Chapter 49: Association

“There are two ways to interpret a prophecy: the way that spells your doom and the wrong one.”

– Dread Empress Dismal

I knelt, pushing down a twinge of pain, and squinted closely at the copper wire.

Obviously my quarters had been trapped, but how? The wire was of the finer kind Pickler had come up with during my time in the Everdark, but even though pushing fully open the door would definitely pull on it – and so on a contraption tied to munitions, hopefully but not necessarily College-grade instead of military – the angle was all wrong for a sharper or a brightstick. Sure, a full brightstick would shatter my eardrum from this close but I wouldn’t be blinded. And I’d lose what, at most a shredded ankle to a sharper? This was amateur hour. Where was the triple-wire spring with the overhead sharper? No, I was being screwed with. This was bait.

The foundations of my house in Neustal, which I didn’t actually use all that often compared to my tent, were stone raised above ground-level as was standard in areas where the Dead King might attempt assassination. It meant I had a single ‘step’ to take going into the house, in reality just a small extension of the foundation beyond the walls. And when I leaned closer and smelled that step, I found a familiar scent: stone dust and sapper’s plaster. That little fucker had put in a weight-sensitive demolition charge after hollowing out the step, hadn’t he? The copper wire had just been to draw my attention away. Narrowing my eyes, I used my staff to hoist myself back up on my feet.

I wasn’t going to let this ambush pass without a bit of a rap on the knuckles, of course. It was good for my sappers to occasionally be reminded I was just as shameless as them and twice as mean.

“Special Tribune Robber,” I called out. “Report.”

There was a beat of silence.

“It was all Borer’s idea,” a voice cheerfully called out from inside. “I tried to stop him, Your Maleficence, but with his brute strength he overwhelm-“

“I asked for a report,” I mildly said. “Come out and deliver it.”

I pulled on Night the slightest bit, just in case. Special Tribune Robber, who’d held his rank for several years now, had visibly aged since I last saw him. That was often the way with goblins, whose lifespan was much shorter than most other races’. How old was he now? Near twenty, I imagined. Over the hill by the standards of his race, who quickly began going decrepit past thirty when they lived that long. He was distantly of a Matron line, I knew, so I held out hope that his face grown even gaunter and the pulls of skin around his yellow eyes were not warning signs.

Deftly the sapper came to stand on the stone, and offered me an offensively terrible salute paired with a smug grin of white needles. I could not help but notice the distinct lack of him exploding. Vexing.

“Reporting at your leisure, Your Wickednousness,” Robber cheerfully said.

I cocked my head to the side.

“Fine-tuned it to trigger only above your weight?” I said.

“No idea what you’re talking about, ma’am,” he assured me. “Although, while we’re at it, I’d like to report Captain Borer for wanton mutiny, assault of a superior officer-“

“How long did it even take you to hollow that thing out?” I asked, reluctantly impressed.

“Pickler made this stone-eating acid while we were up north,” Robber said. “Works like a charm. Based on some Lycaonese alchemy they use to keep their ramparts clean.”

There was a beat of silence.

“Is what I would say were I Captain Borer, who is obviously responsible for-“

“How strong are the munitions?” I mildly asked.

“Like the gentle caress of a breeze,” he lied.

A slender tentacle of Night pierced through the fresh plaster, triggering the munitions within, and the little bastard fell into the step with little burn but large billows of a pungent black smoke. I took a sniff and almost gagged. Leftover smoker ingredients mixed with something rank, I’d guess. Robber had always been a deft hand with munitions, especially recipes that weren’t on the record. Even as the goblin tumbled forward at my feet, coughing, I leaned against my staff and cocked an eyebrow.

“So what have we learned today?” I asked.

“You are an implacable foe to all goblinkind,” he croaked out. “And take pleasure in persecuting your poor, innocent, loyal servants.”

A grin tugged at my lips.

“I did saddle Borer with you,” I conceded, “so I suppose an argument can be made for the second.”

“You could offer me healing, at least,” Robber complained, then faked a few fresh coughs. “Aren’t you some sort of fancy priestess these days, Boss? First Into The Pie or something like that.”

I knew he was full of shit, because the Sisters were actually wildly popular with the sappers and even goblins in general. It was almost like, culturally speaking, they were very comfortable with the idea of unknowable female eldritch entities of murder and theft standing above them. Go figure. I wouldn’t call them converts to the Tenets, which were much too drow in nature to ever really find takers beyond the Firstborn, but these days sappers liked to mark their equipment with the Crows and the occasional rabbit or bird was bled in their name before being tossed in a cookpot. Andronike was rather charmed by the practice and had sounded me out on the subject of bestowing Night – I wasn’t opposed, so long as she knew what she was in for. Komena was lukewarm at the notion of branching out too much from the drow, though, so it’d gone nowhere.

“You’re right,” I mused. “Silly of me to forget.”

Quicker than he was able to dodge, I rapped the top of his hairless head with the side of my staff. He yelped and paddled back.

“How is that healing?” he accused.

“Well,” I shrugged, “you’re not thinking about the cough anymore, are you?”

A heartbeat later he was cackling, and I shared in the laughter. He darted in to clasp my arm in a legionary’s salute, close but light-touched, before backing away.

“It’s good to see you, Boss,” Robber said.

“You too,” I smilingly replied. “You malevolent little shit. Was this just a heads up you got in, or did you have a reason to seek me out?”

“Pickler wants to see you,” he said. “Sent me to get your attention.”

I snorted.

“Haven’t been able to get more than three words out of that one in the weeks she’s been here, but now she feels chatty?” I said. “Let me guess: she’s finally finished her latest tinkering trip and she wants to show off.”

“You’re the one who named her Sapper-General,” Robber shrugged. “Then you compounded that by throwing a mountain of coin and artisans at her. She’d been on a two-year tinkering binge, Boss. I had to assign someone to making sure she ate.”

I winced, though I was not entirely surprised. In theory Pickler was the head of all the sappers in the Army of Callow, which had been made into a separate military order not unlike the Order of Broken Bells – I just didn’t have enough sappers to use them the way the Legions did – but she was utterly uninvolved with field command. Even company assignments were largely handled by her second, Commander Waffler, with her only occasionally meddling in matters. Her efforts had been on making war engines for this new war we were fighting, and Twilight’s Pass has been her both her testing and proving grounds.

“No one told me was quite that bad,” I admitted, faintly apologetic.

Robber had always been sweet on his old commanding officer, in a goblin way. It was unlikely to ever go anywhere, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t hold a torch. We got moving as we talked, him leading the way as I limped to the side.

“She’s pleased as a raider on a moonless night,” Robber dismissed. “I’m not irked about that part, just that she’s learned some bad habits. Nobody seems to care since she’s spitting out wonders keeping to those hours, but it’s not good for her health.”

He looked at me from the corner of his large yellow eyes.

“She’s been wildly happy since you freed her from field command and let her loose, Boss,” the Special Tribune said. “And she’s grateful, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Buy you know she’s always been like this.”

