Chapter 36: Trepidation

“It is traditional to kill to preserve your secrets, but I have found it more efficient to instead kill everyone who would be offended by the revelation.”
– Dread Empress Massacre

A claim like that required elaboration and it was had. The long-dead fantassin had apparently been quite the chatty fellow once he got talking, so even though the Relentless Magistrate had only been cut into a few of his memories a fairly complete picture of the events could be had. None of us were all that concerned with the history of it all, though, not right now. So when the floor was opened for questions, it began with Hasenbach asking for more details about the intervention by the ‘unknown woman’.

It was the Bard. Of course it was the fucking Bard, and I wasn’t sure why any of us were wasting our time pretending otherwise.

“The White Knight called on the Brighteyed Lords,” the Painted Knife said. “Those you know as the Ophanim. And they came down in a wave of burning light, to strike down the Grey Pilgrim, but even among the blinding radiance a silhouette could be seen to have appeared.”

That had Intercessor written all over it, as far as I was concerned. There weren’t a lot of people who could take a hit from an angel – I certainly couldn’t, at least not without Sve Noc and the right story behind me – but the Wandering Bard was certain to be one of them. Even if it killed her, it wasn’t like she’d stay dead.

“Was the woman ever identified, by either your prisoner or any others in the valley?” Hanno asked.

I snorted, ignoring the looks I got from some in the room.

“We all know who that is,” I said, “and faces don’t matter a whit to her. She’d had more of those than we’ve had meals.”

“If I can hear even a fake name, I can search through old lives for a connection,” the White Knight reminded me.

“I think you underestimate how good the old bird is at hiding her tracks,” I bluntly replied. “But be my guest.”

I’d have to remember to ask if they still had the dead fantassin about, though, since I could probably take those memories through Night and make of them something that could be seen by multiple people. Could be useful. The Painted Knife had patiently waited for us to finish speaking, but it was actually the Magistrate that she bid to answer Hanno’s question.

“The prisoner never saw a face, though the silhouette was definitely a woman’s and the timbre of her voice supports this,” the Relentless Magistrate seriously said. “The Grey Pilgrim was not in the field of vision of the prisoner when this took place, as he was looking at the White Knight, which leaves us instead with an impression of her face as she reacted.”

My brow rose. They’d been very thorough, I noted appreciatively, and they weren’t hiding the imperfections of their results as some might be tempted to in front of such an influential audience.

“She looked surprised,” the Relentless Magistrate said. “And she spoke, though the noise of Mercy’s descent drowned it out. I believe, however, that by reading her lips I have pieced together what the word was. It is not, however, a certainty.”

“Your work has been exemplary so far,” the First Prince said, “and certainty is a rare thing indeed, in these matters.”

“Agreed,” I said, drumming my fingers against the tabletop. “On both counts.”

The Royal Conjurer looked pleased, though the Poisoner was harder to read. My approval was something of a mixed bag for the rest, not unexpectedly.

“It was in Chantant,” the Relentless Magistrate said. “Trouveur.”

Which meant ‘finder’. Huh, not exactly something I’d associate with the Bard. Not all at the high table seemed to share my opinion, though. At a glance both Proceran royals, Roland and the White Knight all seemed to be varying between grimness and understanding.

“I’m guessing I missed something,” I noted.

Considering only the native speakers and Hanno – a filthy cheating cheater who cheated, because his aspect was bullshit – seemed to have caught it, I’d guess it was something Proceran. Probably specifically Alamans, as the scholar with the Arlesite name didn’t seem to know about it either.

“In older Alamans traditions, a trouveur was something like a troubadour,” the Rogue Sorcerer told me.

Oh, Roland. Both reliably competent and socially skilled, why hadn’t Zeze figured out a way to make more of him yet? Still, would you just look at that. It might be a few centuries late but we’d caught the tail of the Wandering Bard at last. Whatever it was that’d gone down in the Verdant Hollow, she’d clearly not wanted anyone to know about it.

“I will attempt to confirm this independently,” the White Knight said. “It may take some time, but it should not be impossible to learn more. Until then, however…”

“I am willing to operate on the assumption that it is the Intercessor we are dealing with,” Cordelia agreed. “Queen Catherine?”

“I was sold the moment someone stepped in on Mercy in smiting mood,” I drily replied. “But consider me formally in agreement, if that’s what you’re after.”

It was, so we moved on with little ceremony. Masego had questions but no burning desire to ask them himself – at least not right now – so I did on his behalf.

“On the subject of the Ophanim being made to ‘leave’,” I said. “I’ve inquiries about some of the details.”

It was the Magistrate who fielded answers once more, and he began by striking a cautious tone.

“The prisoner saw nothing of what took place after that, not until the light had dispersed and the soldiers fled,” the dark-haired hero said.

Which their report had made clear enough. The fantassins led by the White Knight had skirmished with the warrior band led by the Grey Pilgrim over the span of an afternoon before it turned into a proper battle over a grassy slope. The battled had turned in the favour of the Levantines. Their training and equipment were both flatly inferior but they were much better at skirmishing than the mercenaries, so they’d softened up the fantassins over the afternoon.

When the fight had gone south for the Procerans, the White Knight had stepped back from the frontline and called on Mercy, which was when our old friend had stepped in. Our sole witness had gone temporarily blind and only got his bearings later, running away with the survivors and wounded after they found the Levantines had not taken the opportunity to slaughter them while they were blind. Hierophant didn’t want me to fill in the blanks in the history, though, he was after something else.

“I understand that,” I said. “But, to be clear, even after the silhouette was seen the light did intensify?”

The man frowned, collecting his thoughts for a moment.

“That is correct, Your Majesty,” the Relentless Magistrate said.

Masego let out what someone who loved him less that I did might have called a cackle.

“A limitation,” Zeze said in Mtethwa. “Finally.”

A surprising amount of people spoke that tongue, considering the side of the Whitecaps we were on, but it was still far from a full roster. I cleared my throat.

“Lord Hierophant has deduced something of import from the detail,” I said. “Which he will now share with us.”

Masego’s Chantant was significantly better when listening than speaking, so it was in Lower Miezan he addressed the high table.

“The Choir of Mercy did strike at the valley,” Hierophant said. “It explains the presence tabula rasa effect observed in the valley by the Royal Conjurer, which would not have been there if the Ophanim had not fully aligned with Creation.”

Hanno was fairly learned in matters of sorcery, at least as much as someone without the Gift could be, but unlike me he didn’t have the benefit of being familiar with the Praesi parlance in the art.

“If I understand correctly, Hierophant,” the White Knight slowly said, “you are stating that Mercy did smite the Grey Pilgrim?”

“Yes,” Masego bluntly replied.

Surprise flickered across half a dozen faces and from the corner of my eye I found that the Painted Knife was grinning, muttering honour to the Blood with an awed look on her face. Must have been nice for the national pride that the original Pilgrim had walked off Mercy’s attentions – and where Procerans would have considered it an indication of virtue, with the Dominion it was a flip of the coin if they’d decide it’d been about pure strength instead. I was pretty sure we were about to get into the specifics of being smote by angels, which should run afoul of at least one Proceran heresy law, so I decided to give a warning.

“Deeper explanation will require drawing on learning that some deem to be blasphemous,” I said. “I tend to find the academic tone there refreshing, but I’m not unaware that others differ in opinion.”

Cordelia flicked a discreet glance at her secretary, who ceased writing.

“Given the situation, I believe such objections can be set aside,” the First Prince of Procer mildly said. “Lord White?”

“I’ve no objection,” Hanno said, sounding faintly amused.

Considering he’d once told me his own mother had kept to Below, I suspected he’d be harder to shock theologically than people would expect of him.

“Try to keep it concise,” I told Masego in Kharsum. “And please don’t talk about dissecting anything someone prays to.”

“My children will eat your goats,” he replied in the same, sounding a little miffed.

I threw him an offended look. There’d been no need for that sort of language, I was just giving advice. Given how important cattle was to the Tribes, that was actually a pretty brutal putdown for them – I’d seen orcs brawl over less. I bet it was Robber who’d taught him that one, though. The malevolent imp had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of taunts and insults in every tongue he was even slightly proficient in. I caught Hanno covering his mouth as if to hide a yawn – or a chuckle, I realized, since I’d forgotten he actually knew Kharsum.

“Angelic power is fundamentally like any other,” Masego told everyone. “It has fixed rules and properties, however esoteric, which allows it to be measured and predicted. In this case, the tabula rasa observed means that there was a strike in the valley. That it does not seem to have caused any deaths means a property of that power was amended.”

The First Prince of Procer observed him carefully.

“And that is… feasible, even for one who is Named?” she probed.

“I cannot think of another who could do this,” Hanno admitted.

The Fallen Monk had been able to screw with Light, from what I recalled, but having fought him my opinion was that a scrap between him and an angel would have begun and ended with the sound ‘splat’. The Intercessor wasn’t some second-stringer with a grudge against priests, though.

“She’s not like other Named,” I said. “We’ve known that for some time. It’s the reason we’re tugging at threads that are literally centuries old.”

Mind you, if it wasn’t an aspect that let her do that I’d eat my own fingers. The Intercessor might be in a class of her own in some regards, but she wasn’t beyond the constraints of being Named. Beating her thrice forced her away, she’d avoided the Hierarch like the plague and my money was on her having only three aspects just like the rest of us. One was the wandering trick, coming and going everywhere, and another had to be her sight for stories. That left whatever the Hells this was to look out for.

“Yet it is telling that the strike did land,” Masego continued. “As she clearly did not want it to. It implies she does not have the ability to outright command angelic entities.”

Which was the good news. So now came the bad ones.

“It does seem, however, that she is able to affect the properties of angelic power,” Hierophant continued. “Be it directly or indirectly. Which property in particular was tinkered with I cannot say, as there are too many possibilities. Reduced potency, different parameters for harm, different manners of harm…”

He trailed off, shrugging, as he’d made his point. The specifics didn’t actually matter all that much when it came down to it. Whatever the form it was a problem, to say the least, that if a metaphorical angelic arrow got shot the Bard could decide what kind of an arrow it became.

“Are you saying that the Intercessor has the ability to… reforge angels as she wills?” the First Prince said, sounding appalled.

“No,” Masego said. “In a sense it is impossible to affect an angel directly – even those that are said to be ‘dead’ and have left behind a corpse remain in their Choir and unchanged. The Choirs are fixed entities. As befitting the way that she has been named an intercessor, I would theorize that what she affects are the ‘senses’ of angels. Not unlike coloured glass tinting one’s perception of the world when that world itself remains objectively unchanged.”

“So Mercy struck,” I said. “But it didn’t kill anyone, because simultaneously it saw that there was no one it should be killing.”

“In essence,” Hierophant agreed.

If the lever could be pulled down on that, though, it could also be pulled up. Which would be something of an issue if someone had, say, an angel corpse lying around that they’d unwisely made a weapon out of, Cordelia. That wasn’t a conversation that needed to be had in front of the Painted Knife and her fellows, though, so instead I asked if anyone still had questions for the band. The First Prince apparently shared my curiosity as to the fate of the dead fantassin, but we were both to be disappointed: it’d been the sorceries of the Barrow Lord that kept him moving and aware, so within a few days of the villains’ destruction the corpse had begun breaking down. The aftermath of necromancy tended to be rough on bodies, from what I recalled. Made sense. You could only shove so much magic into even a living body before things started going south and corpses were even less flexible.

“He was given a marked grave in the way of the southern companies,” the Grizzled Fantassin said, almost challengingly. “He kept his contract to the end, and deserves the long peace same as any of us.”

It might have been possible to extract a few things out of the remains of the remains, in practice, but it honestly wasn’t worth the effort considering it’d require either myself, Akua or one of few oldest Mighty in Cleves to see to that extraction in person. Being halfway decent people, the rest of the high table weren’t inclined to argue in favour graverobbing anyway. Hanno made plain to the thee heroes that he’d want a more in-depth talk about their investigation at some point, and I casually informed my pair of the same, but aside from that we were done here. With the questions, anyway. They were released to rest and recreation, and within moments of the door closing we were dealing in state secrets.

