Interlude: Knock Them Down

“The henhouse stands unlatched
All within, by the fox snatched
So here they go, once again
Chasing a red tail into the glen
 
But we know, oh we know,
That in the woods, the fox is king
Yes we know, oh we know
That in the woods, the fox is king
 
Run the hounds, rides the hunter
His spear in hand, banner aflutter
Charging that way, this one baying
Trampling the paths, again raging
 
But we know, oh we know,
That in the woods, the fox is king
Yes we know, oh we know
That in the woods, the fox is king
 
Over the hills, across the glade
Where the sun rests in the shade
He hides and waits, until the day
When the hunts are chased away
 
For we know, oh we know
That in the woods, the fox is king
Yes we know, oh we know
That in the woods, the fox is king.”
-“The Fox in the Woods”, a Callowan rebel song from the latter years of the Proceran occupation

The Wandering Bard set down her card with telltale nonchalance, to the side of the three affrays that had already been opened. Though there had once been many appearances for this one for hundreds years now one had come to dominate all the others: a dark and faceless woman, holding a red banner, and at her feet letters were written large – TRIUMPH. The Empress. The Bard withdrew her hand and smiled, gesturing for her opponent to act in turn.

“Silence?” the Black Queen said. “That’s a new one for you.”

“I have not a single new game,” the Intercessor smiled. “Only a legion of old ones, given fresh faces.”

“Stingy,” the orphan queen complained. “You haven’t revealed who it is that’s the little helper you’ve still got running around the place, either.”

The Miscellaneous Stacks had burned, but before that those who dwelled within had been forced to slumber by a gaseous poison. The hand that’d opened those bottles had yet to be revealed.

“You still go about this as if you were a general, Catherine,” the Bard said. “Seeing battles and sending soldiers out to fight them until some nebulous war can be won.”

“Doing it all wrong, am I?” the Black Queen mused. “By all means, Marguerite, educate me.”

“Your teacher, in truth, is a finer hand at this than any might suspect,” the Wandering Bard said. “So I shall borrow his words, spoken once to another: it is all objects in motion, Catherine. If you can see the trajectories of the spheres in the void, all that is required from you is the first nudge.”

“Been talking to him?” the woman who had once been a girl said.

Even as the words left her lips, she grew vexed. The airiness she had affected as she spoke had been too sweet on the tongue for either of them to swallow it.

“He has no use for the likes of me, that enterprising blackguard,” the Intercessor said. “But he seems to be having a great deal of fun out there, having every part the Wasteland hacking at the other as they try to catch his shadow.”

“How pleasant for him,” the tired general replied.

“But look at me, jabbering on about things so very far way,” the Bard said, salting the wound. “It is your turn to lead the dance, Catherine.”

“I’m just biding my time,” the Black Queen shrugged.

“Archer is bleeding,” the Wandering Bard told her. “Adjutant is spent.”

“When you came up,” the woman who had once been a girl said, eyes sharp, “it was alone, wasn’t it? You weren’t part of a band.”

“Stories were not as… forgiving, back then,” the Intercessor said, half a concession. “But I have been part of many bands, Catherine.”

“No,” the Black Queen quietly said, “you haven’t. Not in the way that really matters.”

“Do you think I’ve never loved?” the Intercessor disdainfully said. “That I’ve never craved, never lost? I am more human than anyone ever has been, or ever will be. All that is it to be that, I have been a thousand times over.”

She leaned forward, a flush to her cheek that had nothing to do with drink.

“When I tell you that loves fucks always fucks you over, I no not speak in contempt or in ignorance,” the Intercessor said. “I speak, Catherine Foundling, from pity.”

The Black Queen, her hand certain and her fingers deft, place a single black pawn on the table from the shatranj she had stripped bare.

“One,” the Queen of Lost and Found stated.

Her mind thrummed with an old song, the beat of it eerily resonant.

“You still believe they can’t be touched just because you love them,” the Wandering Bard said, almost disbelieving. “You cannot be that naïve. That is not trust, it is fantasy.”

“It’s fine line, between that and faith,” Catherine Foundling said.

“The game goes on, whether you play it or not,” Marguerite said, eyes moving to the wooden pawn painted black with something like wariness. “Whatever else you might be playing.”

She slid a card above the Chariot, obscuring it. A man holding a broken scepter, at his side a golden cup filled to the brim: the Magician.

“Why now,” the Black Queen murmured, “that’s almost an admission, isn’t it?”

“I will not hold your hand through all of this,” the Bard chided.

“That’s fine,” Catherine said. “I’ve got better uses for mine.”

A card was gently placed atop the last one, elaborate in appearance. A crowned man on a throne, seven nooses and one around his head and a sword in his right hand: Justice.

During his time observing that most of the foreign soldiery seemed to dislike his countrymen, not entirely without reason, Prince Frederic of Brus now realized he might have underestimated the extent to which they also disliked each other.

“I gave you an order, Inger,” the Levantine captain – Hassar – shouted at the orc. “Get back in the damned ranks.”

“You don’t give me fucking orders, Dominion,” Inger the orc snarled. “Don’t you have sheep to go raiding your cousins for? Let the professionals handle this.”

“Slight my honour again and we’ll settle this steel in hand,” Captain Hassar harshly said.

“I’d like to see you try,” the orc said, to the cheers of her fellows. “Clear that scabbard and we’ll give you another Sarcella.”

“You ran from us across half of Procer before the Black Queen stepped in to save your hides,” Captain Hassar mocked, to the cheers of the Levantines. “Try to give us a Sarcella without her, orc, see how that ends for you.”

“I’ll tell you how: with a lot less mercy, feet-dragger,” the orc lieutenant jeered.

The Callowan legionaries banged their shields, the Dominion warriors shouted in anger and Frederic decided now was not the time to remind these fine people that Sarcella had been a Proceran city stuck in the middle of their fighting without much of a choice in the matter. Not unlike him, truth be told.

“If I might claim your attention once more,” Frederic said, tone cheerful. “I would be much obliged if no blood was spilled tonight, my friends. We are, if I might remind you, yet under attack by common foes.”

“Then throw down your sword, prince,” Captain Hassar said. “You were caught red-handed, no talking will get you out of that.”

“I was charged with the protection of the Red Axe from assassination by the current ranking authority in the Arsenal, Queen Catherine of Callow,” the fair-haired prince said. “I understand you may doubt my word, but I do not require great concession – only that you allow me to see to her safety by sharing her confinement.”

It was not ideal, but at least he seemed to have flushed out part of the Bird of Misfortune’s schemes. And should his terms of surrender be accepted, he could use the walk to the holding cells as an opportunity to find out – perhaps from Lieutenant Inger, who seemed friendly enough in that orc way – who it was that’d sent all these soldiers after him. Learning that Name would likely unmask an agent of their great foe within. Yet Frederic’s words were not met with understanding or consideration, but instead a great deal of anger from both the Callowans and the Levantines.

“You’ll be dead before you take the first swing,” Captain Hassar said. “CROSSBOWS, at the ready.”

The lieutenant did not gainsay the Dominion officer, to Frederic’s surprise, and the soldiers called at obeyed without qualms. Something was wrong here. Had his words been misheard? Suspecting the worse, he unsheathed his sword and set it down on the floor. There was no reaction from the soldiers.

“This is your last warning,” the painted captain snarled. “One more step and-”

An illusion, Frederic grasped. Someone had laid an illusion on the soldiers and through the lie was misleading them to attack. The enemy was already here.

“My lady of Red,” the Kingfisher Prince said, “might I trouble you to chase away the enchantment bedevilling these soldiers?”

“I can’t,” the Red Axe said, tone tormented. “It only protects me, not others.”

Reluctantly, Frederic began to consider reaching for the sword he’d placed down. He would try to abstain from killing as much as possible and cease the moment it appeared the illusion might be faltering, but he would not fail in the charge that had been given onto him. The Red Axe would be good as dead if surrounded by soldiers under an enemy’s spells, unarmed and still shackled. If the political consequences of this were focused onto him instead of the Principate, Frederic Goethal thought, and he was ‘made’ to abdicate by the First Prince, the Grand Alliance might yet survive the blow without sundering. Henriette would rule well in his stead, it would do no disservice to the people of Brus to crown her princess in his stead.

Breathing out, the Kingfisher Prince crouched to take back his sword.

“Stop,” a woman screamed. “Stops this right now.”

The soldiers stirred, turning to watch the two unexpected arrivals behind the Dominion swords: a woman of the Free Cities, visibly bloodied from hard fighting, and a young man that Frederic was more familiar with. The Blade of Mercy, Antoine of Lange. One of the two countrymen Cordelia had asked him to take in hand when she suggested she came to the Arsenal. The young man’s greatsword was recognizable enough, and by the reaction of the soldiers the woman Free Cities was even better known.

“Lady Eliade,” Captain Hassar said, “with all due respect-”

“With all due respect, captain, you are currently under an illusion,” the Repentant Magister said. “If you would simply allow me to dispel it, the truth of this will be revealed.”

Frederic Goethal was not above accepting salvation, particularly when it was so gallantly offered. He was not above the occasional theatrics, either, and so he rose to his full height and left his sword on the ground. It would make a more striking image that way. A moment later the painted captain grudgingly gave his assent, and the Repentant Magister raised her had.

Sorcery bloomed, and there was a sound like a mirror shattering.

“Tricky, tricky,” the Wandering Bard said, eyes faraway. “How did you know it would clever little Nephele that stumbled into this mess?”

“Objects in motion, wasn’t it?” the Black Queen replied, lips quirking savagely. “She’s got maybe half the power to throw around that Hierophant had at his speak, and she uses it mostly on tricks and defensive spells – and she’s in a band, which means she’ll be using any spell she puts out six times whenever she uses it. A running battle against fae, of higher mettle than the one I tangled with? It was a given she’d be the first to grow exhausted.”

