Chapter 13: Ingress

“One must not look down on tricks that deceive only fools, my son, as the better part of the people of the world are patently foolish.”
– Extract from the infamous ‘Sensible Testament’ of Basilea Chrysanthe of Nicae

It’d once been a delicate balance, keeping Zombie walking at a pace that Hakram could easily match, not anymore. She’d grown used to it and was quite capable of understanding without me pulling on the reins that I wanted to keep pace with my towering second-in-command. Sometimes I wondered exactly how intelligent the undead horse was, or even if she was truly still that at all. The necromancy I’d used when Sovereign of Moonless Nights had been… off. The dead Akua had raised in my place at the Battle of the Camps had famously ignored holy water, and I’d noticed myself that the longer they remained raised the more intelligent they seemed to become. That was not, I’d been told, something typically associated with necromantic sorcery. It was with the summoning arts, though, and some days I could not help but wonder whether I was riding a corpse or a bound spirit. I stroked the mare’s mane softly, and she neighed softly in approval.

“The White Knight is five days behind,” Hakram said, breaking me out of my thoughts. “He found it difficult to arrange for a trustworthy replacement in seeking fresh Named.”

Trustworthy was unlikely to be the problem with Hanno arranging for someone to stand in his place. Even the worst pricks on his side of the fence tended to be at least well-meaning. I’d guess that the trouble had been finding someone who wouldn’t pull a blade on a fresh villain or talk in a way that got a blade pulled on them instead. Heroes with a diplomatic bent didn’t grow on trees, though if I ever caught so much as whiff of such a thing growing anywhere I’d been sending a band of five after it faster than you could say ‘oh Gods please, just please’.

“Do we know who he picked?” I asked.

“The Silver Huntress,” Hakram gravelled.

Approvingly, I noted. I was more ambivalent over that particular heroine, as though she was undeniably competent in all manners of ways she also fought like cats and dogs with Indrani whenever they got even remotely near each other. Archer had, to no one’s surprise, regularly ‘sparred’ with the heroine back when they’d both been pupils of the Lady of the Lake. The Huntress was eager at the notion of settling that old debt, and very sensitive to the perception that she might be getting forced back over anything by her old bully. Between that and the two of them being Named with a preference for bows, there were quite enough grounds there for seething hostility to be the name of the game.

“She’ll get it done,” I evenly replied.

And on that we set the matter aside, both of us having noticed the approach of the outriders headed our way. The fortress where we were headed went by the name of Saregnac, though fortress was something of a misnomer: it’d been as much a jail as a castle, which a less diplomatic woman might have said meant it’d been a pretty shitty castle. Gods, look at that curtail wall: the bastard thing wasn’t even crenellated, it was like they were just asking to be stormed.

“It’s all over your face,” Hakram said.

“I could take this place with five goblins and a scarecrow,” I muttered back. “I’ve seen the costs to the treasury, they could have at least sprung for a place with a proper moat.”

“How good of a scarecrow are we talking?” Adjutant asked, sounding interested.

I flicked another glance at those walls: barely twenty feet tall, and I’d seen thicker ogres.

“Below average,” I decided.

“I could do with three, it it’s a really good scarecrow,” Hakram said, the fangs he allowed to peek slightly through his lips implying mocking challenge.

“Please,” I snorted, “any idiot could do it with that good a scarecrow. Just dress it up like Black and bait them into a field full of munitions. Scarecrow quality is the crux of the difficulty here.”

The outriders from Saregnac reached the vanguard of our little caravan, though in truth our entire group was ahead of the slower-moving wagons as unlike those we could cut through the countryside without risking wheels coming off. The line of legionaries ahead of us spoke with the Procerans and shorty after a lieutenant peeled off from the rest to pass along the message. Saregnac, he told us, was ready for our arrival and the Arsenal had been told of our coming. We were lucky, as it happened, as one of the functional times for translocation was one hour before Noon Bell and we were nearing it. The wagons would have to stay behind and wait until one past Afternoon Bell, but if our little group picked up the pace we’d get there with time to spare.

“Send a messenger back to Captain Forfeit,” I ordered Adjutant. “We’ll be going on ahead.”

The Soninke would approve of resting the horse teams for the wagons beneath the shade of Saregnac’s walls, I suspected, however unimpressive the walls in question. She’d probably enjoy a halfway decent meal and cold water as well, I mused, the spring days were much warmer in southern Brabant. Even as a messenger peeled off, the rest of us returned to the journey. It wasn’t long before we were back on the Proceran country roads – which, though it pained me to admit it, were better than anything in Callow save for the royal roads and what little highway we’d inherited from the Miezans – which I was coming to suspect were the reason Saregnac had been chosen as a boundary station for the Arsenal. The defences might not be anything to praise, but the place did seem eminently accessible. That was almost as useful, though in all honesty I would have preferred the northernmost of the Arsenal entrances to be a stronger holdfast.

The gatehouse was respectable, at least, with a drawbridge over a shallow dry moat leading to a well-maintained portcullis that was already up when we arrived. The commander of the forces holding Saregnac came out to meet me personally. Some middle-aged cousin of Prince Etienne of Brabant, which was the unfortunately not an unexpected amount of nepotism when it came to Proceran soldiery. They weren’t usually stupid about raising up kin, though, so there ought to be – ah, and there was the man actually in charged. A former fantassin, by the looks of the garishly dyed red and yellow hair, but he’d clearly not gotten the scar under his eye in garrison duty. I requested the man in question – Lucien of Pitrerin, as it turned out – to be my escort, pawning off the royal relative to Hakram, and was rewarded by a blunt assessment of the situation as we were escorted deeper into Saregnac by impressively well-drilled soldiers.

“We can’t hold the walls if we’re seriously tested, Your Majesty,” the man agreed without hesitation. “I wouldn’t even try. The place was a prison for nobles, so it was never meant to withstand a proper storm.”

“I don’t mean to impugn your efforts here,” I said.  “But that’s not the answer I was looking for, Master Lucien.”

