“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.
“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.”