“The crown of Callow has already made known its concerns regarding Procer’s continued custody of the corpse of an angel,” Vivienne said, leading the offensive. “After today, the dangers of continuing down that path should be even clearer.”

Not what Hasenbach wanted to hear, I saw on her face – practiced a diplomat as she was, she’d spent too much time around me. Enough I’d learned some of her tricks, and that’ pleasant yet distant’ smile on her face tended to come out when she was feeling pressed.

“Secretary Corrales,” the First Prince said, “if you would speak the appropriate part from the transcript of the Dead King’s words at the end of the Salian conference?”

The tanned man sharply nodded. Idly I noted that Hasenbach had not said read and that the man was not looking at any papers. She was fond of precision, the First Prince.

“-and it will tell you, should you be clever enough, of the doom you all so narrowly escaped by the grace of Kairos Theodosian,” the secretary quoted.

“Thank you,” Cordelia smiled. “Now, should we take the Hidden Horror at his word then there seems to be different trouble here than the risks inherent to the Principate’s possession of a large-scale defensive weapon.”

Hasenbach wasn’t a fool, much as her insistence to keep the corpse still angered me. It wasn’t like I didn’t understand the temptation of keeping the angelic weapon around. She’d only seriously consider using it if the Grand Alliance were already collapsing, anyhow, so from her perspective there really wasn’t anything to lose in keeping it except some unease from my camp. It was a card up her sleeve in case the night got too dark for the dawn to pierce through, and unlike Named and coalition armies it was also something she had complete control over. No one would be pulling that trigger without her say-so, at least in theory. That had to be reassuring, considering that in practice Cordelia Hasenbach was sharing the reins over the war that would decide the survival of her nation with more people than any ruler would like.

My issue with this whole blunder had previously been that doomsday weapons were disaster magnets no one could ever really control – and were prone to backfiring massively – but with Zeze’s words there was fresh unease to add to the brew. A weapon that answered to someone else first was best snapped over your knee.

“The Dead King implied that Kairos spared us something,” I agreed, “which fits with the end of the Salian Peace. The angelic remains dredged up are allegedly from one of the Seraphim-”

“They are,” Hanno flatly said. “You may take my word on it.”

This might be a tad of a sensitive subject for the Sword of Judgement, I thought, but there weren’t ways to tiptoe around it that I could see.

“I will,” I agreeably replied. “So we’ve got a Seraphim corpse and a confirmation that the Intercessor can affect angels. The Tyrant of Helike then masterminds the Hierarch rising to… obstruct the Choir of Judgement, so to speak, and in the wake of that the Dead King speaks of us being spared doom by Kairos Theodosian’s actions. The picture there is pretty clear, as far as I’m concerned.”

If Cordelia had pulled the trigger on the Judgement corpse before Judgement got walled off by Bellerophon’s maddest son, the Bard would have had a degree of control over what happened. Now, though, the corpse could have no tie to the Choir – even Hanno, its champion on Creation, could not get a peep out of them as far as I knew. If Masego was right and the Bard worked over angels by screwing with their ‘senses’, then the current state of the weapon was a dead end for her. She couldn’t trick an inanimate object, after all. The Tyrant of Helike had, true to form, solved an old headache by leaving us with a fresh one: right now, no one had any fucking idea what would actually happen if Cordelia pulled the trigger. Gods, but sometimes I wished I’d killed the little bastard myself. It’d at least give me something to look back to fondly when sill dealing with the fallout of his actions several years after his death.

“By the Dead King’s own admission, the danger has been averted,” the First Prince noted.

“Are we now to take the word of the Hidden Horror for truth, Your Highness?” Roland politely asked. “Let us not pretend the creature will not serve its own interests above all.”

“If the weapon is a threat to the Dead King, his interest is in discrediting it,” the Kingfisher Prince pointed out. “Which he has not, strictly speaking, accomplished here.”

In the sense that the Bard wouldn’t currently be holding the reins, he had a point. On the other hand, Neshamah had neatly soured us on the Bard with this and further deepened my already deep objections to Hasenbach keeping that looming disaster of a weapon around. He’d gotten his gains, as he tended to.

“He hates the Intercessor like poison,” I said. “Insofar as he’s damaging her in our eyes, I’d tend to take him at his word. He’s too canny of an old thing to try a lie there, there’s too many Named in play for one of those to actually work for long.”

The Intercessor herself would delight in revealing the inaccuracies, if only to further establish herself as the Dead King’s ancient sworn enemy that we should all be listening to. After all, if the Hidden Horror was going out of his way to discredit her then she must be a threat. Truth be told, I did believe her to be that. Only to more than just Neshamah.

“Adanna,” Hanno said, voice clear and calm. “If the remains of the Seraphim were used in a ritual and the Wandering Bard amplified the effects as much as she could, what sort of a scale would we be looking at?”

“I am uncertain,” the Blessed Artificer reluctantly admitted. “Though as a rule, the greater the quantity of Light the simpler the purpose it can carry. At a greater than regional scale, harm is likely the sole effect that could reliably be had. I do not have the proper references to hazard a guess at the scale of propagation.”

From the corner of my eye I saw Masego finishing a flourish of the wrist with a wooden stylus that’s somehow written in dark letters over the tabletop. I leaned in closer, glancing at equations that were giving me a headache just to try to parse.

“Masego?” I asked.

He breathed out a little noise of triumph.

“The Whitecaps are the limiting factor,” Hierophant called out. “Assuming there is a hard limit to the power a Choir can wield and the source would be in central Procer, we are looking at an estimated two thirds of Calernia being affected. Rhenia and parts of Hannoven would be untouched, up north, while the eastern limit would be the Whitecaps down to the Stygian border with Delos. Assuming a dilution effect by large bodies of water-”

“At such a scale, there would not be,” the Blessed Artificer told him. “A higher threshold of propagation, but that’s all.”

Masego let out a noise of grudging appreciation.

“In that case,” he continued, “the city of Levante might be unaffected, and the mountainous parts of the Titanomachy would certainly be. Everything else would be within range.”

“Ashur?” I faintly asked.

He shrugged.

“Fifty-fifty odds,” he admitted. “The sea is an unpredictable boundary.”

Utter silence followed in the aftermath of his words. Putting together the words of Masego and the Artificer, the picture painted was… horrifying, for lack of a stronger word. More than nine tenths of Procer and Levant dead, the better part of the Free Cities – including its two largest cities, Helike and Nicae – and even odds on the complete annihilation of the Thalassocracy. An end to the ratlings, and at the moment the Firstborn as well. Callow and Praes would get to hide behind the mountains and four of the Free Cities were far enough east to be spared, but the sheer loss of life… Fuck.

“It would end the armies of the Dead King as well,” the Blessed Artificer quietly said. “And most likely destroy the Hellgate in Keter.”

At the cost of what, two thirds of the population of Calernia? The Dominion wasn’t densely populated, but Procer sure as Hells was and the Free Cities were aptly named. No wonder the Hidden Horror had believed everyone would turn on the Bard after learning this.

“Removing the hard limit in power, the Whitecaps will eventually be vaporized and we’re looking at full saturation of the continent,” Masego noted. “Including through the ground into the Kingdom Under, though that will take up to days longer.”

“Even under your limited model the crater in central Procer is likely to touch dwarven tunnels,” the Blessed Artificer condescendingly said, “and they’d be looking at the loss of a few principalities’ worth of territory as well.”

Ah, I thought with fixed smile on my face, would you look at that. They’d actually made it worse, which I’d doubted was possible. Now we also had to worry about the dwarves considering the weapon a threat and deciding to strike first.

“Merciless Gods, Hasenbach,” I feelingly said. “How much more will it take to convince you to drop that fucking thing at the bottom of the Skiron Ocean?”

“The Kingdom of Callow has grave concerns about the keeping of such a potentially calamitous weapon,” Vivienne said, translating my words into something more diplomatic.

“Much of what was said here is speculation,” the First Prince mildly replied. “And even this speculation points to the risk having passed.”

“If a proper method to wield the remains is created, it is the sort of weapon that could win us this war,” the Blessed Artificer agreed.

“Or it could kill us all,” the Rogue Sorcerer gently reminded her.

“You have personally patronized the Quartered Seasons weapon, Queen Catherine,” Cordelia reminded me. “Which carries great risks as well, to my recollection.”

“I’ve limited information on it, but it’s ultimately a Grand Alliance initiative and not a purely Callowan one,” I replied. “I’ve been preparing the results for perusal, as a matter of fact, now that tangible progress has been made. I can’t say the same about that corpse you’re dragging around.”

“Then your issue is the lack of Callowan observers, not the weapon itself,” the First Prince said.

My brow rose. This kind of wordplay might be useful in a place like the Highest Assembly, where appearances were everything and such little victories counted, but she ought to know better than to try to finagle me. I was in no way above using a bloody hatchet where a stiletto failed to get the point across.

“No,” I bluntly said. “My issue is with anyone’ possession of a weapon that could potentially wipe out two thirds of Calernia. There’s no equivalence to be drawn there, First Prince. If Quartered Seasons goes wrong it’ll be a disaster, but a survivable one. Your ‘large-scale defensive weapon’ is a blade put to the throat of millions, and I did not torch such a weapon in Praesi hands only to meekly accept your keeping the same.”

A bit of an exaggeration there, since Black had been the one to destroy Liesse while I’d actually been inclined to side with Malicia in the heat of the moment, but it wasn’t like anyone else here knew that. Blue eyes stayed on me as Hasenbach attempted to gauge how serious I was being, and I hid nothing: this was genuinely unacceptable. It’d been a liability before, but now it was something a lot worse.

“We have gone far beyond the remit of this council,” the First Prince eventually said. “If there are grievances to be had, there are mechanisms to address them under the treaties binding the Grand Alliance.”

My eyes narrowed. The diplomatic thing here would have been implying it was up for negotiation before brushing me off, opening the path for later private talks if she wasn’t willing to hash this out in the open here. The First Prince had not done that. She was sending the message there wasn’t room for compromise there, and coming from a diplomat of her calibre that surprised me. What was driving her to keep her finger on that trigger at all costs? I glanced at the White Knight and found him looking remote, almost absent-minded. Whether it was because Judgement had been spoken of or because he saw the disputes of crown as beyond him, I could not be certain. Either way it was less than helpful.

“It might allay some unease if specialists were allowed to take a look at this weapon and ascertain its possible effects,” Vivienne suggested.

A fair suggestion, I thought, but not a tempting one for Procer. In our case said specialist would be Masego, which I somehow doubted they would go for. They weren’t idiots, they had to know that letting the Hierophant riffle through anything miraculous was as good as allowing him to shut it down at will.

“Something to discuss under different circumstances, Lady Dartwick,” the First Prince politely replied.

Huh. Really not giving even the shadow of an inch, was she?

“White Knight?” I tried.

If he wasn’t going to step in by himself, I’d drag him into the melee by the scruff of the neck.

“It would be unwise to further debate this without having sought more information,” Hanno eventually said. “This council has served its purpose, I believe, and need not be further prolonged.”

I hid my displeasure. Not what I’d wanted to hear, though I supposed it was much like him to keep silent until he’d dug through enough memories he had a better idea of what he was dealing with. The White Knight disliked rushing to decision when there were still cards yet to be revealed. Though he didn’t show it, I suspected he was a lot warier of making mistakes now that the Seraphim were no longer looking over his shoulder. With both Hasenbach and Hanno supporting this all coming to an end there was little point in pursuing the opposite, so I folded and we called the meeting to an end. The First Prince caught my eye as we began to disperse, however, and her secretary passed along an invitation to walk with her a span. Before long we were sharing a stretch of hallway between my limp and her measured stride, Vivienne and the Kingfisher Prince trailing behind us.

“I have concerns,” the First Prince told me with unusual forthrightness.

