Interlude: Deadhand

“One hundred and twenty-five: under no circumstances should you trust anyone who has the title of chancellor, vizier or duke. While they will always be powerful and competent, keep in mind they will also inevitably turn out to be in some way treacherous.”
– “Two Hundred Heroic Axioms”, author unknown

One was limping, two were nursing an arms and Adjutant had only withstood that blow from the Duke of Unrelenting Landslide’s morningstar at the price of his plate being dented and the flesh beneath it torn right through.

The Repentant Magister had done what she could, and she was a skilled healer, but magical healing was less immediately potent than the priestly kind when it came to deeper wounds. All of them were Named, and so the pain and increased fragility was only a minor matter, but Hakram had considered it an interesting piece of irony that he usually received a better quality of healing with the Woe, a band of villains, than he had from a pack of Above’s designated footsoldiers. The air was rife with tension as the band of five he accompanied let the Vagrant Spear guide them through the bare stone corridors, though conversation had not died down even the wake of the defeat inflicted unto them by what could only be remnants of the Court of Autumn. The calm voice in the back of Hakram’s mind noted that where the Woe would digging into their second plan of attack by now, everyone pitching even if it was Catherine who’d put it all together, these five were instead wasting their breath on largely inconsequential matters.

Adjutant decided to take his own evaluation with a grain of salt, acknowledging he would always favour his own companions whether or not he was aware of it.

They’d all been headed towards somewhere called the Spins for some time now, ominously enough without any fae harassment as they moved. Aside from Hakram’s professional vexation at the way half of the Arsenal seemed to have some sort of nickname known only to the locals, on top of the already labyrinthine amount of sections within the facility, there should have been no reason for displeasure on anyone’s part. Unfortunately, the lack of immediate peril meant the Mirror Knight’s band of five had promptly lapsed back into open malfunction. It felt like dealing with children, Hakram thought. While that was not entirely a rare thing with heroes, who were often more preoccupied with pretty ideals than practicalities, this band of five was… remarkably unstable. It would not be impossible to make them functional, in his opinion, but it would take sustained effort to keep them that way and some truly miraculous labour to mend the root causes.

“Would you hurry, Magister?” the Blade of Mercy complained. “We’ll lose them if you keep slowing us down.”

As displayed, though in his opinion the younger of the Proceran heroes was, for all that he was vastly irritating, more a symptom of the troubles than a cause. The Repentant Magister, whose true name was Nephele Eliade, visibly bit down on the sharp retort she equally visibly wanted to let out at the boy who’d been needling her for hours now. The Stygian was slow because she’d taken bad fall in the last scrap with the Prince of Fallen Leaves and magical healing could only help so much with bones, not because she was somehow lazy as was being implied. Now, that should have been the moment when the band’s unspoken leader stepped in before tempers further rose. The Mirror Knight had brought these people together after all, and that implied a level of deference to his leadership. Instead, Christophe of Pavanie leaned closer to the Vagrant Spear and addressed her in a low voice. The look the Magister shot at his back was distinctly less than adoring. It must have been rather irritating, Hakram mused, deferring to something that essentially did not exist.

“How is your arm, Blade of Mercy?” Adjutant gravelled.

The redheaded boy started, constant in his surprise that Hakram could do anything but stand behind a human villain threateningly or eat village babies. Adjutant had known men and women who truly, genuinely hated his kind and so he’d not been all that ruffled by the Blade’s casual bigotry. It was the way of thinking of a boy who’d been told orcs were not people and had never had occasion to question that before, not something running deeper. Hakram thought less of men who chided the likes of the Blade for speaking their opinion of his kind but privately shared in the belief, for at least the boy could be taught.

“It stings,” the blue-eyed boy admitted. “But it is only pain.”

“I am sure Lady Eliade could heal it further, if the sting is a distraction,” Adjutant suggested.

The Blade of Mercy cast a look at the Stygian sorceress and bit his tongue, looking somewhat abashed at the implicit reminder that the only reason his arm wasn’t bleeding meat was the Magister’s healing touch.

“I would not ask her to waste her valuable magic on my discomfort,” the Blade of Mercy stiffly said, inclining his head at the sorceress.

It was exactly the kind of answer someone with a disdain of magic trying to politely excuse themselves from healing would have used, but Adjutant suspected that when it came to the redheaded boy the words were genuine. Or close enough. Hakram had met two very different Blades of Mercy, after all. The first was a boy with Light gleaming in his eyes, spouting lines sounding suspiciously similar to those of the heroes of Proceran bodice-ripper novels and very much trying to act like one of those heroes. The other was an awkward redheaded boy, out of his depth and painfully aware of it. He found it easier to pity the latter than the former, for all that they were one and the same.

The Maddened Keeper, further behind, let out a harsh bark of laughter at the about-face but did not speak. That she did not contribute much of anything was, to Hakram’s eyes, a contributing part of this mess: there was an element missing to their band, the Callowan Named’s aloofness withholding an influence that would have stabilized matters even if it was negative –  a designated enemy, after all, would have given the Blade someone to focus his grandstanding against. The Magister offered Adjutant a discreet incline of the head in thanks when no one else was looking, which the orc did not hesitate in returning. It was a rare thing for him to have high opinion of a heroine before meeting her, but the Repentant Magister had been an exception. How could he not hold a woman who’d spurned the slavery she was raised to in high esteem? If Catherine intended to take this one as a consort he could only approve.

“Adjutant,” the Mirror Knight called out from the front, “if we might have a word?”

Hakram put some spring to his step, catching up to the two in front as the Vagrant Spear moved to the side so he might stand between them. Those two were significantly easier to read than the rest, but in a way twice as hard to understand. Adjutant, in theory, knew much of the Vagrant Spear from Indrani’s reports – which, while usually written in sloppy drunk handwriting with some of the filthiest limericks he’d ever seen slipped in here and there, always seemed to cover enough the important parts thoroughly enough he couldn’t actually complain about it to Catherine – and her equally informative tendency to shamelessly gossip after she had a few drinks in her.

He knew that Sidonia was from the city of Alava, from one of the lesser lines of the Blood related to spears and considered as related to the Champion’s Blood even though in practice their skills had much more in common with the Slayer’s Blood. A political issue, he’d been made to understand. Hakram knew that Sidonia was strictly interested in men, could kill skillfully with both hands and seemed to have some Name-driven taboo against wearing shoes of any sort. None of this, though, helped him understand the mercurial brew of affection and dislike she related to the Mirror Knight with, or why it seemed to spin the man’s head around so much. Half the time the man seemed to crave her good opinion, the other half he seemed to court actively spiting it. It was probably about sex, which humans keeping to the House of Light tended to make a lot more complicated than it needed to be.

“I have heard that the Woe fought mighty battles against the Seasons of the Splendid,” the Vagrant Spear said. “Do you have insights to share about the nature of our foe?”

Adjutant considered that, for a moment.

“The Prince of Fallen Leaves is weak, for one of his title,” Hakram replied. “And the court he belongs to should be Autumn.”

The orc cast a curious look at the Mirror Knight, who he’d expected would have known much of this. The ‘Elfin Dames’ living in a lake the man was supposedly sworn to defend sounded very much like fae, or something close enough it hardly mattered.

“The Fair Folk are a weakness of mine,” Christophe of Pavanie boldly volunteered. “My shield will not reflect their works, and their illusory wiles are effective against even my protections.”

“Your oath protects your mind from glamours and manipulations,” the Vagrant Spear dismissed.

“It does not,” the Mirror Knight curtly said.

Sidonia of Alava looked surprised, by Adjutant’s reckoning, but not by the curtness.