“That is hardly a guarantee she would end up there,” the Bard leadingly said, glancing at the other affrays.

“Archer’s was always going to be a fight, and she just left the other mess,” the Black Queen said. “Providence good as ensured she was going to end up where she could actually save the day. I can’t ride that horse, most the time, but a heroine like her sure as Hells can.”

“Those do not sound like the words of a villain,” the Intercessor smiled.

“The world’s changing, Bard,” the Black Queen said. “Whether you like it or not.”

“Such a brash one, you are,” the Wandering Bard chuckled.

She shrugged, cards peeking out the edge of her sleeve.

“But not without skill, I suppose,” she continued, then rapped a knuckle atop Justice. “I concede the affray.”

Trickster’s fingers went looking for a card she had set down – the Tower, the other glimpsed before the card was made to disappear with a flourish of the wrist – and she gallantly gestured for the opposition to proceed.

“One point to me,” Catherine said, eyes narrowing as she cleared out the rest of the pile.

Warily, she set her card down as the first of another affray. It depicted wings of bronze holding aloft a faceless entity wielding a pale sword, at its feet kneeling a humbled prince, priest and merchant: Judgement.

“Well now,” the Wandering Bard grinned. “What might that be about?”

“Silence for silence,” the Black Queen retorted. “It will matter when it matters.”

“How exciting,” the Intercessor praised. “But I suppose it is up to me to get this game back on the right path, isn’t it?”

The card she laid down over the Lovers was austere to the eye. A priestess in penitent’s robes, pouring water from one cup into the wine of another: Temperance.

“It’s not that she means to be a traitor, our dear Artificer,” the Bard said. “It’s simply that given what she is and where she is, she might as well be – she who tinkers with Light knows neither doubt nor restraint.”

Indrani swung around, blinding striking at whoever it was that’d knifed her – and had suspicions, foolish as they might be – and the blade slid out as the attempted assassin withdrew before she could hit anything. She clenched her teeth from the pain, but at least she was fairly sure it’d not punctured the lung. That would have been a bloody and embarrassing way to die.

“Archer,” the Blessed Artificer called out in fear and anger, “DUCK.”

With a curse Indrani did, the sound of a twig snapping being followed by a strike of sizzling Light above her. The lack of even a grunt of pain was the only warning she got, and she didn’t act quite quickly enough. Even as she began moving, the bolt of Light curved down and struck her back. Screaming as she coat gave, feeling aftershocks of Light going through her body even as the space between her shoulders was turned into a burned and bloody mess, Archer was smashed into the floor.

“Adanna, don’t-” Indrani croaked out, but Light bloomed again.

A collar of the burning glare formed around the neck of the man looming standing behind her – and by the size of him, Archer’s outlandish thought had come true – but a moment later it the Light was instead nailing Indrani’s arm to the stone floor, having formed into a spike and burned through flesh and muscle just above her elbow. Fuck. She wouldn’t be able to shoot like that or use both of her blades. The Fallen Monk eyed her for a moment, a serenely calm face over a bulging belly, but only bothered to kick her in the face before he flickered out of sight again. How was the man still alive, after getting Catherine to make darkglass out of a stone floor? Indrani had seen him fail to manipulate the works of Below before, she shouldn’t have cut it against Night. Light bloomed again, as the Monk reappeared close to the Artificer and the green heroines panicked.

“Fuck,” Archer cursed again, rolling to the side as the defensive net of Light that’d popped up was turn into a rain of deadly shard headed for her.

A few caught the edge of her wounded arm, but her mail turned what would have been a hard turn into mild burns. She ripped her coat rising to her feet, though, as one of the shards had nailed the edge of it down.

“Stop using Light, you fool,” Archer shouted, unsheathing one of her blades.

Just in time to see the Fallen Monk slug the Artificer in the stomach, her hasty attempt at a guard blown through. Indrani grit her teeth and aimed before she could think, her longknife spinning as it sailed through the air. But the Monk slid behind the heroine, Indrani’s throw missing him by inches, and he nudged up the Blessed Artificer’s chin with his bloody knife. Archer already had her other blade in hand, but no opening to use it: frozen in fear, Adanna of Smyrna had gone still.

“Drop the blade,” the Fallen Monk said. “Or I slit her throat.”

“Shit, you got me,” Archer lied, and without hesitation advanced.

The Monk withdrew his hand from Adanna’s apron, producing a twig and snapping with his free hand. Light erupted and curved out in two staggered arcs towards Archer. She’d seen it coming this time, though, and it was not good enough a trick to take her by surprise. She quickened her step to pass the first arc, darted back to let the second pass before her and in the beat that followed she’d closed the distance entirely. Still reaching for another bauble inside the Artificer’s stash, the Monk was surprised when she got hold of herself and elbowed him in the guts. His fat meant it barely stung, but the surprise bought Archer a moment – she carved at the man’s wrist, and though he darted away with viperous quickness he had to leave Adanna behind.

Indrani had blood on her blade, now, and she fully intended to get more. Did the Monk think he’d been the only one to study the weaknesses of the Named in her band?

“Listen close, Artificer,” Indrani said. “I have a plan to kill the bastard.”

“So how’s that one working out for you?” the leader of the Woe smilingly asked.

The Wandering Bard sighed, which was answer enough.

“All of Ranger’s pupils are absurdly hard to kill,” she complained. “She stayed out of that sort of thing until recently, you know, it’s your bloody teacher who gave her the taste for it. Among other things.”

The leer there was painted on, put there to irritate, but like most barbs of that hand it struck true.

“One can’t account for taste, I suppose,” Catherine said, wrinkling her nose.

“Gotta agree with you there,” Marguerite said. “She’s a looker, mind you, but everything else?”

“Funny,” the Black Queen mused, “since I consider the two of you to have quite a lot in common.”

“Harsh,” the Wandering Bard replied, appreciative.

The other woman offered a shallow smile, amusement so thin a finger run across it would reveal dislike.

“I’ve been wondering,” Catherine Foundling said. “Now that you’re Alamans-”

“This is going to get uncivil, isn’t it?” the Bard sighed.

“- does that fill with wine more often, or does it stay the same swill?” Catherine Foundling finished, gesturing at the silver flask.

The Intercessor considered the other woman, for a moment.

“The limp,” she replied, “does it come and go the way you want it to?”

The other woman did not answer. Instead she reached within her mantle and pulled out a second painted black pawn. She set it down next to the first, the ring it gave as it hit the wood echoed of the word mistake.

“Two,” the Queen of Lost and Found stated.

“Feigning a deeper game will not get you out of this,” the Wandering Bard said.

The Callowan queen hummed under her breath, knowing that now the ugliness was to come, and the Intercessor eyed the pawns with cold eyes.

“We are not yet done,” the Bard said, and set down a card.

It fell over the Severance’s affray, over the Emperor, and obscured the card beneath it. It depicted a tall and well-formed person, with chains around their neck going to the border of the card. Two details gave away the truth: claws at the end of fingers and red eyes. The Devil.

“Violence,” the Wandering Bard said. “Violence bringing about the inexorable.”

Adjutant’s jaw tightened as he grasped that he had been just a little too late.

The soldiers the fae had enchanted had forced open the doors of the room using their blades and that was the beginning of the end. The steel doors had only been pried open a crack, but it would be enough: already his attempts to draw them shut were failing, the implacable strength of a great noble of the fae pulling against him. Now that the enemy had a way to cross the wards it came down to strength, and their strength had waned. The Vagrant Spear had been bloodied and could barely stand, much less fight, while the Mirror Knight had lost his blade saving the heroine and now had a look in his eyes – like a horse that’d smelled blood, fear and fervour all mixed up together. Hakram pulled at the doors again, but against the massive strength on the other side he failed: they pulled further open.

Snatching up the axe and shield he’d thrown to the side to struggle, he retreated just before a cloud of rot and decay hissed through the opening.

The fae began to hammer at the steel, shaking the doors and forcing them open inch by inch. Behind Adjutant, the Mirror Knight had retreated across the holy water through a path that’d risen up and was now carrying Sidonia into the stone cube where the sword was kept. Hakram followed, forcing down the throbbing pain in his leg where a spear had torn flesh, and was nearly across when the doors broke and the tide of fae poured in. A spear flew at him, and the orc’s fangs clicked together in dismay – he would not be fast enough. Yet a hand jutted out from behind the wards of the cube, grabbing him by the arm and forcefully dragging him to safety. The Mirror Knight released him as the spear shattered on the wards, the way they shivered a warning that they would not hold forever.

“Thank you,” Hakram said, and meant it.

The spear would not have killed him, but such a wound might well have been permanent. Some things neither sorcery nor Light could heal.

“Think nothing of it,” the Mirror Knight said, eyes on the roiling fae outside.

The Prince of Falling Leaves was gathering them into an array of war, readying to batter at the wards keeping them from their prize. The Severance, sleeping in the pool of water in the back of the room. The surface of the water ever shivered, as if some wind that did not exist was caressing it. Both of them found their steps drifting closer to it.

“We will have to wait for reinforcements,” Adjutant admitted. “We cannot fight them off alone.”

“If we do,” the Mirror Knight quietly said, “Sidonia will die.”

“I can speak for myself,” the Vagrant Spear wetly coughed, from where she lay propped up against the wall. “It will be an honourable death, Christophe. One worthy of being added to the rolls. Hold until the others come.”

“Will they come?” the Mirror Knight softly asked. “Who is it that would relieve us, Sidonia?”

He shook his head, eyes hardening, and he took the last step up to the edge of the pond.

“No,” the Proceran said. “We stand alone.”

That growing iron in the man’s eyes was a dangerous thing, the orc thought. It must be averted before it grew tempered, for it reeked of desperate decisions. How? His eyes found Sidonia, her breathing broken by a wet cough. A punctured lung, the orc judged. Yet even wounded and prone, she remained the key to salvaging this.