“We have truly defensible grounds, Your Majesty, they’re simply not the walls,” the man told me. “The barbican deeper in is what the place was built around, and it’s from the early days of the Principate. That I could hold against an army for days, and the room where the magic circle is was dug beneath into bedrock.”

That was good to hear, I thought, though I still had concerns. While losing one of the boundary stations to the Dead King wouldn’t necessarily mean losing the Arsenal – there were further precautions – it’d be a hard blow. While it’d be a waste to send a Named to stand guard here, there were things that could be done without resorting to that.

“I’ll see if I can’t shake loose a company of sappers and send it your way,” I replied. “Not permanently, but at least long enough to turn those outer defences into something it doesn’t wound me to think about.”

“My most humble thanks, Your Majesty,” Lucien of Pitrerin said, sounding genuinely thankful.

I waved a hand, somewhat embarrassed.

“We’re all in the same boat, soldier,” I said. “Gods forbid it capsize.”

“I hear that,” the man muttered back.

By the time we reached the barbican the soldier had told me about – which was a solid little bastion, I’d admit to that, though hiding the arrowslits under gargoyles was good as, practically speaking, not hiding them at all – Hakram was back in the fold, his royal lamprey in tow. I almost had to admire the dedication to social climbing of a Proceran willing to fawn over an orc. It was oddly inspiring to see petty ambition triumphing over bigotry, kind of like if I’d seen an imp knife a Beast of Hierarchy. The nearing turn of the hour served as sufficient excuse to escape an invitation to a meal with the man, and reluctantly we were led into the barbican and then through a broad downwards tunnel into bedrock. A few wards and fortified doors later, we stood in an otherwise bare ritual room large enough to accommodate maybe a hundred people at a time. Rituals arrays, a dizzying tapestry of circles and squares and interlocked arcane shapes that would give me a migraine if I looked at them too long, had been craved directly into the floor.

The mages stationed here were mostly Procerans, though there were two of twenty that were on loan from the Army of Callow. I was attended to by them – Callowans both, I learned, fresh to the service but both taught personally by Masego at the Arsenal – as my escort and I were herded into the proper locations and finally asked to avoid leaving the circles we were standing in. Some larger shapes, probably meant for wagons and the like, remained empty. The ritual itself was not long, half an hour of incantations in sequence as the arrays were methodically powered, and then with a shiver we were all standing within an almost identical stone room without the mages who’d sent us here. The air here had that particular taste to it I knew well: Twilight’s subtle sweetness, or perhaps freshness. Arrowslits in the walls around us were the first indication that any intruders would find this a well-prepared killing ground, though when red-robed mages from the Arsenal entered the room to invite us to follow them I was quick to see that was only the beginning of it.

The corridor beyond had been built with seemingly two things in mind: for supply wagons to be able to pass through and the ability to wage a stubborn defence against anyone entering through the array room. Spike-bearing steel bars could be brought down to anchor makeshift palisades, portcullises were set in the ceiling every thirty feet and I even caught sight of runes and ritual arrays carved into the walls, awaiting someone to wield them. Soldiers in red, the Arsenal’s own garrison drawn from every army of the Grand Alliance, watched in silence as we passed through ward after ward. This place, I thought with approval, would be a bloody grinder if the Dead King ever reached it. Which he shouldn’t be able to, as it’d begun as a simple cavern within a mountain in the Twilight Ways before being expanded into this: no full route to the surface had ever been opened. At the other end of the corridor, we reached another ritual room that would take us to the last stopover before we reached the Arsenal proper.

To my surprise, though, it was not only red-robes mages awaiting us in there: pushing himself off the wall he’d been leaning against as he waited, Roland de Beaumarais – also known as the Rogue Sorcerer – stood up at my approach. His inevitable long leather coat swirling behind him, he made to bow until I caught his arm and pulled him into an embrace instead.

“Roland,” I smiled, “Weeping Heavens, it’s good to see you.”

He looked about to say something, his still-tanned face beginning a frown, but instead he returned my smile in kind.

“And you as well, Catherine,” the Rogue Sorcerer said. “It’s been too long.”

Over a year now: he’d not set foot outside the Arsenal since its construction that I knew of, at least not on Creation. The half-realms allowing entry to our little house of wonders didn’t count. Hakram stepped up and the two of them clasped arms, the orc towering over the human.

“Rogue,” Adjutant gravelled. “Always a pleasure.”

“Deadhand,” Roland replied with quirking lips. “Glad to see the Stained Sister didn’t leave you with a limp.”

I was a little sad Indrani wasn’t there to hear that, since she would have been able to make something damned filthy out of that.

“Is something wrong?” I asked. “I’m always glad to see you, but I’d not expected to run into any of you until we reached the Threshold.”

Which was on the other side of that complicated array in front of us, as it happened.

“There’s been some trouble,” Roland grimaced. “I judged it necessary to give you advance warning.”

My brow rose.

“Not Keter,” I slowly said.

We’d be having a rather more urgent conversation were that the case. It wasn’t that I believed it to be impossible for the Dead King to reach this place – I couldn’t think of a way out of hand, given that we were using the Twilight Ways as way to keep his creatures out, but that hardly meant there wasn’t actually one – but rather that if he did get to the Arsenal, it would be for a killing stroke. I couldn’t see Neshamah revealing his hand over anything less than a good chance of outright destroying the place: a raid would just lead us to tighten the defences, after the frankly ridiculous amount of Named within the halls drove it back.

“There has been killing,” the hero told me, sounding like someone trying very hard to avoid saying the word murder.

If there’d been blood spilled by the mundane staff of the Arsenal, I thought, he wouldn’t be standing in front of me offering advance warning. It would not be my place to address a knife fight between guards or a scholarly rivalry gone red. Which meant this wasn’t about the killing so much as who had done the killing.

“Who?”

“A villain by the Name of the Wicked Enchanter was slain,” Roland told me, pitching his voice low.

