Chapter 73: Signs

There’s nothing impressive about oracles, Chancellor. All that’s needed to foretell the future is a fool and a tiger pit.”

– Dread Emperor Malignant III

I’d never seen Vivienne in armour before.

Mind you, she wasn’t exactly barded for war and wearing full plate. She’d put on a blue riding dress, then accentuated that with a good steel breastplate topped by matching spaulders and a loose gorget. She’d not bothered with a tasset to cover thighs, preferring only a broad belt, and the lack of greaves and gauntlets softened the look. It was a good choice, I’d decided. Playing the warrior queen outright would not have suited her, but a martial touch that added to her increasingly regal manners would toe the line just right. It was a reminder that she might not be a soldier, but that she’d ridden out some of the worst scraps the Woe had ever been in without being dead weight. Considering Vivienne had spent most of her adult life wearing loose leathers and treading rooftops without ever developing an interest in fashion that I’d noticed, I could only praise whoever it was in her service that’d made the suggestion.

“Too much?” Vivienne asked, taking off her riding gloves.

Dry as the tone had been, I suspected that the slight undertone of abashment I’d picked up there wasn’t just me looking for pearls in a pigsty.

“It suits,” I replied, shaking my head. “And I notice you made sure you’d be able to fight if you had to.”

The riding dress wouldn’t mess up her footing too much, and she was a nimble one even without a Name to heighten the talent. I did not hide my approbation. There was no call to ever feel safe north of Salia, no matter what we liked to pretend.

“It’s the classic Summerholm cut,” she told me, sounding amused at my ignorance.

I snorted. Yeah, if there was one city in Callow where there’d it’s be a fashion staple to be able to fight in your dress it’d be the Gate of the East. I probably would have had to learn about this stuff if I’d ever held a proper court, with all the attached feasts and festivals and formal receptions that involved, but my kingdom had half on fire and on permanent war footing from pretty much the moment the crown was set on my brow. Mind, you as the daughter of a minor baron who’d held the title mostly in name since the Conquest it wasn’t like Vivienne would have been swimming in new dresses. It’d been a wealthy of upbringing, but that wealth had begun dwindling before she was ever born and the noble title had, as determined by Tower law after the Conquest, died with her father. There was a reason I’d had to raise her back to the formal Callowan peerage.

Black had preferred leaving my people’s nobility to wither on the vine with their titles intact rather than strip those outright, you see. It was less likely to lead to conspiracies, with all those suddenly landless knights and barons instead worrying about how they were going to pay for the upkeep of those mansions my father had so mercifully left them to own.

“The cloak goes with everything,” I shrugged. “What more do I need to know?”

“I still remember when you avoided wearing black like the plague,” Vivienne smiled. “How the times have changed.”

I grimaced, as this was a bit of a sore spot. I’d gotten used to the darker colours, in truth, but I did still have the occasional craving for a pretty sundress or a tunic in a tone you’d seen on a rainbow that’d not been cursed by some fucking warlock. The trouble was that the ‘Black Queen’ couldn’t be seen wearing those things, it’d take a bite into a reputation that’d come in too useful too many times for me to be able to justify wearing a dress that’d not been rolled in a barrel of soot beforehand.

“When I retire,” I told her feelingly, “I will wear nothing but pastels for a year. I solemnly swear.”

“I’ll look forward to the Mirror Knight expounding on how the pink dress is really a hint of your many perfidies to come,” she snickered.

We shared a moment of quiet amusement at the thought. I’d seen precious little of ol’ Christophe, as it happened. The White Knight had not been softhanded in making it clear that he’d disgraced himself, which had seen his popularity dry out some. Even those who would have been inclined to still lean his way had been kept away by the neat trick of there being no one really willing to argue with the Peregrine when he told you to go away. Tariq was proving a finer check on the Mirror Knight than I’d anticipated, though I still had to wonder if even the Grey Pilgrim was going to be enough to set that man straight. The chuckles faded, though, and I did not resume banter. It was Vivs here, not an officer or a ally, so I didn’t bother with subtlety.

“Why are you here, Vivienne?” I bluntly asked.

“Always a pleasure to see you too, Catherine,” she replied.

The way she tucked in that perfectly fine milkmaid’s braid told me that, once more, she was a little more nervous than her tone and face would imply.

“Don’t give me that,” I dismissed. “You know well that the only reason I could even spare you from your duties in Salia was because we need you with some battle honours to your name before you succeed me. I’m happy to see you, Vivs, but we’re not really in a time and place where happy’s what takes the day.”

“I know,” she admitted with a grimace. “And the truth is, my reasons for coming are thinner than I’d like. I take it this is just going to be the two of us?”

She gestured at the solar around us, situated in the same guildhall that Robber had found me hours earlier. Adjutant had accurately deduced that I’d want this solar – nice windows but not too large, sun-facing and with room enough inside for multiple desks and chairs – for my own and made warding it with our usual suite of protection a priority. He was still arranging the last details for the rest of my new lodgings and headquarters, but he’d be on his way soon.