I softly smiled. Look at him, all these years and he was still quietly cleaning up behind Pickler the same way he had back when we’d just been a bunch of kids fighting in College war games. Some things never changed, huh?

“We’re all creatures of habit, in our own ways,” I drily said. “I know better than to take offence, Robber. Not seeing you two for a few years won’t change that.”

Hells, I didn’t have enough friends left alive to start getting petty with them over little things like, say, Pickler’s inability to pretend she cared a whit about niceties when instead she could be attending glorious machinery. Reassured, Robber caught me up on gossip from Twilight’s Pass as we walked with great relish. No doubt he was making up half the tales. I choked, though, when he mentioned the supposedly fierce debate among the northern armies about whether Prince Frederic and Prince Otto were close friends or secret lovers.

“You met the man in the Arsenal, didn’t you?” Robber asked. “Did you get a read on whether he’d enjoy that sort of lance-handling?”

The goblin obscenely wiggled his hairless brows, startling a laugh out of me. I could have told him that Frederic was actually a more than decent jouster, but that was best kept quiet even among my closest.

“Alas, I only ever got to see him use a sword,” I sighed. “A tragedy, Robber. You know what these pretty boys do to me.”

He wrinkled his nose in disgust, not even entirely feigned.

“Humans,” he sighed. “It’s all fluids with you lot – and not even the fun ones, like blood or goblinfire.”

I made a somewhat unkind comment about the sexual attraction the average sapper might feel towards a crate of munitions, which devolved the conversation into bickering all the rest of the way to where Pickler was holed up. A shooting range, I discovered, or at least the battered remnants of one. Targets had been blown through in ways experience allowed me to match with ballistas, but it’d been more than just stone that’d done this. The grounds and wooden targets were scorched, like they’d been set aflame. I frowned as I limped to the edge of the firing range, interested enough I didn’t stop to chat with the sapper crews fielding the three ballistas on the range.

I knelt slowly, leaning on my staff, a trailed my fingers against the charred wooden remains of a target. Bringing them close to my face, I took a whiff and immediately let out a noise of surprise.

Aha,” Sapper-General Pickler of the High Ridge Tribe enthused, popping out without warning. “You get it, then. I knew you would.”

She forgot to tack on even a ma’am at the end, but I was excited enough it barely registered.

“That wasn’t done by sorcery,” I said. “There’s no ozone smell, like there would be with an enchanted stone blowing up.”

Having appeared out of hole in the ground – not metaphorically, it’d been an actual hole and she’d been in it – Pickler offered me an excited grin that was like a clacking mouthful of white needles. Like Robber she’d aged, yet while like him her face had grown gaunter her frame had actually thickened. She was only a little taller than the last time we’d seen each other, but her shoulders and hips had grown broader. Her amber eyes looked even larger, now that the skin was pulled taut around them, and they shone with manic zeal.

“It’s Light,” she said, confirming my guess.

I let out a low whistle.

“We’ve been trying to get that to work for years,” I said, honestly impressed. “Multiples stones were fired here, Pickler. You really managed to get several shots out without scrapping the engine?”

Stones with a Light infusion weren’t new, everyone under the sun had used those at some point. They’d been a known part of Calernian arsenals since the First Crusade, when trying to take heavily warded Praesi cities with inferior mages had forced the crusading armies to find an alternative to simply dying by the dozens of thousands storming the walls. The problem with those munitions was that they tended to wreck whatever siege engine they were thrown out of, as Light was highly unstable when shoved into things. There was a reason the foremost artisan in Light of our generation was the Blessed Artificer, who’d gotten a fucking Name out of her skill at it.

Usually larger stones were more stable, so trebuchets and catapults could be relied on to toss a dozen stones before being seriously damaged. It made their use viable. The smaller the engines got, though, the more the Light in the projectiles screwed with them. Scorpions and ballistas were sometimes made unusable by as much as a single shot, the javelins and stones having bent the wood they were on. The Lycaonese, who loved ballistas as much as the Legions of Terror – even though they used dwarven models, the poor fuckers – had long been bitter about this, as they could not afford to buy replacements and lacked the mages to turn to a magical solution instead.

“We have to put a copper casing on the stones,” Pickler hedged, “but once that safety is observed, yes. It had been an unequivocal success, Catherine. And the amount of Light that emanates is battle-appropriate, it has a decent shot of destroying even a construct.”

“Gods Below, Pickler,” I laughed out. “That…”

Changed things, to put it lightly. Most constructs were too damned quick to be threatened by something like this, and those that weren’t were much too big, but the amount of Light she was talking about would utterly wreck most undead infantry. It might even finally give us a way to deal with the Grey Legion that wasn’t ‘soldiers praying Akua, the Witch or me got there in time’. Even Hanno had found those fuckers a hard nut to crack.

“I thought it might please,” my Sapper-General said, smiling a smile as girlish as goblin teeth allowed.

It would have made a cat flinch, I suspected. And wisely so, given that goblins liked them in a stew.

“It has,” I said, almost touching her shoulder before I refrained.

It, uh, was usually taken as an advance by goblins. Robber had been trained out of that by his years rubbing elbows with other races, but Pickler wasn’t as social.

“Have supper with me tonight,” I said. “You can tell me more about it there. But until then?”

She watched me, amber eyes alight with expectation.

“Take what you need, Sapper-General,” I grinned, wolfish. “On my authority, requisition any bloody thing you need to make sure we have as many of those modified ballistas and… copperstones as we can when we march.”

She didn’t protest the name, improvised as it was, so it might just stick. The two of us grinned at each other again, and it felt like the day had gotten just a little bit lighter.

I swung by my tent, afterwards, to follow through on what I’d just promised. I doubted Pickler was going to be shy with requisitions if she was rushing things before our departure, so I’d better ensure she actually had the recognized authority to make those. Thankfully Adjutant was waiting there, seated in his wheelchair and dictating notes to three attendants in the green-and-grey livery that signified they were directly in his service. Two humans and one goblin, I noted, by the looks of it a young Soninke woman and an older Callowan man.

 All three bore a discreet painted iron pin in the form of a curled skeletal hand pointing its index, the enchantment laid on it serving only to prove it was authentic. On the rolls these constantly-swelling ranks were called the adjunct secretariat, and their stated purpose was to serve as a mix of my personal bureaucracy and messengers. And while they did serve those purposes, and well, that was only the official part of their duties. In practice people had taken to calling the ‘phalanges’ after the pins, and they served as Hakram’s eyes and hands.

Some of them had been invested with authority on my behalf, able to make inspections of Callowan and Grand Alliance property and soldiers to unearth treason and corruption, but there was also an entire armed wing that’d expanded out of the first tenth of legionaries I’d long ago put under Adjutant to ferret out Heiress’ rats in the Fifteenth.

