.

“So where is she?” I pressed.

“I wouldn’t know,” the green-eyed man said. “Neither does it matter, for she is no longer in my service.”

My fingers clenched.

“You’re drunk,” I flatly said, “you’re regret this after-”

“I made that decision without having had a drop,” Amadeus of the Green Stretch said, tone eerily calm.

“Then you’re grieving, not in your right mind,” I hissed. “There’s nothing practical about-”

“No longer extending trust to someone who deftly manipulated me into rebellion and undertaking a road that ends in the murder of someone dear to me?” Black said. “An interesting premise. I offered no rancor and held no grudge. It is a parting of ways, nothing more and nothing less.”

“You can’t afford to lose Scribe,” I bluntly said. “If you do you lose the Eyes, and if you no longer have the Eyes the Empire will eat you alive.”

“I considered this, but then decided it to be irrelevant,” he amiably said.

He drained the rest of his cup then, with clumsy fingers for one usually so sure-footed, produced a small strip of parchment from a pocket within his tunic. He put it down on the anvil, without a word. It was in Mtethwa, two words: Come home. I knew not the handwriting, but then unlike him I’d not spent decades corresponding with the Empress.

“You can’t be serious,” I quietly said.

“All of this might genuinely have untied the knot, you see,” Black said, sounding highly amused. “I did betray her, in the end. As she always believed I would, deep down. And after that betrayal failed and she triumphed over me so utterly she can now, at last, feel at ease.”

He poured his cup full again as I did absolutely nothing to hide the horror I felt.

“Of course, I will never question her again,” he said. “I will have lost that right, alongside any notion that this is partnership instead of vassalage. But the doors of Ater will be open to me and, as far as she is concerned, kneeling before the throne as every lord and lady of Praes watches will be my great penance.”

“It can still be turned around,” I said. “I know it’s a blow, the Exile Legions leaving and Scribe having manipulated you, but this isn’t your only choice. You have allies, Black.”

The green-eyed man tipped back his cup, taking another swallow.

“You misunderstand,” he said after. “I could no more do this than I could pretend I still put my trust in Eudokia. It is best to look what you are in the eye, as a villain. Lying to yourself is ever a dangerous business.”

“And what is it you are?” I quietly asked.

“Not yet content,” he said, smiling as if he was having a private jest at my expense.

I wasn’t helping him, I realized. Sitting here with Black and finishing that bottle would not make him feel any better. This breakdown had been a long time coming, maybe as far as Captain’s death, but letting him drink and entangle himself in his thoughts would solve nothing. Gingerly, I rose to my feet.

“Sleep it off, Black,” I sighed. “Scribe won’t have gone far, and that woman would forgive you nearly anything. She’ll forgive you this. We can make plans after dawn, when we’re all sober and rested.”

He looked at me for a long moment, then set down the cup. For a moment he looked about to say something, but instead he smiled crookedly.

“Good night, Catherine,” my father said.

I left, limping, and left the blazing heat of the smithy in favour of the cold. The coolness outside leant a refreshing touch the sweat on my brow and neck, but the exhaustion I’d expected never came. Even now, after all this, restlessness lingered in the marrow of my bones. High up above, under the stars and moon, to great crows feathered in darkness drifted across the sky. Their thoughts touched mine, gently, and shared a sight they were glimpsing in the distance. One man, leaving Salia. Well now, that was earlier than anticipated. I saddled Zombie and rode out, declining escort, and the journey on her back was swifter than it had been on foot. The small farm had not changed at all since my last visit, though perhaps that should not have surprised me: it might feel like an age ago, but I’d last stood here two nights back. The cattle wall, I saw, had been built anew. And stones had rolled down, as I’d warned the White Knight they would. By the eyes of the Crows I would not have company for some time yet, so after tying Zombie to the side of the farm I was spared a few breaths to consider how to comfortably wait.

Inside would be most reasonable, I thought. But the cold was pleasant, and I was reluctant to part from it. Instead I propped up my staff against the sidewall and, after soothing my leg with Night, hoisted myself up the side of the farm. The roof was as sturdy as it looked, good tiles and well set. Grimacing in pain even through the Night trick, I crawled atop it until I was resting my back against a chimney stump. Tightening my cloak against me comfortably, I let myself drift into the mixture of warmth around my belly and coolness against my face. It was soothing, and I almost fell asleep. I was not sure how long I’d been there when I finally heard approaching footsteps in the snow. I heard the White Knight chuckle as he figured out where I was, then deftly climb up the side. As Hanno dragged himself up on the roof, I finished stuffing my pipe and went looking for a match to light it. Finding one of my last sapper pinewoods I struck it against my sleeve but it failed to light. Sighing, I discreetly tapped a finger and seeded with black flame before hastily lighting my pipe with it.

The White Knight rose to his feet and strode to the edge of the roof, the two of us watching the nearing dawn begin to light up the sky.

“Back so soon?” I said, blowing out a stream of wakeleaf smoke.

“Within an hour of Tariq waking, he drew me out of my own slumber,” Hanno said.

All else about the man aside, there were Named out there with the word ‘healer’ in the Name who weren’t half as good at the art as Tariq Isbili was. Hells, for a time he’d even been able to cure death.

“And now you’re here,” I said.

An invitation to elaborate, but he did not take it.

“You were Queen of Winter for a time, were you not?” Hanno asked instead.

I hummed, pulling at my pipe.

“Close enough,” I said. “If only by virtue of being the sole scavenger with a road to it.”

“And you are no longer,” the White Knight said.

“Took a leap of faith,” I acknowledged. “All things considered, I don’t regret it.”

“And when Winter left you, Black Queen,” he softly said. “Did it feel like an absence?”

Oh, I thought, and was surprised to find I yet had pity in me.

“It felt like flying out of a pit into the blue sky,” I gently said. “It felt like the first drink of water after a long day in the sun. But I never loved that power, White Knight, nor did it love me.”

Not as he so obviously loved the Choir of Judgement, strange as that sentiment was to me. He stood there for a long moment, looking at the lightening horizon.

“They have all been asking me,” the White Knight said, “what befell of Judgement. Would you like to know, Catherine Foundling?”

I had half a dozen flippant replies on the tip of my tongue, but I was not feeling so callous right now as to offer them up to a decent man so obviously grieving.

“Tell me,” I said instead.

He flicked his wrist, and in the dawning light I caught the shine of silver. A coin, flipping, for a moment I almost struck out with the Night. But Sve Noc was silent, and I remained still. The White Knight caught the coin and did not even look at what had turned up. To him, and so to me, it’d just been a flip of the coin. There had been nothing more to it.

“Silence,” Hanno of Arwad said. “Only silence.”

I let out a breath I hadn’t known I was holding.

“The Hierarch still fights them, then,” I quietly said.

“You warned me,” the dark-skinned man admitted. “I did not listen, for never before has the strength of Judgement failed before my eye. You warned me, and now there is silence.”

And silence stayed there, hanging in the air.

“And now what?” I asked.

“I am blind,” Hanno of Arwad said. “Yet even a blind man can see that war must be waged on Keter.”

“I have pledged myself to this,” I said. “And do not take such oaths lightly.”

He turned towards me, his broad silhouette ringed by morning’s light, and met my eyes.

“Then we are allies,” the White Knight said, and offered his hand.

I took it.

And so we went to war, against the King of Death.