“And one of you lot did the slaying,” I deduced.

My fingers clenched, though I would not hasten to judgement. I’d given a bleeding boy surrounded by the corpses he’d made the benefit of the doubt, and it was not a principle if it only applied to people you felt for.

“The Red Axe,” he tacitly agreed. “I will not argue for breach of the Terms, Catherine, but there were… extenuating circumstances.”

“The Enchanter has – had – a certain reputation,” Hakram told me. “Though he was also considered a promising lead in usurping control of lesser dead from Keter.”

“I hope they’re damned good circumstances, Roland,” I bluntly said. “Otherwise this ends with gallows and a noose.”

I leaned a little closer.

“This is known?” I softly asked. “It was seen?”

“It was done as our people were heading out for midday meal, an openly fought battle,” Roland murmured back.

Shit. Whatever happened now, there would be no keeping that from spreading. The Arsenal might be isolated from Creation and we read the letters going in and out, but given the amount of people that lived within its walls there would be no way a Named fight would stay secret forever.

“How many Named are there in the Arsenal right now?” Hakram asked.

Good, I’d been wondering that myself.

“Archer arrived two days past with her full band and the Red Axe,” the Rogue Sorcerer replied. “Which brings us at sixteen – eighteen including you and Adjutant, Catherine.”

In other words, I was about to walk into a warehouse full of goblin munitions after someone had tossed a torch into it. Fuck. Better it be me than anyone else I could think of, and even better that Hanno was on his way, but still. In the immortal words of Queen Catherine Foundling, first of her name: fuck. And there were more of us coming, too. The White Knight for one, but the Painted Knife and her own band were headed our way at a brisk pace. I genuinely could not remember reading of such a large amount of Named in the same place at the same time, at least not outside a crusading army marching on Keter itself.

“Tell me it didn’t get out of control after that,” I demanded.

He hesitated.

“Tell me no one else died after that,” I said, haggling with disaster.

“Accusations were thrown that the Chosen were attempting a purge, and Archer had to pull the Vagrant Spear off of the Hunted Magician. Bruises and a cut, but nothing lasting.”

I repressed the urge to swear under my breath, knowing my soldiers were close enough they’d be able to hear. The Vagrant Spear was one of Indrani’s crew, so I wasn’t worried there, but all my reports about the Arsenal mentioned the Hunted Magician as being fairly influential among the villains there. Masego could have edged him out of the unofficial leadership fairly easily, as either more or equally powerful as well as significantly better-connected, but Masego would have no interested in playing court games as long as the Magician let him have his way on the things that actually mattered to him. And if he’d been good enough to survive as a Procer mage villain while the Saint and the Pilgrim were still kicking around, then it was safe to assume he was at least that smart. Fuck, I thought once more. Why was it that, of the two Proceran spellcasters with social skills, it was the one supposedly on my side that was most likely to become a headache?

This had the making of a pivot, and not one I liked the looks of.

“Get me there, Roland,” I said. “Before the fucking Eleventh Crusade starts in our backyard.”

“Your Majesty,” the Rogue Sorcerer replied, inclining his head.

He was one of the few heroes that’d never actually sounded at least a little mocking coming from, yet another reason I’d seriously considered asking Masego if it was possible to make more of him. With a Named wizard taking over the ritual, the second translocation was a breeze: Roland outright dismissed the attendant mages and handled it all himself, taking us into one of the larger wagon circles and muttering the incantation under his breath. With a sensation like having a stiff wind suddenly blown over my entire body, we went through after a mere quarter hour of chanting and when my eyes opened it was to the sight of a slab of stone standing surrounded by nothing. Behind us was only void and ahead of us was another slab of stone, but only one.

“I took us through a shortcut,” Roland told me. “Otherwise we’d be stuck going through several checkpoints.”

“What is it with wizards and not putting up railings?” I wondered out loud, looking at the empty void surrounding us.

There was some quiet snickering form my soldiers, to my own amusement.

“Your horse can fly,” Roland pointed out.

“My horse is only coming through with the wagons, so I am distinctly lacking wings at the moment,” I replied. “Crows, at least it doesn’t rain in here.”

Just the thought of treading slippery-slick wet stone with only nothingness around was enough to have me want to wince. I’d worked through most of my old fear of heights, but half-finished dimensions like this were in a category of their own.

“I’ll be sure bring up your complaints at the next monthly assembly,” the Rogue Sorcerer amusedly said.

He took the lead, walking assuredly through the first stone slab and then not pausing as he reached the end of the second. With reason, as there was another slab in place under his foot before it could be put down. I looked back, wondering if the first slab would disappear, but it was still there. This was unlikely to be a conjuration, I decided – it’d take a massive amount of power to make something like stone slab out of seemingly nothing – but odds were this was from too esoteric a branch of sorcery for me to be able to make a proper guess besides. I simply followed, as did my personal guard, and Roland led us through a walk of perhaps half an hour in a straight line before we reached a significantly larger slab, where a circle of silvery light the size of a door was hanging in the air.

“The shortcut leads into the most heavily defended part of the Arsenal,” Roland told us. “Do not be alarmed by the steel and spells awaiting you on the other side, they are a mere precaution.”

“Reassuring,” Hakram drily replied.

While the defences were slowing our way, even with a shortcut being what we took, I could not help but approve of how thoroughly the safety of the Arsenal was being seen to. I was one of the few who’d been brought in on the nature of the place, so I was aware that the Arsenal itself was in neither the Twilight Ways, Arcadia or even Creation: Hierophant had, using Warlock’s old research and what he’d learned by stealing the ruins of Liesse, hung a fortress in a stable dimension somewhere between Twilight and Creation. The Witch of the Woods had then gone a step further and grafted on the Threshold, less dimensional pockets between the Arsenal and everything else. That was where we were right now, and that gate ahead ought to be the last hurdle in getting in. Roland saw to it quickly, tracing the hanging edge with his fingers until it filled silver and speaking in cadenced mage tongue until the circle had become a rectangular door anchored on the ground.