Grandmaster Talbot had approached me and expressed, in confidence, a degree of unease over ‘the Adjutant’s private army of soldiers, sneaks and scribes’. If he’d know that Hakram had heavily recruited from the parts of the Assassin’s Guild that’d not been a good fit for the Jacks, I suspected he would have been outright worried. I’d appeased the commander of my knights by assuring him there were non-negotiable limits to the amount of coin dedicated to the adjunct secretariat, which would restrict its size permanently after a little more growth.

I got the sense Talbot had wanted some Callowan oversight over the phalanges, either through Vivienne or my Queen’s Council – though the latter would have probably meant Vivienne also, given that my Council was currently in Laure and answering to Duchess Kegan – but that wasn’t going to be happening. When I abdicated I’d be taking the phalanges with me to Cardinal, so I wasn’t interested in giving Callow too deep a peek at their inner workings. If I wanted them to survive as a Cardinal institution, I couldn’t let them slide into being just a chapter of the Jacks by another name.

The three phalanges saluted as I limped in, but I gestured for them to keep jotting down Hakram’s orders as I made my way to my liquor cabinet and poured myself a celebratory finger of aragh. The copperstone munitions were worth a drink for more than me, I decided, so after a moment I poured a finger for Adjutant as well.

“- and have another look into Captain Garrick,” Adjutant said. “That’s twice now he’s splashed coin around, we still don’t know if it’s inheritance or he’s been taking bribes.”

The goblin licked her lips, as the others nodded.

“And my own find?” she asked.

“The Jacks have been in touch, she’s already one of their informants in the ranks and she warned them of the contact,” Hakram said, sounding chagrined. “Start over with another company.”

I sipped at my aragh, watching as he finished the last round of instructions and dismissed them. They saluted, first to me and then to him, and within moments we were left alone. I pressed the small cup into his only hand, the skeletal one Masego’s father had crafted from him what felt like a lifetime ago. The orc – still so tall, even wheelchair-bound – let out an approving rumble. We clinked our glasses and drank.

“Pickler’s work proved worth all the mess?” he asked afterwards.

“And more,” I replied. “She managed to get Light-infused projectiles working for ballistas, though she has to tinker up both. Dips the stones in copper, which means they’ll be hard to make out on the campaign trail.”

Hakram’s eyes widened, his fangs clicking together thoughtfully.

“That is fine news indeed,” he said. “We only have enough goblin munitions stockpiled for one last campaign, even used sparingly, so a substitute is long overdue.”

More like two pitched battles than a whole campaign, in my opinion, and I wanted to keep a decent quantity at hand for when we moved on the capital so really more for one battle. Our initial hopes that the Confederation of the Grey Eyries would be able to push out the Matron who’d betrayed them, currently styled High Lady Wither of Foramen, out of said city had turned out to be… overly optimistic. Wither had little Legion support, but the Confederation’s armies weren’t the kind that could take a Praesi city except by surprise.

Which High Lady Wither wasn’t going to fall for, since she’d taken the city this way from both her predecessors the Banu and then the Confederation itself.

The Grey Eyries were hardly at risk of falling, since the traitor tribes couldn’t really afford to chance anything aside from a defence of their seized territories, but without control of Foramen the Confederation could no longer sell us goblin munitions. Some mountain routes had been opened but the quantities that could be taken through them were paltry and the Eyries themselves were full of creatures that preyed on goblins. We still got the occasional wagons from Callow, as much from old Legion caches as what the goblins got to us, but it wasn’t enough.

I’d forbidden use of munitions, lest attrition at the defensive line empty our stock long before a decisive battle could be fought.

“Agreed,” I said. “I ordered her to stock up as much as she can of both ballistas and copperstones, so she’ll need my seal and a Grand Alliance warrant.”

He nodded.

“It would be polite to inform the other commanders in advance, since she might requisition from them,” Hakram reminded me. “No need for much, just a courtesy letter.”

“I suppose,” I muttered.

Might as well smooth the feathers before they ever got ruffled if it could be done. Bone fingers came to rest on the side of the wheelchair, clutching around the grip, and Adjutant wheeled himself to the side. Tried to, anyway – the left wheel got caught on a rock that’d bene pushed into the ground, and while the chair was too well-built to flip it did get stuck. Hakram grunted with effort as he tried to force it, but all it did was get the rock stuck between the wheel and the protective sheathing as earth sprayed. I stood paralyzed, wanting to help but certain he’d take it as an insult. He finally let go with a half-swallowed roar, the dead hand slamming down onto the arm of the wheelchair.

Hakram looked to the side, as if unwilling to face me.

“I can send back for secretaries,” I delicately said.

Some part of me dimly suspected that my helping him instead would go over very poorly. It… wasn’t how we did things. Never had been.

“No,” Adjutant roughly said. “The seal and warrants are under lock, and there’s none close that have the clearance to touch them.”

“An exception can be made once,” I tried. “While we are here.”

His fingers clenched until even the enchanted wood under them creaked.

“I wrote those safety rules, Catherine,” Hakram bit out. “I won’t break them because of a fucking rock.”

Quietly I drew on Night, wondering if I could slip a tendril near the chair and-

“Stop that,” Adjutant sharply said.

Lips thinning, I released the power. I did neither of us the disservice or pretending I didn’t know what he was talking about.

“It will be easier when the prosthetics come from the Arsenal,” he tiredly said. “I’ll be out of the chair, able to walk again. It will take longer to be able to fight but-“

“Hakram,” I said.

“There are shields built for men with only one hand, Catherine,” he told me. “I have looked into the matter. It will take training, but it can be done.”

My heart clenched, but I couldn’t just let him keep on telling himself that lie.

“Hakram,” I quietly repeated, “you know it can’t be like that. It’s done, the old fights. Maybe in a few years you’ll be able to handle soldiers, but not Named. Not for a long time, if ever again.”

He’d have to make a fighting style nearly from scratch, learn to compensate for several glaring weaknesses while having few strengths to call on. It wasn’t impossible, and men that had half his courage and discipline went back to fighting after losing a hand, but he’d lost a great deal more than that. Prosthetics relying on magic would make him brutally vulnerable to heroes that could wield Light, which was most of them, and a skilled mage without even a Name would be able to meddle with the enchantments on them.

“I will not be put out to pasture, Catherine,” Hakram rasped out. “I won’t allow it.”

“I haven’t stopped relying on you,” I insisted. “You lost some aptitude in swinging around a stick with steel stuck onto it, that’s all. If anything I’m running you too hard, considering you’re recovering from severe wounds.”

He studied me for a moment, dark eyes calm and all too knowing.

“You are closing the door,” Adjutant said. “To my ever standing by your side in battle again.”

I opened my mouth to argue, hadn’t I just said that – but he raised his hand, and so I swallowed my tongue.

“Maybe not with words,” Hakram said. “Or with deeds. But in the back of your head, you have.”

My lips thinned. I’d never liked being told what it was that I was supposedly thinking, even coming from my closest friend in the world.