165 thoughts on “Chapter 89: Sing We Of Ruin

  1. And so we’re at the last chapter of this book before the epilogue. There’ll be a formal announcement later on, but as a heads up this time instead of the usual month-long break between books I’ll be taking two months – in part because the last book will be as long as this one, in part because I need to begin drafts from my next project after the Guide is finished.

    As usual, first update of the month means extra chapter in the eponymous, the third and penultimate of the ‘Winter’ chapters, from the White Knight’s perspective.

    Liked by 30 people

    1. NerfGlaistigUaine

      So the first chapter of Book VI I’ll read will be in Denmark, studying abroad. Looking forward to it. Take your time and bring this story to a conclusion so epic it’ll make the Gods, and more importantly us, your readers, weep.

      Liked by 13 people

    2. erebus42

      Damn, whatever Black is planning it can’t be good.
      It’s also refreshing to hear a hero actually admit that Cat was right for once. I guess Hanno will have to learn to pass judgment himself, though he still appears to be the White Knight so he’s got that going for him.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. Well, assuming he’s planning, anyway.

        The last couple of times he was planning it was… largely undeserving of the name =x

        And I think Hanno will just be trying to avoid passing judgement on anyone ever, as is his personality. He doesn’t judge, he doesn’t know how to condemn people, and he’ll just be, I suspect, a peacekeeper. With no longer the weight of the Choir at his back for it =x

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Crash

          See, I got the distinct impression there’s a fifty-fifty chance of Amadeus still being alive int he morning.

          Something about the wording gave me the impression he could still be planning but just the fact he was drunk off his ass and sending Scribe away? Oh, boy.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Yeah, I get very very very bad vibes off of the whole situation too.

            That said, surely he’s more proud than to just straight up kill himself without at least trying to go out with a bang and solve SOMEONE’s problems with it, and I don’t think he’ll get that opportunity before morning.

            Especially, uh, considering dawn has come during Hanno’s talk with Catherine, so it’s already morning actually -_-

            But, uh, yeah. Bad. Bad shit is happening.

            Liked by 6 people

            1. Oshi

              It’s not pride. It’s grief from a person who hasn’t until that day truly understood the ruin that is the path he walks. He said it himself. A villain shouldn’t lie to themselves. It means he has to sit there and accept that his best friend doesn’t trust him, his right hand betrayed him, and his family is dead or gone. The path to the tower is a lonely one but for all his life Amadeus has never been alone. Cat misunderstood what that was about. He already chose the path but he never looked the consequences in the face. Now..he has. Just like the epigraph says humility and contrition will lead to a massive power up.

              I cannot wait ::devil emoji:: The intrigues, the betrayals, the skinning alive of enemies. Oh boy!

              Liked by 7 people

              1. That’s not the part I’m talking about. The pride is the part where he recovers, realizes he did an idiotic thing, but cannot take her back now because that would be going back on his word and he’s too proud for that ™.

                Although in retrospect this is very little of an issue as the obvious workaround in this situation is for Cat to hire Scribe. Eudokia is well aware Catherine is Amadeus’s best ally right now, I’m sure she’d prefer working for her to fucking off altogether.

                Liked by 5 people

            2. gingerlygrump

              I just reread the chapter, and when Cat says goodbye to Amadeus she accidentally calls him Black, once in her head and once out loud.

              He pauses, then smiles, then says goodnight back.

              Is he about to become the Black Knight for the second time?

              Liked by 1 person

      2. Morgenstern

        … I really hope Black has not suddenly become dumb-bc-of-sentimentality&role, in his judgement of Alaya, thinking she’d ever forget about his “I do not kneel”…. I’d would SUCK to see him go back, trying to play the “I’ve come back to your side”-card to try to slip the knife in, because he cannot take kneeling – and her *knowing* if he comes back, it’ll be that way and simply welcoming him to his execution. It would also suck just as much to have Alaya be that dumb to forget about that bc. role/sentimentality/whatever and actually be knifed by him. Any such end would be totally unbefitting for the intellect of either, not after being shown as being not-that, but intelligent/reasonable/rational.

        I don’t believe in the “we can get past this, let’s try again and show that Bard the finger” turn, either.

        So I’m really interested with what twist EE will come up instead of these non-fitting staples, after the talk shown in *this* chapter… 😉

        Liked by 4 people

        1. I think Alaya genuinely DOES believe it possible that he’ll come back. Maybe not yet, but after he’s tried enough times and been slapped down and asked to come back every time? Her plea is not a fakeout.

          That said, if he comes back right now, she probably will expect foul play. And he’ll expect her to. So… yeah, that’s probably not the plan lmao. Hopefully.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Oshi

            Agreed. Alaya is in the throes of what I call desperate power mad success. Everything will be ok because I AM EMPRESS. I made it soo. I made it ok. Come back to me! Insert lightning in background and dramatic music.

            That’s right about when I would stab her in the back but thats me 😛

            Probably burn the corpse with Goblinfire and salt the earth to be sure.

            Liked by 4 people

      3. GnomeFromAbove

        My assumption is that Amadeus was planning to take up the mantle of the Black Knight in earnest and “come home” to the tower in the… more traditional sense of what it means for a Black Knight to go for the tower. There have been a lot of hints that the BK name is supposed to be terrifyingly powerful in the one-man-army sense, and that Amadeus never got anywhere near that power level because he wasn’t willing to actually give in to all those sweet dark emotions like, y’know, black despair at having lost everything and overpowering rage at the single person directly responsible for the loss of everything that’s ever held him back from the edge.

        Sure seems like he declared that he wanted to be boss villain who wanted to climb the tower and take the crown, and Below saw his emotionally un-compelling dry political motivations, went “nah”, and obligingly provided a more appropriate backstory with some vengeance and opportunities for tragedy killing his brainwashed friends and such going on.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Oshi

          When has Amadeus ever bent ot the story. The Age of Wonders ended the moment Kairos died. Give him his due. There won’t be another Black Knight one man army. There will be a reckoning but it will be of a new sort.

          Liked by 3 people

    3. Mirror Night

      Smart really EE to make sure your next series is ready to launch soon after this one ends so you don’t bleed your fanbase or waste your momentum. I look forward to the announcement and what is next on the docket. Hopefully it has plenty of diversity and turning tropes on its head like this series.

      Liked by 12 people

    4. stevenneiman

      As maddening as I find it not having new updates to read, I’m also reassured that you’re taking regular time off. Even now that George Frost is back I still worry for The Zombie Knight because I don’t think he takes as many breaks as he should. Thank you, both for writing such an awesome story to share with us, and for taking care of yourself so you can keep doing so.

      Liked by 5 people

    5. Nicholas Bolton

      Darn, how inconvenient that this story and TGAB always seem to go on break at around the same time.

      Either way I’m sure the wait will be worth it and I look forward to the approaching conclusion

      Liked by 3 people

    6. And with that announcement perhaps we should start the typo thread. Here are two. There are at least 10 others. Readers, can you find them all?

      but in principle I had not objection to their work. If I got lucky, maybe a report making its was south would even
      Change not to no, and was to way.

      Liked by 2 people

    7. Tigellinus

      Love the work! Thanks for the many nights of being able to curl up in bed and read this fantastic work!

      Does anyone else get the feeling that this was Black’s “Final Conversation” ?
      I have this uneasy feeling that Black’s going to end up dead.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. He’s been here before, and I’d say the main pivot is passed on this one as of Second Liesse – he may be suicidal, but Creation isn’t going to oblige.

        That said, he’s been suicidal since before the start of the story =x

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Alliance with Hanno, good.

