Chapter 6: Equivalent

“Fairness is the refrain of the lazy, the inept, the heroic. Anyone unwilling to stack the deck and murder the judge to seize victory has no place wielding any real power.”
– Dread Emperor Callous

I’d seen enough presage boxes by now I could tell who it was from the Workshop that’d made them. The Blind Maker’s carved enchantments were in beautifully fluid cursive, like the High Tyrian they derived from, and they felt warm to the touch. The Bitter Blacksmith – the heroine, not her villain brother at the Morgentor – chiselled in hers with swift, impersonal precision while avoiding flourishes. She had little taste for such work and always sought to finish it as quickly as was possible without compromising quality. The Hunted Magician, whose work was being held up in front of me right now, took to the craft with the same amount of cryptic paranoia that was his signature in everything else. Though the symbols he used were some sort of ancient Mavii runes and like much of that ancient people’s work they were as much art as function, within them the villain carved entirely unnecessary and unrelated symbols. Masego had told me that carving those signs in any order but what it must have originally been done in would make the box fail to function, sounding about as impressed by this as he’d been miffed.

The runes on the side, which I fancied to look like a wheel woven from winds when taken in all at once, remained inert even when brought close to me. The mage from the Third Army – a lieutenant, by the stripes – tested Akua as well before drawing back with a sharp nod at the rest of the force surrounding us. She saluted me, pointedly not looking at Akua more than she needed to. Blonde, that woman, I noted. Liessen did tend to be fair-haired.

“Your Majesty,” she greeted me in Chantant. “Lieutenant Eve Baldry, tenth company. I’m currently under loan to Captain Raphael Twice-Drowned of the Ardeni Guard.”

Fantassins, then, not proper Volignac foot. The ten soldiers who’d come along with the Lanterns and the lieutenant had undeniably had that look about them, it must be said. It wasn’t a question of equipment, not anymore, as Cordelia had with my enthusiastic blessing begun offering to pay the mercenary companies with good steel the moment trade with the Kingdom Under opened again. Nowadays fantassins were not significantly better or worse off in equipment than Proceran regulars, though the personal armies of the princes and princesses still boasted superior arms as well as training. But where regulars and sworn men wore the colours of some royalty or another, fantassins wore marks just as garish as the names of their leaders and companies. As a rule, the more outlandish the names and colours the longer they’d been in the mercenary trade, which meant the eye-watering shades of orange and green on their feathered helms were a good sign.

Any soldiers wearing colours that bright in a war against Black’s legions would get a goblin arrow in the throat before the campaign’s first night was over, but the Principate had fought a different sort of wars in the days before the Dead King. The Ardeni Guard was not familiar to me as I knew only the most distinguished of the companies in Hainaut, like the Grands Routiers and Hermosa Foxes. I’d taken Klaus Papenheim’s solid advice and left Princess Beatrice Volignac to handle the fantassins along with southern Procer process as a whole, which meant I was not forced to entertain half a hundred swaggering captains for meals regularly but also that I was only passingly knowledgeable about that particular slice of our forces. I cast a curious glance at the Lanterns – faces painted white and gold and built like they’d spent the better part of their lives in a shield wall instead of a temple – but got no introduction out of them, only respectful nods. The formal priesthood the Dominion answered to only the Gods Above, in principle, and not even the Holy Seljun could command something of them should they be disciplined. In practice they tended to be receptive to requests from the Blood, though not to the point of outright subservience. The only person I’d ever seen the warrior-priests take a knee for was the Grey Pilgrim.

To me they offered respect but no great deference, and to use them on the field I usually needed to pass the order down to them through Aquiline or Razin. Inconvenient, but given how brutally effective they’d proved against undead I’d keep my complaining down to a pittance.

“Well met, lieutenant,” I replied in Lower Miezan. “I don’t suppose you could tell me what the lights above are about?”

“Above my paygrade I’m afraid, ma’am,” the blonde mage said. “I heard there was a scuffle, but my orders didn’t come with a briefing attached. Captain Raphael might know, though, they’re in charge of the gate for the first night rotation.”

I frowned. I was more inclined to head directly to the heart of the camp and interrogate someone in charge than stop by for a chat with a fantassin captain, but the casualness of the mage’s reply was surprising me. She did not seem concern in the slightest.

“Muster wasn’t sounded?” I asked.

“It wasn’t,” Lieutenant Baldry confirmed.

Akua hummed out in amusement.

“The White Knight has returned, hasn’t he?” she asked.

The Callowan lieutenant turned a cold glare to the shade, long enough to acknowledge a question had been asked before turning to me to answer it.

“Lord White returned about half a bell ago, ma’am,” Lieutenant Baldry agreed. “He’s got another two Named with him, though I can’t say I recognized either.”

I could have said I was warned of another’s coming by the sound of footsteps, but that would almost have been untrue. The sound of boots on earth was a small thing compared to the almost aggressive loudness of what the approaching soldier was wearing: there was a good coat of mail somewhere under there, and a cuirass, but it was almost hard to see under the green-and-orange striped vest that went down to their thigh, which were in turn covered by bouffant pants going down to the knees that added bright blue to the palette. None of the… frills, though, seemed to hinder movement: the pants were tucked into good steel greaves, and the vest was close enough to the body it shouldn’t get caught in anything when a sword was being swung. The long dyed hair, half orange and half green with two small stripes of blue, was the finishing touch to the ensemble, framing an almost comically unremarkable face. The fantassins parted for them, which allowed me an easy guess.

“Captain Raphael?” I asked in Chantant.

Gods, let them be the captain. I was not sure my eyes could physically take the amount of garishness it would take for the captain to out-peacock this one.

“We meet once more, Black Queen,” the Proceran boldly replied. “A strange turn of fate, that would see us fight side by side when we were once enemies.”

I smiled blandly, wondering if I was meant to have any clue at all who this was beyond some mercenary captain. Still, it wouldn’t do to let anyone know I was confused.

“Yes,” I gallantly tried. “That is true.”

At my side Akua’s stance stiffened the slightest bit, which was the Sahelian equivalent of uproarious laughter at my expense. All right, so maybe it’d not been the finest of my illusions.

“Twice-Drowned?” I prodded, cocking my head to the side.

“When the grounds collapsed at the Battle of Trifelin, I fell into an underground well,” Captain Raphael smiled. “Along with a few hundred pounds of stone. Yet it was still more pleasant an evening than being subjected to your tender mercies at the Battle of the Camps, Your Majesty.”

Trifelin was, from what I recalled, a major defeat that Princess Rozala had been inflicted in the early months of her defence of Cleves the first time she’d been charged with the defence of the principality. It’d been a hard setback that could have turned into a proper disaster had heroes not held the rearguard of the retreat. Impressive they’d survived that mess when standing in the thick of it, much less the implication they’d been on the field at the Camps when I’d opened the gate into Arcadia and dropped a lake on the crusaders. Someone to keep an eye on, I decided. Survive enough scraps by the skin of your teeth, these days, and a Name might not be too far ahead.

“You may rest assured, captain, that when lakes next fall you’ll be on the side welcoming it,” I said, tone droll. “And as it happens, I’ve questions you might have the answer to.”

“It would be my pleasure, Your Majesty,” the captain replied with a sweeping bow.

I took a step forward, Akua falling in behind, only to found Captain Raphael had offered me their arm. How long has it been since someone tried that? I wondered, baffled and just a little charmed. I took the offered courtesy and we walked towards the closest watchtower, where a brazier was being used to roast meat in a way that would have seen a legionary of my armies harshly reprimanded for. Fantassins, though, had different standards of discipline.

“I have heard that the White Knight returned,” I began.

“Indeed,” the captain agreed. “Along with the Valiant Champion and a girl from parts unknown.”

I forced my face to remain calm, my fingers to remain unclenched. The Valiant Champion, huh. Hanno was usually cleverer than this when bringing strays home – that I’d not skinned that so-called heroine alive and made a cloak out of the leather was already showing great restraint, as far as I was concerned. The Champion was an ally in the fight against Keter, and so would be extended all courtesies and privileges that the Truce and Terms required of me. Yet I’d rather eat my own hand than offer a thimble more to that woman, and that was not an enmity that would ever be buried.

“And it was Lord Hanno who ordered the use of the warding array?” I asked.

Raphael nodded and leaned in close, lowering their voice.

“I am told there was some manner of infiltration by the Dead King,” the captain said. “It was quickly dealt with through use of the sorcery that lies at the heart of the camps, though that section still remains closed.”

“Casualties?” I bluntly asked.

It wasn’t that Neshamah wasn’t capable of subtlety: he was, and often the costs of missing his quieter schemes were the stuff nightmares were made of. On the other hand, even if Hanno had ridden in with providence at his back to unmask the Hidden Horror’s latest ploy this seemed too sloppy of an attempt to feasibly have lasted on the long term. Which meant this wasn’t an infiltration attempt, it was strapping goblinfire to a sapper’s back and sending him running at a gate. The Dead King was always willing to trade lives or resources for corpses, even at seemingly ruinous rates.

“I know not, Your Majesty,” Captain Raphael said. “Though I was told the central camp was closed by the Deadhand’s order, so your man ought to have the answers you seek.”

He usually did, truth be told. I’d come to sincerely believe that the Empire’s occupation of my homeland might have led to widespread chaos and rebellion within a few years, if Scribe hadn’t been at my father’s side. Like Black, who’d never settled in a Callowan city to rule the kingdom from, I’d been forced to discharge a great many responsibilities from a glum succession of army camps, small towns and fortresses – without Hakram keeping everything organized even as we moved, it would have all gone to shit with remarkable haste. Even now, he tended to know more about what was going on in the camp than I did.

“Then I will seek him in turn,” I said. “I thank you for the conversation, Captain Raphael.”

Taking the hint, they adroitly extricated their arm from mine and offered another gallant bow.

“Until fate deigns to reunite us, Black Queen,” the mercenary smoothly replied.

While I wasn’t always the, uh, sharpest when it came to picking up on this sort of thing I was pretty sure I was being flirted with. One hand, well, Alamans. They’d try to seduce the Choir of Contrition, if the angels showed enough leg. On the other hand, it was kind of flattering. It’d been a while since someone without a Name had tried their hand at that with me, even so superficially. It put the slightest of springs to my step as I left the fantassin captain behind. Akua did not say a word, though she did begin walking at my side instead of remaining a step behind as we headed deeper into camp.

“Hakram’s on board with whatever the White Knight pulled, sounds like,” I murmured.

Reassuring, that. I’d come to put a surprising degree of trust onto Hanno’s shoulders, since the Peace of Salia, but it was not the kind of trust that went without questioning or disagreement. Adjutant, though, I trusted implicitly. I might as well begin questioning my own limbs, should I not. If he’d backed this there was a good reason it for it.

“The Sword of Judgement has proved a capable ally,” Akua conceded. “And unlike some of his more rambunctious colleagues, he is not one to resort to collateral damage when there are other approaches to be had.”

That’d been a pleasant surprise, since while heroes tended to be careful with the lives of others they tended to be a great deal less so with equipment. Even when that equipment was very, very valuable. It was a cold hard truth that there were artefacts and siege machinery in this camp that were worth more than soldiers, and though that was an ugly thing to face it came with being a professional soldier. I could send for reinforcements, if what was lost was lives, but there were only so many wardstones to distribute across all the fronts and they were not easily replaced.

“He’s a solid one,” I grunted in agreement.

I wouldn’t have been able to pull off the Terms and Truce without him, that much couldn’t be denied. There’d been heroes that simply would not have been willing to deal with a villain if he’d not leant me the weight of his seal of approval, and that would have led to deaths. Even just a few of those would have made it seem like I was trying to conscript Named into my service, which would have gone… badly. Tariq still had a lot of pull with heroes he’d helped or saved when they were younger, that much couldn’t be denied, but as word of my raising him from the dead at the Graveyard had spread so had rumours that he was somehow under my influence. He was no longer the unquestioned grandfatherly fount of wisdom he’d once been to his side, though his record over the last two years had certainly begun redeeming the dip in his reputation.