“You once told me-”

“I know what I said,” the Mirror Knight grunted, looking away, “yet I repeat: my oath will not protect me.”

The Levantine looked confused, for a moment, then a wicked grin split her lips.

“Are you telling me you finally lost your-”

“I would recommend that the Repentant Magister provide protective enchantments against glamour, if she can,” Hakram interrupted. “The stronger fae do not usually bother with deception, but once cornered they’ll break habit if they lack the strength to win otherwise.”

Something like gratitude gleamed in the Mirror Knight’s eyes at the distraction that’d been provided.

“Have you fought Autumn before then, Adjutant?” he asked.

“No,” the orc gravelled. “But it is the spawn of Summer broken, and I have fought Summer enough.”

The dream that the King of Winter had seeded in Catherine after titling her in his court had been a difficult thing to sparse even though her recollection of it was vivid, because it was not truly a single dream: it was the recollection of a cycle’s shape, one so old and primordial that mortals mind found it difficulty to truly grasp. There had been lessons to learn from it, though, and Hakram Deadhand had committed them to memory.

“The Lady tells marvelous tales of the battles against Summer,” the Vagrant Spear agreed.

It took Hakram a moment to grasp that she was talking about Indrani, simply using the same term Indrani herself slipped into whenever talking about the Ranger. Interesting, he mused. Archer might not be interested in making a legacy for herself, but that did not mean she wouldn’t end up making one regardless.

“I’ll ask Nephele if she can weave such enchantments,” the Mirror Knight said. “Thank you for your advice, Adjutant.”

“It was my pleasure,” the orc replied.

The Mirror Knight retreated further back with eagerness, leaving Adjutant alone with a still-grinning Vagrant Spear. That grin was directed at him, now, like she expected him to pat her on the back for having put the Proceran hero to flight.

“Now is not the time to make sport of him,” Adjutant bluntly said. “We’re headed into a hard fight.”

“You said the prince was weak,” Sidonia replied. “Have you not defeated stronger royalty of the Splendid?”

“As part of a band containing the Black Queen and the Hierophant,” Hakram flatly replied. “And even then, it was a close thing.”

And that was the thing that had his hand itching, wasn’t it? Metaphorically speaking. After so many years among the Woe, where Catherine steered and inspired and mediated, having his Name attached to this walking mess was making him restless. His very nature was urging him to fix this band so that at least they’d cease bleeding each other with their sharp edges. It wouldn’t even be difficult, he knew, to untie the most pressing of the knots. If the Mirror Knight ceased focusing on the Vagrant Spear he’d start taking the Blade of Mercy closer in hand, which would free the Repentant Magister to be a moderating influence on the band. All it would take was establish some sort of accord between Christophe and Sidonia, terms of interaction they could keep to instead of constantly pushing each other.

“You underestimate us,” the Vagrant Spear said.

“You overestimate yourself,” Adjutant frankly replied. “The only reason there hasn’t been a casualty on our side so far is that the fae aren’t here to fight us.”

That struck her in the pride, as it’d been meant to. Indrani had coddled her four too much, they’d started to get ahead of themselves. The Vagrant Spear, the blooming pattern of blue on grey on her face tightening as she scowled, turned to him with a straightened back and tight grip on her spear. Trying to make it so he was not looming so tall above her.

“The Lady bats you around when you spar, I hear,” she challenged, baring pale teeth.

Hakram Deadhand did not bare his own teeth, posture or swagger. He simply looked at Sidonia of Alava, calmly, and considered how long it’d take him to kill her if he was serious about it.

“You are the not the Archer, child,” the Adjutant simply said. “And if you challenge me again, I will rip your fucking throat out.”

The younger woman stared at him for a long moment, then shivered.

“Apologies, Lord,” the Vagrant Spear said, briskly dipping down her head. “I should not swat at him while we head into battle, it does us all disservice.”

“I don’t know what stands between you two,” Hakram said, and raised a hand to stop her when it looked like she might tell him, “and I do not particularly want to. There will be time to pursue it after the fae are scattered, Sidonia. Until then, the Mirror Knight holds command.”

The Vagrant Spear threw him a sardonic look.

“As you say, Lord Adjutant,” Sidonia said, tone a tad dry.

The orc decided not to address that. There was only so much blood you could squeeze from a stone.

“Are we close?” he asked instead.

“Soon,” the Vagrant Spear said. “We should get there ahead of the Splendid, if they took the main halls.”

“Good,” Adjutant said, baring his fangs in approval.

He slowed his stride, leaving Sidonia alone in the front and sliding into the conversation that had been forming behind him. As expected, with the Mirror Knight there to impress the Blade of Mercy was significantly more personable. Without the needling to interrupt, Lady Eliade skillfully steered the conversation away from what she’d been asked, an enchantment that would perfectly resist glamour, to make it seem like the Mirror Knight had instead requested something she could achieve, an enchantment that would allow someone to tell if they were under the throes of glamour. When properly angled, the four Named could associate without wounding each other. But there were still only four, Hakram noted, as the last member of the band of five had stayed aloof and behind all this time.

The Maddened Keeper’s long and unkempt hair did much to hide her face, but Adjutant would have been able to peg her stare as cool and distant even if he’d not spent the last few years learning the nuances of human expressions. That one watched and missed nothing, but she kept her peace. She was Callowan, but from the times before the Empire had ruled it and so little like the Callowans that Hakram knew. There was a sense of… threat to her, one that had the orc’s instincts apprehensive. To his senses, to his Name, she felt like a predator waiting to strike. She was no fighter, the earlier scraps with the fae had proved that, but the Maddened Keeper had also swallowed whole a cloud of decay that’d powdered rock and would likely have killed the Blade of Mercy if it’d been allowed to spread. In a senses she reminded him of Vivienne, in the sense that she was clearly familiar with violence but just as clearly not trained in it – but there ended the similarities, as no prince of the fae had ever very carefully avoided being touched by Thief even at the height of her Name.

Adjutant slowed his steps even further, slipping at the back of band and matching his stride to the Maddened Keeper. She peered at him through oily bangs, unsmiling.

“We were never properly introduced,” Hakram gravelled.

“So that’s what you’re used for,” the Maddened Keeper said, voice apathetic. “The plate and the axe, the height – it all paints the wrong picture. They don’t see it coming, that your brain’s the most dangerous part of you.”

She was not such a tall woman, the Keeper. Skinny thing, no real muscle to her, and though she had vigor it was the feverish kind: burning but not healthy. Whether it was with his hand of bone or the spectral one, it would have been child’s play to snap that sparrow-like neck. So why was Adjutant’s Name screaming at him that if he laid a finger on the Keeper he’d be snuffed out in the blink of an eye?

“If we are to be at odds, so be it,” Adjutant said. “There are old wounds, between your people and mine. But there are more pressing needs, Maddened Keeper.”

“Necessity’s son,” the woman said, tone gone velvet soft. “Whispering her sweet nothings. Stack, stack, stack – move around the stones and maybe one day the game will make sense. But the tower always crumbles, doesn’t it? You’ll not find me so easy to steal or pile, death’s hand.”

She cast him an unfriendly look through the ratty curtain of hair.

“Walk away, orc,” the Maddened Keeper told him. “Lest I develop an interest in pulling at your seams.”

Adjutant was not above recognizing that creeping sensation going up his spine as fear or heeding its warning. There were some that were beyond his ability to corral, and so to continue an attempt was to invite sanction. Villains that did not know their limits died young, and Hakram had too many labours unfinished to be able to afford delusions about his own ability. He walked away, not with undue haste but without lingering either, moving towards the centre of the band again. Hakram caught only snippets of what was being discussed, which turned out to be heroic gossip about the lingering rumours of the White Knight and the Witch of the Woods being romantically involved. He filed it away regardless, but before the subject could change the Vagrant Spear called them to a halt with a peremptory gesture. They had reached the end of a long hallway, which Adjutant found was leading down to a broad downwards slope, spiralling inwards oddly.