“I’ll have to be last to cross,” he told us. “But the way is open, go ahead.”

“See you on the other side, then,” I shrugged.

I limped through, ignoring a half-hearted protested by my escort that one of them should be first to cross. It wasn’t all that different from a fairy gate, I decided as I crossed, though somehow more… precise. Travelling Arcadia or the Ways was a journey, while this was more like… walking up or down stairs. The other side was, I found out, a beautifully designed killing field. Flat stone grounds overlooked by tall structures leading into corridors, bristling with soldiers and engines of war, and even just striding through and onto the stone I could already feel the sorcery buzzing in the air. Wards and enchantments and half a dozen other things too. My escort followed me through as I limped forward, at least a hundred soldiers looking down on us, and I noted that the only way through was a stairway wedged between the heights. I waited until Roland crossed as well, the gate closing behind him, and only then noticed that someone was coming down the stairs. I smiled, recognizing him immediately.

Though Masego was tall as ever, he’d gained some weight since I last saw him. Nowhere near what he’d worn when he was still young, but at leas enough he no longer seemed thin – though he was still built like a scholar, not a warrior, as there was not much muscle to his frame. The long braids goings down his back had shed some of the ornaments they’d down, now limited to one ring per braid. Most of them gold but a few silver and even bronze. All of them carved with runes. His robes were no longer the old black ones he’d taken to wearing after becoming the Hierophant, instead a more ornate grey set touched with tiles of pale green and paler gold. The cloth band that covered his eyes matched the grey of the robes, though it was not broad enough to hide the glimmering light of Summer’s sun still dwelling within his glass eyes. Masego looked, well, hale and happy. To my admitted surprise.

I’d not exactly expected him to waste away here, but I had expected that without one of us to keep an eye one him he’d go through an obsessive phase the way he had after the Observatory was first built – only without Indrani around to force him to eat and actually talk to people. Evidently I’d been wrong, and I was pleased to learn it. Masego swept down the stairs and, to my deepening surprise, brought me in for a short embrace before leaning down and kissing my cheeks one after the other.

“I, uh,” I eloquently said. “Hello, Masego. It’s good to see you.”

Hierophant looked rather pleased with himself, standing a little straighter.

“And it is good to see you, Catherine,” he said. “We have much to talk about.”

A pause of a heartbeat.

“I would also enjoy catching up,” he mused.

I choked on a startled burst of laughter before coughing into my fist, though I found myself grinning like a fool. Some things never changed, huh? It just wouldn’t be Masego without the effortless praise and insults, neither of which were entirely meant to be offered.

“I have missed you, Zeze,” I admitted.

I patted the side of his elbow and he withdrew, straightening his perfectly straight robes. While I’d been distracted Adjutant had come to stand at my side, and the dark-skinned practitioner tuned to him afterwards.

“Hakram,” Masego smiled. “Good. I have been meaning-”

“Win a shatranj and I’ll consider changing the hand,” the orc replied.

“I have been practicing,” Masego swore. “And I have this lovely artefact, which has fingers but also shoots lightning and –”

“Shoots lightning?” I mused. “Hakram, you should reconsider.”

I was only halfway screwing with him, since I could think of a lot of situations where shooting lightning might be useful. Like, a solid half of all the conversations I’d ever had in my life.

“Masego, please stop bartering away ancient Mavii artefacts,” Roland sighed. “Especially when our ownership of them is dubious to begin with.”

“It was my understanding that grave-robbing is allowed when a hero is the one doing it,” Masego replied, sounding surprised. “Surely that is not invalidated simply because it was a heroine instead.”

His tone implied a degree of appalment at the discrimination involved, which had me breathing in sharply so I would not laugh.

“That’s not,” the Rogue Sorcerer began, “I mean – you ought to… we can discuss this later, Hierophant.”

I suppressed my grin. Masego’s occasional bouts of well-meaning earnestness had always been near impossible to ward against, in my experience. The humour faded, though, when I considered what was still ahead.

“So,” I said, eyes on Masego, “I hear from Roland we’ve got a bit of a situation on our hands.”

Hierophant’s face brightened.

“Oh,” he said. “That reminds me: I have been asked by the Hunted Magician to arrange an audience with you at your earliest convenience.”

I did not groan, because I was a grown woman – sadly enough, as grown as I’d ever get – and a queen and I’d not yet found a way to pawn this off to anyone else.

“Lovely,” I muttered.

“The Blessed Artificer also requests such an audience,” Roland said, coming up behind me. “She wants to lodge a complaint under the Terms.”

My brow rose.

“What about?” I asked.

The Rogue Sorcerer looked meaningfully at Masego, who looked unimpressed.

“The device blinded me,” he said. “I will not apologize for breaking it.”

The device had what? If some fucking heroine thought she could take a swing at Masego and that I’d then make him apologize for it just to keep the peace, then someone was in need of a rude awakening. My friend might not be the deftest of hands when it came to avoiding giving offence, but on the other hand I’d almost never seen him resort to violence without dire provocation himself.

“Who did what now?” I asked, lips thinning.

“I’ll not get into it without her being there,” Roland said. “There is little point. Something to discuss when we are not standing in the middle of the translocation area, yes?”

Fair enough, I silently conceded. I wasn’t like we were in anyone’s way, but I should settle in my guards and take up quarters of my own instead of standing around. Besides, considering the treasury of Callow had pitched in to pay for building this place I was rather due a tour of this Arsenal. I would have preferred to visit when the Named here weren’t at each other’s throats, but if wishes were horses than beggars would ride.

“You have me there,” I easily said. “Which of you fine gentlemen volunteers to-”

A silver rectangle opened behind us, though more than ten feet to the left of where own door out of the Threshold had stood.

“Roland,” I said. “Was anyone else supposed to come today?”

By the shortcut, too, if I was correct.

“No that I know of,” the Rogue Sorcerer grimly replied.