For her to drop the more elegant methods she preferred, they had to be some pretty dire fucking concerns.

“You’ve heard mine,” I said, frowning. “I’m all ears for yours.”

“The Truce and Terms are proving to be highly unstable,” Cordelia Hasenbach said. “An uncomfortable number of collaborators were found by the Intercessor among both Chosen and Damned, and now the White Knight himself was mutilated by one of his subordinates. I am forced to wonder if these trials are not simply the act of gilding a sinking boat.”

Fuck, I thought. All this time I’d been worried about keeping my villains in line and Hanno’s lot from stepping on mine, but I’d not stopped to think about how the Principate would see it all. Hasenbach was still being asked to ignore attempted regicide of one of her princes so that the authority of increasingly bloodied Terms might be preserved. The more their credibility was damaged by little things like the Mirror Knight cutting up a high officer of the Grand Alliance, the less she’d be inclined to bend her neck. I studied her from the corner of my eye. Given how useful Named still were to the fronts, she was exaggerating to some extent there. Even if the Terms had been much worse, from a pragmatic perspective they’d still be a net advantage when it came to survival – and that was the way Hasenbach had to think, right now. She was drawing my attention to this to make a point elsewhere.

Considering what we’d just finished having a council about, it was not hard to guess.

“There are some matters that can be gambled with,” I slowly said. “There are others where the simple act of implying a gaming mood loses trust in a way that cannot be mended.”

I would not haggle over the custody of the doomsday corpse, not when it’d been made clear that there might be millions of lives hanging in the balance.

“I will not allow policy to be dictated by pissing matches among Named, Queen Catherine,” Cordelia Hasenbach coolly said.

It was the crudest thing I’d ever heard come out of her mouth, and that was enough to give me pause.

“The coming trials will clarify whether Chosen and Damned can be trusted to oversee themselves,” the First Prince of Procer warned. “And if your kind proves to be running wild unchecked, Black Queen, if they cannot be counted on?”

She met my eyes.

“Then the Principate will do what it must to survive, no matter whose feathers it ruffles. On that point there can be no negotiation.”

229 thoughts on “Chapter 36: Trepidation

  1. Anomandris

    It’s like reading a Doomsday game of chickens, isn’t it?

    “Both reliably competent and socially skilled, why hadn’t Zeze figured out a way to make more of him yet? ”

    I wonder that all the time too, Cat…..

    Liked by 16 people

    1. Adrian

      Wow, Cordelia. I know Catherine won’t just up and leave, bringing all of Callow and destroying the framework that has allowed them to gather so many Named, but I almost wish she could just out of spite. Striking at the Terms (from which she has massively benefitted, btw) to negotiate custody of the WMD is a direct slap to Catherine’s face, and I’d argue is almost to the point of acting in bad faith.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. magesbe

    Cordelia tries to strike a strong stance… but if she comes down too hard on Named, no matter how morally justified she is or at least thinks she is, they’ll bail and the entirety of Procer will be up a creek without a paddle.

    Oh sure a lot of Named will stay, particularly though not exclusively the heroes. It’s still the Dead King after all. But a lot, mostly villains but probably a handful of heroes too, will leave. And if that happens, the front which is already barely hanging on will get worse.

    Also why is she holding onto the doomsday device with both hands as hard as she can?

    Liked by 13 people

      1. DrMajesticPhD

        The Intercessor can’t directly interact with un-Named or non Name claimants. That’s why she was trying to get Cordelia to claim the Name “First Prince” in the last book, and why Cat doesn’t like Named royalty.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. masterofbones

      If there’s one thing that heroes are good at, its stopping lunatics with doomsday devices. Catherine and Hanno have an *army* of heroes, and Cordelia thinks she has any sort of power on this front?

      But this is how I’ve always felt about her. She has no real power, but assumes that her throne makes her a true peer of the people she speaks to, and that her petty concerns are equal to those of the rest of the world.

      TLDR: Procer needs to burn, the Dead King has the right idea.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. ByVectron!

      Especially when, from the sounds of it, that Doomsday weapon would vaporize HER people and lands, while leaving Callow and the Dread Empire untouched.

      Like

    3. just some dude

      More likely outcome than Named abandoning Procer, is that they will take down Hasenbach herself if she proves to be a threat to the country.

      Like

  3. magesbe

    Also is Cordelia trying to say, “if Named can’t be counted on, then I’ll use this definitely more reliable and controllable superweapon that I know at least one ancient powerful being wants to turn into a freakin’ doomsday device.” Because that just doesn’t line up.

    The only explanation behind her holding onto it so hard is that she’s convinced she can control it or at least wield it reliably. But I can’t think of any reason this would actually be the case.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. M0och123

        It is surprisising that someone of her intelligence would believe that introducing a literal continent destroying weapon to the equation will actually help though…

        I mean I understand the reasoning of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) that she is using but that only works when you know exactly what your superweapon is going to do. If there is even a chance of it not working the way you want (i.e. Bard) it becomes a fatal liability.

        Liked by 11 people

        1. Salt

          Cordelia’s intelligence I suspect IS what’s causing her to fail to understand the gravity of the problem.

          She isn’t Catherine. Catherine’s roots were burned into her by a man who lives and breathes story tropes as his own personal arsenal of weapons.

          Cordelia is an incredibly intelligent schemer who is used to nearly every problem she’s ever faced being overcome in the end by her own brilliant schemes. She has no roots and no formal training in stories. She’s never experienced ripping resurrection from the hands of Angels by pulling a sword from a stone, but she has experienced avoiding lots of outcomes that other people said were unavoidable disasters, by being just clever enough.

          Catherine is basically trying to convince one of the greatest schemers who ever lived that her latest scheme is sure to blow up in her face, because of some esoteric semi-magical laws of fictional tropes that said schemer understands little of and believes in even less.

          Liked by 22 people

      2. RoflCat

        AND will likely breakdown/backfire to create ‘darkest hour’ for Heroes to save the day. Cordelia rejecting becoming the Warden pretty much guarantee that the Story will make it that way.

        She is basically the general/president ordering a nuke to be fired and now the (super)Heroes has to stop it from exploding whatever it was aimed at to avoid the catastrophic collateral damage.

        Liked by 11 people

      3. mamm0nn

        Which would make it all the more terrible if it turns out she didn’t have an angel’s corpse and this is all an elaborate bluff against the Dead King to not make Procer a cornered animal. We haven’t actually seen it yet, after all, only hearing of dredging operations.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Salt

      It’s disturbing how the details of Cordelia and Catherine’s stances are beginning to mirror Black and Malicia’s old arguments over the Second Liesse doomsday weapon. Which is horrifying considering Catherine is also playing a similar Role in the GA that the Black Knight did in Praes, while Cordelia is playing a similar Role to Malicia in the same.

      Malicia argued for the creation and keeping of the doomsday device as a deterrent, because she was convinced that Black’s mundane methods were “insufficient”. “The Legions will fail, the Calamities will fail. Your ramshackle attempts at successors will fail.” “The only way to survive is to not fight at all, and for that I needed a tool.”

      Black argued against, because stories dictate that this is always a bad idea, no matter how sound it seems on the surface. That it’s “Some godsdamned throwback from the Age of Wonders that will go down in flames and take the Empire with it.”. He made his case from a Narrative perspective that Malicia simply doesn’t put as much stock in.

      Right now, Cordelia is arguing for keeping the doomsday device as a deterrent, because she’s beginning to believe Catherine’s mundane methods are insufficient. The Terms will fail, the Woe will fail. Her ramshackle attempts and binding together Named will fail. The only way to survive may be to not fight at all, and for that she needs a tool.

      Cat just made the same argument as Black did for the same reasons to the same kind of person who somewhat understands but doesn’t truly appreciate how narratively terrible this actually is, and got nowhere with it just like he did.

      The trial over the Red Axe is going to be a climax to top them all so far, I’m betting. If Catherine doesn’t tread lightly here and straight up do better than even her old teacher did, then it might be a lot more than a single city and partnership that’ll be a smoking hole in the ground by the end of it.

      Liked by 22 people

      1. I think it is actually worse, because this corpse pretty clearly did NOT work as a deterrent. The only use for it that I can see is some kind of suicidal “take him down with us” position.

        Also this analogy fills me with hope instead. Like, ok, we all know that the, uhm, arguable Good will triumph at the end, but the fact that Cat is playing Black in the exact situation where Black had failed is good, because she is his successor and she learnt on his mistakes and she already did better than him. So the situation is kind of narratively obligated to end happily. More or less…

        Liked by 13 people

        1. Salt

          I… want? To believe that is true?

          But I’m almost scared to make an optimistic prediction about it (or believe one), because half the time I do this story ends up with a surprise plot twist in which everything completely goes to shit before very arguably getting better.

          Maybe it’s better for this to be more than just Catherine’s victory in the end though, so it could be a good thing that other characters are pushing back at her. Catherine’s personal story tends to have her personal victories come at equally ruinous personal cost, and what the cost of winning against the Dead King or the Intercessor would be is something that’s depressing to imagine. This pattern might be mitigated a lot if it’s a shared victory with as much of capital-G Good as possible, which is the side that’s narratively supposed to win and live happily ever after anyway.

          Liked by 7 people

          1. Well to be fair, Cat will most likely die or be forced to something equal to death (banishment from continent). Or she could take WB place for an eternity of nothingness and loss and schemes.

            If you think about it, the Woe has pretty amazing narrative potential roles they can fill. Archer is Ranger’s star pupil and is already called the Lady. Hierophant came as close as one can to the Neshie’s personal apprentice. And Cat had shaped up to be Bard’s rival/successor too. So if we assume that DK and Bard will die or be gone from Calernia, and Ranger will somehow vanish due to Praesi fuckery, it’s pretty obvious who will step up to fill each shoe of immortal superpeople of Calernia.

            Like Woe do not have just a potential to be some regional power, they can be THE power. Of course, Vivi is future queen of Callow, and Hakram will probably take Cat’s place at realising her Accords, and Cardinal and other shit. Archer is pretty clearly going to leave Calernia too, Masego will become god and possibly accompany Archer (though doubtful, he will probably stay on Calernia, anchoring Indrani) and there is also interesting parallel between somewhat cordial relationship between Neshamah and Ranger.

            Or, well, Hakram will die, Cat will die, Archer will die, Masego will realise his divine ambition only to realise that he wants his friends back more, and, well, two-thirds of Calernia will end up glassed, with Vivi scrambling to fight Amadeus everything admirable about whom was stripped by the demands of the crown.

            Or something in between.

            Liked by 7 people

            1. Salt

              Actually, the two extremes of “rocks fall, everyone dies” and “they all lived happily ever after” is exactly what I think is on the table right now.

              As in the Intercessor really did create a way to turn the continent into a smoking hole in the ground, and that it’s exactly as horribly awful as it seems on the surface, because that’s the entire point. I think she’s counting on Above and Below getting so pissed off at how terrible the outcome is, that they have no choice but to destroy her and finally let her Rest In Peace.

              Clearly, they didn’t decide to replace her with Catherine as her successor/rival/thief, despite her best efforts at being nice about it. So she resorts to doing it the “hard way”, by playing genocidal chicken with the lives of most of the continent, to blackmail them into letting her die for good.

              You flinch first, you pieces of shit, or I really am going to turn your Above/Below pissing match that is Calernia into a flaming sheet of glass.

              Liked by 6 people

              1. For me, one of the main morals of the story was “compromise”. So I actually fully expect the ending to reflect it. To be good… But not perfect. Realistic. Somewhere you win, somewhere you lose. A compromise between a Downer Ending and Happy Ending, to create something bittersweet. A Practical Ending, if you will.

                Liked by 1 person

          2. Laguz24

            I think one of the problems is the fact that Cordelia doesn’t know how to make it a victory for others as well. Seriously, this crusade idea was hers and that backfired due to the story groove that crusades usually fail, since they are goods way of pushing past the balance point. I also don’t see a single enemy or adversary she turned into an ally or at least none that weren’t on her side to begin with. She needs to learn how not just how to manage Procer but to gain allies in the wider world.