“We are here,” the Vagrant Spear said. “The top of the Spins.”

Quietly walking to the edge of the hallway, Hakram leaned down and studied the battlefield the band had picked with a frown. The Repository was largely used as a great warehouse for all the incoming supplies for the Arsenal and outgoing artefacts feeding the war machine of the Grand Alliance, which in most situations would mean a large room spreading outwards. The Arsenal, however, had been carved form the inside of a mountain: there was no difficulty in layering several of these warehouses atop each other, so long as they could all be accessed by wagon. The Spins were likely the part meant for that very purpose, a soft-sloped spiral leading into eight different broad hallways of different heights. Most of those would lead to warehouses, though the ‘central’ hall was likely to be the one heading deeper into the Repository. Towards the restricted sections, where war assets were being kept and the Maddened Keeper informed them all the fae were headed – though she couldn’t tell them exactly what the fae were after. Speaking of the devil, she’d come to the fore at long last.

“The fae haven’t come through here,” the Maddened Keeper said. “But we don’t have long.”

“I’ll take the front,” the Mirror Knight immediately said. “Lady Eliade, your sorcery will serve well from the heights and Antoine can serve as your escort. Sidonia-”

He was making mistakes, Hakram thought, planning like his magical back-up was the Witch of the Woods instead of the Repentant Magister – whose sorceries lacked bite, and the artefacts she used to make up for it tended to require shorter distance.

“I can go on the frontline with you,” the Blade of Mercy interrupted, “the Vagrant Spear can see to the Magister’s protection.”

“I strike, I do not defend,” Sidonia of Alava flatly said. “That is the nature of my Bestowal. This plan is foolish.”

“Perhaps the Adjutant could see to my defence as I weave sorceries from closer,” the Repentant Magister suggested. “You are well-versed in such duties, Lord Hakram, if I recall correctly?”

Catherine had begun needing a flanker once more since her return from the Everdark, so Nephele Eliade was not wrong. That said, Hakram was by far the most durable of the Named here after the Mirror Knight so frankly speaking he should be at the man’s side when the fae began taking the gloves off instead of out back with the Repentant Magister.

“I am,” Adjutant said. “But we have the advantage of surprise. It would be wasteful not to at least attempt an ambush.”

The Mirror Knight blinked in surprise, while the Blade of Mercy stared at him in undisguised distaste.

“That would be dishonourable,” the redheaded boy told him, as if addressing one slow of wit.

“The Adjutant has it right,” the Vagrant Spear grunted. “You don’t meet a raiding party on open ground, you turn the raid on them.”

“They have the advantage in numbers,” Lady Eliade noted. “It would be wise to try to remedy that as quickly as possible.

“The Levantine and the mage, arguing in favour of ambush,” the Blade of Mercy sneered. “How surprising.”

Christophe of Pavanie straightened.

“No chivalry was offered in the attack, none be offered in the defence,” the Mirror Knight said. “It would be best of the prince could be slain swiftly, the rest might buckle.”

Christophe,” the Blade of Mercy protested.

“Honour offered to the dishonourable is gold tossed into the river,” the Mirror Knight replied. “Both the Adjutant and I can afford a long drop without any trouble, we might as well leap. Sidonia and Antoine flanking the hall, Lady Eliade on the slope overlooking?”

“Agreed,” the Vagrant Spear nodded.

Hakram rumbled in approval himself. Keeping himself and the other heavy back might seem counterintuitive, but that way they’d be able to more easily pick out a fae high noble to tie up. There were mutters of approval from the rest.

“I will go with the Repentant Magister,” the Maddened Keeper said, and none gainsaid her.

With the bare bones of the plan agreed on, all that was left was preparations.

“Gather close,” Nephele Eliade ordered. “And don’t move, it will make laying the enchantments much harder.”

Adjutant had heard much of providence, the golden luck of heroes, but rarely had he wished for its arrival. He did today, though, because if they were to make through this without corpses on the ground a dollop of providence would very much be required.

The first fae to arrive reminded Hakram of a dragonfly.

All shiny carapace in shades of blue and long wings, with a long halberd in her hands, she cast a look around but after a long moment it appeared she could not see through the illusions that the Repentant Magister had woven around the flankers. The Lady of Cooling Nights, Adjutant recognized. Coming after the outrider, the vanguard should be next. The first fae whistled softly, the melody of it haunting, and two more fae slunk in. Though the orc was familiar with the sight of them, their titles remained unknown. Their unnaturally tall bodies and long limbs, though, could not be mistaken – neither could their skin, pale as bone, or the sharp spears of ivory they held. Pale wings bloomed and they scattered upwards, Hakram’s fists tightening against the handle of his axe as he hoped none of the heroes would be spooked into striking too soon. A beat passed and none of them moved, to his relief.

The Prince of Fallen Leaves’ court strolled in afterwards, riding at a leisurely on great white horses. Three lancers of what Adjutant suspected was Autumn’s equivalent to the Immortals of Summer and the Sword of Waning Day for Winter, their scale armour fashioned to look like a thousand fallen leaves but their lances wickedly sharp and their horsemanship unnaturally skillful. Then the Countess of Still Amber, half a statue and dressed in her namesake from head to toe, and the Duchess of Red Sunset – blinding to look at, which had made the Mirror Knight the only one who could withstand her up closer. The company slowed, only to be joined a few moments later by two more fae. The Duke of Unrelenting Landslide, looking like his armour had been carved out of granite by an artist and his massive morningstar hefted over his shoulder, was simply too heavy for a horse to be able to bear him. He towered tall enough he could keep up with the last fae’s mount, however.

The Prince of Fallen Leaves himself was of a dark grey-brown tone, wearing loose court clothes in tones of burnt orange that subtly evoked the membrane of a leaf by the cut and cloth, and on his brow rested a heavy crown of burnished copper. Bearing a slender longsword of what looked like rotting wood, he offered a permanent faint smile under pale orange eyes. Yet for all that the fae looked more like a dandy out on ride than a prince of the fae, Adjutant knew him to be wickedly fast on his feet and seemingly impossible to wound: any cut made on him would begin spilling fallen leaves, as if he were a sack filled with them, until it closed and left no scar behind.  The Lady of Cooling Nights landed at the prince’s feet, kneeling.

“My prince, all the halls seem to lead here,” she reported. “Shall we assemble the court and sally forth?”

They’d split their forces, the orc realized. Given the sometimes maze-like lay of the Arsenal, it made sense that pathfinders would have been needed. Especially if they were after more than the sword made out of the Saint’s corpse, as Hakram suspected they were. The Bard would have needed something to put them in her debt before they came here, or more likely someone. Now was the time to strike, Adjutant thought. Before some fae happened to see through their illusions, and before more of them gathered here. The Mirror Knight might cotton on to that, he considered, but there was one of their company a great deal more used to raids and that was…

The Vagrant Spear blinked into existence, grinning with all her teeth and spear screaming with the Light as it tore right through the Lady of Cooling Nights’ throat.

“Honour to the Blood,” Sidonia of Alava gleefully shouted.

Chaos broke out in the moment that followed, the fae all aflutter at the sudden attack. Adjutant kept a calm eye on the situation, looking for his opening. The Blade of Mercy revealed himself with a hoarse shout, greatsword glinting with Light as it carved through both a lancer and its mount in a single stroke, and a heartbeat later the Repentant Magister fired her sorcery into the mess. The power gathered to strike at their ambushers by the fae, a panoply of titles and abilities, was sucked into a small spinning orb of gold that then blew up in a pulse of pure sorcery at the height of the chest of all those mounted. Only one of the lancers was caught and blown of its mount, the others all dismounting in time, but with that trick Lady Eliade had bought the rest of the band another heartbeat of advantage.