The avenue leading to the heart of the camp was guarded by checkpoints at regular intervals and it was not long before we found our first one, along with a proper company of my soldiers. The captain commanding it knew about as much as Captain Raphael had, which wasn’t much, but she sent a runner ahead of us along before providing us with a full line in escort. I did not need more defending inside my own camp, but twenty legionaries at your back did tend to expedite most conversations. We continued deeper in, the sparse conversation I’d shared with Akua petering out entirely. I spoke with my soldiers instead, learning with pleasure that the line’s lieutenant was an old hand from the Fifteenth. He’d been from the second wave of Callowan recruits, after Three Hills and Marchford – when Black had essentially emptied the Legion training camps in the kingdom and tossed all those green men my way.

“Lost a finger at Dormer,” Lieutenant Oliver told me almost eagerly. “From one of them Immortals critters, after the Hellhound sent us up the hill.”

“They were hard bastards, even for fae,” I said. “Summer’s finest.”

“Shit name though, no offence Your Majesty,” the veteran snorted, and I grinned back. “After Lady Dartwick nicked those banners, they were pretty moral when the gobbos from ninth company unloaded. Finger got fixed up good anyway, one of them Soninke wizards from Afolabi’s legion put it right back on.”

“Not even a scar?” I teased. “All the best war stories have scars to go with them.”

“Aye,” Lieutenant Oliver mourned. “It tingles a little when there’s magic in the air, I know it, but these fresh pups from after the Folly don’t believe me. Say it’s all in my head.”

“Tell them you have me convinced, next time,” I suggested.

“That ought to make a few of the little pricks piss their armour,” Lieutenant Oliver gleefully said, then remembered who he was speaking to. “Um, Your Majesty.”

I snorted, clapped the man’s shoulder.

“I’ve spent more time on a saddle than a throne, soldier,” I reminded him amusedly. “By all means, make the little pricks piss their armour.”

That got a howl of laughter out of the lot of them, and it was in a better mood that I hit the second checkpoint. Where, looming tall above Osena sworn swords, I found the key to getting answers about what had happened in the camp tonight. No amount of polish would ever remove the scorch marks Summer flame had left on Adjutant’s plate, though as time passed he’d come to like the look. It was distinctive, as was his height even among his own kind. The black, fur-like hair nowadays going down to his jaw on the sides was another distinction, as it was far longer than either Legion or Army regulations would allow. Still, there was a reason he was not known as the Blacksteel: the most distinctive part of all was the fleshless hands, one of sheer bone and the other cast in pale spectral light. Hakram Deadhand had earned his sobriquet twice over, and Dead the Hand remained a favourite to sing among my soldiers.

A few lines had even been added after his scrap with the Baron of Thorns, as his brutal dismantling of the Revenant while reciting orc poetry had made something of an impression. Hakram strode through the Levantine armsmen, either not noticing or caring how a few of them had to hastily move out of the way or been bowled over. His broad face looked relieved.

“Catherine,” he greeted me, arm taking arm in a legionary’s salute. “I’d wondered if you were ambushed. Beastmaster knew little, but it seemed likely.”

“We were,” I darkly replied.

Good mood gone the way of mist under morning sun, I fixed a calm look on my face before dismissing my legionary escort with a few kind words. By the considering look on Hakram’s face, he’d picked up on the general vicinity of how badly my night had gone.

“So were we,” Adjutant added in a low voice as we passed through the checkpoint.

He settled at my right side, so naturally I almost didn’t notice, while Akua took my left. Not an unapt summation of the last two years, I thought.

“What happened?” I quietly asked. “Our defences shouldn’t allow for infiltration, Hakram. We’ve put the stones in every gate, any enchantment he hits our people with should be disrupted.”

“Ghouls slipped in,” the tall orc told me. “A new kind, that can-”

“Shapeshift,” Akua murmured.

Hakram shot her a considering look and she offered back a slight nod.

“Your escort,” Adjutant told me, and it was not a question.

“We have the bodies in the Night,” I said.

A halfwit would have put one and one together, given that much to go on, and Hakram was the very opposite.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Beastmaster said he was just a boy.”

My finger clenched around my staff until the knuckles turned white.

“Sometimes we just lose,” I softly replied, through teeth I did not remember clenching.

It fit, though. I felt like my entire body was clenching every time I thought of the kid I’d had to put down because of my own sloppiness.

“I’ll be seeing what duties I can shake loose, to avoid repeating the mistakes that led do that loss,” I forced out.

As if by coincidence, his flank leaned against mine. It was the most comfort either of us would allow him to give me in public but, trivial as it might seem, I was shamefully grateful for it.

“The presage boxes should have caught them,” I said, and if my voice was a little choked all three of us pretended not to have heard it.

“We’ve found a weakness in our defences,” Adjutant gravelled. “The Order of Broken Bells.”

Akua caught on before me, somewhat unsurprisingly. Generations of her forbears had cut their teeth on this very obstacle, after all.

“Their armour,” the golden-eyed shade said. “The same hymn carvings that disrupt active sorcery prevented the ghouls from triggering the boxes.”

Fuck, I thought. The weakness we could fix, the corpses we could not. I’d lost even more knights, by the sounds of it.

“Talbot?” I asked.

Losing him would be a setback. Not only was he the highest-ranking noble officer in my armies, the man had essentially put the Broken Bells together from scratch. In both politics and war, his death would be a loss keenly felt.

“Getting his eye fixed by the White Knight’s fresh helper,” Hakram replied. “The ghouls were caught out before they could finish what they’d been sent for.”

My eyes narrowed, relief at the Grandmaster of the Broken Bells surviving being shoved at the back of my mind.

“Assassinations, but that’s nothing new,” I said. “Wouldn’t have been worth revealing another breed of ghouls for. They went after the wardstones.”

“They meant to contaminate the lesser array in the Third Army camp,” the orc confirmed. “They were caught out by the White Knight, but the alarm being rung only made them strike out aggressively.”

“Losses?” Akua asked.

“Light,” Adjutant said. “Twenty dead, half again that wounded. They aimed for high-ranking officers but got caught before getting to them. The wardstones from the Third’s camp were hit with some sort of sorcery that Senior Mage Dastardly called ‘poisonous’. He had some difficulty elaborating on this, but was adamant it was a problem.”

I felt Akua gaze’s fall on me.

“Go,” I said. “I’ll want a damage assessment as soon as you can deliver.”

She bowed, more for the eyes peeled on us than anything else, and without another word melted into the nearest shadows.

“So the array purge was used to flush out the ‘poison’,” I said, then flicked a glance at the lights in the distance.

It’d take more than one purge to have that much sorcerous aftermath left behind.

“Whatever shapeshifting trick it is the ghouls use, it is of a nature similar to enchantment,” Hakram replied.

And the sorcery sent flowing out by a purge screwed with enchantments, which was why I disliked using those in the first place.

“It unmasked them,” I mused. “Clever.”

Sounded like Hanno, too. He preferred helping people help themselves rather than sweeping in on a white horse and fixing everything before disappearing into the sunset. Hopefully that hadn’t cost us a few months of vulnerability to the Dead King’s tricks, though. Gods, the vermin wards better be fucking holding at least. The atrocities Neshamah could commit with undead rats and bugs were not something I ever intended to suffer through again.

“I ordered the central camp closed as soon as we learned, but they were already inside,” Hakram told me. “They eat and impersonate people at a distressing rate, Catherine. We think the Barrow Sword and the White Knight’s followers cleared them out, but we’re keeping the camp closed until everyone with access to the stones has been cleared with both Light and sorcery.”

I grunted in approval.

“Full audit of the ranks come morning,” I said. “I don’t care if they grumble, there’ll be no risks taken with something that dangerous. And for the Order-”

“Talbot already offered that every knight should dismount and submit to testing by Light whenever they enter camp,” Hakram told me.

“We’ll see if something less clumsy can be arranged,” I replied.

I had clever enough people in my employ, and if nothing else I could have Razin and Aquiline cut their teeth on the logistics of it. After I shoved them back into the Pilgrim’s tender embrace, they’d hold their commands without my looking over their shoulder. They needed to be prepared to deal with situations like this on their own. This deep in the camp and with Adjutant at my side, we went through the last checkpoints without anyone trying to stop us. Even though the situation had, in principle, already been handled I still wanted to at least speak with Hanno. Besides, since he’d brought in another Named I would prefer having a look at them before too long. Best not to have one of those wandering camp without being able to put a Name and face to them, even if a name wasn’t always forthcoming. The last ring of defences was manned entirely by the Army of Callow, which did tend to end up with those duties by virtue of both being my personal army and the best organized of the troops. When the Iron Prince’s own troops were around it was another story, but Prince Klaus was far from here, holding the northern defence line in our absence.

I got to hit three birds with one stone when the captain in command informed me that the White Knight was currently in the same tent where Grandmaster Brandon Talbot was being healed, supervising the work being done by the healer he’d brought in. It wasn’t a long walk from there, and I knew my way around the camp well: a few moments later I was parting open the tent flap and passing it to Hakram before slipping into the tent. Within a heartbeat of that I saw a half-naked Brandon Talbot try to rise to his feet, to the vocal if inarticulate protest of the two heroes in the tent, but he only stopped when I sharply gestured for him to sit.

“Don’t blind yourself on my account,” I said. “My queenly honour will withstand your staying seated.”

“Much obliged, Your Majesty,” Grandmaster Talbot replied.

He was careful not to move his head this time, having been levied a heavy frown by the healer in front of him.

“The nerves were almost healed,” said young girl mourned. “We’ll have to start over, Sir Brandon. Please remain still, if it pleases you.”

The tent flap closed behind Hakram, who had to bend his neck the slightest bit to avoid his head touching the ceiling of it.

“Catherine,” the White Knight greeted me with a smile.

“Hanno,” I replied, feeling my lips quirk the slightest bit.

It really was good to have him back. Even just sitting on a crate in a leather jerking, keeping an eye on his duckling, the dark-skinned man felt like an island of calm in a chaotic sea.

“I would greet you properly, Your Majesty, but I cannot stay my hand,” the young girl apologized without turning.

And she was young, I saw. Scrawny and that dirty tunic she wore had seen better days, but for all that there was no denying the pulsing potency of the Light she was wielding to help my knight.

“You do me more courtesy by healing Brandon Talbot than a hundred curtsies would scrape together,” I said. “White Knight?”

“Introductions can be seen to when her attention is not elsewhere demanded,” Hanno said. “Though I wager you’ve other questions. I’ve news to give you, regardless.”

“Do you now?” Hakram gravelled from behind me.

“Not so urgent as to need an intermediary, Adjutant,” the White Knight told my second, unmoved.

The relationship between those two was best described as cordial dislike, though I’d never quite managed to put a finger on the source of it.

“What happened, Hanno?” I asked, cutting through the tension.

“After stumbling across one of the ghouls, I did what was necessary to flush out those in hiding before major damage could be done,” he said. “Yet this was part of a greater scheme, Catherine. I’ve been speaking with Prince Klaus, and before coming here I met with the Peregrine.”

My brow rose.

“Tell me,” I ordered.

“The Order of the Red Lion confirmed that the dead were massing for an offensive until an hour ago,” he said. “And now I fully understand why they gathered, and now no longer do.”

“I don’t suppose you intend to share at some point?” I drily replied.

He shot me an amused look.

“I found Pascale here,” he said, gesturing towards the young girl, “with the help of the Valiant Champion after following up on a rumour that Tariq had been seen in the region.”