            Like

            1. Actually, Levant was high key NOT Procer’s ally. Like, there was a low key border feud going on that she diplomanced into an alliance. Also, literally nobody except the Lycaonese wanted a Lycaonese on the throne at the start of her involvement in the civil war. And I don’t get the impression Ashur and Procer were all buddy-buddy before her Grand Alliance either, with Ashur being Levant’s (second) patron against Procer usually.

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      2. It won’t be the trial over Red Axe that causes critical problems.
        Remember, Hanno has already told the Heroes that he was going to convict and kill Red Axe himself. Then Mirror Knight objected and got his ass beaten into unconsciousness by Hanno.
        There’s no ground to stand on over anybody getting upset about the Heroic representative for the Truce and Terms deciding one of his fellow Heroes, specifically Red Axe, heads committed acts that require her to die.

        The problem is going to come from two places – the first is Mirror Knight, his actions while at the Arsenal (and his presence at the Arsenal in the first place), and the fact that almost nobody likes him (except perhaps for those using/manipulating him for personal gain), plus his intimate relationship with Proceran Nobles plotting treason and betrayal. And Hanno’s determination to keep him alive might not have stopped Mirror Knight before he went too far for Cat, Cordelia, and others to readily tolerate without significant repercussions. Mirror Knight’s probably going to be whiny and want the sword back, too.
        The second place we can expect problems is people (probably mostly Heroes) who object to how Cat handles Hunted Magician in light of his substantive assistance to the extremely classified and need to know secret project that is Quartered Seasons.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Salt

          Ok the contrary I think the problem with the Principiate and the Red Axe is THE central critical problem. It’s a problem that is not dependent on whether the Red Axe actually gets executed or not, so much as who has the right to decide whether she should be executed her or not.

          The White Knight being determined to kill her does nothing to resolve it, because the entire issue is a debate on whether it should be the White Knight’s decision or the highest assembly’s.

          The thing is that if the Principiate folds, it essentially undermines its own sovereignty. Having your own royalty nearly murdered and not even having the ability to try and sentence the criminal under your own legal system is about as politically terrible as it gets.

          The Terms also can’t fold, because they’re built on the foundation of absolute political immunity. If said immunity is actually not immunity, and the Terms are seen to allow Proceran courts are allowed to try and hang Named, they’ll balk. The terms fall apart, because what sensible Villain would agree to binding terms that could allow the gods-damned Principiate to hang them?

          It’s even worse because it has the potential to open up a schism between the Principiate and the Terms, when the Principiate was just revealed to have a continent-killing bomb in hand. One that Cordelia is considering keeping precisely because she is losing faith in the Terms.

          The Red Axe is now, indirectly, a landmine that could result in the death of most of the life on the entire continent. As much of an annoying pissant as the Mirror Knight currently is, he’s not quite on the level of a problem that could result in a legendary mistake that no one walks away from.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Hanno executing the Red Axe for her Truce and Terms violations shortstops the Proceran desire to have her tried and executed by Proceran court – it demonstrates that Hanno is serious about enforcing the rules on the Heroes and is capable of doing so. Also, since nobody is going to resurrect Red Axe or turn her into an undead, she can only be executed once.
            Remember, Cordelia wanted Red Axe in front of a Proceran prosecution to drive a wedge between Mirror Knight and the Proceran nobles he’s involved with.

            Mirror Knight is the larger problem because the Grand Alliance has an interest in him being hammered harder than Hanno apparently wants to.
            Also, Mirror Knight is intimately involved with Proceran nobles plotting betrayal and treason. Though it’s not clear that Cordelia or Cat has enough concrete evidence of that or of sufficiently serious actions other than just talk in order to convince Hanno to take Mirror Knight to task over that involvement and plotting.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Salt

              It was actually stated outright in “Convenience” that because it entailed the attempted murder of a proper Prince, just having her executed under the terms was specifically not good enough for Cordelia, or for Procer as a whole. She needed a trial and sentence under Proceran Law, whereas Catherine specifically could not allow a trial and sentence under Proceran law. It actually doesn’t matter even if both trials call for the exact same verdict, Cordelia needs a trial by Procer regardless and Catherine cannot allow a trial by anything other than the Terms.

              Wanting a way to strike against Langevins was a nice side benefit, but the crux of it was whether she faced a Proceran Sentence/Execution or a Sentence/Execution under the Terms.

              Ironically enough, the White Knight would likely understand better than most of the Named why it matters so much whose sentence it is, rather than what the sentence is. His answer to the Seraphim’s riddle of fault was to refuse to answer what the sentence should be, and focusing entirely on who should have the authority to determine justice in the first place, after all.

              Cordelia on wanting a trial under Proceran law, regardless what happens under the terms:

              > “If I were to concede that a trial could be held under the Terms before the sentence to the Principate’s own was applied, would that remedy your objection?” the blonde princess asked.

              >That was already a better look for the whole affair, but it was also strictly that: a look. In substance, we’d still be establishing the jurisdiction of Proceran law over the Named serving under the Terms.

              Cordelia on the key being the Red Axe seeing Proceran Justice, not just Justice or Justice under the terms, because the problem is the optics of it for the people of Procer:

              > “That reluctance is not unearned,” Cordelia said, “yet it, too, must have limits. Minor crimes such as theft and assault I will not balk at leaving to the Terms, in the same way that an army in the field is subject to military justice and not that of a prince. Yet I cannot allow attempted regicide on Proceran soil without having it face Proceran justice. It would undermine the peace of the entire realm, establishing for all to see that Chosen and Damned live under different laws than the rest.”

              Catherine on understanding this but still disagreeing that any trial by Procer can’t be allowed, because it’s a question of authority, not the punishment itself:

              > “I understand why you want your trial, I really do,” I admitted. “In your place, I’d be pushing for the same thing.”

              >“Yet you are not in my place,” the blue-eyed woman said, smiling thinly.

              >“No, I’m not,” I said. “I’m speaking as the representative for Below’s champions. And Procer simply isn’t trusted enough for them to be comfortable with it having the authority to hang them.”

              Liked by 2 people

          2. Jago

            > As much of an annoying pissant as the Mirror Knight currently is, he’s not quite on the level of a problem that could result in a legendary mistake that no one walks away from.

            Till his allies help him and the Red Axe escape from prison, steal the Severance, all that while killing several Heroes and Villans. Then they will go and get the WMD to kill the DK and trigger a continent killing disaster (and no one has taken into account the effect of the nuclear winter following the use of WMD, so probably an extinction level event) .

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      3. Decius

        The only way I see Red Axe’s sentencing going well is for the Truce and Terms sentence to be that RA forfeits the protection of T&T and is to be turned over to regular authorities for attempted regicide.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Pandacrator

      I don’t think it is about reliability. I interpret it as “Named are a good defense but they threaten my authority so I need a plan B that only I control in case they turn against the nobility of Procer” which puts her in a position of not being entirely reliant on Heroes. This way they can’t claim they should be excused for everything, because they are no longer irreplaceable.

      Liked by 4 people

    3. > The only explanation behind her holding onto it so hard is that she’s convinced she can control it or at least wield it reliably. But I can’t think of any reason this would actually be the case.

      I can’t think of a specific reason it wouldn’t.

      We just found out about one, which is clearly extraordinary and fairly unique in scope – Intercessor influencing a Choir is pretty exotic.

      That one is no longer active. Leaving her with a cadre of mages and priests working on figuring it out and answering to her.

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  4. Tenthyr

    The Bards attacks are still unwinding, even if Catherine drove her off for a time. Looks like they’ll come to a head with whatever this trials result is.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Anomandris

      It’s more of a Mutually Assured Destruction kinda thing in my view for her. It would make the Alliance help Procer (otherwise Boom), probably make DK wary of pushing the fight too much to Procer (otherwise Boom).

      Liked by 4 people

          1. WuseMajor

            I believe that the main point of the above story is that it won’t be controllable until the business with Hierarch is concluded. If set off now, it will either have no connection to heaven and do nothing or the connection to heaven will apparently act like opening the plug in the bottom of a lake and wash this continent away.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. > If set off now, it will either have no connection to heaven and do nothing or the connection to heaven will apparently act like opening the plug in the bottom of a lake and wash this continent away.

              I don’t see any indication of the latter. The ‘wash away the continent’ scenario was if Bard exploited its link with the Seraphim (which is no longer there) to turn the crank all the way up. It’s not a guess as to what will happen now, only a potential hypothetical what-if worst case scenario.

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            2. Actually, it was said nobody knows how it’d function now. “Opening a plug at the bottom of a lake” was in case Intercessor cranked up the intensity through the Seraphim which is no longer doable.

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          2. mamm0nn

            That’s probably why Tyrant saved the day: Bard might’ve been able to use it to destroy DK the moment it was dredged up otherwise, using the massive power of the Choir and a more refined form of Light rather than just the corpse. Without it, DK will too likely survive the blast.

            Liked by 1 person

        1. caoimhinh

          Also, let’s not forget that the Dead King’s real body is another freaking dimension A.K.A the Serenity, which is in Hell.

          That’s why he is pretty chill about it. No matter how freaking destructive that nuke can be, it’s still doubtful it will harm his real domains. The only way for it to happen is for them to first go through the hordes of Undead that have been ravaging over Procer for years.

          That weapon poses more danger for Procer than the rest of Calernia, and even less danger to Neshamah.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. agumentic

            I think it’s been mentioned that if the Dead King loses Keter, it’s essentially the end for him. He goes from immortal First Monster in the north to evil in a can – and those get smashed to hell and back by the story the moment they try to do anything.

            Liked by 6 people

            1. Konstantin von Karstein

              It’s true, but is it possible to open a Greater Breach from the infernal side of the fence? Because if it is the case, Neshamah has no reason to care about the Angel weapon, at least in its present state. Especially because he knew about the weapon for a long time and have prepared countermeasures.

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              1. Insanenoodlyguy

                Doesn’t matter. Once Keter is lost, he’s evil in a can. Even if he’s evil in a can with a large force, that’s an established flavor of evil in a can. “Once I open a new breach, my armies will march in creation and I shall rule again!?” As stated, the sorts of people with that as a plan die all the time to teenagers who haven’t even finished their full heroic journey yet.

                Liked by 5 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Cordelia has always been desperate to hold on to her power, for all that she pretends otherwise. She has at every chapter from her POV being worried about being revoked from the position of First Prince by the Highest Assembly.

          Sure, her strongest wish is duty, but let’s not forget that she sees herself as the only one capable of fulfilling that duty. And she is always afraid of losing control of Procer.
          She is not thinking things through but rather is now attempting to force Catherine into backing her keeping of the weapon by threatening the Truce and Terms (which is a mistake), willfully ignoring the undeniable fact that Named have always regulated themselves. Heroes kill Villains and Villains kill Heroes, the pretense that the nations actually held control over them is just Proceran Bullshit on Cordelia’s part. Heroes can be moved into action by a cause or a story, but not because a Head of State commanded it.

          Named can control countries but countries can’t control Named.
          Cordelia should have learned that already after the Tenth Crusade got out of her control. But her emotions are getting the best of her here.

          In a sense, the way Cordelia is acting is similar to the Mirror Knight holding unto the Severance as it gave him security, power and a sense of importance. Cordelia will not let go of the Angel Corpse Weapon because it is ultimately a Proceran weapon under her control, it doesn’t matter how dangerous it could be if it went out of hand or malfunction. It’s a similar policy with every country in our world that has Nuclear Weapons, they are simply not going to get rid of them because that’s a deterrent weapon for their nation.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. caoimhinh

            I also believe she plans to hold onto that weapon even after the war is over. It’s a powerful weapon to have, and it’s a mighty deterrent.
            Also, if it can be further refined into something more stable and controllable…
            Well, that will keep Procer safe and Cordelia at its head, the way she has always intended.