“You know my aspects,” the orc tiredly said. “One felt mockery, when it sunk in what I had lost, but then I thought it might instead turn into a key.”

Rampage, Find, Stand. The last must have felt like a bitter joke after losing his leg. With the way the Severance’s cut had carved into his hipbone, he couldn’t even try to get around on crutches – even with painkillers the pain was simply horrendous. Only surgical spells that deadened pain worked, and those could damage nerves if they were kept on for too long.

“But it hasn’t,” I said.

“It is fading,” Hakram replied, then corrected himself. “No, perhaps not quite that drastic. Losing luster? Losing potency, certainly. As if there was no longer a call for me to use it, or a place where I would.”

My stomach dropped. He was implying that I no longer thought of him as someone who’d fight by my side – and Gods, I had carefully kept the words out of my mouth but they were not untrue – so his Name, ever so bound to my service, was no longer trying to help him in that purpose. Even when he wanted it to. I drew back as if struck. It was only a theory, this, but Adjutant had good instincts. And it had that damning ring of truth to it.

“I haven’t,” I blurted. “I mean, I can’t…”

I did not quite know what I was trying to say, and an odd shame was eating at me from the inside for it.

“I am not accusing you of malice,” Adjutant spoke into my flustered silence. “Or trying to shame you. But you were not going to admit it unless told. And now that you know, perhaps if you shape your thoughts…”

I hesitantly nodded.

“I don’t know if it would work,” he admitted. “If it can. But what else is there but to try?”

Making peace with having lost something, I wanted to reply, but how could I? It was serving me he’d lost it, while I was getting clever playing shatranj with the Intercessor. Now I was looking at the consequences of my decision every day, and it was not a pretty thing to behold.

“You need a helper while we’re out there,” I forced out. “Someone who’ll take care of little things for you and keep an eye out for enemies. Neshamah will come after you, he knows how important you are to the war.”

And to me, which would have been enough for the Hidden Horror to aim for his head without all the other good reasons for it.

“I have my secretaries,” Hakram replied. “Some of them have better grips on swords than quills.”

“You need more than that,” I said. “I’ve talked with the Silver Huntress and then with the girl herself: the Apprentice could be suborned to you for the offensive, to learn from you and lend a hand.”

It’d been surreal looking at some slip of a girl from Ashur bearing Masego’s Name, much less one who considered herself a heroine, but I’d managed. The Apprentice badly wanted a term of service in the Arsenal, and I’d offered it a bribe after this campaign if she accepted. She’d still get lessons from the Sage, it was the reason she was out here on the front in the first place, but the hours would have been cut while we were on war footing anyway so serving as Hakram’s assistant would not be to her detriment.

It also put a skilled practitioner by his side during most of the day. The Apprentice had previously been studying with an eye to become the Silver Mage, one of the Ashuran wizardly mantles, but she’d abandoned the healing arts after most her teachers got killed during the sack of Smyrna. She’d picked up a lot of quick and cheap war magic since signing onto the Truce, and while her spellcasting was still pretty simple it was also swift and highly destructive. Nothing short of a Revenant ought to trouble her if she saw it coming.

“And what did it cost you to convince the girl?” the orc drily asked.

I shrugged. We both knew I wasn’t above sweetening the pot for someone when it served my purposes. I could read him well enough to know that the offer wasn’t making him happy, but he didn’t refuse outright.

“I’ll think about it,” Hakram finally said. “That’s all I can give you.”

I bit my lip, tempted to push since I sensed he was leaning more towards accepting than refusing. If I gave him too much time to ponder, though, he might just talk himself out of it. I breathed out. Trust, I told myself. We weren’t going to get through this intact without trust.

“Have an answer for me before we set out,” I nodded. “I’ll want to speak with the White Knight before making the final arrangements.”

“I will,” Adjutant gravelled, then hesitated.

He sagged into the seat, as if tension had drifted out of him.

“I’ll take care of the warrant and seal,” he said. “I only need one hand to fake your signature.”

“I leave it in your hands, then,” I said, then paused. “And Hakram?”

He turned darks eyes onto me.

“I love you,” I said. “You know that, right?”

The orc breathed out.

“I know,” he said.

I’d not asked for forgiveness and he’d not given it. It wasn’t in me to ask, and he’d be insulted if I did. But it was something, to say the words. A paltry offering, I couldn’t help but think as I left my tent, but what else did I have to give?

When the moon rose, it found me once more standing at the edge of the roof.

 Summer heat had lingered even after dark, the breeze bringing the distant scent of the swamplands in the distance. Green and mud and life, all intertwined with something like sweet rot. I stood at the edge, letting the wind curl around me, and closed my eyes. I flinched in pain a moment later. Like nails driven into my temples. It wasn’t an attack, I realized, but a Night-working. One I’d laid myself as a precaution two years back. I pulled back the string of it again, but left the working in place.

“The trick’s not quite as good,” I said, “once you know what to look for.”

Her steps were quiet, but not so quiet I did not hear her deftly make her way down the tiles to stand at my side. First time I’d ever caught her out, wasn’t it? My contingency must have triggered when I’d closed my eyes, prompted by a power I’d not noticed and had felt entirely like my own whim. What a dangerous aspect hers was.

“The same can be said of all tricks,” the Scribe replied.

This, I suspected, was going to be an interesting talk.

105 thoughts on “Chapter 49: Association

      1. Miles

        I made a somewhat unkind comment about the sexual attraction the average sapper might feel towards a crate of munitions, which devolved the conversation into bickering all the rest of the way to where Pickler was holed up. A voting booth, I discovered, or at least the battered remnants of one.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. NerfContessa

      I wonder, praesi magic of the soul should be able to transfer hakram into another body easily.
      Just get an Orc who is willing to sacrifice himself for. Honor of clan and deed, and you have Adjutant back.

      Much less morally ambiguous than many a thing cat did.

      Like

    1. Miles

      Targets had been blown through in ways experience allowed me to match with ballistas, but it’d been more than just stone that’d done this. The grounds and wooden targets were scorched, like they’d been set aflame. I frowned as I limped to the edge of the firing range, interested enough I didn’t stop to chat with the sapper crews fielding the three ballistas on the range.

      I knelt slowly, leaning on my staff, a trailed my fingers against the charred wooden remains of a target. Bringing them close to my face, I clicked to vote and immediately let out a noise of surprise.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Ooh, Scribe.
    This should be interesting.

    I expect we’ll get an update on events in Praes from her.

    I wonder what Scribe’s been up to and why she’s here now.

    That’s a very nifty breakthrough from Pickler. And badly needed. From the description, it sounds like while the copperstones aren’t exactly cheap or particularly easy to make, and need quality control, they’re not too complicated for mass production, insofar as mass production is a thing on Calernia.

    Liked by 18 people

  2. Frivolous

    Ugh, poor Hakram. Well, if anyone can force her own mind to change so that his Name is strengthened, nor weakened, it’s Catherine. This is the same woman who as a girl mastered her fear of heights and of falling.

