Chapter 21: Line

“Turn back, Emperor, for if you venture further west the sole stretch of land you’ll have of me will be six feet long and three feet deep.”
– King Jehan the Wise, before the famous Battle of the Sparrows

I tapped the side of my pipe, seeding flame, and drew in a long breath of wakeleaf.

It was a good gambit, I decided as the Arsenal shuddered again. Shuddered like a wall taking trebuchet fire, like a gate being touched by the ram: someone, something was trying to force its way in. An obvious outside threat would draw in the Mirror Knight and his lot like a moth to the flame, and in the ensuing chaos a move could be made against either Archer or the Kingfisher Prince. Hells, if the mess got big enough a ruthless schemer like the Intercessor might just be intending to tie up all her loose ends through casualties. My choices in giving answer were limited, each an opportunity I could not easily discard. Fighting at the Mirror Knight’s side now might earn trust I’d need down the line, but intercepting enemy action headed for Archer or Prince Frederic would pay greater and more immediate dividends. I breathed out the smoke and offered a calm glance at the Named assembled around me before turning to the side.

“Sinister Physician,” I called out.

The man had closed his book and risen to his feet the moment the first shiver went through the stone around us, but aside from a small bow to me he’d shown no interest in being involved with this situation.

“My queen,” the villain replied, turning and indifferent gaze on me. “How my I serve?”

“Head out to the Knot and prepare to receive wounded,” I ordered. “Set up a temporary infirmary. You have my full backing to requisition whatever you might need.”

A glint of interest appeared at that, though not particularly deep. Still, unpleasant as the man was he’d be able to handle this without trouble. The Knot was the centre of the Arsenal, a mess of winding hallways, but it would have the benefits of being accessible no matter where the enemy struck from and being some distance from the fighting itself: it struck me as the best location to set up our healers.

“It shall be done,” the Sinister Physician said. “If I might take my leave?”

“Do,” I replied. “As for the rest of you, we’ll be headed elsewhere.”

So, should I see to the front door or the back? I mused. Either way I’d be taking a risk. Hells, given who I was up against it might be that there was simply no good decision to be made here. Perhaps instead of thinking in terms of avoiding mistakes, I should be thinking in term of picking the mistake whose consequences I could deal with more ably. No, that was still playing the Bard’s game. Getting stuck in a story, digging in my heels. A defensive mindset would inevitably lead to my loss when facing an opponent whose understanding of the terrain was superior to my own. I’d already sent out Archer and the Kingfisher Prince, I must now trust in their skills. Where could I attack?

“A defence must be organized,” the Blessed Artificer seriously said.

“Catherine?” Roland asked, eyes meeting mine.

He’d always been a sharp one. He must suspect by now we were fighting on more than one front and that I’d gathered this band of five as much to make sure it wasn’t out of my sight as to make us of it. Which means heading into a fight wouldn’t necessarily be the best move, I thought, but then breathed in sharply. Not, I corrected myself, it absolutely would be the best move. Sure, as a fighting band we’d be highly dysfunctional at best: both the Exalted Poet and the Fallen Monk would be better against people than the sort of things we were likely to face, and the Blessed Artificer wasn’t a frontline Named. Furthermore, while the Rogue Sorcerer and I were both forces to reckon with, neither of us were in the habit of being in the thick of it these days. We’d grown used to relying on martial Names to take the frontline. But that only mattered if the objective of the fight was victory, which it wouldn’t be here.

If any of these people had served or were serving as agents of the Intercessor, given the stories we had unfolding they were likely to be very difficult to kill even when by common sense they should be thrice-dead and buried. Creation would nudge things to help them might survive, so that in the last act of the play they could be unmasked by the triumphant heroes. The quickest way to ferret out an answer, I thought, would actually be taking this bunch into a fight far beyond what such a purposefully shoddy band of five would be able to handle. Good, I mused as I breathed in wakleaf and smiled, that meant I could attack and defend with the same stroke. I spat out the smoke, Roland batting it away so it wouldn’t linger near his face.

“This is a distraction,” I said. “We need to intercept the enemy before they get what they came for. Roland, which would you believe the most likely target for destruction among our potential war assets?”

He grimaced.

“Either the Severance or that one theoretical exercise,” the Rogue Sorcerer said after a beat. “I’ll add that the former is significantly better defended.”

So either the weapon that might possibly end the Dead King or the first steps of Quartered Seasons. The aspect I’d taken out of the Saint of Swords’ corpse and which had since been forged into a sword was unique, and thus would be irreplaceable if lost. The other was technically recoverable, since while losing Masego’s set up here in the Arsenal would set us back some months the truly important part was the surveying artefacts we’d seeded across several realms. It’d be a pain to re-establish connections with those again, but hardly impossible. Of those two tools it was my opinion that only Quartered Seasons’ ultimate results would feasibly be able to harm the Intercessor, but that didn’t necessarily meant that was what she’d be going for. The Dead King had implied, back at the conference in Salia, that some aspect of the Intercessor’s plans hinged on the corpse of Judgement the Procerans had dredged up being used.

I’d worked on Hasenbach enough that I knew she’d not pull that trigger without having no other option left, so I had to wonder if that was the Bard’s game: peeling away every other alternative, until that was left was oblivion’s approach and a finger on the trigger.

“The sword is in the Repository,” I said. “The other is…”

“Belfry,” Roland said.

Masego’s quarters in that part of the Arsenal, then. He’d never quite understood why anyone would separate their life from their work, as he saw little difference between the two.

“And for those of us slower to catch on,” the Fallen Monk cheerfully said, “might an explanation be provided?”

The Exalted Poet cleared his throat in support.

“Please,” he politely added.