“Hakram’s coming as soon as he can,” I told her. “Zeze’s got duties for a while still, and I left word for Indrani but I’ve no idea where she is in the city.”

Hunting for undead, I suspected. It was all a little too cat and mouse for my own tastes, but Archer had always liked a hunt and Keter’s last infiltrators made for interesting – if not overly dangerous to a Named – quarry.

“I was asking whether you wanted to bring in allied commanders, actually,” Vivienne said, “but I suppose you answered the question regardless.”

I shrugged. I wasn’t going to keep anything from them unless there was a call for it but I felt no need to include them into what was, on the surface, a purely Callowan matter. Both the Fourth Army and Vivienne herself were of my lot, it was to myself they answered first and foremost. Being in the room for this conversation was not a courtesy I felt I owed them.

“You were meant to command the troops at the defensive line down south,” I noted. “If General Abigail did take the Cigelin Sisters-”

“She did,” Vivienne confirmed. “It was a rout. The Tyrant’s Own under General Pallas baited the dead out of the defences with a feigned retreat, and when the battle was engaged the fantassins under her command found a way through the hills the dead hadn’t. They were struck in the sides as well, and their lines collapsed. Some five thousand withdrew, and the relief force the Dead King sent decided not to risk taking back the Sisters from her.”

Huh, fancy that. My nervy little general had come through once more. I’d expected a victory out of her, but this was more decisive than I’d anticipated.

“Good, then we should be establishing contact soon,” I grunted. “Doesn’t explain why you’re here and not commanding the Deoraithe and levies that we funnelled up to hold the defensive line.”

The Daoine troops I trusted to handle themselves, but Proceran levies had a nasty tendency to run when things got rough. Wasn’t some deep moral flaw, even if some of my soldiers like to pretend otherwise, but more or less what you should expect when you put a spear in a shoemaker’s hands and told him to fight something like beorn.

“The Augur believed that if I was not here by the moon’s turn, and the Fourth with me, then Procer would fall within the year,” Vivienne bluntly said. “The Astrologer wasn’t quite so sure, but she agreed that the storm about to come for Hainaut is going to be a horror and the signs are largely against us.”

“The Augur can’t see the Dead King,” I pointed out. “Or myself, for that matter.”

She could also be outmanoeuvered, as Black had proved during his ill-advised Proceran campaign. Her long-term predictions tended to be vague and her shot-term ones only mattered when they got where they needed to be in time for them to be useful.

“The First Prince saw fit to reveal that the Augur been working with the Forgetful Librarian to find a way around her blind spots,” Vivienne said. “It’s a process of elimination, or at least Hasenbach hinted as much. Every time I’m not here before the whiteout, after it the Hainaut front collapses.”

I frowned.

“The whiteout?”

“All our prophets encountered something similar,” Vivienne said. “Trying to peer into what happens during the coming battle here is somehow blinding for oracles. They’ve theorized it’s because there are too many entities involved who resist or outright muddle foretelling.”

Huh. I supposed we had gathered a significant amount of Named, which would pretty much twist Fate into a knot. On top of that there were Choirs involved – at least Mercy, possibly Judgement if it triumphed over the Hierarch at a critical moment – here on the Dead King and my own’s ability to screw with predictions. That was a lot of moving parts for a mortal oracle, maybe more than they would be able to physically comprehend all at once.

“The Astrologer insists that the stars indicate the Gigantes will be critical in what is to come,” Vivienne added, “but that one might be muddled. She’s also sure they’ll be crucial to something in Twilight’s Pass, and there’s barely any of them there.”

I cocked an eyebrow.

“I wasn’t aware there were any at all,” I said.

“Hasenbach wrangled further concessions out of them through the Dominion,” Vivienne said. “She had to first get the Highest Assembly to vote a formal apology to the Titanomachy for the Humbling of Titans, though, which cost her some support in the south. Among her prizes is that the Gigantes sent a group to fortify the Morgentor, with an eye to doing the same to the rest of the fortresses in the pass.”

Well worth some Arlesite grumbling, in my opinion, but then I wasn’t the one that had to keep the shitshow known as the Highest Assembly in a semblance of functioning order. Somehow I suspected that if we’d not cooperated to let that same Assembly try the Red Axe for attempted regicide Hasenbach would have had a harder time getting that vote passed. It was easier to get princes to bend their proud necks when you’d proved you were willing to cross Named to protect their lives.

“We do have Gigantes in the city,” I said, “mind you, at the moment they should-”

The air shuddered, and for a moment it was as if all the world had gone still. As if I was a fly caught in amber, as if all the empty spaces of Creation had chillingly filled. And when that power released me, as primordially indifferent as the wave that could guide the sailor ashore or drown him, I found myself gasping as I leaned against the table. Vivienne was looking at me in a panic, already on her feet.

“Cat, are you all right?” she asked, taking my arm and supporting me.