            Liked by 5 people

              1. caoimhinh

                Maybe. But the Accords are still under discussion.

                Cordelia seems to be working on a big amount of wishful thinking right now. Along with her own desparation and control-issues, this will make her come up with all kinds of excuses to not give up on the weapon for as long as possible.

                She is acting on emotions, not on logic. She might perform a lot of mental gymnastics to justify her actions, but that’s fear talking.

                Liked by 6 people

          2. This. The discussion is not about using it, it’s about keeping it. Even Catherine immediately thinks Cordelia would only turn to it as an absolute last resort.

            Also, angel strikes ARE normaly aimed. The ‘nuke everything’ option is if the power lever is cranked all the way up and they no longer can.

            Liked by 1 person

        2. Because it’s not a nuke.

          It’ll function as one above a certain threshold of power but it’s not meant to reach that and it’s certainly not meant to go off at the source point.

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    2. magesbe

      Cordelia’s argument is that if used as the Bard intended it would be a doomsday weapon for a good portion of the continent, but with Judgement out of the picture the Bard [i]presumably[/i] can’t control it anymore. Thus it simply becomes a powerful weapon that can be controlled to not doom the entire continent. Supposedly. Catherine is shrieking internally and a little externally that a weapon capable of wiping out most of a continent should just flat out not be used.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. M0och123

        It would almost be impossible for the story to allow a doomsday weapon like this is to actually be used. Especially considering that there exists a type of people (Named) whose sole purpose is to prevent such a thing from happening.

        While I don’t doubt that Bard could create such a scenario, I am fairly certain even she doesn’t want the annihilation of the continent.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Yep, she wouldn’t want that. But might as well attempt it on the hopes of getting killed.
          It may be her way to get into a Story where she is the villain attempting to destroy the world, such guys don’t often get to survive.

          And Bard really wants to die. So…

          Liked by 4 people

        2. John Pratt

          Nah, she definitely wants the annihilation of a continent. Especially an angel driven annihilation that will leave that actual lands essentially untouched, or even cleansed of previous taint via the tabula rasa effect. That leaves Praes and Callow to expand into continental superpowers, which gives her the narrative juice to weld the rest of the world into a broad coalition of Above against the nascent Evil Empire. The author already as much as spelled out that the Bard already tried a variation of this plan by sponsoring the rise of Triumphant.

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          1. > The author already as much as spelled out that the Bard already tried a variation of this plan by sponsoring the rise of Triumphant.

            I’m sorry, what?

            Can you provide… any citation for this?

            Last I recall, Bard was pretty miffed at the elves’ non-interference in the Triumphant situation, and the Dead King used her rise to manipulate the formation of Procer, a non-Named led disunited counry at his border.

            Triumphant was a successful ANTI-Bard operation.

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        3. LarsBlitzer

          Like TeK implied, the Bard would be rather uniquely disposed to be perfectly okay with annihilating 2/3rds of the continent. They’re just people and cities and kingdoms. Nothing terribly important to a being who has lived for thousands of years and has seen countless civilizations rise and fall. She’s not even terribly attached to any of her incarnations except for the most shallow of reasons such as looks. As long as DK and Keter is wiped off the map she’ll gladly roll the dice and buff the SHIT out of the Angelic MacGuffin.

          Thing is, to Cordelia it hasn’t been confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was the Bard who did the Whammy, nor is she convinced that anyone could do it either, and certainly not to the extent where she’s willing to stop the Manhattan Project. She’ll be under pressure from her fellow nobles to get it done. To stop would undermine her support to stay First Prince and she’d be out on her ear.

          No, this is inevitable.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. > She’ll be under pressure from her fellow nobles to get it done.

            Pretty sure it’s a secret project her nobles don’t know about, for reasons including but not limited to the potential of this.

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  5. Laguz24

    I think that the Cordelia is currently holding on to the superweapon to regain a sense of control over the situation, she dislikes having to deal with named that make mockeries of rules wherever they go. This is also coming from the place where she refused a name in the highest assembly chamber.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Frivolous

      I agree that that is probably Hasenbach’s motivation. She’s a control freak; she wants to feel like she has a lever to use.

      I think she is overestimating the danger from Catherine’s villains, though. She should worry far more about Hanno’s heroes.

      I mean, although Catherine has tender feelings about the situation, most villains and Callowans would probably be quite okay with Procer annihilating itself.

      On the other hand, the Grey Pilgrim and the Ophanim might decide to assassinate Hasenbach or steal the Judgement-corpse. Tariq and his angelic patrons have a history of murdering people to save others. And all Levantine heroes would agree with him.

      Also, if there is any risk at all of genocide to the Firstborn? Sve Noc will simply snuff Hasenbach out. I don’t think Hasenbach has a realistic chance of surviving Sve Noc.

      In other news: I wonder what the Augur would make out of all this.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. M0och123

        Hasenbach could only be eliminated with the proper story behind her, and such stories that involve the assassination of the First Prince that end well are very few and far in between. I think that is another thing Bard may be going for is for such an attempt to play out and for it to fail miserably.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Frivolous

          Why would you say that Hasenbach can only be eliminated with a proper story?

          People die all the time. She’s not even a hero (yet).

          The Augur might protect her from the heroes, but the Augur cannot see Sve Noc.

          Liked by 7 people

          1. Nah, Cordelia has guaranteed survival until her hand is on trigger and she has to make a choice. Like how Bard couldn’t die because she had a horrifying contingency of a back-up plan, and well, it wouldn’t make for a good and climactic ending if she just died in the beginning of the book.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. Salt

              Yep. Killing off of important, beloved major characters that have been developed over many many arcs, is only done for a good reason and only if there’s some sort of impactful payoff. Something on the level of a Fitting End or a huge Plot Twist.

              Doing so for little reason other than just subverting expectations is a Weiss and Benioff folly, and it tends to result in a massively unhappy and angry fanbase. It should only be applied in moderation for minor characters, like the old Exiled Prince.

              EE has thus far shown to be too competent of a writer to do something as silly as having a plot-critical character randomly perish by tripping and breaking their neck on an exposed brick, to be replaced by some minor side character that isn’t properly fleshed out/one the audience is not invested or interested in.

              Liked by 1 person

                1. Salt

                  What I’m trying to get at is that this is a very intentionally meta setting where literary devices and literary purposes are often noticed by characters in the story, or even outright interacted with.

                  A huge change in the story like removing an old major character should always have a purpose, not “just because”. Subverting expectations is for adding to the story, not something to be done at all costs even if it detracts instead.

                  In a case where the major premise is partially breaking the 4th wall by having tropes be actual plot devices – to be noticed and interacted with by the characters – means that any event THAT significant is likely going to have some visible tropes or meta plot hooks leading up to it, not a meteor out of a clear blue sky because lol random.

                  Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, Cordy’s making noises about Cat’s Villains getting out of line… but she’s projecting so hard she could invent the movie theater for Calernia!

        At nearly every step since Cat got to the Arsenal, the Heroes have been making at least as much trouble as the Villains.

        Okay, during the big fight there were Bard-betrayals by villains along with heroes — Fallen Monk, Concocter, Maddened Keeper, along with Exalted Poet (actually I forget, was he H or V?) and Blessed Artificer. But that whole mess started with Red Axe, whose behavior has been just damn weird.

        And Mirror Knight showed up spoiling for a fight — when he got one, he may have half-saved Hakram from Keeper’s betrayal, but he also opened her can of worms in the process. And having won the field against the demons he went on to challenge the White Knight, if not the Terms themselves.

        Like

  6. “Then the Principate will do what it must to survive, no matter whose feathers it ruffles. On that point there can be no negotiation.”

    Also, feathers. Get it? Cause, cause…

    I’ll see myself out.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Indignantpup

      I like how she says for the survival of the Principate after being told that the weapon she’s holding would wipe it from the face of Calernia. Wait is Calernia the whole world or is it just the continent that they’re on?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Just the continent, and it won’t be wiped out entirely, just meager two thirds of it. Really, pretty worth it in the end.

        I mean, ethics aside, doesn’t nuking the continent sounds like fun?

        Liked by 8 people

  7. That is all kinds of bad news.

    How the fuck does she even get an Aspect like that?
    And, even worse, since it works on Angels, and if Bard/Intercessor is truly nominally unaligned, would it have theoretical applications on demons?

    Cordelia … Angel corpses are bad news at the best of times. When Bard can control Angelic manifestations they’re even worse. When Bard wants the Angel corpse to be your only option … that’s incredibly bad.
    When the Angel corpse can blow up two thirds of Calernia, including blasting a massive crater into the dwarven realms, in the optimistic assessment …
    Secure the Angel corpse so that Bard cannot use it … but work on figuring out how to safely dispose of it.
    Maybe toss it through the Hellgate, or park it right in front of the Hellgate … but don’t even think about actually actively using it.

    The trials are going to be critically important. We all saw that coming.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Well, we know the Bard has the power to affect perception of time, at the very least. She has used that on Amadeus, Catherine, and I’m willing to say that’s what she used to talk with the Dead King inside Masego’s head.

      What do you think would be the Aspects of the Intercessor.
      My nominated 3 are Wander, Read, and Interfere.
      For the teleportation, story prediction, and manipulation of perception, respectively.

      About the nuke, I wonder if they will ever find a way to use the Twilight Ways to get to Keter. Kairos mentioned he had originally been looking into the practicalities of throwing the whole shard of Arcadia into the Serenity, maybe they can do something along those lines?
      I mean, the only way to use that thing in any measure of safety is by activating the weapon on the other side of the Hellgate. And even then we don’t know if the destruction could spread into Creation through that portal.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Wander, Listen, Tell.

        I think it’s fairly likely the Keeper of Stories hails from a time of oral tradition, nominating Listen as the Aspect about knowing stories – see also how a same name one allowed Saint to “hear the beat of the universe” in a way that gave her heightened story sense according to Pilgrim – and Tell as the Aspect about imposing them on reality.

        It’d fit an intercessor’s aspects as well – a negotiatior listens, then talks.

        Tell would cover the in-a-span-of-a-second discussion she had with Catherine in her mind, the Speaking-Lite Amadeus speculated was a property of bardic Names (making people stop and listen even when it’s a terrible idea conceptually), the ability to impose perception filters on angels.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. robertctaylorfamfrit

      Even worse since this aspect seems to be along the lines of can even affect angels rather than only effect angels that makes a lot of past scenes where she’s been in the background but only noticed by a single character like the Pilgrim or Cat suddenly a lot more ominous.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. M0och123

    Here’s a lesson for you all kids…

    DON’T F*CK AROUND WITH DOOMSDAY WEAPONS IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD. ESPECIALLY WHEN THERE EXISTS PEOPLE WHO ARE LITERALLY DRIVEN BY FATE AND DESTINY TO SCREW AROUND WITH YOUR SCREWING AROUND.

    That about sums it up.

    Also, I just had a few unpleasant thoughts about the Gnomes and the various innovations happening in the Arsenal. Not saying a visit by the Gnomes is likely at this stage in the game but considering literally every single other power on Calernia is now involved in this struggle in some way (excluding the rats, they don’t really get involved in anything except eating.).

    I am surprised that someone as smart as Hasenbach is actually considering such a doomsday weapon a serious option. The story pattern for Doomsday weapons always end the same way and yet she insists on keeping one of the only things that will ensure that Procer is entirely destroyed. Even more than the Dead King due to the fact that at least some Procerans will be able to escape to the Kingdom and Dominion and Free Cities. With such a weapon there is literally no where to run.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. caoimhinh

      At this point, I’m expecting Procer to get a Red Letter like the one Praes got.
      Surely if a Tribe of Goblins experimenting to make gunpowder got them one, then a Weapon of Mass Destruction should earn it?

      Like

      1. Gunpowder is science.
        Angel corpses are magic.

        Gnomes don’t seem to care about magical developments, they only seem to care about mundane scientific advancement.
        They objected to an improvement in mundane farming equipment – that was the Dread Empire’s first Red Letter in the past century.