“I will engage the prince,” the Mirror Knight’s voice murmured, though coming from empty air.

Adjutant simply grunted in reply, wary of being overheard himself, but picked his own target before leaping. The whistle of the wind against his face was pleasant, as to his side a thrown spear of ivory struck at what should have been emptiness – but bounced a mirror shield, revealing a steady-eyed Mirror Knight falling with his silver sword already in hand. Below them the tall, pale fae who’d not thrown its spear instead leap up on pale wings and flew towards the Magister. The two remaining lancers were stuck against the side of the hall, moved there impatiently by the greater fae around them as they made room to fight, but already the Duchess of Red Sunset was beginning to emit searing light. Adjutant looked away, guiding his fall with his shield and landing a heartbeat later on the head of the Countess of Still Amber, knocking off her horse in surprise and rolling away before her petrifying curse could begin eating at his boots.

Shield rising as he rose, Adjutant  brought up his axe just in time to strike the side of a massive morningstar as it was swung down at him, pushing the blow to the side enough that it shattered the ground instead of his skull and shoulder.

“You again,” the Duke of Unrelenting Landslide said, voice sounding like a thousand stones grinding against each other. “It seems you did learn to fear your betters last time, orc.”

Hakram Deadhand rolled his shoulder, limbering the muscle he’d almost just pulled, and bared his fangs at his foe.

“Yes,” the Adjutant growled, “let us talk, fae, of betters.”

189 thoughts on “Interlude: Deadhand

  1. Hakram is awesome, as ever.

    Dysfunctional Heroes. That’s no real surprise, especially since it’s Mirror Knight and non-Procerans.

    Still so many questions about the Maddened Keeper.
    But it’s not surprising that she and Hakram aren’t going to get along. It’s an open question as to how she and Cat would get along.

    Liked by 20 people

          1. I’d say more because “the standoffish one is the traitor” is a trope that is at the height of being normally subverted, and in this Very Classic Band of Heroes I’d expect EE to go with that.

            Liked by 2 people

      1. RoflCat

        As the others have said, it’d be too obvious.

        If anything she’s CALLOWAN, she’s more likely to be a reverse Artificer given the nature of the different bands at each location (and the Cath/Hakram as their ‘leader’)
        i.e. She took up the task/role of a traitor Bard set up only to betray Bard at the last second by helping Arsenal because fuck Bard for trying to put Callow in the pit again.

        On that line of thought that there’s someone on each band that’s kind of a mirror of the other…
        Archer – Vagrant Spear. One a free-spirited whimsical person who’s learning to mend the old rift, the other bound by the way of Blood and learning to avoid opening new ones (i.e. that moment with Hakram)
        Maddened Keeper – Poet. One on the merry joy side but likely lacking any deep motives, the other cold and apathetic and you can be sure as hell there’s some hidden final goal she’s aiming for.
        Hakram – Cath. The orderly orc (a rather un-orc like) who lacks the charm to make his band work and the half-drunk Warlord (a very orc title) that strangely charm both enemies and allies.
        Artificer – Magister. Two people who rejected their origins.
        Rogue – Blade. One a man of smoke, mirror and daggers who’s never truly belong in that field but manage by, the other a boy who ‘should’ be at his home in the field but always in over his head.
        Mirror – Monk. One a guy so lacking in self-reflection (yes I’m going to keep using that joke) that he get manipulated by more sinister masterminds, the other a willing backstabber.

        Probably pushing it, but it’s two Band of Fives so there’s probably always going to be some alignment somewhere.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Cicero

    I love how the Adjutant cannot help himself, he has to try and fix things, just a little. And I also like how the Spear and the Repentant Magister both have started to realize that he is the effective leader of their party.

    Liked by 16 people

      1. Oshi

        Like a bear herding cubs. I’m just surprised they are so…inexperienced. It’s been a few year’s. Although tbf the three in the group who’ve spent actual time with people of real skill are more self aware then the two who are not.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          Cat doing a good impression of Dead King is probably giving an accurate read. He’s a great weapon, but Mirror Knight is the type who gets pointed in a direction and told to kick ass. He’s very good at that, and not very experienced at much else. Has likely fallen into the trap of assuming that as the best ass-kicker he’s the best leader.

          Liked by 4 people

        2. LarsBlitzer

          It’s one of the drawbacks of being on the side of Light: Providence is a crutch, so the limp is very noticeable to others who haven’t had the benefit of Above keeping their thumb on the scales. The Heroes may not even see it as such, just that it’s “The natural order of things” or some such bullshit. At least, until there’s something that can block it and I’ve got a suspicion that either Dead King or the Fae would have some sort of counter or be able to nullify it. A blindfold for the gods, in way. We’ll see that particular rug pulled out from under them soon enough. The schadenfreude will be palpable.

          Liked by 2 people

    1. “He’s the sinister villain henchman of the treacherous Black Queen! We must be wary of him backstabbing us and turning us against each other!”

      Hakram: “They call this a Band of Five? I’d better give them a little help…”

      <an hour later> “WTF, he’s resolving our conflicts? And our leader’s asking him for advice?”

      Liked by 8 people

              1. That’s why I’ve been teaching mine that its proper name is autocowreck. 😉

                Frankly, I don’t do comment sections on my iPad if I can help it — that, and the number of taps it takes to do italics or the like.

                Like

  3. IDKWhoitis

    So im just going to bet on Masego getting the last interlude before Cat jumps back in. Alternatively, we can take a peak at what Black is up to…. (yes wishful thinking on my part).

    Also, I’m suspicious of the Keeper, but I don’t think she is a traitor. At least not with the Bard. She might be a Cat’s paw for DK or some other agenda.

    The distinct lack of reaction from Hakrams Name suggests either this is an asynchronous time line, or Cat isn’t close to dead. He would have felt something was wrong otherwise…

    Liked by 12 people

          1. talenel

            From Book 6 Chapter 14

            ” 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. “

            Liked by 9 people

    1. I’d boldly guess “close” doesn’t even register for him anymore.

      He’d probably know if she was ACTUALLY dead though, which rules out a couple of possibilities (in a synchronous timeline anyway).

      Liked by 5 people

    1. Big I

      “Towers” became popular amongst Wasteland elite after Hakram became the Adjutant. From there it spread to all the people spying on the Wasteland, like the Tyrant. MKs probably using some oracle BS though.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    an arms > an arm
    even the wake > even in the wake
    would digging > would be digging
    enough the > enough of the
    court actively spiting (strange wording. maybe “actively court her spite” or “be actively spiting it”)
    sparse > parse
    mortals mind > mortal minds
    much, they’d > much; they’d
    In a senses > In a sense (though maybe you should remove it, since “in the sense” appears later in the sentence)
    back of band > back of the band
    carved form > carved from
    best of the > best if the
    make through > make it through
    at a leisurely (missing word)
    Adjutant brought up (extra space)

    Liked by 4 people

  5. So of course we jump to the other storyline, I know is necesary and all but i think Erra still derives some twisted sadistic pleasure in making us sweat to know what happened to Cat.

    Someone said the Maddened Keeper is too obvious a traitor, i think that even if she is not a traitor she is a ticking time bomb planted to explode.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Actually to me Keeper seems like one of the more stable/reliable members of this band. She’s mostly unwilling to take part in what’s going on, but the 2.5 things she DOES do, she does well.