I closed my eyes, focusing on breathing in and out. The urge to empty my stomach passed.

“I’m fine,” I got out.

“You’re not fine,” Vivienne bit back angrily.

I gently pushed her away, still leaning against the table slightly.

“I’m not being stubborn, it passed,” I said. “And it won’t happen again.”

Blue-grey eyes examined me, as if looking for a lie.

“You didn’t feel that?” I asked her.

Slowly she shook her hand.

“Feel what?”

“I’m guessing,” I sighed, “that was my first taste of what Gigantes spellsinging feels like for someone… attuned to the parts of Creation I am.”

“Bad?” Vivienne quietly asked.

“What the Witch of the Woods does is a pale imitation,” I ruefully said. “They tap into something larger, Vivienne. It was like standing next to Sve Noc if they were losing their temper, but less… targeted.”

Masego has once called the godhead a trick of perspective, as the Hierophant’s eyes had always seen further than those of other men. I’d once been such a trick, when I had scavenged my way to rule over Winter, but it’d been blind flailing. It was not without reason that the Dead King had described my apotheosis as ‘accidental’ when we’d first met in Keter. These days I could touch those deeper rules on occasion, as I had at the Second Battle of Lauzon’s Hollow, but my understanding was limited and the use was rough on me. What the Gigantes had just done – and it must be them, for no one else in the city should be capable of this – had… ridden such rules, for lack of a better term. Like a ship on the tide, using the sea without mastering it. It was not they way I did it at all, but that I had the capacity in the first place must have been enough to make me… sensitive.

Hierophant would have been as well, I figured, but no one else in Hainaut.

“I’ll be ready next time,” I told Vivienne. “It was the surprise that left me vulnerable.”

Like a sucker punch in the gut, though they’d probably not meant it to be.

“Perhaps they could be prevailed upon to give warning, next time,” she mildly said.

“Yeah, I’ll ask the White Knight to pass the request along,” I softly laughed. “Shit, it’s been a while since something took me this badly by surprise.”

An overdue reminder, perhaps. It was a big world, and I’d not seen all there was to see in even my little corner of it. We resumed the conversation until Hakram joined us, but there really wasn’t much to add to what she’d already said. Vivienne had come to the capital with the Fourth largely on the word of the Augur and the Astrologer, and though she had freshers news than we about the going-ons in the south she truthfully didn’t have much to add. She was just as lost as we were, only now in addition to our uncertainties about the defence of Hainaut there was a hanging sword above our head to remind us that oracles were pretty sure if we lost here the entire war was lost. Lovely.

At least we had Vivienne with us, so even at the bottom of this freshly dug pit things were looking up.

There was need for a war council, as there so often was these days, but we went about it briskly. General Bagram, a large and aging orc who’d been the right hand of Juniper’s mother for decades before becoming a general in his own right under the Army of Callow, was added to that ever-expanding roster of people with a seat at the table along with my designated heiress, Lady Vivienne Dartwick. Discussions were without frills, as we all felt the invisible noose of Keter’s advance tightening around our necks, and there were few arguments. Given the very real possibility that we were going to lose either the gates or the walls at some point, Princess Beatrice gave formal permission to my sappers to prepare the streets to repel invasion. Pickler was still busy replacing the Ivory Gates, but no doubt she’d be delighted when informed.

Quartering was revised to accommodate the addition of the Fourth Army, which had blessedly come with an overfill of supplies that’d allow us to avoid rationing before the first supply wagons arrived through the Ways. I’d been right twofold, as it turned out: it’d been the Gigantes that had startled me, and the gate they’d helped the Blessed Artificer make was already technically finished. It was recommended it still go unused until dark, though, as apparently the parts where they had melted the veil between the Twilight Ways and Creation were still ‘cooling off’. Fucking Hells, the more I learned about Ligurian sorcery the more it fucking terrified me. And Triumphant had gone toe to toe with those people at their peak? Gods, what an utter monster that one must have been.

By sundown we all left the palace that Beatrice Volignac seemed so deeply happy to have reclaimed, most of the practicalities of our defence hammered out into a working shape. It was the Pilgrim and the White Knight who reached out to me afterwards, though, to arrange a formal council of Named as well.

“It can be considered a given that every Revenant in the principality, including the Scourges, is now headed our way,” Tariq said. “We need to prepare accordingly.”

“Agreed,” I said. “We need to divide our people into bands. And more importantly-”

“Your insistence that a band of five needs to be sent after the bridge immediately,” Hanno frowned. “Yes, I was told of it.”

“A heroic band of five,” I said. “Given the steep odds and how it’ll be impossible to really prepare, it’s the only setup with a chance of getting it done. And if Tariq told you about that, then he told you I’d like for you to lead it.”

It’d be a loss, because the White Knight took to most Revenants like a sickle to wheat, but I had doubts about any band led by a lesser hero succeeding. The Grey Pilgrim might make it as well, maybe, but Tariq always shone most when he was in a supporting role and that would muddle things up some.