    Amadeus breaking ties with Scribe? Bad.
    Amadeus consisting going back to Malicia? Just as bad, and possibly even worse.

    Unfortunately, Cat was proven right about what would happen and Scribe was proven wrong about being able to keep her meddling secret from Amadeus. This is not a good thing.
    I wonder what Scribe will do now, with Amadeus pushing her away.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. RoflCat

      Alliance with a non-puppet Hanno is even better, for through the breaking of his faith he can notice more things.

      Black going back to Malicia is…unexpected, especially after his proclamation for Dread Emperor, unless he’s going back there to become Dread Emperor Benevolent, one who doesn’t murder his predecessor for the throne?

      As for Scribe, I think she’ll keep going with her mission of trying to keep Black alive, ironically without the guilt of keeping it from Black now that they’re apart. Heck maybe she’ll go back to the League and settle things there.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. I don’t think his faith in anything was broken, other than the exact degree of how overwhelming Choirs’ might is. But that’s quantitative, not qualitative.

        Oh, and he was never a puppet.

        I think the implication is that Amadeus isn’t going to take the offer. He’s just getting drunk because he’s fucking exhausted and he doesn’t want to stick with either Eudokia or Alaya after the shit they pulled, but they’re very nearly the only two of his friends still alive.

        Here’s hope he takes Cat up on that offer to plan tomorrow, because like, HOLY SHIT. There are SO MANY bad decisions available to him here.

        Liked by 12 people

    2. hakureireimu

      “You misunderstand,” he said after. “I could no more do this than I could pretend I still put my trust in Eudokia.

      Amadeus is saying that he has no intention of going back to Malicia here.

      Liked by 13 people

    1. “You warned me,” the dark-skinned man admitted. “I did not listen, for never before has the strength of Judgement failed before my eye. You warned me, and now there is silence.”

      And silence stayed there, hanging in the air.

      “And now what?” I asked.

      “I am blind,” Hanno of Arwad said. “Yet even a blind man can see that we must vote for Practical Guide to Evil on Top Web Fiction.”

      Liked by 3 people

            1. Their archetypal joke structure is similar. The commercial posits an absurd situation, then makes a non-sequitur transition to selling their insurance. e.g. “You know what’s better than having to fight off children to keep your snacks? Saving money by switching to Geico.”

              I was just curious because it seemed like you would have had an interesting objection to them. No worries if you’ve never seen one, though.

              Like

  3. Soronel Haetir

    The one good thing is that Scribe’s actions are out of some kind of love (whether unrequited romantic love or otherwise). She might well have recognized that there was nothing she could accomplish right then and that she needed to give Amadeus some space, but I do not believe the ties are actually broken on her part no matter what he might think.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. RoflCat

      It’s better for them to go separate ways.

      Scribe want Black alive and possibly a Dread Emperor, but Black does not desire such thing.

      When they were together, she felt guilty about abusing his trust even if it’s for his (in her view) benefits.
      But now that they go separate ways, she can do whatever she want, including the exact same things as before, now without the guilt.
      Black will do his things, she’ll do her things, if their desire clash then let the result of the clash decide.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. gingerlygrump

          We know that she wants Malicia dead and Amadeus to rule. Let’s hope Scribe gets those wishes granted, because Malicia still owes the long price for Istrid and Ratface.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. She arranged the murder of enemy combatants during times of civil unrest.

            Pretty much all main characters in this story have done things ten times worse than that just because it was tuesday.

            I’m not saying Malicia is *good*, I’m just saying that this seems pretty low on the list of “reasons she is owed the long price”

            Liked by 2 people

          2. Mirror Night

            Don’t see why Malicia would kill Istrid, she has mind control on her anyway and with her being Juniper’s mother that is useful leverage. Makes far more sense for the Matrons or Scribe to take out Istrid then it does Malicia.

            Liked by 2 people

    2. Honestly, I’m getting a very bad ‘chasing away his support system’ vibe off this lashing out. She’s been trying to get him to take care of himself more, and of all the people he could end up finally lashing out at in the attempt to do so it’s her? So he can continue Not Blaming Anyone Else For Anything Only Himself in peace?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, Scribe seriously overstepped herself. It’s one thing to push for Amadeus to take the throne, it’s quite another to try and force him to do so, especially when it involves killing his oldest surviving friend. (Not to mention that the means she chose played fast-and-loose with his daughter’s position and plans, and the fate of the continent to boot.)

        Liked by 2 people

        1. See, you’re not wrong.

          But the reason Amadeus turned her away was specifically fueling the conflict between him and Alaya.

          And there’s a reason why Catherine was surprised to hear he was still willing to forgive her and take her back when Eudokia said it.

          Like

          1. > But the reason Amadeus turned her away was specifically fueling the conflict between him and Alaya.

            That’s my point, what’s where where she overstepped her position. A spymaster is supposed to serve political considerations, not dictate them. And messing in your boss’s personal life is a no-no for, basically anybody.

            Like

  4. Jane

    Honestly, Scribe and Black needed a break – when you’re willing to risk your life to save a friend turned foe, and your trusted aide considers your life to be more important than a sentimental goal, you have to go on your own. To do otherwise is both a foolish risk, as you are no longer able to predict what your usually trusted aide will do, and a cruelty to someone who is presumably close to you, as it’s basically dangling their worst fear in front of them at all times.

    I’d hope that he’d at least invite her back once they weren’t in this sort of situation, though. I doubt the novel will end in a place where such a situation is possible regardless of their wishes, but I’d like to think that he’d accept her service again once it made sense.

    As for his plan… …He’s not thinking of going to her and then killing her rather than bowing, is he? Because that’s the first thought that comes to mind, when military and diplomatic options fail, he’s still not willing to give up, and she’s still offering to extend her trust again to him.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. gingerlygrump

        Are you hoping for a peaceful coup? Amadeus allows Malicia to step down, becomes Dread Emperor Benevolent, and fulfills his vision of a better Praes?

        I could be on board with that, but Alaya is still a dangerous woman and letting her roam free is on par with the escaped sentient tiger army. She needs to die, she’s too susceptible to Evil influence.

        And I’m still pissed about the murders of Ratface and Istrid.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m ignoring the ‘political assassinations’ part because I don’t like Protagonist Centered Morality and when we put that aside Amadeus routinely does worse.

          And yes, I’m hoping for some kind of peaceful resolution. There are many possible options and many possible counterbalances to minimize risks.

          Mostly, I’m just hoping Amadeus ends up alive =x

          Liked by 1 person

          1. gingerlygrump

            I don’t know what Cat is turning herself into, but I suspect it’s the Practical Guide, and while she no longer needs Amadeus she loves him.

            He and Cat still have some unspoken conversations that she aggressively avoids, and I think it’s because they both realize it’s his best plot armor.

            Like

            1. She does still need him – he might not be irreplacable, but he’s a very useful asset in dealing with Praesi. If nothing else, he’s one of the few anchors Masego has, not to mention Cat herself.

              Amadeus is the beating heat of the entire East, right now. Alaya cares about him and wants him back, Hye has at least some fondness of him and is an ever-hanging threat over whoever ends up killing him, the Legions and the Praesi part of the Army of Callow all adore him, half the Eyes of the Empire answer to the woman who cares for him above everything. Several of the Woe consider him family, and the Marshal of Callow still has that platonic crush.

              Cat doesn’t so much need him for his abilities, per se. While he is still excessively competent in multiple areas, he’s also emotionally compromised enough that that hasn’t been helpful in a while -_-. But the ties everyone else has to him? It’s a stabilizing factor, and one of no little importance.

