Chapter 14: Audience

“To boast of an opinion unchanged is to boast of wearing child’s clothing.”
– Atalantian saying

The Mirror Knight’s appearance had me surprised, but the three other Named that followed him out pushed that over the edge and into consternation.

One of those I was already familiar with: the Blade of Mercy’s youth and greatsword would have made him memorable enough even if I’d not once ripped out his arm to throw it in another hero’s face as a distraction. Another Alamans, like the Mirror Knight, and one who’d strenuously argued against the Terms before they were forced through with the Pilgrim and the White Knight’s backing. The other two took me a moment to place, as I’d only ever heard of them through reports. But heard of them I had, and they were not unknown quantities. Short, stocky and painted in colours that belonged to no Blood, the Exalted Poet looked like he belonged in a Dominion shield wall instead of the pleasure palaces of Levante he was said to have been conscripted from. Archer had mentioned to me he’d once been among the Hidden Poets, some highly prestigious Levantine society of poets and singers, until he’d somehow touched upon some truth of the Heavens through his words. Yet for all that he did not wield Light – he was a spellcaster, if a middling one, and likely how the band had come through.

The last of the four was a Callowan, though she wasn’t one of mine in any sense. She’d allegedly fled in the early years after the Conquest, and she was the only one who did not openly consider herself one of Above’s champions. The Maddened Keeper looked instead like a perennially exhausted woman in her early twenties, skin drawn and pale and her dark hair ratty. Her threadbare robes ever rumpled and she was thin, but there was a sense of… menace about her. Not like a snake coiling but rather like a diseased thing, the sight of which had you withdraw your hand out of fear and disgust. She was host, it was rumoured, to a great many old secrets that should have stayed unknown – and had even turned herself into a living seal on a Hell Egg from Triumphant’s days. After the Mirror Knight himself she was the one of that bunch I’d be most wary of fighting. I knew from personal experience that one didn’t rub elbows with entities on the darker side of the fence without learning some rather nasty tricks.

“Mirror Knight,” I said, tone cool. “I was under the impression your duties kept you in Cleves.”

Adjutant fell on my left side to cover by bad leg, as naturally as taking a breath, and he did not need to reach for a blade for the heroes to tense. Christophe, for that was the Mirror Knight’s name, looked as surprised to see me as I was to see him. The Blade of Mercy’s hands closed around the handle of his greatsword so strongly the metal creaked as he stared me down with pale eyes and clenched teeth. I was meant to be respectable, these days, so I refrained from asking him how his arm was doing. The Poet looked calm, and had even warily stepped away from the Blade, but the Maddened Keeper was looking at me blearily through the long strands of her ratty hair.

“And I was under the impression I need not answer to you, Black Queen,” the Mirror Knight replied, back straightening.

“Christophe, you speak to the anointed queen of Callow,” the Rogue Sorcerer mildly said. “Have you forgotten your courtesies?”

Roland had stepped between myself and the newcomers, while I was studying them, and though he seemed calm I recognized the tension to his stance from the last time he and I had been in a mess together. He’d not known about this either, then. I’d not expected him to, but these days my trust came slower and died more swiftly than ever before. The world had gotten larger, the older I got, and ever more complex. There were fewer certainties left in my life than I’d like. To my surprise, Roland’s admonishment actually seemed to strike true with the Mirror Knight. A flicker of something like regret passed across his face, and the man offered me what a generous soul might call a bow.

“That was not one of the usual portals,” Masego suddenly said, voice cutting through the room. “And there is more coming.”

The glass eyes beneath the cloth were staring at what I would have thought to be nothingness, but then I was not the Hierophant. There were only three other Named with Christophe, I noted once more. I’d thought him one short of a band of five, and that a good sign, but was he really?

“What are you doing here, Mirror Knight?” I asked, tone grown colder. “The Arsenal is not a hostel anyone can visit when the whim strikes. Explain yourself.”

My gaze swept by the armoured hero and onto the rest of his companions, flat and unfriendly.

“That question stands for the rest of you,” I said. “Two of you ought to be in Cleves, and the –”

“Hooves,” the Maddened Keeper suddenly said. “Someone rides.”

My brow rose. That implied whatever was coming was not with them, which only further added to my confusion. Supplies, maybe? There would be carriages and wagons for those. It should be too early for it to be my own, though I supposed time did tend to get rather fluid when it came to places like this. No telling what it was.

“You tneed to ask why I am here, Queen of Faithlessness?” the Mirror Knight sneered. “Fine, play your games if you must. I am here to prevent the murder you’ve plotted.”

The what now? Wait, was he talking about the way Prince Gaspard of Cleves might bargain himself into a slit throat if he didn’t curb his ambitions? Because I’d not even begun to pursue that, choosing instead to delay until I spoke with the First Prince before beginning to act.

“Have we been plotting murder?” Masego asked, sounding a little bemused. “People never tell me these things. You should write more often, Catherine.”

I closed my eyes and sighed. The last part was probably true, I’d give him that at least.

“See, even the Hierophant admits it,” the Blade of Mercy triumphed. “A murder here in the Arsenal, where no word will escape of it-”

“This is absurd,” Roland flatly said, “and beneath you as well, Antoine. Are we now nothing more than a pack of street thugs throwing around wild accusations? We set down rules to address suspicions like the one you have brought, and swore to follow them.”

Va te faire foutre, Sorcier,” the Blade of Mercy cursed in a hiss. “You might have forgotten the butchery at the Camps so you can get comfortable playing the wizard in your little tower, but we are not all so eager to be bought out of our principles.”

“What principles would these be?” Hakram gravelled. “All I see is a handful of Named who were caught breaking agreements and now spin unlikely tales to dig their way out.”

“It is no breach of the Terms to come to the Arsenal,” the Exalted Poet said in Chantant, and I started at how gorgeous his voice was.

Warm and full-throated, like honey for the ear. I could understand why he’d never had to work a day in his life, with a voice like that: people would have thrown coppers at him just to hear him list out the chores of the day.

“That may be true. Lacing your voice with sorcery when speaking to other Named is, however,” Hierophant said, tone gone icy.

The warmth left me, gone as if by a snap of the finger. I frowned, eyeing the Poet rather more warily than before.

“Who throws wild accusations now?” the Blade of Mercy said.

“Keep your lackeys in hand, Black Queen,” the Mirror Knight ordered me. “This is disgraceful.”

My fingers clenched around my staff of yew.

“What,” I asked very gently, “did you just say to me?”

“Did I perhaps stutter?” the Mirror Knight smiled.

I breathed out, mastered the frozen vicious thing that was roaring in my veins. At seventeen, you arrogant little shit, I would have answered that sword in hand. But now I had responsibilities, and no matter how fucking satisfying it would be to make the prick spit out his teeth it would also be a major incident. The Truce and the Terms, I knew, would already be stretched to a breaking point by the killing of a villain no matter how the matter was resolved. If the representative for Below’s lot assaulted the most famous Proceran hero alive the same week, they might just snap. I told myself this again and again until the anticipation of that smirking jackass bleeding from the mouth had left my knuckles, and only then spoke again.

“Under the Terms, I judge your presence here to be suspect and your behaviour needlessly provocative,” I said, voice cool. “You will be held under guard until the White Knight is here to speak on your behalf.”

Outrage was the answer, and the Blade of Mercy laughed scornfully, but I was not finished,

“Set your weapons down on the ground, right now,” I said. “All of you. You will use neither sorcery, Light nor Name until it is made explicitly clear to you it is permissible once more.”

“I did not mean to breach the Terms,” the Exalted Poet said, raising his hands, “and will not add further insult to the injury.”

The voice was just as gorgeous as before, I thought, but it wasn’t so… attention-grabbing anymore. Huh, interesting. A little like fae glamour, then? That made him an odd duck compared to the usual Dominion lot, who rarely resorted to tricks on the more subtle side.

“You bloody coward,” the Blade of Mercy swore. “Have you no pride?”

“Roland,” the Mirror Knight gravely said, “did you not hear her speak? Hear the threat she threw at our feet like challenger’s glove?”

The Rogue Sorcerer’s face was a blank mask.

“If Hanno had given the order to a group of Named, I would have backed him without hesitation,” Roland replied. “Christophe, swallow your damned pride for an hour. It is not worth what your swaggering threatens to bring down upon all our heads. I do not know what brings you here, but I have been here all this time and I tell you now that you are mistaken.”

The Mirror Knight hesitated. I kept my mouth shut, even though by all fucking rights in the eyes of Gods and crowns just my giving the order here should have been enough, because I was not so enamoured of my pride that I’d knife a method that seemed to be working.

“It was a villain that was slain,” Roland continued, “and-”

“See,” the Blade of Mercy spat, “see? It is exactly as we learned. Some wizard rapist got nothing more than he deserved and now they would slay a Chosen in cold blood for it.”

“And how did you learn this, I wonder?” Adjutant asked, voice calm.

“Orcs have-” the Blade of Mercy began-

“Finish that sentence,” I mildly said. “And I will have to answer it.”

I met his eyes, pale blue, and idly ran a finger just to the side of my shoulder. About where I’d ripped his out with my bare hands, the last time we’d fought. The boy flinched, until his eyes glowed with Light and he leaned forward instead.

“Answer the Adjutant’s question, Christophe,” Roland said. “Something is afoot.”

“I will not unmask our friend in these walls so that you might silence them and hide the next sin from our eyes,” the Mirror Knight harshly replied. “Queen you might be, Catherine Foundling, but you are no queen of mine.”

Was I supposed to be stung by that? I sometimes pitied Cordelia Hasenbach for the fact that the blunders of her nation’s heroes inevitably reflected on her and counted my blessings that the closest thing to a hero I had to answer for was Vivienne Dartwick. Once in a while, I supposed, I did get a stroke of luck.

“I didn’t ask you to kneel,” I said. “But I did ask you to put your fucking sword on the ground, Christophe. I can’t help but notice you haven’t even managed that much.”