        Liked by 8 people

      2. WuseMajor

        The Gnomes don’t seem to care about magic derived weapons, only technology advancing beyond a certain point.

        This implies that the Gnomes think that their Science can defeat any Magic, but that Science might enable them to fight on the Gnome’s level.

        Given the crazy shit we’ve seen magic do and presumably the Gnomes have been watching that too, this honestly scares me as to the kinds of things the Gnomes might be able to accomplish. I kind of wonder if the reason Heaven and Hell fight so hard here is because they’ve been kicked out of everywhere else on the planet.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. I expect Gnomes to have magitec – nothing about this setting so much as remotely suggests magic and technology being non-synergistic paths of development. Mass education of mages, mass production of artefacts, be scared.

          Also I’m pretty sure they’re still subject to the Gods’ wager and have their own internal heroes and villains. Powerful NPCs don’t get to kick out the programmers. Even if their power is over 9000, to the programmer it’s still just zeros and ones arranged in a pattern on their hard drive.

          Liked by 1 person

      3. Aotrs Commander

        I’m pretty convinced that the gnomes are there solely to ensure that the god’s little playground stay in status quo. The big difference between science and magic is that the latter remains in the hands of a finite number of people who the narrative can deal with. But technological advancement is a buff for EVERYONE and will fundementally change the way things work that WILL break the status quo. Was not one of the Red Letters because someone developed a new piece of a farming machinery or something? That? Could solve the Praesi starvation problems and so THAT needed to be stomped on hard.

        Wiping 2/3 of Calernia doesn’t matter to the gnomes; if anything it would definitely keep the status quo going, as Callow becoming the New Procer, presumably (after an appropriate Story of breaking free from evil tyanny, once it is the only underdog with no allies…) and then it would naturally ease back to status quo over the centuries, depending on how long ot took for Procer et al to become habitable again (I mean, it might be immediately, but it would still take time to be occupied).

        (Metanarratvily, the gnomes allow EE to have a plausible reason why technology has not advanced in the thousands of years wher it otherwise would have. It’s a lampshade hangin,g maybe, but it’s one with more credibility than basically almost every other fantasy world I’ve seen had.)

        Liked by 6 people

        1. I’m personally in favor of the more mundane explanation that gnomes just genuinely non-meta aim to maintain their own technological supremacy, and the Gods don’t give a shit one way or the other.

          Like

        2. Jago

          > (Metanarratvily, the gnomes allow EE to have a plausible reason why technology has not advanced in the thousands of years wher it otherwise would have. It’s a lampshade hangin,g maybe, but it’s one with more credibility than basically almost every other fantasy world I’ve seen had.)

          Another good one is “widespread technology makes people less reliant on gods, so we (the gods) will get less faith energy, and that is needed to protect the world from the horrors from outer space”.

          Like

  9. Big I

    So the Bard’s plan was to nuke Procer and the Free Cities, and I guess let the Dominion settle the ruins in the following centuries? Since protecting the first Pilgrim meant there would BE a Dominion? That’s definitely got a D&D vibe to it, ancient ruins and fallen civilisations, and the Dominion is already all about killing monsters from blighted wilderness and undead from barrows.

    Callow and Praes stay in their bucket, the dwarves get served a big “eff you”, any survivors from the border region with Keter become mountain barbarians, and the League ends or becomes irrelevant. How diabolical.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Salt

      On the contrary, I think the entire point of the Bard’s plan is that it has zero redeeming qualities. The continent will never recover, no matter what anyone tries – the Bard intentionally gave it the most atrociously awful outcome possible.

      Above and Below won’t let her die and Rest In Peace, so I think she’s planning to force them to, by blackmailing them in a continental game of chicken.

      If she can’t convince them that Catherine Foundling is a good enough rival/thief/successor to take her place? Fine, let’s do it the hard way.

      Let’s make myself such a horrible liability to creation itself, with such a horrible liability of a plan, that it forces Above and Below to boot my ass out the door and end this miserable existence.

      Which would be, uh, bad news bears for everyone else. If neither the Intercessor nor the Gods actually flinch in this little game of chicken, it basically means the continent actually does get turned into a sheet of glass.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        That, or there’s a huge but still finite range of her influence/resurrection. If there’s no life on the continent, there’s no reason for a bard on the continent, so she dies and stays dead. It’s the sort of thing we’d expect of her. “If you let me do this, it means I win, which means I die. So I need to be stopped, which means I die, which means I win.”

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Ninestrings

    I wonder who they’ve got tinkering with the angel corpse?

    There must be some Oppenheimer equivalent in there, perhaps the Hierophant’s Shadow Archetype?

    Liked by 4 people

              1. Shveiran

                It isn’t, yet it is several steps removed on the admirable scale from “Mass genocide you say? I probably have to hold on at least one way to cause it, just in case”. Not to mention “Oh, that sounds like a good thursday to me.”

                Liked by 4 people

                1. Well, I feel uncomfortable with this conversation, when I live in the country that bases a significant part of it’s foreign diplomacy on “we’re gonna hold onto this method of mass genocide just in case”.

                  Liked by 3 people

                    1. Mine boasts the biggest amount of mass genocide tools and boasts the policy of “if anyone nukes us, we nuke everybody”. But yeah, it’s not particularly original.

                      Like

    1. caoimhinh

      Yeah, I have been wondering the same.

      Procer doesn’t have the mages for it. It has strong Priests, but they did not obey Cordelia so who did she get to modify the Seraph’s corpse? She already had that thing before the failed coup.

      Such a thing must require quite a degree of knowledge, power, and skill. So it’s highly suspicious. Who made that weapon?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. caoimhinh

        Upon more thought, I remembered that it might not even be an actual weapon or artifact, but rather it could very well be a ritual that makes use of the corpse of the Seraph.

        It was summoned by some priests before Triumphant killed it, so it might be Cordelia is planning to use some priests from that branch of Faith to perform the ritual.

        From Book 5 Interlude: A Hundred Battles.

        “In glorious old days,” Kairos Theodosian wistfully said, “there was once a woman who broke in Evil as one would break in a stallion. From triumph to triumph did she march, west and ever pursuing, until by the shores of a great lake she met in strife a hundred priests-elect of the Hallowed. And these holy souls did scour themselves to bring forth the great spirit they worshipped, one that cast judgement upon all it beheld, and behold her it did.”
        Ah, what he would not have done for a glimpse of that grand moment. Truly, there never had been nor ever would be a match to Dread Empress Triumphant.

        “For that presumption she slew it,” The Tyrant ferally grinned, sharp teeth bared, “bearing tall banner, and wrote her rage in blood across a hundred trembling tribes. That which was not a corpse sunk into deep waters, turning into bones that dreamt, and there was left to slumber. Some across the years learned of this, and of the great works that might wrought from such a thing, but none were so bold as to attempt to make a sword out hallowing petrified.”
        Ah, but heroes lacked for such beautiful ambitions. The living kin of that dreaming thing came too easily to their help, he’d always thought, and so there was no need for ingenuity unleashed.

        “That hoped-for boldness still escapes our kind,” he mourned, “but a lesser manner of soul did grow desperate enough.”

        How could Cordelia Hasenbach not be, when doom covered her home and kin as the south tore itself apart in a war with no end nor meaning? There had been so little left to lose, and in the end the First Prince answered first to duty.

        Kairos called it a “sword” but that might be a metaphor, much like Catherine has always referred to that Angel’s corpse as an “arrow”. In this chapter they discussed using it as a ritual (with the consequences being akin to a nuke from Earth) but not as an artifact.

        A priestly ritual by some secluded tradition on central Procer would make sense and be more consistent with the fact that Procer lacks mages capable of creating such OP artifact and Cordelia lacked control of the House of Light.
        She might just be planning to use priests from that region (Priest-elect of the Hallowed, Kairos called them).

        Liked by 8 people

  11. flashburn283

    Hasenbach is going for the Fulda Gap gambit, nuke yourself to fuck the enemy. THIS IS NOT GOING TO END WELL SOMEBODY IS GOING TO DIE WITH THEIR FINGER ON THE TRIGGER.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. With Judgement and their ability to direct the result personally – which can then be hijacked by the Bard – out of the picture, this actually shouldn’t inevitably nuke Procer.

      Like

  12. Great, so Cordelia has a holy hydrogen bomb, and she’s not even letting the others read the warning labels. I wonder if we’ll hear anything from the gnomes, or if they’re content to let the backwater continent purge itself.

    I really need to know what had Hanno so quiet, though. I’m kind of concerned he might be so desperate for his choir to speak to him again, that he might try to speak to the “dead” angel. While he is a hero, that’s a tragedy in the making, from what I can tell.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Now that I think about it, it might not even be that Cordelia had an actual artifact made our of the Angel’s corpse. That was Catherine’s metaphor for it.

        It’s more likely to be a ritual that uses the corpse.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. caoimhinh

      I think Hanno was Recalling things right there. He might have left immediately to keep digging for info on the matter and more specifically on the Intercessor.
      Also, Hanno doesn’t seem to be in much despair, he seems to have made his peace with the silence of the Seraphim.

      Liked by 5 people

  13. Jworks

    I just had this thought, someone tell me why it’s wrong:
    If chapters have spelling errors in them, does that mean Erratica writes a single draft for each chapter and it’s consistently this good? That’s incredible if so, my first drafts of anything make me question whether or not english is my first language while editing.

    Liked by 6 people

  14. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    She’d had > She’s had
    The battled > The battle
    less that I > less than I
    presence tabula > presence of the tabula
    which should run afoul > which would run afoul
    villains’ destruction > villain’s destruction
    favour graverobbing > favour of graverobbing
    that’ pleasant > that ‘pleasant
    you,” Cordelia > you.” Cordelia
    that’s somehow written > that had somehow written
    anyone’ possession > anyone’s possession

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Frivolous

    I have thought it over some more, and I think Cordelia is bluffing about using the angel corpse.

    I think her main motivation is to bully the heroes and the villains into behaving. That’s all. I don’t think she has any intention of actually using it. This is the same woman who only 2 years ago knelt to Catherine in order to get her to support Procer against the DK and prevent Proceran genocide.

    Why would she now try to genocide most Procerans herself? It makes no sense. Also, Hasenbach must know that if she uses the angel corpse, its neighbors will invade and probably kill all Procerans anyway.

    One more thought, that I don’t think has been mentioned yet in this comments section: Remember that Catherine’s new Name is coming, and soon. It may come with the trials, or it may come in a confrontation with Hasenbach.

    Catherine’s new Name -started- to come, as you may recall, when she declared that Praes would be put in order. Hasenbach is now proving to be a danger, just like Malicia has been. The new Name will probably have something to do with that.

    I don’t know if Hasenbach has ever been subjected to a Named with the aspect of Rule before. Has she?

    I mention this because I strongly suspect that one of Catherine’s aspects will be Rule. In which case Catherine may simply Speak to Cordelia and tell her not to do it.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Frivolous

      On second thought, maybe Catherine’s aspect will not be Rule. Instead it might be Order. After all, the new age will be the Age of Order, yes? So Order would be appropriate.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. I’m getting tired and bored of Hasenbach. Once again she proves she’s learned nothing. Distrust of Callow’s Queen has turned now to distrust of Cat’s work, instead. And rather then pay attention like a smart politician, ‘the bard wanted the accords to be destroyed’, ‘the bard wanted me to use the angel corpse’, ‘ergo the bard thinks the accords can win this fight’, ‘plus these trials are literally the bards latest attacks but I’m going to use them to politically attack my ally who has forgiven me of horrible things I did to her people thus teaching her she shouldn’t have.’

    She’s supposed to be smart, right? When do we get to see that again?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. magesbe

      Firstly, smart people are not immune from stupid decisions. Look at Malacia who despite her vast intellect also created pretty much every problem she’s had to scheme her way out of.

