Chapter 35: Portents

“One who rears a tiger should not complain of stripes.”
– Soninke saying

The Painted Knife’s band had been one of the first we’d assembled, back in the first days under the Truce and Terms.

I’d been a given that a hero would have to lead it, as even with Hanno and the Pilgrim backing the Terms there would have been desertions if a villain had been put in charge of Above’s precious little bastards. The Painted Knife, whose name was Kallia, was a tall woman who wore elaborate red face paint and had been Tariq’s personal recommendation for the task. A heroine but not from one of the Dominion’s great lines, and one who tended to be more comfortable on the prowl than standing shoulder to shoulder in a shield wall. I’d wedged in a Proceran villain I’d thought it best to keep out of sight for a while, the Poisoner, since amnesty or not she’d killed a lot of nobles. She was a decent alchemist besides, which tended to be useful in all sorts of ways, though naturally to keep an eye on her the heroes had pushed for a Proceran hardcase known as the Relentless Magistrate to be added to the band.

The man was deeply unpleasant to anyone he considered to be a criminal but obsessed with respecting the letter of the law and a prodigious investigator, so I’d made my peace with it. To add a bit of bite to the band we’d rustled up the Grizzled Fantassin, though we’d had to appropriately pad her retirement fund to get her on board, and since I wasn’t sending anyone hunting for old secrets without a dedicated mage I’d reluctantly parted with the Royal Conjurer. The Helikean mage was an escapee from Kairos’ rise to power and remarkably flexible in ability – he was a more than decent combat mage as well as capable of subtler touches – so it’d been a real loss sending him out. He would have been a good fit at the Arsenal, or any of the fronts for that matter, but in my experience sending a band of five digging into ancient mysteries  without some sort of magical support tended to result mostly in corpses.

Yet they’d returned, at long last, and all five of them were alive. Not without some missing parts – I saw with dismay that the Grizzled Fantassin was missing a finger, and from what I remembered of her contract that was going to put a dent in someone’s savings – but the way they held themselves as they strolled out onto the expanse of stone caught my eye. Wary, yes, but that wariness was aimed outwards. The Poisoner, a plump and smiling middle-aged woman, stood close to the skinny and permanently stubbled Relentless Magistrate whose gaze was sweeping their surroundings without an eye being kept on the criminal he’d once been so scathing about. The Royal Conjurer was trusted to stand at the back without anyone feeling nervous, and the Grizzled Fantassin was standing next to the Painted Knife instead of slightly behind so that she’d be the one to eat an arrow if they got ambushed.

I knew that look, that way of standing together. How could I not, when the mere presence of three of the Woe at my side had me feeling lighter on my feet than I’d had in months? Those five gone through the crucible and come out on the other side changed. Bound to each other in some intangible way, and though it wouldn’t make them like each other it had brought trust with it. A lot more precious a thing, that, in my opinion.

I liked a lot of people, after all, but trusted only a handful.

I wasn’t the only one to see it. Vivienne had turned when I did, but it wasn’t her who let out a low whistle. Archer, ever more perceptive than she seemed, was watching the five Named with narrowed eyes.

“Those five have had an interesting year, I bet,” Indrani murmured.

I’d expected the Royal Conjurer would be eager for a different assignment, after this, but now I doubted it. A proper debrief would be needed, at some point, but I was personally more inclined to find something else important to send a proper band of five at than try to break it up. Practical considerations aside, my heart clenched in excitement. A band, a real band, with villains in it. That was… there were precedents for temporary truces, even the occasional cooperation, but never anything like this. Not that I knew of, anyway, and I’d made it my business to know.

“Catherine’s associate is making his way here,” Masego noted.

I flicked a glance upwards and found him at the top of the stairs, burning glass eyes staring at the unseen through the walls of the Arsenal.

“Which one?” I asked.

“The tolerable Ashuran one,” Hierophant said, then added, “By which I do not meant the Blessed Artificer, to be clear.”

Three amused looks were turned onto Zeze. His continuing feud with Adanna of Smyrna, now drained of the dangerous underlying tensions, had resumed being entertainingly petty. He meant Hanno, presumably, who I really should have expected to turn up the moment the Painted Knife’s band came through. The White Knight had a general knack for being in the right place at the right time, even more so than most heroes. Mind you, providence was not absolute. It could be gamed, if you knew the right tricks. I looked down at the gathering Named, speaking with the mages who’d spelled them through, and grimaced as I realized it’d be rude not to greet them down there and instead continue up and wait there. Which meant I was going to have to go up and down these fucking stairs again.

Forget the Dead King: if I didn’t get to take a sledgehammer to these… tyrannical stones before I died, I might just have to come back as a vengeful spectre.

“’Drani, go tell him to get a move on,” I said. “Vivienne, do you remember their Names?”

Blue-grey eyes turned to me and she grimaced the slightest bit.

“All but one,” she admitted. “The smiling one who looks like the village baker?”

“The Poisoner,” I said, enjoying her slight wince. “One of mine.”

“You don’t say,” Vivienne drily replied.

Admittedly the Name was not one that, uh, invited nuanced interpretation. The

“I don’t know any of them,” Masego informed us.

Neither of us bothered to pretend we were surprised. Painted Knife and her companions had begun the walk across the floor but we got to the bottom of the stairs before they did. The red-painted heroine offered me a salute, a fist against the chest, that I vaguely remembered being a gesture of respectful acknowledgement among Levantines.

“Black Queen,” the Painted Knife greeted me. “We return.”

“And I am glad of it,” I replied, offering her a nod before turning my gaze on the others. “What you have found is eagerly awaited.”

Especially since they’d refused to commit it to either scrying or letters, which would have gotten it to us months ago.

“Ah,” a voice came from above. “I had been wondering why I was here.”

Hanno looked pleased but not entirely surprised as he came down, Indrani idling at his side and only parting ways at the bottom to throw an arm around a tolerant Hierophant’s shoulder.

“White Knight,” the Painted Knife greeted, significantly warmer.

Still the same salute, though, so I decided not to feel too insulted. The Grizzled Fantassin cleared her throat, freeing her grey hair by removing her helm.

“This is all lovely, but after this long on the road I’d knife an angel for bed and a warm meal,” she said, her Arlesite accent light and pleasant.

“Contrition’s your choir,” Archer advised. “Steer clear of Mercy, though, they’re a little…”

I cleared my throat. The old soldier looked mostly amused, and Hanno patiently forgiving, but the Painted Knife was waiting to see if the Peregrine’s own Choir was about to get insulted. Would a Levantine fight an honour duel over an angelic choir’s reputation? It said a lot about the Dominion that I could not reply with an immediate and definitive no, to be honest.

“We’ll get you settled in,” I said. “But for a few hours at most. There will be a council to receive your findings by Afternoon Bell at the latest.”

Considering how the First Prince tended to pack her hours even more tightly than I did, I suspected she’d have trouble shaking loose the time for a proper debriefing before then anyway.

“Will Kallia speak for all of you?” Hanno asked. “Or will the report be given as a group?”

“As a group,” the Painted Knife said, and there were nods all around.

I caught the Royal Conjurer’s eye, cocking an eyebrow in question, but the tanned old man discreetly shook his head. No need for a separate talk between us, then.

“Good, it will simplify matters,” I said. “Messengers will be sent to you rooms to inform you of when the council will take place.”

I paused for a moment.

“Water’s rationed in the Arsenal, but feel free to ask to be drawn a hot bath anyway,” I said. “Under my authority, if need be,”

Groans of anticipatory pleasure were my answer.

“Many are temptations of Evil,” the Relentless Magistrate gravely said.

His tone was serious, but the slight quirk of his lips gave the humour away.

“I assure you,” the Poisoner said, “evil paid much better than the Grand Alliance.”

Fair, I admitted even as the band let out the kind of small chuckles a fond but worn joke would get after a few months or a year of being bandied about. Exhausted as they were, we didn’t linger around for small talk.

Ultimately my pride was my downfall, as I decided that asking Masego to levitate me over those fucking stairs would be too undignified.

I’d either overestimated how full Cordelia Hasenbach’s schedule was or I’d underestimated how much she wanted to hear the report from the Painted Knife’s band, because as soon as an hour past Noon Bell our little council was seated in one of the  formal halls of the Arsenal.

We’d kept the numbers relatively low, since this was unlikely to be the sort of thing we wanted spread around and numbers were always the death of secrecy. There were three seats filled as a given – mine, Hanno’s and Hasenbach’s – but after that it’d been on strict basis of need. Vivienne, while tired and fresh off her own travels, was my heiress-designate so she’d naturally been brought in. Masego was as well, as my advisor on sorcery and the eldritch, and he’d not even needed to be talked into it. Hierophant had no interest in politics, but he’d always been like a magpie when it came to secrets. Hanno had brought in Roland and the Blessed Artificer, both of which had been hard to argue with. The Rogue Sorcerer was a generalist, when it came to magic, and Adanna of Smyrna understood Light in ways few others could.

I was pretty sure that the only reason she and Masego weren’t trying to stare each other down was that the Artificer knew he didn’t blink.