“And what will you do, if I do not deign to indulge you?” the man smirked.

“Do not think,” I softly said, “that I will not beat some sense into your empty head, if you leave me no other choice.”

“What do I have to fear of Night?” the Mirror Knight chuckled. “Perhaps this is for the best, yes? Too long have better souls tread softly around your pride for fear of your power. You are in dire need of a-”

I’d have to aim it carefully, to finish it one blow. Just tossing Night around like some Secret-drunk ispe wouldn’t do anything, the man had survived being submerged in acid with only light discomfort. The trick to it would be-

“Hooves,” the Maddened Keeper sighed. “I told you.”

The portal’s opening was silent, though the shiver of power was not. A rider came through, leaning low against the neck of the horse to avoid hitting their head, and there was no missing the power wafting off of them. Another one?

“Weeping Heavens,” I swore, throwing up my hands. “Is this a secret magic fortress or a bloody fish market?”

“We do have ponds,” Masego helpfully told me in a whisper, “and some of them have fish.”

“Thank you, Masego,” I sighed. “But the fish weren’t the point of the comparison.”

“It’s not a very good comparison, then,” he informed me.

I did not answer that, because I had better things to do and also I couldn’t think of anything that’d be a match for that serious earnestness he’d spoken with. For a moment, looking at the rider straightening in the saddle, I was genuinely unsure whether I was looking at a man or a woman. But then I caught sight of the ornate kingfishers carved into the armour and put one and one together. Frederic Goethal, the Prince of Brus. More importantly, the Kingfisher Prince: the only ruler Named in Procer I’d ever heard about outside old legends. Prince Frederic, I decided as I took in the perfect blond hair, slender jaw and fair skin, was ridiculously pretty. The mass of ribbons in his hair would have looked ridiculous, I thought, if a closer look did not reveal they were purple and silver. The Dead King’s banners, torn up and made into vain ornaments.

The Prince of Brus had style, I had to give him that.

“My, it seemed I’ve stumbled onto quite the assembly,” Prince Frederic laughed. “I dare not claim it was sent for on my behalf.”

Eyes just a little too sharp for me to find them beautiful lingered on me, and the Prince of Brus offered me a theatrical bow from atop his horse.

“Queen Catherine, I must say it is a fine pleasure to meet you in person at last,” he said. “I am, one might say, an admirer of your work up in Hainault.”

The heroes I’d been about to draw on looked utterly befuddled by a Named prince of Procer quite literally riding into the middle of the confrontation. It calmed the waters some, took the edge off the stormy urgency everyone had been feeling in their air.

“I hear good things of you from my people, Prince Frederic,” I replied, meaning every word. “Or do you prefer your Name instead?”

“There is less difference between one and the other than I would have thought,” the man mused. “But Frederic is all I would require of you, Queen of Callow.”

“How forward,” I said, smothering a grin, but did not outright deny him.

It was just an Alamans thing, the grandiose manners and bold suggestions, but it was still flattering in its own way. Dismounting smoothly, the Prince of Brus set foot on the stone and offered a sweeping bow to the rest of the Named here.

“I am Frederic of the House of Goethal, Prince of Brus,” he introduced himself.

“Did we invade that?” I heard Masego ask Hakram in a whisper. “He’s very polite, if we invaded that.”

“We haven’t,” Hakram replied in a whisper. “Too far north. And technically speaking we never invaded Procer. We were invited into Iserre by Prince Amadis Milenan.”

“Oh, I get it,” Masego said, tone brightening. “We never killed any Procerans either, we just stabbed them and then an unrelated death ensued. Politics is all about ignoring causality.”

I decided, after a moment, to pretend I’d never heard that. The Kingfisher Prince greeted several the other two Proceran heroes by both Name and name, which seemed to rather move them, and charmed his way through introductions with the Poet and the Keeper. Who was, if I was not mistaken, blushing. Roland stood at my side, a rueful look on his face, and shrugged when I raised an eyebrow as if to say, Alamans, what can you do? The glance I traded with Hakram was more laden with meaning. Retreat, I asked him with my eyes, or press forward? He studied the heroes and the Prince of Brus for a moment, then nodded. Forward, he was saying. I was inclined to agree. Though in principle the Mirror Knight and the Blade of Mercy were of equal standing to the Kingfisher Prince, in matters of Truce and Terms at least, the way they behaved spoke differently. They were deferring, treating the man a superior whether they were conscious of it or not.

And I’d been around Alamans long enough now to learn that their culture frowned on making a scene when a superior was there to see. The trait was even more pronounced in highborn, who would be expected to ‘remain graceful’ to the extent that they’d have to face even an utter disaster with a smile and a pithy phrase instead of genuine emotion. It galled me that I’d have to use someone authority’s as well as my own, but not so much that I wouldn’t actually do it. I stepped into the circle, Hakram and Masego trailing behind, inserting myself into the ongoing conversation.

“- it was the of the Bitter Blacksmith’s make as it happens, though not the one here,” the Prince of Brus said, touching the sword at his hip with a smile. “The younger brother of the pair. His blades are in high demand, and Revenants have learned to fear their sight.”

“I am sure that stories would be best traded in comfortable a place than this room,” I said. “Your horse will need stabling as well, Prince Frederic.”

“Every time title is used, Queen Catherine, my heart breaks a little more,” the man said, hand over his heart.

“Frederic, then,” I smiled, against my own better judgement, but the mirth went away as I turned to the four unexpected guests. “As was discussed earlier, your unexpected presence at the Arsenal means you’ll have to remand yourself to the custody the guards until the White Knight can be scryed. I expect you’ve no issue with this?”

“None at all, Black Queen,” the Exalted Poet immediately conceded.

“A place with little light, please,” the Maddened Keeper said. “Queen of Lost and Found.”

My eyes narrowed as I looked at the haggard woman. That was not one of my better-known titles, much less by someone who should not have ever gone anywhere the Firstborn. This one was worth keeping an eye on. I smiled at the Mirror Knight and the Blade of Mercy, who were both doing poorly at hiding their anger. But they were only two against many, and likely to disgrace themselves in everyone’s eyes if they fought back against my very reasonable request.

“Of course,” the Mirror Knight said. “We will do what is right.”

“We always do,” the Blade of Mercy said, looking at me defiantly.

I glanced at Roland, who nodded. I’d trust him with seeing to that, then. I knew not the officers that must be spoken to or the places the heroes would have to be stashed away until Hanno could either free my hands to deal with this mess or deal with it himself.

“I’m sure one of the guards can show you to the stables,” I told Frederic Goethal. “I’m afraid I cannot claim the same.”

“Every hour parted from you will be a torment,” the Prince of Brus assured me, “but I may be able to withstand it, for the promise of a cup of wine shared at a later date?”

“Best you bring the bottle,” I told him, tacitly accepting, “I know little of Proceran wines.”

Even when it came to Callowan bottles, I only knew so much. Gods, I realized with some amusement, I could name more sorts of liquor than wine.

“A journey of discovery is always a pleasant evening to share, Queen Catherine,” the Kingfisher Prince smiled, and with a bow took his leave.

A charmer, that one, I considered. That made him that dangerous, if rather pleasant. The heroes left, until the only ones here in this strange room in this strange place were of the Woe: Masego and Hakram, who I would trust so long as I still had it in me to trust anything at all. I breathed out, then, appreciating how close to fighting this had come. The heroes were bucking the Terms and bucking them hard. Those two Proceran hotheads were trouble, had been from the start, but I’d thought that Hanno’s word would be enough to keep them in line. That belief was starting to wane, unfortunately, and if words failed then there was only one way left.

“Fuck,” I muttered. “This is going to get worse, isn’t it?”

I knew better than to believe house arrest would keep a hero contained. Which meant I now had to take this situation in hand before the fucking idiots broke the agreements that were keeping Named pointed north at Keter instead of squabbling.

“Find me a room I can received people in, Zeze,” I asked Masego. “And then get me the Hunted Magician.”

“Are you not going to settle into your quarters?” Hierophant asked, cocking his head to the side.

“I’ll rest when I’m dead,” I sighed.

Better that than everyone else dying, I supposed.

“And Hakram-” I began.

“I’ll see what bottles I can rustle up,” the orc agreed.

Ah, Adjutant, that prince among men. What would I do without him?

I’d expected to end up in a glorified scholar’s nook, but perhaps that’d been naïve of me. After all the Arsenal had been built on the Grand Alliance’s gold with the understanding that it would be receiving some of the finest minds from three nations as well as packs of Named. Moreover, for something like the Mirage – that great enchanted room that’d been sold to me as the sorcerous step beyond scrying – to be worth making, there would have to be fitting accommodations for the few people on Calernia that would actually be allowed to use that room. That meant that an entire wing of the Arsenal, named the Alcazar, had been built for that purpose. There were luxurious private quarters, there, and private dining rooms, but also the kind of parlour where a prince or a queen could receive important guests away from prying ears.

Masego had cut me loose in the wing after bringing me there, admitting he was less than familiar with the place and so of limited use, and instead gone off to find the Hunted Magician. The attendants here, though, had sorted me out. I’d requested something ‘intimate’, which was what rich people called small, since I’d not brought a household with me and the villain I was going to receive was both Proceran and mostly likely highborn. Better the lack of personal attendants be taken as preference for privacy then an admission I’d simply not brought any. Or had any, to be honest. Even when I’d spent most my time in Laure, I’d kept a rather modest house by royal standards. Enough that Anne Kendall had once praised me for my frugality, and that thought had me reaching for the bottle of aragh that Hakram had somehow gotten his hands on.

I’d been a while since I’d last thought of the once Baroness of Dormer, who’d been my Governess-General and died so senselessly in the Night of Knives. Her and people dearer to me, like Ratface, whose death Malicia would one day answer for.