I’d already made plain my feelings on that woman to the hero, so I saw no need to belabor the point by expressing the again now. Talk of the Pilgrim, though, sparked my interest. The Peregrine had lent his hand to none of the fronts, instead staying true to the roots of his Name and journeying wherever the Choir of Mercy deemed him to be most needed. If he’d really come here, then either we’d narrowly avoided a disaster or we were about to have one on our hands.

“It was a Revenant behind all of this,” Hanno told me. “We named her the Plague-Maker, though besides her Praesi origins and talent in sorcery we know little of her.”

“You found plague seeds as well,” I breathed out.

“It was a scheme in two parts, as far as we can tell,” the White Knight said. “First, after slipping through our defensive lines-”

“Which she shouldn’t have fucking been able to do, Revenant or not,” I bluntly said. “That’s the reason we send the Augur all our oracles, so that she can warn us about shit like this.”

“There was demonic taint on her,” he told me. “Absence, Tariq believes, which might be why she blindsided us. I do not know when the Dead King might have found such a Named-”

“I do,” I replied. “And if it’s from when I believe, she’s not the last one he’ll have in store.”

Malicia herself had once told me that Dread Empress Maleficent II had used demons of absence to avert the disastrous consequences of the three Secret Wars, for after failed invasions of the Serenity a counter-invasion of Ater by hellgate had been imminent. I couldn’t know how many people the general who’d later become Dread Empress had throw to the dogs to avert utter calamity, but considering how ruthless Maleficent the Second had ended up being as a ruler I doubted that it’d be a small number. Hells, considering half the continent was fighting Keter these days and we were still slowly losing I couldn’t even blame her.

“A discussion to be had later, then,” the White Knight said. “Regardless, the undead plagues were meant to draw a significant fighting force south. A large force of zombies was massed around the Plague-Maker, hidden in the wilds, which I believe was meant to attack this very camp.”

“The new ghouls were meant to hit our wards and leadership right before,” I said.

“Exactly,” Hanno nodded. “And, as a precaution, even if we won that battle handily we would be kept occupied by massive breakouts of the seeded plague in Brabant.”

“Which we’d have to move to suppress, even as his armies took a swing at the northern defence line,” I muttered.

It’d been, I thought, a pretty good plan. And it ought to have scrapped this summer as a season for an offensive war even if it didn’t go entirely his way, all at the price of at most a single Revenant.

“You caught the Plague-Maker first, I take it,” I said.

“Tariq found her in a western crossroads town, seeding refugee caravans passing through,” Hanno said. “Rafaella and I caught up with him just as the confrontation began.”

My eyes flicked to the young girl who was, by the looks of it, checking on Talbot’s eye one last time before declaring him healed.

“That is where we found Pascale,” Hanno agreed. “She’d caught on to the Plague-Maker’s work.”

I felt my hackles raise, though I wasn’t quite sure why.

“Hale as you might hope to be, Sir Brandon,” the girl – Pascale, apparently – smiled. “I am finished, if it pleases you.”

“You have my most sincere thanks, Lady Apostle,” the Grandmaster replied, rising to his feet. “If there is anything I can do to repay you-”

“I have already been repaid,” the girl said, “in the only way that matters.”

He bowed to her anyway, for he was a decent man, and offered to give me a report even as he put on a shirt before I bluntly told him to sleep off his healing and find me on the morrow. My shoulders were still tense, and I was not quite sure why. Hakram hovered close behind me, having picked up on my discomfort but being as confused as to the source of it as I was.

“I take it the Grey Pilgrim did as the Grey Pilgrim does,” I said, getting the conversation going again.

“He stepped in to protect me, when I tried to heal the plague,” Pascale happily told me. “My Choosing had already happened, but it is not suited to strife and I was most distressed.”

“He drove the Revenant off and we caught her as she tried to escape,” Hanno elaborated. “She called on the undead she’d been gathering, but we held them off long enough for the pilgrim’s star to shine.”

Meaning Tariq had smote into the ground what must have been at least a few hundred zombies but most likely had been a few thousand. It was easy to forget how fucking terrifying Tariq Fleetfoot could be, when he had the right story had his back.

“Lucky us you’d learned enough of the Light by then to pick up on the plague,” I warmly told the girl.

She blushed.

“I had not, Your Majesty,” she admitted. “My father was a wizard, who taught me of the Three Tells and the Seven Essences. Yet even so, magic would have failed. Yet my prayers were answered by Above, in our hour of need.”

“You are,” I slowly said, “a mage.”

“I was,” the young girl told me with an elated smile. “When I became the Stalwart Apostle the sorcery vanished from my veins, and the Light finally answered my prayers.”

A crack resounded in the room. It had, I dimly realized, come from my staff. My grip had been too tight around it.

“Did they listen to you?” I quietly asked. “When you warned them about the plague?”

I felt the White Knight’s heavy gaze on me but did not meet in. I looked only at this slip of a girl, who was so smilingly alive where the boy was dead.

“They did not,” Pascale sadly said. “But the Heavens did, when I knelt and asked for guidance. And through the Light, I found the way to dissolve the plague.”

This was, I told myself, nothing I should not have expected. A Named – or close enough – in the service of Evil, had been sowing death and preparing to bring about a great woe. It was only natural for the Heavens to put together a Named meant to end those designs, as the girl clearly had been.

“Ninety-nine times out of a hundred,” I said, voice cold, “nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of a thousand, that act of faith would have killed dozens of thousands.”

The girl looked like I’d struck her.

“Catherine,” the White Knight warned me.

My fingers clenched tighter still around the staff of yew, death made into a marching stick. He’d been a wretched boy, Tancred, but he’d not been wrong. To act instead of pray, to trust his the ugly work of his hands rather than the silent Heavens. How many thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions had stood in this girl’s place over the centuries and seen their faith rewarded only by a grisly death? No, the Scorched Apostate had not been wrong. He’d not been Chosen either, he’d done his own choosing. And the Heavens had damned him for it, so damn the presumptuous fucks for that in turn. Hakram’s hand warmed my shoulder and I closed my eyes for a long moment.

“It’s been a long day,” I finally said. “We’ll speak tomorrow.”

There was a reason I was more than halfway fond of Hanno of Arwad: he looked at me for a heartbeat the nodded.

“Tomorrow,” the White Knight softly agreed, eyes considering.

I walked out of the tent and into the night, Hakram hastening to catch up.

Tancred had not been wrong, I thought, shoulders tight and teeth gritted.

But what did that matter, when he was dead?

171 thoughts on “Chapter 6: Equivalent

      1. Zgggt

        Not even that. Above gave an easy answer, removed the need to make a hard choice, and made sure that others were there to hold the new hero’s hand when things get bad… And made someone who *wished real hard* get rewarded with something other than a cold dose of reality and a humiliating death.

        Liked by 12 people

          1. rabidRay

            The fact that a group of people is *inferior* by every definition of the word is not good. If you want to point an issue into why Calernia looks the way it does, it starts there.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Fayhem

              If the Gods Above were the only gods this point might possibly be a somewhat valid point? But if one person gets answered by the Gods Above and gets a good deal, and another person gets the Gods Below and gets a shitty deal, it seems to me like the rational conclusion there is that Below has shitty gods.

              I mean, Cat is furious here and just all kinds of lashing out, but what exactly is the counterscenario here? That Above should also have intervened for poor Tancred? Setting aside that the proposal there is that they should have answered someone who never actually tried asking (which is not an equivalent story), that seems like it’s disregarding that Guide has a Manichaean metaphysical setup – there are two sides, and they both have an equal claim and ability to act. Cat is lashing out at Above for “damning” Tancred, but it’s not Above that makes someone a villain. That’s Below’s purview. I mean, do we even have actual evidence that Above necessarily wouldn’t have have stepped in to help Tancred *if Below hadn’t placed their claim first*? Cat likes to place the blame for bad things happening on Above one way or another and a *lot* of the fanbase seems eager to take her lead, but “bad things happening” is the actual specific purview of the *other* side – Cat’s eagerness to look away from that fact is an example of how she can be an unreliable narrator, *not* a good example of an unbiased objective assessment that everybody reading should just accept unquestioned.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. RanVor

                One thing that irks me in the reasoning of all you Above defenders is the assumption that Tancred didn’t try to pray, which I find highly unlikely. His characterization suggested that he used to be fairly religious before the Marserac incident (supported by his Name – an apostate is a person who renounces faith), and if I understood correctly, he mentioned his mother being infected as well. I’m sure he did pray for the Light many times. Just not in the specific moment when the Above wanted him to do it.

                Liked by 4 people

                1. Fayhem

                  > Just not in the specific moment when the Above wanted him to do it.
                  AKA, the specific plot-relevant moment where a Name could have happened? Do you think Names can just happen literally whenever?

                  Like

                  1. RanVor

                    > AKA, the specific plot-relevant moment where a Name could have happened?

                    Yes, that’s exactly what I was referring to. Now take a look at Tancred’s Name and tell me, what can drive a person to apostasy if not severe disillusionment with religion?

                    Liked by 3 people

                2. Fayhem

                  Also, one thing that irks me is that you completely dodged replying to my main point to laser-focus on an aside that was more or less a throwaway.

                  Like

              2. SilverDargon

                I respect the point you’re trying to make but I think you’re forgetting something important. Namely the duality between the two new named.

                You say that the gods below offered a shittier deal than Above and that means its their “fault,” that Tancred got screwed over, but Its important to remember that someone was going to get a shit deal anyways. Its been said multiple times in the story that Above and Below have equal power to influence the world, and whenever above tips its hand, below gets a foot in the door to empower someone for their team as well. So maybe Tancred could have been a hero if he’d decided to keep praying instead of going out and trying to fix it himself, but if that had happened than Pascale would have ended up a villain. Its useless to argue about which side is at fault because its not like they both could have ended up heroes, only one person can fill a role at a time.

                The practical (hehehe) effects of their naming though is that the coalition gets TWO whole named with the power to spot the plagues the Dead King is throwing around. Because Above and Below both acted, therefore keeping the balance, in theory the army gets that much more effective against a threat that both Above and Below wanted gone.

                My theory is that Once the Dead King sees that there are two new named running around with the power to specifically fuck him over he figured he had to decide which one to kill. Between the Hero and the Villian, which one gets plot armor? Catherine is running up against the same issue that has Amadeus so fucked in the head. Below gets offered shit deals and has to suffer and rely on their own power and cunning while above gets near guaranteed success by sitting pretty and thinking happy thoughts. He takes it out on the Heroes in an attempt to ‘prove’ that they don’t deserve the wins they get, and Cat see’s a system that takes broken people on both sides and arbitrarily fucks one of them over.

                Its not fair to blame Pascale for what happened to Tancred and Catherine KNOWS that. Its why she excused herself after snapping at her basically unprovoked. I appreciate that she’s trying to be better than the Black Knight was whenever she can, even when this is obviously an emotionally trying spot for her.

                Thanks for coming to my TED talk.

                Liked by 3 people

            2. luminiousblu

              >The fact that a group of people is inferior by every definition of the word
              Welcome to, like, real life? I can’t think of a single setting where this isn’t true. Even if we totally ignore the good vs. evil thing going on, mages vs. nonmages is clearly not even close to equal. One of them tries their best to subvert the rules, the other utterly ignores them. Then there’s people who are just born stronger (Catherine, apparently; most girls can’t beat the snot out of pit fighters twice as heavy no matter how quick they are on their feet due to simple physics), born smarter (Akua), born richer (Akua again), born hotter (Malicia). What’re you to do?

              Like

          2. While it’s “good” that above wants to help people in this manner, the problem is that they don’t do so reliably. Cat is saying that less than one percent of the people would have been answered favourably in this manner. The complacency that it breeds is staggeringly deadly, as the people around those rare chosen will be inspired to emulate their example.