“To the stairs,” I barked at my guards.

We’d only barley begun to withdraw when a silhouette came out. My staff rose, until I caught sight of the perfectly polished shield the figure bore. The Mirror Knight gathered his bearings, then started in surprise when he caught sight of me. I ought to have been the one surprised, really: after all, he was meant to be in Cleves right now.

So what the Hells was he doing here?

98 thoughts on “Chapter 13: Ingress

  1. magesbe

    Well this is a jolly clusterfuck. Heads are going to roll, and I might not be being metaphorical.

    Also, I expect we’re getting the Mirror Knight’s sub-arc out of the way.

    Liked by 14 people

  2. What the fuck is the Mirror Knight doing here? That’s a problem. In multiple ways. Not just because he’s an asshole who isn’t supposed to be here. It’s the how did he get in there question and problem. Plus Roland took a shortcut.
    Plus he’s an asshole who will likely make the situation worse, not better. And he’s not supposed to be anywhere near here.

    This has clusterfuck, maneuvering, and setup written all over it.

    Blessed Artificer probably doesn’t have any room to stand on if her complaint is solely about Masego breaking her toy that she used to blind him.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. dadycoool

      This is the kind of thing I was scared of when I realized the Woe was getting back together. The most powerful Band of Five (from our perspective) has gathered without a threat to face. That means an even worse threat will show up to make the gathering worth it.

      Liked by 9 people

          1. dadycoool

            My original comment a few chapters ago was filled with dread at four of the five getting together, only to be told in a reply that Vivienne would be there, too. I didn’t check, but her being part of the conference call makes more sense.

            Like

            1. Agent J

              > “The Order cadres in Salia would prove sufficient for the task, when it comes to Vivienne and the First Prince,” Masego said.

              It was a little unseemly, resorting to such slick wiles to ascertain if either of these would be coming.

              > “It won’t be necessary, with both of them here in person,” Roland replied.

              It was literally the last chapter.

              Like

              1. dadycoool

                …-_- *facepalm* One of these days, I’m gonna have to binge these again, like I had when I first found this story. Maybe then it’ll settle in my head enough that my memory can be reliable. I won’t be offended if people ignore every word that comes out of my mouth.

                Like

  3. Big I

    I’m really curious what a Beast of Hierarchy is now. Some type of devil from the context? Is the Hierarch a devil now? Has he declared war on the Hells? So many questions.

    Like

    1. caoimhinh

      True, though I don’t think it is the Heroes’ side the one that needs to be placated here, it’s the Villains’ side, since one of them was the one killed and it is them that will be raising complaints and asking for retributions.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        Well the problem is settling the complaints without involving the heroes. Catherine can’t exactly take up the slack every time a Hero does a stupid. Either Cat subdues the Hero and waits for Hanno, or she might have to apply the a quite literal application of Alexander’s solution to this Gordian knot.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Shveiran

        Well, it isn’t now.

        Cat seems inclined toward the removal of the Red Axe, though, at least for the time being. I reckon if she ends up taking that scene (which I fully expect her to, yet it is not a given) the heroic side could understandably have a few pointed words on the matter.

        I’m curious about how these new heroes will approach Cat, personally.
        My perception in Book 6 so far is that Heroes and nobles have kind of forgotten who they are dealing with and think her soft, given were we were two years ago and how they act now.
        I’ll admit however that this is something I like being angry about, so I may be seeing phantasms of my own creation?
        We shall see.

        Like

  4. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    Trustworthy was > Trustworthiness was
    anywhere I’d been > anywhere I’d be
    it it’s > if it’s
    shorty > shortly
    mused, the > mused; the
    the unfortunately > unfortunately
    in charged > in charge
    craved > carved
    red-robes mages > red-robed mages (or red-reobes)
    Roland,” I smiled, “Weeping > Roland.” I smiled. “Weeping
    trouble,” > trouble.”
    Ways as way > Ways
    been killing > been a killing
    snickering form > snickering from
    sure bring > sure to bring
    less dimensional > lesser dimensional
    then,” > then.”
    protested > protest
    at leas enough > at least enough
    braids goings > braids going
    they’d down (worn?)
    tuned > turned
    I wasn’t like > It wasn’t like
    horses than > horses then
    where own > where our own
    “No that > “None that
    barley > barely

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sun Dog

      “Accusations were thrown that the Chosen were attempting a purge, and Archer had to pull the Vagrant Spear off of the Haunted Magician. Bruises and a cut, but nothing lasting.”

      >Hunted Magician. Though Haunted sounds cool too.

      Like

    2. caoimhinh

      The demimondes allowing entry to our little house of wonders didn’t count.

      It should be:
      The demimondes allowed entry to our little house of wonders didn’t count.

      Like

        1. caoimhinh

          Oh, EE edited it. It no longer says “demimondes”, which I now see was supposed to be “demimundi” or “semi-worlds”.

          Now it says: “The half-realms allowing entry to our little house of wonders didn’t count.”

          A whole other meaning now, as “Demimondes” are a class of women kept by wealthy protectors, more concretely female prostitutes.

          That’s why I was like “the prostitutes do not allow entry to the Arsenal, they are allowed entry there for the entertainment of the people inside.” and I was already starting to question their security standards if they were allowing hookers inside such a secret location.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Konstantin von Karstein

            I didn’t know that « demimondes » where prostitutes😁 French is my native language, so for me it was obvious it was meant to say « half-world »

            Liked by 2 people

          2. Not quite — a “demimonde” is the subculture and/or ghetto associated with prostitutes, or with other “outcast” groups (e.g., drug dealers would count). And yes, “half-worlds” is the original sense — the idea that these people are living in their hidden realm, not quite part of the daylight world. Given the connotations, “half-realm” is indeed better for this literal usage.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. flashburn283

    Great, I figured somebody was going to have to get their head bashed in over this, but now the friggin unkillable man is here everything just got loads worse, hell this is going to be bad.