I gulped down the thimble I’d filled, the roaring warmth of the Taghrebi liquor spreading down my throat, and leaned back into the cushiony Proceran sofa I’d claimed as my seat. The parlour was not large, two sofas and a low table taking up the greater part of the room while service tables and tapestries took up the rest. It would serve for my purposes, as would the bottle of aragh set on that nice polished table along with one wet thimble and one still dry. Adjutant stood behind my seat, to the side, since he was here as my second and not a villain his own right. I’d not expected for Masego to return with the Hunted Magician, since he’d see little point in walking back and forth the Arsenal for courtesies he only dimly paid attention to, so I was not surprised when it was only the Magician that was announced by attendants. The man was ushered in, and as he bowed I took the time to study the man that Hierophant’s indifference to matters of status had allowed to become chief among the villains of the Arsenal.

Nearing or past thirty, I decided, well-dressed in fine robes but leaning towards the practical – and I did mean well dressed, not richly dressed, which smelled of nobility to me. Good-looking and well-groomed, the stubble on his face sculpted, he was dark of hair and his eyes straddled the line between grey and blue. No one knew his name, only his Name, and the mystery around him had so far remained inscrutable. He cleaned up nicely, I thought, but that wasn’t why I kept staring at him. There was something about the Hunted Magician, something strangely familiar. It was on the tip of my tongue and it was irritating me I couldn’t quiet spell it out.

“Queen Catherine, it is my honour,” the Hunted Magician said, bowing respectfully.

I stared at him, some part of me feeling like I could just order him to kneel and he would. The certainty of that thought was what surprised me, because there was no room for so much as the shadow of a doubt in it and that was not something that came upon me often. Not anymore, thank the Gods. And just like that, it fell into place.

“Oh,” I said, “you poor dumb bastard. Which Court is it that you sold your name to?”

The man twitched, then looked at me what I could only call naked fear. I was almost surprised Masego hadn’t noticed it, but then I supposed that was not he part of fae nature Hierophant was familiar with: he’d studied fae, made use of them, but he’d never felt that power coursing through his veins. He knew it like a rider knew a horse, while I knew it like the horse knows the stride.

“I-” the Hunted Magician began, mouth gone dry.  “I do not know what you mean, Your Majesty.”

“I can smell it, Magician,” I said. “They’ve still got a claim on you, and a debt like that can be pulled at by more than the true debtor. Can’t be Summer, or I’d feel like smashing your skull open, and if it was Winter you would have physically balked at lying to me. So, which is it: Autumn or Spring?”

“It is true, then,” he quietly said. “You were, for a time, queen amongst the Fae.”

“I scavenged that crown,” I said, “and it ever sat ill on my brow. I was glad to be rid of it. Answer my question, Hunted Magician.”

I did not Speak – I’d lost the talent when I ceased being the Squire, and my new Name was not so close to coalescing that I could call on old tricks – but he shivered anyway. There was an echo of power there that had a call on him, much as he would like to deny it.

“Autumn,” the villain answered. “It was Autumn I bargained with.”

And you use Maviii runes that not even Masego can seem to figure it out, I thought, so I don’t really need to ask what you bargained for, do I? Ancient knowledge seemed a petty thing to sell your name for, but then that’d never been my calling.

“Good,” I smiled. “Then I have a use for you, Magician.”

“I have evaded the eye of the Prince of Falling Leaves, remaining free of eternal servitude,” the Hunted Magician angrily said, “I’ll not suffer the yoke of the Black Queen instead.”

“I’m not going to make you into a puppet,” I snorted, “I’m going to speak to Hierophant so that you might be brought in onto a project of ours that the Kingdom of Callow backs above all others. You have the potential to greatly contribute, and so be greatly rewarded.”

Masego had been running into trouble proving his Quartered Seasons theory, but if we could bring into the work someone who had a lasting tie to Autumn then doors would open. And I’d just discovered I could squeeze the Hunted Magician rather hard if I felt like it, so I was even fairly comfortable bringing him in. Already my mood was improving.

“That can wait for later, though,” I dismissed. “You wanted an audience, Magician. Well, you have it.”

I gestured vaguely, inviting him to proceed. The man straightened in his seat.

“The death of the Wicked Enchanter was not happenstance, a stroke of fateful misfortune,” the Hunted Magician told me. “This is a plot, Black Queen, and we are all in danger.”

207 thoughts on “Chapter 14: Audience

        1. Or they could be at cross purposes here.
          Or Bard could be using Malicia’s efforts, helping parts of them along, and twisting the results to some other end.

          After all, when it comes to Bard, we really don’t know what her actual goals are. Plus, she’s basically an instance of bullshit ex machina.

          Liked by 3 people

      1. Evidence for the Bard: Plan relies on numerous Named showing up at exactly the wrong place at the wrong time. Plan seems designed to blow up the Truce and Terms which would otherwise limit her control of Named. Malicia no longer has the influence she used to without Scribe.

        Evidence for Malicia: Plan seems like it will blow up the Arsenal, the foremost weapon against the Dead King – something that goes against the Bard’s interests. Malicia has a history of manipulating Procer to her benefit. Plan apparently relies on sorcery, as the Hunted Magician managed to sniff it out.

        I’m leaning towards Malicia, but the sheer number of Named here definitely smells of Bard.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. You do realize that these Named weren’t brought there by Bard, most of them just, like, live there? And that narrativium ensures drama swirls up around Named autonomously, meaning all the problems happening at the same time is basically the law of the universe?

          It does not require an agent to bring it together deliberately. Hell, if Bard has a stake in this, half of it might actually be messing with her plan.

          Like

          1. Shveiran

            There is no guarantee that Bard is involved.

            However, as the most esteemed mistress of story-fu and narrative manipulation of her time (which is a long time, I believe it is at the very least a possibility she may be nudging this mess along.
            Considering how important the pie is, for good or ill it’s almost a given (though not quite a certainty) that she’ll be involved: she is bound to have a stake in what happens here, because this will shape what follows and she has a stake in that for certain.

            While I acknowledge it is possible she is sitting this one out, or that she will step in to help the lead, I find it more likely that this toxic brew of heroic idiocy and coincidence (two of her usual tools) has been helped along.

            If nothing else, because this could have been prevented with subtle interventions before, and wasn’t.

            Like

            1. Note that the whole thing did not in fact break down before, during the previous two years.

              Now THAT is almost suspicious, considering the amount of toxicity in the air.

              Like

    1. JRogue

      We only named two of the three likely individuals capable of both wanting to plot against this and being able to.

      The Dead King is the third. He could be manipulating this. Instead of a direct assault on the Arsenal and the Terms he is planting seeds of doubt among the Hero’s that already WANT to misunderstand Cat. She said that MK and The Blade were already bucking them.

      My bet is still on Bard tho

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Shveiran

        A possibility.
        However, that is something one achieves with talks and dialogue rather than with undeads and rituals.

        Considering how hard it was for Squire!Cat and Queen!Cat to get Heroes to talk, I find it unlikely they are entertaining guests from the Serenity while they are at war with it.

        All in all, I’d say it’s unlikely.

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  1. erebus42

    Gods Procer really does breed the biggest pricks in Calernia.
    I wonder whom this particular plot belongs to. It’s certainly on brand for Malicia but something makes me think this is someone else’s doing.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      Not counting Bard out yet. This could be shaped into a story of “Well we killed our valuable ally, but we had to, they were evil. Somehow, we will find a way!” which might give them enough inertia to put things back on her track, especially if she can now interfere directly and regularly again.

      Liked by 5 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          Directly in the sense of “Don’t have to care if anybody knows I was involved in this.” Wheras right now, there’s a hanging threat that if she’s doing something Cat notices and perceives as threatening the T&T she’s going to Dread Empress this situation.

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          1. That’s not what the metaphysical “no direct touch” limitation is about, that was around long before Cat came around.

            Also, she obviously didnt care if anyone knew she was involved with the Liesse Rebellion and Hanno’s band in Free Cities, since both are in fact open information nobody ever kept any kind of secret.

            So no, that’s not what that limitation means either.

            Like

  2. Hmmm. I feel like Catherine might have her Name by the end of this debacle, if just because of meta-narrative logic. There’s only so much space in this book and she’s either likely going to hit all three aspects before the end or get her Name *only* at the very end.

    But that attention being drawn to Chekov’s Gun this chapter (“my new Name was not so close to coalescing that I could call on old tricks”) makes me think her Name isn’t being saved for the very end. And if she’s going to have three aspects by the end of the book she needs to get started *now*.

    So … Catherine might get Named soon!

    I am both really excited by that possibility and enjoying having a story with such explicit in-universe narrative that can make a thought exercise like this feel like a proper part of the story and not just meta stuff.

    Liked by 12 people

  3. Juff

    Light – he > Light, he
    ever rumpled (ever seems the wrong word)
    cover by > cover my
    tneed > need
    several the other > the other
    someone authority’s > someone’s authority
    in comfortable > in more comfortable
    then,” I > then.” I
    custody the > custody of the
    Catherine,” > Catherine.”
    him that dangerous > him dangerous
    I’d been a while > It’d been a while
    villain his > villain in his
    forth the Arsenal > forth across the Arsenal
    quiet spell > quite spell
    at me what > at me with what
    not he part > not the part
    Maviii > Mavii
    figure it > figure
    “Good,” > “Good.”
    angrily said, > angrily said.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Well, the Magician is probably right.
    The appearance of so many Heroes out of nowhere who are supposed to be on the battlefront, in addition to their foreknowledge of events that even Cat was just hearing about, that’s definitely premeditated and planned by somebody. Plus their use of a shortcut entrance …

    The only question is who is responsible for this plot. Or if it’s multiple people behind it. And if there’s only one agenda in play other than Cat. I suspect that the Kingfisher Prince might not have been put into motion by the same agenda as Mirror Knight and company, because his arrival headed off the imminent fight.
    This is big enough that Bard almost has to have some kind of connection. The only question is what that connection is.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Darkening

      Given his chapter today, I’m pretty certain that the Kingfisher Prince would violently murder anyone that tried to do anything to sabotage the war against the Dead King, so he’s probably gonna be an ally of Cat in keeping things from erupting into open war between named.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. I tend to agree.
        From what we know if him and his personality, Frederick knows and recognizes that without Cat and her efforts, he’d be dead and all of his people would be dead, and while he might not mind dying if that’s what victory required, he’d really much rather live to see his people prosper and not fail them.
        I think he’s more of a reasonable/practical good, however flamboyant on a personal level. Or, rather, he may be idealistic, but his implementation of his ideals are tempered by realism and pragmatism.
        And he’s definitely fully onboard with the Truce and Terms. Although, he’ll probably end up objecting to the no Named Rulers clause that Cat wants in the Accords, but I think he’d be largely in favor of them as well.