      And it’s not ‘twisted sadistic pleasure’… well, it is, but that kind is just called “good writing”.

      If we found out it was a fakeout immediately, the whole thing would be MUCH less immersive and would give us much less understanding of what the context and impact of Cat’s plan (whatever it is) is.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. To me she is either the representation of “things was not meant to know” ready to explode, or the tragic heroine that will suffer because of her powers, also there are many demon things implied with her, nothing good can come out of it.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. superkeaton

    Hakram a best. And I love that he can’t stand how disorganized the group is, how inefficient. It reminds me of Black. The Keeper’s a weird one. She seems to have some kind of clarity, like the Tyrant’s Wish, but I’m not sure what she actually does. Also, lol, Mirror lost some of his powers cause he fucked. Indrani would make total sport out of him.

    Liked by 11 people

        1. Tom

          Sometimes I wonder if you work as an assistant to EE or something, because the number of little details you recall is kind of ridiculous XD

          Like

      1. caoimhinh

        I think that’s a reference to the Arthurian Legend.
        Christophe had an oath of celibate like the one Lancelot had. Which made him stronger so long as he was a virgin. In Lancelot’s case it was physical prowess and skill while Christophe’s case seemed to be immunity to Glamour.

        Lancelot, like Christophe, was associated with the Faerie/Elfin Dame of the Lake (such that Lancelot was called Lancelot du Lac, meaning Lancelot of the Lake) and he is said to have weakened after he broke his vow of chastity either in sleeping with Elaine (mother of his son Galahad) or Guinevere (King Arthur’s wife).

        I wonder if Christophe will also cause the downfall of a principate due to that affair, lol.

        Liked by 4 people

    1. Well, she is a living seal on Hell Egg, which seems that her Role must be Containment. She is a metaphorical lid on the Can of Evil, and her presence here means that something soon will need to be contained

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Oshi

        Also pertinent is that she seems to be able to use the power of what she contains Naruto style. I’m wondering if she is meant to die and blow up the arsenal as another contingency.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Agent J

      The girl in question is trying to get him to betray the entire Drow race, their goddesses, and the Black Queen. She’s bad for his powers and super bad for his health.

      Liked by 14 people

    2. laguz24

      You know that brings me to a question if I were a group of immortal powerful beings and I had the power to grant heroism to mortals why on earth would I make those powers contingent based on not doing one of the most common acts associated with mortals, serious design flaw.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Proof of willpower and ability for self-sacrifice, I imagine. Go against your basic instincts and such. Plus I sense it is much more predicated on cultural belief, rather than common sense. Procer has an influential House of Light, which seem to be very much a Catholic Church, if with less pedophilia, it kinda feets that Heroes of Procer should be aspiring to an ideal preached by the House. You don’t see Levantine Heroes have powers contingent on not having sex, although I imagine their obsession with honor and such can’t be broken without consequences easily.

        Liked by 9 people

      2. thearpox23

        Because some of the strongest powers draw their strength from sacrifice or struggle? And even outside of narrativium logic such sacrifices are a proof of commitment to a cause. And besides besides that said immortal beings don’t even necessarily have the mortals best interests in mind, so things going tits up isn’t necessarily even a flaw.

        Liked by 5 people

      3. That’s a reference to real-world magical/religious tradition:
        1) Personal taboos in general are an old and wisespread tradition for generating power or maintaining a consecrated state. My go-to example is the Jewish laws — not just the dietary rules, but the various other prohibitions like mixed fabrics and (male) homosexuality. Pop-sociology aside, those laws are explicitly stated to set Jews apart as the Chosen People of their god.
        2) Sex in particular is very magical, so sexual taboos (both private and public) have inordinate power. The priestly chastity of Catholicism is the classic example there, but there are innumerable other examples in anthropology and sociology. This is also why so many people get crazy when the subject of homosexuality comes up, or for that matter any unfamiliar sexual practices.

        Liked by 2 people

    3. speakup

      MK broke his vows, and so lost (some?) of his powers.

      >Kaleidoscope VI
      >Sidonia, as the other Chosen insisted they all call her in private, seemed unruffled by the darkness besieging them. Christophe admired this greatly, as she had been returned from the side of the Gods Above for nary an hour. The Pilgrim’s power had breathed life back into her still body so recently, yet she returned to their holy struggle without hesitation. The strength of her resolve was worthy of praise. No all the Grey Pilgrim had returned had been so unflinching in their devotion. There was no trace of daze and confusion in her eyes, only certainty, and the Mirror Knight wrestled with the strange thing that was attraction towards a Levantine. Had his vows not forbidden it… He cleared his throat, cheeks flashing with embarassment.”

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Shit, that is quite important and also explains a lot. All this time guy was going through puberty. Now here’s a clue as to why he annoys people so. Even I see a bit of myself in him.

        This is why taking an oath of chastity before thoroughly enjoying sex is an idea almost sure to backfire.

        Liked by 3 people

    4. I don’t think we’ve seen any sign that he actually lost too much of his powers, and he’s certainly still pretty badass. We saw that he took some random noble’s daughter as a lover, with no hint that the encounter in question was a “Betrayed My Name” thing.

      At a guess, he had an oath of chastity which granted him immunity to glamour, but lost it offscreen, allowing him to sleep around without further consequence — or the protection may have been broken otherwise. Also, the Vagrant Spear is an asshole. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He didn’t lost much, he probably lost exactly what he gained by an oath of chastity plus maybe interest.

        Also Vagrant Spear probably was after his chastity too, at least at some point, but apparently lost.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Xinci

          I mean him breaking that oath and his whole general weak spots being a mix of arrogance and ignorance paints a pretty good picture of how he could die. To have broken an oath at all is rather important

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Also, there’s the question of just how he came to break that oath, given the stakes… and the point that the oaths came with an immunity to magical manipulation. I’ll eat a virtual hat if neither the Dead King nor the Bard was involved with that.

            Like

          2. I doubt he broke his oath to get some though. I am pretty sure there are feelings involved.

            It’s just… I’ve been thinking about, and I can’t really hate Mirror now. His everything paints picture of a confused teenager trying his best. However unlike Cat (which is kinda arrogant of her not to notice) he never had a patient dedicated mentor to clean up and pick things up after him.

            He is literally and figuratively thrown at the deep end of the well and just kinda expected to behave, but never explained how or why he is wrong. I wrote this somewhere down in the comments, but the reaction of heroes to him is one of annoyed tolerance. He is not loved nor liked, but he is strong so he is used. Literally the only hero that actually looks up to him is another confused teenager from Procer.

            To have broken an oath is important, but, as with Lancelot, I think it’s more of a tragic love story.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Well, Cat HAS already had the realization that nobody ever bothered to explain things to him.

              She’s seriously failing to really take into account the headstart Black gave her, it’s true. Check your privilege and all that XD

              Liked by 1 person

    5. caoimhinh

      It was the same as Lancelot du Lac.
      Having sex weakened him after breaking his vow of chastity, and his affair with King Arthur’s wife condemned the Kingdom of Camelot to ruin, with everyone involved either dead or in a life of sadness after the event.
      Definitely not worth it.

      But hey, as colloquial wisdom in Latin-America puts it: “an erect dick believes in no God”.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Yeah well, now that I thought about it, Lancelot didn’t fuck Guinevere because his balls itched, it was a tragic forbidden love and a choice between a love and an oath.

        Given the obvious parallels between Mirror and Lancie, there’s love involved too, only from his side. And to choose maybe love over his oaths requires nexperience and general lack of love in his life. First is a given, but second is quite a curious revelation.

        I know most people here have a zero tolerance policy towards Heroes, but they are humans too.