“Archer will be coming,” the Adjutant said. “The other war party was a lesser one, it will have been wiped out by now. She must be headed our way already.”

“See?” Sidonia rasped. “The Lady will see to it. She might even be dragging the Physician along by the ear.”

The second part had been tacked on with more effort than skill, but for all that the Mirror Knight hesitated. Adjutant breathed out. If it came to a fight, the hero would win. That much was set in stone. But it would not come to that, and he could still prevent some foolish decision from –

The Black Queen paled, knuckles turning white from the strength of her grip. She rapped them against the last card placed down, the Devil.

“I concede the affray,” Catherine said.

Without waiting for an answer she leaned forward and her fingers grasped the edge of the Emperor, trying to extract him from the pile.

“That’s not how it goes,” the Intercessor gently said. “You’re playing the game, right now, but you’re not playing the Game.”

The old thing with a young face offered a half-hearted smile.

“He’s not going to leave, Catherine,” she said. “That’s not the kind of man you made him into.”

She shrugged.

“Take the card, if you want,” the Intercessor said. “It doesn’t mean anything. But as a last piece of advice-”

Even as the Black Queen, lips thinned, began to remove her card the Wandering Bard set down one of her own. Catherine’s hand ceased, as she tried to look at the fresh card and found she could not.

“It’s a damned scary trick,” the Bard said. “For a damned scary woman. Think back, Catherine – how many cards are there, in the Major Arcana?”

Twenty-one, the Black Queen almost said, but she held her tongue. Now that her eyed had been drawn to the oddness she could feel out the shape of it, if not fill the void. It was as if what had lain there was now absent.

“The Moon,” the Wandering Bard said. “The Maddened Keeper: the seal on darkness, who partakes of its powers. You did not remember her, or her card, because Creation finds her to be absent.”

“Demon,” the Black Queen said. “I remember her being added to the rolls, some months ago, but nothing more recent.”

Her fingers clenched.

“How many does she hold, Bard?” Catherine Foundling asked.

“Seven and one,” the Wandering Bard said.

Fingers clenched even tighter.

“I warned you,” the Intercessor said. “Love always fucks you. You can’t be… this and love them all the while, Catherine. It will hollow you out from the inside.”

Catherine Foundling took the card, her mouth tasting of ashes.

“-might even be dragging the Physician along by the ear,” Sidonia assured him.

Even she did not sound entirely like she believed it, but Christophe could see the sense in what she and the Adjutant had said. He could not find it in himself to wait long, but to not even attempt to put his faith in his comrades would be almost as grievous as sin. The fae hammered at the wards, the cube shaking around them, but these were not the works of middling wizards. They would hold for some time yet.

“We should prepare for the assault of the fae,” the Mirror Knight said. “There is only one entrance, so-”

Before he could finish speaking, as if to mock him, a creature appeared. A strange woman, with long unkempt hair and a sickly mien. She was standing behind the Adjutant, and without a word she reached out towards the orc.

“Adjutant,” Christophe screamed, and he would have done more but he had no sword, “behind-”

The woman’s hands touched the orc’s side and his flesh boiled, from the arm all down to his foot, as the reek of demonic corruption spread through the room. The Mirror Knight’s hand plunged into the waters, seizing the sheathed blade within even as some eldritch force tore at his armour until only the bare skin of his hand was left – itself stronger than steel, from all the dawns it had seen. Sidonia threw her spear, and the enemy moved back even as the Adjutant dropped with a blood-curling scream, but the Vagrant Spear’s aim had suffered from the wounding.

Christophe’s did not.

The Severance came clear of the scabbard with a faint scream, as if it were cutting the very air, and in three steps the Mirror Knight was before the villainess who had struck at his orc companion. She raised her hand to protect herself, unarmed for all her monstrous power, and offered a faint smile even as Christophe swung and cut through both the arm and the head behind it with barely any resistance.

“Disappear,” the Mirror Knight snarled, as she dropped lifeless to the ground.

But there was no time to waste, he knew. Hakram Deadhand lay on the ground, twisted in pain as corruption began to spread through his body. If the Mirror Knight did not act, the orc would be dead – or much, much worse.

“Gods forgive me,” Christophe prayed, and like a butcher he hacked.

The arm, the leg, most of the side – he cut before the demonic taint could spread, and left his ally broken and bleeding. Unconscious. But it was done, he thought. Now there were only the fae left and –

“Christophe,” Sidonia screamed, “the corpse!’”

The stranger’s remains convulsed, once, twice, and a heartbeat later the Hells broke loose.

The first thing to go was the wards, and it was all downhill from there.

Silence reigned for a long moment. The Black Queen, gripping the card close, set down the Emperor above the sole affray she’d opened.

“Ah,” the Wandering Bard murmured, “so that’s where the Concocter went. If you’re lucky, she’ll be able to save your Adjutant, true. Or at least keep him alive.”

“The Mirror Knight is many things, but a poor fighter is not one of them,” the Black Queen said, voice tight. “He’ll slaughter her a way through the thick of it, come what may.”

She cleared away the affray she had already conceded, her every movement speaking to barely controlled rage.

“One to one,” the Wandering Bard said. “Let’s hasten this along, shall we?”

One affray had still lain untouched, the one she had never explained, and with a hum the Intercessor took out the Tower once more and placed it above that very affray, obscuring the Empress. The Black Queen’s eyes narrowed.

“You are trying to drown my first victory,” she said.

“I am succeeding,” the Wandering Bard corrected. “The Empress was from the beginning our old friend Cordelia Hasenbach, who is still headed this way. There are many ways to skin a cat, Catherine, and I know every last one of them.”

The illusion broke and Frederic Goethal smiled at the wave of exclamations from the soldiers, who saw the truth of his offered surrender laid bare by the sword at his feet. He turned to offer the Repentant Magister a bow but found that her eyes were widening.

He turned to find the Red Axe with his sword in hand, just as the blade hacked into the side of his neck.

The Black Queen’s eyes strayed to the last remaining of the initial affrays, where Temperance still led the dance. The Intercessor caught her out and her lips quirked.

“Worried about Archer?” the Wandering Bard said. “Have a little faith.”

“Funny thing about the Magician,” the Black Queen said. “I happen to have one as well.”

She dropped it atop Temperance, cocking an eyebrow.

“Must have been a mistake of some sort,” Catherine Foundling said. “I would never accuse you of cheating.”

“Quite right,” the Wandering Bard grinned, stuffing cards back into her sleeves.

Archer put her useless side in the way, letting the knife blow through so that she might get a good strike in for her trouble. The blade tore through her coat but slid against the mail, the Fallen Monk trying to tackle her down but letting out a grunt when she stabbed him in the shoulder twice. He was strong, though, and heavy. If it kept up he’d be able to force her down, and then she’d be in trouble – save if Adanna… and there she was. The Blessed Artificer threw herself at the Fallen Monk’s legs, trying to snare them with her arms and refusing to give even when the man kicked her and her spectacles gave with a crack. Indrani took the opportunity to push him down, toppling atop of him as he fell and stabbing away still. That cursed fat, it made hard to get at the parts that actually mattered. Half a dozen bleeding wounds, not a single one that would kill a Named.

The three of them were in a messy, writhing pile of violence but another kick finally pushed Adanna away, sending her rolling as she groaned in pain, and though Indrani got in a good knifing through the Monk’s armpit the man still struck her across the face with his full strength. Archer felt her nose break and she rolled away, just in time to see the Fallen Monk crawl to his feet. She dropped her knife, snatching his ankle through the robe, and with her own full strength squeezed. Bone broke and the man screamed, but he tore out of her grasp and winked out of sight. Fuck, Indrani thought. That’d been their shot, and it wouldn’t work twice. The Monk was in a bad place, but so were they and she couldn’t use her bow one-handed.

“Auréole.”

Indrani, wondering if she was going mad, found that her body was softly glowing. So was Adanna’s, who was moaning as she tried to get up with trembling knees. So was the silhouette of an overweight man, glowing where there would otherwise seemingly be only air.

“Roland, you clever little artefact princess you,” Archer praised, swallowing a scream as she rose to her feet with her knife in hand.

The Rogue Sorcerer, some wooden casting rod in one hand and a handful of shining rings on the other, was standing his ground as the silhouette of the Fallen Monk rushed him. The rod went up, there was a blasting sound and the Monk was forced back a mere foot. It didn’t matter, because Indrani was moving too and she was fucking done with this one. The man reappeared in his entirety for the blink of an eye as he turned towards her just in time for his mouth to open in surprise as her extended arm slid the longknife just under his chin and all the way through this throat. He gurgled wetly, for a moment, and with a pained scream Archer turned her wrist and ripped her way out in a spray of blood.

“There,” Indrani panted. “Try to walk that off, Monk.”

She then slumped to her knees, eyes closing.

“If I might offer healing, Archer?” the Rogue Sorcerer gently asked.

“Why are you here, Roland?” Indrani asked. “You should be headed for the Severance with Cocky.”

“I began to head there at first,” the man agreed, “but halfway there realized that no one had stabilized the wards. It would be a shame to all die in the immediate wake of our victory, yes?”

“Zeze should be fixing them,” Archer said. “It’s probably already done.”

“I checked moments ago,” the Rogue Sorcerer said. “No work has been done.”

Indrani went still. Where, then was Masego?

The Wandering Bard’s head wrenched from faraway, returning to the small room she was sharing with her foe. Catherine Foundling offered her a hard smile and slowly, surely placed a third black pawn on the table.

“Three,” the Queen of Lost and Found state. “Now it ends.”

“Some affrays have yet to end,” the Wandering Bard said. “You are-”

“I have no interest in your game,” Catherine said.

Disdainful, she slapped the table’s surface and the piles of cards blended in chaos.