“Isn’t it obvious?” the Blessed Artificer sighed. “They believe someone’s making a grab for the most dangerous projects in the Arsenal: the Severity and the Hierophant’s own private research.”

Wait, had she called the sword the Severity? From what Roland had said, I’d thought it was the Severance. Didn’t matter, I decided. Especially not given what she was trying to pull here.

“That research is secret by the order of more crowns than any of you can afford to defy,” I mildly said. “Do have a care about those loose lips, Artificer.”

“Light ever cleanses,” the Blessed Artificer replied, uncowed. “Those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear.”

“I must have been unclear,” I patiently said, “if you ever talk of that subject again, within the hour I’ll have an order signed by every high officer of the Grand Alliance to have you executed without trial or appeal. You have absolutely no idea what you’re trifling with, and your ignorant swaggering is a potential existential threat to this continent. Congratulations, Blessed Artificer. There aren’t a lot of people alive who’ve had apocalypse counted as a possible consequence of their blind arrogance.”

Adanna of Smyrna reared back like I’d slapped her across the face, which to be fair I essentially had. I did not regret it, for I had rather limited patience for unearned self-importance these days. Especially from heroes.

“I,” she said, “I didn’t-”

“Think?” I coolly replied. “Consider this matter with a thimble’s worth of commons sense? Evidently not.”

Harsh as I might have been right now, there had been ways to handle this other than sneaking around investigating and then trying to force my hand by talking about it publicly. If she’d brought her concerns to the White Knight earlier, or Hells even to the First Prince, then this could all have been dealt with by the mechanisms we’d put in place for that very purpose. Instead she’d blundered onwards, heroine to the bone, and become yet another ingredient in the poisonous brew the Bard was trying to pour down my throat. My gaze swept across the rest of the gathered Named.

“I expect I won’t have to repeat myself,” I added.

“Already forgotten,” the Fallen Monk said, raising his wineskin.

“My Chantant is lacking at the best of times,” the Exalted Poet said.

Roland said nothing, only inclining his head. He didn’t know the specifics of what Masego was looking into, since there was no need to, but he’d been made aware since the beginning that if Hierophant required time to spend on Quartered Seasons instead of other duties he was always to be granted that request.

“Good,” I said. “Now, let’s get moving. The moment we’ve ascertained where the breach will happen, we’ll-”

There are limits, Bard, I thought even as the Arsenal shuddered once more and then a massive cracking noise sounded as the wards were broken through, to having a nasty sense of humour. My senses weren’t anywhere sharp enough to tell me where the breach had taken place, but then I was far from the Crows and surrounded by wards. Someone who’d helped put those up, though, would have a better idea.

“Roland?” I asked.

“West,” the Rogue Sorcerer replied. “Near the Belfry and the Workshop.”

Opposite of where we were, unfortunately.

“Then to the Belfry we go,” I ordered. “Prepare yourselves, my friends. This could get interesting.”

I let Roland see to the Artificer’s rustled feathers while we moved, the two of them taking the lead as we sped trough the halls as quickly as we could. I wove Night through my leg to numb the pain so I wouldn’t slow us down too much, but even so I had to stay in the back with the Fallen Monk and the Exalted Poet. I didn’t mind, since it was as good an occasion as any to get them talking.

“So I heard you killed one of the Holies,” I told the Monk. “In a pretty grisly way, too.”

The villain laughed. There’d been no deep emotional reaction to the mention, not on his face anyway, and his weight made it more difficult to gauge his body language. Especially in such thick robes when it was a man I did not know well.

“You refer to my first, though not my last,” he fondly said, Arlesite accent thickening slightly. “I got my hands on three before the Saint of Swords began popping up around the region and I had to flee. I slipped into the Dominion through the Brocelian Forest, and I’d made it as far as Levante when the war up north erupted.”

Ah, I thought. So that how he’d survived as a villain west of the Whitecaps contemporary to the Saint and the Grey Pilgrim. I knew for a fact the House of Light in Procer had records on both, he might just have been keeping an eye out for them from the start.

“I heard rumours,” the Exalted Poet said, a little too casually to be casual, “that around this time, several lodges of Lanterns disappeared after venturing into the Brocelian.”

The Fallen Monk smiled, friendly as a beloved brother, but there was something about him… there was nothing comical about his weight then, his size and lumbering demeanour. It was like looking at a predator that’d gotten large and slow by devouring, feeding again and again until it weighed him down.

“Does the Book of All Things not preach that the righteous must answer kindness with kindness and wickedness with wroth?” the Monk pleasantly said.

The Poet stiffened.

“That is blasphemy,” he hissed.

“To quote the Book of All Things?” the Monk chuckled. “What interesting practices the Dominion keeps to, if that is indeed true.”

It was always nice, I thought, when Named made friends. If only it weren’t so fucking rare.

“Can’t cast stones, I suppose,” I noted, “I was proclaimed an abomination for a few years, and Arch-heretic of the East for a tad shorter. What did they do to piss you off, anyway?”

“They called themselves holy,” the Fallen Monk said. “That was, all things considered, more than enough.”

“A Proceran priest is still a Proceran, after all,” the Exalted Poet conceded.

In a sense, was ragging on the Principate not the foundation of international diplomacy? It’d yet to fail me, anyway, not even with actual Procerans.

“Can’t argue with that,” I snorted. “Mind you, Hasenbach seems to be cleaning house there.”

She’d named some kind of spy lay brother her Lord Inquisitor with the coup attempt as a pretext then used him to rip out the fangs of the House in the Principate, the way the Jacks told it. She’d even done it carefully enough they’d had to just lie back and take it, which was damned impressive given the pull the House of Light still had in Procer even after their leaders got caught backing a coup.