        Liked by 2 people

            1. I doubt Mirror is conceited like that to care about titles an whatnot. It’s just plan inexperience in any kind of (sexual) relationship. Some things you just can’t learn without repeatedly screwing up.

              Or maybe I am just an idiot and everyone else never did something stupid when it comes to sex and love.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. I’m pretty sure he is. At least, if they are Proceran titles.

                Remember, this is also the guy who has repeatedly tried to justify atrocities committed by Procer against other countries because they were committed by Procer, which automatically makes them the right thing to have done. To people from (or closely aligned with) those places victimized by Procer.

                There’s a reason basically all of the non-Proceran Heroes don’t like him as a person.

                Liked by 3 people

              2. Though he is a naive and clueless idiot, I’ll agree with that.

                I’m not saying that her being the daughter of a Prince was the single most important deciding factor in his decision to break his oath and have sex with her, but it most assuredly helped.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Quite honestly I attribute it to the fact that he was in a war last few years, constantly on the frontlines, constantly risking his life in the thick of it.

                  Princess only got to him because she was near and shrewd enough to exploit his need to intimacy.

                  Or maybe she loves him too, heck.

                  Like

              3. It’s not a matter of “never did something stupid”, but we’re watching the story-patterns here.

                Someone compared him to Lancelot — but Lancelot was in love with Arthur’s queen, and IIRC that had been set up from their first meeting. I remember a notable bit of slapstick (from de Troyes?) where when he first comes to Camelot, he has to fight another knight in the courtyard… but he’s considerably hampered by craning his neck to look at Gwenevere, who’s watching the fight from a palace window. That’s some serious Story!

                We haven’t seen anything like that for the Mirror Knight (and that would have been sufficient reason in itself to give him a POV Interlude!). It’s not at all clear to me that a some random princess who hadn’t previously shown up in the main story, would have enough weight to break Mirror Knight’s oaths. I mean, she’s not even a King’s daughter, just that of one of the many Proceran Princes. How does she get to hamstring one of the top Heroes of the region?

                Like

                1. Eh, I would not call Mirror Knight one of the top Heroes.

                  That said, as for how/why she pulled off seducing him offscreen … we don’t know much about the plot to betray the deal made with the Drow other than that it exists and she was trying to recruit Mirror Knight to it. It is entirely in character with Procer, so it could be entirely homegrown.
                  On the other hand, Malicia could be trying to discretely help it along to cause problems for the Alliance.
                  Or, Bard could be involved because the deal would presumably involve peace between the Drow and Procer … it would be a massive change in the status quo in all the wrong ways for Bard. She could well be trying to push along the betrayal with the intent to take out the Dead King and replace him with the Drow as far as the rest of Calernia is concerned.

                  Plus, he’s stupid, and has an extra helping of Proceran arrogance. She’s a Proceran noble, the daughter of a Prince. He grew up a sickly weakling.
                  Also, he’s young, dumb, and full of cum. So to speak. In addition to all of the other factors.

                  Liked by 1 person

                2. Maybe the reason it wasn’t shown was because it’s important reveal later on. It is gradually hinted at, but as with any proper foreshadowing, you can dismiss the hints at first as unimportant.

                  How does she get to indeed. Personally I hold to “wrong place, wrong time” theory. As in, she isn’t special, just lucky. War can be pretty taxing mentally. And Sidonia was with Archer at the time. I am shipping them now, after rereading Kaleidoscope. After initial vows are broken, he has less reason not to pursue Vagrant Spear, while she slowly founds herself jealous of whatever lucky wrench that got to him first. There is some good love story buried there somewhere.

                  Liked by 1 person

                    1. Well, stories have to be realistic. Even if nothing Named is accidental, it still has to look like it. The are limits to providence and it can’t rewrite reality, as Black had been demonstrating over sixty years by now.

                      Liked by 1 person

            2. WealthyAardvark

              The Prince of Cleves had at least two sons during the prologue of Book 6. But it’s been two years of war since then, who knows if they still live?

              Liked by 1 person

        1. I think it only made him immune to magical manipulation. Plain old psychological manipulation of an inexperienced virgin by an attractive person trained in politicking? It was probably child’s play for the princess

          Liked by 4 people

    1. thearpox23

      And it is interesting to see the difference in their dysfunctionality.

      In Cat’s case they just forgoed the synergy and decided to bank on their two heavy-weights to carry, trusting themselves to not only handle the fae but ALSO any knife in their back.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. IMHO there are three principle differences at the core of it:

        1) Cat’s more meta aware, while Hakram works more with the object level. He thinks “gee this will take a lot of providence” while Cat would probably be like “yep the more dysfunctional they are the more providence they get, this looks like a very potent mixture”;

        2) Hakram works through low key subtlety, guiding the currents, while Catherine just makes her own… and doesn’t really have the capacity for subtlety. Hakram can join different conversations without immediately derailing them completely, Catherine naturally makes everything about herself just by being in the vicinity. She wouldn’t either need to or have the capacity to work with nuances of who defers to who and who seems to want to fuck who. With her around… well, what Hakram commented on Maddened Keeper not providing would be in place;

        3) This band is actually meant to work straightforwardly, while Cat’s band had an undefined (three, apparently) number of traitors in it. The only real “band” part was her and Roland, with the two of them keeping a wary eye out for everyone else. She even split the party with an eye to who is likely to reveal themselves where rather than anything to do with combat effectiveness.

        Liked by 11 people

          1. SpacyRicochet

            Liliet means that Cat picked Roland as the definite not-traitor that could help her suss out the actual traitors.

            The other three were maybe-traitors, of which we now appear to have two actual-traitors and one manipulated-but-not-a-traitor.

            Liked by 9 people

            1. …I didnt even realize there was a reading of what i wrote where it parsed lmao

              it parses, but actually i just wrote ‘three’ instead of ‘two’ because ????

              Like

      1. It also just may be that EE wanted an excuse to do interludes (which are much more numerous lately and tangle wider array of characters, compared to first books) and since he kinda established that interludes are used when Cat is somehow incapacitated (i.e. hanging on a cliff), he has to pretend to kill her off.

        On the other hand, so much harder it would strike if Cat would he much more permanently incapacitated. Her disappearance for a long period of time would be interesting influence on character dynamic. For one, once she would be gone, everyone will understand how useful she was and wish her back.

        Liked by 6 people

          1. Autocorrect, although quite honestly it’s mostly blatant apathy, because I usually can’t be bothered to proofread my comments. The longer they are, the less I am inclined 😉

            Liked by 1 person

  7. Okay, so thoughts:

    Archer is getting *respect*, respect. Makes a story involving her defying Ranger all the more likely.

    Hakram is best boy, as always.

    I’m concerned for the Magister. Hakram seems to approve of her becoming a consort to Cat, and by extension a moral anchor, but I don’t know if she survives this situation. It’d be a shame, considering she and Adjutant would make a fine angel and devil (also funny since both are slightly shifted towards center on morality, if from opposite sides).

    The Keeper is… concerning. The overarching story has plenty of individuals with knowledge of things they should not know that manage to hold on to their minds, so what is it exactly that makes the Keeper the Keeper? A bound demon? A direct oath to a Choir? Both? She seems the obvious traitor, but that’s a cord that’s been pulled more than a few times in recent chapters, so it’d be kind of disappointing here.

    The Blade of Mercy might be a traitor. He’s simple, and honorable, but he’s of the old breed of heroes; the kind that most trust tje Bard.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. On the other hand, didn’t Cat already collected all the traitors? Why would you need more? Heroes seem perfectly disfunctional to screw things up without an overarching grand masterplan. In fact, this is why they are here. Betrayal can be predicted and prepared for, as we’ve seen with Cat, but plain human stupidity, just like Gods, works in mysterious ways, and can blindside you even more.