            It’s like playing the lottery instead of going out searching for a job to make ends meet except, in this case, not paying the bills means untold thousands of people die.

            If every single one of Cat’s soldiers were to put down their swords and pray for deliverance instead then the war with Keter would end really quickly, and only the Dead King would be happy with the result.

            Liked by 11 people

            1. There is a saying “Trust in God, but do your best”. I guess it’s cultural thing, but for me, self-reliance and faith were never mutually exclusive concepts, so I have a hard time understanding your point.

              Liked by 5 people

              1. erebus42

                I believe the point they’re trying to make is that in this case that self reliance aspect is missing. The Apostle is one of that rare few who when she prayed for her problems to go away, she was given an easy solution. That’s all well and good for her and the people she saved, but that is not a reliable occurrence. Blind faith that things will work out if you hope hard enough can often lead to complacency and cause people to forget that only way that all will be well is by making it so. The Apostate on the other hand was not given such a neat little solution and so had to do his best with what he had. And his reward for taking the harder road and saving thousands was being murdered and damned for his troubles.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. Fayhem

                  > And his reward for taking the harder road and saving thousands was being murdered and damned for his troubles.

                  No, his reward was the power of a Name. If he was “damned” by being a villain, I’ll note again that it isn’t Above that makes villains – that’s Below’s purview. And Hero or Villain are mutually exclusive claims – does anyone actually have hard evidence that Above necessarily *wouldn’t* have helped Tancred *if Below hadn’t staked a claim first*? As Cat noted herself, “making hard choices for the greater good” is a Role we’ve seen attached to heroes before. And he was murdered by the Dead King, who was originally empowered by – you guessed it – Below. Not to mention that Tancred did in fact get someone there who *could* have protected him; she just didn’t succeed (for reasons that are understandable but don’t change anything about what happened), and is now furiously externalizing her guilt at any convenient target.

                  tl;dr – Cat is eager to point the finger at the other side rather than the one that is still nominally her own, which she’s good at since she’s a well-written charismatic character and which is a normal human response (especially when under great strain and suffering from genuine emotional distress) but that still isn’t something that the fanbase should just up and follow her in doing IMO.

                  Liked by 1 person

                2. Josh

                  I think it helps to remember that, in general, the only reason why it can be framed in this way is because Cat is the main character. Cat is the type of grey that really rings as true to us because she operates the same way that we, being real people, understand.

                  But remember that Cat is such a unique breed of villian that her existence has been enough to change the foundations of the entire world. The world before Cat didn’t really operate on that logic. And, to be fair, Cat hasn’t been Named since the end of Book 2, which means shes been able to develop without the direct influence that everyone else has had to deal with.

                  Fact is, from everything that we can tell, that for every other villian before her the act of being able to make a hard choice was indistinguishable from the expectation of being able to make the choice. To put it another way, the type of person in this universe who was able to take matters into their own hands became, without exception, the type of person who demanded to be able to make those decisions and fuck everyone else.

                  And if you are going to force a morally ambiguous standard on everyone despite that, let’s be consistent here. People who ask for help and get ignored don’t usually develop into monsters that murder thousands of people just because it’s funny. No, the type of person who could do that is already capable of doing that before they ask for help, so is it really all that horrible that a god would see that person asking and tell them to fuck off? Tragic, yes. Hypocritical, not really.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Josh

                    Just as a follow up because my comment may be a little confusing: you’re assuming that every villian could have been a Cat if only the heroes worked with them, instead of assuming that every villian except Cat is a Dread Empress Malevolent, regardless of what the heroes do. And my contention is that, statistically, you have way more reason to assume the latter than the former.

                    Liked by 1 person

                3. luminiousblu

                  The idea that taking the harder road deserves a reward is inherently idiotic. Roads are roads, and where they lead has nothing to do with how rocky they are. Tancred, best I can tell, got fucked over, not by Below, but by Catherine dodging story bullets. Tancred was in a spot of trouble when the Mysterious and Powerful mentor character shows up to rescue him, which means that, story-wise, he should be safe for a while. Catherine explicitly refuses to slot into the role due to her fear of possible future ramifications, which means that the plot armor offered to Tancred was basically denied. At that point, reality ensues, and the uber lich kills an emerging threat. Compare what happened with Hanno, Grey, and Pascale – it’s almost the exact same scenario. What do you think went differently?

                  Liked by 1 person

              2. Thor

                That’s exactly why Cat is pissed. Scorched Appostate made the hard choice to stop the plague and Good just left him to fail. Instead they decided to empower the person who made the objectively wrong choice to do nothing.

                Liked by 2 people

            2. We don’t know what would have happened if Pascale hadn’t received an answer to her prayers. Maybe she would have done the same thing Tancred did, maybe she would have tried something else to reveal the plague, any method she chose might or might not have succeeded. But in a setting where the Gods can and do help people when they ask, there’s nothing inherently foolish about prayer.

              Sure, it’s not guaranteed, but Evil doesn’t offer any guarantees either – Tancred didn’t survive past his first appearance. Sometimes you just lose.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Fayhem

                Thank you for your reasonable response! Pascale getting an easy answer in response to asking for one does mean she never had to make the awful choice that Tancred did – but are we seriously claiming now that it’s a good thing that Tancred had to make that awful choice? It’s true that if Pascale had prayed for an answer, not gotten one, and then sat on her hands and did nothing that disaster could have ensued. But we have no actual evidence that she would have responded to a lack of answer by doing nothing, do we? We just have evidence that Above was able to save one person who reached out to them directly but couldn’t save everyone, which in a Manichaean setting where Good and Evil have equal power and check each other accordingly is going to inevitably be the case and doesn’t prove that Good wouldn’t like to save everyone if they could.

                Honestly, it legit bothers me how eager so many people are to unhesitatingly accept all of Cat’s assessments even when she’s explicitly emotionally distraught, run to the raw edge of ragged, and sufficiently compromised by both things that she can even acknowledge herself (which doesn’t come easy for her) that she’s making mistakes and she needs to take a break because she’s lashing out at targets who don’t deserve it.

                Liked by 2 people

            3. But remember that she tried to warn others of the plague before turning to Above which is different than praying to Above without doing anything.
              That’s really one of the differences between Good and Evil.

              Liked by 2 people

                1. SpeckofStardust

                  Yes and after he was rejected he went and stabbed a man to prove his point that said priest had no right to disagree with him about the plague. The girl deicide to so to speak asked more directly for a better healer.

                  Liked by 1 person

          3. He who travels the stories

            @TeK:
            Of course it is a bad thing. Why? Because it is absolutely self-gratifying.
            The Scorched Apostate wished for the Light so badly he turned his magic into something so close to it as possible. Do you you think he did not pray for Above to give him the means to help him cure the plague, too? But they did not help him. He was left with the necessary Evil of Below.
            But then Above goes and gives that girl the abilty to cure the plague, turning her magic into Light. Mocking the hard decisions the Scorched Apostate had to make; somehow trying to turn THEIR lack of delivering on their promises of help in the face of Evil into HIS personal failure, he should have “just hoped a little harder”.
            You can not rely on Above to safe you but Above has the audacity to frame not relying on them, to not have faith despite their fickleness, to search for other, more reliable ways as Evil. That is why it is a bad thing: they paint the 999 out of 1000 who did not get their help as having a personal flaw, blaming them for Aboves failings. You can’t reasonably expect people to rely on you when you are simply not reliable but Above does just that, pointing at that one time they helped and how well that played out, not mentioning the 999 times they failed to deliver.

            Like

          1. ThatOneGuy

            Her pick fought to try and stop the plauge. He got his face burned and then butchered by undead before turning into an undead.

            The hero pick got the free pass, no undead ambush as she got to play hero… And she is left alive brining the key to stop plague while Scorched got burned and died… For trying to do the same thing.

            Not so much annoyed at the lives being saved, but the folks above getting to decide who gets to be saved and who die… Especially since they were both mage born wanting to be priests.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. KageLupus

      One of my favorite parts of the story is the way that stuff like this is just dropped in without being a big deal or sounding strange. Random character gets introduced as they and Cat just immediately understands that that is how pronouns works and goes with it.

      My favorite is still the dwarf honor seeker murdering monsters for a marriage license, though.

      Like

      1. chris S

        Not trying to downplay it here, but also remember Cat is high priestess of an entire race who don’t use the “traditional” concept of gender. It’d be more surprising if she was taken for a loop by it.

        Like

  1. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    Mavii runes and > Mavii runes, and
    Liessen > Liessens
    southern Procer process (is this correct)
    priesthood the Dominion > priesthood of the Dominion
    fortresses – without (should be a separated sentence)
    ahead of us along > ahead of us
    pretty moral > pretty mortal
    been bowled > be bowled
    led do that > led to that
    leather jerking > leather jerkin
    Scrawny and that > Scrawny, and that
    they gathered, and now no longer do (hard to parse. maybe and “and have now dispersed”)
    expressing the again > expressing it again
    had throw to > had thrown to
    it’d be a > it’d been a
    Brandon,” the > Brandon.” The
    not meet in > not meet it
    trust his the > trust the
    Hakram’s hand warmed (are his hands warm?)
    heartbeat the nodded > heartbeat, then nodded

    Liked by 3 people

  2. NerfGlaistigUaine

    Well that’s fucking unfair, but then when did fairness matter. Apostate was right, but why should the dead care? One has a village saved and fresh Light to her name and the other, only ashes. This chapter does make me empathize with Black though.

    “None of it is earned. It is handed to them, and this offends me.”

    Even with all the great speeches in this story, Black’s Rage against the Heavens speech is still the most epic.

    Liked by 21 people

  3. Tancred is looking to have a bigger impact than we hoped after he died, and we seriously need a list of current named, maybe in that meeting that was mentioend Cat is going to they will be mentioned, like “we have xxx and xxx in this front, these in another and we could move these others, etc”.

    Oh and Hakram doesn’t liek Hanno wonder why that is? xD Like father like daughter xD (scribe dislikes Ranger if i remember).

    This chapter tells us 2 things about cat right now: 1) she needs to get laid, 2)she needs more than get laid, as in an actual relationship with someone she can consider an equal (wich sadly wasn’t the case with Kilian sicne she was always liek a subordinate), i just hope neither dies as a consequence.

    And as much as i get why Cat reacted like that i can’t help but feel sorry for that girl, i suppose that character development can make her the replacement goldfish for Tancred, it would be cool actually.

    Liked by 7 people

      1. Things is that she needs more than sex, a lover could serve as a good sounding board and has the ability to point out her flaws, wich is something we have seen happen between Hanno and Her, on both ways, it shouldm’t mirrow Black and Raner’s realationship, more like Masego’s parents actually. Speaking of it, if Black and Malicia would have actually developed a healthy relationship then a lot of the plot wouldn’t have happened xD. Instead neither could really see the other as an equal, mostly Malicia but even Black, sure it could be said is something every willain is unable to do but we have seen Cat has learned to actually stop and consider being in the wrong among other bits of character development, and Hanno too if i remember well their talk after he woke up last book.

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        1. More generally than just a lover, she really needs any other outlet for her stress than pouring herself into her work.

          She failed Tancred because she is spread too thin, and offloading some of her duties will only go so far. Hakram can do a little to mitigate her stress, as we see in this chapter, but her position only allows for so much comfort.

          Like

    1. Regarding the new Named mentioned, I love the Bitter Blacksmiths. They’re siblings with the same Name, but one is a Heroine, and one is a Villain.

      Huh, EE was really shoving in the fact that Above and Below mirror each other.

      Liked by 10 people

  4. I wonder, why don’t Heavens help everyone? Is it deliberate malice on their part? Or is it the lack of strength to help everyone? It can’t be indifference, they do help after all. So Cat must think it is deliberate malice then. Which is absurd. Unless she thinks that Heavens reward you only blind faith. But then what about all those whose blind fate was not rewarded?