        I suspect that his arrival was orchestrated by someone/something who doesn’t want what Mirror Knight and company are engaged in to work out the way they want it to.
        But he was presumably on the Lycaonese front … which makes his arrival even more of a surprise than Mirror Knight, albeit a more pleasant one.
        Something is definitely up. I suspect Pilgrim might also be on the way, either directly to the Arsenal or to rendezvous with someone else who is already on the way to the Arsenal, perhaps Hanno.

        Liked by 7 people

    2. > This is big enough that Bard almost has to have some kind of connection. The only question is what that connection is.

      I agree that it would be increasingly odd if at this point Bard did not get drawn into it, but I argue she’s not likely to be the origin, if only just for the staggering amount of weight for OTHER points of origin that aren’t her.

      Like

      1. I’m referring to the decidedly suspicious arrival of Mirror Knight and Company plus the Kingfisher Prince.

        Everything else that happened prior to their arrival (ie, Red Axe killing Wicked Enchanter and that generating a clusterfuck inside the Arsenal), is something that needs no outside intervention.

        But for all of them to show up suddenly, and nigh simultaneously, through a shortcut entrance, and the necessary travel times from where they’re supposed to be, plus apparent foreknowledge of events … that is massively suggestive of third party intervention by at least one entity possessed of the capacity and necessary influence/political capital to get them to move and arrive when they did … and anyone with that would also need motive.

        For that matter, the Kingfisher Prince almost certainly has an agenda at odds with Mirror Knight and company. So he could easily have been sent by someone who became aware of Mirror Knight and company and that agenda who is in opposition to them and their agenda and whomever sent them.

        Wandering Bard is basically automatically at the tops of the lists of those who meet any of those criteria, much less all of them. On the other hand, Wandering Bard would also know that Cat’s going to be incredibly suspicious … and that Wandering Bard not fucking things up is enforced by the Grey Pilgrim on penalty of his own death.
        Augur could have been responsible for sending the Kingfisher Prince if he’s there to support Cat in upholding the Truce and Terms, as seems likely. Augur would not have sent Mirror Knight and company in unless her plan was for them to discredit themselves and remove themselves as political and influential factors moving forwards or to get some of them killed – which is to say, Augur would only have sent them if she were setting them up for failure … which is possible, and potentially in character, considering her play with the coup attempt.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I do agree that it would be odd for Bard to not intervene at SOME point, and the scenario where she tips off Frederic to come in time is not unlikely – though it does seem Augur’s style as well, judging from what happened with the Salian coup – however, MK’s “friend” is imho extremely likely to be just that – a pissy/sabotaging faction within Arsenal itself.

          Like

        2. Note:

          – time is fluid in “places like this” (c) Cat, and in Arcadia and likely in Arcadia-derivative dismensions it’s fluid specifically in service of the story. If Frederic was going to arrive ‘around then’, his arrival would inevitably gravitate towards the maximum impact moment;

          – Cat assumes it’s the Poet who let MK through the shortcut entrance, meaning it does not in fact require a mysterious third party.

          Like

          1. The foreknowledge absolutely requires a third party.

            I do not believe we have any basis to believe that time is sufficiently inconstant so as to allow Mirror Knight and company to leave the battlefront, arrive at the Arsenal, and pass through the outer defenses (which Cat said would take about a day) in the amount of time since Red Axe first attacked Wicked Enchanter.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Note: it’s been two days since Red Axe attacked the Wicked Enchanter.

              But yeah no you’re most definitely right, that specific thing is a plot.

              It’s just that the only entry requirements are:
              – be able to arrange a provocation with Red Axe killing Wicked Enchanter (how complicated that would have been we have yet to learn)
              – have Mirror Knight’s ear

              With ~20 Named in there… we have a lot of candidates.

              Like

              1. Nobody inside the Arsenal knew Red Axe was coming in with Archer or her history with Wicked Enchanter, and one of the very first things that happened after they arrived was Red Axe killing Wicked Enchanter.

                It has to be someone from outside the Arsenal.

                In addition, I’m pretty sure that for something this sensitive, no one would be entrusting communications to magical means that can be overheard without the knowledge of anyone in the call. Plus, I’d bet that there’s tracking and monitoring for any unscheduled magical communications in or out of the Arsenal.

                No.
                Passing through the outer defenses takes a full day, in either direction. Mirror Knight and company had to be in motion long before Archer and Red Axe even arrived at the Arsenal. Which means no one inside could have tipped them off.

                Mirror Knight and company have to be the work of a third party, and one outside the Arsenal.
                Kingfisher Prince is almost certainly the work of a different third party, most likely one opposed to the third party responsible for Mirror Knight and company.

                Wandering Bard is at or near the top of the list of those who could be responsible for Mirror Knight and company. She could instead be responsible for Kingfisher Prince if she doesn’t like whatever plan Mirror Knight and company are following, but she is probably not responsible for both.

                Augur is a strong possibility for Kingfisher Prince, no matter who sent Mirror Knight and company. She could have sent Mirror Knight and company if her intent was for them to fail miserably.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. > Nobody inside the Arsenal knew Red Axe was coming in with Archer or her history with Wicked Enchanter,

                  How do we know this?

                  > Wandering Bard is at or near the top of the list of those who could be responsible for Mirror Knight and company. She could instead be responsible for Kingfisher Prince if she doesn’t like whatever plan Mirror Knight and company are following, but she is probably not responsible for both.

                  Reminder that Bard does not really set events in motion – no ‘direct touch’. She only nudges them. Even if she’s involved (which I will grant is not unlikely SOMEWHERE in this mess), she is not the one who started this.

                  Like

                  1. Shveiran

                    And this could not have been set in motion with words because…?

                    I mean, that’s what the Bard does. I’m not sure what you are arguing here.

                    Like

                    1. It’s not like she’s forbidden from touching people? She’s hugged William and has explicitly mentioned having sex.

                      That’s not what ‘direct touch’ means.

                      Like

  5. Insanenoodlyguy

    Floating this now Somebody Named is going to die very soon. Only this time we’ll have no clue who did it, save that we and Cat will know that it’s an attempt to take a hammer to this blasting cap.

    Put your theories out now for possible bragging rights later! I submit Red Axe is going to die within a fortnight, because she’s the optimal choice to get everybody paranoid.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. dadycoool

    The Plot has only just been mentioned, yet it has thickened. I hope Cat can do what she does best: kick ass, take names, smoke like a chimney, and drink like a fish, all while Breaking the foundations of what her enemies hold dear.

    Masego is a gem, too precious for us.

    I see Freddy has similar taste in personal decoration to Cat. I wonder if they’ll bond over that.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Razorfloss razor

      Well damn this is going to be the true test to the accords anit. Why can’t people calm the fuck down and deal with the giant world ending event before politics come out. I mean damn your issues won’t mean shit if you are drowning in dead.

      Liked by 4 people

  7. Next chapter:
    Beat.

    “And its not mine, just in case” said the Hunted Magician. xD

    Between this and the extra chapter i think i am going to like Frederic even more. And sadly this was going to happen sooner or later, the need to make it clear the Terms can and will be enforced is what will determine if they succed or not. Pity the blade of mercy didn’t die, i mean so far every major fight he ahs been or been mentioned has ended with him defeated right?

    PD; winter extra chapters (i think he appeared) don’t count since that was more of the new everyday fight kind of thing.

    Liked by 3 people

        1. Agent J

          Grand Alliance is not an enemy to Black. If fact, they tacitly support him over all other Praesi players (largely at Cat’s insistence). And so, they are not an enemy of Scribe’s. I can’t see her actively sabotaging them. What would even be the goal there?

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Shveiran

            This. Combined with the fact that pissing in Cat’s porridge is not something Scribe would survive, and throwing away her life is most definitely a disservice to Amadeus as well.

            Liked by 2 people

  8. SO GREAT

    TFW you’re Named and you cannot take a vacation without stumbling onto a plot )=

    ofc that also means providence sent Cat there right in time to counter the plot, so y’know that’s good

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      Nah. I mean she probably will counter the plot, but I think the plot is happening BECAUSE she is there. She didn’t stumble into it, it’s charging at her!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. SpacyRicochet

          But also, a relatively easy part of any narrative. The protagonist moving to a place of great importance, only to find sudden upheaval happening? That’s a story right there.

          Don’t forget, she already suspecting this debacle to be a pivot of some kind.

          Liked by 4 people

        2. Insanenoodlyguy

          But inevitably she was going to. Whom ever did this knew how to get people who weren’t supposed to be there to be there. Just had to wait for a good shot

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Insanenoodlyguy

              I dont’ think so. This is happening just as all the major players are set to convene in one location. If the place is a flaming wreck, all the big players won’t be coming. Since we can reasonably conclude whomever the plotters are have no love for the Grand Alliance, at least as it stands now, I’d be this plan is rather hoping Cordelia, Hanno, Cat, and all these big players in the Named are in one convincingly volatile place. This is coming together too well to be an accidental stumble. Somebody saw this as a pivot, and/or made it one.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. > This is coming together too well to be an accidental stumble.

                I think you’re completely losing sight of how narrativium works.

                Like, this is GUIDEVERSE. Where Amadeus just so happened to be passing through the exact dark alley where the one kid he was planning to check on just so happened to be right here and now needing rescue from a fight. And no part of it is surprising because THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU HAVE A ROLE.