    50 to 1 keter is behind this.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oshi

        Don’t discount the Bard…this has all the trappings of politics mixed with story shenanigans. It’s totally within the Bard’s wheelhouse. Doesn’t even have to do much but delay the White Knight long enough to force Catherine to do some harsh shit.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. Question is, does the Bard actually want Catherine to alienate a bunch of people right now? We haven’t seen anything of her since the Auger undermined her long-term plan and Neshemah decided to take the opportunity to go for the kill. If she’s as desperate as seems to be the case, then she can’t really afford to do anything that doesn’t weaken the Dead King’s position somehow.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. caoimhinh

            On the other hand, the Bard doesn’t like Catherine’s changing of the game. She didn’t even like Amadeus and Alaya’s changing of it, and theirs was less reaching and lasting than the change Catherine is bringing.

            This might be one of those situations where the 3rd party says “I want Party 1 to win, but not by too much. I want them wounded and tired after defeating Party 2”.
            The Intercessor might be on board with the Grand Alliance killing Neshamah, but not with them creating a new way in which Heroes and Villains interact on Calernia.
            She would be rooting for it to collapse right after ending the Dead King.

            Liked by 3 people

              1. Shveiran

                She may be farsighted enough to aim for a greater victory, though: a Calernia that defeats the Dead King, but whose Grand Alliance has already sown the seeds of its defeat, so that the game may resume as it was.

                If that’s what she wants.

                We don’t really know.

                Like

        2. Why do people act like story shenanigans just don’t happen when Bard isn’t there?

          They do. She’s just one player, and she’s a player with a pretty specific agenda, which we know about and which this does not match.

          (The agenda is “kill DK”)

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Shveiran

            And we know that because…?

            Bard is an enigma wrapped in a mistery.
            If anything, we KNOW that the Bard’s agenda is not JUST killing DK, or Neshamah would not be convinced he “needs but to tell them” to have the people of Calernia choose him over the Bard.

            The WB reply to that wasn’t “you are deluded”, it was “yeah, but I’ll kill this part of you so no one will actually find out”.

            Heck, bard is older than DK. I really doubt she had no goal prior to his ascention.
            She may WANT the DK gone, but that is not the sum whole of her.

            Like

            1. Bard’s method of killing him, as he understood, involved the angel weapon that was apparently THAT destructive. Painted Knife is currently checking that out with her band.

              And if he was wrong about how bad people of Calernia would find it, well, why would she disabuse him of the notion?

              Like

  6. dadycoool

    I had more fun reading this chapter than I have in a long time. I never realized how much I missed the Woe being together. Masego is a joy to be around, especially with the others to bounce off of. Of course, the same applies to the rest, like Cat and Hakram discussing how they would go about storming the castle. Or how he was able to read her like a book. A few chapters ago, I expressed worry about the five of them reuniting, but I had forgotten. This chapter and the way it reminded me what the Woe really is makes the hells that are about to be unleashed worth it.

    Liked by 8 people

  7. Wonder

    Dun Dun Dun!!!!!!!! We have a potentially messy situation on our hands.
    Cat is going to grow into her Name very soon if the Mirror Knight is here.

    About the Name, does she get a transitionary one like Squire or she gets a full blown mature Name?

    Also what flavour is her Name going to take considering she is

    a priestess( wielder of prayers and miracles)

    , queen ( dueling with words and manuevering political minefields)

    and Warlord( crushing armies with steel and goblinfire, leading an army herself)

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Cicero

      You are all missing the obvious:

      The Suffering Schoolmarm

      Doomed to forever be disciplining various named at this future school of hers.

      Observe: www(dot)youtube(dot)com/watch?v=aFJXbL7_TYQ

      Like

  8. Dead King: This is the end, Cathrine! Now you die! *Blasts lightning*

    Dead King: What? NO! Damn you, you fooled me for the last time, Sc-

    *Legendary quality scarecrow stuffed with goblinfire explodes*

    Cat: *Scoffs dismissively* Anyone could’ve done that with such a high quality scarecrow, you’re not impressing me by only using three Named instead of five.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Wonder

      I am hoping Cat gets aspects that can create simulacrums of her, that she can use as goat bombs.

      It will be nice to see her get Seek back. Something tells me the odd way her necromancy works is important.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Mith

          If this happens are we able to say that she is heavily Mirroring the Wandering Bard?

          -Cannot die (especially if she gets a simulacrum abilities)

          -Commits to a cause above all else

          -Manipulates forces on both sides of the Board.

          -Massively cross cultural influence

          Liked by 2 people

      1. I think that Cat would balk at getting such a power. For a Hero it could be great, but a Villain with metasense would know it’s a death trap. It’s not quite as delibitating as having your minions wear face-covering masks or helmets, but having more than one of yourself greatly diminishes your Story weight and power.

        That simulacrum might be very powerful compared to normal people, but if a Hero has trouble fighting it the first time and then defeats it the second time, it’s pretty much a stepping stone bringing them closer to defeating the real deal. Doubly so because the connection to fighting and defeating the simulacrum would give Story weight points for the Hero to defeat Cat, while being easier to defeat than the real deal because it’s not the real deal, and stringing a Story that will see to Cat’s defeat despite Cat herself never having met the Hero face to face. The way that Providence doesn’t play fair, it probably doesn’t even need to have the Hero be in the same room during the Villain wins first act to create a narrative aimed at killing her and strengthening the Hero when they do face Cat.

        Liked by 3 people

  9. Frivolous

    So we’re all agreeing that this will result in a fight, yes? Because, as everyone knows, the MK is a very undiplomatic Proceran, and his talents are all in the physical in general and physical combat in particular, which means his usual solution to everything is to hit it.

    In other news: Does anyone know how to contact erraticerrata privately, without using Patreon and/or becoming a Patreon patron?