“To clarify,” the White Knight mildly said, “on the eve of a battle prophesized to be decisive for this entire war, you request that I leave.”

“Yes,” I bluntly said, “and the Witch as well, you’ll need her.”

A light touch on my arm interrupted me, and I turned to find Vivienne cocking an eyebrow.

“I will leave the three of you to your conversation,” she easily said, “but if I might make a suggestion?”

She gestured at our surroundings, namely the now dead gardens leading up to the front gates of the Volignac family palace.

“There are perhaps more appropriate venues for you all to talk,” Vivienne finished.

“Common sense,” Tariq ruefully murmured. “Such a rare, precious thing. My thanks, Lady Dartwick.”

“I still feel the urge to take to rooftops on moonlit nights,” she replied, “so do not bestow upon me a surfeit of honours, Peregrine. Lord White, Catherine, a pleasant evening to you.”

Hanno returned the courtesy, while I cocked an eyebrow at her. She had a deft hand with heroes, as she’d just reminded me. I sometimes forgot she’d been part of William’s band, back in the day, and had been a decent fit there from what little I knew. Heroes tended to be split between those who considered her a fallen heroine, just punished by Above in the form of losing her Name, or those who essentially considered her a retired heroine who’d embraced other duties. Tariq tended to lean that way, though I’d never quite been able to pin down Hanno on the subject.

“I’ll see you later,” I told her. “It’s been too long.”

“Agreed,” she feelingly replied. “I’ll try to see if I can rustle up Indrani from whatever winesink she’ll have stumbled into by now.”

“Don’t bribe her with my liquor cabinet this time,” I warned, “it’s impossible to get the good stuff this far out, and…”

I suddenly coughed, feeling the distinctly amused gazes of two of the most prominent heroes of the age as I argued with the heiress to Callow about the fate of my booze stash.

“Carry on,” I said, vainly trying to claw back a bit of gravitas.

It, er, might take a while. Vivienne took her leave and I went for a walk through a garden of dead things with the Pilgrim and the Knight. To my surprise, I found the sight oddly troubling. I’d thought myself well acquainted with death, for how could I not be? I’d waded through it on too many battlefields to count, and thrice I’d come close to staying in those cold arms forever. I’d deal it out and suffered it, used it as a tool and flinched from it. If my throne had been set upon a foundation of anything, death was it. And still, limping through the garden, some part of me was dismayed. It was all dead. Ever tree gone grey, ever flower wilted every blade of grass frayed. Black earth had gone fallow, covered by dead leaves and insects forever still. This wasn’t the coming of winter or even some black tragedy. Intent had done this. Thorough, patient intent to kill every living thing there was to kill.

There was bare, graven beauty to the garden that felt like a knot in my throat. Was this the world the Dead King wanted? A field of grey from shore to shore, so utterly barren that even the sea grew lifeless lapping at it. I forced myself to set aside the thought. Stroking the thought of failure instead of tending to the needs of the moment was as good a way to see them turn true as any.

“It has to be you,” I said, standing in the shade of a leafless tree.

“I am not certain we need to send a band at all,” the White Knight calmly replied. “It would strip the defence of much-needed strength, and there will be time enough to attend the bridge after victory is secured here.”

“If victory is secured here,” I pointed out.

“In this, I believe the Black Queen to be correct,” the Grey Pilgrim said. “We should not bet the fate of all Calernia on our ability to win in battle against the hordes of Keter. It would be dangerously irresponsible.”

I nodded in appreciation at the old man’s words. Not that he was speaking them for my sake – Tariq had never been shy about disagreeing with me on anything at all, to my occasional displeasure.

“It weakens our ability to win that battle to send Named away,” Hanno flatly said. “In particular fighters as apt as Queen Catherine seems intent on assigning, in all humility.”

“Smashing that bridge isn’t going to be a pleasant autumn stroll, White,” I said. “I mentioned you and the Witch of the Woods because the job needs a captain and the power to collapse a bridge. To add survivability, I’d throw in the Forsworn Healer and pack the rest of the five with one set of muscles and a specialized killer.”

The kind that’d be able to kill something that couldn’t be killed conventionally, like the Painted Knife or the Rogue Sorcerer.

“There I must disagree,” Tariq said. “Not with the necessity of power, but with the White Knight’s presence being required. His role would be better suited to a situation like the approaching battle.”

Fuck, I silently thought. Part of me wanted to get snippy that the Heavens got to have two people around for this talk, but honesty compelled me to admit that there really wasn’t anyone else who would have made a difference. Hanno took advice from many parts, but it was my understanding that people who could make him actually reconsider a decision were few. The Pilgrim was as close to a peer as I’d be able to rustle up in Hainaut.

“You genuinely believe in the wisdom of thinning our forces before a major engagement?” Hanno asked Tariq, frowning.

“Empty prayers birth no miracles,” the Grey Pilgrim replied.