The First Prince had brought in Frederic, and I’d had a hard time placing why at first. The Prince of Brus was popular and a Hasenbach loyalist, but he wasn’t exactly in the running for the throne even if she stepped down from it. Malanza was all but certain to get the chair, if it came to that. I liked Frederic, our little affair aside, but as far as I knew he didn’t bring much to the table. Except, I realized after a moment, security. He was a Named that the First Prince knew would be on her side, if anything went wrong in this room where no guards would be allowed in. Given that he was a prince it was hard to argue with his presence, regardless, and one might argue that anyhow I’d already put my faith in the… discretion of the Kingfisher Prince. Hasenbach’s other seat had been given to a middle-aged man by the name of Alvaro Corrales, who was introduced as a scholar and one of her secretaries.

He’d be taking the formal notes for the session, though Vivienne would be taking notes for my side as well.

Since Lord Yannu Marave had yet to arrive, the Dominion would go without a representative today. It wasn’t ideal, but to be honest there simply wasn’t anyone high-ranking enough from Levant on the premises. Anyone brought in – one of the few captains, most likely – would be lost for most of the conversation and require access to several more well-kept secrets just to understand most of what was going on. It wasn’t going to be happening, Hasenbach and I had agreed. We’d keep the Painted Knife and her band here long enough that the Lord of Alava could hear the same report we had, if a little later, and maybe offer a polite apology for the haste. Not a very sincere one, though. No one had been particularly inclined to delay until Marave got here, given the potential importance of the report and how long we’d been waiting for it. Sparse small talk was had as a courtesy for the short while we waited after the coming Named, but it’d barely gotten past greetings by the time the five were brought in.

A few hours of rest had visibly done them some good, I thought. Months on the road couldn’t be cured with a catnap, but at least it’d taken the edge off and allowed them to change into clean clothes. By habit my eye sought weapons and found none, not that Named could ever truly be harmless. After the attendants escorted them down to the lower table – ours was up on platform, in a bit of pageantry – and the Painted Knife offered greetings for the band as a whole. Hasenbach took the lead in answering, even as I studied the five Named. The Poisoner looked uncomfortable, which was only to be expected since she’d once accepted a tidy sum to kill the First Prince even if she’d ultimately failed, but that the Relentless Magistrate looked the same caught my attention.

Whatever it was they’d found, it didn’t sit well with the man.

“- if my fellow high officers have no objection?”

I’d kept half an ear on the talk, so I wasn’t caught unawares. Cordelia was trying to move this along.

“None,” I said.

“Agreed,” Hanno replied.

The Painted Knife breathed out, and I wondered how much nervousness the thick face paint was actually hiding. The people in this room, the people she’d be addressing, were not without power or influence in the wider world.

“The mandate given us by the White Knight and the Black Queen was to find the truth of what took place long ago in the place known as the Verdant Hollow,” Kallia of the Knife’s Blood began.

It was Neshamah himself, during the conference in Salia, who’d suggested we should look into a place where the first Grey Pilgrim would have ‘slain many men’. Paired with the insinuation that we owed Kairos Theodosian all our lives and that the Wandering Bard had been playing us for fools, it’d warranted investigation. Tariq himself had known of the existence of the hidden valley, this Verdant Hollow, and even negotiated with the Holy Seljun on our behalf to access the records of the secret records Isbili when it turned out that the White Knight could not see a single thing that’d taken place within the valley grounds through his aspect. After a look through the records the band of five had chased after the trail like bloodhounds, but I’d heard very little of how they’d gone about it.

“We first tried the Verdant Hollow ourselves, using sorcery to try to bring forth a shade from those ancient days,” the Painted Knife said. “It did not succeed.”

She glanced at the Royal Conjurer, who cleared his throat and asked for permission to speak.

“Granted,” I said.

“Old battlefields and sites of slaughter usually have stray spirits even when shades have faded, as the former often feed on the latter,” the old man said, offering a grandfatherly smile. “There was not a trace of either, however, and my attempts to conjure up the dead failed in a manner that can only be called absolute.”

At my left, I saw Masego lean forward in his seat.

Tabula rasa?” Hierophant asked.

The wrinkled old mage nodded.

“Indeed, Lord Hierophant,” he replied. “I drew the obvious conclusion.”

“Angelic intervention,” Roland said, voice quiet and troubled.

I sagely nodded, as if I’d known that all along. Although, the tabula rasa thing did vaguely ring a bell. Akua had once mentioned that the touch of angels on Creation tended to ‘renew’ the fabric of the Pattern, often erasing old damage, which was why even though Callow had been subjected to more than a few rituals it wasn’t up to its neck in fae and devils all the time. Still, this was hardly a great revelation. If the first Pilgrim had called on an angel to tip the scales against a villain, it wasn’t exactly unprecedented.

“It was clear there would be no shortcut, so we followed our other lead,” Kallia of the Knife’s Blood said. “The records of the Pilgrim’s Blood spoke of survivors that fled north, into the Alavan hills, carrying wounded with them. We looked for graves along that path, combing the countryside.”

A sideways look at the Grizzled Fantassin saw the older woman salute – towards Cordelia in particular, I noted – and speak out in a cadenced tone I recognized from my own years on campaign.

“There weren’t any Dominion graves, Your Highness, but I recognized old markers in the tradition of the southern companies,” she said. “It was my kind that got butchered in that valley, and they buried their own as best they could while running away.”

I’d not guessed it would be fantassins that’d gotten killed by the first Pilgrim, but that it would be Procerans had been something of a given. The founders of the Blood, immortalized in the epic poetry of the Anthem of Smoke, had been rebels against Proceran occupation.

“We attempted to summon forth the spirits form the graves, but there was a complication,” the Painted Knife said.

“Someone had beaten us to it,” the Royal Conjurer said, sounding amused. “Necromancy had already been used there, and recently.”

“How recently?” Masego asked. “For how many corpses?”

“A month, five corpses,” the old Helikean mage replied.

Zeze scoffed, and I let out a low whistle myself.

“That’s a hell of a bleed,” I said.

From the corner of my eye I saw Roland lean to the side to explain to the First Prince in a whisper what I’d learned from my own lessons in the Art. Usually the turn of the moon dispersed weak magical residue, so for it to still have been detectable after a month when there’d only been five corpses to raise meant that the caster had grossly overcast their spell. Usually either the mark of the incompetent and ignorant – Masego’s own conclusion, obviously – or of people with a lot of power but little control.

“Fortunately, we were able to track the risen dead through the gift Bestowed upon of one of our own,” the Painted Knife said.

The Relentless Magistrate, who I could not help but not had yet to shave, rose to offer us all a stiff bow.

“We followed the trail to a fishing village south of Malaga before it went cold,” the man said, his strong Alamans accent showing even when speaking Chantant. “Upon investigation, Your Highness and Majesty, it turned out that villages in the region all had a few missing individuals. While the locals were disinclined to answer the questions of a Proceran magistrate, Lady Kallia’s stature as one of the Blood bridged the gap and we figured out the common link was access to boats.”

My brow rose.

“The Royal Conjurer and my humble self meanwhile found out that graves were being robbed in the area,” the Poisoner tittered. “Which painted a damning picture, yes?”

Considering I’d heard that poisonous things tended to grow around Dominion barrows, I decided not to ask exactly what they’d been doing when finding that out.

“When another young man was abducted we followed,” the Painted Knife said, “and after borrowing a boat and sailing across the Pond we made shore south of the Brocelian.”

Which was, from what I recalled, one of the last largely unexplored stretches of Calernia by virtue of most people going into it dying ugly deaths. Ventures in there were profitable if you could handle yourself, though, given the amount of magical creatures and rare resources. The city of Tartessos should be an impoverished hole in the ground, going by simple geography, but trading in Brocelian goods had instead made it one of the great cities of Levant.

“Didn’t even get to find our way before we got ambushed by undead,” the Grizzled Fantassin sighed. “Although that was still better than the damned boat reeking of fish.”

“It was clear we were on the right path, if the enemy was attempting to obstruct us,” the Relentless Magistrate smiled, a small slice of teeth and malice.

“The Brocelian is not a forest to be tried without preparations,” Hanno said. “Did you seek a guide?”

“One of the ambushers was a living man,” the Painted Knife said. “And though terrified of his ‘master’ he agreed to serve as our guide after some convincing.”

The Poisoner tittered, smiling girlishly.

“It is easier to bargain when one has the only antidote to be found for a thousand miles,” she said.

That’d been an impressively creepy titter, I mulled to myself. The woman was talented.

“Ten silvers it was some Named undead trying to gather an army on the sly,” I muttered under my breath.

“I will take that,” Masego decided. “No one with that much bleed could possibly be competent enough to lead an army.”

Ha, the sucker. Although it’d better not come out of the Arsenal budget, since that’d just be cycling my own coin around.

“Twenty it was trying to take over Levant,” Vivienne offered under her own breath.

The White Knight turned a steady gaze onto us, and I felt vaguely ashamed at having been caught betting on this.

“I’ll take the bet on the twenty,” Hanno softly said, leaning towards us. “And thirty it has Barrow in the Name.”

It was probably some sort of heresy to gamble with the White Knight, I thought, but then I had been Arch-heretic of the East. They couldn’t reasonably expect me not to dabble at least a little.

“I’ll take that bet,” I snorted. “We’ve already got a Barrow Sword, the Gods Below wouldn’t be that uninspired.”

“It’s Levant,” Hanno drily replied, “there’s always a barrow involved somehow.”