“A cleaned pigsty does not become a temple for the cleaning,” the Fallen Monk shrugged. “Though I suppose peeling some jewels off the pigs is laudable work.”

Godsdamn, I thought, reluctantly impressed. This one would get along splendidly with the House Insurgent if they ever got introduced.

“Lanterns know better,” the Exalted Poet proudly said. “They have a single lodge in Levante, and it does not involve itself with politics.”

And if you believe that, there’s a house in Hannoven I’d like to sell you, I thought. The Lanterns had kept themselves from being squeezed under any ruler’s thumb since the founding of Levant, and that wasn’t the sort of thing that could be done by keeping your hands entirely clean.

“Right,” I said, keeping my skepticism off my face, “you lived there, didn’t you? As one of the Hidden Poets.”

The man looked surprised at even this bare bone knowledge of him, though perhaps I should not be surprised by that in turn. We had never met in person until today, and as both a recent addition to our roster and one without impressive martial skills he’d warranted precious little attention from me.

“That is true,” he said. “Though I am one of them no longer, as I have left the Old Palace and taken up paying work.”

“I heard of the Hidden Poets claiming an entire street’s worth of brothels for their use a full day and night, when I was there,” the Fallen Monk slyly said. “Though no doubt that was mere vile calumny.”

“No,” the Exalted Poet assured him, “it is quite true. It happens every spring, as part of the Feast of Many Sighs.”

Why was it that all these southern nations seemed to have those delightful customs involving a lot of beautiful naked people, when all that Callow could measure up against them was harvest festivals where everyone got drunk and made poor decisions? It was a little unfair, in my opinion. Anyhow, the Monk had been trying to tease by relying on a cultural need for discretion in such affairs that was very Proceran in the first place. Levantines, though, were remarkably forthright about sex even by my own Callowan standards.

“So what is it that moved you to leave the Old Palace?” I asked. “Sounds like a pleasant enough life.”

“It would have been shameful to remain there as Bestowed,” the Exalted Poet said, “given the call to war by the Holy Seljun. Besides, I have been thinking of composing an anthem of my own.”

Bold, that. If I grasped what he’d said correctly, he was referring to the Anthem of Smoke: the founding epic of the Dominion of Levant, verses recounting the legendary hero-led rebellion that’d thrown out Procer and created the nation that still stood today. Mhm. This little chat had done nothing to move me towards believing those two were or were not pawns of the Intercessor, unfortunately. The Fallen Monk’s fairly open hatred of the Proceran House of Light didn’t necessarily make him an ally, since it wouldn’t be impossible to use the Dead King as a way to break it without breaking Calernia itself along with it. If you had the right ally, anyway. Obviously he wasn’t shy about getting a little blood on his hands or even killing to make a point, but then he wasn’t one of Hanno’s. My lot rarely had clean hands to show.

As for the Poet, he remained opaque to me. The Dominion’s distinct fondness for honour and debts meant their Named had obvious levers for the Intercessor to use, but he did not seem quite as stuck in that rut as most of his countrymen: he’d backed down instead of dug in, when I’d pushed against the Mirror Knight’s band right after its unexpected arrival. In a sense that only made him harder to read, though, and considering how straightforward Dominion Named tended to be that had me warier of him than not. I knew myself to be a fair hand at assessing people, it was a skill that’d saved my life more than a few times, but I had too little to go on here. For both of them. Until I got a finger on the pulse of what it was that drove, distrust was the order of the day.

Nothing new in that, sadly enough.

The Belfry was one of the more unusual parts of the Arsenal, in the sense that its existence was only possible because of the peculiarities of this place. In one sense it was exactly what it’d been named after: a belfry tower as could be seen in most temples of the House of Light, if a particularly large one. There could be no such thing as a view of outside in the Arsenal, though, as there was no outside. The pocket dimension this place was built in was very precisely tailored to what had been needed, as anything more would have been a waste of resources. To put it simply, the entire facility had been carved out from the interior of single stolen Arcadian mountain, using existing caves that were now the Knot as the start. It accounted for strange, sprawling and yet stratified lay of the Arsenal, which had been designed in a way that would have been absurd in a place not surrounded by stone on all sides.

We’d reached the broadly square base of the Belfry a while back, and been greeted by the first sight of the Arsenal I’d really consider to be worthy of story: where in a temple’s belfry there would have been an empty hollow for the rope and bell, instead hung a long sculpted stalactite of what might once have been stone but was now quite different. The material had grown translucent from the sorcery poured into it, almost like a sort of crystal, and it offered a gentle glow that I recognized from some of the magelights in the rest of the Arsenal. Fourteen floors of a great library swept upwards around the former stalactite, which now hung more like a chandelier than anything else. It was the single greatest repository of books in this Arsenal, but the lay of the stacks also filled with writing desks and research nooks and even places to sleep. A few discreet hallways on different levels even led into personal quarters carved outwards from the Belfry, one of them Masego’s. The stone railings on every floor parted to allow for a stone path leading into the crystalline hanging hear, which itself had been hollowed out and could serve as both stairs upwards and way across.

The truly beautiful part, though, was the lights and sights echoing within the translucent stone. They were not from here, as it happened. Though the Belfry’s tallest heights reached the summit of the mountain the Arsenal had been carved in, there would simply have been nothing to see outside the windows. Just an endless void which had been described to me as desolately empty yet somehow oppressive, like a ceiling too close to one’s face. It was the kind of thing that chipped away at one’s sanity if looked at long enough, regardless, so the ‘windows’ at the highest ring of the Belfry instead showed something entirely different: they were great silver scrying mirrors looking instead at the beautiful vistas of Arcadia and the Twilight Ways, at the seas and sky of Creation. There were smaller mirrors on lower levels showing such sights as well, all of them angled so that what they held within might echo in the central stalactite.