                We have 20+ Named in one place. The way their toast burns at breakfast is going to be ‘accidentally’ geared towards maximum drama.

                It’s like gravity, and we’re in a WELL of it.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Shveiran

                  You are completely right. The part where I disagree – no, not even that, in truth, just add a little bit – is the consideration that this is known to some players.

                  Bard or DK or other genre savvy players could use the fact you just mentioned to further their agenda, setting up the mess while being aware that a lot of Names means narratives picking up steam.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. I’ll complicate things further: this is known to ALL players whose savvy is greater than that of a jellyfish, and maybe even to MK & BM. This is actual in-universe common knowledge.

                    Like

                    1. Shveiran

                      I can count a dozen players that have used narrative logic with consistency, and some of them are dead.

                      “Common knowledge” is a bit of a stretch.

                      Liked by 1 person

          1. Catherine decided it like two days ago. It would take about as much for Cristophe to get there, and that’s how long ago the Wicked Enchanter died. The timing suggests the plotters were not any more aware of Catherine’s impending arrival at the point all the rest was sent in motion than Catherine herself was (which is to say, not).

            Like

      1. Okay, I’ll grant you that the funniest option is that there is no plot afoot at all, just a lot of people being idiots individually with some miscommunication on top.

        SO MANY POSSIBILITIES~

        (I am pro- this not being in control of any particular mastermind. There can easily be a local low level plot involved, or a dozen)

        Like

  9. I’m getting some serious vibes that Frederic might end up at the core of the endgame band of five versus the Dead King, even excluding a lot of the extra attention he’s been getting. The bigger question is whether Cat’s going to be on that one or if her story is going to force her to focus on Malicia before everything finishes on the war front.

    Liked by 2 people

          1. Shveiran

            I think it is a fair bet that you kill Neshamah only through Narrative weight; a band of Five is not a save-all end-all measure, yet is a pattern with a very strong grove.

            I’d say, at the very least, it is more likely for him to be killed by a Band of Five than for him to be killed by anything else.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. I don’t think a band of five is the right narrative weight for that. Mind that narrative itself takes logistics into account, and not always inversely: there’s a reason why Dorian of Helike died so comically.

              I’d put my money on Quartered Seasons as a large part of the finale, and if there IS a band of five formed to finish matters at the end, it’ll be more of a logistically convenient last second ragtag matchup we can’t predict because it WON’T consist of the people who matter up to that point. IMHO.

              Liked by 2 people

                  1. Shveiran

                    In the Endgame? Unlikely, in my opinion.
                    It makes sense for them to work off-site right now, but then?

                    So far, we always saw rituals as complicated magic that often needs last minute adjustments and must be deployed on site.
                    If a big magic boom is involved, a powerful mage will have to wield that ritual up to Keter’s gate himself/herself.

                    Like

                    1. Shveiran, easily: Akua’s doom fortress would be able to open a Hellgate anywhere on the continent. It just opened one right next to itself because that’s where Akua needed one. By technical capabilities it was nuke level of universal threat.

                      Like

                    2. Shveiran

                      Unproven. It had the capacity, certainly, but it was never said it didn’t have a range.

                      The weapon was simply also a flying fortress, so of course it had the capacity to, say, open one in Salia. I’d expect the fortress would have needed to move closer to Salia first, though.

                      To be frank, if that wasn’t the case the fortress was a danger to anyone anywhere, not just Calernia, including the powers beyond the sea. The scale would have gotten much bigger in the aftermath.

                      Like

  10. ravedthrad

    And Catherine and Frederic meet at last. I can’t help but wonder, if Frederic were to present Catherine with a rose, would Brus and Callow unite into a new kingdom — let’s call it “Solamnia” — and birth three new knightly orders?

    Liked by 2 people

      1. ravedthrad

        In Dragonlance, the kingfisher was one of the main symbols of the Knights of Solamnia, who were organized into three related orders of knighthood: the knights of the Crown, the knights of the Sword, and the knights of the Rose.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. ravedthrad

            Well, I’ll be the first to admit to being geographically-challenged. My Ryouga Syndrome is bad enough that I have gotten lost in a friend’s house going to the toilet.

            Liked by 1 person

      1. Shveiran

        Well, yes, (assuming you are willing to squint a lot) I can see your point.
        But, well, “it is reasonable so long as you ignore all the facts they are purposely deciding not to take into account” is kind of a low bar to clear.
        I’ll admit I have very poor patience for idiots determined to light match next to the gasoline tank.

        I mean, come on! Just… just come on!
        I don’t care if he and Mercy are still hung up on the Saint’s death or some such, or over being swatted around during the Battle of the Camps, or if they are being manipulated by an outside force to believe that this is the start of a purge. This is SILLY.
        Anyone who has fought in the north CANNOT not know that the war would have been lost without the Twilight Ways and the Callowan and drow reinforcements; let alone if they not only didn’t join but also gave the crusader the battle they actively sought before leaving.
        Anyone with two brain cells must know that if there is one person that is keeping it all together is Catherine: without her you likely lose Callow, the drow, the Villains…
        And they risk this for what, posturing? If you kill her, if you humiliate her, if you antagonize her, it could all go up in smoke?

        Just… come on!
        There is being young and idealistically naïve, and there is being morons.
        Don’t be morons, guys.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. dadycoool

          As I considered a reply to this comment, my mind went back to what Hanno told Cat as part of his reprimand for her behavior towards (that one girl that was the Scorched Apostate’s Light Mirror). If I’m remembering correctly, he essentially said not to fault the girl for following her Name-based nature and that trying to act counter to it would be detrimental to her well-being. I also remember various points in Cat’s time as Squire that she tried to act contrary to her Name and got punished for it.

          Possible summary: These are Heroes being Heroes because they’re Heroes. Any old-style card-carrying Villain /will/ end up cackling and monologing simply because they’re driven to. Any Paragon-style Hero /will/ go on about the Power of Friendship or something and fight the Villain because they’re the Villain. This means they’re either evil or Evil and absolutely cannot be tolerated.

          The Power of Protagonism means anyone who opposes the person we’re following is either the enemy or an idiot, which completely negates any virtue such an attitude would have. (“From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!” or “Harry needed to grow up in an abusive household because I didn’t want him to be too confident or have too much will to live. All for the Greater Good, of course.”)

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Shveiran

            You may have a point in theory, but let us consider the roles in question: the Mirror Knight is meant to reflect evil back to evil, and the Blade of Mercy I have no clue.

            Regardless, I see no evidence that their roles require them to oppose all evil at all times: they sure didn’t mind the ratlings and Keter while they were busy helping the Proceran trying to annex Call- I MEAN, helping them crusading.

            So they CAN choose which evil they oppose and focus on the rest at a later date without falling out of their roles’ shapes.

            Hence, they are CHOOSING to oppose “the Evil Black Queen, who must be doing something wrong somewhere somehow because, well, she is Evil” over the friggin Dead King.

            I can see they don’t want anything like the T&T or the Accords, and find it revulsive to make a truce with the Villains.
            That is still a battle for tomorrow to fight, assuming the world makes it that far. Forcing it here and now is still moronic.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. Insanenoodlyguy

              Not if they see this is a pivot.

              taking into account they are stupid but not hopeless lets set this up.They get word, however they did (though presumably from a plotter or more direct pawn of the plotters in the armory), that the Black Queen is going to have the Red Axe killed. Now, the key isn’t to hide all the fact, just to alter the flavor. This is all coming together too suspiciously to be coincidence, and most heroes are going to see that. But what they are being sold is that it’s CAT’S PLOT. That Red Axe was put with the rapist who created her as a pretext. The hero wins, it’s a breaking of the Truce and the hero will be killed for it, just as planned. The Villian wins, they were “Defending themselves” while abusing the T&T and a hero will be killed for it, just as planned. Either way, it’s obviously an Evil plot to make the hero’s break the letter of the law while shamelessly abusing the spirit, and prove the T&T was a bad idea to begin with. Well, fuck that. They are not going to use this plot to see a hero killed, not while Mirror Knight and Blade of Mercy have anything to say about it! Best to just charge right into this trap so it works out for the best! And look, there’s a magic user that can help them get there! Oh this is all coming together now. Charge!

              And of course, the Black Queen is making a big show of appearing “reasonable” but she’s also disarming them and meanwhile, Red Axe is about to be killed, so maybe it’s go time right now!

              At this point I suspect that Red Axe will end up dead, probably with the help of whomever warned Mirror Knight Red Axe is going to end up dead.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. What I want/expect to see is for Indrani to be protecting Red Axe thoroughly enough that an attempt at that fails.

                Underhanded plotting that underestimates (1) the Woe’s commitment to what they DO commit to, (2) their power = I want 😀

                Like

              2. Shveiran

                Yeah, but the point remains.

                Even if one buys all that and it turns out it was true, you are putting at risk everything living to try to save one Heroine which is included in the “everything living” in the first place.

                Worse, they are not just rolling the dice, they are just waiting to see how they will lose.

                >They win by killing the Black Queen?
                Even though they likely don’t know about the dwarves, there is no one else that has even an amiable relationship with the drows, who are fighting half this war on their own.
                There is also no other villain with her pull and commitment to this cause, so there is no one to fill her cloak as Representative in a satisfying way, and you still established the precedent that Heroes will slay Villains if they think it’s ok and the Truce is dust.
                –> Neshamah eats everything, including the Heroine.

                > They bully the Black Queen into doing what they want?
                Her reputation is weakened; her ability to keep the Villains in line is compromised; the system of the Representatives is turned into a joke; the Truce has still been broken by the death of one Villain scot-free; Heroes have both proven unwilling to uphold the Truce and able to bully the Villains out of their agreed rights and guarnatees.
                Villians could walk, trust between allies is fractured for good, chain of command is compromised. Also, though we know it’s impossible but they don’t, there is a chance the Black Queen takes her shit and goes home as the wicked Villainess she is.
                –> Neshamah not necessarily eats everything (including the heroine) but is certainly more likely to do so.