              Liked by 1 person

            1. I do still hold the opinion that narratively speaking, he likely will.

              But in-universe? Uhhhhhhh. Bad. Bad bad bad.

              Ironically, for what’s probably the first time in his entire career, no enemy is actively out to kill him, specifically. But he is a danger to himself =x

              Liked by 1 person

  5. Insanenoodlyguy

    “Then we are allies,” the White Knight said, and offered his hand.

    I took it.

    And so we went to war, against the King of Death. First, we kissed.

    Added in that last missing sentence! 😛

    Liked by 8 people

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if those 2 do in fact start to have feelings for each other….and fall right into the getting interrupted trope, can you imagine Cat’s reaction when she realizes it? XD

      Like

  6. edrey

    So, someone know what moral lesson can be found here, i am lost.
    Here, Ranger will appear, but eudokia have a saying right? Mosters die at the end. That is making me think too much

    Like

      1. Hopefully, Amadeus learns the lesson of “if two of your closest people fucking hate each other, do try to actually resolve that and not just leave it festering and pretend nothing is happening until everything’s suddenly on fire and you didn’t see that coming”.

        -glares at Wekesa threatening Cat in early books-

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Jane

          You know, I know I’ve said this before, but… I keep looking back over what Black planned, and I’m like – what did he honestly expect to happen? That he’d just kill Cat one day after using her as an experiment to see if his plan was possible at all?

          He knew that Cat had no genuine loyalty to the Empire, and did nothing to address that. He saw that the people of Callow put more and more faith in her as her legend grew, and he remained unconcerned. He saw how Malicia granted Callow more autonomy at Cat’s request, and how Cat in turn demanded more, and did nothing really to mediate their expectations.

          He knew Cat heard “The Girl Who Climbed The Tower”, and that evidently set off no alarm bells at all!

          And he knew that whatever happened, it probably wasn’t going to take longer than a decade to happen, while they were all just waiting for a Crusade to happen – something that a civil war between Callow and Praes would definitely invite if nothing else started it first.

          I mean, if he wasn’t planning to kill Malicia, he pretty much botched this entirely – either the end comes at Cat’s hands, or at the hands of Crusaders handed a golden opportunity. And if he was planning on killing Cat once he saw that his theory was sound, he probably should have either gotten around to that or changed his plans once he realized he missed his window.

          And if he wasn’t planning on killing either… Then, as you note, why the devil didn’t he do anything to try and give them common ground? Don’t just spring on Malicia the idea that Callow’s going to be an independent nation again, and try selling to Cat the idea that being a vassal state to Praes gives her protection from both Praes and Procer at the cost of simple grain. Cat actually received sizable concessions in terms of self-government; if he’d sat down with her and explained the benefits and the expectations that Malicia had in return for them, it’s definitely a deal she would have accepted, pre-Liesse.

          Even setting aside the “I should make sure my friends don’t hate each other” perspective, it ends up being a critical failure of personnel management, something that he should be good at.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. As far as Cat goes:
            He *planned* for her to want independence.
            He planned for her to get it. Read the epilouge of book 3.
            His plan was for Callow to become independent, but sympathetic, so that the Empire could get food without having to go to war.
            He HAD a plan, and Malicia and Cat were becoming friends…. right up until second Liese.
            Which he didn’t have intell about.

            His plan for Cat got screwed over by Malicia earning herself the long price, not by Cat striving for independence.

            He planned on Callow being on the empires side vs the Empire… but instead Malicia got spooked, had Akua build a superweapon, and betrayed Cat’s trust.
            Without Liese 2.0 Necromatic Bongolo, Black’s plan actually makes a hell of a lot of sense.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Jane

              The issue here is that Black never told Malicia that his plan was for Callow to claim independence – she was caught completely flatfooted by that, and strongly opposed the notion for obvious reasons. It would have ended in civil war with or without Liesse.

              Malicia considered Cat a hotheaded young child whom she has repeatedly mentioned she dislikes, and has to actively try to avoid letting that cloud her preconceptions regarding Cat’s competence; Cat viewed her as overbearing, and had an active disdain for her political approach to things. They weren’t becoming friends; they barely even spoke to each other of their own volition. They could have become friends, if something was done to bring them in touch in areas where they had common ground – but that never really happened.

              Liesse decisively broke the relationship between Cat and Malicia, but it was already headed towards a break to begin with – Cat was never truly satisfied with Callow remaining subservient to Praes, regardless of what she told herself, and Malicia could never accept the loss of legitimacy that would come of allowing Callow true independence.

              Black’s plan makes a degree of sense on paper, but there are several key points that he never even tried to address – like making certain that the two people most important to the plan would be remotely okay with it, or that enacting it wouldn’t cripple the power of one or more of the people involved.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Agent J

                — if something was done to bring them in touch in areas where they had common ground – but that never really happened.

                It did. The Summer Campaign. Malicia and Cat started bonding together as they schemed the death of two Fae Courts older than Creation.

                Malicia could have leaned hard into that mentor role. See, cuz Cat was loyal. To the Empire itself, mostly nominally, true. But to the actual people? Literally everyone she loves save Indrani and Vivi are from there. Juniper basically made her swear not to do anything that put her opposite a field from her mother.

                In fact, that was one of the reasons for him getting her the Fifteenth. It was a power base she needed and one that would bind her to the Empire’s people.

                Malicia fucked that up by feeding a hundred thousand Callowans to the Diabolist’s madness.

                This wasn’t an oversight by Black. This was one born of Malicia’s flaws. She wants unflinching loyalty and the right to do whatever the Hells she feels like.

                There’s a reason she resorts to mindcontrol so readily.

                Liked by 2 people

              2. What AgentJ said. He had in fact been taking steps to assure Catherine’s loyalty, and while she might not have been “perfectly happy” remaining Praes’s vassal, she had viewed that as a necessary evil from the beginning, and wasn’t willing to pay the price breaking away would have demanded. Would have, that is, had Amadeus not actively walked away with his hands in the air like “actually feel free to rebel I’m with you on this”. AND had Malicia not viewed her as already rebelling afterwards even though she had no particular intent to.

                Catherine was literally more willing to work with Alaya post-Liesse than Amadeus was.

                And as for how he failed to consult Alaya if she was okay with the semi-independence he was willing to give Callow… yeah. They had a bit of a fight about it in Epilogue 3. He did in fact consider her to be reading his mind and agreeing with him on everything by default. See, coz she’s smart and smarter than him, so everything that’s obvious to him should be equally obvious to her, right?

                Like

              3. Cicero

                Except he did tell Malicia that was her plan. She had severe doubts about it, but Black thought he would slowly persuade her.

                Malicia then decided to get some insurance, not understanding, or (more likely) not caring how that would create a story that would destroy the Callow-Praes alliance.

                There is a major difference between Black and Malicia that hasn’t been resolved, but it wasn’t about Cat. It was about whether to put their faith in stories or in power. Black believed sacrificing power to get on the right side of the story was the best way. Malicia never had that belief. She allowed Black his way because he was successful, but as soon as more risk started developing she was perfectly happy to abandon story-fu in favor of superweapons.

                That was Black’s misjudgement. He though Alya trusted him, but she never did. Not really. She only trusted him in a limited sense, but was always ready to pull back on that trust at her choice of timing.

                Liked by 2 people

          2. His plan was that Catherine would kill him and become the Black Knight of Praes, while also ruling Callow with full sympathy of its citizens, and then eventually climb the Tower and become the next Dread Empress, cementing Callow as part of the Empire.