It was genuinely wondrous to behold, and I’d cast more than a few looks to the side in fascination even as we went up the first floor and onto the second. Masego’s quarters would be on the thirteenth floor, and they where the enemy was most likely to strike, so I’d been prepared for the long hike up. My steps slowed before we could even come close to the third floor, however, same as Roland’s in front of us. I cocked my head to the side, strengthening my senses with Night. The entire Arsenal was walled in by wards and had been raised in a pocket dimensions created and maintained by sorcery, which permeated the air and made sensing anything but the ambient power a difficult task, but the both of us had recognized a twinkle of what was coming up behind us.

“Enemies,” Roland said. “It seems we arrived first.”

“Fae,” I added. “And if I can feel them from this far out, in this place? They’re titled.”

Not a weak title, either, which meant this was going to get rough. My otherworldly senses were too muddled by the surroundings for me to be able to put a finger on exactly what manner of fae was headed our way, but there could be no good answer to that sort of question.

“We should make our stand at the stairs leading up from the first floor,” the Exalted Poet suggested, sounding rather enthusiastic. “Hold the line there.”

“It’d be pointless,” I grunted.

Roland nodded in agreement. I wasn’t sure if he’d tangled with fae before, but at the very least he’d been in a few scraps with the Tyrant of Helike and his bloody gargoyles. The lessons to learn were not entirely dissimilar.

“Ah,” the Blessed Artificer breathed out, quick to catch on. “They fly, the stories say.”

Everyone’s eye’s turn to the empty space between the central crystalline structure and the railings. If they could go right up flying where we could only go on foot, they’d make it to Masego’s quarters long before we did. Assuming they knew where those were, and that was truly where they were headed for. Wasn’t a risk I could afford to take, regardless.

“Rogue Sorcerer,” I said. “Head in there, find a good vantage and try to keep them from going straight up. I’m leaving-”

The Blessed Artificer? Not a fighter, but potentially bearing useful tools to clear out a swarm of lesser fae. Dangerous for the same reason, though. The Fallen Monk would be next to useless save as a bodyguard – and couldn’t be trusted for that anyway – while I knew much too little about the Exalted Poet’s combat abilities. He had the Gift, though, and unless you were cooking up a ritual putting all your mages in the same basket was typically a bad idea.

“- the Blessed Artificer with you,” I said.

She was the most likely to be able to crack open the wards Hierophant would put around his quarters, if she was the traitor. Roland already knew I’d gathered potential traitors here, so he’d know to both keep her at hand and keep an eye out for a knife in the back.

“Understood,” the Rogue Sorcerer replied, catching my gaze and dipping his head.

I did enjoy working with Roland, no two ways about it.

“I will do what must be done,” the Blessed Artificer grimly said.

Fair enough, I thought, so long as that didn’t involve a knife slipped between mine or the Rogue Sorcerer’s ribs.

“And the three of us, Black Queen?” the Fallen Monk asked me, a theatrical gesture extending the question to include the Poet.

“You two should run down to the entrance as quick as you can, we’ll contain what we can there,” I said.

“You will not be coming with us?” the Exalted Poet asked.

“I’ll be taking another way down,” I said. “Get moving, would you? There’s no time to waste.”

Though I could tell neither of them were convinced, they didn’t manage to talk themselves into asking about it either. Keeping a good distance from each other, as if making a point of it, they doubled back at a run towards the stairs we’d taken up to get here. As for me, I waved off Roland and the Artificer and went fishing for my pipe again. I’d not finished the wakeleaf from earlier and it had gone quite cold, but a touch of blackflame saw to that. I limped my way to the railings and propped up my staff against them, leaning forward as I pulled at my pipe. A stream of smoke left my lips as I waited, patient, for the enemy’s first blow. Unlike what I assumed to be the rest of this little band, I was familiar with fighting the Courts. Though Winter and Summer had preferred very different tactics, they’d had a few in common. There were, I imagined, only so many ways to make use of similar assets.

Which was I was not surprised when, before either the Named I’d sent down could make it down to the entrance, a winged silhouette shot out of the floor below and began to ascend the gap at a breakneck pace. A titled vanguard, hard enough to take a few hits from a powerful foe but not so powerful it’d be a great loss if their heads got caved in early. Classic fae, that.

“Not a prince or a duke,” I mused, gauging the amount of power wafting out of the humanoid shape. “A count or a baron?”

Hard to tell, but I’d be more inclined to bet on baron. Regardless, it was time to act. I snatched up my staff and used it to deftly pull myself atop the railing, calling on Night and beginning to weave it even as I estimated the right angle. I leapt down, pitch-black power beginning to erupt from the top of my yew staff and hurtled down towards the fae heading up. It could see it – no, her. Decked in dark brown armour styled like a coat of branches, translucent wings batting as her long golden hair flowed behind her, the fae offered me a mocking smile even as she veered off to the side and avoided me entirely. Leaving me, without a word or care, to fall towards the ground.

“Mistake,” I noted around the mouth of my pipe.

Taking my staff up by both hands I snapped it forward like a fishing rod , and so the rope of Night I had woven snapped forward as well, snatching the fae passing me by the neck and smashing her down.

“How dare-”

The golden-haired fae passed me as I continued to fall down in a descent barely slowed, mouth open to scream in anger, but I took a hand off my staff and pulled at the Night-rope. It tightened around her throat and I dragged her close even as my teeth clenched around my pipe, then gripped her throat and forced her further beneath me. Using my staff as support I shot a painful jolt of Night into her body, disrupting her wings, and used her twitch of pain to flip her around. We kept falling, but I was now above her back and holding a makeshift rein of Night to guide our descent.