A few gazes had turned towards us at the continued whispers, so I painted a solemn look onto my face. It’d been a serious, professional conversation we’d be having and there was no reason to even suspect otherwise.

“We pushed on into the woods, meeting little opposition as we went,” the Painted Knife said.

“About a hundred zombies and just the most horrid manticore,” the Grizzled Fantassin corrected.

“It was unusually unpleasant even by manticore standards,” the Royal Conjurer agreed.

“We then found an army of the dead being gathered in the depths of the Brocelian, thousands of corpses being armed in the shade of the trees,” the Painted Knife continued.

I cocked an eyebrow at Masego who looked mightily disgruntled at the revelation. Ten silvers for me, that was.

“We knocked out the prisoner and infiltrated the camp, where we learned that it was one of the Bestowed who was gathering a host,” Kallia of the Knife’s Blood said. “Though long dead, it had once been of the Tanja and wanted to claim rule of Malaga once more – Lord Razin Tanja was only titled through a loophole, it argued, and so it would rise the same.”

It made me feel a little dirty inside to refer to Praes laws on anything, but for once the Dread Empire might just be the leading light there: it had pretty strict laws cutting out the undead of both inheritance and holding titles at all. It’d only taken like three civil wars to get there, too, which by Praesi standards was basically unanimous consent. Hanno glanced at Vivienne, who was to embarrassed to curse in front of the Sword of Judgement but looked like she very much wanted to. Malaga wasn’t all of Levant, after all.

“He had proclaimed himself to be lord of the dead,” the Relentless Magistrate said, sounding offended by the pretension.

“She,” the Poisoner corrected.

“They named themselves the Barrow Lord,” the Painted Knife cut in.

I cursed in Kharsum, which drew some gazes. Including the First Prince’s. Really, Below? That was why Good kept winning, because they were such shits about it all. Now the White Knight was the one who’d won the most out of this whole blasphemous sidebar, and let that be a lesson: Above would always win so long as Below wasn’t willing to spring for some proper Names. Barrow Lord, I scathingly thought. They might as well have just named the poor bastard ‘Grave Noble’, it was about as clever in the greater scheme of things. People were still looking at me, so I cleared my throat.

“I grieve for the people of Levant,” I said, which strictly speaking wasn’t a lie.

“I thank you for your kindness,” the Painted Knife said, sounding surprised. “But the five of us were able to defeat the old dead. Though it refused to rest even when broken, the Poisoner was able to find a way to destroy it.”

“Manticore venom is a powerful acid, when mixed with blood and rhododendron,” the Poisoner smiled.

Well, that was an image. Masego and Roland both looked interested but were aware enough not to indulge their curiosity just now.

“And the corpses you had come there to find?” the First Prince calmly asked.

“We had destroyed several without knowing it,” the Painted Knife admitted, “but the fifth made itself known.”

“It proclaimed itself the new Barrow Lord,” the Grizzled Fantassin snorted. “Which several other undead saw fit to argue with. It was all very Highest Ass-”

The older woman paled.

“-League of Free Cities,” she hastily corrected, glancing sideways at the First Prince of Procer.

I was rather amused she did not so much as glance at Frederic, who was a sitting member of the Assembly as well.

“You captured your corpse, however, I take it?” Hanno asked.

Subtle laughter rippled through most of the band.

“I arrested him,” the Relentless Magistrate defiantly said. “For false arrogation of noble title, which is a crime under Proceran law.”

I choked at the bold assertion and was not alone in my surprise.

“Dead or not, he was a Proceran subject,” the man insisted.

I was a little disturbed to see that Cordelia Hasenbach was beaming down at him, or at least as close to that as her face would allow.

“Is it actually illegal to be undead under Proceran law?” I asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“It would fall under the heresy laws, in most cases,” the First Prince told me. “Though in the four northern principalities undeath is considered high treason and acted upon as such.”

“It’s illegal for undead to do manual labour under the Accords, by the latest draft,” Vivienne noted.

“We’re going to need to make sure I don’t accidentally qualify under the wording, given how often I’ve died,” I told her under my breath.

“The ancient dead was convinced to surrender to the authority of the magistrate,” the Painted Knife said. “After some aggressive persuasion. And after we ran away with him tied to the Grizzled Fantassin’s back, we finally had our answers.”

That caught everyone’s attention.

“The mercenary companies were led by the White Knight of the time, a woman of Procer,” Kallia of the Knife’s Blood said, “and had been hunting the Grey Pilgrim for some time. They caught up to him and his fellow rebels in the Verdant Hollow.”

Wait, it was a heroine he’d been fighting? I’d known that in the past the Principate had fielded the occasional hero when taking a swing at its neighbours, but I’d not expected a damned White Knight to end up serving as a bloodhound for insurgents. By the look on Hanno’s face, he was less than happy to hear this but not outright surprised. I supposed he’d seen too many of the lives of his predecessors to hold any illusions about their infallibility.

“The fight went in the favour of the Pilgrim,” the Painted Knife said. “Yet the White Knight would not have it. When defeat seemed to be looming, she called on the help of a Choir.”

Oh, fuck. I did not like where this was headed. I did not like it at all.

“Which one?” Hanno calmly asked.

“Mercy,” the Relentless Magistrate quietly said. “I… glimpsed, and it must have been Mercy.”

Considering how brutal Tariq could get in the pursuit of greater goods, I could actually believe the ancient White Knight had been backed by the Ophanim in her quest. Suppress the rebellion and reform from the inside, maybe? It was an uncomfortably familiar refrain, and it might just be I was painting my own history on a blank canvas there. But she’d led fantassins instead of regulars, so perhaps it had been unkind to assume she’d been with the rapacious princes occupying Levant back then.

“And what happened after that?”

“Angels came,” Kallia of the Knife’s Blood said. “But a woman stepped in, and then the angels left.”

167 thoughts on “Chapter 35: Portents

    1. caoimhinh

      When the Relentless Magistrate said “I arrested him” my first thought was “That’s actually his Aspect, isn’t it? This guy went and Arrested the undead. This is a guy that is physically empowered by the laws he enforces.”

      Liked by 26 people

      1. ATRDCI

        Unstoppable Force vs Immovable Object: Relentless Magistrate arresting Mirror Kniht the next time he tries some B.S.

        Mirror Knight will already be disgusted by and/or think the Heroes of the band have been tainted given they trust their Villain members

        Liked by 5 people

      2. caoimhinh

        Ah, now that I read the chapter again, I noticed another thing.

        “Mercy,” the Relentless Magistrate quietly said. “I… glimpsed, and it must have been Mercy.”

        Is Glimpse one of his Aspects?
        If the Conjurer had been the one to glimpse at the Choir it wouldn’t be strange, but it was the Magistrate who did it.

        Catherine called him “a prodigious investigator” and he wasn’t described as a Mage, so how did he “glimpse” at the Choir of Mercy from hundreds of years ago? It must have been an Aspect. Which further reinforces my hypothesis of this guy being a Named supercop.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Salt

          An incredibly legalistic supercop, apparently.

          I’m not actually sure if he’d be best friends or worst enemies with Masego. On one hand they apparently have a shared love of completely frivolous technicalities, but on the other hand the sets of technicalities they follow are likely completely different.

          The dude may actually be able to subject Masego to petty punishments for breaches of obscure bylaw, given how much Masego hates to be technically incorrect about anything. Hierophant could probably be convinced to arrest himself for several minutes, followed by subsequently spending several evenings angrily reading volumes on Proceran law for the sake of equally petty revenge.

          Liked by 7 people

        2. Darius Drake

          I doubt that Glimpse is the name of his aspect, though “Investigate”, “Perceive”, “Confirm”, “Review” or something else along those lines might be. That pause seems to be him about to use the Aspect’s Name, and deciding it was a stupid thing to do at the moment, and thus purposefully avoiding it.

          Liked by 3 people

        1. No, it’s just that she went down with a bunch of her Legions at the same time, presumably all ending up in the same afterlife-Hell, which would then be at risk of her taking the place over.
          Also, she dropped a lot of demons and devils on the Crusaders on her doorstep at about the same time.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. notably Hells are also not actually afterlife, which people who actually work with them (or talk to people who work with them) know, but common parlance doesn’t

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            1. Well … there is apparently an afterlife for Heroes (if not necessarily anybody else) that gets called the Heavens, or part of them.
              It’s not an unreasonable extrapolation that Villains would go to a place that gets called part of or one of the Hells, no matter what the actual truth is.

              Especially since I’m pretty sure that the immediately post-Triumphant Praes was occupied and turned into Crusader kingdoms, and that lasted until Terribilis the First came along and kicked them out.
              So the entire “may she never return” thing could be a legacy of the Crusaders.

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              1. > Well … there is apparently an afterlife for Heroes (if not necessarily anybody else) that gets called the Heavens

                That’s what people say, but it’s not actually known for certain, we have multiple instances of WoG confirming that. Hells are more… physically accessible than Heavens so that part of “the dead go to Heavens or Hells” is disconfirmed while the other one isn’t, but Masego and the like use different terms for where souls go after death.

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                1. Back when Pilgrim could resurrect people, he said that they didn’t come back quite the same because he was pulling them from the glories and perfection of Heaven back to the flawed and tarnished realm of Creation.