      Secondly Frivolous had a theory that I like, about how this angel corpse is mostly planned as a tool to try and get the Named to get their act together. Can’t be sure of course, but even Cat noted that Cordelia was being unusually immovable on the issue.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. > ‘the bard wanted the accords to be destroyed’, ‘the bard wanted me to use the angel corpse’, ‘ergo the bard thinks the accords can win this fight’

      Doesn’t necessarily follow, unfortunately.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. Quite Possibly A Cat

    I wonder if she is keeping the Angel corpse around as a sort of MAD? If the Dead King is about to eat everyone she pops the angel corpse. Therefore simply having that option means the Dead King will never try and eat everyone.

    Like

  18. A general pointing out to the comment section: the function of the Judgement corpse that could potentially nuke the continent is predicated on Bard screwing with the Seraphim, who now cannot be reached, presumably even for this.

    Putting aside story concerns (because that’s not how Cordelia thinks), consider the situation. You have this potentially incredibly powerful artefact that you’ve already sunk quite a bit of cost and effort into securing, which importantly means you cannot really get another like it in time if it turns out you need one. You don’t actually know what it’ll do, which means it needs research and a lot of careful tinkering before activating in any way, which is exactly what you intend to do. It’s impossible to actually destroy it, what you’re being asked to do is put it out of reach – for yourself and probably the next couple of generations. Sooner or later someone will find it again, and it might just regain the currently disabled continent-nuke functionality you just learned about by then…

    What part of this sounds like a good idea?

    Now, letting Hierophant examine it would be the best option from the point of workplace safety, but the Black Queen is known for bullying her way through problems if she gets it in her head something is one and this is the, like, one thing you have that you can use as a threat/deterrent if need be. Giving her the “off” button might as well be handing her keys to the kingdom.

    Now the protagonist-loving comment section doesn’t see the problem with that, and honestly Catherine has already proven herself benevolent enough for it to not be a completely stupid suicidal move, but Procer is trying to be a superpower, and superpowers don’t hand other nations activation codes for their nukes. Keep in mind Procer isn’t Cordelia’s lump of clay to shape as she wills the way Catherine thinks about Callow and Amadeus about Praes. She’s already gone pretty far in reforming it and curtailing its ambitions going forward, willingly giving away what few fangs it still can scrounge up might just count as betrayal at this point.

    It’s the crab bucket problem, and there isn’t really any nice way out of it. If Cordelia tries to climb out, someone else from her own nation will pull her down. She has to play the game to stay at the table.

    I hope Catherine doesn’t do something rash in response, because there are good reasons for the harshness of her stance on this too =x

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh, I can definitely see why Cordelia would do it, but you’d think the revelation that the artifact can potentially glass two thirds of Calernia will make er more cooperative, not less.

      But I’ll admit that protagonist-centered morality had been a scary thing in this novel. I never quite noticed it before in such effect.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Keep in mind she’s already looking at the potential of two thirds of Calernia being made into a very bustling graveyard. While the hypothetical of “this is a worst case scenario of malicious misdirection and unlimited power” is something she’d see as a hypothetical theoretical, not a near-guarantee the way Catherine-schooled-by-her-paranoid-father does.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Why exactly is he attacking though? Like what is his endgame? Cordelia seems perfectly fine believing that he attacks “cuse mah ivil”, but that seems rather shallow. The one weapon he feared was broken, is it because he fears progress as speculated? Seems to shallow for such a monster. I would be banking on integrating myself back into the system, not setting myself up to be a corpse out of which the system is carved.

          What does he gain? Maybe he wants Cordelia to use the corpse while Judgement is blocked to rid Intercessor of her weapon? Not enough. It is probably a side-goal, but this is war on arguably unprecedented scale. He must be after some real change on Calernian scene, but he can’t possibly want to make it all his, this would be setting himself up for failure. Why now? Why war?

          Like

          1. > but he can’t possibly want to make it all his, this would be setting himself up for failure

            You’re taking the genre savviness of “everything except the protagonist’s course of action is doomed to failure while the protagonist is guaranteed to succeed” too far, I think.

            Neshamah had established himself as a threat to all living (any at a time, if not all at once necessarily) by being willing and able to kill off an entire kingdom at once. Regardless of his long-term next step goal (regardless of if he has one or if he’s fine where he is and just wants to keep going like that), he needs to be too tough to take down, because the living will take the first opportunity they have to do just that (particularly with Intercessor in the picture ensuring he won’t wriggle his way out of it diplomatically).

            This opportunity is coming at an increasing pace, and his one option for overcoming it and jumping up to where that kind is no longer a threat to him, is taking over the continent. Both story-wise (setting precedent for how powerful he is and how it’s hubristic to try and go against him) and practically (that’s how many dead he can now have, that’s how far he can now spread his isolated loyal population, and that’s how many resources he now has access to).

            The weapon is a specific focused threat, but while he might believe that this particular alliance is not yet dangerous enough to seriously imperil him, he knows that the next one will be closer, and the next one after that will be closer still, if he allows them to happen.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Uhm, I hadn’t actually used the “protag always wins” logic. I used regular old “Villains who are too powerful to be defeated don’t have long life-expectancy”. Even DK himself acknowledged it, when Cat answered his speech about how futile struggle is with “so you are saying you are invincible and can’t possibly fail” with “ha, good catch, but no, I wouldn’t be caught dead doing something like this”.

              There is a difference between “an evil in a can” and “holy shit this is a world-class threat”. One gets you practical narrative invincibility because you are a stage prop, not an actor. Second, well, it is a nice tale of the world uniting despite it’s differences to annihilate a threat to all.

              On the other hand, what if he used Triumphant to iron out all the design flaws in his continent conquering plan? Scary thought. If EE manages to enter a passage about how the world powers outside Calernia are currently in some major squabble and can’t look around for now, I’d be shitting my pants, uh, metaphorically speaking.

              I am not saying he doesn’t have a long-term plan, I am wondering what is it. He had seen firsthand how conquering the continent plays out, I don’t think he is willing to risk so much for just being a target for some bigger threats.

              Liked by 6 people

              1. You have a good point about world powers having come in to nuke Triumphant. I think though that that scenario can be avoided without them necessarily being in a larger squabble, just by being more low-key than she was (I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out she antagonized them actively through the Ashuran naval access); and in any case, that’s problem # next.

                Liked by 1 person

              2. (Also, “villains too powerful to be defeated don’t have a long life expectancy” is only separate from “the protagonist always wins” through guide’s meta-filter. At its origin, it’s a derivative of the same rule)

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Not necessarily, because Heroes aren’t always protagonists, or rather, well, in the world of Guideverse there is either no protagonist or everyone is a potential protagonist, with Named becoming those.

                  Catherine aside of course, that is a little too meta. The point is that this connection works only if you conclude that only Heroes can be protagonists, which, well, that’s what they want you to think.

                  Liked by 1 person

              3. agumentic

                Triumphant became a target of empires from beyond the sea because she was actively planning to go and conquer the rest of the world. From the moment she decided that, coalitions of other countries would inevitably form for both the story and practical reasons. But if the Dead King doesn’t decide to conquer the world, I think he may well get away with conquering Calernia – Gods will just update the setting and mark Calernia as “Continent of Death”, and it will become new status quo. It might face resistance from other continents, but it wouldn’t be nearly as hopeless of a story as “Villain on the way to conquer the world”.

                Liked by 4 people

                1. This.

                  It’s like how the rest of Calernia didn’t really band together to defeat the Kingdom of the Dead until a powerful and ambitious alliance-builder-on-the-rise decided it would be a convenient step towards her long-term goals. While he was already actively attacking.

                  Like

          2. SpeckofStardust

            The dead king wants to win. This has been his first possible chance to make progress on his end goal of winning, he might lose but the thing is he might win. Which is why he is doing this.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Win what? That is what I was asking. Like he obviously trying to imitate the Gods and Creation in the Serenity, is he trying to achieve “true” godhood? Join the Below as newly minted God of Death?

              Liked by 2 people

                    1. Not with as many enemies as he’s got.

                      In particular note the dwarves who went fighting the drow just to encircle him and the drow who straight up want his stuff.

                      Like

                  1. SpeckofStardust

                    He. kinda does at this point.
                    their are 3/2 steps to never dying.
                    1. Don’t die due to old age.
                    2. Don’t die due to people trying to kill you.
                    3. Don’t die due by removing the ability to die.
                    (Considering how magic seems to work 3 isn’t really in the cards)
                    The Dead king can no longer die due to old age, however he can still die due to someone killing him.
                    He has 3 ways to deal with this.
                    1. Have no one remember him.
                    2. Have no one want to kill him.
                    3. Kill everyone that might want to kill him.
                    Bard has made it impossible for him to be forgotten, And every major power that we have seen in story wants him to be removed from being. Even the Kingdom-Under has apparently been in an forever war with him at all times the dead king isn’t fighting a war on the surface. the fact that he is currently busy is why they had such timing for attacking the Drow that Cat went to the underdark.

                    Like

    2. alele

      To be fair Cat has been playing Cassandra for a while, her secession and peace offers and the Angel Trial come to mind. But Political Expedience in the High Assembly(your crab bucket) has consistently royally(ha-ha) fucked everyone over. Remember that the Crusade and Dead King reappearance was essentially the result of a political ploy to solidify the Good Alliance with a common enemy, quell banditry by employing the excessive number of Fantassins after the Civil War (“A good sword will find a use, or make one.” ) and riding that success into maintaining Hasenbach in power and passing reforms. Of course, it comes as a response to Malicia’s meddling but calling the “Crusade” seems to be the tipping point into permitting Dead King resurgence, by upping the Story scale of the conflict into “Good vs Evil”. The Story keeps screwing Hasenbach over and she still hasn’t learned how to operate while treating it as a factor.

      Liked by 4 people

  19. Ideally for Catherine, Cordelia’s last statement means “okay, if the trials work out to my satisfaction I’ll throw it away.” Optimistically but slightly more realistically, this means “okay, if the trials work out to my satisfaction, I’ll give you the off button”.

    Worst case scenario, it means “if the trials work out to my satisfaction I’m keepign the status quo, if they don’t I’m despairing and pushing the red button.” Which is very stupid and unlikely tho.

    Most realistically, it means “I’m not committing to anything, and I will revisit my stance in the future depending on where the chips fall from here”. That’s… most definitely what it means, alas for the drama of the declaration.

    Like

  20. mamm0nn

    Oh, the sass from EE that ‘Of course it’s the fucking Bard.’ on last chapter’s discussions. You don’t fool me, I know it was Traitorous in a wig seeding deception and ruses to mess with people that won’t even be born for centuries to fight an ancient monster in a war that he could only glimpse would rock Creation.

    Liked by 6 people

  21. WuseMajor

    I’m honestly starting to wonder if she hasn’t decommissioned it already and is just using it as a scare tactic. Because…I don’t see how she can think of herself as a servant of her people otherwise. Activating that weapon presumably needs several people, likely powerful Priests, and any of them might well get ideas above their station at any time. I find it difficult to buy that Cordy could trust anyone else with this.

    Alternately, there’s actually some reason she can’t decommission it. Like it’s tied to her life force or something.

    I suppose there’s also the option where she thinks that Callow is trying for an advantage here, instead of just not wanting anyone to have a continent destroying superweapon and has basically stopped listening to anyone but the advisers who are telling her “no, no, this will work.” However, that seems unlike her.

    Ultimately, I think there’s something weird going on here. Possibly it is just her using her last big bargaining chip to try to feel like she has some control over things. But…I dunno, I think it’s more than that

    Liked by 1 person

  22. ninegardens

    So…. Is it just me or is our boy Hanno planning to steal an angel?

    Cause he seriously seems like he is planning to intercept the problem at the source.