“- am the-” the fae forced out before I tightened the rope again.

I eye the rapidly approaching ground beneath us, counting in my head how long we had before impact and disrupting her wings with further jolts of Night another two times as we dropped. Only when we were a mere count of two from the ground did I allow her wings to form again, and our descent to slow as I impacted her back from the gathered momentum and she swivelled down and forward a bit before stabilizing. We were a mere six feet above the ground, and in the hallway in front of us what looked like a raiding party of fae were fast approaching. Best to finish this before they got close.

I laid a hand on the Night leash and poured further power into it, turning rope to flame, and with a twist of will sent it to eagerly devour the fae’s throat. The neck turned to ash in an instant, the head plopping down unmoored and the wings winking out. The corpse dropped below and as the Mantle of Woe fluttered around me I adjusted my fall, landing on my feet a heartbeat after the corpse did – the head hit the ground a moment later with a wet sound, rolling half a foot towards me by happenstance. I brought to a halt with my boot, taking a last inhale of wakeleaf before all that was left was ash, and with my foot angled the fae’s head so that I could empty my pipe into the silently screaming mouth.

I put it away after, smoothed my cloak and turned a winning smile into the incoming fairies even as the Fallen Monk and the Exalted Poet emerged from the stairs to my right.

I blew out the smoke, let it wreath my face as the fae emerged form the shadows of the hall.

“Good evening,” I said. “I can’t help but notice you’ve taken something of a wrong turn. Do you need some help in finding the way out?”

I’ll take that as a no, I decided as a raging thunderstorm erupted in answer.

109 thoughts on “Chapter 21: Line

      1. Blessed Artificer is foolish to keep pushing Cat. And, seriously, if she had concerns about Masego’s research, why didn’t she bring them to a higher ranking Hero?

        Bard is using the Fae. How interesting. And depressing. I wonder what she’s told them to get them to move against the Arsenal.
        Thunderstorms could be either Spring or Autumn, but the description referencing bare branches makes me think Autumn is more likely.
        The unified Winter/Summer Fae are unlikely, but remain possible. Their existence and creation could also be related to how Bard motivated these Fae to attack the Arsenal.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. AceOfSword

          It has to be autumn, the Hunted Magicians was running from the autumn court. The Bard didn’t choose to use the fae randomly, she choose them because she could use the story.

          Liked by 8 people

        2. caoimhinh

          To be fair, there were wind, lightning, and storm titled Fae in both Winter and Summer, remember?
          Cat got her position on the Winter Court by killing the Duke of Violent Squalls, while soon afterward she fought lightning-throwing Fae from Summer.

          My bet is them being from the Unified Court, but originally from Autumn since the Hunted Magician has a debt to one of their Princes. They might be using the “coming to collect” Story as an excuse to launch their attack.

          Of course, since Quartered Seasons takes up from Arcadia as one of the “Realms of Power”, it might have attracted the whole Arcadian upper echelon’s attention. That is potentially a weapon to kill immortal and gods, so the Fae might understandably be wary of it and Hierophant.

          Liked by 3 people

    1. IDKWhoitis

      Betrayal requires trust. And I’m scared of all this trust Cat is investing in Roland. I’d like to believe he would be an unwitting pawn, but we never got to Know the guy….

      I hope I’m just paranoid.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Sean

        You notice that Roland switched his name for the sword to Severence, with Artificer calling it Severity? I wonder if that’s a subconscious division for Villains and Heroes and Roland has “switched sides” with a potential for other betrayal motives there.

        Liked by 3 people

  1. dadycoool

    Cat knows the best ways to make an entrance. The perfect blend of sinister and badass, with a massive serving of Suave to finish it off. All while playing 5-D chess with Creation itself, using pieces that she knows will turn on her at the worst possible time.

    Liked by 17 people

    1. KageLupus

      This is going to be one of those stories about Cat that are so ridiculous everyone is going to assume it is made up. Like that time she dropped a lake on an army and drowned thousands of soldiers in minutes.

      “I hear she once rode a Faerie into battle against other Faeries. And not that spooky horse either, an actual person. Faerie. Whatever.”

      “You are drunk and there is no way that is true.”

      Liked by 15 people

  2. ByVectron!

    Oh, this is going to be quite the scrap, isn’t it? We the Fae calling on the Hidden …dude, the guy who owes the debt? Is that the reason they we able to gain access/enter the story?

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Cat still has style right? And i hope the “newbies” (as in don’t know Cat) saw all of that because it was awesome!!!!!

    Mmmmm i hope this isn’t something where the traitor is the one whose betrayal hurts the most emotionally (i mean Roland if it wasn’t clear) because i am honestly drawing a blank as to who it could be, we know too little about the 2 guys and BA is too obvious (wich might just be me overhtinking it…just as the author/bard planned, maye).

    And mmm BA naming the sword different could e a clue…or just something related to her name? like a part of it that lets her determine the ailities and properties of the artefact more easily? or maye she just thought the original name was lame xD

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Darkening

      There was mention during Masego’s perspective that the name was still up for debate among the people working on it. Severance because it cuts things, or Severity because… saint of swords.

      Liked by 11 people

        1. dadycoool

          No, he’s still Fae. He’s simply learned from his Queen how to properly wield the Stories that act as chains. Personally, I’m waiting for Cat’s new Name to have the Aspect Hunt, at which point Larat and his party will return with something like “Good to be back. Wanna see our new tricks?”