                  Whether or not that is actually what’s going on is entirely irrelevant to what he thinks and says is going on, and this what everybody else thinks it’s going on. Though, since he’s got a direct line to the Choir of Mercy, he’s either accurately informed or being fed Above’s official stance on the afterlife.

                  Also, I’m pretty sure that the House of Light doctrine and holy books claims that there’s an afterlife associated with the Heavens for Heroes and good people, and one associated with the Hells for Villains and evil people/sinners.

                  Point is, it doesn’t actually need to be true, just what Above has told people to say or write down.

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                  1. > Though, since he’s got a direct line to the Choir of Mercy, he’s either accurately informed or being fed Above’s official stance on the afterlife.

                    Or the Choir just never answered this question. They’re known to do this.

                    People generally make things they believe are Above’s word wholesale, as multiple heroes have called out.

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                    1. Well, I would expect that Tariq asked what happened when the first person he resurrected didn’t come back the same.
                      So … presumably the Ophanim either gave him an answer or pointed him to preexisting House of Light doctrine. Which means that’s the official line from Above … or at least the version that the Choir of Mercy endorses.
                      And if he didn’t ask the Choir, his belief must be based on information he received from elsewhere, which would presumably be House of Light doctrine and/or writings by prior Heroes and/or other holy texts.

                      Point is, it doesn’t need to be objectively true … the worshipers of Above need only believe it to be true.

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                    2. I suspect that any case of “everybody thinks that way” would have its origins in House of Light doctrine, the writings of Choir-backed Heroes and/or other holy texts.
                      That is, the beliefs about the afterlife are not simply spontaneous, but one or more of the Choirs started it in purpose.

                      I floated the hypothesis that the “may she never return” thing could, at least in part, be a legacy of the immediately post-Triumphant Crusader occupations and Crusader kingdoms.

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                    3. I disagree because that’s not how I see Choirs. They’re not the origin of the Book of All Things, they’re not teachers and leaders. They’re force multipliers for the heroes they choose to back, and that’s pretty much all they’re… programmed to do.

                      Note that conspicuously similar beliefs about afterlife also exist in our world, where as far as anyone’s aware there aren’t Choirs for them to originate from. It’s almost like they are naturally generated by human psychology or something :3

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                    4. In a world where Above literally and provably exists and is demonstrably and historically active, and can and does semi-regularly step in to express its opinion on some things, including literally granting power to (some of) its followers, I would not call it a stretch to suggest that any beliefs about the afterlife that the followers of its faith may have are likely inspired by the explicit actions and/or statements made by Above or its duly authorized and empowered representatives, and have, at minimum, been explicitly or implicitly condoned and endorsed by Above and its fully authorized and empowered representatives.
                      Whether or not they’re actually objectively true is irrelevant.

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                    5. > is demonstrably and historically active, and can and does semi-regularly step in to express its opinion on some things, including literally granting power to (some of) its followers

                      Not… exactly.

                      Granting power to some of its followers is literally the only thing it does is the thing. And the opinions it purportedly expresses thought this frequently contradict themselves, see: priests on both sides of the Crusade and see: the White Knight and the Grey Pilgrim at the founding of Levant.

                      Above’s “statements” are clear as mud, and Hanno and Laurence both dunked on the clergy for “speaking for the silent Heavens” – among followers of Above, one with millenia of heroic memories to draw on and the other with a lifetime of personal experience, it’s a known fact that the House of Light mostly just makes things up.

                      Liked by 1 person

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          In a suppressed bit of Prasei history, Traitorous did name an heir: a man eating Tapir trained to dress in his clothes and to target the fanciest looking person in the room. This actually allowed him to technicallu hold the throne for 2 and a half weeks, as eating the fanciest person in the room allowed it to successfully thwart the first 5 usurpation attempts.

          Liked by 15 people

  1. Laguz24

    I want to know when those five manage to find out about the mirror knight and severance. The impression of outsiders on this mess would be rather interesting.

    Liked by 15 people

    1. Salt

      They might achieve the rare condition of being incredibly impressed and incredibly disappointed at the same time.

      Impressed that someone could wield that thing without it beheading you for daring to try wielding it, as well as simultaneously slaughtering an entire court of Fae and seven demons.

      Disappointed at the colossal bout of stupidity that followed, especially since he also shot himself in the foot by making it impossible for the GA to let him keep the sword at the moment, even if they wanted to.

      Although Hanno might end up taking the spotlight for some of them. It’s ridiculously impressive that he could turn aside the sword barehanded, followed by thrashing the Mirror Knight without even drawing his own sword. It’s ridiculous to a degree that would invite complete disbelief, and could propel him into “what the fuck” levels of admiration in the eyes of many, on par with the kind of fear/intimidation that Catherine commands.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Zach

      The notable thing about the whole Mirror Knight situation is that, in the end, I don’t think any of the heroes aside from Blade of Mercy sided with him (and Blade of Mercy isn’t really a bad guy; he’s just a dumb kid who has spent most of his time around Mirror Knight, and he’s likely starting to have some cognitive dissonance due to stuff like Mirror Knight lying about what happened with Repentant Magister).

      While some heroes might approve of Mirror Knight having the Severance or dislike Catherine, it appears that very few are actually okay with directly rebelling against the Truce and Terms.

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  2. dadycoool

    Oh, shit! Cat’s got a precedent for smacking down Choirs! It’s not just her treading new ground! Sure, she’s having to retread a smoothed-over path, but the path is still there.

    I bet it was so satisfying for Cat to see the camaraderie between that Band of Five.

    And that’s what you get for being such a Heretic, Cat. You knew better than to make a bet with a White Knight, yet you made it anyway.

    Liked by 18 people

      1. dadycoool

        Cat’s never fought a Choir either. She dictated Mercy twice in the last book, once to get Tariq resurrected and once at the Trial. Come to think of it, “told them they were interfering with the greater good and to piss off” is exactly what she did at the Trial. “Yeah, sure, this guy needs to die, but don’t kill the leaders of half the continent to do it ” It would explain why they folded so fast: they’ve done so before.

        Liked by 12 people

        1. I mean, she did also bully Contrition into giving her a resurrection whiost they tried to crush her under the weight of her sins, and said “Fuck off, you bottom feeders” to Endurance as they tried to claim the Stalwart Paladin.
          So she has fought a couple in her time.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Salt

            Not so much fight in the conventional sense, as hiding behind story technicalities and alliances of convenience. Past-Catherine likely would’ve been smited into the finest ash if she ever truly exchanged blows with a choir – she won against them by avoiding the need to fight the battle at all.

            Contrition and Endurance weren’t even allowed to fight back because the story rules said Catherine technically already won, and Angels aren’t allowed to break the rules.
            Mercy just let it go both times because she made her own goals roughly align with theirs – resurrecting the Pilgrim with no strings attached, as well as protecting innocent bystanders while only delaying their deep-frying of Kairos long enough to get said bystanders out of the way.

            It was less of an “oh no, we’ve been felled on the field of battle” from the Choirs, so much as “ugh, fine, I guess we’ll to do it your way this time”

            Liked by 4 people

            1. dadycoool

              Kairos’ opinion on that was kinda foreboding. “The more you let her get away with dictating terms to you, the more she can do it”? I half expect her to start calling down plagues at some point. She’s already experienced with Miracles, like freezing the water so her troops can cross, so that wouldn’t be throwing her in the deep end.

              Liked by 3 people

  3. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    I’d been a given > It’d been a given
    A heroine but > A heroine, but
    Magistrate whose > Magistrate, whose
    five gone > five had gone
    added, “By > added, “by
    do not meant > do not mean
    interpretation. The (missing words or extraneous the)
    for bed > for a bed
    to you rooms > to your rooms
    if need be,” > if need be.”
    are temptations > are the temptations
    Prince even > Prince, even
    records of the secret records Isbili (something wrong here)
    spirits form > spirits from
    upon of one > upon one
    help but not had > help but notice had
    us,” the > us.” The
    we’d be having > we’d been having
    rhododendron,” the > rhododendron.” The

    Liked by 2 people

        1. Salt

          What happens if one bystander comments “no one could possibly have survived that” and another comments “he’s invincible, there’s no way he could be killed by that”

          Do they become schrodinger’s hero or something? Simultaneously dead and alive until someone triggers the next flag to decide the tiebreaker?

          Liked by 3 people

          1. They probably cancel each other out. But it’s funny how pessimism actually saves lives in Guideverse. I wish in real world I was like “she is out of my league, there is no way it’ll work out” and then it would work out. I would be, like, a god or something.

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  4. Jworks

    So whoever it was, probably Bard, they have the authority to command Choirs. I don’t think we’ve ever been provided with the hierarchy of Above, but someone that can command Choirs must be pretty high up in it.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Hmm, maybe not command, but rather persuade.
      Angels can be made to do things by exploiting their rules, and they can be beaten too. So to make them leave you don’t necessarily need to have command over them.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. dadycoool

        Cat basically said to Contrition “Hey, fuck off and rez me!” when she was a teenager, then a few years later said to Mercy “Excuse me, but I think you should bring your Champion back, or step aside and let me do it.” and “Hey, cool it! the rest of us are here, too!”

        Liked by 3 people

  5. flashburn283

    Ok, seriously, ANGELS listen to the damn bard. Am I missing something here? Because from what we have seen she is a bit of a schemer and a shitload of petty, but nowhere near powerful enough to dictate terms to A CHOIR.