I cocked my head to the side. Huh. Yeah, that was solid namelore even if he was coming at it from the other way. He meant, I gathered, that for a prayer to be answered it would need to be sincere. In this case, that meant sending Named even when it would be costly. Black would have phrased it more along the lines of Creation being a machine that gave out according to what you gave it, while I myself preferred to think of it in terms of weight: you couldn’t topple a wall with a pebble. If you wanted a trebuchet stone, you needed to use a trebuchet in the first place.

“That only reinforces that we do need to send him,” I insisted. “We can’t half-ass this, it’ll backfire on us.”

“This isn’t a ritual field and we’re not bleeding prisoners to make a tower fly, Your Majesty,” the Pilgrim flatly replied. “There is no need to open our own throats to make this work.”

I bit out the very unflattering answer I had on the tip of my tongue, as I was pretty sure he knew the Kharsum words for both mother and goat.

“I remain unconvinced this should be attempted at all,” the White Knight said, frown deepening, “but when the two of you are in agreement you are rarely incorrect. I’ll concede to sending a band, and a heroic one.”

That was a start.

“I appreciate that,” I said.

“But I am horrendously wrong, and you must now tell me why,” Hanno drily replied, and I remembered why I liked him in the first place.

“I wouldn’t go quite that far,” I said, since the truthteller couldn’t read me. “Look, I’ve seen you ride this horse before. Picking out traps with the Fortunate Fool, picking fights specifically because they put you at a disadvantage.”

“Heroes placed in situations where it is possible but unlikely for them to triumph buck the odds more than they should,” Hanno agreed. “It is the way of stories, and stories have power.”

“But that’s the thing,” I said, “in those stories, you don’t send some nobody to kill the dragon and win the princess’ hand. Sure the guy seems like a nobody, but we know he’s not because the story is about him. He’s really a prince, or a knight, or fated in some way.”

“Your argument is that we must look for a specific manner of fate, then?” Hanno curiously asked,

“No,” the Grey Pilgrim quietly said. “It is that the dragon’s lair is full of skeletons whose mishap was being… insufficiently fated, yes?”

“Weight,” I said. “See, the bridge looks wide open right now: all armies are accounted for and far, we know where it’s being built and where most of the Scourges are. But it won’t actually be open.”

They were both looking at me like was belabouring something very obvious, which I supposed for heroes I was. Villain lairs were always trapped and vicious, while heroes didn’t really have those.

“So there’s going to be a fight,” I continued. “Which you figure you can win sending some solid heroes while keeping here our finest. That’s a mistake, though, because that bridge is something that could lose us this entire war. It’s the reason we began this campaign in the first place.”

Hanno’s eyes narrowed.

“Weight,” he repeated. “You imply that if we do not send shoulders capable of bearing the burden of this entire campaign, all they will be is… skeletons in a dragon lair.”

“I do,” I said. “And that means it has to be you. Because pretty much the only other person in your camp with that kind of pull on the war is the Grey Pilgrim, and no offence Tariq but-”

“No, I agree I would be ill-suited to the task,” the Pilgrim murmured. “Perhaps if Laurence was still with us it would have been different, two of us ancients with three younger, but as things stand the forces within the band would not be in harmony.”

“So you agree,” I pressed.

“I don’t,” Tariq replied. “You see this weight as a scale that must evened, when instead it should be seen as a crucible to help the rise of another great character. We should be discussing who among the servants of Above in the city could benefit from this opportunity, not entertaining sending away the White Knight before a pivotal point of a crusade.”

Godsdamned heroes. There was a point where optimism became delusion, and thinking every test was some sort of ladder was well past it. Sometimes you just failed, because you hadn’t been prepared enough and you’d underestimated the foe.

“This isn’t a fucking crusade, Tariq,” I said, exasperated. “I know it’s more comfortable for you to think about it that way, but my side of the fence is here too and we count. The role of a White Knight isn’t the same it would be in-”

“Enough,” Hanno said. “I understand the need for a swift decision, but I will not let myself be strongarmed before considering this properly.”

“We can’t afford to wait long,” I bluntly said.

“The discussion can be resumed tomorrow, after our council of Named,” the White Knight said. “I will sleep on this, at the very least, and consult with others I trust.”

Not what I’d wanted to hear, but I could already see that pushing any further now would just burn goodwill for no gain. I suppressed a wince, looking back on how I’d gotten drawn into an argument about ‘the role of a White Knight’ with the Pilgrim while said White Knight was right in front of me. Hanno was remarkably even-keeled, but that probably hadn’t done me any favours. It’d been a mistake, too, since the man I actually needed to convince hadn’t been the one I was arguing with. I snuck a look at Tariq. Had that been on purpose? Getting my thoughts out so the White Knight could see them splayed out without having been drawn into the thick of it.

“By all means,” I said. “We can continue this when everyone’s rested.”