    Liked by 5 people

    1. ninegardens

      Can’t answer the second question…. but something of potential note:

      It has been hypothesized (can’t remember when), that Mirror Knight was created by above as a direct counter to Sve Noc.
      Given that Cat is an agent of the great Svees, this may be a problem.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Frivolous

        I have a terrible, awful idea: The Mirror Knight might have come to kill everyone else in the Arsenal and claim all its magics for the greater good of Procer.

        I mean, it fits, right? He really can kill everyone else, and he’s too useful to be sent away from the front lines for anything but this, a hostile takeover.

        Plus I don’t believe he can leave any witnesses alive, because the White Knight would eventually find out if he did. Hanno would never countenance mass murder of their allies, but Christophe could, because he really is that stupid.

        If I’m correct, then the next several updates will be like the Alien movie, only instead of being hunted by an indestructible horrible xenomorph, they’ll be hunted by an indestructible handsome patriotic bigot.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. ninegardens

          >If I’m correct, then the next several updates will be like the Alien movie, only instead of being hunted by an indestructible horrible xenomorph, they’ll be hunted by an indestructible handsome patriotic bigot.

          This is hilarious. I don’t actually believe its a thing, but its hilarious.

          There’s also the point that like…. MK is tough, but… they are literally hiding inside Masego’s personal realm effectively.

          Heck, I’m not even sure that Sve Noc has any power here. My estimate is that in Arsenal, Masego is large and in charge.

          Liked by 5 people

        2. Not only is he not that stupid (see his response to that attempt to suborn him in bed), but even those who might have sent him have to be smarter than “take all the magic weapons… and kill the unique characters folks who made and maintain them”.

          Liked by 4 people

        3. Insanenoodlyguy

          If he started killing a place stocked with innocent civilians and heroes just to make a poorly thought out power grab, he’d A. Stop being a hero, even if the name doesn’t change, and B. Would ensure his death.

          An isolated area, no easy way in or out, and an unstoppable lunatic is stalking the halls killing everybody he can. You just made this a horror. But that’s the kind of horror that MAKES heroes, let alone puts already established ones in the situation. We have a small army of “last survivors” here! Even if a few of them fall to set things up, this is absoutely the sort of story where at least one survivor kills the lunatic and lives, and is more likely going to shift into a group victory with a healthy number of mook unnamed mages killed so Mirror Knight can spout a few horrible lines before they scooby-doo trap his ass. Nah, Sun dog has it right. He has the much simpler idea of “Make sure my side ‘wins’ this.” .

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Eh, I’ve always thought that the Mirror Knight is more likely to be intended to go after Ranger than Sve Noc. For that matter, I’m not sure where the idea that he’d be intended to go after Sve Noc even came from.

        His Dawn Aspect makes him little bit stronger and tougher every day, and even Saint said that in 10 years he’d be on her level.

        Ranger gets better all the time, but her rate of improvement is very slight these days.
        Mirror Knight gets better all the time but much faster, so even though he’s starting our from real far behind, he gets to close the gap.

        Like

  10. > Trustworthy was unlikely to be the problem with Hanno arranging for someone to stand in his place. Even the worst pricks on his side of the fence tended to be at least well-meaning. I’d guess that the trouble had been finding someone who wouldn’t pull a blade on a fresh villain or talk in a way that got a blade pulled on them instead.

    As for that, “trustworthy” is exactly the problem. Trust is about many things, including self-restraint and competence. Someone who can’t be trusted to keep their blade and tongue in the scabbard while recruiting a villain, is not someone who should be recruiting.

    And yes, this is totally a pivot — three conflicts presented at once, and the Mirror Knight showing up to match the Black Queen, that’s a hut full of goblinfire waiting for a match.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Sun Dog

      Eh, you can trust someone generally but not trust them to do a specific task for which they are ill-suited. Cat had to reach to find someone who isn’t treacherous, while Hanno is surrounded by righteous face-stabbers he 100% trusts to have his back in battle, to the very gates of Keter, but who aren’t the best pick for delicate diplomatic things like indicting new villains.

      Like

  11. Oh this is brewing up to be an UTTERLY DELIGHTFUL clusterfuck.

    If I’m lucky, this won’t even turn out to have been orchestrated or even nudged along by either of the Evil antagonist: no Dead King, no Malicia, entirely natural dynamics of trying to get villains and heroes to work together 😀

    God I love grown-up Masego… god I love Masego learning physical affection… (also still aro af lmao, his favorite cousin gets the same treatment as his girlfriend) god I love Catherine being huggy… god I love Roland… god I love his dynamic with Masego… god I love Cat bantering with Hakram… god I love Super Cool Magic Defenses nerdery…. ;u;

    Liked by 3 people

        1. Shveiran

          Personally, I don’t.
          I just think it’s odd that Bard has no stake in this cake after being so active before, and now she ahs been silent for two years. The Painted Knife is coming back with her big secret (allegedly) I can’t imagine she’ll sit this one out.

          Also, it’s the last book. At least one between DK and WB will be involved.
          Considering EE usually has three arcs, I find it more likely WB will appear than not.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. caoimhinh

    “The demimondes allowed entry to our little house of wonders didn’t count.”
    Of course, why keep a supremely secure location that could decide the fate of the continent, if you are not allowed to bring hookers inside?
    Nothing could go wrong there, right?

    Also, I bet it was the Haunted Magician who told Masego about kissing both cheeks in greeting. Both Indrani and Catherine looked very surprised at the gesture, so it must be new. Plus, that’s a Proceran gesture (if I recall correctly, one of the Interludes showed Otto Redcrown mentally complaining about the Kingfisher Prince’s tendency of using that greeting), and the Haunted Magician is a handsome Proceran Villain who Indrani noted to be a womanizer, so it would fit.

    if someone who is an accomplished Mage and successful with women gave Masego a piece of advice, then it would be in Zeze’s character to at least test it out (he seemed pleased by Cat’s reaction, too).

    Like

  13. ThatOneGuy

    Complicated mess at its best. At the base of is a hero killing a rapist murdered who did both to her home. She would probably be given a pass due to her ability to mess with magic and having a good reason.