      Keeper is the Named analogy of radioactive waste disposal site. She does not know things she shouldn’t know because they would be useful, she knows them because noone else can know them, and it would be hard to dispose of said secrets. In short, they may not even be overly useful secrets, or secrets that can be controlled with any degree of moderation. They are just too dangerous, and that is only thing that matters. I assume she is here at the very best, as contingency for the worst case scenario, if Arsenal goes caboomey. Worst case scenario is that something is very much planned to go caboomey and she is there to contain the aftermath. She seems kinda as a goat’s fifth leg, because her purpose is yet to come.

      Blade of Mercy is inherently incapable of any kind of deceit, he is so much not a traitor. He may have been worked on and influenced by Bard, but he is not a traitor in the sense of the word.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. See, that’s how traitors get the protag in stories like this, especially when there’s been confirmation of more than one. There’s always that one extra lurking in the background, waiting for their moment or their master’s signal.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dunno, feels like overplaying a trope. I wrote already about that kind of one-upping in previous chapters, but “always one more traitor” gets a tad repetitive after a while. From both narrative and inverse standpoint much more effective to create an illusion of “always one more” to keep both the target and readers on edge, guessing and paranoid, without investing more resources into actual traitors. With a heavy sack of human stupidity ready to smack you while you search the shadows.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. I honestly kind of hope you’re right. It might just be that I find Blade kind of annoying and Keeper is a fantastic example of an inherently unnerving character. This just also feels like the kind of story where tropes get overplayed intentionally for meta reasons.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. The situation also doesn’t call for that kind of overplaying.

              Now if it was Tyrant they were against, I would expect backstabbing chairs and eavesdropping pillows, who are secretly gargoyles. And there is just always one more. Just as you killed everyone around you, you realise that you were traitor to yourself all along.

              Liked by 9 people

      2. Interesting take on the Keeper, though I’d think being a living seal for a demon would be enough to make anybody insane. I still want to know what kind of demon that was.

        Regarding the traitors, someone commented on a previous chapter that if there’s at least two, then there’s probably five. Perhaps a pseudo-band of five people actually working for the Bard, plus an unknown number of dupes.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. It’s just, being only a living seal doesn’t fit. It’s a very impressive feat which kinda ends the story. Now the question is, which story was ended, a story of a Maddened Keeper, or a person she was before? Either she wouldn’t had a Role after that, retiring in obscurity like a used Mcguffin, or she would gain a calling from that, using her experience to actively pursue similar things and keep them away from the world.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. It seems clear that she did gain or advance the calling she now has. Sealing the demon might well have represented the completion of her Name (perhaps her third aspect), and/or her graduation from a transitional Name.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. thearpox23

              So do we think it is the demon of Absense that she sealed? Because that would make her possibly the only person with memories of that time the Woe and 14 heroes teamed up to contain the egg.

              Like

                1. thearpox23

                  1: A name with a thirst for information comes along for the Crusade
                  2: A hell egg appears and she comes along
                  3: Things get out of hand
                  4: She glomps the egg, becoming the Maddened Keeper
                  5: Now everyone remembers her as the Maddened Keeper all along

                  Usually when I make a point I have some sort of evidence to back up my claim, but this is just pure speculation in this case. You’re right that we have very little to go on. The whole thing reminds me of the companions you can recruit in Sunless Sea.

                  Liked by 2 people

              1. Well, if they remember the Woe joining in the fight, that’s a problem. 😉 Cat tipped off the heroes to the Egg’s existence and location, as a show of good faith. But she and the Woe stayed the Hell away from it, while Pilgrim assured them “don’t worry, we have ways to deal with that”.

                I was thinking Absence from the way the Keeper could soak up magical doom; Liliet seems to think is was Madness, which is plausible given she’s the Maddened Keeper. I’ve come to think that it’s simply “not yet revealed”.

                Narratively, Rogue Sorcerer had a “mysterious” tag — he was one of the few major players where we hadn’t seen their origin and aspects. EE seems to be stripping away that tag, so he may have wanted to transfer it to a new character.

                Like

                1. thearpox23

                  I deduced that they joined in the fight from the way Catherine’s memories were wonky during the Battle of the Camps. It’s not a great leap of logic to assume that whatever they planned, things somehow escalated and the Woe got involved.

                  Like

                  1. The thing is, they’d at least remember going there, and both sides were pretty clear that the villains didn’t want to get near the thing, while the heroes were perfectly happy to go smite a demon. And hey, they only lost a couple out of more than a dozen. (Did anyone figure out which Names got disappeared?)

                    Cat’s headache and some of the memory issues could adequately be explained by two of the heroes getting disappeared. Other memory issues would be covered by, you know, Winter Fae overdrive, getting hammered into a coma (I forget the exact details) and then possessed by Akua.

                    An aside: They say that as you get older, memory is the second thing to go… I forget what the first thing was. 😉

                    Liked by 1 person

      3. WealthyAardvark

        There’s probably at least one more traitor around. Consider Chapter 14: Audience
        ———-
        “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.”
        ——
        The Mirror Knight is speaking in anger, and does not strike me as a skilled liar. The ‘friend’ was the one who told his group that the Red Axe was going to be murdered by Cat. Cat notes that such a message would almost certainly have had to have been sent before the Wicked Enchanter died.

        Unless this plot is horribly convoluted, the ‘friend’ wouldn’t be the Poet. He literally just arrived as part of the group. Conceivably the Bard could have told him to lie and say he received a message from the Arsenal, but like I said: convoluted.

        The Fallen Monk was technically in the Arsenal before the killing, but for like at most half of an hour. Not enough time for it to be significantly before the murder as to allow the Mirror Knight’s group to arrive when it did. Also, as far as we know he wields no magic or miracles to pass a message with.

        No, more likely there’s a traitor among the 10 Named who are permanently based in the Arsenal. Cat noted in Chapter 15 that most of these Named would have likely have a way to communicate with the outside world outside of official channels.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I agree with TeK here (that seems to happen a lot lately, huh). This band’s narrative thread is not about any of them being traitors, it’s about them being fucking idiots yet somehow bumbling their way through fights anyway – ie your typical DnD party. Keeper is… I like the ‘radioactive waste disposal site’ analogy, though I’d argue her propensity for knowing secrets is less to do with every secret she finds being too dangerous for everyone else, and more with a built-in radar for finding bad shit so she can take it in if necessary. She’s containment/deathtouch/seer… huh. Three Aspects, huh.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. That’s very likely, honestly. But going with the DnD party metaphor, Blade of Mercy feels a little like the character played by the dudebro that’s on his phone the whole time, so more than a little bit of my suspicion might be coming from annoyance.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Cicero

          It is possible that Blade of Mercy is the “traitor” due to being an idiot rather than due to a reasoned decision to betray the alliance.

          It could be as simple as him thinking Bard = Hero = Good and trustworthy, and Catherine = Villain = Bad and untrustworthy and not taking the time to consider that Catherine is their ally against the Dead King and that thus any plot attacking Cat is helping the Dead King.

          Basically he’s just Lawful Stupid, not crafty betrayer.

          Liked by 3 people

  8. "help" bleh.