    Also: Yay, finally the Scribe appears. Still unknown where Assassin is, though.

    Liked by 15 people

    1. This one is trickier than the fear of heights, I expect, because I’m not sure Catherine WANTS him to fight by her side at this point. She wants him safe. Any additional fight is one he might not come back from.

      She had guilt issues already from his first crippling at Summerholm. She was able to laugh off his losing another hand because she wasn’t around for it and it wasn’t a result of her decisions – as a matter of fact, it could be said to be a consequence of her not being there, so she definitely wouldn’t make things worse by keeping him close.

      This? This is reopening old wounds. At this point Catherine might be unable to force herself to want him in fighting shape. She doesn’t want to lose him.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. Shveiran

        You know what I find especially worrisome? That this has a tragic ending written all over it no matter what she does.

        If she wills herself to see hima s fightin-fit and it works, he will likely die in the fight.

        If she doesn’t, he will likely die all the same by a threat that the Apprentice is unable to overcome.

        … I kind of want my Hakram back. This is really heart-wrenching.

        Liked by 13 people

        1. KageLupus

          I think that there is a middle ground to be found there. Hakram has always been equal parts admin and battle support. Cat has been mentally relegating him to just the first one since she doesn’t want to see him get killed in battle.

          But if she can think of him as her last-resort-support in a battle I think that could satisfy the narrative drive for his Stand aspect while not putting him in constant harm’s way. Hakram would go from being Cat’s shadow in a fight to being the thing you see when you know you fucked up. There would have to be some kind of resource limitation that would make fielding him all of the time impossible, but for short and specific fights he could manage.

          There is even a potential narrative bump to going that route. It could give Stand a little more juice since Hakram would only use it in dire circumstances. Kind of like Cat getting a bonus against Choirs because she keeps beating them, Hakram would get some providence because the only time he joins the fight is when he has to to tilt the scales. Do that enough and the scales get used to being tilted by him.

          The end goal for Cat is to beat back the Dead King and then open up her Magical School for Named. As part of that she is obviously going to be relying on Hakram as her admin assistant. But there is no chance that occasionally Cat will have to put the Mantle back on and remind people why they feared the Black Queen in the first place. When she does that, being able to also temporarily empower Hakram for a single fight is going to be a huge boost. That is only going to work if the precedent is set now and the story has time to percolate and congeal.

          Liked by 2 people

      2. Frivolous

        I have faith in Catherine and her Callowan need for revenge.

        The Bard instigated the series of events that led to the death of Nephele and the mutilation of Hakram. I don’t think Catherine will allow guilt, of all things, keep her from achieving her vengeance.

        And vengeance includes, in part, living well. Not just for herself but for Hakram. She’ll demand that Creation gives her and her Woe a happy ending because she’s so angry.

        Liked by 5 people

  3. Intercessor

    oh no, Catherine’s boutta get hit in the face with a fifty pound book.

    (if u know the tome which im referencing specifically, thematic similarities and all, email me, ill paypal you $1500)

    (fidencio.jiminez232@gmail.com)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. dadycoool

    Ha, we finally get back to our favorite goblins! Leave it to a goblin to figure out how to properly weaponize Light, especially the way the Legion would.

    Oh, Hakram. This is actually a normal, healthy reaction to sudden loss of limbs, isn’t it? It has to hurt to know in your bones that your Warlord will never call on you for battle again.

    Oh, hi Scribe. Didn’t even notice you there.

    Liked by 13 people

  5. Frivolous

    I wonder/hope that Catherine’s impending Name and/or her new aspects allow her to heal or help Hakram.

    I mean, aspects sometimes allow a Bestowed to blithely ignore many rules, right? Grey Pilgrim could resurrect the dead, and one time Catherine feared that Saint of Swords could cut the future. Hierarch could Mend the damage a Choir did to his body and also to the chair he sat on.

    So it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Catherine could develop an aspect that allows her to fix Hakram’s injury and utterly negate the effect of the Severity, which was forged from the Saint’s aspect. If Laurence could Sever, then maybe, hopefully, my dearest wish is that Catherine might Restore.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. zenanii

      I don’t think this would ever happen for the same reason Catharina didn’t remove the stone that was blocking Hakrams wheelchair.

      Their relationship is one of master-servent, where Hakrams entire reason for existing is to enable Catharina. I don’t think he would ever accept Catharina burning one of her aspects (remember, unformed aspects are trump cards for a free deus ex machina) just allow him to function again.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Sir Nil

        There is a way it could happen. Cat has been taking on the role of person who gives people the tools to fix their own problems. Drow democracy, villain alliances etc, I could see Catherine obtaining an aspect that won’t fix Hakram outright, but give him the ability to do so himself.

        Liked by 10 people

      2. Frivolous

        Eh, Cat loves Hakram more than she loves anybody. She’d be very willing to burn an aspect to give him his missing pieces back.

        Also, don’t forget that Hakram isn’t the only cripple in the Woe. If Cat can restore Hakram, she might be able to restore Masego, too.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. Earl of Purple

          Masego isn’t broken. His eyes of summer and sorcery are,whilst vulnerable to tricks of Light, Night and magic are better than his old ones in many respects. He can see through his own head, in the dark, and magic.

          Liked by 3 people

            1. Frivolous

              Yep, that is indeed what I meant. And was it to Masego’s soul? I thought the damage was physical, to his body.

              That’s one of the reasons why I believe Masego can be repaired, because the trauma was only physical. Though in the Guide-verse it seems trauma to souls can be fixed as well, since Amadeus’s soul-ectomy was repaired by Akua. Still, the body should be easier to fix.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. Matthew Wells

                There hasn’t been any mention of lasting physical damage to Masego, and we already know from Cat that corruption of the soul results in the loss of magical/Name-based powers. Also magic production is evidently not a biological process, since Undead can use it.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. Frivolous

                  There is an episode somewhere where someone, possibly a doctor or Akua, discusses that the loss of magic is not metaphysical but a change to Masego’s body.

                  But I can’t find that damn episode. My searches aren’t working.

                  Any help in this regard would be appreciated.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. Matthew Wells

                    In Book 5 Chapter 55 Akua mentions that he is suffering a physical disorder as a result of losing his magic, causing him to go comatose, but she doesn’t say whether the original injury from the Dead King was to his soul or his body.

                    Liked by 2 people

        2. But Seriously Folks

          Hakram as played by Samuel L Jackson In the live action series – “I have had it with these motherf’n Break(s) on my montherf’n Name!”

          Instant Emmy

          Like

    2. Shveiran

      Names can do that, but a Name fits the person.

      Catherine isn’t a medic.

      Whatever the Name is going to be, I doubt it helps with that. Sadly.

      Like

      1. Frivolous

        I was going to say that you, Shveiran, are correct, but then I remembered Hierarch. He has/had Mend, Receive, and Indict.