“A good evening to you, then,” Hanno said, inclining his head,

I returned it, and he bade a significantly less formal goodbye to the Pilgrim. Who stayed behind, as I’d hoped he would. The two of us continued the walk towards the opposite end of the garden, his slow gait and my limp evenly matched. Neither of us pretended this was about anything but continuing the conversation that’d just abruptly ended.

“He is in a pivotal moment of his journey as one of the Bestowed, Queen Catherine,” Tariq said. “Sending him away from the battle could have deleterious effects.”

“Or it could be exactly what he needs, Pilgrim,” I replied. “We don’t know, either way.”

“His own leanings-”

“Are a consequence of his character, not some arcane working of fate,” I bluntly interrupted. “If he had some instinct niggling at him that this was a mistake I’d reconsider, but he argued based on logic. He thinks his place is here in the thick of it, herding heroes, so that’s where he figures he should be.”

“Because that is his place,” Tariq just as bluntly replied. “He is the White Knight, and the hordes of Evil has come.”

“Maybe that was true a century ago,” I said, “but you gave me a whole speech about how he has to find a new way, Peregrine. What you’re describing is more of the same.”

“This new way you argue for is also your way, Black Queen,” the old man said. “Not his. If this were his own notion I too would reconsider, but it is not.”

I grimaced. Yeah, I could see that from his perspective this was meddling on my part.

“It’s a strategic decision I’m pushing, not a personal or even a story one beyond my understanding of forces that need to be addressed for the operation to be a success,” I said.

It wasn’t exactly an apology or a justification, but it flirted enough with both he should be able to understand I wasn’t unaware of where I was treading.

“I believe you to be acting in good faith,” the Pilgrim acknowledged, “but that does not mean it would not lead to error.”

I breathed out.

“All right,” I said. “Then I’ll back off and stop pushing, if you do the same.”

He cocked an eyebrow, clearly less than inclined to agree. I clenched my fingers, then unclenched them. I was going to have to pay for the goods.

“I’m calling in my favour,” I said.

I’d not agreed to keep an eye out for Razin and Aquiline without putting a price on it. The old man’s face remained calm, but he studied me for a long moment.

“I will not argue for something I believe to be a mistake,” Tariq Fleetfoot said.

“I’m only bargaining for silence,” I replied.

He didn’t look happy about it, but then favours weren’t supposed to be things you were inclined to give in the first place.

“Then the bargain is struck,” the Grey Pilgrim reluctantly said.

We shook on it, wrists clasped, and broke off the grip as we reached the end of the path.

Leaving the garden of death behind, we went into the city and instead saw to the living.

162 thoughts on “Chapter 73: Signs

    1. caoimhinh

      The calm before the storm.
      If you can call calm to actually feeling how the winds are gathering and the clouds are darkening. These build-up chapters feel like a coil spring being compressed and every five paragraphs a new weight is added to the pile over that device.

      Liked by 14 people

      1. Sparsebeard

        I’ll be surprised if the Knight doesn’t end up in the heroic band now I’ll admit. Whatever the decision Hanno makes though, it’ll impact on both his and Cat’s Names.

        Liked by 7 people

  1. devildragon777

    Yay, the Woe will be together for this! Figures that it has to come on the eve of ‘The Most Important Battle of the WAR’™, though.

    Gigantes sorcery continues to be absurd, and scary. What the heck did they do?

    …I dunno if leaving Hanno to stew on matters on his own is good or not. He hasn’t gotten much out of it so far?

    Liked by 7 people

    1. ninegardens

      >…I dunno if leaving Hanno to stew on matters on his own is good or not. He hasn’t gotten much out of it so far?

      Oh, but he has… all of this stewing is basically just a kettle of story weight (at least, according to Pilgrim). This is effectively a ritual built of time and doubt rather than iron and blood.
      Simmering is like…. its like a pair of poker players repeatedly raising the stakes. It doesn’t say which way it will go, but it does say that when it does go, it’ll either be terrible of fabulous.

      Liked by 8 people

    2. KageLupus

      “Gigantes sorcery continues to be absurd, and scary. What the heck did they do?”

      “…apparently the parts where they had melted the veil between the Twilight Ways and Creation were still ‘cooling off’.”

      Sounds to me like the Gigantes helped the Artificer burn a hole through creation and into the Twilight Ways to create a new permanent gate. How they did it would probably require some more info from the Witch’s interlude as we don’t have a really firm grasp on their magic right now, other than the fact that they are pretty good at warping Creation with words.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. dadycoool

    So it’s confirmed that she’s a minor god. Creation rippled with power from something far greater than her and she felt cowed by it in a way that a mere mortal like Vivienne, and likely even other Named, isn’t.