“Your first mistake,” Catherine said, knocking down a pawn with a flicked finger, “was believing you understand what it means to be part of a band of five. You don’t. Like Ranger, you drift in and out of stories and bands without ever really being part of them. It’s temporary to you, not something you give yourself over to. I’ll wager you never had a moment like I did at the Battle of Dormer, when the Woe blended together and became part of a greater whole.”

“If you want the right to lecture me,” the Bard mockingly echoed, “w-”

“Your second mistake,” Catherine said, knocking down a pawn with a flicked finger, “was telling me what you wanted. The song I already knew had stuck too much in my head to be a coincidence, but then you told me the exact nature of you what you were after by drawing the comparison between us. The Doddering Sage warned me: rival, thief, successor. You’ve been trying to make my Name into one shaped by opposition to you.”

“And why would I ever want that?” the Intercessor said, tone calm.

“Because if it’s that, it’s not something else,” Catherine smiled. “Whatever it is growing into, slowly but surely. And that is a balm onto my heart, Intercessor, because for you to intervene means that outside the walls of this place we are winning.”

“You very much want that to be true, don’t you?” the Wandering Bard said. “But-”

“Your third mistake,” Catherine said, knocking down the last pawn with a flicked finger, “was never asking the right question until it was too late. Until I’d earned my way to this, one pawn at a time.”

“And what would that be?” the Intercessor asked.

Why haven’t you been using the Night since you came in?” Catherine Foundling smiled, all teeth and malice.

The Wandering Bard went still.

“Hierophant,” she said.

The Black Queen threw the card going by the same name on the table, contemptuous.

“There,” she said. “And choke on it. We have what we need, Masego.”

The darkness in the back of the room peeled away, its control long wrested away from the Black Queen, and revealed a tall man with blind and burning eyes.

“Finally,” the Hierophant said. “My preparations are finished.”

“Odds?” the Black Queen asked.

“Half and half, I’d say,” the vivisector of miracles said. “And that is without considering your end of things.”

“Quite the trick,” the Intercessor admitted. “But it means nothing.”

“I thought so too, at first,” the Black Queen said. “But then, you’re not the goddess of stories are you? You don’t have a mantle, just a duty. In the end, you are still Named. The oldest and trickiest of our kind, but that does not change the nature of what you are.”

“This is getting tedious,” the Wandering Bard said, and blinked her eyes.

Silence was broken only by the sound of Catherine Foundling smiling a blackguard’s smile.

“Your tricks can be learned,” the Black Queen said. “They can be blocked. And you’re in our little corner of the Pattern now.”

“You’ve won nothing,” the Wandering Bard said, tone arctic. “The affrays-”

“You were playing a game,” Catherine Foundling chided, “while I was playing the Game. You bled us, but I have three mistakes now. We earned this, through that victory and the weight of what you did to us.”

The Black Queen rose to her feet, leaning forward over the table as the Wandering Bard leaned back.

“Eyes open, Hierophant,” the Carrion Lord’s daughter said. “If she still has a miracle up her sleeve, be ready to kill it next time.”

Her wrist flicked, a knife falling into her palm, and ever as the Intercessor opened her mouth to speak Catherine Foundling slit her throat. Marguerite of Baillons twitched, clutching her wound, and cards went flying from her sleeves as two of the Woe coldly watched. It was only Catherine that thought, for a moment, that there had been a strange glint in the Intercessor’s eyes. Relieved, triumphant, afraid?

Eventually, the body ceased moving.

“So?” the Black Queen asked.

“I could not catch the soul,” the Hierophant said, “but even when in danger she cannot leave my bindings. It is possible she is dead and has gone Beyond.”

Catherine Foundling looked at the corpse for a long time, clenching her fingers and unclenching them.

“No,” she decided, “this isn’t the last we’ve seen of her.”

She dragged herself up, tired but knowing there was still chaos to put to order.

“We’ve got work to do, Masego,” the Black Queen said. “Let’s get to it.”

Neither of them looked back, as they left, and so neither saw that by the sheerest of coincidence the struggle had left untouched one of the affrays – the Empress, the Tower – save for one card that’d fallen from the Bard’s sleeve in her death throes.

Judgement lay with the Tower between it and the Empress, speckled with blood.

She breathed out and opened her eyes, a starry sky sprawled above her.

In and out, slowly. Unmistakably. She was still alive, though no longer Marguerite de Baillons. The Wandering Bard, the Keeper of Stories, closed her eyes and repressed the urge to scream until her voice went hoarse.

“I did it all right,” she said. “And still? Still?”

Her nails dug into her palms until they bled.

“Fine,” she whispered. “Fine. The hard way it is, then, and on your heads be it.”

260 thoughts on “Interlude: Knock Them Down

    1. Yeah. If the Empress is Cordelia, maybe judgement could be the White Knight? And the Tower could be leadership.

      Or if card meanings can change, perhaps Malicia and another Knight are going to find the tower separating them,

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Gamer7956

        Traditionally speaking, the tower refers to the Tower of Babel in biblical mythology. In tarot, it’s main meaning is ruin or a loss of power. Hence why it referred to the Grand Alliance falling apart.
        Judgement is so blatantly Hanno that nothing more needs to be said.
        Empress is probably the result of the Wasteland, but it could also be Cat herself, could it not? And her fighting Hanno would end the alliance…

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Cedrick the Sojourner

          Actually, Catherine’s Judgement is The Concoctor, so it’s possible that the Bard slipping it there in her death throes might mean that saving Fredrick will delay The Concoctor and prevent her from reaching Hakram.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Theitzal

        Tv shows like to use the death card to portray something bad happening but the death represents change and isn’t necessarily a bad (or good) thing.

        The tower however is what said shows should be using because it represents tragedy and is not something you ever want to see in a prediction.

        Liked by 3 people

  1. I am concerned about Hakram. The guy keeps losing body parts.
    Also, he just lost an arm, leg, and chunk of his torso. He’s tough, but still, that’s not something that’s going to be easy to get over.
    Also, that Severance did the cutting suggests that attaching replacement parts or healing is going to be difficult.

    Also … Maddened Keeper’s fate is concerning. Fortunately there are Heroes present to stab whatever she was containing.

    I’m also worried about Frederic, the Kingfisher Prince.
    And Red Axe did the stabbing? Hmm. I wonder if that’s because of whatever illusion was cast (if so, by whom?) … or if it’s because she’s an active traitor (which still leaves the question about who is responsible for the illusion).
    Bard might have gotten her to be an active traitor because Wicked Enchanter was protected by the Truce and Terms.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Just_a_Potato

      The Maddened Keeper and the Keeper of Stories, I’m sensing a connection there. Seven and one demons, maybe to create a realm where the Keeper of Stories can retreat to. Or maybe by using demons instead of human princes she’s trying to attain true Godhood.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. mamm0nn

        I think it’s more a matter of seven and one being a number with weight to it, similar to a band of five. We’re not completely sure what it is, the pattern could be as simple as ‘completion’ or ‘apex’ in the Story. As in, the Maddened Keeper by having seven (Increasingly greater challenges meant to be won) and one (final boss to be lost against / mutual death), has ended her own story and surviving against the odds.

        The seven and one likely refer to demons, and the number perhaps to control or the one being a demon that controls her or her being in control of them. We’ve already seen her use two demons’ powers, corruption and absence, and for all that they’ve become the weaker first-book foe in our minds by now they shouldn’t be underestimated. Especially in how elemental they are especially in being nigh impossible to be controlled.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. Letsira

        I wonder if the Judgement card symbolizes Hanno. The Bard seems to imply that the Judgement Cathrine played might symbolize the Concocter, and while Cat doesn’t deny it, she doesn’t directly confirm it either. Regardless, the Magician card demonstrates that both sides can play the same card to represent different actors. So I wonder, does the Tower at the end represent the Tower of Praes, or does it represent the pure ruin it did the first time Bard played it? Does the Bard’s dying play foreshadow the death of Hanno? The Empress represents Cordelia, and the tower either symbolizes pure ruin or possibly even Malicia, so Bard is probably trying to either put the two into (near-) direct conflict or just trying to destroy Cordelia (literally or metaphorically). Does the bloody Judgement mean that neither leader will be judged for their actions in the end, that judgement will befall they cruelly and violently, or that Hanno might die in the conflict? Or maybe the Tower is the Dead King?
        On another note, I find it interesting how the Bard chastises Cat for not “playing the Game” just to have the same line turned back on her. The Bard cheated her way through her game, and even broke the spiritual meaning behind it when she tried(?) to off Hakram. Cat played a different game, and won while not once breaking the spirit of the Bard’s game (upon discarding it, however, potential disaster was forewarned). Bard is too used to playing against lesser foes, and even in her attempts to treat Cat like the threat she is, she just can’t, and it costs her the game.

        Sorry for the wall of text. And thank you Erraticerrata for the amazing chapter.

        Liked by 3 people

            1. JJR

              I want to say that it might be foreshadowing Hierarch/choir of judgment showing up in the story again. Possibly through the angel in the lake. But I’m pretty bad about predicting things in this story so far.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. TeK

                Calling it now: when the Judgement-corpse will be used, they will get giant Hierarch instead “So you are the King of Death? Who decided that? By the Article 37.5 subarticle “b” citizens are forbiden to die unless as a result of a voting by a quorum of no less then 40% of the population”

                Like

    2. Sir Nil

      Or maybe the Red Axe had already been killed and replaced by the Hunted Magician, it would certainly explain why Bard put the Magician card to counter the Chariot.

      Liked by 11 people

    3. shikkarasu

      Let’s not forget that the first bit of Hakram to be lost was at the edge of the Penitent’s Blade. That which is cut by an Angel Feather stays cut; it’s the whole reason he couldn’t have his old hand put back on. It’s why Cat had a nasty scar until she became a god.

      His second hand was removed by his own choice, which Pilgrim confirmed is a huge deal in this setting and makes it hard to undo. He didn’t even want that one replaced. He still got a Ghost Hand to pair with his Bone Hand.