    See, I have trouble understanding her point now, except that she is angry and Above make for a convenient scapegoat.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. RoflCat

      >But then what about all those whose blind fate was not rewarded?

      That’s the point of her 99/100, 999/1000 talk. The Heavens don’t always answer because they can only interfere if the Story allows, and those moments where prayers did nothing? Many died. Yet all praise Above for the one good thing they did while ignoring the ones they left behind.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. I don’t think you got what I meant. You said it yourself, Heavens can help only if story allows. It is not deliberate malice, nor is it indifference. So I am lost as to why any kind of blame is laid at their hands. It seems petty and entitled. It’s like getting angry at the fireman that he only saved your family, and not also your stamp collection.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. It is kind of petty, but completely understandable.
          Cat is approaching the whole praying thing rationally. There’s no point in praying if your prayers only have a tiny chance of being answered when it matters. So you should act, which means you’re a Villain and now you’ve turned your back on Above.

          She’s angry about how doing the smart thing means you get fucked over by Gods.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. But if you approach it rationally from the position of Heavens, this kind of triage does make sense. If you can save one kid, you would also be saving your first, even if it is kinda cruel. Moreover, in Guideverse, praying is not as useless as in our universe, and that bias might also skew perception of the matter. Because praying works. And finally, Heavens are kinda non-sentient, so blaming them for anything is extremely ludicrous. Like they actually resurrected Cat, but somehow that was taken for granted, like it was all her. But if it is a bad thing, oh those damn evil Heavens.

            Now if w are being honest, the boy would’ve died if he did not acted. But maybe that is precisely the reason Heavens did not hold his hand: because he didn’t need them. And well, after that, he did reject Heavens through his actions, he proclaimed that he is a strong independent mage who don’t need no Heaven. It is not irrational to not spare a limited resource of providence on someone who explicitly rejected your help.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. willfultrooper

              Your firefighter analogy is completely one-sided and leaves no room for a counter-argument or at-least a counter-argument that could use that same analogy i.e firefighters saves family but not stamp collection, on Below’s behalf. I will instead hijack the firefighter part. Let’s say Above are firefighters and they have the ability to save a house out of one hundred. This could be for a number of reasons not enough water (or power in above’s case) as one such example. Let’s say a fire happens and we know for certain homes are going to be burnt to the ground. We don’t know how many and so some (not all but for arguments sake lets’ say 50 left) fled their homes. Now lets say the apostate is the the one homeowner who realised that maybe the firefighters won’t save him and so he takes numerous steps to save his home and fight the fires. The apostle on the other hand just sat there and believed really hard that the firefighters will save their house (let’s not forget the other 48 people I have not yet mentioned who believe the same thing). In this scenario 98 out of the 100 houses burn to the ground.

              The Apostate is then ridiculed and or ostracised by the firefighters (I know firefighters won’t actually do this in real life but in this instance this is what above did to the apostate so just go with it) for trying to do their jobs and not having faith in them whilst the Apostle is praised for staying in her home despite the risk of the fire and the firefighters thank her for the faith she had in them. 52 are alive in this scenario, the 50 who fled and the Apostle who’s home is saved and the other is the apostate. All 48 of the other homeowners who stayed are dead because the firefighters couldn’t save their homes and they were thus burned alive. Despite the fact that the Apostate saved his house he is instead branded as an unfaithful member of the community for not believing in the firefighters. Whilst the Apostle who did NOTHING was showered with praise and the 48 people who died are forgotten. This I believe is the argument NZPIEFACE was trying to make.

              (I know this isn’t the way firefighters would have behaved, it’s an analogy)

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Now I have to say that yes, my firefighter analogy was entirely sophistry. I struggled when I was writing whether I should use a proper argument, but in the end I fell to the Dark Side. And I am sorry 😉

                See, there is a flaw in your argument as well. The first part is alright. Let’s assume (and I believe it is a reasonable assumption) that firefighters know which homeowners will fight the fire. Now let’s say that fighting the fire has a 10% chance to work, and praying has 0.01% chance. And firefighters can give one house a 100% chance increase. It is only natural, if your goal is maximizing the amount of people saved, to give that increase to the praying ones. So blaming firefighters for that is absurd.

                Now let’s get to the part where firefighters ridicule the homeowner who fought the fire. Now first of all, we need to establish exactly what “fighting the fire” entails. Which is, apparently, slaughtering every single person inside the house in cold blood, including children and elderly. Now let’s balance that by the fact that not all houses in the village caught on fire initially, and that taking the fire out by yourself saves not only your house, but an entire village. Theoretically at least. We don’t know if there really was no better way. If waiting it out would certainly lead to the entire village catching fire. But let’s assume so nonetheless.

                So now you got a saviour with bloody hands, and Sainty Mc’Praysalot. To be more precise, we got two new recruits. One puts out fire with murder (?), another without. And look, the dastardly culprit wants to kill the both of them, and you can only save one. Moreover, your dark counterpart (the firefighter village deserve, but not the one it needs right now) is here to save the murdery one. So now again, the same situation, you can only save one, but the murdery one with the Dark Mommy has a 50% to survive, and another one is pretty screwed on her own. And again, giving her the 100% chance to survive is more efficient.

                And now let’s change it a little. Let’s say that firefighters don’t really fight fire, but bestow the fire extinguisher to the Chosen one. Now can you blame them for bestowing that extinguisher on the person who chose NOT to slaughter an entire village? And will you blame those firefighters for protecting the person you already gave your one and only extinguisher too? Say what you want, but if Tankred was chosen by Above, he would be another Saint of Swords.

                Ya all hated Saint of Swords.

                Liked by 6 people

                1. RanVor

                  Except he wouldn’t. What he wanted was the ability to heal. Just because he was capable of slaughtering everyone doesn’t mean he’d do it if presented with another option. Or that he’d still be capable of doing it after being chosen, for that matter.

                  Liked by 2 people

                2. willfultrooper

                  Ok fair, it would be far more practical to give resources to the individual most likely to, let’s say minimise collateral damage. However, continuing on with the firefighters providing a fire extinguisher analogy but I will instead change fire extinguisher with water hose for this thought exercise and will use the term trees for a substitute for a fraction of the population and the forest as a substitute of the entire population. Before we continue I’d like to state that my argument is that the Apostate is justified with his actions and also Catherine’s anger towards how people treat the heavens or the heroes by proxy is also justified.

                  Continuing on from your previous point of the Apostle being given the water hose and the apostate stuck with “Dark Mommy” as you call Catherine, the fact that Saint was chosen as a hero clearly demonstrates that the firefighters have no qualms with choosing individuals who are ready to get down and dirty, this also includes the pilgrim if you have not forgotten his little plague that he dropped. So the fact that the firefighters did not choose the apostate for his actions (the actions being murderous yet with good intent i.e limiting casualties) are invalid, instead the reason he was not chosen was because he did not believe that the firefighters would provide him with a water hose during a forest fire and instead chose to cut down the trees with the potential to spread the fire (This is an actually valid tactic done to prevent the spread of forest fires, the cutting down or removing of trees to minimise damage done in a forest). In fact, the very reason he chose the axe was because he did not receive the water hose and instead chose to cut down trees (the villagers in this instance) choosing decisive action in order to spare the rest of the forest. Thus, his action to use the axe to cut down trees was a reaction to the firefighters not giving him the water hose resulting in trees being cut down but the rest of the forest being saved. Whereas the Apostle prayed or asked really hard and was given the water hose and she thus saved the ENTIRE forest was also a reaction being granted the water hose.

                  The reason why Catherine was angry was because the Apostle did nothing to earn that water hose and yet was granted the water hose by the firefighters, when we know for a fact that if the fire were to occur there were other individuals who were asking for it. (Transitioning back to PGTE: The plague was happening, chances were that other people were asking for aid as well, if the Apostate had allowed the plague to spread hundreds of thousands would have died and so he weighed the hundreds to the countless lives that could be lost if it continued to spread and decided on the killing the villagers. He was forced to make that choice and was thus gaining a Name, earning it whilst the Apostle had her named granted to her) The anger Catherine has for the firefighters is not the fact that they gave out the water hose, but the fact that the Apostate was branded a villain for taking matters in his own hands by said firefighters and the fact that the firefighters and the Apostle were praised in proxy whilst the Apostate was left cold and instead villainised.

                  Like

          2. Fayhem

            > There’s no point in praying if your prayers only have a tiny chance of being answered when it matters. So you should act, which means you’re a Villain and now you’ve turned your back on Above.

            Praying isn’t mutually exclusive with action. It costs nothing and a 1% chance of a free solution to an awful scenario is actually a wonderful rate of return for an investment of literally nothing. Saying there’s no point to praying in Guideverse bc there’s a low chance it will work is like saying you shouldn’t play the lottery in a scenario where you don’t have to pay to enter the lottery and it’s just a giant pot of free money you have a chance at getting if you just ask for it. Stopping at the 1% chance and then not doing anything if it doesn’t work is a bad plan, yes, but there’s no actual evidence that would have happened with Pascale. Pascale prayed and got lucky, Tancred didn’t get lucky, and the kid Cat identified with and wanted to help was the one who got the short straw *in much more significant ways than this* and so she’s lashing out. Which I do completely agree with you in saying is kind of petty, but completely understandable.

            Also, and I will keep repeating this until it looks like people are acknowledging it, *there is more than one side in the Guideverse*. So re: your thing about “which means you’re a villain” – Below is the side that makes Villains, not Above. Being mad at Above because they only have equal power to Below and so can’t help everyone feels like being mad at Above because of what Below is doing, which seems like a weird transference of responsibility to me. It honestly seems like a lot of claims against Above that the fanbase makes are based on effectively transferring arguments re: theodicy from the real world to the Guideverse, but that’s erasing the fact that such objections IRL are responding to the premise of a benevolent *and all-powerful* Heavenly force/entity that could easily overpower Evil if it decided to. And that is explicitly *not* the premise of the metaphysics of the Guideverse.

            Liked by 1 person

        2. You’re thinking of the issue in two dimensions, while Cat sees the problem in three. The third one being the inevitable consequences of an approach over time. That’s what she and Black (and EE) are able of seeing and about in approach. Seeing that the current Good and Evil are only temporary fixes that by success and cultural shaping make everything worse and more morally inbred in the end.

          When Black conquered Callow, he didn’t try to change it. He went for the quiet slow death, essentially keeping things good enough to make the people content and have Callow literally die out by old age their eternal vete with Praes. He didn’t put a boot on Callow’s neck to gain its riches and keep it from rising up right now, he made it so that in one generation from now Callow wouldn’t want to rebel. As Cat monologued, the martial law of the legions was often a good thing by discipline and Praesi occupation was starting to become less of a blight from Below.

          When she was to decide how the Drow were to reshape their ruling class, Cat mentioned how she was aware that corruption and loopholing of the system was inevitable. That in about 200 years, there would be some class that by finding methods around it would remove the intent of her system. That’s why she didn’t give the Drow a system that benefitted them right now against DK, but some system that would at least hopefully not corrupt too much in the centuries after.

          That is Cat’s problem with Above. It has forcefully shaped a dependency on Heroes that enables the stubborn and self-defeating air of Good vs Evil that allows Good to not even question their own righteousness or expect Above to fix the worst of things. But once a Hero dies of old age or doesn’t show up in the nick of time, what good is that system then?

          Providence and prayer don’t work 99/100 times, and do 1/100 times. And sure, it may save the day that 1/100 times. But people have gotten to rely on this, too many have gotten to expect this and not do anything else. That 1/100 times is being used as the solution too many times, seen as the only option too many times.