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Zggt

            I’m still kinda figuring Cat is going to be the Rogue Queen, take the place of the legendary Callowan who solves riddles by stabbing people (for the good of Callow, of course). At its core is a name that fits her very well. She gave up her crown and is setting up Callow to rule itself without her, which would effectively make her a queen without a nation. Catherine will still be a queen due to the massive armies, powerful connections, the ability to change the actions of entire nations, and her repeated stabbing and/or burning of important things). She generally handles diplomacy in what can kindly be thought of as roguish rather than noble manner. And most of all, I don’t think Rogue Queen is by definition a Heroic name.

            There’s a philosophical idea calling modern day humans Homo-Narrativus; we recontextualize our lives according to our internal monologue. In this case, there’s a case that Cat has been the Rogue Queen in all but Name for a long time now.

            Despite the name, she has been forging herself into her new role for years now, and the dramatic reveal will turn a sure defeat into victory at some point. Perhaps Catherine has been preparing that as a weapon of last resort, one surefire victory. And perhaps this is the Bard’s play, making sure that there will be no way out for her as she takes down the Dead King, pushing her into “noble sacrifice” territory (because she knows Cat would if it came to that).

            Liked by 2 people

          2. WealthyAardvark

            Larat and the rest of the Wild Hunt are no longer Fae. What they are hasn’t been studied or named yet as far as we know, but they’re no longer Fae.

            Larat held not a speck of power within him. And fae, Masego had once told me, were little more than power made flesh and shaped by stories. The inevitable conclusion of that sent a shiver up my spine.

            “Do you even know,” I softly asked, “what you’ve become?”

            “Something… unprecedented,” he said, smile broadening.


            Liked by 3 people

  4. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    turning and indifferent > turning an indifferent
    in term of > in terms of
    must suspect > must have suspected
    make us of > make use of
    Not, I corrected > No, I corrected
    wakleaf > wakeleaf
    necessarily meant > necessarily mean
    that was left was > what was left was
    commons sense > common sense
    both, he > both; he
    Things?” the Monk > Things?” The Monk
    noted, > noted.
    cleaning,” the > cleaning.” The
    it was a skill (this part should have — instead of commas)
    that drove > that drove them
    of single > of a single
    for strange, > for the strange,
    stacks also > stacks was also
    hanging hear > hanging heart
    they where > they were where
    a pocket dimensions > pocket dimensions
    eye’s turn > eyes turned
    either the Named > either of the Named
    I eye the > I eyed the
    descent to slow > descent began to slow
    dropped below > dropped below,
    brought to a halt > brought it to a halt
    wreath > wreathe

    Liked by 1 person

  5. WuseMajor

    Next one is going to be “Sinker.” Which means either Cat is going to find out what this trap looks like with her face in it, or she’s going to trigger something and get to punch the Bard.

    Haven’t even finished this one yet, but next one is gonna be big.

    Liked by 11 people

  6. Blessed Artificer is foolish to keep pushing Cat. And, seriously, if she had concerns about Masego’s research, why didn’t she bring them to a higher ranking Hero?

    Bard is using the Fae. How interesting. And depressing. I wonder what she’s told them to get them to move against the Arsenal.
    Thunderstorms could be either Spring or Autumn, but the description referencing bare branches makes me think Autumn is more likely.
    The unified Winter/Summer Fae are unlikely, but remain possible. Their existence and creation could also be related to how Bard motivated these Fae to attack the Arsenal.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. > And, seriously, if she had concerns about Masego’s research, why didn’t she bring them to a higher ranking Hero?

      Because heroes don’t have a ranking, and the more influential ones have clearly been bamboozled by the wicked Black Queen’s minions. Obviously.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. I meant higher ranking in the organization of the Grand Alliance and the organization and enforcement structure of the Truce and Terms.
        Y’know, the things that are responsible for the very existence of the Arsenal and funding Masego’s research.
        Or, to put it another way, someone with a higher security clearance, or someone empowered to arbitrate Truce and Terms disputes.

        She basically fucked up big time with how she handled her suspicions of Masego’s research.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. RoflCat

          Because as much as she respects Hanno, he is likely to take Cath’s side (and he should be part of the know about the project)

          So when that happen, when a respected Hero take a villain side, what do other Heroes do?
          1. Assume they’re being misled
          2. CLEARLY the villain have them corrupted and under influence and thus can’t be trusted (see: Pilgrim after the Twilight event)

          Liked by 1 person

          1. We know that Hanno is almost certainly aware, to some extent, of Quartered Seasons.
            Blessed Artificer doesn’t know that. Alerting Hanno to this secret Evil project could be just what’s needed to free him of the Black Queen’s influence, or start the process. Or maybe if he does know about it, he knows more about it than Blessed Artificer does and can give her answers about it.
            Or, she could go talk to Roland, the Rogue Sorcerer – he’s the top Hero in the Arsenal, and if Heirophant is keeping this project a secret from him, that’s grounds for a Truce and Terms and Grand Alliance sanctioned inquiry into this secret project and Heirophant. Alternatively, the Rogue Sorcerer is aware of the project and can tell her about it.

            For that matter, Blessed Artificer is assuming that Heirophant’s secret project is Evil and needs to be stopped on the basis that she doesn’t know about it and he’s keeping it a secret from the rest of the Arsenal.

            Liked by 2 people

    2. Miles

      Because the Bard mentioned something to the BA to make her think any communication to Hanno is going to get intercepted or is for some other reason a bad idea?


    1. KageLupus

      I don’t see it. Roland is coming up on honorary Woe status at this point, or at the very least one of the inner circle of non-Woe. He has fought side-by-side with Cat and knows that she really is trying to make things better. He has worked side-by-side with Masego enough to know that even if he is digging into something dangerous it is almost definitely a weapon against the Dead King. And at this point he should have been part of enough conversations to know that if the Wandering Bard makes him a deal it is for her own ends and not the good of everyone.