            Yes, seriously.

            No, I don’t know why he thought she would do that. My vote’s on ‘suicidal depression making all plans that involve him dying look disproportionally attractive and doable’.

            Yes, in his plan Malicia took no issue with Cat killing him. See the paragraph above.

            _____________________

            That said, the plan would still work with Cat not doing that, and was overall remarkably flexible in its applicability as long as the following conditions were fulfilled:

            – Catherine remained sympathetic to the idea of Callow supplying Praes with grain and not going to war with it anymore;

            – Catherine remained in charge in Callow;

            – he and the Empress did not do something idiotic to convince Catherine the game wasn’t worth the candle.

            Hell, the plan’s STILL working, it just now includes the minor snag of ‘dethrone the Empress for doing said stupid thing before trying again’. Where the thing being tried for is a trade and mutual protection arrangement with Callow, any subordination of either side to the other entirely optional.

            Liked by 2 people

          3. > try selling to Cat the idea that being a vassal state to Praes gives her protection from both Praes and Procer at the cost of simple grain. Cat actually received sizable concessions in terms of self-government; if he’d sat down with her and explained the benefits and the expectations that Malicia had in return for them, it’s definitely a deal she would have accepted, pre-Liesse.

            Most specifically, Book 2 Chapter ‘Madman’. The thing you are suggesting literally happened, word to word. And Catherine was in fact onboard with Callow being a vassal state of Praes until as of Book 3 Epilogue Amadeus himself fucked off to Vales, leaving her and the Empress without the mediator and the Empress paranoidly assuming Catherine’s breaking with her and acting like it. Seriously, after Second Liesse Catherine started taking independent action because the Empress didn’t contact her. She didn’t actually want conflict on two fronts. (And the Empress took her being willing to take independent action as her not being loyal enough… People turning on Alaya has been remarkably much of a self-fulfilling prophecy in this sequence of events)

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Jane

              I honestly question whether Callow could be trusted to fight on the same side as Praes post-Liesse, but… Even if they could, I can’t really blame Malicia for assuming that Callow would demand the long price (regardless of whether or not Cat herself would), and deciding that her best bet was to focus her defenses on Praes. It’s a reasonable conclusion based on pretty much everything that the people around Cat have said since that moment.

              But yeah, if Black had been in the room at that moment, he probably could have reassured Cat that the offer was, in fact, sincere instead of just an attempt to save face or undermine her, while he could assure Malicia that all Cat really wants is to let Callow govern it’s own affairs and doesn’t desire further revenge. Even if he was no longer certain of those things, it’s something he could have said. But because he was no longer in the room…

              Which is why he should have set the foundation for this in advance. Malicia made Callow a vassal state as an official recognition of the de-facto state of affairs; had the transition happened in more of a planned manner, then both Malicia and Cat would have had more trust in the arrangement with or without Black. Malicia would view this as the culmination of a plan that she had vetted and had faith in, instead of a last-minute attempt to appease a powerful and rebellious figure, while Cat would have a degree of faith in what Malicia wanted from her and where the line could be drawn. Heck, if Cat had had more contact with Malicia, maybe she would have sent word to her that she was raising the Order of the Broken Bells so that it would become a special privilege instead of an act of treason.

              They say that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, but that doesn’t really apply to planning to break away a significant chunk of a person’s empire, that produces all of the food and which they just fought a significant war to secure. Black needed to keep Malicia in the loop on what he was planning here, and massively overstepped when he didn’t.

              (Not going to address the rest of what you said, because we’re not really disagreeing on any of this; it’s just me criticizing Black for not even considering how things would look to Cat or Malicia, and how even minor effort could have improved things.)

              Liked by 2 people

              1. > But yeah, if Black had been in the room at that moment, he probably could have reassured Cat that the offer was, in fact, sincere instead of just an attempt to save face or undermine her, while he could assure Malicia that all Cat really wants is to let Callow govern it’s own affairs and doesn’t desire further revenge. Even if he was no longer certain of those things, it’s something he could have said. But because he was no longer in the room…

                Wait, what room? I’m losing track.

                As of post-Second Liesse, again, Amadeus is the one who actively pushed the conflict with the Empress. He apparently never intended to rebel, per se, but he certainly did not see a downside to Callow claiming independence – and as of that moment, didn’t care what Alaya thought about it. And beforehand he could not have possibly imagined that he would turn on her. It’s not something he planned for, considering, y’know, he would rather have prevented the whole chain of events, yeah? The whole problem was his blind trust in her and how badly he got blindsided by Second Liesse.

                > They say that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, but that doesn’t really apply to planning to break away a significant chunk of a person’s empire, that produces all of the food and which they just fought a significant war to secure. Black needed to keep Malicia in the loop on what he was planning here, and massively overstepped when he didn’t.

                Again, he didn’t actually plan on this. He planned on Alaya and Cat coming to their own arrangement, slowly over time. He didn’t plan on the entire Callow being on fire the minute he went to Free Cities, he didn’t plan on Cat gaining power rapidly and restoring a knightly order whether he liked it or not, he didn’t plan on Diabolist predictably rebelling right in the middle of a fae invasion because he’d assumed the Empress would handle it.

                As for overstepping… Yeah, there’s a fine line between ‘two equal co-rulers, one of whom tends to defer to the other but both get the last word and the veto’ and ‘the Empress and her loyal right hand’. There’s been tension there from the start – a king and a kingmaker is an odd relationship by definition, and Amadeus and Alaya working together as closely as they did only put more pressure on it.

                As far as he was concerned, she overstepped by going behind his back. As far as she was concerned, he overstepped by considering anything she did as being overstepping. Overall, I’d call it a… disagreement. I don’t think it was on him to be blindly unquestionably loyal as she wanted him to be. They’d been equal partners from the start.

                The thing about Amadeus is that his story doesn’t work by Praesi logic of personal relationships and subordination and submission of weaker to stronger. He’s always been a, well, knight – one of those who are loyal to their sovereign because it’s the right thing to do(tm) and remain so as long as the sovereign’s actions don’t make it no longer the right thing to do(tm). You know, like how Rozala swore to rebel if Procer screws over its allies in the aftermath of this again?

                That isn’t wrong, per se. IMHO.

                He… definitely could have used more communication with Alaya though lmao

                Like

              2. PS All that said, none of Amadeus’s actions and opinions prior to Second Liesse blindsided Alaya. He made no secret of anything he was doing, and he explained himself when she questioned him (Book 2 Coulisse, notably). She did things in secret from him because she KNEW he would disapprove. She KNEW that he considered their relationship to be one where he got to disapprove of her actions, and she chose to work around that rather than try to confront it / change it. She didn’t start actively asserting her authority and her opinion that she should be the one fully in charge until after everything already broke.

                She ALSO could have sorted out this mess much earlier. And she’s the one who knew the mess was there, while Amadeus didn’t.

                Liked by 1 person

    1. Ranger? What?

      And I think it’s not that there’s a moral lesson in this chapter. It’s that Amadeus took a heavy blow to his power base, but he’s hinted to be able to take it back once he has a suitable epiphany.

      Like

        1. Honestly…. I put higher bets of Malicia being the one to heal him rather than Ranger.

          Malicia actually genuinely seems to care for him, even when she’s spooked and disagrees with him. Ranger treats him as an amusing toy.
          Ranger doesn’t CARE about people, and there is no evidence she ever has. Who cares if her and black used to be fuck buddies. Hell- Ranger is probably one of the few people Scribe hate’s more than Malicia.