        Anaxares was a diplomat and from Bellophoron, so I could understand Receive and Indict, but he wasn’t a carpenter, so I really couldn’t see the point or the relevance of Mend until the very end, when he was repairing his body and chair under the assault of the Seraphim.

        Furthermore, while Cat might be resisting becoming the rival of the Intercessor, she has been the rival and dark mirror of the Grey Pilgrim. Staff wielder, leader, religious figure. And Tariq had Behold, Shine, and Forgive.

        Plus Tariq has been a mentor and, by association, an educator. And Cat is going to run Cardinal, the university city of the Age of Order.

        If that story and its trend continues, then Cat might get an aspect similar to Forgive.

        Possible?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Shveiran

          I mean, “Possible” I can grant with no difficulty. I have been surprised often enough to know my insight is very fallable.

          I’d argue that it is not likely, however.
          Yes, the Hierarch had mend, but he used mend to keep himself going in the face of overwhelming opposition that he still felt he should be able to face. It fit his character.
          I’d have no beef with Cat getting an aspect that fixes herself after grievious harm, especially if it comes with a cost. Girl has always been a bleeder, after all.
          But an aspect that fixes others? I don’t see it, sorry. And besides, it’s not really a thing that Villain Names do.

          As for the Gray Pilgrim argument, again, it’s not that you come out of nowhere but I’d say we are a bit late for that. Cat is much more than a Gray Pilgrim’s mirror, these days, and grows farther from him constantly: she leads the villains and he no longer leads teh heroes, she is losing her homeland while he remains revered, he mentors while she doesn’t etc.
          They are similar, but that is not what defines her.
          LIkewise, she has been FUN for about three years now, and she is still Nameless. When she gets her Name, she won’t just be a prophet, because otherwise she’d already have a Name, no? She has been Moses all this time, it’s not like that is growing.
          Also, again, the Night doesn’t heal. The Sisters can do nearly anything, but Cat and the drows have never healed OTHERS, only themselves.

          I’m not seeing it, personally.
          But as I said, I could be wrong.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Frivolous

            The aspect of Sacrifice might work. Cat has a history of self-mutilation. She could be willing to regrow Hakram’s leg at the cost of one of her own. Even better if she can sacrifice someone else’s leg.

            I don’t see how Cat using Night and being connected to Sve Noc has any bearing on her future Name and aspects. The two seem mostly separate to me. Cat isn’t drow, and the Sisters listen to and respect Cat in part because she doesn’t bow down to them or fear them.

            It’s true that healing is not a villainous thing, but there are known and recent exceptions. Sinister Physician, Concocter, .

            Liked by 2 people

          2. burlindw

            None of Cat’s actions since her Name started reforming have been all that villainous. Originally, the reason she became a villain was because she was the Black Knight’s Squire, but she stepped out of his shadow a while ago and her motivation has always been to help Callow. She is also currently in conflict with with Below’s two strongest players, Preas and Keter. Her strongest connection to Below is the Night and Sisters, but the Night was created with the intercession of the Bard, which means that it isn’t impossible it was done with the tacit approval of Above (something we’ve seen happen with Cat’s resurrection of the Pilgrim).

            The difference between an anti-hero and a well-intentioned villain mostly comes down to perspective (lesser evil vs. greater good) and how successful they are. My theory is that Cat’s new Name will be either neutral or anti-hero and tied to her creation of the Age of Order. If her Name is linked to order, then an aspect along the lines of Restore is likely and might capable of healing, though likely with a steep price, since her usual way of restoring order is rather brutal.

            I think her becoming a dark mirror of the Pilgrim is also likely, and doesn’t conflict with her having a name tied to order. Both Cat and Tariq have done awful things but with different methods and philosophies (again, lesser evil vs. greater good). Cat will likely end up working from her seat of power in Cardinal, while the Pilgrim is a wanderer as well as the other parallels that have been mentioned so far.

            On the subject of Cardinal, Cat (who is probably going the end up the de facto ruler of Cardinal regardless of what the treaties say) having a neutral name would go a long way to establishing Cardinal as a true neutral ground, which is her third largest goal behind beating Keter and protecting Callow.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Frivolous

              Not likely that burlindw will ever see this, since it’s almost time for an update, but:

              Well said. I too think that Cat will have a neutral Name. Something like Peacemaker, or Pacifier, or Queen of War and Peace. Peace seems very likely to me to be part of her Name.

              Like

        2. Zach

          This isn’t going to happen because it would be bad for the story if it did (and I trust the author to not suddenly make the story bad).

          Part of the reason this story is good is that it doesn’t lean into bad fan-service plot-beats (which is what Catherine being able to heal Hakram would be). There’s meaning to someone in Catherine’s inner circle having a genuine loss like this.

          Like

          1. Frivolous

            Considering Cat has come back from death twice and aspect mutilation once, I’m not sure what would be a bad fan-service plot-beat.

            Or is it meaning-full only when she suffers and fixes her own genuine loss, but not the genuine loss of others she cares about?

            Masego allowed Cat’s band of five to win against Neshamah and thus allowed Indrani to be resurrected, at the cost of his magic. Hakram cut off his hand to heal Vivienne’s doubts. Vivienne sacrificed her Name for Callow and to become Cat’s administrator and successor while Cat herself prosecutes the war. Indrani admitted she was in love with Masego in front of Tariq and Laurence, which convinced the two oldsters that she was the girl to save him.

            Are those bad fan service plot-beats? Because it looks to me that the Woe has plenty of precedent saving each other.

            Liked by 1 person

  6. jworks17

    “It might even finally give us a way to deal with the Grey Legion that wasn’t ‘soldiers praying Akua, the Witch or me got there in time’. Even Hanno had found those fuckers a hard nut to crack.”

    So Akua is still powerful? We haven’t seen her fight in quite some time and I assumed she was more of just a research mage.

    Also every time Cat talks about Cardinal I get scared it isn’t going to happen, it could be such an awesome story.

    Liked by 11 people

      1. jworks17

        I would imagine, but maybe since the undead are a construct of sorcery, sorcerers can deal with them with greater effect? But then how is Cat useful? She uses Night not sorcery.

        Liked by 5 people

          1. SpeckofStardust

            He might not be on the front lines very often, finding Named and preventing plagues is very much a duty he’d be good at, further more he really seems to get his heroic arrivals when helping other named rather then common front line troops. And the only thing the three who did get mentioned have in common is large aoe (area of effect) which Tarig doesn’t have.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Konstantin von Karstein

              I agree with everything you say except the aoe. With Shine, Tariq has all the aoe he want. He destroyed the hundreds/thousands zombies attacking the Stalwart Apostle.

              Like

      2. mamm0nn

        Tariq’s not on the front lines, he’s been stated to walk around where the Oraphim guide him rather than fight alongside the others.