      Turning a trusted ally is going to be hard, both because of that trust and because it is such a cliche. Much easier to have someone like the Concoter setup a smuggling operation in a roundabout way, or the Panted Blade get word from some other Hero to disrupt things for Heroic Reasons.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. broadaxe

        using the argument that its a cliche, is not exactly great when it comes to the guide verse though :3 it being a cliche is, exactly why its even more likely 😉 though ofc cat has learned to navigate stories in such a way that we are still surprised despite tropes and cliches being the standard, so i think you right that it wont be him of it is, there will be something to it we didn’t see coming :3

        Liked by 4 people

  7. Man, that scene only gets better when you realize Cat’s still in her royal-casual outfit.

    Also, the casual idea drop of the Fallen Monk potentially becoming a religious leader with the House Insurgent is somewhat disturbing and awesome, because his motivations actually seem to line up with Callowan ideals. Kinda hoping he’s not the traitor or hiding the type of darker appetites religious individuals can be linked to in our world.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Oh yes, it’s pretty important to remember Cat’s still wearing the royal pajamas!

      And is also still drunk.

      (And the ‘darker appetites’ seem to be more along the lines of what he turned on the Holies for)

      Liked by 10 people

      1. OfScience

        Yeah, force-feeding someone to death seems like very pointed commentary on gluttony to me. His comment about punishing them for calling themselves holy only reinforces it.

        Liked by 4 people

      1. I still haven’t given up hope on that boy, but considering the story that theoretically would revive him would largely be decided by Cat’s emotions at the time she starts it… let’s just say I bite my nails a little every time she displays a negative emotion.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. The bigger problem is that he didn’t earn a resurrection nohow. Killed in his bed (and raised as a revenant) by a sneak attack, before accomplishing anything more than killing a town to save its neighbors? Nope, that’s not a winning story.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Back when I started meming about the idea, he had most of the markers of a shounen protagonist, but even those have fallen off, so at this point basically his only story is as Cat’s monster. Maybe if she waits until the war is over he could have a second chance, but that’s an even weaker story than what’s happening now.

            Liked by 1 person

  8. Noldo

    I think that the connection between Autumn court and Hunted Magister is too obvious and Hunted Magister is unknowing pawn in the game. He is the bait used by Bard (or Bard’s associate) to lure fae to storm the place as a tool of opportunity (I wonder how much Bard is hating that she has to spend that asset for this plot due to Catherine’s earlier actions).

    So in that structure fae would be a mere distraction meant to keep Catherine busy.

    I wonder whether the revelation of Masego’s project to the band of five could have played a critical role here. Could we see the traitor trying to make a move towards the project because it was revealed by Blessed Artificer? That would naturally require that either Poet or the Monk would be the traitor and so far neither really fits.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Cicero

      The Monk seems most likely. He’s a former hero, turned villain because… because he went vigilante? That seems strange. No one objected when the Sword Saint went vigilante. Out of all the characters he’s probably the one most open to a “for the greater good” argument from the Bard if she pitches it right.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Magicturtle

    What i dont understand is why is the bard against cat in the first place. I know the truce/terms might be dangerous for her but it seems almost imposible to disrupt them when cat is such a high-level schemer, with super strong backing. Seems more useful to use cat to clean up DK. It only makes sense if the truce terms is something that might kill her, as she is making it easier for DK to win.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bard has been against Cat since Cat was the Squire. Or her actions and statements certainly imply as much.

      Her explanation to William the Lone Swordsman was that Cat represented the success and heir to a new tradition of pragmatic Evil – one that could actually win. And that’s why Cat the Squire was “worse” than Heiress.
      Admittedly, the reliability of those statements as regards Bard’s true perspective and motivations is very much in question.

      Let’s also remember that Bard stopped two Elves from taking out Akua while she was still toeing the line as Governor of Liesse.
      This was before the Fae showed up.

      For that matter, we still don’t actually know why the Fae invaded Callow in the first place. IIRC, it was implied that Winter followed Summer’s lead into Callow, and the then Winter King was able to take advantage of the opportunities posed by non Fae in breaking the status quo, but it was never truly clarified as to why the Fae started entering Callow in the first place. Bard could have meddled there as well. We don’t know.

      We know very little definitively about Bard, one thing we do know is that damned near everything about her is a mystery wrapped in an enigma made up of puzzles covered in lies.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. ______

        > [I]t was never truly clarified as to why the Fae started entering Callow in the first place. Bard could have meddled there as well. We don’t know.

        We do know that the Winter King wasn’t supposed to think that way in the first place, as Cat mentioned to Malicia it was scaring the other fae. You’re definitely onto something, as both his behaviour and Larat’s calling together the Hunt during a season it wasn’t supposed to emerge are suspiious, especially from the timing.

        Now I’m wondering whether the King’s suicide by marriage is related to Bard’s desire to escape her own purpose, and his position as an equal to the Queen is reflective of the arrangement that the Accords are leading to, if the Sage was right about the resulting Role.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Morgenstern

          Summer invaded because Akua hunted them for her Liesse project, as I understood it. Winter then mirrored them and the Winter King used that opportunity for his very own play, which had nothing to do with either.
          Now, why the Wandering Bard stopped the Elves … that seems the most interesting question from my viewpoint so far.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Morgenstern

            The momentary Winter King’s and his most-often replacement Larat’s (being Prince at this time) new thinking was at least implied to stem from Arcadia mirroring Creation = aka, being created by what Maddie and Co. started with their long-term streak of rational-practical Evil. It seems to have infused the Fae with new ideas they weren’t meant to get.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. Nope.
            Akua only started grabbing Fae after Summer invaded.
            Remember, plan (A) was the Angel corpse, plan (B) was grabbing a dozen Deoraithe of the Watch and using them to tap the power source empowering their abilities. And Plan B was working just fine from Akua’s standpoint.
            Using the Fae started because they’re pure power, which made using a noble as a sacrifice a lot more efficient than anything else.