    Gods it is going to take a 3 layer hellegg to seal her away isn’t it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. RoflCat

      Assuming that Bard’s desire is her retirement/death and her latest failure in doing so with that attack on Arsenal…

      It’ll take Heaven’s Fall for her to be gone.

      Because at this point the Gods themselves are keeping her around.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. c_b

      It’s not about power. The Bard never does anything by being powerful enough. She does stuff by ensuring that narrative convention guarantees that she will get her way. Y’know, like Cat coercing the Choir of Mercy to resurrect her by manipulating events such that she was a princess pulling a sword from a stone to make war on Callow’s enemies.

      If this was the Bard, she was able to dictate terms on that kind of basis, not by winning a slugging match.

      Liked by 9 people

        1. Shveiran

          Argued 😛

          She definitely did during the trial, but raising Tariq was not really bullying anyone.
          She just went and said: “look you want to do a thing and I want to do that thing, but you can’t do the thing yourself because of the rules and I can’t do it unless you agree because it’s your turf. So let me step in your turf and I’ll get the thing done, ‘k?”

          It was an important mkilestone, but it was one of cooperation, not strength.

          Liked by 3 people

  6. wabbitking

    Really? It’s going to be illegal for undead to do manual labor.
    That’s about half the use for regular zombies and skeletons besides arrow-fodder.
    A travesty I say!

    On the other hand I can see some future undead villain being a real smart-ass about it.
    Undead villain: Really dear I’d love to help you dig your friends out of that rubble but sadly its against the law Oho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho!

    Liked by 20 people

    1. Agreed. It is a sad to see necromancy so unjustly oppressed in every fantasy I’ve read. Undead workers can be so useful, but nooo, let’s make peasants work themselves half to death over our dubious moral grandstanding. It’s not like they are real people anyway.

      Liked by 10 people

        1. Salt

          This is also the Guideverse, so it’s literal protection for the living too. If a Villain ursurping control over common undead workers could cause a catastrophe, it’s virtually guaranteed to happen eventually.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. That Villain would just kill the peasants and raise their corpses for the army anyway. But villains raising armies of the undead merely cut swathes through the peasantry once a generation or so. If undead were cheaper than living labor everyone would end up undead.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Salt

              It has nothing to do with logistics, it has to do with the narrative. The latter is everything in the Guideverse.

              Having magically-controlled undead workers everywhere is a potentially extremely large danger with a single point of vulnerability. That narrative itself means that Creation will essentially bend over backwards to eventually allow some Villain specialized in ursurpation to grant themselves widespread control over such. It becomes more dangerous simply because stealing control of such tools is such a common story trope.

              Much like Heroes in common fantasy stories being virtually guaranteed to destroy weapons that have a single point of failure, Villains tend to be virtually guaranteed to exploit beneficial systems that have a single point of vulnerability. Disaster caused by the failing of a system that people were over-reliant on, or some horror committed by a wide-scale beneficial work that was twisted to nefarious purposes, are two of the most common tropes in the book.

              If you’re living in a universe where tropes are power, you definitely should avoid things like undead labor especially if they become more common. There’s more than half a chance that you’ll become the sole survivor that gives the Heroic band of five convenient background context, having coincidentally avoided said disaster due to petty paranoia.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. By this point metal tools is a way to bring forward the apocalypse. I mean if you use the wheel, eventually someone will try use it’s power for nefarious designs. Really, we shouldn’t even use sharp rocks – the narrative will ensure they will be used to bash people’s had in!

                Of course someone will weaponise it. But this level of fun-police reminds me of dwarves. You argue that (well you don’t really, but it’s a nice turn of phrase, let me have it, please?) people will die more because of undead cheap labor, I’ll argue people will die less. On average prosperity will massively overshadow any damage from occasional catastrophe, and every loophole used by a Villain will be plugged, making it harder to create said catastrophes, and make them lesser in scope when they do

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                1. Salt

                  You can’t exactly conflate metal tools and rocks with literal magic, in a story-trope sense. The whole argument you’re making falls apart when we examine one key difference:

                  There are TONS of stories and tropes about well-intentioned magic or necromancy gone wrong. Magical devices or sorceries getting corrupted is one of the most common fantasy themes that exist. Not so much for sharp rocks and shovels.

                  You could call it fun-police if you want, but that argument applies exactly the same way to Black replacing blood sacrifices and flying fortresses with bureaucracy and mundane institutions, or Catherine trying to replace demon summoning and angelic intervention with an international diplomatic treaty and geopolitical deterrents.

                  The entire point trying to orchestrate the death of the age of wonders is that while large scale works of magic or necromancy tend to be worth it on paper, disaster by fiction tropes get in the way so often that in practice the most down-to-earth, mundane methodologies tend to be the most stable for the general populace.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. There are tons of stories about average non-magical inventions gone wrong. Because the key trope here is not “magic bad”, but “progress bad”. You will find that one of the most common tropes in sci-fi is “tech gone Wong”. Why? Well, because some people try to justify “me want to live in stone age” whatever way they want. So if we follow that principle to the logical end, anything more advanced than unclipped nails should be feared because “don’t play god”.

                    I mean let’s be real, magic is technology we don’t understand, and widespread undead labor is exactly widespread automatisation. Now, I do understand that it will backfire. Duh. I argue that the benefit to the society as a whole would outdo any damage by orders of magnitude. Think about everything good Industrial Revolution brought, but add to that not getting glassed by some paranoid aliens for developing it.

                    Your other examples do not bring anywhere near the same level of long-term benefit as this. Blood sacrifice? Literally sacrificing long-term for short-term. Obviously get rid of it the moment you can. Flying fortress? Inefficient. Angelic intervention? Literally mass murder at best. Demons? Irreparable damage to the fabric of reality is as long-term as it gets.

                    Devils though? As long as you stick to minor breaches and some general restraint, they can drastically reduce amount of human (and inhuman) casualties in warfare. Which again, makes everyone’s life better.

                    Again, down-to-earth doesn’t mean “no magic” it means “no overambitious grand projects with a single point of failure”. Introduction of undead labor is not that, because you can only use it on the most basic and hazardous jobs, and split them in small groups to ensure no way for all of them to be corrupted at once.

                    They just need to get over their bias and instead of blanket ban on everything that is “unorthodox” try and address all the practical problems, and I bet that the end result, no matter how tame would be ways better than “no necromancy because bad”.

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                    1. Salt

                      I mean we can go back and forth all day coming up with a thousand predictions about the technical details of how necromancy works, but at the end of the day this is a setting where metagaming story tropes matters a lot.

                      You’re seeing it as senseless bias against necromancy. I’m seeing it as it being historically justified in the setting. That’s the difference, at the end of the day.

                      I argue that allowing openings for those catastrophes won’t be worth it. The risk is too high and it’s a senseless one besides, when the same thing can be done with slow, mundane economic development. Progress doesn’t just mean that everything new is good – the large majority of attempted innovations were absolute failures. You can’t just paint undead labor as somehow progress, as if it’s a given that it’ll end up beneficial in the end, simply by being new.

                      Progress just means learning from your past mistakes, and not putting enough importance on narrative patterns is a huge mistake in this setting. We can’t just write off story trope related problems as things that can probably be dealt with. They’re by definition impossible coincidences or an outright bending of reality that causes specific patterns to repeat; and wide-scale necromancy often inviting disaster is one of the most common patterns there is.

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                    2. And I would argue that the bias against necromancy is a very cultural basis for the story enforcing evil necromancers. This is the world where the narrative matters. I’d argue that working on changing the narrative instead of adhering to it would be more productive. Otherwise it is very much “thought changes reality”. By blanket banning necromancy you ensure that the only use for it would be evil.

                      Secondly is that the Guideverse has hard cap on it’s technological level: which means, that without changes taken, things will not go anywhere. Any amount of ecological growth will be stopped cold at that particular wall.

                      In the end I think that narrative matters, but can be and have to be changed. I personally think that this is what Black and Cat had been doing. Not bowing to stories of old because they always had been here, but with a rational eye judge which parts of the past should be left, and which ones should be carved out. Callow and Praes always fight, so making peace between them would surely end up in disaster. Right?

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                    3. Salt

                      I think the core issue we are disagreeing on is that you believe the narrative is driven by a cultural idea of necromancy being unethical. I think the narrative is driven by the folly of widespread use of semi-autonomous constructs.

                      My argument for the risk being too high, narratively, actually has nothing to do with the level of magical technology or the ethics of necromancy, is what I’m (apparently poorly) trying to get across. The level of magical technology used in this could be described as just a reapplication of the basics, nothing groundbreaking

                      However I would say it is still undoubtedly a huge folly regardless, because the objection has nothing to do with ethics or technology. It wouldn’t matter if it was a relatively simple golem made with trismegistan sorcery instead a zombie with dark rituals, it would be far too risky.

                      The problem is that you have wide scale use of semi-autonomous constructs, which are narratively far far FAR more prone to being ursurped in control than your previous comparison of, say, a sharp rock. It is a specific risk associated with the specific trope of becoming overly dependent on uniform constructs or enchantments where an issue with one unit could be replicated broadly, combined with semi-autonomous constructs having a very frequent tendency to become twisted away from their intended function.