          Her issue doesn’t necessarily lie with Providence (though she does clearly have a distaste for the heroes getting such aid that makes them contempt and overconfident), but how it has corrupted the Good countries. How it has made these fight Evil because Evil (Such as invading Callow for their lands- I mean Evil) and then expecting Above to save their asses if things go south. For not expecting the consequences of their actions when they feel their greedy actions were righteous, and calling it Evil when consequences do strike at them.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. And if we look in four dimensions, cold-eyed murderers doing bad things for good reason can backfire pretty spectacularly too. The saying about good intentions and whatnot. I think it all comes down to a basic arithmetics: You can’t add up lesser evils to a greater good.

            As I wrote earlier, self-reliance and faith are not opposing concepts to me, though they do seem this way in this novel. But I just don’t agree. The fact that your prayers are sometimes answered is more of a reason to pray, not less. Because I think the focus should be on the fact that she chose not to murder innocent people, and personally? I think that is the reason Heavens chose to help her.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Cat doesn’t do bad things for a good cause, she’s a ruler. The big issue with this argument is that at this point, she’s the representative of what morals and righteousness Callow has rather than being beholden to cultural and legal norms of others. As also seen by Cat not maintaining the cultural norms and values of the long prices for small slights, and Procer deciding that their landgrabbing of Callow after Black was dethroned was righteous and in name of Above.

              Your argument no longer floats, as Cat has long since ascended past what you’re referring to. She’s not to make the hard calls of being the lesser evil any more. She’s making the calls and has been doing this both more politically correct than many of Above, and in favour of the war and good in a way that doesn’t even allow one to call it a lesser evil any more. In many regards, she has ascended in position to a point where the actions of Tariq and the likes have since made them the lesser or even greater evil by action even if not by their own perspective and believes.

              And your second paragraph’s argument is kinda missing the very point that others may have bee making and I have been trying to make, by you making it about the person praying. Instead of the by you and others used firefighter argument I’ll be using soldiers instead.

              One cannot blame the soldier for doing what they’re told, or blame them for the war. One should go to the generals and commanders that order the war crimes, and the politicians that started the war. You’re in this comparison the republican that tries to take this argument blaming Trump and the higher-ups for committing some war crime on Afganistan civilians, rephrase it to the soldier that did it being blamed by me, and then trying to defend the soldier by saying that they were doing what they were told. Trying to rephrase the argument to fit your narrative.

              My argument of what I think Cat hates lies not with the people or even the Named (though she indeed utterly loathed f.e. Pilgrim when he confidently proclaims that Good will prevail because they’ve got Providence on their side, thus neither having to worry nor think of the consequences and risks), but with Above. Above created the situation where people pray to them for salvation and Heroes so blindly rely on them. Above created the situation where Heroes are needed to save the day, only to then die of old age and see to another time of troubles and rising of new Villains requiring the rising of a new Hero and the continuing of the cycle of dependency.

              Above is responsible for both the Good countries’ reliance on Heroes and their selfrighteousness, as well as the long-term consequences, moral inbreeding and inevitable results of what Evil would look like because of Good’s doing. Above is responsible for this, responsible for changing it, and by doing neither is responsible for the fallout. And in some regard, the more experienced and guiding Named like Tariq who for so long refused to work together with Cat and see her as anything but Evil despite his side being the selfish invaders, are similarly to blame for maintaining a crappy status quo.

              The upper echelons that should improve have grown stagnant and faulty, still maintaining a system that results in Villains being blamed for making the hard call even for doing the right thing, while propagating the people to pray. In that, and they do seem to be somewhat sentient or at least able to know that they’re doing wrong, Above is indeed being a little bitch.

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              1. Konstantin von Karstein

                The only Good country who heavily relied on Heroes was the Old Kingdom of Callow, and it was because its neighbours were madmen creating undead plagues, Flying Fortress and stealing its weather. All the other Good countries we have seen had few Heroes, or they are not playing a great role in managing the country. Tariq has an important role in the Dominion, but the Levantine are perfectly capable of of managing themselves without him.

                So, I don’t think Above is perpetuating the situation where people need them, they are just answering distress calls and helping those in need.

                And you said that the Villains are blamed for making the hard calls, but it’s true only in very few case, like Cat and Tancred. For most of Calernian history, most Villains were monsters who needed to be put down.

                Concerning Tariq, he is of the only school of heroism, were all Villains were madmen. Catherine is not the average Villain, she is an exception to the rule. Tariq was wrong, but his actions were comprehensible.

                Like

    2. Peter

      The Scorched Apostate did by himself what the Stalwart Apostle required Taric AND a Deux Ex Machina from Above to do. Yet the Scorched Apostate died while the Stalwart Apostle got to live, which just seems unfair.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Mainly because above and Below are not inherently about good vs evil but about submission to greater power vs personal.
      The idea is that above will save you, yes, if you do what they want, when, where and how they want, while below favors personal choices and ambition.
      Now i’m not going to pretend that Evil is not evil, the point is that one should not pretend that Above is either:
      They are gods, mortals are basically like toys and pawns for them and this has been shown more than once.

      Like

        1. ninegardens

          Or alternatively- he’s a Squire.

          Scribe’s antagonism with Cat was because she was new on the scene, and potentially a story liability.

          Like

  5. Fuck. Damn. This sucks.
    The whole scene with Hanno just goes to show how Cat fucked up and paid dearly for it, yet how the heroes manage to win on every front that mattered for them.

    Instead of using sorcery to remove the plague, they can now use the Light, as long as they pray hard enough.

    Liked by 6 people

  6. RoflCat

    What really sucks, though, is that one of the reason Tancred is dead is Cath herself refusing to get into a mentor Role.

    The Stalwart Apostle was saved by the ‘everyone’s mentor’ Tariq timely intervention.
    While Cath’s refusal to become Apostate’s resulted in her failing to notice the danger approaching him, though given this is Below maybe she is already in the ‘vengeful mentor seeking vengeance for students murdered’ path.

    And as much as I’d like Cath to be nicer to Apostle as part of trying to make up for what she failed for Tancred, the girl’s power is Light while Cath uses Night, I highly doubt we’ll get that path.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. dadycoool

      I’m really getting Cat-Tariq foil vibes. Caring mentor/Uncaring mentor, protective/vengeful, and those are just the way they’re opposite. In most other ways, it’s a Dark Mirror kind of relationship.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. But Pilgrim has an immunity to being killed over being the Mentor, while Cat mentioned how mentorship is an incredibly risky thing for anyone else. Just look at what happened to Black, despite Scribe’s concern. Cat made a hard but important choice to not risk her own life as the Black Queen, First under the Night and so on for a newbie mage, while Pilgrim thanks to the Orphim’s protection and his Role doesn’t need to worry about such a Story death being likely or even inevitable.

      As a result, it’s not really the same. Even in hindsight, Cat made the hard but necessary call while Above once again can just ignore the rules they set by making exceptions. Kinda similar to the whole Heroes saving soldiers but ignoring the value of items in their collateral despite being more valuable than the soldiers. It might be called Evil to make that call, but practically one can call it stupid evil of Above that they work so superficially only to see Providence making it work too often for them to see this.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Konstantin von Karstein

        If I remember correctly, the Heaven don’t cheat concerning the Mentor-immunity of Tariq. What spooked Cat the first time she heard of him is that he is so good at story-fu that he is capable of dodging any such mentor story. It’s like Black, who managed to kill countless Heroes despite being a Villain.

        Like

        1. I assume that in part it is also him defying this norm so often (and the first times with aid of his Choir) that he got the same immunity to it as Cat seems to be getting for telling Choirs to bugger off. His story-fu is no longer a hard requisite beyond what he does superficially.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Frivolous

    Unless I’m mistaken, Captain Raphael Twice-Drowned is the first uncertain-gender character we’ve seen so far who isn[‘t also a drow. And even then, the drow uses the pronoun ‘it’, while Raphael uses ‘their’.

    In other news, I wonder why Hakram and Hanno don’t like each other. Could it be because Cat finds Hanno attractive, and Hakram is being all big-brother-protective of her?

    Liked by 5 people

    1. dadycoool

      I hadn’t noticed the pronouns until you mentioned them. I wonder what that was all about. Androgynous, perhaps?
      I like the concept of this extremely sinister-looking orc with his dead hands and black armor laying down the big-brother Talk with the shining leader of mortal Light on his Warlord’s behalf.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. ninegardens

      >In other news, I wonder why Hakram and Hanno don’t like each other. Could it be because Cat finds Hanno attractive, and Hakram is being all big-brother-protective of her?

      I mean… this feels doubtful. Given what we’ve heard of Hakram, and given what he knows of Cat’s previous… engagements…..
      And given that we have at least mild confirm that HannoxCat is not a thing.

      Possibly Hakram sets Hanno’s coin hand itching? As in Hakram is stated to be creepy- even Kairos found him weird.

      Like

    3. I HADNT NOTICED UNTIL YOU POINTED IT OUT

      NB CHARACTER NB CHARACTER NB CHARACTER

      (Upon reread, there’s very little pronoun use regarding them, artful on erratic’s part)

      Like

  8. So now I’m thinking Tancred getting a revival might not be a good thing, if it were to happen. There’s room for a story of Evil and Good coming together to face the True Enemy, with the Scorched Apostate and the Stalwart Apostle as the two sides of the same coin (possibly long lost twins), but the tone of the story is definitely tending towards Cat going down a dark path. And if so, any revivals would be pretty dark and twisted, and possibly even set Cat up as the monster to replace the Dead King.

    I was prepared to say, though, that if we got more details on Tancred in another chapter past his death, it would almost be more forced to *not* revive him. As is, I think it might be best for everyone if he really was fridged.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do you think it’s possible for Tancred and Pascale to work together though?

      Her existence, like, as a whole, basically invalidates what he did. It’s what he’s built from, “doing what was necessary”.
      How shattered do you think he’d be if he learned he was just wrong?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Decius

        Work together? No.
        But a cunning leader could easily place them in a rivalry to cleanse more plague than the other, and then into a rivalry to destroy more undead than the other, building to a point where one of them has a choice to either save themselves or take a great personal risk to protect the other.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. If it did turn out that they were long lost siblings, then maybe (and there are hints that the story would allow it), but that’s another reason I’m not really a fan of a revival anymore, because it’s very likely that scenario ends with Cat as a mad witch type guarding the vengeful Scorched Apostate as he seeks to rid the world of the so called chosen.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Decius

    >”Masego had told me that carving those signs in any order but what it must have originally been done in would make the box fail to function, sounding about as impressed by this as he’d been miffed.”

    And that was when I knew that the Dead King had created a fake box that fails to function, for the purpose of having his ghouls use it to create a sense of security and prove that they aren’t.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. dadycoool

    EE, You can’t keep doing this to us. Our hearts can only take mo much twisting, squeezing, and stabbing. Cat’s already learned her lesson regarding predictability etc. You don’t need to twist the knife like that.
    I suppose it’s already established that Villains can only truly exist as foils to Heroes, but I’d thought we were past that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. RoflCat

      It just feels awful to be the opposite side of the spectrum.

      On one side, a new Named granted power she desire to answer the needs, with protective grandpa and caring sempais to help her in time of danger.

      On the other side, a new Named forced to use the power he has to slaughter the ‘few’ to save the many, picked up by a person that refused to become his mentor despite his longing for one, and then get murdered in his sleep and murdered again by his not-mentor.

      One side got everything, the other side lost everything, and she’s on the latter side.

      Liked by 8 people

    2. RanVor

      Of course, Cat’s treatment of Pascale is entirely undeserved, but let’s be honest, anybody would be infuriated in a situation like that. The Stalwart Apostle’s very existence is basically a huge middle finger to Tancred’s tragic choice and the emotional trauma Cat has just gone through, and a stark reminder of just how much more convenient it is to be a Hero.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. shadw21

        I wonder if Pascale got Named at the same time, before, or after Tancred took his Name. If it was before, or at the same time, then Tancred was just Below’s response/equalizing force to Pascale’s being named. If it was after that, or after/while Tancred was being killed, then Above absolutely did it to rub it in, or at best, as Providence to the side of ‘Good”/the entire army as Tancred’s replacement.