            Liked by 4 people

  10. Daniel E

    I’m still not buying that Bard is legitimately taking a swing at Catherine. Yes Cat flies the banner of Below, but she’s not evil in the traditional sense. Really more of an anti-hero, and I don’t think that will upset the balance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gamer7956

      That’s the entire problem – she’s an antihero at best, and a well intentioned extremist at worst. She’s not a clear cut hero or villain. Her very existence means that the very shape of stories that occur on Calernia may soon shift dramatically.
      The Intercessor has spent millenia learning how to manipulate stories to get exactly the effects she wants – and we know it was a learned skill due to her screwing up with the role of Hierarch. Cat is the catalyst to thousands of years of experience being rendered useless – of course she wants to get rid of her.
      To the Intercessor, the Dead King is an enemy she’ll be able to beat eventually, as she has no way to truly lose. Cat poses the possibility of a significant – if not final – defeat.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Mike E.

        Ah, thank for the tip. I assumes any/all html would be not printed (or mangled)…nice to know wordpress has a way around that.


  11. Mammon

    The Black Queen is a Villain, we must stop her!


    She talked to some Villains and bad fae before and defeated a Villain who turned an entire city of hers into a wight-infested floating fortress but didn’t do it in the name of Above!

    We shall henceforth call her the Arch-Heretic

    The Fallen Monk is okay though.

    Why? Didn’t he force-feed several priests until their stomachs burst open as an extremely painful and gruesome way of murdering them?

    Yeah, but he did it because they call themselves holy which is sacrilegious and by choosing to be part of this organisation that doesn’t give them the choice of title or the opportunity to join a different healing cleric organisation in their country due to monopoly, meaning that it’s okay outside of Procer.

    I see, makes sense.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Morgenstern

      Whoever said the heroes are ok with the Fallen Monk turning Villain? It seems to me to have been highly implied and in places kinda been spoken out aloud that the heroes all around were/are very much NOT amused by that, but hate his guts more than Villains that were Villains from the start…?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. WealthyAardvark

        Literally last chapter:
        The Fallen Monk was one of Indrani’s band, and one of the villains on our rolls that heroes tended to react the most violent to. That was not because his sins were so great compared to the rest of Below’s lot, but because once upon a time he’d instead been known as the Merry Monk.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. That was a jab at how the Poet seemed to be okay enough with the Monk’s reasons because haha Procer sucks to everyone but Procer, the kind of windfall even half-hearted and as a joke like this that Cat has never received from Heroes before ever.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Agent J

      We met him while he was engaged in what can only be described as an honour duel against a Levantine Hero. We learn in this very chapter that he had to flee Procer like a sick gazelle lest the Saint of Swords sinks her fangs into him.

      Where are you getting the notion that heroes are in any way okay with him?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Two comments that took my highly sarcastic comment serious? Have people spontaneously forgotten the difference between a clearly non-serious joke and genuine comments? How can you guys even see a serious comment in my initial post at all? Baffling.


  12. Hellarion Angelus

    Am i the only one who keeps thinking that the Blessed Artificer getting interrupted each and every time she tries to bring that subject up is suspicous? I mean, it has the feel of the story thread ‘advice/piece of information from an unlikely source’ that Cat went to the dodering sage to get in the first place, meaning it can no longer function as that. Also there is the personal flaw cat got about the underserving arrogance from the heroes that keeps tripping up, and she is starting to take more and more mannerism from the black knight.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We know that Hanno is almost certainly aware, to some extent, of Quartered Seasons.
      Blessed Artificer doesn’t know that. Alerting Hanno to this secret Evil project could be just what’s needed to free him of the Black Queen’s influence, or start the process. Or maybe if he does know about it, he knows more about it than Blessed Artificer does and can give her answers about it.
      Or, she could go talk to Roland, the Rogue Sorcerer – he’s the top Hero in the Arsenal, and if Heirophant is keeping this project a secret from him, that’s grounds for a Truce and Terms and Grand Alliance sanctioned inquiry into this secret project and Heirophant. Alternatively, the Rogue Sorcerer is aware of the project and can tell her about it.

      For that matter, Blessed Artificer is assuming that Heirophant’s secret project is Evil and needs to be stopped on the basis that she doesn’t know about it and he’s keeping it a secret from the rest of the Arsenal.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Kel the Seer

    Do we have a pool going for Cat’s new name? I think that the Errant Queen is fitting. Errant both in the sense of “travelling while seeking adventure” (when was the last time she got to sleep in her own place?) and in the sense of “strays from the proper course” for her penchant to derail stories.


  14. Someperson

    Uh. After Cat stole an entire *court* and then fed it to some Crows, I would never bet on some Fae in a fight against Cat. She’s practically made of stories about their demise.
    Considering the Bard isn’t an idiot, that means this is a distraction. Probably a dangerous enough distraction that ignoring it would be disastrous, but still ultimately a distraction.


    1. Someperson

      Also, I’m guessing part of the Fae’s purpose is to be a wager.
      Storywise, there has to be symmetry. If Bard wins, the Terms and Truce are unmade, so Cat has to get something if she wins. In this case, what she probably gains is everything needed to move forwards with her Quartered Seasons plan, whatever that entails.


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