                      It is an incredibly strong story trope driven by it being a theme that’s wildly popular with fantasy writers for the virtue of being an interesting premise in and of itself, not some high-handed moral argument.

                      Specific uses by major characters or one offs tend to come with little risk, as competent supervision can be ensured, but wide scale applications will result in eventual catastrophe by incompetence or catastrophe by circumventing of intended use, so often that it’s ridiculous.

                      You’re still getting hung up on the technical logistics when that’s not the objection that’s being pointed out. I’m saying that in a story setting where failure can be guaranteed simply by not metagaming the story tropes hard enough, leaning into a story trope that typically invites disaster 9/10 times is insanely risky, despite whatever technical protections you put into place.

                      What you need isnt an assumption that catastrophic narrative consequences can be averted by way of technical protections. What you need is narrative protections to make sure the story of your undead labor force can never fall into one that invites disaster in the first place, and I’m not seeing a reasonable way for that to happen in the current setting.

                      It isn’t bowing to authority to avoid common historic pitfalls, and it isn’t some cowardly shying away from a challenge to avoid introducing new risks if you can help it. It’s just application of less-proud, less-grand, and more-sensible practicality. Sometimes what you need isn’t some glorious ambition to overthrow the old yoke of Above-oriented bias, so much as just a mundane, common sense compromise if an ideal solution isn’t currently on the table.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    4. Hell, semi-autonomous automated labor (or other usage) forces don’t have to be actively subverted by a hostile third party to have Story issues.
                      They can go rogue.

                      AI and/or robotic forces developing intelligence and wanting their independence and freedom is a classic Story trope all by itself.
                      And undead are basically magic robots using a corpse for their body instead of a constructed one.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    5. I do believe that narrative is established culturally, from people’s beliefs, not from outside by Gods. The reason why Calernia (specifically) has Western fantasy tropes, is not because they are hardwired into the fabric of Creation to be prevalent, but out of sheer accident and the fact that Calernia is, um, pretty Western.

                      From my first assumption comes another: if narrative is cultural, then it can be changed. It takes centuries and is a hard work, but it can be done. If you are clever about it, you can avoid disaster by taking things slowly enough the very concept of disaster coming from this is erased from popular subconscious.

                      That being said, ugh, I concede another points. The tropes at hand have little to do with necromancy itself, so removing cultural bias against it would not remove the core problem. Arguably, even if necromancy was perfectly acceptable and ethical, such wide-scale project would still be extremely dangerous because it’s basically stealing Callow’s weather, or, in more recent examples, using angels corpse. It doesn’t matter if it’s wicked or righteous thing to do, it still has a very high chance of backfiring.

                      But I think that since this problem touches every magical solution to problems, and since noone had much objection against Arsenal, which would be spitting out such projects if not in the field of necromancy with alarming consistency even after the war (or at least I bet it will), there is no reason to exclude particularly necromancy from the array of considered projects.

                      Because, as far as I see it, there is no other alternative. Automation through pure technology is out of the window, and if golemmaking was useful, it would already see widespread use. As things stand, necromancy is the only thing that will say roughly 80% of population from working themselves half to death from dawn till dusk just so that they won’t starve.

                      Like

        2. It is argument for education of peasantry for more skill-intence labor, not mass genocide. Dead can’t breed, so appeasing populace is still necessary. Even Dead Kind does it in a roundabout way.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Andrew Smith

            Except as show undead can do any job that a human can.

            Of course while you teach them where are they earning money to live from and build the schools and pay the teachers

            Like in the long run it might work but you need a good start up cost and well any necromancer can steal control of the dead see how cat and thee crows were able to steal control of the dead kings undead from him

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            1. I am talking specifically long term, but my main argument is against “no undead labor ever” without even some small-scale tryouts. Like who cares, the peasants are the ones suffering anyway, so let’s be righteous, we are not paying the price.

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      1. In a setting where disembodied souls and restless dead exist, desecrating a corpse is not necessarily a victimless crime – the previous owner of the body might be very upset about being ripped from their grave.

        I also suspect it’s being banned on storyline grounds – “an army of undead slaves” is the sort of thing that tends to attract disaster, as a giant force of evil centered around a few powerful mages. E.g., the necromancer dies and all his undead slaves go out of control and start eating people.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. The attitude towards posthumanous use of your body is entirely cultural, and hence, can be changed. But educating peasants would be to expensive, right? This is where cheap undead labor comes in.

          Also, viewing necromancy as evil, in the world so heavily driven by narrative essentially makes all necromancy evil. Change of perspective would go a long way to change reality there.

          Liked by 2 people

              1. Salt

                The Deoraithe had their gestalt stolen and bound by Akua to power up the biggest genocide/doomsday weapon the continent has seen since Triumphant.

                The Drow nearly caused the extinction of their entire race, followed by millennia of cannibalism and the total ruin of their civilization.

                Necromancy being unethical can be debated – neither of those events had to do with moral issues – but those two aren’t exactly good arguments for considering widescale application of necromancy as low-risk.

                If anything, the deoraithe and the drow reinforce the old trope that relying heavily on necromancy will invite disaster sooner or later.

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                1. It’s not necessary for necromancy to be some grand large scale ritual to be implemented, although I see your point. But that is again, not a point against necromancy, but against any grand overambitious project. Tower of Babel, but like, again and again, cause we can.

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                2. But I concede one thing. I do underestimate what you call “narrative forces” because of my personal bias. I utterly despise any “hubris” tragedies. So my natural instinct when someone says “no, you be playing god” is to, er, play god. So I have some massive bias over here and I apologize for it’s influence on our discussion.

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                  1. Salt

                    For my part, I haven’t taken any offense. I think it’s been about equal intense on both sides, and it isn’t as if you haven’t made good points. So any apology you’d make is reciprocated.

                    That being said, I don’t think your logic for why it could work is wrong – I never really disagreed on the methodology being sound in theory.

                    My argument is that contrary to the logic of it, story tropes enforcing themselves are by definition completely illogical. Impossible coincidences, skewed laws of physics, ridiculous statistical outliers, and every coinflip coming up tails. In most other fiction settings the logistics could govern, but in this setting if you’re not using story elements to balance out story-risk, no amount of logical preparation is going to be enough.

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                    1. And I argue that not only my methodology is applicable inverse, it, in fact, had been done already by protagonist no less. I would even go so far as to argue that necromancy was forbidden out of purely political reasons – sheer populism. You can’t really have the truce enforced by the opposition to Dead King allowing necromancy, can you? Procer will surely riot. Again.

                      Like

                    2. Salt

                      My objection is that specifically, semi autonomous constructs like undead carry inherent story-related risks, no different than a Flying Fortress sometimes succeeding but still in general having inherent risks. Mass use of uniform ones only amplifies said risk, and not by just a little.

                      It isn’t an objection to technology in general or some moralistic objection, I don’t personally have any real concern on either front, and in general basic skeletons are pretty low on the magical complexity scale anyway. I won’t buy an argument saying it’s good just because it’s new, but I also won’t object just because it’s new, and that isn’t the point I’m trying to (badly) get across anyway.

                      No, my objection is related specifically to undead as a type of story device that mimics life or mimics sentience, combined with the wide scale uniform application of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stone golem, or a skeleton, or an artificial spirit, or whatever, if it’s magical and in some way semi-sentiently resembling life (especially human life), there’s gonna be a thousand fiction tropes related to it backfiring horribly on their makers. Either by oversight or by sabotage. That makes it inherently risky as heck unless you have a very good exception in play.

                      If I was a player playing in a D&D setting with the same rules as the guideverse, I’d probably object to a party member proposing a wide scale permanent application of such in most cases; mostly because it’s a setting where it’s mandatory to metagame fiction tropes, and I’m not seeing a meta solution that more or less guarantees that the campaign setting wouldn’t find a way to completely screw us for being on the wrong side of a very commonly ruinous fiction trope.

                      I’m saying there’s a high chance that it’d be akin to casting lightning bolt on a large black pudding, not that paladins are correct about lawful neutral necromancy.

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                  2. Salt

                    I guess a good analogy in hindsight would be like discussing whether a plan would work in D&D. Your necromancer would be – in many campaigns – correct to say that undead used for neutral purposes could arguably be no different than any other application of magic, and it’s not uncommon for savvy players to debate if the ethics of necromancy are innately evil in the first place. Good GMs in most settings would entertain that kind of thing no problem.

                    But this all changes if your GM has made it a point that this is a genre-savvy campaign setting that gives large bonuses on rolls for RP that follows common fantasy tropes, and large penalties for being on the wrong side of those tropes. Even moreso if he’s intentionally encouraging players to metagame this mechanic as hard as they wish for an advantage, or warning them to ignore it at their own peril.

                    At that point, it’s more that you just have a unique campaign setting for considering “is this a good plan or not”. The necromancer then needs to RP accordingly so that his plans fit into the setting for those fat bonuses instead of suffering from horrible penalties. Which is probably going to be quite challenging, if it really goes against the grain in the first place.

                    It’s a factor that could shift a plan from “usually reasonable” to “I’m not so sure about this, dude”, unless said player is very VERY good at this kind of RP.