    Like

    1. I… don’t think he’d go for that before trying to side with Catherine and pressure Cordelia that way.

      I suspect a coordinated assault of “ALL Named who know their shit think it’s a terrible idea” would be a more persuasive argument than just Catherine with her mixed allegiances and motivations and like 5 roles she’s trying to play at the same time.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. ninegardens

        I ain’t saying “Steal the angel” is going to be his FIRST port of call… but he is a hero, and its a doomsday weapon, and his personal connection to the Serephim in particular has been called out in this chapter. I ain’t saying he won’t try other things first, I’m just…. story wise, he is much better placed to deal with this challenge than say… Cat and Sve Noc.

        Probably the only one better placed for this is Zeze.

        Liked by 2 people

          1. magesbe

            But how would it do that? Like, using angels is of course against the Liesse Accords, but those aren’t in effect yet, and the Truce and Terms don’t have provisions against using that kind of stuff.

            Like

              1. magesbe

                While stealing from Cordelia is probably a crime in Procer, it is not a violation of the Truce and Terms (unless it is, in which case I’m gonna need a quote). It is also not something either Heroes or Villains would hesitate to do if they thought she was going to activate a Doomsday weapon.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. One of the Grand Alliance members getting ready to activate a doomsday weapon without consent of the rest and provoking heroes and villains into going after them is already presumably a violation of the T&T on their part.

                  The Truce & Terms is a wartime let’s-work-together agreement. I fail to see how doing a break and enter on your ally would be permitted by it, and I’m going to turn the request for citations right back on you – what makes you think respect for each other’s property is not baked in?

                  Like

                  1. magesbe

                    To my knowledge, the Truce and Terms basically state this: Both Heroes and Villains will be pardoned from all past sins. They will only be subject to their leader, either the White Knight or the Black Queen. Said leader will be responsible for their actions and will hold them responsible for them. Acts of violence between members of the Truce and Terms is forbidden on punishment from their leader.

                    The Truce and Terms is a Named thing. It’s not a general alliance, it’s a policy of how to treat Named. It is very pointedly not the Accords, it’s a limited prototype based on regulating Named behavior. Why WOULD the Truce and Terms have provisions for stealing from an outside sovereign power?

                    I mean… stealing is a crime. You don’t need that baked into a Named accord, it’s illegal on its own merits. If the Truce and Terms were disbanded, do you think it’d suddenly be legal to steal from Cordelia? Of course not, that’d be stupid.

                    Like

                    1. magesbe

                      Honestly a Named committing crimes under the terms, including but not limited to theft, would result in the respective leader providing punishment under most cases. If the leader was the one who committed the crime, then it would be the other leader and the leaders of the Grand Alliance who would judge them. If both leaders were in on it, the Truce and Terms are probably fucked anyways.

                      Like

                    2. The Truce and Terms specifically state that Named are not subject to mundane laws for the duration. That’s the point of contention between Cordelia and Cat&Hanno right now: she wants to prosecute treason, they cannot allow her to do so because the Truce & Terms give immunity from everything that isn’t themselves.

                      Like

                    3. > Honestly a Named committing crimes under the terms, including but not limited to theft, would result in the respective leader providing punishment under most cases. If the leader was the one who committed the crime, then it would be the other leader and the leaders of the Grand Alliance who would judge them.

                      Yes? That’s what I’m saying?

                      Hanno would not go for stealing because it’d upset the fragile unity that the First Prince was talking about – the idea that Named can be trusted to govern themselves and cooperate with earthly authorities (the Grand Alliance) in an orderly manner.

                      Such an action on his part, even more so than on the part of any Named under him, would be sticking a sack of dynamite under that and lighting it up.

                      Like

                    4. magesbe

                      And I’m saying that in the face of a doomsday device being activated, both the White Knight and the Black Queen would push through that. And if they could get the support of the other major players of the Grand Alliance, which is mostly Levant to be honest, the Truce and Terms might even survive it. A Cordelia who just had her doomsday device stolen/broken and whose nation is currently being chomped on by the Dead King would not be able to stand politically or otherwise against a united front of every other leader.

                      Like

                    5. Frivolous

                      Magesbe is correct. Stealing from Cordelia won’t break the Truce and Terms, except in that it would cause Procer to cease granting immunity to heroes and villains.

                      But that would hardly matter. If Catherine and Hanno, not even counting yet the other nations, were united in denying Procer the angel corpse? Cordelia could scream a lot, and maybe refuse to accede to the later Liesse Accords, but she could do nothing about it.

                      Ironically, the Liesse Accords might benefit if Cordelia used the angel corpse and detonated Procer. Catherine wouldn’t have to sweet-talk the First Prince if there was no Procer to be ruler of.

                      Like

  23. Sanctvs obscvrvm

    So… the fantasy Americans now have a fantasy nuke. And a teleporting immortal intercessor may plan to use it to destroy millions.

    Like

  24. Daniel E

    Just adding my conspiracy theory to the pile: Hasenbach uses the Angel nuke at the very end, and that is the catalyst for Catherine’s Name, with her first Aspect being something that will change the nuke into a ‘does not destroy the world’ effect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Konstantin von Karstein

      Cat and Tariq should have had a serious conversation with her when they were at Salia after the peace conference, and give her an lesson in Story-fu

      Like

      1. Frivolous

        Can’t be Tariq. Remember, Cordelia hates him for seeding a plague in Proceran territory.

        Unfortunately, I don’t believe there are any other heroes with serious story-fu left, I don’t recall Hanno showing expertise in the matter yet.

        Catherine does have serious story-fu, but Cordelia doesn’t trust her opinion on the matter.

        The ideal opinion would come from the Augur, Agnes Hasenbach, but Augur is so cuckoo that I’m not sure she can really teach Cordelia what she needs to know.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Siobhan

          Look at how Hanno handled the Council of Chosen.

          The issue isn’t his “story-fu”

          He just has different priorities than Cat has when it comes to managing the Patterns involved.

          Like

        2. Hanno is very good at story-fu. See: the “danger just proves we’ll be unharmed” against Kairos, wielding providence to get Amadeus to fight him (sure, it was clumsy and didn’t work, but the approach was there), sending comic relief team members into danger first because they’ll trip over everything dangerous while remaining unharmed (how many people can effectively use a Fortunate Fool on a team?!)… and most interestingly, grasping the long-term narrative shift implications of Catherine’s designs for the Accords where even Amadeus didn’t.

          Also, y’know, the memories of a thousand heroes studied for insight, for where all that’s coming from.

          I think Cat should listen to him more.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Frivolous

            On the other hand, Hanno is also the guy who walked into Kairos’s trap for Judgement and lost completely, despite Catherine’s warning that his smugness was a non-verbal form of “I am invincible!”..

            So I’m not nearly as certain about Hanno’s story-fu. He has definite blind spots.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Salt

              He is, I suspect, strong in typical or historically prevalent story tropes, and all-but-blind to new stories or tropes.

              Recall gives him the ability to avoid any mistake that any previous Hero has made – it really a bit of a cheat – but the fact that it is so strong of an aspect means that it necessarily takes up more capacity. Nothing comes without a price, and it seems fitting that near-omniscient hindsight would be paired with cripplingly deficient foresight.

              It would explain why he’s a borderline Mary Sue in terms of typical engagements, but fell flat on his face with the Hierarch. There was no Hierarch-equivalent experience for him to draw on with Recall.

              Like

              1. ninegardens

                I’d almost go so far as to say, WK has TOO MUCH story-fu. He leans on it a lot, and is very aware and careful about it… which means that when he is dealing with opponents who are Story savvy (Black), he can get out manuvered by the actual physical non-story-related reality.

                And yeah, Kiaros slammed him by pretending to be a text book villian, while also janking up his chances by rolling 5 stories concurrently etc.

                The fact that Kiaros was aiming for a POTENTIAL victory, as opposed to WK and BK who often aim for the “certain” victory also probably tilted the the fates in his favour- the story more willing to lend a hand to someone who rolled the dice.

                Like

            2. Catherine has pointed out back during the Summer campaign that it was only for villains that gloating was a form of suicide. She commented that was how she could tell Archer wasn’t a villain.

              And everyone has blind spots.

              Like

          1. Necarion

            And don’t forget everything he did with Mirror Knight, where he knew he had to beat MK by physical force to (a) preserve his authority, and (b) keep MK from dying or becoming a fallen hero. Those two chapters were all about Hanno observing and managing the flow of of the story to keep everyone alive.

            Like

  25. If only there was someone whose Name was fueled by (Self)-Righteous Anger whose person and Kingdom were directly endangered by the existence of the Weapon, and who had it within their Aspects and abilities to solve the problem with a simple “Yoink!”

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Cicero

    There is another way to interpret Cordelia’s position:

    “Prove the Terms will work in controlling Named, and I will surrender the the doomsday weapon.”

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Tom

    Cat says here that she thinks one of the Bard’s aspects is her sight for stories: “my money was on her having only three aspects just like the rest of us. One was the wandering trick, coming and going everywhere, and another had to be her sight for stories.”

    I was wondering if that was distinct from what Cat shoved into her soul (with Masego’s help) from the Arcadian echo of the Intercessor, but then I read it again: “The shape of a thousand stories, the tune of the song if not the words. An instinct, one that’d sharpened something already existing into a blade capable of upending old monsters and empires.” (from https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2020/03/10/chapter-16-divine/)

    The key part being “An instinct, one that’d sharpened something already existing….” where the “something” is presumably WB’s aspect for stories.

    Anyway, nice 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  28. NerfGlaistigUaine

    Ok, we have to be missing something here. Cordelia wanting to keep her hands on Fantasy Nuke on Crack is understandable, but the blunt and rigid measures are OOC. She’s not giving an inch even when she knows the weapon is superly unreliable and the entire Alliance is standing on thin ice. There’s got to be some other factor we’re not seeing, which is terrifying b/c it’s already such a massive clusterfuck.

    Like

  29. Necarion

    Why would the Wandering Bard _want_ to wipe out 90% of the continent? If the Judgment Corpse is sufficient to kill the Dead King, why would she amplify its power to catastrophic levels? Or is it a way to ensure that there is enough narrative weight to kill the Dead King?

    One possibility: if the Judgment Corpse by itself has a 20-30% chance of killing DK, then WB might want to amplify it. If there is a collective sacrifice of everyone on Calernia, then the Story would accept that as sufficient to make the odds 100%.

    One question that has been bugging me for a while. Does the Wandering Bard _actually_ want the Dead King destroyed? Obviously she’s been fighting against him for at least 1000 years, but nothing has been sufficient to stop him, and has actually dragged Calernia down in the process. The scene that bothers me most is from the end of “Interludes: Empires” at the end of Book IV.
    https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2018/08/24/interlude-empires/

    After talking about their past interactions (“Lines had to be drawn, we were still establishing the rules,” the Intercessor smiled. “Both of us played rougher back then”) (note the comments about “playing”), the Bard tells the joke about the Dead King eating the baby:

    “””
    “So you do know it,” she said. “Should have told me at the start, I got way into it.”

    “I assume,” the Dead King said, “that this atrocity – and I do not use this word lightly, believe me – of a story had a purpose?”

    The Intercessor grinned.

    “Of course,” she said, wine red as blood trickling down her chin. “Eat the baby, King of Death. Just this once, I’ll allow it.”
    “””

    This doesn’t sound like implacable foes. What is her game?

    Like

    1. >This doesn’t sound like implacable foes. What is her game?

      These are foes who have been at war for at least a thousand years. Arguably at this point they are closer to each other than to any other living being, because the rise and fall of whole generations have become as the ebb and flow of the tides to them. Only with each other do they have stability.

      Like

  30. Anybody else getting Black Company vibes from the Grizzled Fantassin? Between her insistence on the honorable treatment of the body of the long-dead mercenary (especially the phrase “buried in the manner of the southern companies”) and the way she said that she’d “honored the contract and earned the long peace”, as well as her competence in the previous chapter, I’m strongly reminded of the Company in the days when they were in the service of the Lady.

    Like

  31. Dread Emperor Traitorous

    Spoiler: The Bard’s weakness is the musical instrument. Destroying the instrument first removes the invulnerability and perhaps name because you need the instrument to be a bard.

    Like

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