      Maybe Severance can do what Angels and Narrative failed to, but I doubt it. He’s the OG mirror knight, being thrown at demon summoning mages because he can be expected to Stand up afterwards.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. KingJulius

          I for one welcome Darth Hakram with his energy sword able to cut almost anything, the ability to move things telekineticly, the ability to choke people from long range, at least minor future sight in battle.

          Like

    4. moongazer13

      If Hakram survives, and I kinda doubt that he will, because its been a while since someone important to Cat has been killed, they will have to give him replacement limbs. Forget Deadhand, he will be Deadhalf. But considering that the Maddened Keeper has 8 demons (7 & 1) in her, it will be a full on miracle if he survives untainted. and while i doubt the Keeper is fully dead, its possible, since why else would she explode like that.

      I’m pretty sure the Magician on the Bard’s side is the Haunted Magician, as Cat herself said earlier he had a high potential to be a traitor and I don’t think we have been introduced to anyone else that has the ability to cast spells to that degree. Except possibly the Bitter Blacksmith, but considering that Magician is in his name, him being a traitor fits better.

      As for Red Axe, its more likely shes a traitor then under enchantment, since one of her powers is not being affected by magic.

      Like

        1. Dsylexic Wofl

          It seems more to me that the Tower (imo the Wasteland/Malicia), and since it wasnt specified im assuming it was played upwards, so it means disaster, will cause Cordelia to die, while the White Knight either kills Malicia or gets brought into a plan like the one the Hierarch had. After all, Judgement is out of the game, if there was ever a time to strike at the White Knight is now.

          Like

          1. Dsylexic Wofl

            Although if im going by what i said before, on the cards being upwards and not reversed, then this bpils well for the White Knight, as the upwards Judgement implies that your path will lead to victory, the decision has already been made and you only need to walk forward and recieve your just reward.

            If EE wanted us to think whomever the judgment represents is going to suffer here, he should have played it in reverse.

            Like

            1. Ataldu

              Long time lurker. First time involving myself in a discussion. But was Cordelia not messing around with an angel corpse of judgement that got Corrupted along with judgement as a whole? One that would ruin them all to use? The flawed weapon the whole arsenal is trying to replace?

              Liked by 2 people

      1. BritishTeaLover

        Could Judgement here so refer to the Choir? We haven’t heard much from then lately, and the imagery of them discarded speckled in blood is telling for what might end up happening to the Choir of Judgement (or, it’s champion).

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Drunken Dwarf

      I believe that means the Judgement intercepted the Tower’s attempt to kill the Empress.

      I wonder if the Bard did that on purpose or if the gods gave that victory away so the Bard could slip away. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did given what the Bard said after her death.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. shikkarasu

        I think we are all over thinking that last Affray.
        Empress (Cordelia) + Judgement + Tower (Sh!t going poorly), unopposed.
        What choir was the Angel in Lake Artoise again? I’m about 80% sure it was an Angel of Judgement.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Tom

          I agree; the Judgment card there with the Empress and the Tower seems to me to foreshadow the dead Choir of Justice angel in Lake Artoise. It’s this enormous Chekhov’s gun that’s been hanging over things for ages. It would be very odd if it doesn’t have a significant role to come.

          Also, notably the Judgment card was the one that literally flew out of WB’s sleeve as she was killed, right? As in literally the last card up her sleeve that she can play, with her own lifeblood on these cards on the table? So WB will be finding some way to get that thing into action herself.

          Like

        2. Welcome to PGtE comments. We are always all over, but never in the right.

          And yes, it was Judgement corpse. And Tyrant specifically blocked Judgement so that Judgement-corpse could be wielded without Judgement itself. It was one of the most important plot points of previous book.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. shikkarasu

            Oh, THAT’s why the Dead King was so happy after the trial. I missed the implications of the Choir going silent regarding the Corpse That is Not a Corpse. Yeah, DK knows exactly what is going to go wrong with that, even if we don’t. It also doesn’t bode well that WB also seems to be backing that project. I am now 3X as nervous as I was before.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. “What happens when a Judgement-corpse is wielded, if Judgement is dead?”

              The right question, as he had expected. She had yet to disappoint.

              “Truth of truths, my friend,” he chortled, “I already gave you the only answer to that question worthy of being spoken.”

              A Rochelant, when they had first begun this dance of theirs.

              “That’s the entire point,” she softly quoted, “finding out.”

              Like

    2. caoimhinh

      Judgement (meaning unknown yet) lay with the Tower (“Ruin to the Truce and Terms, heroes and villains at each other’s throats beyond what can be mended”) between it and the Empress (Cordelia, according to the Bard), speckled with blood.

      So, “Judgement” speckled with blood, and the violence that will make the T&T fall apart is between that “Judgement” and Cordelia.

      The key to this will be what exactly is Judgement. It’s easy to say it’s Hanno, but could be other things.
      I wonder if Hanno will be the one to ultimately execute the Red Axe.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. moongazer13

        I agree with the idea that Hanno executes the Red Axe, since she appears to be the only remaining traitor on the Heroes side that is alive, and she has clearly attempted to kill or has killed the Kingfisher Prince. Someone needs to be punished for this, and like it or not she tried to kill another Hero.

        Also, one thing to remember is that while Cordelia denied a union, its not impossible she doesn’t have some degree of affection for Kingfisher based on his backstory, and will want the Red Axe killed if she is the one responsible for his death. Plus, it probably won’t be good for unity/morale if a war hero like him dies.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. caoimhinh

          True.
          I really hope he is still alive. He’s been an interesting character all this time, even before he got his Name (back then he was this weird but brave prince who liked to have a cup of wine at all times).

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Will

        I suspect that is because she survived regardless though. She lost, and lost hard, yet there were no real consequences for her. I think she’s looking for an end, be it death or replacement through succession and she “did it all right” to get that end. The gloves are off now though, cause one of the surest ways to die here is to become the villain of the story, and she’s competing with the dead king for that honor.

        Liked by 9 people

  2. Ninestrings

    Hakram Deadbody really doesn’t sound as cool as Hakram Deadhand.

    Also how many people have wanted to be Cat’s nemesis now? Is this her third hate-suitor?

    Liked by 11 people

    1. tithin

      First was William, dead through pattern of three.
      Next came Akua, dead and turned to subservience.
      Last came The Wandering Bard, presumably turned purely to subservience?

      Liked by 5 people

    2. tithin

      First came William, dead through judicious use of a pattern of three.
      Next came Akua, dead from vengeance and turned subservient in death.
      There’s a pattern here – someone will be the third, and their rivalry will be ended with willing subservience to Cat, possibly.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Third was the Pilgrim, remember?

        That’s why they were entering the Pattern of Three that had Cathering making all those aerobics in the Princes’ Graveyard. They were considered rivals/nemeses by Creation and Narrative, so if she had reached a draw with him there, the Pattern would have been set.

        Liked by 4 people

  3. Tenthyr

    I have the horrible feeling this nearly cost everything.

    But god, it feels good to know the Bard really, actually got utterly destroyed at her own game.

    I wonder what Cathrines name could crystalize into, now she’s made sure it can’t be in opposition to the Bards.

    Liked by 13 people

    1. Pethrai D’arkos

      Probably something like Black Fox due to her sides tendency to have Black in the titles (Black Queen anyone). It could be something like Fox Queen except she has been pretty adamant about abdicating the crown.

      However it could just as easily be something like Departed Fox with her taking a ship across the Tyrian (I think that’s how it’s spelled) Sea to pull a King In The Mountain bit. I can just see stories in a hundred years that go something like this:

      “The Black Queen, Sovereign of Moonless Nights, Departed Fox. Cathrine Foundling is known by many names, all earned by dread and woe. It is said that she stole from angels, drowned entire armies, and through a secret ritual gave birth to the crows which even now the army claims as patron. She was a villain as great as Triumphant and all the more terrible, for rather than spreading it out to all she saw she bottled up the terror to be unleashed all at once. But make no mistake lad, she was OUR villain. One day Callow will need someone like that to once more sit on the throne, and on that day she will come back.”

      Liked by 12 people

      1. caoimhinh

        It’s not gonna be Fox anything. The song thing was something the Bard was attempting, and Cat prevented it. Now Cat will get her Name properly.

        I’m still betting on the Guide. Not only for the Metanarrative of it relating to the title of the novel, but because that’s what she has been doing since the beginning: steering the continent away from destruction and pioneering a path out of their vicious cycles.

        Her current latent Name started to form when she spoke and meant the words “I will get the east in order the hard way” (in the hypothetical scenario where Praes were to sally forth against them, possibly with Amadeus defeated). which could be interpreted as Cat becoming Dread Empress, but could be something else.

        The Truce and Terms, The Liesse Accords, Villains and Heroes working together in Bands of Five, Good and Evil Nations all over the continent being part of the Grand Alliance, and the re-emergence of the Empire Ever Dark but not as a threat but as an ally to those on the surface.

        All these are momentous changes brought by her hand.

        After the death of the Age of Wonders, Catherine is guiding Calernia towards a new era. An era that has already been baptized by Amadeus as The Age of Order.

        Liked by 11 people

    2. Big I

      Cat’s got a lot of Odin imagery/association going on (two crows, staff, cloak, commanded the Wild Hunt, probably others I’m not thinking of). Odin’s a war god, Cat’s done a lot of war, and her sort of adopting Viv might sorta be like Odin and Loki. So something Odin adjacent? Makes me wonder if Hakram is supposed to be Tyr.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Ninestrings

        Time to graft Severance into Hakram.

        I can just picture Masego standing there, looking at the sword… then at Hakram… then the sword…then at Hakram….

        Liked by 14 people

        1. mamm0nn

          We can rebuild him, we have the technol- scrap metal. We have scrap metal.

          But, that’s sufficient for orcs, right? The wastelands tends to rebuild them with sand and pointy stones.