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                    1. The problem with this analogy (and our debate to lesser extent) that unlike with GM, we can only guess at how the narrative rules would work in this case. I think the danger is overestimated, you evidently think not, and unless EE will personally break the tie, I don’t think we can move forward with this 😉

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                  3. Salt

                    I guess a good analogy in hindsight would be like discussing whether a plan would work in D&D. Your necromancer would be – in many campaigns – correct to say that undead used for neutral purposes could arguably be no different than any other application of magic, and it’s not uncommon for savvy players to debate if the ethics of necromancy are innately evil in the first place. Good GMs in most settings would entertain that kind of thing no problem.

                    But this all changes if your GM has made it a point that this is a genre-savvy campaign setting that gives large bonuses on rolls for RP that follows common fantasy tropes, and large penalties for being on the wrong side of those tropes. Even moreso if he’s intentionally encouraging players to metagame this mechanic as hard as they wish for an advantage, or warning them to ignore it at their own peril.

                    At that point, it’s more that you just have a unique campaign setting for considering “is this a good plan or not”. The necromancer then needs to RP accordingly so that his plans fit into the setting for those fat bonuses instead of suffering from horrible penalties. Which is probably going to be quite challenging, if it really goes against the grain in the first place.

                    It’s a factor that could shift a plan from “usually reasonable” to “I’m not so sure about this, dude”, unless said player is very VERY good at this kind of RP.

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                    1. Salt

                      Wow ok apparently I managed to double post and incorrectly type my email into the box in one fell swoop. Whoops.

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    2. I don’t know that it is permanent here. It is almost certainly a war-based rule, as it’s pretty clear Neshemah can commandeer basically anyone’s undead. Having unsupervised undead doing work seems…ill-advised.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. LizAris

    Well that’s great—more Bard to deal with, it looks like. She better not touch another hair on any of the woe

    On the other hand, Knife’s band is such a cute combo of heroes and villains, and Hanno joining in on the bet made me cackle. The (former) Black and White are so well written…I love that Cat’s continually surrounded by Knights as her strongest allies/most annoying enemies even though she’s long lost name of Squire

    Liked by 11 people

      1. LizAris

        Hmm I might be totally off but I somehow got the idea the Royal Conjurer was? Cat spoke about “parting with him” and did send him a glance to silently ask if they needed to talk. Also he escaped from Helike/Kairos which is primarily an Evil city, but that could also be interpreted that he’s a hero…yeah idk

        Liked by 7 people

        1. Earl of Purple

          Helike is a Good city, on the whole. He was the Royal Conjurer, which means he probably predated Kairos. The Tyrant did not use the style King of Helike. He’s a Hero, I think.

          She didn’t part with him because he’s one of hers, but possibly because he served alongside the Army of Callow. And would have been useful just about anywhere the Grand Alliance could put him.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. erebus42

            Helike flips like the coin. It could easily be either a heroic or villainous name. Honestly it could be like Archer or Ranger and fullfil either or ambiguous roles.

            Liked by 3 people

      2. Cicero

        The Royal Conjurer – came from The Tyrant’s Court. Clearly a villain, note that Cat checked with him to see if there was a need for a private word (villain to villain).

        Grizzled Fantassin sounds like a neutral name, but probably passes as a hero.

        Liked by 6 people

  8. Oh this journey i bet it was full of tears, laughs and noodles!!!

    Cat may as well had said “they grow so fast” when seeing the band, even if at least one is twice or even more her age xD

    Loved the little bet too, and can’t wait for the enxt chapter to finish the tale.

    Also i ship the poisoner and the magistrade, because i am horrible like that xD

    Liked by 7 people

  9. The unfortunate implication here is twofold: Bard wanted Levant to appear (probably as a counterweight to Procer) and persuaded Gigantes to help them, and aecond is that apparently we missee another agent Bard can act through – angels.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. framfrit

          bard seems to be limited so that she can only mainly interact around named there were a few hints like her second shown body appearing and being sure that the white knight was nearby but main evidence being from the dead king himself if i remember right he basically implied procer serves as a battlefield between the two where he tries to keep named out of key roles and the bard pushes for it ala plot for hasenbach to get a name

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Salt

            The Bard only being able to act through Named was the Black Knight’s hypothesis, and it was proven to be wrong. She showed up after Amadeus fully lost the mantle of Black Knight, as well as to the sisters when they were mortals instead of the capital-S Sisters.

            > “It was my theory that you could only work through Named,” Amadeus said. “I find it rather horrifying that you are evidently not so restricted.”

            The prevailing story-theory is Catherine’s own, which by latest account during her chat with Kairos is that the Bard simply appears whenever there is sufficient narrative weight warrant it

            > “She was not sent for,” I said. “She was sent. Audience was bought and paid: desperation, blood and need.”

            >His good eye narrowed. “And?” he pressed.

            >“There was a lot to lose,” I said. “You could call it weight.”

            I interpreted what Tek was saying as it’s a new confirmation that the Bard can interact directly with Angels, where previously we only had confirmation that she could interact with mortals (Named or not)

            Liked by 2 people

        2. Snappy

          He saying that we were neglecting another agent of the wandering bards – angels. If she can act through angels she has even more influence on all angel people/things.

          While she can talk to white knight and grey pilgrim, she still needs to convince them or catch them in a story. But if she can to to them through angels, she can effectively dictate to them what she wants.

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Frederic’s story is throwing its weight around, getting him invited to this meeting and all. He’d be right on the edge anyway, as far as invites go, but his presence definitely feels… placed.

    I’m also unreasonably happy to see a literal mercenary Name with the Grizzled Fantassin, although I do have to wonder if the Name has any tradition behind it, or if she’s the first. If she’s not the first, then I wonder how many people become Fantassins with the goal of obtaining that Name (and her devotion to Cordelia is almost cute).

    Liked by 3 people

    1. WuseMajor

      I think they’re trying to attain the position of Old Soldier, even if they’re not actually trying for the Name. Since, well, if you’re not going to become an Old Soldier, there’s really only one other option.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Bakkasama

      Kairos stopped the choir of Mercy from intervening against Hierarch during the trial and this story shows that the Bard can influence Mercy. So presumably he stopped her from using it against them there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Shine Aspect was said to be a universal Grey Pilgrim Aspect – one that every iteration of the Name had, and it’s quite clearly an expression of Light.

        Besides, the first Grey Pilgrim being a Hero wouldn’t preclude a Proceran Hero from fighting him.
        After all, we know that Procer has had a historical habit of calling every Named who opposed their expansive and imperialist tendencies a Villain.
        Plus, just look at the history with Callow – plenty of Callowan Named have fought Procer and vice versa. Hell, excepting the last 20 or so years (since the Conquest), the Crown of Callow usually came with a Heroic Name, and basically always had allied quasi-subordinate Heroic Named as well, but that never stopped the Procerans from trying to conquer and annex Callow over their dead bodies.

        Although, I remember Cat quietly speculating that not all the Founders of the Dominion were Heroes, and not all of their successors were Heroes either, and thinking about asking Hanno to use his Recall Aspect to discreetly investigate the matter … it would be a useful precedent that Barrow Sword could benefit from, among other things.

        Liked by 3 people

  11. Salt

    Uh wait hold on. Hold on. Super wild theory here. Are the Grey Pilgrim and the Choir of Mercy potentially traitors? Is Tariq Isbili setting off the Judgement Corpse weapon right now, even as this meeting is happening? Who the hell is available to stop him right now if he is?

    All the Woe are in the Arsenal meeting. Cordelia, Vivienne, the White Knight, Mirror Knight, Kingfisher Prince, basically every single Named or Major Character in the Grand Alliance that has the clout or experience to stop the Pilgrim from doing what he wants is currently INSIDE the Arsenal.

    The Drow are all on the front lines against the Dead King. Black and Malicia are tied up in their civil war, the Tyrant is dead. Juniper is partially incapacitated, Basilia is preoccupied.

    We know the Pilgrim heeds the Bard’s orders (when she made him pause just long enough for Saint to cut into the Twilight Crown, intentionally not stopping her in time), and that he has a strangely high opinion of her. We found out just now that the Bard offered Mercy such a convincing argument that they feasibly left one of their own champions to perish at the hands of the original Grey Pilgrim, which might feasibly mean that they judged the Bards big plan merciful enough to have a long-term working relationship with her. We know that, if “tabula rasa” was done by Mercy that the choir actively covered their association with the Bard up and that Tariq also covered it up – there’s no way he wouldn’t have known considering he’s the Grey Pilgrim and Mercy is his choir. We know that Tariq is also better at navigating the Twilight ways than almost anyone currently alive, and would this have no issue being in just the right place at just the right time whenever he so wishes. We know that Tariq will commit whatever evils he needs to if he thinks a much greater good will come of it.

    So we know that Tariq and Mercy are both extremely positive towards the Bard, who wants the weapon set off, and to an extent will heed her orders, and are some of the least likely to be bothered by crossing lines if there is a reason for it. We know that every character that could feasibly stop them right now is currently far away or in the Arsenal listening to this report at this very instant. We know that the Pilgrim could navigate anywhere necessary through the twilight ways which he forged with his own crown. We know that between the Bard and Mercy, he has enough Above-oriented power and knowledge to know exactly where the weapon is and how to set it off.

    They have the motive, the tools, and the perfect circumstance right now.