                > They try and lose?
                Even if the Black Queen doesn’t kill them, which from their perspective cannot be a given, trust is still broken, the Truce is still put into question, and with such a flagrant breach of terms either gallows are employed and we lose several good Heroes, which is followed by a massive outcry from the Heroic community, or they get away with it, followed by a massive outcry from the Villain community and a loss of face for both Cat and the T&T.
                –> Neshamah not necessarily eats everything (including the heroine) but is certainly more likely to do so.

                There is nothing to gain here even from their warped perspective, and a lot to lose.
                Pressing on means being angry teens with too much power, and I’m appalled by how many times that seems to be the only thing under a hero’s golden paint.

                This needs more Frederic, damnit.

                Like

                1. > the drows, who are fighting half this war on their own.

                  (note: plural of drow is drow)

                  Does Mirror Knight really KNOW that the drow are fighting half this war on their own? Does he really understand the size of their contribution in Cleves? Note also that they are fighting that half of the war because they have to – Cat or no Cat, they actually don’t have anywhere else to go.

                  > There is also no other villain with her pull and commitment to this cause, so there is no one to fill her cloak as Representative in a satisfying way, and you still established the precedent that Heroes will slay Villains if they think it’s ok and the Truce is dust.

                  No, see, the Truce and Terms are evil in the first place, an abhorrent compromise forced by the Black Queen. Nothing of value will be lost by shaking villains loose of the cause, and much will be gained since villains won’t be doing all of that sabotaging they no doubt are doing riiight over there out of sight. He hasn’t seen any but his buddy told him there was some, and who could really doubt that? They’re VILLAINS, everyone knows what that means. It’s like doubting water flows downhill.

                  > Pressing on means being angry teens with too much power, and I’m appalled by how many times that seems to be the only thing under a hero’s golden paint.

                  …you are? 0.o

                  Like

                2. > Pressing on means being angry teens with too much power, and I’m appalled by how many times that seems to be the only thing under a hero’s golden paint.

                  That’s the whole THING with Named? They are more often than not kids who stumble into way too much power. Neither Above nor Below are deliberately choosing them, the stories just happen. It’s horrifying and unfair and it’s the law of the universe, and part of the change the academy will make is… ameliorating that, specifically.

                  Did you notice how William, Akua and Catherine were all 16-18 during their three-way clash?

                  Like

                3. Insanenoodlyguy

                  Lillith already chimed in with most of the stuff I’d have said anyway, but as to the rest:

                  -Even if one buys all that and it turns out it was true, you are putting at risk everything living to try to save one Heroine which is included in the “everything living” in the first place.

                  They. Are. HEROES. Which means their default setting is often “no compromise.” Yes, stopping the Black Queen here is a huge risk. But letting her kill a fellow hero is unacceptable, which means it’s a risk worth taking. Better that then let evil have it’s way, even once (and it’s never just once!). It only emboldens them and next time it will be worse. No, you draw the line at the beginning, and you’ll never have to worry it’s gone too far.

                  As I said, the whole thing could be made into a “We’ll find a way!” Story. I think they’d agree that taking away the Black Queen and all her allies makes the situation appear hopeless. And that’s great for them. That’s how they win. By making it impossible to win by doing the right thing without compromise, their victory is assured! (And do remember that 99% of the time that’s exactly how ti would go. the Dead King is a great example of the other 1%, but obviously they aren’t expecting that to be the case)

                  From their perspective, the only way to lose for sure is by doing nothing. So goddamit, they are going to do something. And since they really have no idea what’s going on, killing the biggest bad guy in the room is probably a great place to start!

                  Like

      1. tithin

        Catherine has thought several times in the last few chapters, of how heavily she relies on him now – she is extremely reliant on him. She’s thought that several times throughout the series, but never so often and in such a short time.

        You want to cripple cat, you want to break her and her alliance, Hakram’s the weak point, the link in the chain that is the woe and the thing that may very well push her over the edge of her new name.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Shveiran

          Granted, that was always a possibility, but I can’t say I’ve noticed an increase of such remarks.

          If anything, I suppose since we are drawing closer to the endgame the dramatic draw of loss could pose more danger for Adjutant. But it is nothing new.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. dadycoool

          The first step to Black’s rebellion and climb of the Tower was the death of Captain. Hakram fills a similar role for Cat, so maybe she’ll start eyeing the Tower in the not-exactly-distant future? I’m most definitely spouting nonsense, but two people have heard the Song onscreen and both their Names start with Black.

          Like

          1. Shveiran

            Again. I can’t say I see your point here: Cat has heard the song ever since she was the Squire.
            I can’t imagine how Hakram’s death would push her to climb the tower, even if Malicia does it with her own bare hands; she already wants the Empress dead, climbing the Tower is a whole other beast.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. dadycoool

              Thinking about it, she’s always been “open” about how much she relies on him. This really isn’t anything new.

              Captain’s death wasn’t enough to get Black to climb the Tower, either, nor was Warlock’s. But with each death in his Cabinet, as it were (including the generals and eventually the Legions in Exile), he was made more alone, which I believe is one of the requirements as stated in the Song. Another thing, Black waited ~25 years before he decided to actually make the commitment, largely due to his relationship with Malicia. Villains have Eternal Youth. Cat has time. I’m not saying she absolutely will, but I can’t say she won’t, either. After all, Black thought he wouldn’t and look where we last saw him.

              Liked by 1 person

        3. Insanenoodlyguy

          Hmmm. I don’t see it happening just yet. But while I keep guessing Red Axe is going to die, I could definitely now see somebody TRYING to kill Deadhand. But we haven’t’ even learned the full deal with his new hand yet. It’s not time. I wouldn’t’ be shocked if he loses his artificial arm though and just starts ghost-handing it dual wield style.

          Liked by 3 people

  11. ninegardens

    Oh wow- the hunted Magician is like… the perfect minion. If needed, she has a pretty sharp leash on him… but as long as she is reasonable and doesn’t USE it, he can presumably be persuaded to play ball.
    AND he thinks for himself and actively provides information. Horray!

    Also: nice job Frederick. What a hero (again)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. ninegardens

      Also, seriously- The PRince of falling leaves ain’t never coming back, and that’s Cat’s doing. HM totally owes her BIG time… not that this probably counts for heaps for a villian.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Alex Straughan

        Or he’s now around forever, having replaced Larat. Arcadia United has not been explained at all. We know nothing about it’s rules other than it seems isolationist so far.

        Liked by 2 people

  12. blubber

    oh for fucks sake..dont tell me the heores got the backing of more than just one noble…if you remember the night and its story, its hardly surprising there might be more in the works…
    this is gonna end in tears and i doubt they will be catherines. And if you tell me, autumn wont utilise their claim in the most secret place of the alliance, with all of their leading names assembled..boi you gonna be surprised. Been wondering what the king and queen where up to, it seems to me we will soon see it…fuck

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I was thinking more of the politics — now if she goes easy on the offenders, it would at least look from outside like MK and friends went in and leaned on her. Of course that depends (inter alia) on how widely known his little expedition is.

        That said, Frederic is positioned for the save in this respect also. “That idiot MK and his idiot friends charged in where they had no business, they were about to push Cat into doing something intemperate, but I managed to defuse things…”. Which also has the advantage of being pretty much the plain truth. 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  13. Xinci

    I must say after seeing him again I am even more curious about exactly how the Blade of Mercy serves mercy? Is he guided like Tariq or is he supposed to be their fist when they need more force? I would expect him to be closely tied to Tariq due to that, to be honest.

    Also interesting that the deal Hunted made was with a Prince. I wonder if he gave away his actual name as part of the deal.

    Like

    1. erebus42

      In regards to selling his name that would be an interesting situation. It reminds me of a situation from Pact by Wildbow (MAJOR SPOILERS) When a certain character gets tricked by one of the fae into selling them her name. They end up taking her place in the world and she nearly falls through the cracks of reality. I wonder if the Prince of Falling leaves is out there somewhere playing the role of (whatever the Hunted Magician’s name is). If that is the case than his Name would probably be one of his only tethers and it would probably be very bad if he were to lose it.

      Like

  14. Tinfoilhat

    My little pet theory is that the Hunted magician is actually part of the ex-wild hunt… if not Lariat himself. That would also explain his ancient knowledge of runes and perhaps he is implicated in the shortcut to Twilights, having made the place and all.

    Like

    1. ninegardens

      This is a super cute theory…. but given that Cat’s like “Right, so you can’t be Winter, because otherwise you would have had your ass kicked just now”, it seems less likely.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Larat is no longer subordinate to Catherine, nor any of his. The specific thing that tipped Catherine off – the potential she felt to order him around – is exactly what wouldn’t be happening with that lot.

      Like

  15. ninegardens

    I can really think of only one politically feasible way out of this, and I don’t see it happening.

    Sit the Red Axe down.
    Tell her:
    “What you did was right. We know it is right. We believe in you.
    But we also believe that unless you are put to death for this, a whole lot of people are going to suffer.
    We know you don’t deserve it… but for the sake of maintaining the truce and the terms… are you willing to give your life?”

    Like

    1. Agent J

      Also, define ‘right’? Because I’m not willing to just hand that to her unless she was attacked and very clearly acting in self-defence. Otherwise, birthing this monumental clusterfuck was not right by any means.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jeremy Cliff Armstrong

        Agreed. Morality is about consequences… not the past. That he was an monster is beyond doubt. But that _cannot_ justify anything in a moral context. Not that it shouldn’t. It actually cannot. As in “it’s a fundamental law of the universe” cannot. Any other perspective is simply an attempt to justify what isn’t justified or a complete failure to understand the difference between right and wrong.

        The reason we punish people for past actions, then, is the implicit worry of them comiting those actions again unless steps are taken. Weighing that possibility against the certainty that the Truce and Terms would be at risk and the tens of thousands that will die if it fails… all the Red Axe accomplished by killing him is putting herself in the same category of monster as he was.