    Wow, that garden. It’s honestly a little depressing to see it dead simply because it was once alive.

    lol, “The White Knight you’re talking about is right here, by the way.” What would happen if Cat, a Leader of Named, coming into her own Name, joined by her Squire and the three Heroes she’s had him associate with, were the ones to burn the bridge? It satisfies everyone while being ideal for no one.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Konstantin von Karstein

      She was a minor god, it’s probably why she felt it.
      Cat will not be a Hero, it would muddle Providence to send her destroy the bridge. And Arthur doesn’t have enough weight, experience or destructive power to be anything than a dead weight in that band to destroy the bridge.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. mamm0nn

      She’s not a minor god, she once was a minor god. There have been a great many hints of attunement lingering for her of her past powers of Winter, from still sensing certain wards of containing to the luring of the Maavii prayer. She’s not the power that is but hidden, but the power that was, and that’s sufficient to feel these kind of things.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. Sinead

        I think where I slightly disagree with this analysis (and it’s probably in line with the Dead King’s perspective) is that while Cat is a Former Minor God, she a) wasn’t broken from the loss of her apotheosis b) still has the spiritual grooves carved into her soul that can allow her to grow into something More. Not saying that she will become a full god, but considering the perspective of the Titan in the last bonus chapter (Colossal 1 for the record), I think “godhood” is something relatively flexible.

        Given all the parallels drawn previously, perhaps the Tower was an ascension ritual in it’s own way, and Triumphant’s breaking of the Tower, and the world’s rejection of that path broke that path to the Tower for ever, leaving only the echo in the song from nowhere. It would explain why it’s the Girl who Climbed the Tower, rather than something more gender neutral.

        The setting really seems built around the fact that one cannot do things that they cannot in some way to conceive or perceive (Cat’s apotheosis was accidental, but it really was the cumulation of her putting herself in the line of succession for Winter and then killing off everyone above her. She just didn’t think through the implications). So the fact that she can still sense the workings of the Gigantes to me implies that she could be capable of working at that scale if she so chose to. It may be that other non-spellcaster Named could sense the power, but I don’t think they would be as sensitive to it, more just aware of the movement of power.

        Liked by 6 people

      2. You believe the “lingering attunement” to not have current godhood implications. That’s the view Catherine herself takes, but it’s not the only possible interpretation.

        Like

  3. Matthew

    If Cat wanted to win… and win easily, send the squire and the White Knight to the bridge. Hanno would get killed and then the squire would ride the death flag to greater victory.

    Like

    1. saithorthepyro

      That would be a terrible idea for Cat to try. Hanno, despite their disagreements that they have kept away from professional decisions, is one of the few Heroes she has a rapport with who also has a lot of pull with the entire Heroic community and is likely to help get the Accords up and running after the war ends. Getting him killed to try and give a power boost to a kid that she has purposely distanced herself from and she is actively worried about becoming a threat just because of his name and where he is from sounds like a terrible idea.

      Liked by 19 people

    1. Crowley

      The Forgetful Librarian was a villain who Hasenbach recruited to serve her in Salia. I think you’re getting them mixed up with the Rapacious Troubadour.

      Like

      1. shikkarasu

        OK, but real talk I would LOVE a story about the Rapacious Librarian. It would be like Masego if he was never born with the Gift. Devouring knowledge both metaphorically and literally.

        Liked by 5 people

  4. Big I

    I’m going to speculate on who gets sent to the bridge.

    Not the Witch, since she’s tied to the giants and they’re in the capital. Not the White Knight, same reason, plus this is the climax of the war. Not the Valiant Champion, since she and the White Knight have got a buddy cop thing going on. Squire, Apprentice, Page and Young Slayer are too young.

    That all being the case, I’m picking; Blessed Artificer for fire power, Rogue Sorcerer to be in charge, Vagrant Spear as DPS, Silent Guardian as tank, Forlorn Healer as healer. Maybe swap Vagrant Spear for Silver Huntress or the Guardian for the Mirror Knight, since VS and MK have history.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hmm. All solid tactical choices, but the Rogue Sorcerer isn’t really a *leading* Name. He’s not the one you have rally your haggard band in the darkest hour to go into the mouth of death exclaiming battle cries in the defense of your homeland.

      And going up against the Dead King’s strong point, that’s what they’ll need. Someone who can stride into the mouth of hell knowing they’ll die and make you want to follow them.

      Liked by 10 people

        1. Oh yeah, he’s easily one of my favorite Named in the story and he’s good at what he does. He’s *really* good at what he does.

          He’s just … if I were to make a Lord of The Rings comparison, he’s a Legolas, not an Aragorn. Pound for pound Legolas is probably one of best fighters in the Fellowship, has one of the best heads on his shoulders, and isn’t prone to problematic personal issues. But if you need someone to give an inspiring speech at the darkest hour, Legolas is not your guy. Aragorn is.

          And the Rogue Sorcerer just isn’t an Aragorn. If they’re going to assemble a band of five to break the bridge, someone on that band needs to be an Aragorn.

          Liked by 14 people

          1. Cicero

            I wouldn’t say the Rogue Sorcerer is Legolas, if I where to pick an equivalent from LotR it’d be Faramir. Which means he is exactly the guy you’d pick to go take the bridge when Aragon is needed to defend the capital.

            It’s just… he’s likely to die, or be wounded nigh unto death in the process. Along with most of his band too.