        I wonder if Pascale is aligned with a specific Choir or not, if so there might be a fourth Choir Cat might be confronting down the road if given the chance.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. grzecho2222

    “The atrocities Neshamah could commit with undead rats and bugs were not something I ever intended to suffer through again.”
    Do I sense 4th-degree inter-dimensional warp fuckery?

    Like

  12. zenanii

    So the villainous apostle gets killed in his sleep and the heroic apostle triumphs against all odds.

    Even though Cat is considered a villain she technically isn’t named. We do know she might be on her way to transition into a name.
    Consider these facts and it feels like this is a not so subtle nudge from Order to have Cat join their side when she claims her next name.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. hakureireimu

      No, the Scorched Apostate had not been wrong. He’d not been Chosen either, he’d done his own choosing. And the Heavens had damned him for it, so damn the presumptuous fucks for that in turn.

      This seems like the opposite of being a Hero.

      Like

  13. Aurelian

    It caught my attention that Hakram had to hasten to catch up to Cathrine. As far as I remember, her limp is no longer mentioned since Cat knelt in front of Tancred when she met him in the temple.
    The next thing that got me thinking was her staff making a cracking noise from her grip.

    Theory mode on: an increase in strength and the lack of a limp could be the benefits of being named. Maybe she already is started on that road. Her passionate anger for how unfair the gods above is also a sodeeffect of this. The unfairness is an old story for her and she usually is able to step outside of her shoes and analyse the situation.

    As for what name it could be, I think the following ca be taken as the core of the role “I should have watched more closely, I should have moved quicker, I should have… I should have protected him.” In my limited knowledge I can only think of a knight or a paladin wanting to protect at their core. This doesn t quite suite Cat anymore.
    However, she was the equal of the Peregrine when they were fighting and it seems that Tancred getting a rez is not out of the question, so I d wager her role would be something luke the Below version of the Grey Pilgrim.
    Theory mode off.
    Whatever the Name Cat is presented with to use, I am looking forward to her stepping out of her shoes and analysing the situation.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Don’t you find it a little horrifying how everyone just glossed over how Tankred murdered an entire village? Like Cat says it’s OK and he had no other choice and we just go “Oh, that’s fine then, what a good lad”? When it was established that she is an Unreliable Narrator? But still, everyone kinda just agreed that it was perfectly normal and the village had to die. Am I the only one who finds it concerning? Is it just me? Am I crazy?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. RanVor

      You mean the village of terminally ill people who were about to spread a deadly plague all over the land, which he destroyed out of desperation after being denied every other possibility of counteracting the spread, an act he felt incredibly guilty about and had only been offered amnesty because it’s wartime and the Grand Alliance needs every means of fighting back against the Hidden Horror available?

      Liked by 6 people

        1. pretentiousinfiniteregression

          Oh well, that’s actually a perfect comparison. You see I wasn’t so sure at first, but that comparison – which, again, is obviously a perfect one to one of Tancred’s entire tragedy – really blew me away. Consider this mind changed good sir or madam.

          Like

        2. magesbe

          Wow, talk about strawmanning. First of all, people with AIDS are contagious, but only if their body fluids get in someone else’s body, which is completely avoidable in day-to-day life. Secondly, these villagers either refused to admit they were sick or didn’t care, which makes them far more dangerous (especially since this was probably far more contagious than AIDS).

          Liked by 1 person

        3. byzantine279

          It would be closer to finding out Smallpox had returned and burning the town where it was present to the ground and killing everyone in the process.

          Plagues are… well, we haven’t really seen one in modern times. Even the Spanish Flu back in 1918 was nothing like smallpox or the Black Death.

          Like

      1. My point is, I feel doubtful about “every possibility of counteracting a spread”. I am not blaming him, mind you. I’m just saying, shouldn’t we be at least a little concerned about that?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. RanVor

          Interesting, because I believe Tancred was 100% to blame for his actions. He did, in fact, kill every infected person in Marserac of his own volition, if under the influence of strong emotions. It is not true, however, that he didn’t do everything in his power to attempt to resolve the situation nonviolently first. He did. The choice he ended up making was the wrong one, but the fact that he had to make it at all is undeniably tragic.

          Liked by 7 people

          1. Point

            If he hadn’t killed them, they would have evacuated and played a part in the Dead King’s plans. Knowing that, was his decision really so wrong?

            It may have been morally wrong, but that doesn’t mean it was the wrong thing to do in that situation.

            Like

        2. ninegardens

          This is valid concern.

          As in, Cat’s argument is “Doing nothing would have resulted in MORE death and devastation, and the idea of waiting for above to save us is dangerous for EVERYONE,”

          To which many would counter “Yeah, but nine times out of ten, in normal circumstance, if the best plan you can come up with is `burn people to death’, then you didn’t think hard enough”

          Of course we are not in normal circumstances… so the actual morality gets hazy.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Ultimate_procrastinator

            Agreed, though it’s worth noting that ‘burn people to death’ wasn’t the best plan he could come up with; the best was warning people and trying to convince them not to go to the refugee camps. He only resorted to burning when they wouldn’t listen (and possibly when someone shoved his face into a fire? I don’t remember that being directly stated, but I feel like it was implied). In other words, he thought as hard as he could, but there’s only so much a young teenager with no authority and no reason for others to believe him can do when his only actual power is burning things

            Liked by 1 person

            1. ninegardens

              He tried “Talk to people and failed”, AFTER THAT his best plan was “Burn people to death”… even if that is the best plan you can come up with given your current information… even if thousands of lives are on the line….
              Maybe you should just fail.

              Just fail and hope like hell the cavalry comes. Sometimes your plan is so horrible that failure IS a option. Or set buildings on fire and ATTRACT the cavalry, *without* killing people.

              To be clear, this is not a condemnation of him, I’m simply arguing that the argument of “Don’t do evil things, even if it seems like the greater good” holds a lot of weight. Especially here, where by the looks of it Grey Pilgrim and Co blew up DK entire plague plan any, hence invalidating the need for all this death.
              No way for Tancred to know that of course, but um…. him killing people due assuming his knowledge was sufficient is kind of the crux of the tragedy here.

              [As an aside, is it weird to think that Tancred did exactly the thing that GP would have done, for exactly the same reasons, and he’s a villian?]

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Ultimate_procrastinator

                All of that is true; at this point, it pretty much comes down to which is more important to you morally: following principles regardless of what outcome it looks like they’ll lead to, or taking the option that looks like it will cause the least pain in the long run regardless of how horrible it is. In this case, the cavalry WAS nearby, so setting the fire to attract them would have worked, but if they hadn’t been, if this had just been a side story about a village far enough away from the action that no one was around, and Tancred had stuck to his principle, we’d have a very different tragedy about the problem of sticking to principles even when you have no reason to believe it will help. Of course, this is also a debate that has been going in for quite a while in ethics, pretty much exactly for this reason: you can never tell exactly what will happen. Sometimes sticking to principle saves everyone even when you had no way of knowing that would happen; sometimes trying to save more lives just kills some people needlessly even when every piece of information you have points to it being the “greater good.”

                In response to your aside, that is pretty weird, although it probably has to do with how GP has the Choir of Mercy whispering in his ear and telling him which decision will minimize long-term suffering, while Tancred ended up deciding on his own.

                As an aside of my own, I remember once reading (probably on TVTropes) that how much sympathy we tend to have for characters who embrace a utilitarian, “for the greater good” philosophy tends to be directly related to who they expect to make sacrifices for that greater good: if they only sacrifice others while preserving themselves they get very little sympathy and are generally villainous (in the traditional storytelling sense, not the in-universe Guide sense), while expecting everyone up to and including themselves to make those sacrifices tends to get them into antihero territory at the very least

                Liked by 1 person

              2. RanVor

                It is sad how many people fail to remember that the villagers were about to leave and Tancred had to make a decision immediately.

                As for your aside, it’s not weird at all. Tariq Fleetfoot is the king of bullshit.

                Liked by 1 person

    2. byzantine279

      A village that was corrupted by what (as far as he could possibly have known) was an incurable plague that would have killed tens of thousands?

      What do you think a quarantine really is? It’s sacrificing the few to save the many – these days we just hav sufficient resources and tech to also try to save the few without risking the many.

      Like

  15. reveen

    ITT update were super mad at a literal child who just wants to heal people for gaining the power to do so in a way that the Protagonist doesn’t approve of.

    Because clearly the fact that life isn’t fair is only something to be bothered about when it happens to Cat.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. So i found something interesting:
    |I took a step forward, Akua falling in behind, only to found Captain Raphael had offered
    me their arm. How long has it been since someone tried that?
    |I rose to my feet, swallowing a snort when the greatest abomination ever born to Calernia chivalrously offered me his arm.

    My random suspicion from this chapter is that Raphael is Neshamah, there is also that Raphael is wearing large amounts of clothing, and shortly after we are told that certain enchantments block the boxes, and that Raphael apparently survived drowning in Cleves while the Dead King is attaking.

    Probably wrong, but wanted to voice my thoughts.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. dadycoool

      Completely circumstantial, utterly illogical, and no reason to believe it to be accurate. OK, I’m convinced. The best foreshadowing is what the reader dismisses as not-foreshadowing.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. ohJohN

      Interesting, it at least seems possible.

      I am a little surprised that Cat isn’t paranoid about everyone rn. They know how the ghouls escaped detection, but don’t have extensive countermeasures in place yet. And DK really wanted Tancred dead, enough to reveal the new ghouls, presumably because he could sense/destroy the plague seeds. Now there’s another Named with a similar talent; even if the Plague-Maker got nuked, that doesn’t necessarily mean Pascale isn’t also a target.

      Like

  17. ninegardens

    >“It’s been a long day,” I finally said. “We’ll speak tomorrow.”
    >There was a reason I was more than halfway fond of Hanno of Arwad: he looked at me for a heartbeat the nodded.
    >“Tomorrow,” the White Knight softly agreed, eyes considering.

    You know… I almost kind of wonder if Hanno draws no distinction between Heroes and Villains. He’s used to managing a ragtag band of misfits, who are sometimes at each others throats. Now he has to manage (on occasion) the Black Queen and other villains…. but who cares? He don’t judge.

    I get the feel he’s more likely to disagree with the ACTIONS of certain villainous sorts… but it seems highly likely that he doesn’t buy into (or even notice) the “bestowed” vs “damned” distinction.
    Like, even dealing with Hierarch or Black, I don’t remember ever getting the vibe he cared where their powers were coming from.

    He’s sort of…. repeatedly blind to a bunch of social assumptions that make him ever so endearing.

    … also gonna be kind of weird if Cat be frustrated about “Above rigs the game and gives nicer gifts” and he just shrugs and goes “Named are Named. Who cares about above or below? That’s not my business.”

    Liked by 4 people

  18. RanVor

    To me, this entire setup reeks of a play from Below to pull Cat back into their clutches. This soon after losing Tancred, the Black Queen meets another child mage with the exact same ability to detect the plague, thrust into the exact same terrible situation, only this time, the child got a magic fix from Above to spare her from having to make the hard choice. Really? That’s way too contrived to be a mere coincidence. The situation is perfectly tailored to rekindle Cat’s dying resentment towards Heroes, the same that has been driving Black for decades, and lead her to a new Villainous Name.

    The practical Evil has slipped from the Hellgods’ grasp, and they want it back.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. magesbe

        You don’t need a name to be upset by the unfairness of the situation. A kid who she was fond of, who made a hard decision that he greatly regretted but couldn’t see a way out of, was killed and it was her fault.