    What if the real important secret here is that the entire Choir of Mercy and the Grey Pilgrim are potentially traitors, but by taking the time to be briefed on it all at once, it’s already too late?

    Liked by 5 people

      1. ninegardens

        I’d bet against it. Tariq’s character development arc wouldn’t feel right with this level of trechery; I’m expecting to see a positive payoff for Cat ressurecting him. And not expecting to see direct trouble from the Bard again until she’s had a chance to recuperate and set up.
        Also, Auger would parry this.

        While the theory is cool it is SUPER specific; I’ll happily bet against most things this specific.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Salt

          Note the Augur likely doesn’t have the ability to parry this, it was mentioned that the Pilgrim is shielded from oracular vision similarly to Catherine, back when they were fighting the Skein in Liesse. He mentioned that both he and Cat would hinder oracles, while the Saint was outright immune to them. The Pilgrim being muddled in the Augur’s sight wouldn’t even be a cause for alarm, it would just be par for the course.

          In my opinion I think it’d be rather in character for him – considering his characterization is centered around lesser evils for the greater good, he’s a habitual oath-breaker if he sees the need for it, and he generally takes the direction of Mercy as the be-all and end-all of knowing if the lesser evil is worth it or not. If it was him alone, chances are he’d be one of the more trustworthy members of the GA. If the choir of Mercy truly is compromised though, he’ll likely take their direction as law, even over his own personal judgement.

          But hey it is just a theory, could very easily be wrong.

          I’m just (personally speaking) a bit suspicious of Mercy specifically, right now, because it feels like there’s a reason for them being the choir mentioned here. Judgement would’ve made more sense otherwise as it’s use of a corpse from Judgement that the revelation is supposed to be about, or it could’ve been made unclear which choir it was if it didn’t matter – but it was Mercy that was specified.

          Liked by 2 people

      1. Tom

        50 silver on them having done so right before this scene:

        > The Relentless Magistrate, who I could not help but not had yet to shave, rose to offer us all a stiff bow.

        Liked by 3 people

  12. ninegardens

    Gotta say, I’m really loving hearing the hijinx of this off-screen band of five. It’s like… totally familiar, but also condensed enough that it doesn’t feel like a drag… in any other story it would feel silly and/or cheap, but given the way PGtE rolls, it just works.

    Liked by 6 people

  13. ninegardens

    So, is the big secret that Nessie was referring to the fact that no matter who pulled the trigger, Bard was going to be the one who got to aim the weapon?

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Bard.
    As expected.

    We already knew that she was responsible for the creation of the League.
    Now she’s deeply involved with the creation of the Dominion. Though, considering the Dominion was founded by a Band of Five, that shouldn’t really be a surprise. Although the nature of her involvement is troubling.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Bard was responsible for pushing the betrayal and usurpation of the first, original Dread Emperor of Praes, establishing the cycle of betrayal and murder that has ruled Praes for its entire existence. Also, I suspect that she’s been involved in the problems every Dread Emperor/Empress who tried to create an internal solution to the Praesi overpopulation/insufficient food production problems.

    Liked by 5 people

  15. mamm0nn

    So, a lot of expectation that the woman that stepped in might be the Bard, but it might just be one of the Gigantes that stepped in and began their aid to Levant in earnest at that point. Or Treacherous in a wig, of course, seducing the angels with his luscious melons.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Xinci

    Well, I am glad to finally get a confirmation that Angels being of Creation would have them reinforce its effects. It’s also rather amusing to me to also get a that Fantassins death counts are possibly so prolific that one being able to retire is standard for a Name. Or at least indicates a Fantassin that has gone through so much stuff and is capable of retirement is able to beNamed, kinda reminds me of the Horned Lords.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Tom

    This feels too simple to be correct, but I think there’s enough overlap between the roles that Cat and WB play for Cat to end up stealing WB’s Name… Or something along those lines. Plus Cat has precedents for that kind of stealing, and WB clearly doesn’t want to be doing it anymore.

    But! That then begs the question of how Cat would deal with the despair that WB has sunk into over the millenia. So maybe instead of stealing the Name for herself, Cat would steal it and imbue it into Cardinal in some way with Masego’s help, sort of like how they crafted the Severity. But in this case the entire capacity of the Name would be tied to an institution that fills the role that the Bard previously did, rather than a simple magic sword.

    I think there are also precedents for binding such things into lasting institutions, like with that goofy bunch north of Callow that bound a bunch of souls into a thing that Akua ended up stealing. Bellerephon also comes to mind, though I suppose that was a more organic origin.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This was already a whole thing: “thief, rival, successor”. Wandering Bard was trying to slot Catherine into a Role mirror/parallel/directly opposed/similar to hers (arguably all of these can be the same thing), that would possibly then straight up usurp hers. Probably because she wants to be done with her job, though any number of other reasons are possible (it would lock Catherine down in gods’ rules, it would lock Catherine’s Accords in reliably through her being their eternal guardian, there is a secret quest that must be done that’s unlocked by having a new person take the position, literally whatever).

      Catherine was opposed to the idea, though the question is whether it’s (1) because of general caution about other people picking things for her, (2) contrariness ‘whatever the Bard wants must be bad’, (3) specific understanding of what the Role is and wanting nothing to do with it. Well, probably some combination of the three, really.

      But there is a definite parallel in Bard getting a Choir to back off and what Catherine has been able to do.

      Like

      1. Frivolous

        I agree with the parallel of WB having an aspect that allows her to intercede with Choirs, and Cat having gotten angels to back off. That’s one of the strongest parallels I’ve seen between the 2 women so far.

        If my vote counted, I’d vote for #2 as being the most relevant. Cat is just horribly contrary. She never satisfies the expectations of others.

        Like

  18. Dominic Corbin

    So I was struck by a thought, but I haven’t gone to check at all if this makes sense. Apologies if this has already been mooted about.

    Could the Bard BE Triumphant?

    Triumphant comes up all the time as one of the most successful villians until her mysterious disappearance, and has never been confirmed as dead. “May she never return” is uttered almost always in conjunction with her name, and I have to think that sets up a story that practically guarantees her return at some point. It’s a shoe that’s been waiting to drop for several books at least.

    Where it may break down is timeline. I’m not sure if the Dead King was established before or after Triumphant, I just can’t recall all the history we’ve learned. I suppose it’s also possible Triumphant could be one of the roles the Intercessor has played over the centuries.

    Any thoughts?

    Like

    1. The Dead King predated Triumphant. By a lot.

      She was the last person to come close to achieving a true apotheosis, before Cat.
      He was cautiously hopeful that Triumphant would succeed, and disappointed when she failed.
      IIRC, anyways.

      The Dead King predated the first Dread Emperor of Praes.
      He’s been around a long damned time.

      And I’m quite confident that Bard did not play the role of Triumphant, though I would not be surprised in the slightest to learn that Bard played some kind of a role in both Triumphant’s rise and in her fall.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Shveiran

        This.

        Also, while the Bard is obviously very powerful, her mastery is over indirect power.
        Triumphant was as much of a blunt instrument as a magic wielder can be; she was an overwhelming force, not a careful schemer. I seriously doubt the Bard has the personal power to enact Triumphant’s specific deeds, mostly because if she had the Empress Most Dread ability to nuke and summon as well as her own experience and aptitude for plts and narrative, well, there is no point to even try taking her on.
        Triumphant required a Calernia-wide rebellion and two other superpowers to be brought down, and if that was Bard having fun acting as a blunt instrument, that means she never really lost.

        Like

        1. Salt

          Yep. Even if the Bard wanted to try playacting as something that isn’t the Intercessor, it likely wouldn’t work since:

          A) that’s the kind of juicy secret that just screams “uncover me by Heroic coincidence at the worst possible time” and

          B) if the Tyrant is correct, two of the three things “she always flees” is direct touch and promised death

          I think it would’ve been rather comical and impossible to cover up if Triumphant had a habit of popping out of existence every time her life was remotely threatened.

          Like

  19. Soo hey, @Erraticerrata why is the Fortress Morgentor at twilight’s pass relevant? If the Dead King holds Rhenia and Hannoven can’t he just march troops into the Lycaonese lowlands underwater along the bottom of Lake Pavin from Hannoven, or underwater along the coast from Rhenia? Is it all a multi-century deception by the Dead King to ensure he can defeat the Lycaonese whenever he wants to?

    And on that note it sort of feels like a fleet on the lakes being used to intercept undead turtle ships, or as platforms to cast spells/create holy water against subsurface undead could be useful to the war effort. And it might be possible to just shift the Proceran navy through the Twilight Paths or Faerie into the lakes. And countering such ships would almost require that the Dead King to invest in specialized forces that, should they gain superiority in the Lakes, the Grand alliance could afford to just bypass, with their lines of supply and march running through the Twilight Paths and the underground routes of the Dwarves.

    Like

    1. Earl of Purple

      Same reason he’s building a bridge- water is corrosive. If not to the undead armies, certainly to their gear. He could equip them with bronze swords and armour (which wouldn’t rust), but then they’d be at a disadvantage against troops with modern steel weaponry. Also they wouldn’t be able to bring any bows or crossbows with them; the wood would rot, but more importantly the bowstrings would get soaked and stretch, losing their tautness. He can and he does march forces over the lake’s bed, but those forces rely on surprise- and there’s other forts on the lake’s banks as well.

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