        Like

          1. Shveiran

            It’s really about points of view, with this kind of stakes.

            I mean, say that because of this innocent the Terms go up in smoke, Catherine dies, and the whole shebang is turned upside down. The Dead King wins and everybody loses.
            It won’t happen, but that is a possibility in theory, no?

            At that point, how many lives would have been destroyed compared to how many the Enchanter ruined?

            I can’t stress this enough, I AM NOT DEFENDING RAPE, here.

            I’m just saying… let’s not defend causing the slaughters of millions, either? Because that’s what sneezing on the house of cards could cause.

            Like

            1. Different categories still, in whichever direction you’d stack the comparison.

              Also, probability of outcome should be multiplied by its severity, for proper weighting. The probability of harming someone by raping them is as close to 100% as to be functionally indinstinguishable, and has no upside. The probability of losing the whole war by killing this one guy is… not that, AND has the added weight of “preventing future rapes” with some probability (the probability that the Enchanter would commit future rapes summed over the timeline with the corresponding probability).

              I’d say the sum’s still negative, and Red Axe fucked up badly.

              But it’s not… “the same category of monster”. Like, no system of categorization puts those together, even if you insist on absolutes: Wicked Enchanter’s actions were not, in fact, going to lose everyone the war with the Dead King.

              Yes, I’m quibbling the phrasing here most of all. No matter what point of view you take on this, THAT way of putting it is not correct 0.o

              Like

      2. Yeah, anything other than immediate self defense and the inability to stop her attacker without killing him is not adequate grounds for using lethal force herself.
        Maybe if he were in the middle of actively betraying everyone to the Dead King … but that’s unlikely.

        Like

    2. Won’t help disprove the heroes’ point that the whole thing is bullshit.

      What would actually help resolve this situation is coming up with a method of discipline that does not in fact kill Red Axe but also makes it clear to both villains and heroes that it is not, in fact, open season.

      Forced oaths is one idea I have: have Red Axe swear to something for a limited time period that would in fact be something the likes of Mirror Knight would strongly like to avoid while not actually being ‘savagery toward the poor victim’,

      Like

      1. Her word isn’t going to be worth anything to the Villains. She did after all break the oath she’d sworn to obey and uphold the Truce and Terms (presumably).

        Swearing new oaths as punishment isn’t useful as punishment since her sworn word is in doubt.

        Like


          1. Cat’s not a Fae Sovereign capable if creating magically enforced and binding oaths anymore.

            Still, even if a magically enforced and binding oath were possible … I’m petty sure that such oaths need to be willingly taken … you can’t just impose them on somebody, they actually have to make the oath themselves.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yes, exactly. That’s what I said.

              The person who broke the Truce&Terms gets to choose between execution (assuming no further alternative is found) and making a specifically worded binding oath. It’s up to them, really!

              And Cat and Akua made binding oaths to each other just fine in First Liesse. Fae are not necessary to the process.

              Like

            2. Darkening

              Fae magic isn’t necessary for a binding oath, Cat and Akua made a blood oath with each other at the end of book two after Cat got Resurrected. Remember, the whole, “You can’t spill a drop of my blood!” “I don’t have to.” *Cat breaking all of Akua’s bones without breaking the skin* sequence. Though admittedly the rules of magic oaths are vague and not super explored. They even brought up a couple other potential binding oaths in that same bit with cat refusing to swear on the gods below and a couple other things as I recall.

              Liked by 1 person

          1. ninegardens

            Actually, as a question, was the blood oath unbreakable, or was it just the idea that breaking such an oath would have *consequences*, in terms of the story hating you and wanting to screw you over afterwards.

            Like

            1. Cat had a ‘bracelet’ on her hand squeezing it if she so much as thought of trying to weasel her way out of it, and she trusted Akua to keep her word, so, it’s either literally unbreakable or a ‘you die instantly if you break it’ unbreakable.

              Like

      2. Shveiran

        So you suggest the punishment for breaking the Truce is being forced by oath not to do it again?

        Or did I read that wrong, and you are suggesting instead that they have all Heroes and Villains swear they’ll uphold the Truce and Terms?

        I’m not sure either would fly that well, honestly.

        The first is insufficient from the Villains POV; I can totally see them going “Well, since that is alright let’s kill a bunch of the non combat Heroes and then pinky swear we won’t do it again. Everyone is cool with that, right?

        The second won’t be agreed by the Heroes, because even now they (some, let’s be honest) believe the Red Axe was right. If they felt it was ok to bind everyone’s hands this way, this wouldn’t be happening in the first place.

        Like

        1. I’m pretty sure swearing to uphold the Truce and Terms is a requirement of being brought into them.

          Which means anyone who violates them will have already shown themselves to be an oath breaker, and therefore inherently untrustworthy.

          Like

          1. There are oaths and oaths.

            Any oaths made by the fae are automagically binding, but humans are capable of making those as well. The magically enforced oaths are nasty and unpleasant and literally limit your freedom of action, they are easily comparable to imprisonment.

            Only, unlike imprisonment, they ARE actually reliable and DO still allow the person to contribute to the war effort.

            Of course, unlike imprisonment, they need to be submitted to willingly, but it’s not like the Grand Alliance lacks the capacity to go 🙂 do

            Like

        2. Neither, exactly.

          The punishment for breaking the Truce and Terms is swearing to stricter terms. Service / obedience / never raising a hand to a person known to them as a [hero/villain] again. For a limited duration, unless the sentence says ‘lifetime’.

          Like

          1. * Where by ‘never raising a hand’ I mean along the lines of ‘unconditionally’ ‘yes, even if they are attacking you right now with deadly force’ ‘we just don’t trust your judgement anymore buddy’

            Like

          2. Shveiran

            I don’t know about you, but I would not be willing to turn my back on a former enemy that I’m sure wishes me harm if I thought the only consequence he’d face for stabbing me would be a magical compulsion not to stab more allies.
            I’d still have been stabbed, possibly fatally, so that is not a big damn consolation, is it?

            We are back to this: https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2020/03/03/chapter-14-audience/comment-page-1/#comment-63365

            Either you make the terms magically binding (which the Heroes won’t agree to) or you enforce magical binding oaths as retribution for a breach (which the Villain won’t agree to).
            It’s not gonna cut it. Breaking the terms must be impossible or something met with harsh consequence, or no one will be able to trust the Named that stand by their side.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. > a magical compulsion not to stab more allies.

              Obviously insufficient, yes. To get proper disincentive potential you need to make it one or more of the following:
              – excessive (you cannot so much as be rude to a representative of the other side, which would not have been a breach of T&T and they are fully free to do to YOU, but you’re no longer allowed because punishment for breach);
              – humbling/humiliating (you are now sworn to OBEY one of the [stupid heroes/wicked villains]).

              Villains are not, in fact, babies. Cat doesn’t need to nanny them THAT much.

              Like

              1. Shveiran

                Of course them dying doesn’t bring me back to life, I’m not arguing that.
                The difference is the extent the sanction discourages the action and preserves the balance of strength.

                Let’s say NotRaphaela looks at NotBarrowSword and thinks he threatens all that NotLevante stands for.
                And she starts thinking: “well, maybe I should do something before it’s too late”.
                The right sanction is something that gives her pause.

                With the death penalty, she may considers that if she tries to kill him, the very best outcome is they both die. But it isn’t a given that will happen: perhaps he will survive, but she will still die. And who will check on him then?
                Moreover, there is a war against the BigBad going on: she might consider his contribution not very significant because Villain and other nonsense, but she knows HER efforts are valuable at least. If she strikes, her efforts won’t be a contribution anymore.
                And so she may consider that waiting for the end of the truce is the better option.
                It is not a given she would think that way, of course; she can still strike. But there are good incentives to consider how you doing this is bad for the reason you are striking in the first place, which may make you stop.

                Let’s consider the oaths instead.
                Raphaella (that being NotRaphaella, of course) may dislike the oaths; but in the end, the oaths are contingent to the truce, and thus a temporary measure; she would still be an asset to the war effort, she’d still be deployed, she’d still help.
                Meanwhile, the threat she perceived (if she succeed in her attempt) will be permanently checked. NotBarrowSword can’t break traditions anymore, because he is dead. There is one less Villain, which is good, but there is still the same numbers of Heroes.
                The oath is humiliating, frustrating, and prevents her from doing it twice, but it still ultimately just a temporary sanction she just has to endure; the only troublesome part is she can’t strike again if another Villain tries the same shit, but that is no reason not to act the first time one such Villain appears.
                After all, the very worst case is that you are back to square one with one less villain around, no?
                Of course, they might kill you, but that was always a problem, and if you fail to kill them you can’t try again; but all that pushes you to do, if you think they must die, is act carefully and decidedly.

                This is why you need the death penalty.
                I’m against it in real life, but a fragile truce between superpowered, idealistic beings you can’t afford to see broken kind a changes the situation.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Again, the oath needs to be TO A VILLAIN. It prevents this hero from responding to hypothetical BIGGER future threats – let’s be honest, Barrow Sword is not a big deal to the actual heroes of Levant. Not was big as they worry villains might get if completely unchecked.

                  Consider also extenuating circumstances. It’s completely valid to go “well if this was actually unprovoked FOR being a villain we’d kill her but since this was personal and traumatic and he really should have known better than to provoke her, we’re going to go with a milder penalty.”

                  This does assume he provoked her, for this particular phrasing. My point is it’s a sliding scale.

                  Like

          3. Agent J

            I think you’re focused more on finding a solution that the heroes would begrudgingly accept, but they are only one side of the coin. Why would the villains begrudgingly accept such a compromise?

            Swearing more oaths, stricter or otherwise, is less of a punishment and more of a preventative measure to assure the oath breaking idiot doesn’t shit the bed again. How does that satisfy a villain’s concerns? They are still being treated as though their lives are expendable.