          Malicia genuinely DOES want him to come home, and has so far disarmed his coup attempt in the gentlest way possible. Whether she’d actually accept him kneeling, or if she’d feel obligated to execute him I don’t know…. but the point is, she’s created a situation where she *can* forgive him despite his blatant rebellion… and doing that is HUGELY impractical, and politically costly for her.
          From her perspective she may well be taking the only course available to avoiding civil war and murdering her best friend. She screws over Cat a bit in the process, but ummm…. Cat isn’t her friend. Cat has never BEEN her friend. She doesn’t owe Cat or Cordelia anything.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Ranger is far more of an abusive relationship for him than the Empress. At least she does in fact care and desperately want him by her side.

          As far as Ranger is concerned, he’s a fun toy she picked up and played with for a while, then put aside, and now picks up for old time’s sake from time to time.

          Romance is all nice and good, except when it’s with, y’know, someone like Hye.

          Like

          1. edrey

            I cant agree more, but what amadeus need is a wake up call to tell him the he shouldnt give up.
            ^I do not kneel^ is his frase, its not salvation but a push in the right direction, and only Hye can do that

            Like

            1. I… don’t think he needs one. He already told Catherine this much, that he’s fully aware he isn’t giving up yet, that it isn’t in his nature.

              What he needs right now is for people to remind him of his worth, to remind him that trust IS worth it even if in the end it backfires, that he is valued and loved and that he has a right to value and love other people even in the middle of politics.

              Hye is… not the person for that. To put it mildly.

              Liked by 1 person

  7. “No longer extending trust to someone who deftly manipulated me into rebellion and undertaking a road that ends in the murder of someone dear to me?” Black said. “An interesting premise. I offered no rancor and held no grudge. It is a parting of ways, nothing more and nothing less.”

    This statement could involve pretty much all the women in his life. Malicia, Eudokia, Catherine and the Intercessor pushing him from all angles, in their own ways.

    Liked by 12 people

    1. Catherine is pushing him but not manipulating him, and she genuinely has THINGS HE CARES ABOUT as her priority wrt taking care of him. Like, taking care of him is not her first priority, which is entirely fair, but when she DOES turn to that, she does it things-he-cares-about first. As opposed to.

      That counts for a lot.

      Liked by 6 people

  8. WuseMajor

    At the end of the last book, Malicia cannot be the Dread Empress any longer. And the head of the Dead King needs to be on a pike.

    The head of the Bard needs to be on a pike too.

    I don’t think you can manage less than that and still fulfill on the promises you’ve made over the course of the book series.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. WuseMajor

        When you pick up a book and start reading, the story implies that various things are going to happen later on. If the book starts with a Detective in their office and a client walks in, this implies that there will be a mystery in the book and that it will be solved by the end.

        These implications are often called “promises.”

        I’m saying that, after all this build up, I don’t think that we can have a proper emotional release if the Dead King still exists at the end. Same for the Bard. At least there needs to be a final showdown with both of them.

        And Malicia has become a big enough problem that I think Cat needs to actually beat her. I’m not sure if just …taking away her empire will be enough, but she needs to lose, I think.

        That said, I’m not the author and there have been enough twists that …I dunno. Maybe it can be pulled off without the above.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I would say it’s called ‘tension’. It can be subverted in small amounts – a client walking into a detective’s office creates tension but can be a fakeout with the story being actually a romantic comedy about the detective taking a vacation after that client or something. But once you pile up enough of it, it has to be resolved. It’s not a specific ‘promise’ which seems to be tripping you up here – there are multiple possible resolutions, that’s what tension is all about. But it’s a promise of *a* resolution.

          Like

    1. Jane

      Eh, I don’t quite agree – these are all plot points that need to be addressed, but I can see any of those three revealing that their plans have actually been to Cat’s benefit all along and that they actually can be allies. Well, the Dead King might be more of a stretch for that one, I admit.

      Though, that card can only be played for one of her remaining enemies before it wears thin.

      The Bard’s actual endgame is completely obscured to the reader, so a “Oh, I’ve been arranging the pieces to kill the Dead King all this time because my real job is to ensure that the Named don’t destroy all life in your squabbles”-type reveal could be slipped in easily enough – the only thing that would need to be overcome would be Cat’s (and by extension, the reader’s) distrust of her.

      Malicia has a lot of bad karma to be repaid, but her actions have pretty much entirely been defensive – killing Ratface and unleashing the Dead King might be some cruel and/or reckless moves, but she was in a corner, and one of the themes of late has been the need to let go of enmity when there’s a chance for real peace. Peace that Malicia herself has worked for in the past, incidentally, if only because she believed that knives in the dark were a surer way to win than flying castles.

      The Dead King… Well, it’s theoretically possible that the Bard could be involved in some world-ending catastrophe, that the only reason that he still bothers with Calernia is because he needs to kill her before she finds a way to kill him, and that he’s perfectly willing to lock himself away in Serenity once he’s accomplished that. And the army is necessary because… Reasons.

      …Needless to say, I don’t actually expect the Dead King to suddenly turn out to have been Cat’s friend all along, but the other two? They’re big plots that need big resolutions, but I don’t necessarily agree that it needs to end with heads on pikes; a sufficiently dramatic reconciliation also works.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. > “Oh, I’ve been arranging the pieces to kill the Dead King all this time because my real job is to ensure that the Named don’t destroy all life in your squabbles”-type reveal could be slipped in easily enough

        She’s already gone out and said it. Cat just doesn’t consider it a good enough reason to allow her to keep her role the way she’s been doing it. And also has little reason to trust her, that too.

        > …Needless to say, I don’t actually expect the Dead King to suddenly turn out to have been Cat’s friend all along, but the other two? They’re big plots that need big resolutions, but I don’t necessarily agree that it needs to end with heads on pikes; a sufficiently dramatic reconciliation also works.

        Anyway, same.

        Like

        1. Jane

          Well, my thoughts as regards this hypothetical with the Bard would be that this kind of plan is highly atypical for her, but necessary because the Dead King is such a large but cautious threat – she has to rely on such widespread, indirect manipulation because it’s the only thing he won’t see coming until it’s too late. Once that’s resolved, she’ll go back to her old model – the next Akua or Lone Swordsman to come out, she just tells the most appropriate Hero or Villain, “Hey, this idiot is going to kill a lot of your people for no real good reason, you should probably stop him”, and then go spend the rest of her time singing at the bar in return for free drinks.

          Either way, though, I just meant that there’s plenty of room for the Bard’s unstated greater agenda to align with Cat’s, in which case it’s just a matter of compromise and trust – neither of which are easy, of course.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Jane

            Oh, though I should mention that I don’t actually think that this kind of plan is atypical for her in the least; what we’ve seen of her character certainly doesn’t imply it, and it would be kind of hard to loop things like the creation of Sve Noc into the plan against the Dead King. Just that that’s the kind of reveal that I could see leading to her working with Cat.

            Liked by 1 person

  9. Novice

    “Not yet content” Isn’t that a Triumphant quote or am I mixing up my Dread Emperors? Either way, this only means that Amadeus is going to cook up something interesting. It’s gong to be a hard two-month withdrawal for me.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. It is.

      “And so Triumphant said: ‘Tremble, for I am not yet content.’”
      – Extract from the Scroll of Dominion, twenty-fourth of the Secret Histories of Praes

      It’s what she said after conquering all of Calernia.