        I personally think it’s because active battle and enemy nations isn’t his domain. He’s not meant to save the young heroes and guide them when they go into the belly of the beast, only when they’re still in their own camp. If the heroes wander into Praes and face a Warlock, they better not be green any more because Pilgrim won’t show up there. Something that Black may have unknowingly exploited when he took Callow and turned those heroes-spawning grounds into ones where the Pilgrim didn’t tread.

        Liked by 9 people

    1. Akua can draw on Night. Sounds like she’s got a fair bit of allowance there.

      And obviously if anyone can do a lot with a little, it’s her.

      I am in fact extremely curious of the technical details of how independent her control of Night is, whether she can hide things from Catherine, whether she can hide things from the Crows (theoretically possible if being Catherine’s servant insulates her in a ‘my vassal’s vassal is not my vassal’ way), whether Catherine can take away her powers, whether she’s capable of surviving if Catherine dies, etc.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh wow, that would be amazing if so.

      But no, it can’t be just that. First, Catherine DID notice closing her eyes, it was in her narration before the contingency triggered. There were times when Scribe went unnoticed when no such thing was happening.

      Second, Scribe’s influence also works in her absence, Amadeus had to snap Cat out of it that one time.

      And third, remember when Loius the spymaster was literally talking to Scribe, looking at her, and couldn’t remmeber anything beyond ink-stained fingers even literally WHILE looking at her?

      Liked by 12 people

      1. Cap'n Smurfy

        By not realizing it I mean they close their eyes without thinking they’re being made it they don’t notice that they’ve done it. Cat’s contingency recognised she was being made to close her eyes when she herself didn’t realise she was being artificially made to.

        “My contingency must have triggered when I’d closed my eyes, prompted by a power I’d not noticed and had felt entirely like my own whim.”

        You have a point with Louis tbough. To expand on it I think Scibes ability is making people physically not observe her without realising it. Louis could only remember her hands not because she veiled it or made him forget but because he never actually looked at her face.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. The part of me that normally prefers heroic stories shudders at the idea of the goblins gaining access to Night, but the other parts really want to see what would happen.

    Robber really needs a Name, but I think he’s too submissive (in the way of goblins, anyway) for a villainous Name, and he’s almost definitely not getting a heroic one. It just seems like he’s too popular of a guy for him to just die of old age, even if that is quite the achievement for a male goblin.

    Also adding Hakram to the list of things that could be fixed by Cat’s Name coming into power. Much like a lot of things surrounding Cat, he’s losing purpose and practically decaying while she can’t or won’t step into her Name.

    Scribe showing up is interesting on multiple levels, but considering Ranger has been barred from joining the war effort in an official capacity, there seems to be a ready plot related reason for her presence.

    Liked by 8 people

        1. There aren’t really significant stories about him doing that though, and that’s what it’s all about with Names, isn’t it? He seems to be an able commander more than personally able things-doer, in the grand scheme of things. He doesn’t really stand out from his squad, he just leads it well.

          Like

  8. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    fully open the door > the door fully open
    her both her > both her
    Buy you know > But you know
    a trailed > and trailed
    All three bore (extra space before “All”)
    calling the > calling them
    disservice or > disservice of
    it a bribe > it as a bribe
    most her > most of her
    darks eyes > dark eyes
    Summer heat (extra space before “Summer”)

    Liked by 2 people

  9. erebus42

    Come now Komena you can’t have your religion being too insular. Diversifying a bit with your followers can really only help a relatively new goddess like you and your sister. Sure you might have to give away some power but I’m sure the investment will pay itself off and then some. Just think about the terror and mayham that could be woven in your names by Night bestowed goblins! (perhaps they could be the equivalent of lay brothers and sisters). (Now I want a side story about the first non Drow clerics of Night.)
    I always figured the drow and the goblins would get along as thick as thieves but now I’m curious about the other races and factions. Aside for their occoasionaly malignant obsession with honor I always thought the Domion and the drow might be able to bond due to certain similarities between their cultures and mindsets.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. So, it occurs to me that the problem may be that they’re thinking too small with these magical prostheses ideas.
    Hakram doesn’t need a prosthetic leg, he needs a prosthetic body.
    Do the same thing that happened to Black, cut his soul off, but rather than reattaching it, attach it to a different body.

    The ethical conundrum is that you need to ask how Hakram stealing the body of some Orc volunteer or criminal to cure his condition is different to Killian sacrificing some criminal to cure her condition.
    Maybe in that said body-donor can be switched into Hakram’s crippled body? Or in the lack of the direct involvement of a sacrifice altar?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Actually, new thought:
    uhhh, are we sure that Masego won’t betray them and take the Fae crown of godhood and invincibility for himself?
    It would fulfill his core ambition, and while it would upset his friends, it’s not like he could suffer any permenant personal consequence after becoming invincible , and he can patch things up with them later.

    Like

    1. Very.

      Masego wants to earn godhood on his own … and it seems likely that the Fae Crown of Autumn would carry limitations, and compulsions similar in nature to that of the Crown of Winter, which he studied extensively. And I expect that he isn’t interested in limiting himself and his freedom of action and thought patterns in the way that taking up a Fae Crown likely would.
      In addition, his interest is about learning enough about Creation in order to become a god, or the next best thing … not just picking up a mantle of power stolen from a god.

      Also, Masego isn’t going to betray his friends of his own free will.
      Plus, he knows that the Crown of Autumn is critical to Quartered Seasons, which is a method to permanently put an end to the Dead King. The Dead King, as you may remember, took over his body, and used his magic to kill Indrani, and then in the process of the Dead King bring driven out of him, he lost his Gift. Masego probably holds a grudge about that whole series of events, and he’s definitely not happy about it. And he’s literally killed people over far lesser offenses.

      Liked by 16 people

    2. Frivolous

      Masego’s path to apotheosis is very clearly through increased knowledge and High Arcana, not through bothering with faerie crowns.

      Not the least because it would require becoming fey.

      Liked by 9 people

        1. An honorary Elf?
          You mean the ultra racist genocidal assholes?
          The people who kill everyone except Heroes who come within bowshot of the Golden Bloom?
          The people who only barely deigned to talk to Hanno when there was a second Hero running the magical support for the scrying conversation?

          No, Masego might be interested in vivisecting an Elf, or other study, especially if he can get a good look at how they get to ignore a rule of Creation at a time.
          But he has no interest in becoming an honorary Elf, even if he could.

          Like

          1. Frivolous

            I hate how I keep having to remind myself that in the Guide to Practical Evil, elves and fae are not the same thing at all. Not even close.

            Did we ever find out which one of them, or maybe both or neither, has the pointy ears?

            Liked by 1 person

  12. medailyfun

    I wonder why Cat has not tried to push her soldiers into the vacant Names, like Squire or Apprentice. Should be totally doable with her experience and obvious Roles those ppl can fulfil.