          Liked by 9 people

          1. Shadow of war come on

            Nobody played shadow of war

            He comes back bigger and badder.

            Masego will literally pick up body parts. Similar to the mantle of woe Hakram will be composed of Cathrines enemies

            Hakram the Many
            (Hand of ghost, bone of Warlock, lego of Fae, chest of a demon)

            Liked by 9 people

    1. Darkening

      My personal reading of this is that she set things up so that either she’d win in the Arsenal, a win for her, or Cat would manage to kill her, another win for her since she views her immortality as more curse than blessing. So no, she’s not mad that Cat beat her, she’s pissed that the gods didn’t let her die when she’d set it up so well.

      Liked by 14 people

  4. Relyt118

    Hmm, sounds like some more proof for the “Bard just wants to die” theory. It would explain why she 1) is building Cat as her rival 2) is coming at the Alliance with power not overwhelming. Let’s be real, Cat can skirmish with the Bard, but letting the Bard coordinate and execute and ambush/blitzkrieg? Cat’s just not on that level. Yet.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. laguz24

      Personally, I think that she can at least hold her own on that level. This book is the culmination of all their power and experience. She should be able to dance with the bard and maybe even break even sometimes.

      Liked by 5 people

  5. dadycoool

    Dead the man and dead the body. He’ll strike quite the imposing image now.

    Whew, Cat! And Masego, too? The Power of Friendship was a great boon here.

    Such badass pawns. Cat’s over here playing 6D shatranj while everyone else is playing roulette.

    Well, things are gonna get REAL soon, but Cat’ll take it on the same way she always has, with all her friends by her side.

    Liked by 12 people

  6. Hakran’s Deadhand will be updraded, like he will come out stronger maybe, and who wants to bet the sword is now broken or at least damaged (as in maybe is more fragile now)

    And until we know how he survived before i won’t count the Fallen Monk out until then.

    And last i really hope Frederic isn’t dead, but the Red Axe just gave Cat a favour by that, no one will complain when she is executed now

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Shveiran

        If that is the Red Axe, though. Someone is casting the illusion, and I’m not completely sure the Red Axe has not been replaced.

        Repentant saw through an illusion, but maybe there was a second one (a disguise) underneath that, and the caster just stabbed (lovely) Frederick.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Mateo

    Looks like Masego replaced his magic with Night, a pretty convenient repowerup. Bard tried to kill herself but ended up failing. Glint in her eyes, relieved, afraid, as her throat is cut, and then pissed when she wakes up again. The game of cards with High Arcana seems quite contrived to me, but I think the symbolism is worth it (and it’s certainly great fun to read). Bravo, great chapter, and I look forward to seeing how this concludes.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Xinci

      Looks like he just took control over the Night with wield then changed some dimensional rules. So not really a powerup, just him using a temporary power source he can only use with Cat.

      Liked by 15 people

  8. So is it just me or are the proceran heroes dropping like flies? Mirror Knight and Kingfisher are the two biggest I think. Mirror dies due to Severance, Kingfisher is up in the air but I think he bites it too.

    Like

      1. Entrerist

        It was stated that severance is so powerful that it would probably kill the wielder. Masego and Roland thought about building a suit of armor to use it. The mirror knight is probably the only one who can use it without hurting himself too much.

        Liked by 13 people

          1. moongazer13

            I feel like, by the Mirror Knight using the Severance, its power will be depleted to the point it will no longer be a weapon capable of killing the Dead King. Because WB wanted all their options for killing the Dead King destroyed. I doubt that the Mirror Knight is the only character that could use the sword (with enough time Masego and everyone else could find another option like the armor), and if that was the case WB would have targeted him for death in some other way. She set it up so he would be forced to use the sword. WB wants the alliance in tatters and all other options destroyed so Cordelia has to use the Judgement Corpse.

            Like

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      Surgeon has yet to be tapped, even though he was introduced. That Chekov’s gun is going to need to go off and presumably it will be to save one of the people who should be dying but are not quite dead yet.

      Liked by 6 people

  9. laguz24

    Wow, WB you really don’t know how to lose. Also, I’m more worried about the long term. Assuming WK stopped the assassination attempt on Cordelia. Then how will the truce and terms fare now, since apparently there are traitors everywhere? Though now, WB’s credibility is gone for good this time. That will cost her dearly, in ways she can’t even imagine it.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      someone else pointed things out up above, but “Hard Way” Might be fueled by this as a contingency. How do you ensure you can die? By being the biggest, baddest villain around. Dead King has taken great time and pain to avoid the pitfalls of this. But what if you had a glorious bitch who rode it harder then Tyrant ever did deliberately? The plan might only be HELPED by all the heroes now realizing she wants to destroy them and uniting against her. After all, it take everybody working together to kill the ultimate threat.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. dadycoool

        When someone with her level of meta-knowledge is trying to die, there are several ways to go about it. She could become a sacrificial mentor, but she doesn’t care enough about the people around her and also can’t Die For Real. She could be the Protagonist that topples the Big Bad in a Pyrrhic victory, but Triumphant, may she never return, and the Dead King are the only ones who could possible qualify, but here DK was the only one she could consider an equal and he made sure to never at any point in history be anything other than a far-off force of nature whose wrath can only be kindled in self-defense. The only option available that I can see is to check off every entry in the Biggest Bad checklist so a plucky Hero *has* to Kill her off For Real, facilitated by getting the whole world to unite against its oppressor, like as if Trium…phant…now that’s a scary thought: WB bringing back Triumphant.

        Liked by 5 people

          1. dadycoool

            I heard she was a “permanent” resident of a hell, with an unspecified number of Legions. I also heard there was enough uncertainty that she’s still terrifying to think about.

            Like

            1. We got a WoG that afterlife is not definitive in Guideverse, having Triumphant returning would be messy pandering, that breaks established rules. Besides, it’s the last book, Triumphant does not have enough development to be a proper end-villain, she would not cut it.

              Like

              1. dadycoool

                I kinda feel like I could site DK owning his own hell and Warlock being able to escape a hell by exiting through another one, but you’re right, it would be too much of a “Surprise! The real enemy was Hitler all along!”

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Darkening

                  Just because there are hells full of demons that people can visit and return from, doesn’t mean that’s where souls go when they die. Hell, if that *is* where souls go when they die I imagine Warlock’d have tapped into that resource to power something long since. With very few exceptions, death is not cheap in the Guideverse. Pilgrim being one of those exceptions and now even that’s been closed off.

                  Liked by 1 person

                2. Hell isn’t an afterlife though. It’s where devils and demons lived. That is why I quoted God… Well, EE. He was asked the question along the same lines and said that it’s unknown where exactly souls go.

                  “After all, faith would be pretty meaningless if afterlife was a physical certainty.”

                  He does have a way with word. It’s not even an epigraph, but stuck in my head nonetheless. I swear, those epigraphs though are like half the reason I fell in love with a story.

                  Like

  10. mamm0nn

    “Been talking to him?” the woman who had once been a girl said.

    Wait, who are we talking about here? This is literally every adult woman.
    *Thinks*
    Ah, *Nods sagely* it must be Inger the orc lieutenant, on her way to becoming a new fan favourite. Yes, makes sense.

    But seriously, for all that these are two great chapters, the way they’re continuously describing Cat by any stretch is starting to get ridiculous. It’s like those writers that try any synonym and variation like ‘she exclaimed’ to avoid saying ‘she said’ repeatedly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jordan Leighton

      It’s a reference to her relationship with Black. It’s right there. Exactly how it’s being done I’ll leave to interpretation, but look back with that lenses and it makes perfect sense

      Liked by 4 people

  11. mamm0nn

    Do not worry, I shall dispel the illusion so that the truth shall be unveiled.
    *Fake Kingfisher disappears.*
    Ah, I see. It’s-
    *The illusion Kingfisher’s glorious moustache disappears to show his unhaired lip*
    *Proceran gasp!*
    Kingfisher: *Menacing* Had I failed to save the Red Axe, I would’ve willingly go into impoverished exile for my failures. Had I struck down many a soldier, I would’ve accepted my abdication by the First Prince. But this- This… I’m afraid I cannot let anyone leave now that you’ve witnessed a truth that should’ve remained hidden… *Slowly picks up sword.*

    Liked by 8 people

  12. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    Wandering part > Wandering Bard
    hundreds years now > hundreds of years, now
    time,” the > time.” The
    that is it > that it is
    loves fucks always > love always
    no not speak > do not speak
    stead, it > stead; it
    Stops this > Stop this
    woman Free Cities > woman of the Free Cities
    know it would clever > know it would be clever
    his speak > his peak
    villain,” the > villain.” The
    are,” the > are.” The
    she coat gave > the coat gave
    it the Light > the Light
    she shouldn’t have > he shouldn’t have
    turn into a rain of deadly shard > turned into a rain of deadly shards
    hard turn (not sure what this should be)
    her eyed > her eyes
    Where, then was > Where, then, was
    Found state. > Found stated.
    you what you > what you
    else,” Catherine > else.” Catherine

    Liked by 4 people

      1. RoflCat

        The way I understand it, on the assumption that Bard’s goal is relieve from her Name:

        She was a very competent worker that the superiors keep throwing all kind of works onto her, and they kept refusing to let her leave.
        So she decided to train someone to be as competent at the job as her, and ‘screw up’ so the superiors might see this new girl and replace her position.
        But they still have her keep her position.

        So now it’s time to burn the whole fucking office down for freedom.

        Liked by 15 people

      2. caoimhinh

        What’s your hypothesis for a possible “hard way” of the Bard? It could easily be messing with them on a whole new level to force more drastic measures.

        Considering that this whole mess was done by new characters not even mentioned in previous books (except the Bard), it could continue with that trend, though it could be “the hard way” is something that had been glimpsed but not used before.