      Liked by 8 people

  10. So, as this volume is winding to an end… and because we have a two months break apporoaching…. is anyone here in the mood for playing some sort of tabletop RPG? I’ve got a couple lying around that I’ld like to try out.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. What, are you thinking like something on roll20 or w/e? Could be interesting. I’ve been eyeing trying to put together a Guideverse semi-homebrew based on the Scion 2e system myself, but I’m already DMing a Pathfinder campaign and that’s been sucking up all my TTRPG-related creative energies. What did you have in mind?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Honestly? Whatever people are keen on.

        I’m happy running something pretty classical like Pathfinder.

        I’ve got a Sci-Fi RPG system which is homebrew, but pretty damn polished, so if people are happy in another genre, and be keen to run that. https://www.overleaf.com/read/qyhqqwvmyymx

        And I’ve got another homebrew in which is somewhat more experimental, but closer to a Guideverse feel, in which players work together to run a minor city state, playing politics and strategy as diplomats, generals, archmages and courtiers.

        Depends what people are interested in, and how important it is to be playing in Guideverse in particular, vs “Lets just have an adventure whereever”

        Liked by 2 people

        1. > Depends what people are interested in, and how important it is to be playing in Guideverse in particular, vs “Lets just have an adventure whereever”

          A Guideverse adventure would be fun, but I’m open to wherever. I don’t think Pathfinder is a good fit for a Guideverse campaign personally – a more narrative system makes more sense IMO. Also, I’ve played a lot of Pathfinder already. Like, a lot a lot. I’d prefer not to play even more atm lol. Variety is the spice of life and all that.

          I’m always down for some good sci-fi, though. I’d certainly be good with that if it’s what the DM would prefer to run.

          It occurs to me that timezones could be relevant for coordinating a game. I’m on Pacific time myself. Would it maybe be better to continue this discussion in Discord? I feel a little leery of filling up the comments with this too much, idk if that’s just me.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I’m in the Europe, so…. doable timezone, but would probably be something like Sunday evening my time, Sunday Morning yours.

            As for Discord…. probably just going to get lost in the hubub on the Practical Guide server…. and so far you are the only reply.

            If I get a couple other people replying and showing interest, I’ll set up a discord server just for this, but by the looks of it, one person does not an RPG campaign make.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Fayhem

              > one person does not an RPG campaign make.

              Sadly true. Alas, ’twas a beautiful dream. Do you have the invite/link/whatever to the Discord server for the Guide btw? I’ve started actually using Discord semi-regularly now so I figure now’s a good time to actually join.

              Liked by 1 person

    1. What Scenario are you imagining where something CAT thought necessary was also considered important to the Ranger?

      Best I can tell, Ranger cares about hunting big threats and kill folks that bug her. If Cat says “I killed black to save one million lives,” Ranger’s gonna be “Uh huh…. you think I care about that?”

      The real question is, will ranger kill ANYONE for hurting Black?
      If Malicia killed him, or Pilgrim, or even just some random Bandit, would Ranger revenge, or would she just shrug and go “Welp, dumb boy didn’t learn those lessons I taught him, not my problem”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. This.

        Ranger might have extra anger for Cat as opposed to a random enemy because she’s someone Amadeus deliberately let close, but actually her being Ranger I’m not even buying that. She doesn’t care, period.

        And she’ll either want to kill the person who broke her favorite toy, or she’ll shrug and move on.

        Like

        1. IIRC when the Calamities were talking about how when Black disappeared in some hero’s personal domain for a few days and they couldn’t tell if he was dead or not Sabah went on a rampage after having a werewolf relapse, and there was some comment to the effect of “and thankfully he showed up again before Ranger arrived, or there’d have been an actual mountain of corpses”. I don’t remember which chapter, I think it was somewhere in the Free Cities arc?

          Anyway, the reason I bring it up is that while evidently Ranger’s version of a sentimental attachment looks like a lot of killing (as far as I can tell, Ranger’s version of just about everything looks like a lot of killing) the assessment from people who know her better than most is that she does have such an attachment to Amadeus. I definitely don’t see shrugging as the hypothetical response, and I’m not sure “favorite toy” is necessarily apt either – she refuses to be “chained” by anyone or anything, but I don’t think that inherently means she doesn’t care in her own awful way.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Ah, but who’s saying that about Ranger? About what would happen if she showed up?

            Let me give you a hint: it’s people who care about others. It’s either Amadeus, who cares about everyone and their mom so badly he’s currently getting torn apart by loyalty conflicts (Alaya vs Praes being the main one, but there’s plenty more!), or people who care about him in the symmetrical way that he inspires in people.

            I sure don’t remember Indrani, the person who actually knows her and has an outsider’s view of her relationship with Amadeus, suggesting that.

            You might be right. I just don’t think it’s assured, is all.

            Like

  11. broadaxe

    I think cathrine misunderstood black, seems to me he is taking this road because it will bring him close to malicia with her guard lowered. It seemed to me like he was actually just explaining his plan and the narrative he planned to take to ascend to power as dread emperor without her blocking him :3 after all he still thirsts for power :3

    Like

    1. you’re very optimistic about his priorities in this situation is all i’m saying

      if it turns out to be the plan you’re talking about, i’ll be not very surprised. if it does AND his version of the plan ends with him alive, i WILL be

      Like

  12. One thing that stood out to me for Black, is that my personal opinion of his unreliable narrator around Warlock being the case is once again surfacing. He falls into the ‘Friend means friend in many things.’, while Warlock has shown to be unbound by friendship or pick Malicia’s side when it goes against logic reasoning. He refers to Black in Story matters, but him refusing to start a school is far from his own declining or disagreeing with Amadeus. We’ve seen so in his internal narratives and actions, while Black and others assume a certain cliche friendship to be followed.

    And as EE has shown with Pilgrim not being fully Cat’s friend and ally despite agreeing and allying with her in some some manners that would in lesser stories by other writers make him barely able to disagree with her past that point, EE can implement such divergence from perceived friendship and alliance. Warlock might’ve seen the hooks and not told Black about them because there was no need or it fell under the same dead switch things that Masego allowed and applauded in book 1 with the hairbraid, or otherwise have been aware or suspecting.

    So maybe Black is working with at least a few facets and details simply being incomplete knowledge.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Um, you realize Warlock is dead, right? Hierophant AFAIK hasn’t weighed on on the school. Agreed that he might not have reported Malicia’s hooks even if he saw them (“Well, of course she’d do something like that, Black should know that”), but he might not have been able to see them in the first place. That said, I’d find it dubious that neither Black, the late Warlock, nor Scribe would have any idea of Malicia’s Rule aspect. Naming and categorizing another Named’s aspects is practically step 1 for planning around them, and her prior use of this particular aspect would have left hints for all three to notice.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Jane

        Eh, it strikes me as similar to the White Knight’s modification of Ride in Winter III – technically it’s still Rule fueling her mind control trick, but it’s far from the standard usage of her aspect (which I expect is usually rather showier), and required a lot of personal development and experimentation to enact. Once they know about it, they can work backwards to see how she did it, but in advance… You don’t expect javelin light cannons from Ride, and you don’t expect sleeper agents from Rule.