    “You again,” Parahumans 2 said, voice sounding like a boring convoluted unreadable mess. “It seems you did learn to fear your betters last time, orc.”
    Hakram Deadhand rolled his shoulder, limbering the muscle he’d almost just pulled, and bared his fangs at his foe.
    “Yes,” the Adjutant growled, “let us talk, of voting on topwebfiction.com.”

    topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=a-practical-guide-to-evil

    Like

    1. You know, putting down other stories doesn’t make this one look better, it makes it look like pgte can’t stand on its own merit without you defending it. Which isn’t the case, this is easily my favorite web novel, and one of my favorite stories ever. But seriously, the people who are going to be mad about PH2 beating Guide in rankings (if it is) will be mad without your reminder, and anybody who likes both stories will just be annoyed. Either way, probably not actually going to inspire enough people to vote to make a difference. Also, that’s just a particularly uninspired example of a quote reminder. I tend to be in favor of them, as being at least theoretically more interesting than a simple link but if you’re going to go to the effort of picking out and altering a quote, try to actually make it good.

      Thanks for the link though. Ironically, I’m going to vote when I usually wouldn’t bother, mostly because I don’t usually feel like putting in the effort. But, since I’m already putting in the effort of critiquing your comment, I may as well.

      … I’m probably going to regret making this comment when I wake up tomorrow, but for now I’m too tired and grumpy to care.

      Liked by 5 people

  9. “One hundred and twenty-five: under no circumstances should you trust anyone who has the title of chancellor, vizier or duke. While they will always be powerful and competent, keep in mind they will also inevitably turn out to be in some way treacherous.”

    Now it just may be my CK2 infested brain, but I just can’t reconcile duke and chancellor/vizier as a the same category of titles. Mainly because chancellor is a function and duke is rank, for the lack of better explanation. Evil Chancellor is very much a trope, evil duke is not so much, and mostly because they double as a chancellor, given that it is usually a duke who is powerful enough vassal in a Kingdom to be granted such title and oh my god where am I going with it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Earl ofPurple

      Dukes are as high as you can get before you hit royalty. If someone is plotting in a Good aligned kingdom like Callow, the dukes have the best chance of replacing the rightful king. Particularly since many dukes have more than a smidgen of royal blood.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. I usually play marriage game as a duke, without going for more land or higher titles for myself. It’s more fun this way. By the time you are able to give away viceroyalties, game loses any challenge.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Decius

          I’m currently trying to expand the Mali Empire and West African Reformed faith as much as possible without declaring war myself or changing religion or culture.

          I’ve had some success acquiring heirs in raids, converting them during childhood, and then releasing them to inherit. I’ve had more success with my vassal kings declaring holy wars that my raiding retinue wins, but that’s started to make them think they could take the throne.

          Eldership succession lets me arrange for said kings to inherit the empire title, then spin off their (former) kingdom as a viceroyalty.

          Like

  10. Sir Nil

    Odd that Hakram had his interlude first, though that pretty much confirms that Cats not dead. If she is, then the Adjutant would’ve felt something and we would’ve gotten his perspective of it. Unless we have another Hakram interlude later on.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Oshi

        Nah, Hakram is very self ware. It’s his whole being. You can’t be that devoid of emotions and stay sane without knowing where things are coming from. Cat wasn’t the source of his unease the band was. He’d feel it if she was dead for good.

        Liked by 6 people

  11. Aotrs Commander

    “Honour to the dishonourable is like gold thrown into a river.”

    *slow clap*

    Christophope, that is geuniely the first smart thing you have ever said, in tandem with not dismissing ambushes for the sake of pride, basically. There’s almost help for you yet.

    Liked by 9 people

      1. Aotrs Commander

        Thgere is ZERO chance of me getting attached; this is literally the first thing I’ve ever seen him do that doesn’t instantly make me want to see him die anyway. But apparently, even a stopped clock can be right occasionally.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Now that is a little too mean. Sure he isn’t a nicest man alive, but many of his failing are a consequence of upbringing and ignorance. Not a failure of character.

          Besides, as he continues to be used by everyone around him, without real respect (even heroes apparently view him only as a particularly tough brick to be thrown at opposition), I kinda feel sorry for him.

          No wonder when someone pretended to see him as a person he was willing to break his oath of chastity. Yet he was being used once again.

          Liked by 4 people

  12. ArkhonIX

    I know this is unrelated t9 this specific chapter, but O bring it up because it is relevant overall. Do you think it is possible that Catherine isn’t supposed to be resurrected, and is going to have to pull a Triumphant (May she never return) and fight her way through hell to get back?

    Like

  13. Darkening

    The entire woe shipping cat with nephele is just adorable. I look forward to seeing masego commenting on it in some vague fashion next interlude lol. The header about treacherous dukes is interesting considering we’re introduced to a Duke and a duchess at the end of the chapter. Wonder how they’ll prove treacherous.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Captain Amazing

    Didn’t Hanno say something about his people being invulnerable so long as they were bickering? Telling the Spear they’ll have time afterwards is like loudly declaring your imminent retirement. Warlock said something similar to Masego before he died. Hakram moved unresolved sexual tension into a tragic love interest plot. He hanged a subtle red flag on the Vagrant Spear. The Blade of Mercy’s jackassery actually helps alleviate this at the end but the Spear is still the most vulnerable. Might be I’m reading too much into this.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. laguz24

      That was when the tyrant was going all Saturday morning cartoon villain here not this fae invasion which is about as serious as you can get. In an absurd adventure comedic bickering keeps you alive in this bickering is what gets you killed. Also for the remainder, possibly but I don’t know enough but I would say you have caught a bad case of shipping goggles.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Hakram literally said the squabbling between MK and VS was probably something to do with sex. I don’t know that trusting the current narrator’s judgment is the same as wearing shipping goggles. You could argue that Hakram is wrong, but even then, that would imply that HE’S the one wearing the goggles, not commenters who believe him (what would they be wearing? Unreliable narrator blinders? That’s a pretty clunky term, there has to be a better one…)

        Liked by 2 people

      2. There’s also the point that Hakram isn’t actually one of them, rather he’s Cat’s agent, so he might in fact be sabotaging them on the story level. I’ve seen at least one person going “oh, Hakram doesn’t attend to that sort of stuff”, but that smells to me of “big dumb orc”, and as Keeper pointed out (while staying well clear of the others!), the Adjutant may be big, but he ain’t dumb. Not to mention that he is the Name-bonded second to the greatest mortal storyworker of the age….

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Earl of Purple

      Hanno’s band in the Free Cities was invulnerable so long as they were bickering because that was Champion and Hedge Witch good-naturedly bantering about how ghosts work and basically a scholar getting frustrated by the barbarian misunderstanding everything. That put them in ‘comic relief’ territory and ensured they matched the tone set by the Tyrant of Helike.

      This isn’t that kind of bickering. This is nearly meanspirited and a sign of tension underneath the surface that might come to the surface with unfortunate consequences.

      Liked by 4 people

  15. WealthyAardvark

    It occurs to me that it’s a very good thing that Cat set up the Adjutant to accompany this band of five, and that Hakram is doing his best to help it function.

    After the Mirror Knight got out of the lockdown he and his fellows were subjected to, someone influenced him to assemble this band and then go to the Miscellaneous Stacks. The Exalted Poet no longer accompanies them, so it’s not like they ran there immediately after being cleared by the scrying of the White Knight and picked up whoever they ran into along the way to fill out the band.

    The planned story that Cat deduced the Bard had set up was that the Mirror Knight would confront the Black Queen, evidence of an evil plot surrounding her, and the conflict would escalate into a full civil war between all of the Heroes and Villains in the Arsenal. After the conflict started all 12 heroes would be involved, way too many to qualify as a band of five even with the Sixth Ranger taken into account.

    That is to say: this band was assembled by the Bard and her traitors to perform a single mission! They’re not *meant* to be functional in even the medium term, let alone the long term. Cat has repurposed the band for her narrative, but she never got the chance to assess its strength and see how brittle it is.

    So please, Hakram, do what you can to grease the workings of this band, lest the wheels fall off of Cat’s plan.

    Liked by 1 person

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