        Assuming it won’t be pulled out of the 2-years-time-skip’s ass, I think there are 4 options from strong factions that have been named but not touched during previous chapters:

        -Causing trouble with the Gigantes (Maybe sabotaging the meeting with the Gigantes representative)

        -Making the Elves move. The Bard has history with them, though they are isolationists so this one is unlikely, yet we have seen them on the move before (they tried to prevent Akua’s Folly but the Bard stopped them).

        -Messing with Malicia, having her take a more active role in the war, though we already saw she is making a move, hence Vivi and Cordelia wanting to meet Cat soon.

        -Bringing a threat from out of the Continent. (this one is highly unlikely, considering EE said the rest of the world won’t be explored in this series and there are plenty of ways to mess with Cat without bringing an overseas empire at play now)

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I don’t think it’s Cat Bard’s going to be messing with now. One, narratively that would be kind of ehh – Cat’s already taken this personal step, rehashing it again won’t be interesting or necessary. Bard is NOT Cat’s story rival, we just established that.

          Two, messing with Cat was “doing it all right”. Whatever “the hard way” is, it’s most definitely not more of the same 😀

          Liked by 4 people

      3. SpeckofStardust

        I would assume that ‘the hard way’ means she will no longer play games.
        As in her duties are now the priority rather then her wish.
        She cant die or get a replacement so that she can die.
        Which leaves her with her job. After all…
        She was not talking at cat when she said the hard way, she was Talking to her bosses.

        Liked by 6 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      She still failed though. By whichever way her motivaitons truly ran, she failed. Tyrant was a minor mistake, but this was a major one. Her unbeatability has been cracked, and if cat won’t grow into the person who can keep up with her, she’s going to grow into a person beyond her.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. ninegardens

        Sounds a heck of a lot like the gods offered her an out: get Catherine to replace you, and your time is done.

        That, or she thought she could make Cat into her new rival, so that the dance between her and DK would be allowed to finish.

        Also: random question;
        If Cat doesn’t want to be set up/trapped as WB rival then ummmm… is playing games with her and then trapping her and slitting her throat a good idea? Seems like leaning into it to me.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          because it wasn’t shaped yet. The idea would be to make Cat have a name opposing Bard, then killing Bard would slot her neatly into the complementary role. The rival, theif, sucessor, a title taken by combat and conquering. But instead, Cat skipped that middle part and just BEAT her. Now Bard is just another person she’s stomped down. You don’t get made the successor of some bitch you stomped down.

          Liked by 3 people

      2. The mistake was, I think, hoping that Catherine would be able to kill her.

        The thing about trying to achieve effects on this level, it’s not really about pitting your strength against the opposition. It’s about making sure your opposition’s efforts are channeled in a way that helps you in the first place. Opposition, what opposition?

        (See: Malicia, Cordelia and the Truebloods)

        Liked by 7 people

        1. I think she hoped that killing her would be enough for Cat to succeed her Name, as for Villains that particular method is par the course. But Gods refused to let her go because they dislike whatever the outcome would be of Cat being the resident nudger.

          So she was hoping that there would be enough weight for Cat to have succeeded her, which would’ve killed her as sure as dawn. And that is not an unreasonable assumption, given that many real reader theorised very much the same. She failed to account for Chekhov’s theorem of unresolved plotlines however. If there is a gun hanging on a wall in the first act, a person who supposed to shoot it in the third act can’t leave the story in the second. By assuring the existence of a contingency she made it near certainty that it would have to be used.

          Liked by 8 people

          1. > But Gods refused to let her go because they dislike whatever the outcome would be of Cat being the resident nudger.

            I don’t think the Gods were interfering or making any decisions here. This one was baked into her Name and Role from the start: either this would be enough to free her, or not. It wasn’t.

            Liked by 3 people

                1. So they did interfere or made a decision there, because otherwise she wouldn’t blame them, right?

                  And personally, I would reserve a condition to pick a successor when he is born, if such a condition exist d at all. It’s not like the Gods could not have helped her and made Cat into Bard 2.0, it’s just that they didn’t.

                  Liked by 1 person

                    1. That sounds like a poor HR. Rather than choosing a successor thousands years in advance, long before culture that would shape him/her is even born, would not make more sense to review applications as they come?

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Huh?

                      That’s not what I mean.

                      I mean when Bard first got her employment contract there was small print about whether or not she’s allowed to get successor’d at all, and Bard’s only finding out NOW that the answer had been ‘no lol’ all along.

                      Like

        2. Amateur move really, she should’ve used Abigail’s maneuver: act so incompetent they would have no chance but to lay you off. She should’ve arranged for Cordelia and Amaya to fall in love and legalise same-sex marriage by uniting their realms through the wedlock. With Tyrant undercutting Ranger in he fight of Black’s affections. Make Calernia such a clusterfuck of bad writing, the Gods would’ve facepalmed her to death.

          Liked by 6 people

                1. To be fair, laws of Praes also legalised cannibalism at one point. Can’t judge everyone by Praesi standards, they are clearly much more progressive than the rest of Calernia.

                  Liked by 5 people

          1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

            I know you’re joking, but same-sex marriage is almost guaranteed to already be legal. We have yet to see a culture in the Guideverse that stigmatizes same-sex relationships, and when Talbot’s efforts to get Cat to start a dynasty were still being given screentime he mentioned that they can use miracles to enable same-sex couples to reproduce together.

            I’ll grant you that, as you pointed out, the one marriage of this sort we’ve seen for sure is an atypical one in an atypical country, but so far as I can tell homophobia has just straight up never been invented in-universe, so…

            Liked by 3 people

            1. True. However I did not really thought about same sex when I written this example, it was more of a “irreconcilable enemies” part. There are much more same sex rivalries in this story than not. Didn’t occur to me that it would be such a sticking point.

              Like

          2. ciara

            Weird that your definition of bad writing is “marriage equality” (also Abigail’s maneuver has yet to succeed for poor Abigail herself)

            Like

    2. Oshi

      I will not be happy until I know what they do to Hakram. I have this stupid theory that Cat comes into her name with what she does with/for him. Everything about Hakram is tied to Cat and he can’t follow her into where she’s going the way he is now.

      Liked by 4 people

  13. Wonder

    It stands to reason the only person to wield Severance without it striking him dead is the Mirror Knight.

    So Cat picked Masego along when she was heading to the Intercessor and he hid in the Night.

    That is a lot of heroes turning traitors to their side. I can only hope that Cat rubs it in their faces the next time a hero tries to preach righteousness.

    It seems the Grey Pilgrim and the White Knight were right to worry about Cat’s Name at the end of last book. It appears to be something that can contend with the Dead King and the Wandering Bard.
    How long are we going to wait until it grows fully? Cat’s old Name didn’t take this long ,did it?

    Masego is the vivisector of Miracles, does that mean even without magic ,he can create and wield those miracles he has seen? That would be so badass.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Note: Maddened Keeper was not, in fact, a hero. Also seems to have killed herself in this for some godforsaken personal reason.

      My guess as to Cat’s Name: Black Queen. V 2.0

      Masego used Night in this one – not the replica, the original. Cat’s power that she lent him / that he Wrested from her. Borrowing her stuff was how he got the Aspect in the first place, remember? ^^

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Oshi

        We don’t know the Keeper is dead. I won’t believe it until the story confirms it. All the hints are that her physical form is not very important to her existence. I keep thinking maybe she has a form per seal and they only destroyed one of them?

        Like

      2. Darkening

        Yeah, I figured something weird was going on with Keeper when Cat thought of her as a villain and the Mirror Knight described her as heroically containing evil things. Didn’t think it was gonna turn out quite this extreme though. I imagine serving as the personal seal for 8 demons isn’t exactly pleasant, so maybe Bard just said to her, “Hey, go here and do this and you’ll die in a way that doesn’t end up killing massive numbers of innocent people since they’ll be able to kill the demons using the magic sword.” And thus she gets to set her burden down. Would be an interesting mirror of the Bard’s motivations as well.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. She got a helpful stab by someone with an older Name and a right to appoint a successor.

      Holy shit, was that whole arc just Bard’s way of stabbing Cat to get her to the Name?

      Liked by 4 people

  14. Xinci

    So it looks like the Gods weren’t satisfied with the depth of that victory. Fair enough I suppose, it didn’t show complete methodological domination in all the functions Bard plays in their wager.

    Also, the arcana having the same number as the numbered Hells is quite interesting. It seems that similar to Winter if things with domains are tied to a soul they can be affected by Creational patterns.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Listen, my boy Frederic better not be dead. Hakram’s almost definitely alive (but damn, what a price), but I’ve gotten really attached to the Kingfisher Prince. And the Red Axe is almost certainly acting of her own volition (at least as much as a pawn of the Bard can), considering her supposed immunities.

    There is a small chance that this could be her “helping”, however, as she is an anti-mage.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Where?

      If it’s in the section with Nephele, I think Cat’s saying Nephele wasn’t going to go where Archer is because she’ll be exhausted and that’ll be a fight.

      That said, Indrani is Neutral, aka can fill the shoes of either.

      Liked by 3 people

  16. Judging by the pattern, by the end of the book all that’s left of Hakram would be a talking head.

    Judgement, Tower and Empress are all appropriately ominous, given that both Judgement-corpse and Named Cordelia were Bard’s plots that were, as we assume, thwarted. Except the thwartment of her plans left both the weapon and the hand on the trigger without a way for Gods to influence the outcome, be it through Name or Angels.

    So Cordelia will fire Judgement-corpse, and that is Bard’s final play. Divine Judgement without Divine guidance in mortal hands. Now that sets up a precedent, doesn’t it? I wonder how that would kill her, if that is her game. That does seem a tad shallow and not enough though, as it does not fall under what Dead King would deem as “something that will make them all come after you”. Although he could be meaning not mortlals and Named, but rather Gods, and so she perhaps plans to do something to the Gods and the Fate?