        Especially since she’s gone out of her way to keep this ability secret even when it would otherwise have been useful, and when she has other talents that can be blamed when she’s messing with someone’s mind.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. The hooks have been planted years in advance, when Warlock was still alive. I’m retroactively reasoning for him to tie it to Amadeus’s current reasoning including that Warlock didn’t know (before dying and all) while such a thing may have been the case. As Malicia didn’t seem to know of Warlock’s neutral stance of rational support rather than being well within Amadeus’s camp, as we’ve seen in the few Warlock musings we’ve seen when he was still alive and the interlude’s narrator, it’s unlikely that she had some great scheme or reveal to be in this. But when Warlock’s alliances were misinterpretated by Amadeus same as Alaya’s, then which ones are false too?

        I’m not saying he definately saw the hooks, but I am saying there’s a fair chance that if he saw them that he saw no issue or need to tell Black about them. Whether for a logical reason (to Praes standards of ‘logical’), because he assumed Black to know already, or because Malicia made a compelling rational argument which included Black not knowing everything especially about this part of her hooks.

        That Black hadn’t seen this coming at all, that’s indeed on him. Sentimentality, huh?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Soronel Haetir

          Something to keep in mind about Warlock, Amadeus was _very_ much more his friend than Alaya. (Really it was Amadeus that kept the entire structure bound together, not Alaya). Scribe, Captain and Ranger were pretty much strictly Amadeus’ friend rather than Alaya, Warlock only slightly less so. We don’t have anything as definitive about Assassin but there have been hints that there too it is Amadeus that is the glue. With what we’ve seen even for Alaya Amadeus was the glue and not some over-arching fondness for the others.

          The only reason that it wasn’t Black that became Dread Emperor is that he did not want it. All the other Calamities would have chosen him every time over Alaya if he had shown any inkling that he would have accepted.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes, I agree that Warlock definately preferred Black as a friend much more. However you are sharing Black’s misassumption in this: that this means that Warlock would pick his side over Malicia’s by sheer sentimentality. In some cases he would, but not as often as Black assumes. Warlock still has some patriotic pride to help Praes maybe, or at least help its leader when he’s asked to and provided the means and adequate payment. I remember that somewhere in book 4’s interludes on the now destroyed port city he even mused on how Alaya assumed him to be much more in Black’s favour vs her than he really was.

            Black’s the glue that kept the Calamities together, but he didn’t ‘own’ Warlock same as how Pilgrim wasn’t an assured ally in her court yard in everything after he acknowledged her not being evil incarnate. While in many stories (and thus to many of us fan’s nigh automatic assumption) this would’ve been the case. Which leads to the question: What else was he wrong about?

            Doesn’t matter. Axiom 55 as given this chapter is uni-alignmental, at least in most stories I know assuming they go deep enough to give the villains genuine depressive periods, so anything that makes Black sadder will only see to him becoming stronger once his theme music starts playing and he resolves himself to get back in the fray. May or may not be a terrible development depending on the situation and way of change.

            Liked by 2 people

  13. Xinci

    I do wonder at the exact accuracy of Cats statement on magic as she words things in a possibly innaccurate way for such things.
    Named Power takes a different method of acquisition and breach in some ways than Sorcery but this does not mean it is truly disconnected from it. A different clast of a greater system of rules and powers that were used to make the various dimensions.
    So perhaps most cannot unsurp it due to one needing to fill a role with Purpose but the truly levels of connectedness seem nebuluos. Perhaps it due to the Light and whatever name we may have for the inherent power of Evil if it isnt Night serve as big enough magical mactocosms for Cat to make such a distinction. I wonder if Masego would though.

    The epigraph gives hope for Masego and the Knight getting their powers back.

    Without Judgment aiding his own judgement Hanno will be easier to regulate. Even with the mistakes he will no doubt make he may study his lives to adapt to this pressure.

    Like

      1. Xinci

        Nah he did, he answered to Judgement, and if Judgement found a problem with Cat he would intervene. Not saying that’s a good or bad thing but he was a power she couldn’t regulate completely.

        Like

        1. Judgement didn’t tell him who to flip the coin for. He chose when to ask them, and he’s been if anything more willing to cooperate with earthly authorities than any other hero on the goddamn continent in the entire series timeline.

          Like

  14. Hmm… it seems like the Dread Empress Victorious route may be happening after all. I’m not seeing any other way for Cat to extricate Amadeus from his current situation.

    Like

    1. So long as he doesn’t kill himself after this, there’s ways. Note that the Legions-in-Exile are still under impression they’re carrying out HIS orders.

      As for how Cat can assure that first condition… well. I’m just going to be crossing my fingers, here.

      Like

  15. Soronel Haetir

    So here’s a nasty thought, remember the “Hall of Screams” from book 1? Has Amadeus done enough to have tried for the crown and failed by whatever magic animates that place?

    Liked by 1 person

  16. So, hey, does anyone feel like talking about abusive relationships and logic employed by victims to justify and support them? And how Amadeus seems to be applying it in a spinning spray to absolutely everyone he cares about regardless of if they prompted him to or not?

    “Surely this was my fault and not theirs” ™

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I mean, partly…. but partly its a “I trust people to act according to their nature”. You can’t change parts of the system that aren’t you, only your own decisions. If you want to learn, then in some sense everything is ALWAYS your fault.

      The lesson you might learn is “I should have stabbed that abusive bastard with a knife, its my fault for not stabbing them”, but the lesson is always something YOU could have done.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There’s a line, though. And the line right now is that Amadeus wanted to work with Alaya despite everything – despite the revelation of the planted commands – so badly, he fired Scribe over disrupting that possibility for him. And that he doesn’t even learn the lesson that he should yell at Cat about what she did in hiding it from him, he just “doesn’t blame her for it since he’s the one who taught it to her”. He’s going with the “well if I hadn’t PROVOKED them-” logic, where everyone gets to do whatever they want and he never REALLY confronts them about it or turns on them because of it.

        His conclusion keeps being that he’s still loyal to all of these people.

        Except Eudokia who’s been trying to stop him from being Like That. Ah, these inconvenient support systems hinting that something might be wrong with the picture and you might need to rethink your entire approach to relationships~

        Liked by 1 person

        1. hakureireimu

          He was already ready to kill Malicia to take her place during the peace talks; that’s why he told Cat that it was about Eudokia and not Alaya. He fired Eudokia because she betrayed his trust; he can no longer trust that she will not plot behind his back.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. He was ready to kill Alaya because he was driven into a corner by her not contacting him, which happened because Eudokia burned that bridge behind his back.

            That’s the big sin she committed: she drove him into a confrontation he would give almost anything (but not the current stakes) to avoid.

            Like

    1. Eh.

      In what situations has he flipped the coin so far?
      – in confronting an evil villain actively right now fighting him. I, I think he’s going to be fine making the call in that situation either way lmao;
      – in being actively invited to ask Judgement’s opinion on the situation. I think he’s going to let out a long, happy sigh of relief over y’know no longer getting asked that. The next land dispute he’s asked to arbitrate, he just flips them off while moonwalking backwards;
      – in sorting out an intensely ambiguous situation where it’s not clear who’s on whose side and who did what. Yeah, if there’s another Salian coup waiting in the future, Hanno’s going to figure out another way to handle it. Is there, though?

      In all other situations – aka most of them – he’s been just fine relying on his own judgement of what is utterly obvious in being the right thing to do. He’s been actively avoiding flipping the coin unless the person possibly maybe does deserve death and now’s the time to do it if so. Remember how Arnaud unsettled him but there wasn’t an obvious direct provocation so he stayed his hand?

      He’s just going to… keep doing that.

      And I expect the range of ‘well obviously’ situations to slowly and naturally expand… 😀

      Like

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