            Because let’s not even pretend the Enchanter would’ve gotten the same consideration were the reverse to have happened. Catherine would have brutally murdered him with little fanfare. She does not pussyfoot around when it comes to keeping her side in line.

            Don’t be mistaken here, both the heroes and villains are watching this with rapt attention. And there’s only a single question on all of their minds. “If a Hero won’t be held to account for this, when will they be?”

            Liked by 1 person

            1. > Because let’s not even pretend the Enchanter would’ve gotten the same consideration were the reverse to have happened. Catherine would have brutally murdered him with little fanfare. She does not pussyfoot around when it comes to keeping her side in line.

              Really? Really? How sure are you?

              Because I’m not at all sure. Catherine is harsh when it comes to people trying to murder her at night, but Barrow Sword challenged her in public and got a little roughed up and that was it.

              This 100% needs to apply to both sides.

              Like

              1. Agent J

                Barrow Sword’s actions are in no way related to what Red Axe did. He came to Cat up front (point one), made the case that villains would not and should not be expected to follow a weak leader (point two), and then took his defeat on the chin like a trooper (point three). His actions are right up Cat’s alley and perfectly legal within the framework of the Truce & Terms.

                If he, fuelled by ire of a past altercation, killed a hero in a situation where his life was not in immediate jeopardy? Yea, no, Cat would sooner put him down like a rabid dog than let him shake the already fragile foundations of Truce & Terms.

                Hells, his case against the Levantine nobles, Cat agrees is entirely legitimate and fair. She still threatened to get him killed off quietly than let him weaponize the T&T in a way that might lose her the Levantine soldiers.

                Liked by 2 people

                  1. Shveiran

                    Of course she would LOOK, that is not the point.

                    The question is what she’d consider to BE an estenuating circumstance.

                    What we are arguing is that once the answer to “did they start the fight to the death or did you?” came out negative, she would string him up.
                    And she would cry, and she’d whip her back bloody, but she would still make the hard choice because if the Truce becomes a joke this all goes up in flame.

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. Escalation tends to be gradual.

                      And I don’t think T&T is fragile to that in particular. The question of ‘what exactly do the rules say’ is less important than ‘so does one person breaking the rules lead to the whole thing breaking down’. Note that Barrow Sword tolerated Cat basically telling him that his ~rights by her own law~ got trumped by political expediency any day and he should keep that in mind. As long as what they get out of following the law is better than the alternative, they’re going to accept what the big bad Black Queen says.

                      Like

      3. JJR

        One idea I had for a alternative to hanging them punishment is sending them to the northern front. They oath breaker in question can still do some good for the alliance, and gets a new perspective on why it’s so necessary against the Dead King.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The problem with this is that it’s already the default for those who join T&T, it’s not an additional punishment.

          Consider a Mirror Knight style fucker, and also Mirror Knight himself. Whatever the punishment is, it has to be convincing disincentive for someone like THAT.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. JJR

            Sorry I should have been more clear. I don’t mean the north of Procer norther front. I mean the Way North Drow front. You know the meat grinder that is currently supported by a pair of Night Gods and is still slowly losing. The place where the Dead King might actually be fighting seriously and does things like throw away tens of thousands of binds to act as distractions. Powerful named from coming in from the south, unless they were bigger ones like Grey Pilgrim or White Knight, would probably find themselves to be below average fish in an ocean.

            It would almost certainly end up being a death sentence, just with a certain amount of deniability for everyone involved.

            Liked by 1 person

  16. laguz24

    Also, did the MK just lose a couple dozen brain cells from getting thrown all the time because he seems way more stupid than when we got his perspective at the battle of the camps, I think that is right.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Consequences of actions are not obvious when you are not the one juggling everything. Surely the Grand Alliance can handle itself just fine, and the Black Queen wickedly forced her way into it by threatening to stab them in the back?

          It’s not like HE was one of the generals going “so anyway if this keeps going we’re dead within 3 months” while looking at complete tactical maps of the entire North.

          Like

          1. Shveiran

            He doesn’t need a deep awareness of all that’s going on, he needs nothing but open eyes.

            The guy fought the DK for almost three years, and he saw first-hand how dire the situation was before Callow became an ally!
            He never even left the front, so far as we know! He has so much empirical evidence that the situation is better now and it was a nightmare then that ignoring it requires a conscious effort! He is turning a blind eye to so much stuff that I’m surprised he can find his shoes in the morning!

            Like

            1. He is not a leader of armies.

              They were fighting then and they are fighting now. It does not require WILFUL ignorance to fail to track the strategic situation, especially when you have friends a la Prince Gaspard explaining to you what is going on in liberal interpretation – you DO know what’s going on!

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              1. Shveiran

                Come now, this is getting ridiculous.

                Are you honestly telling me you expect the Mirror Knight not to know that Keter is out in force now and wasn’t then, and not to notice they regained ground rather than keep losing it as they had been doing before the Truce?

                If you were arguing this about a random paesant, a few leagues from the front… I could get behind it, really. But him? Someone that has been in more battle than most?

                There is no way he may have failed to notice that he has seen only DEFEATS before the truce, and that now it’s actually a battle. Do you remember how low the spirits were during the interlude Winter I?
                You don’t need to be a General to notice your battles have stopped always ending in a desperate retreat, come on! Especially not if you are always the bloody rearguard!

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Sure, the tide shifted now that the Levantine forces came to aid too. And sure, the Black Queen helped with that (suspicious) truce, but who knows what she’s plotting NOW?

                  Like

        1. Note: Catherine has mentioend ‘those had better be damn good circumstances’ already, implying the execution outcome is, in fact, conditional on there not being any.

          Like

          1. Shveiran

            >> 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 can honestly read this in no other way than as “unless he attacked her under truce, we’ll have to kill her.”

            Like

            1. Keep in mind Catherine has no idea who Red Axe is or her origin story, yet. She just knows “one of the heroes” and at this point it sounds to her like “a Mirror Knight type”.

              “Damned good circumstances” can very easily include “irresistible impulse because of previous trauma”.

              And yes, it does mean the Named who want to be safe under T&T will be expected to stay out of the way of the people they’d previously harshy traumatized. I doubt they’ll find that a particularly unreasonable condition.

              Like

              1. Shveiran

                You are talking about the same woman that after rejecting her darker sides STILL looked in the eye the ugly truth that she could not get the Alliance, Pilgrim and Tyrant to stop being stupid without giving them a bloody eye in battle; and proceeded to send tens of thousands of man into battle, accepting the loss of lives involved as the cost of doing business.

                That’s Cat: a woman that may feel sorry for all those poor Proceran peasants and Levantine soldiers brainwashed into thinking she is Triumphant in a fancy cloak and weeping for their deaths but still ordering their superpowered troops to mow them down, because the hard truth is that their deaths have become a necessity for the greater good.

                And you are telling me that she’d look in the eye the danger of the Truce going into flame and she would take that rather than killing one heroine, traumatized or not?

                She’ll do what is necessary. And the politics of it make slapping that woman on the wrist suicidal. She won’t take tat risk, and she will look at the greater good.

                Liked by 2 people

                  1. Insanenoodlyguy

                    I’d immagine a Gallowborne style-sentence might be optimal here. You send Rex Axe on a crucial, important mission… that’s completely and blatantly sucidical. If she emerges alive, she’s done her job.

                    This isn’t perfect but she can argue to the heroe’s she’s given her a chance, and argue to the villians if Red Axe comes back alive and thus in the clear “Guys, I didn’t expect her to actually return alive, and fuck, I gave my word! Yeah, I know some of you are that kind of villian as well, that guy, over there, he gets it. This happens sometimes. Fucking heroes, right?” There’d be grumbling but something like that’d probably pass with the T&T intact.

                    Liked by 1 person

  17. ChillyPepper

    So, Mirror Knight is the guy that keeps power up’ing every dawn, or am I confusing him with another named?

    If I wasn’t then I wonder if this is the “task” that he was supposed to do, since it was mentioned his task wasn’t the Dead King, but something greater.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. ChillyPepper

        The way I’m thinking at the moment, you’ve got almost all of the woe in one spot, and a band of five (despite them being four at the moment, I suspect,) heroes.

        Sounds like a story.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      Considering one of his aspects is “Dawn,”, the Drow reaction to him, and his own statement that he specifically doesn’t fear the night, the theory is that he’s thematically tailored to have opposed Sve Noc. This is the blade that would have cut her down if she had killed Cat and went up to the Surface world in-charge herself, making the arrogant mistakes a god makes that Cat warned her about.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. His Dawn Aspect is his power up Aspect.
        I don’t buy that he was created to deal with the Drow.
        Pre-Cat, the Drow were being (slowly) ground down by the Dwarves. A Named custom built to take on the drow would be expected in the Dwarves. The drow involvement and Cat going to the drow are consequences of a series of extremely low probability events involving multiple entities protected against supernatural perceptions and future sight abilities. No, the Drow are not why Mirror Knight was raised up with the abilities he has.

        I lean towards thinking that he was made to aim at Ranger in retaliation for her part in Black’s rise to power and the Conquest of Callow. Also, as a contingency for when the forces aligned with Above moved to retake Callow, defeat Praes, and kill Amadeus.

        Like

  18. SpeckofStardust

    Sudden note of realization –
    “The last of the four was a Callowan, though she wasn’t one of mine in any sense. She’d allegedly fled in the early years after the Conquest, and she was the only one who did not openly consider herself one of Above’s champions. The Maddened Keeper looked instead like a perennially exhausted woman in her early twenties, skin drawn and pale and her dark hair ratty. Her threadbare robes ever rumpled and she was thin, but there was a sense of… menace about her. Not like a snake coiling but rather like a diseased thing, the sight of which had you withdraw your hand out of fear and disgust. She was host, it was rumoured, to a great many old secrets that should have stayed unknown – and had even turned herself into a living seal on a Hell Egg from Triumphant’s days. ”
    So that’s where the demon of absence went.

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