    And if she is the nudge of Gods onto Creation, does she perhaps want to bind them by their very rules to be unable to interfere with a Creation at all? Chess pieces conspiring to kill the players does have a rather poetic bent, doesn’t it? Except unless that is exactly what Gods were after all along. The genuine spark of self-awareness stocked through conflict and fanned through the rebellion? With all due respect, any question having but two answers reeks of human perspective.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. And given that this loss is likely the start of the Pattern of Three, Bard is owed a victory in a particularly gruesome way. Unless of course she plans to turn Bard’s owed victory against Dead King, since she probably decided to tie him up as a gift for her retirement. Something along the lines of using that weapon against the Dead King, with the use of it bitterly opposed by Cat will count as victory enough. And if truly pressed, Boner can give some sweet deal against Bard Cat knows she will be tempted by, so having a guaranteed win will help Bard deny Neshie this chance. Moreover, allying herself with him will give Bard a clean shot.

      Unless she actually secretly sympathises Bard and is planning to give her even stronger win against the Gods. There is a reason we have Interludes right now, as being privy to her plans right now would lessen the impact of whatever unexpected twist is yet to come.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. While playing Bard on her chosen field, using her chosen tools, acknowledging that she can be a rival, and winning? Nobody asked Cat if she wants to be considered a rival, it’s for Creation to decide. Like with Pilgrim, she did not really had a choice in recognizing him as a rival, with Aqua she didn’t even knew she had a Pattern at all.

          Mind you we still don’t know her plans or even her goals, and my experience of three years with novel tells me that it is explicitly NOT what anyone thinks. Or at least, I’ve yet to read a correct prediction of major plot twist.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. And yet you can’t deny that she rivaled Bard on her field. That she dunwanna be a Bard’s rival is inconsequential. There may not be any pattern of three, but rivals they very much are.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Nope.
                “As good as” and “rivals” are not the same story, and one only implies the other if the two are opposed / trying to do the same thing at the same time.

                Like

                1. They are opposed, they are very much alike. There is more rivalry going on between them then with Cat and any other of her nemesises. They both fight against the same enemy, but disagree on particulars, like with William. They both represent a particular approach to the way stories go, and a winner will establish narrative for decades to come, like with Aqua. And like with Pilgrim, they are both representative leaders of their side of the fence, striving against each other. And well, given how it went is Tariq, it can be argued that Cat is owed a third Pattern of Three to finish the narrative.

                  Like

                    1. Then that is the crux of an issue. I consider them opposed. You don’t. Either way there is an irreconcilable difference in perspective. They would he rivals if they were opposed, right?

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Opposition is a funny thing. They’re working on a high enough meta level where “are we opposed” is just one of the variables they can play with.

                      Like

                    3. I guess that’s too meta for me. I just don’t see it. Unless she pulls “we where allies all along”, for me opposition is undeniable.

                      Like

                    4. I very much expect Bard to have been helping Cat in highly questionable ways all along – since Second Liesse, to the degree that that counted as help. (One could argue it was better for Cat to not have become that version of The Black Queen.) (Bard’s not motivated by Cat’s best interest either way so the point is moot, Cat’s a convenient tool that does what Bard wants, especially if shaped and nudged properly)

                      Liked by 1 person

            2. Perhaps we differently interpreted some parts of chapter. Namely where Cat says that Bard tries to twist her Name into one in opposition to her, instead of something she naturally evolves into. And then implied thwartment of those plans.

              I however see that what was denied not the fact that Cat’s in opposition to Bard, for that indeed would be hard to deny, but rather, the shaping of a Name into something that would be a “rival, thief, successor” to Bard’s Name. It was not a denial of rivalry, just the Name part of it, and Cat already had a Pattern of Three without a Name, so no reason for Pattern to disappear now.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. There… wasn’t a pattern of three?

                And Cat denied the whole thing. Bard was trying to shape her Role, and that encompasses both the Name and any patterns Cat’s a part of. Cat won the struggle over the story period, here.

                Like

                1. That doesn’t mean she is not her rival. She defeated Bard in story-fu for crying out loud. Cat denied a Name revolved around being an eternal partner of Bards, a partisan just like Alistair the Fox, a perpetual underdog. A Name that would require Bard to continue living no less. She did not denied being in opposition to Bard.

                  Like

                    1. Well that is patently untrue. She scraped a victory, but not the kind that will let her talk like that. We still see the repercussions playing out

                      Like

  17. Hmmm.

    I’m curious about Bard’s motivation behind her use of Judgement. Arguably, this was a contingency she set into place in the very likely case that Cat couldn’t kill her. But, what if Cat had killed her?

    She’d be setting fire to the world and telling us to fuck ourselves as she left the (im)mortal coil. Does she really feel that much contempt for the world? Does she simply value her death over everything else? Is this something that she expected Cat to handle, if Bard weren’t around to fan the flames? Or was this her Name literally and metaphorically forcing her hand in case she disappeared?

    Also, I’m hecking pumped for getting the entire song being about foxes 😛

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Letouriste

    A great chapter but it was hard on the nerves, hakram in that state, the prince maybe dead, several traitors still around, the whole cat/bard thing etc…

    I was scared for a second cat’s Name was Trickster given the T and she could have transitioned without realizing, she was close after all

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Darkening

      Heh, I had to go back and reread the whole chapter at one point looking to see if she was referred to by name because if it kept vague I was sure she’d have a name reveal at the end of it.

      Like

  19. Daniel E

    Hey look at that, I can post in real time again, no more **** moderation! I’ll take this opportunity to revive a crazy conspiracy theory I had several books ago; Bard is actually The Story incarnate, all of the metaphysical rules of Gods & Providence made manifest. To what end, I have no idea, but there it is.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Shveiran

    A dead Adjutant was not what I wanted for my birthday, but still, this was one heck of a chapter.

    As always, nicely done. Thank you for all you have gifted us.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Shveiran

        I mean, he has lost half his body to a weapon that’s sharper than Juniper’s salute, there is no healer around, he is out of Stands, and Catherine clearly mentioned that “they”, which I read as Woe, paid a price. Mutilation could be it, but I feel that would be too little. I fear our Adjutant could be a goner.

        Liked by 1 person

  21. Thanatoss

    Now we all know few things:
    1. Bard wants to die.
    2. Hierophant and Cat can not stop her infinite rebirths.
    3. Maddened Keeper was traitor and dying fcked over Mirror Knight and Adjutant, but MK can wield Severence.

    Now question is, how well can Cat help them, we know she will risk all to save MK and Adjutant, unless she sends Masego there…. Hmmm I can’t wait.
    Great chapter

    Liked by 4 people

  22. flashburn283

    Good lord, the Bard is harder to kill than Deadpool and Rasputin combined.

    If Above is not setting her up to be locked in permanent combat with the Dead King in some tiny extra-dimensional prison, what the hell are they doing?

    Liked by 4 people

  23. Daniel E

    Wait wait, something just occurred to me. How in the nine Hells is Masego doing any of this? He still has his knowledge of magic, but lacks the power to use it. He shouldn’t be capable of fixing wards or catching a soul.

    Like

    1. tithin

      He is still named, he still has aspects so while he might not be able to use magic implicitly, he can use it explicitly via Wrest – which is what Cat hinted at very strongly.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Nope.
      First, the Accords don’t exist yet.
      Second, Bard would not fall under the protection of the Accords because she keeps dragging other people onto things.
      Third, even under the Accords, Named are going to be allowed to kill each other, there are just limits on the means and methods they can use and restrictions on involving other people.

      If you meant the Truce and Terms, again, no, Cat hasn’t broken them.
      First, Bard hasn’t signed on to them, and so would not be entitled to any protection from them.
      Second, even if Bard had signed onto the Truce and Terms, she would have violated the fuck out of them, and so Cat’s actions against Bard would constitute enforcing the Truce and Terms.
      Third, Bard was in the middle of attacking the Arsenal and the Truce and Terms themselves, so principles of immediate self defense apply, and it’s not like Bard can be stopped with nonlethal methods.

      Liked by 6 people

  24. Eleron Pfoutz

    Cat has won this Pattern of Three. This bodes either terrifyingly badly for the War for Calernia and equally greatly for Cat, or vice versa.

    Like

  25. 0pointmass

    Creation is just an experiment/piss fight for the gods Above and Below. The Choirs and the demonic forces are ‘in’ the framework of the system they created and it revolves and resolves itself with no actual interference except the interferences of Providence which we all have seen and that of the “last dues” which was clearly shown Hierophant’s father when he destroyed Thalassina. Now I believe that the systems rules change or evolve according to the age (eg Age of Wonders) by the collective psyche of the beings that inhabit creation. That essentially means that Catherine while ushering the Age of Order will have to be put against each and every crazy thing defined the Age of Wonders like the WB and the DK before the Age of Order is truly cemented by her Accords.
    As for the WB she has said before that ” when the time is kind I am also kind and when it’s not..i do what’s necessary. When it is mine, itry to find the story that will save creation.” So she really just wants creation to escape Above’s and Below’s grasp. But she can only act through stories… So she has her work cut out for her.
    Dead King is just the megalomaniac arrogant big bad ruler that he seems to be. And well…. He did kind of created his own system of magic and arrived at the godhead all on his own so he kinda has the qualifications…
    Conclusion as pertaining to this chapter: probably the hard way refers to WB unloading the Age of Wonders baddies she has held captives aka Dread empress Triumphant who by the way is The most Renowned diabolist to have ever graced creation. Or at least I hope if only for the epicness that will follow…
    P. S. Sorry for the big comment.
    P. S2 E.E. keep up the good work

    Like

  26. the struggle had left untouched one of the affrays – the Empress, the Tower – save for one card that’d fallen from the Bard’s sleeve in her death throes.

    Judgement lay with the Tower between it and the Empress, speckled with blood.

    I guess that’s it for Frederic Goethal then? Still don’t understand what Red Axe was doing there or why.

    Like

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