        Then there’s this other kid who accomplished the same thing without bloodying her hands, and lived. Feeling resentment mixed with not a little bit of guilt is a completely human emotion.

        Liked by 4 people

  19. Jon Ismael

    Parallelisms this explicit are way too interesting not to discuss. Focusing on the Roles of Tancred and Pascale in the story against the Dead King, they were clearly the sword and shield against DK.

    It fits so well even with the hero/villain dynamic, because heroes are usually reactionary (putting out fires, saving lives), while villains are proactive (starting fires, putting lives in danger). Tancred ultimately wants to save lives, but has resigned himself to the fact that he had to take it upon himself to destroy The Enemy(‘s seeded plague) to do that, while Pascale desperately wanted to save the lives in front of her, even if it might endanger others. It fits nicely to the theme of following Above’s guidelines for doing Good vs. Below’s seek to improve your current position ALWAYS.

    Sure Pascale lives and is able to do what Tancred wishes he could do, but healing plagues won’t defeat the Dead King or his armies. Sorcery-light serves the goal better, even if it had to be pried from Tancred’s cold undead torso. Again, fitting the theme with the choice: (relative) safety in maintaining the status quo, or sacrifices in pursuit of something greater.

    Kinda sucky that the pursuit of peace involves lots of dead orphans on the side that’s hard-carrying this operation. (Not that the Lycaonese aren’t putting in work, but they only started regaining ground after a certain side joined the fight.)

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Aurelian

    People on HIV effective treatment cannot pass it on or is very unlikely, as well as it is a criminal offence to infect knowingly someone with HIV. Also, they don t turn into undead and follow the commands of a necromancer.

    Liked by 3 people

  21. ninegardens

    Random question: Is below on the DK side? Is below opposed to DK.

    The way I read it now is that Above is 100% behind smiting the Dead king, and Below is sort of… 50:50 supporting the local villians and supporting the dead king.
    From Below’s point of view, this seems like a pit fit, to the winner go the spoils, much like Cat vs Sve Noc.
    Do we have any evidence either way on this one?

    As far as “Is this a below play to rope Cat back in?”… to me it feels less like that and more like… this is Below’s mode of operation. They had out big shiny powerful tools, with a terrible price attached to them, and you (either Tancred or Cat) either use those tools effectively, or you screw it up. Below isn’t there to ensure that you use them well.
    Neither Cat nor Tancred was paranoid enough, and here we are.

    Above gave the heroes different tools… I would even argue *weaker* tools, but also handed them much more of a user manual, in the form of good fortune.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. shadw21

      Below is probably just happy to see so much ‘excitement’ up there, lots of death and destruction, with stories being made or acted out. Below will support both sides, probably in unequal measure at any given point, in whatever ways makes the situation more interesting to them/it.

      There’s so much of Below that it there’s not likely a real way to measure it’s approval, which likely endlessly shifts as well. Whatever was in charge of the one hell that DK took over would probably like to have it back though, if there was a single devil or demon that ‘ruled’ over it at all before the takeover.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. dadycoool

        Thinking about it, the only person Below was 100% behind was Kairos.

        I was always under the impression that DK actually made a hell, rather than take it over. And even if he did take it over, any devil/demon that was in it at the time is now either dead or completely his. Below is Survival of the Fittest, after all.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. shadw21

          I can agree with that, Kairos was the last of the true ‘Age of Wonders’ villains, since I suspect Dead King may predated that age, though I could be wrong there.

          I’m pretty sure it was said outright at one point that he’d invaded one, and was going to try for a second realm before the Bard/Intercessor got, further, involved and sent the elves after him.

          Liked by 1 person

  22. Tom

    > He’d been a wretched boy, Tancred, but he’d not been wrong. To act instead of pray, to trust his the ugly work of his hands rather than the silent Heavens.

    How does Cat know that he didn’t pray before he acted? Tancred came across as the praying type to me (quotes from chapter 2):

    > Against the other side of the altar, bloodied and burned, lay the young boy who’d butchered more than a hundred souls beyond the gates of this place.

    > “Are you to be my punishment?” the boy rasped out. “I have sinned and do not deny it.”

    > “You are not,” the Named said, “an angel.”

    > “I’m a monster,” the boy wept. “Gods forgive, oh Gods forgive me.”

    > “I didn’t want to kill them,” the boy whispered, “but what else could I do? If I’d had the Light, the real one, I could have healed them. Helped them. Instead…”

    Given how he’s acting *after* killing everyone, I find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t have prayed fervently beforehand. The major difference I see between Tancred and Pascale is that Pascale’s prayers were answered by Above, and Tancred’s were not, so he took action. It looks like Above and Below got together, said “Hey look, a two-fer. Which one do you want?” and flipped a coin. (Not that that would piss Cat off any less.)

    Anyway, I’m hoping for Tancred’s return in an enchanted, heavily-armored walking sarcophagus that spews fire and pithy quotes in a deep voice. Between the Arsenal and the Belfry, they can pull it off, right? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Point

      As for your first question, I’d guess that he prayed, but he got nothing.

      I would say that his probably prayers weren’t answered because Pascale’s already had been, but that argument doesn’t seem to fit with the themes of the story. More likely, I’d guess that it was the faith he offered or the content of the prayer (or both) that made the difference. Maybe he prayed only as a last resort, not really believing it had a chance to help, and/or he prayed for the power to heal, rather than praying for Above to do the healing. That would do much more to highlight some differences between Above and Below (but it’s a stretch to assume it given what we know of his situation and Pascale’s).

      But in the end, Cat doesn’t know any more than us. She’s pretty clearly viewing his situation through the lens of her own; she assumes that he skipped praying because that’s what she would have done.

      Like

  23. Ultimate_procrastinator

    I just realized (and forgive me if someone else has posted the same idea in the last couple hours and I haven’t seen) that while this chapter highlights the Good and Evil approaches as, in essence, ‘wait for the gods to fix things’ vs. ‘do it yourself,’ it also mentions near the beginning that Hanno actually doesn’t take the ‘standard’ Good approach:

    Sounded like Hanno, too. He preferred helping people help themselves rather than sweeping in on a white horse and fixing everything before disappearing into the sunset.

    I think it’s also worth noting here that Catherine’s idea of ‘villain fixes it themselves’ is not exactly the standard Evil approach, either; that would actually be the various flying fortresses, talking tigers, etc, a strategy that could more aptly be described as ‘hope these absurd, outlandish plans call enough attention to the problem for someone actually sane and competent to fix it.”

    Many comment threads on previous chapters and books have pointed out that Hanno seems to be the Practical Good counterpart to Cat’s Practical Evil, and that the Cardinal system in the postwar will shift everyone more towards practicality in general. In essence, it’s a paradigm shift for both Above and Below: the old dichotomy was “Pray and hope this is the one in a million times that actually works” vs “Make everything worse trying to do it yourself;” the new dichotomy is “give others what they need to fix the problem, with some hope in the heavens to back you up” vs “it’s all on you and the few you trust to fix everything.” Given this, and that Calernia runs on stories, and the older the stories are the harder it is to avoid falling into them, I can’t help but wonder if rather than an attempt by Above or Below to tie Cat into their camp, the situation with Pascale and Tancred is essentially the backlash of the old story as Cat and Hanno dig their way out of it and carve a new rut into creation.

    If this is true, we could expect that going forward, the story will present similarly mirrored situations, but with no consistent slant towards Good or Evil, and more importantly, with the less practical response ALWAYS being the one favored. For example, next time they could stumble across someone who came into a Name, tried to train their friends and families to fight the undead while heading for the refugee camps and were slaughtered, closely followed by a Named who massacred their own village, combined the corpses into a giant flesh titan, and somehow successfully defeated a legion of zombies with it (granted, EE would be a lot more creative than just ‘basically the same situation with the specifics changed out’, but it illustrates the point) (also, I can’t actually imagine a scenario where using zombies against the Dead King goes well in the long run). Actually, thinking about it, situations wouldn’t even have to be mirrored; as long as there’s that definite push towards the impractical, Stupid Good/Evil response rather than the rational, Practical one, with no consistent favor towards either Evil or Good, the theory would hold. Of course, if the story doesn’t meet one or both of those conditions going forward, then the theory is most likely wrong. And then hey, we get to make more theories!

    …Ah, who am I kidding, we’ll do that even if this one’s right 😉

    Liked by 3 people

  24. Morgenstern

    Hm. Curious. Two parallel “choosings” – happening BEFORE the need for those powers…. and somehow everything ends up in a moral discussion here, while I keep wondering about the plot significance of TWO of those… of why we would even get two. If they are the true plot by the DK, the real “seeds”. Two *mages* no less… Maybe I’m as off on my plot instincts as Cat currently is, but I got a whole different feeling where her “source unknown”-“something’s wrong”-feeling came from, not the morality of Good vs. Evil, but that something is just *off* about that happening, two peeps for the same ROLE; that the real ploy of the DK might indeed not have been found, while everyone thinks it’s over and done, caught before it could develop into something more. And that right after talk about how his most insidious plots are so very hard to find. Maybe I’m drawing on all the wrong strings, the wrong combination, but I suddenly feared for what the “healing” might have done to Talbot, after he just got a flag of how awful it would be to lose him. Or that big hidden workshop where young Named get send that the DK just *has* to want to find out about. Mind seeds? I can’t stop poking at wondering how the hell these two actually got named in the first place, by what events, to end up with TWO such same abilities. Do the Gods just like to hedge their bets?

    Like

    1. SpeckofStardust

      Its a known thing that for every direct action the God’s above or Below do their other side gets to do an = action, as such the 2 named in question may have been an agreed on actions by both side’s because the dead king is that much of a problem. The arguable limited scale could be due to a unknown rules….
      Saying this I just got something, we know that ‘great’ villains tend to have gifts from the below when it comes to their own death’s, what is the aboves equivalent?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Point

        I don’t think creating names is generally a direct intervention, and looking at Tancred’s death and Cat’s reactions, it seems that his role in the story is less plot-related than it is related to Cat’s motivations.

        As for villains’ ability to go out with a bang, I’d guess that it’s partially balanced out by Providence and many death-related heroic tropes. For example, if a hero sacrifices his life for his friends to escape, I assume their escape is virtually guaranteed.

        Like

      2. Daniel E

        We can infer from ‘200 Heroic Axioms’ that Heroes don’t get a direct line to Above upon death, but their gifts are substantially more numerous in varied circumstances. One in particular comes to mind; “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.”

        Like

  25. superkeaton

    The poor Apostle, she has no idea that the Black Queen isn’t personally angry with her. Hopefully Hanno explains that to her, because it should be plenty obvious to him what Cat’s mad about.

    Like

  26. ereshkigala

    IMHO, there are a few points that have yet to be brought up here:

    1) Cat is angry that Above intervenes only one time in a thousand and yet gets praised by everyone, but the same happens with everyone that saves people. Philanthropists only save a tiny portion of the population with their charities and yet everyone praises them. The Red Cross doesn’t save everyone that needs doctors, and yet everyone praises them.

    2) Ultimately, even if someone could help everyone in the world – and we have no evidence that Above can – they are not required to do so. You can’t demand others to solve your every problem as if they were your slave; they have every right to say “no” for whatever arbitrary reason. And when they do help even once you should recognize that they did so in whatever manner is appropriate.

    3) There is nothing “unfair” about becoming a villain; it always gives you more power to pursue your goals, it always is power tailored to your choices/personality, it comes with agelessness and immunity to disease, and it comes without being bound to the service of the gods.
    Below is not required to give you anything else, or support you in your efforts, any more than anyone else is required to give you stuff for free.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Ciara

    “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred,” I said, voice cold, “nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of a thousand, that act of faith would have killed dozens of thousands.”

    Yeah but anyone named Pascale making that kind of Wager is pretty much guaranteed to win

    Liked by 1 person

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