    Like

    1. Matthew Wells

      Those two, at least are unavailable to her. Apprentice is already taken, and she’s no longer capable of taking Black Knight, so she can’t make a Squire. Probably another Knight could, but none of them are willing to accept the liability of grooming a successor before the ultimate showdown with the Dead King, for exactly the same reasons Cat didn’t want to mentor the Scorched Apostate.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Shveiran

        You don’t need to be an apprentice to a Knight to become the Squire. Chider, the twins and the racist Taghreb were all in the run for Squire and they had no relationship to Black.

        Hanno and Amadeus both didn’t start off as the boy wonder of some older Knight, they did it on their own.

        I’ll grant that Catherine doesn’t have a personal connection to the Squire Name like Amadeus did back in the day, but that doesn’t mean she can’t use story-fu to ease others into it or craft a situation where they are likely to pop out.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Matthew Wells

          We were never told that Black didn’t know Chider and the others. And Hanno and Amadeus got their names through terrible tragedies, so it would be a bad idea to replicate those circumstances, especially since the Dead King is already causing undead-slaying Names to pop up across the countryside.

          Like

          1. Shveiran

            Well, yes, we were never told he didn’t know them but he certainly wasn’t mentoring them? I feel like my point still stands.

            As for tragedies… that’s just how Names usually begin, don’t they? It’s not a Squire thing, it’s a Named thing. I can’t really recall a Named who didn’t have a tragedy at the heart of its origin.

            Like

      2. medailyfun

        You don’t need to be BK to lead someone towards Squire Name (just remember other claimants). All you need is the right person and right chain of events. Also mind that many Callowan Names are available atm.

        Like

  13. Letouriste

    Comments asking who is Scribe incomming! lol
    you know this is bound to be one somewhere.

    Anyway, this chapter made me think about the sheer spread of concepts and ideas this story tackle on. Infirmity makes perfect sense in a story with as many wars but i realised most would still avoid it because of how hard this is to do right. Congratz EE, i think you nailed it 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Shveiran

      I don’t know, Hakram has always been all about being Catherine’s aide. Stepping into a Name that doesn’t revolve around that feels forced, since his truth has not changed. Stepping into another Name that still revolves around that would feel … cheap?

      Liked by 3 people

  14. Oh hell yeah. SCRIBE SCRIBE SCRIBE SCRIBE SCRIBE!!! *gleeful happy victory dance*

    I knew she’d be interested in working with Catherine after Amadeus kicked her out!

    Oh, and the goblins are great as always ❤

    What rest of the chapter?

    Like

  15. ohJohN

    > “…the Apprentice could be suborned to you for the offensive, to learn from you and lend a hand.”

    > We weren’t going to get through this intact without trust.

    > “I leave it in your hands, then.”

    *jfc, Cat*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Matthew Wells

      If he hates the idea of her walking across a tent to accomodate his injuries, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want her to remove all hand-related imagery from her speech.

      Liked by 3 people

  16. IDKWhoitis

    Until proven otherwise, I am still under the assumption that Scribe = Assassin. Either in some sort of alter ego/name or the assassin is an entity that scribe controls through her name. It should be noted, that people close to Scribe always treated the two as separate entities, so either the 2nd hypothesis is true or Scribe kept that secret very well…

    I doubt that Scribe is going to just be BFF with Cat or continue in her role of step mother to Cat. Likely this is an in-depth update of Amadeus/Praes for the next chapter.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the abrupt transitions between 20 different things the past chapters have been. I know there’s a lot to cover, but at the same time we don’t need to know every bit…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Assassin is male, who grew up in a cult of assassins.

      Scribe is a woman who grew up in the Free Cities. And the Free Cities is where she met Amadeus.

      They are two different people with two different Names.
      Scribe was present in Procer while Assassin was in Ashur.

      Scribe’s unnoticeability trick is an Aspect, and from the Viv-Thief origin, we know that Assassin has a shapeshifting/disguise Aspect.

      Where the hell did this idea that Scribe and Asssassin are the same person even come from?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Because Scribe runs the Eyes of the Empire, and is known for “disappearing” problems, which sounds a lot like the job of an Assassin. And Assassin’s “signature kills” are sometimes misdirection to hide his real location, so just because someone got assassinated doesn’t mean it’s certain that Assassin was there. And Assassin can come back after being killed, which suggests he could be a disposable summon or something.

        Weighing against that, we know that Amadeus thinks that Scribe and Assassin are two different people – we’ve had interludes from his perspective saying as much, and it’s hard to believe that his closest aide would keep that a secret from him. But even then, we’ve never actually seen Assassin on screen, only the results of his actions. When Amadeus gives an order to Assassin, it’s not in person, it’s by telling Scribe who he wants dead.

        But I think the real reason people love this theory is that it just *fits* the character of the Calamities. Creating the persona of “The Assassin” as a diversion from the actual assassins they use, in the same way that the guys in cloaks with eye tattoos are a diversion from the actual Eyes.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Matthew Wells

            Correction: we’ve confirmed his presence twice. One time he was mostly invisible, and the other time he was under an illusion, so we’ve never actually SEEN him.

            Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s stupid, is what it is.

          Assassin usually prefers to make his kills look like accidents, often those that are improbable and that he finds entertaining.

          For that matter, we have secondary confirmation from Wandering Bard that Assassin is an actual Named individual.

          They’ve been Villains for 40+ years. That’s not the kind of secret that gets kept with that many decades of Heroes and High Lords wanting to dig out information and drag them down. Especially not when Bard is poking around trying to end them.

          Names only have three Aspects. Assassin has the disguise/shapeshifting Aspect and Scribe has the unnoticeability/forgettable Aspect.
          If they’re the same person, they’d have only one Aspect left …
          And non-Named assassins are not capable of the kinds of things that are attributed to Assassin.

          We also have Scribe in Procer when Assassin is in Ashur.

          Amadeus delegating sending messages to Assassin to Scribe isn’t suggestive of anything, other than that it’s kind of Scribe’s Role. And that Scribe gets along with Assassin and/or is capable of delivering those messages a whole lot more discretely than Amadeus could in person. Remember … Amadeus is/was the Black Knight, with who knows how many spies watching and tracking his every movement and as many of his spoken words as they could. Relaying messages to Assassin via Scribe is just good security sense. Both in terms of protecting Assassin’s cover identities, and in terms of not tipping people off that Assassin has a new target who just might be them.

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  17. Anonymous

    A little scary how Cat and Hakram’s (emotional) relationship is resembling Malicia’s and Black Knight’s a little. –Skillsets reversed maybe, her the steel and him the subtle clout.

    A thought that comes to mind regarding Named acceptance of standard reality in this world: “I recall Masego said something like that to you, once, and then you smashed his construct and made yourself Demigod Queen of Winter for a while instead..?”

    Like

  18. Galileo

    Well, I finally caught up after binge-reading for a month. It feels like an ending, somehow, but it looks like the best has yet to come. For stories never truly end.
    On another note, it’s quite interesting to see Scribe reappear just as Hakram loses his combat-related aspects and becomes a glorified scribe. One could draw conclusions.

    Liked by 1 person

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