    Problem is politics. Team “hero” is standing by her and throwing their weight in with it as they give a few villains a few strikes because they are villains or they just do not like them. They have reason, but none of them good ones.

    Like artifice and our favorite mage. Petty conflict with flash of egos, but not important enough to make a conflict or to murder one another. Still they will add their weight saying it is discrimination against heroes because villains are being evil.

    Mirror Knight on the other hand is… A gullible idiot. Important enough to be the next Grand Hero after white knight, but lacks political awareness for the more political minds to feed him a “good vs evil” line to justify what they want and why he should back them… Instead of it actually being “petty and greedy” which would fly over his head.

    So yes… I see mirror knight as the well meaning, but easily tricked hero and someone on team politics thought to bring him there knowing what would happen when a certain hero and a certain villain would meet.

    Maybe not Evil with a capital E… But political jerk with the moral center of a rapid hyena. Good is good while it lines the pockets and weakens the enemy. Those who had yet to become the enemy just need to be weakened before they are declared.

    Say what you want about the undead king… You have to admire how he managed to get rid of most of the political problems that normally infest most places.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Cicero

      My thought is that the best way to handle it is to de-escalate from being a hero villain thing to a simple revenge killing.

      “Oh, okay, you killed him because he raped you. That means it’s not a hero purging villain thing. Hanno what is the punishment for murder when the murderer was raped by the murderer?”

      “Hmm… the punishment for murder is death, but when the murderer was a victim like this the penalty is reduced. X Years of hard labor.”

      “Okay good. Red Axe you are now Cordelia’s slave until your sentence is completed, you don’t get any of the benefits of being a Chosen either.”

      I don’t know, something like that.

      Like

      1. Shveiran

        You are trying to paint this as something other than a T&T breach to find a better solution.

        IMO, this won’t work because whatever else this is, it is ALSO a major breach of the T&T. All its signee will be watching. Finding an out of the box solution leaning on something other from the T&T won’t work.
        It doesn’t matter whether or not the solution makes sense if you squint or chaneg your perspective: it won’t be enough when everyone considers this a test of the T&T primarily.

        And the T&T were always bound to be simple, given what they were meant to achieve, so I wouldn’t hold my breath for “sexual assault” clauses and exeptions. It isn’t a code of laws, it’s a treaty cobbled together during the largest nightmare war of the millennia.

        Like

        1. Morgenstern

          Maybe it’s high time then that they DO get some clauses/exceptions, if they are meant to work *after* said war as well 😉

          Like

          1. They’re not. Not really.
            The Truce and Terms are a measure to get everyone pointed at the Dead King and working more or less together without any real backstabbing for the duration of the war, probably plus a little extra.
            They’re also intended to lay the groundwork and foundations and serve as a trust building measure for the negotiation and implementation of the Accords after the war is over.

            The Truce and Terms are not a permanent measure – they are by nature finite in duration. They’re a stopgap measure to hold off the emergency and to allow a longer term solution to be put into place after the crisis is over.

            Like

  14. laguz24

    Ok, here is where things are beginning to pick up speed. I really just can’t wait for MK to get slapped around verbally by the crows, he deserves it.

    Like

    1. RoflCat

      Well, given that there’s at least 1 Drow listening to him and that princess from Procer, I think it might be….’interesting’ to hear what the Crows might say to him.

      “Only your hardness is worth appreciating”
      “She was pretending to enjoy it”
      etc.

      Like

  15. Insanenoodlyguy

    I’ll call it now. Bard hsa been hanging back after Cat’s warning, no doubt deciding the next time her presence could be seen it was gonna be something big.

    This is now far too much FUBAR to be coincidence. The odds are too long now. This is a big ol story powder keg and I suspect she’s holding the fuse and a match.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. ohJohN

    Last chapter, when Severance/Severity was introduced and Masego was thinking about who could survive wielding it, my first thought was: Mirror Knight, obviously! His whole thing is taking abuse, Cat describes him as nigh unkillable. Masego even speculated about special armor that could allow someone to withstand the blade, and MK conveniently already has special armor!

    Him showing up unexpectedly soon after sure smells like story shenanigans, too, and “a newly forged weapon that could turn the tide of the war, if only someone could wield it” is definitely a big story.

    Liked by 4 people

  17. >“Archer arrived two days past with her full band and the Red Axe,” the Rogue Sorcerer replied. “Which brings us at seventeen – eighteen with you, Catherine.”

    Hakram: “<clears throat>
    Mirror Knight: “O Hai.”

    Like

      1. Morgenstern

        What’s significant is that the Rogue (or the author) seemingly forgot to count HAKRAM as a Named, too. Because if they were 17 before Cat arriving – it should be *19* after her arrival, seeing as she brought Hakram Deadhand with her, directly on her toes.

        Like

        1. That’s noticable (thus my prior comment), but perhaps understandable — firstly, Hakram is currently doing the “shadow at Cat’s back” thing, which would tend to make him socially invisible like many another secretary or assistant. Then too, he’s a non-human, and it wouldn’t be surprising if RS has some unconscious racism happening — which would feed directly into looking past Cat’s assistant.

          Like

  18. You know, it *is* oddly inspiring to see a Proceran putting petty ambition above bigotry. Because that really is a big way that you get political winds to shift around bigotry, with situations that ensure ladder-climbing less-than-saintly politicians get more out of leaving the bigotry at the door than they do trumpeting it.

    Like

    1. Timothy Nemet

      If I recall correctly she was around prior to the Dead King. As she had knowledge of the immortal civilizations that existed and stagnated prior to the Gods implementing Humanity to play their games.

      Like

  19. Timothy Nemet

    Hey All I have a question regarding Masego/Hieorphant in this chapter.
    I thought his magic was destroyed, so how was he able to hang the arsenal in between Twilight and Creation without it?

    Is it named shenanigans, something else, or did I forget some key plot point?

    Like

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