            He’s the man who gets it done, despite not being the fit for the role, but “get ‘er done” is not the safest method in heroics. Heck, it’s not the safest method in real life either.

            Like

        2. Anomandris

          That’s kinda the reason why doesn’t fall into the “Charge of the Light Brigade” band category. He is too pragmatic to be manipulated by Above and as you mentioned, works well with Cat. The bridge job needs a quasi-Fanatic leading it for the story to make sense, and Roland definitely isn’t .

          Actually MK might be the best idea if not Hanno – especially this is twisted as a redemption arc.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Cicero

            Hmm… and interesting idea. The Mirror Knight would probably fill both Cats and Tariq’s criteria. He has both the weight and has the potential to grow from the mission.

            Be a bitter pill for Cat though. Though I suspect the White Knight might think of it himself.

            Liked by 2 people

      1. Rogue Sorcerer would be a natural fit for a raid behind enemy lines, though. He’s spent most of his life alone and on the run, and he’s good at improvising his way out of tight situations. And he’s still got a good amount of firepower if things do turn into a straight-up fight.

        This is a commando raid, not the charge of the light brigade. Get in, blow up the bridge, get out. Roland is good at that sort of thing. You’re right that he’s not necessarily a motivating or leading sort, but he’s the rock-solid second in command that the whole operation would rest on.

        Hmm, now I’m warming up to the idea of Mirror Knight in command with Roland as his Designated Thinker.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Konstantin von Karstein

      The problem with the BA is that she needs here artefacts, and if she use them all she’s useless. I doubt that in the middle of nowhere she could make new. The WW is more likely. If Hanno stays here there’s a Name to speak with the Gigantes, it’s enough.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. ninegardens

    Right… so it feels like Tariq play is to aim Mirror Knight at this situation. He’s the obvious upcoming named that Grey Pilgrim has been hanging out with, with enough of a story that he might just about pull it off. I can’t think of anyone else with the story weight to pull this off? But MK having his redemption arc here… feels about right. Possibly sending him to his death in the process but….

    Meanwhile, Witch of the Wilds and Hanno have SYNERGY with the Giantese, which makes them a good fit for hanging back, even if it weakens the bridge attempt.

    Give all the auspiciousness, it almost feels like the story wants Viviane to head to the bridge… but she isn’t named at the moment.

    Is there anyone I’m forgetting? The new squire and other newbies just don’t have the weight to them.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. LarsBlitzer

      The only other heroic Names I can think of are the Relentless Magistrate and the Grizzlred Veteran, but their place would obviously be back with the army. The Veteran should be with the other Fantassin Companies that the Iron Prince had to cow to get them to come along, to keep their morale and nerve up if nothing else. The Magistrate’s Name is tailor made for ferreting out undead infiltrators in an urban setting. Setting him loose on the alleyways and courtyards will turn up tons of undead vermin faster than you can say “I am The Law!”

      Liked by 7 people

      1. You’re probably thinking of Grizzled Fantassin, and I don’t think she’s a hero. She’s about as iconically Neutral as it gets after Ranger. She had to be bribed with a lot of money to come along to a world-saving-important mission, which should tell you all you need to know about her allegiance, I think.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. It’s the “possibly ending in his death” bit that worries me. The Mirror Knight is an enemy of Catherine, and I feel “Villain sends troublesome hero on a suicide mission” is one of those stories that ends badly for the villain, even if we know that heroes pull off suicide missions all the time.

      On the other hand, if Cat is arguing for the White Knight and the Mirror Knight bravely volunteers in his stead…

      Liked by 7 people

      1. ninegardens

        Oh yeah, CAT can’t send him. But if MK volounteers, or if…Tariq (the wise old mentor) or Hanno (the man who has no reason to trust MK, that man who lost a finger to MK) turns around and says “Christoph, you can do it. I believe in you”, that is a very different story weight.

        I think the main trick is… Christoph is used to going in their and being the only survivor.
        In order for the bridge story to work out for him, he also needs to keep the rest of his band alive. (If they live, it is heroic growth. If the other band members die, its a “failure with one lone survivor”)

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Oh this will be interesting. Especially because it seems like Catherine’s name is built around authority over or passing judgment upon other Named, I wonder if that might come into play here.

    Like

          1. shikkarasu

            ‘Order’ doesn’t really feel like Catherine “Set The House On Fire While She’s Still In It” Foundling, either. Chaos is a little too baked in to her for that.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Order’s been her goal from the start, she kind of bonded with Amadeus over that. Chaos is the method, but order is the goal, always. This is the gal whose solution to all of the world’s problems she can reach is an international treaty binding parties that have never been bound by a treaty before, and whose reaction to being turned into an increasingly mad fae was to take rigid oaths to limit what she could do.

              Do not be confused by applying strict DnD alignment rules. Catherine is a fantastic example of Chaotic Lawful (where Kairos, by the way, is an example of her opposite from that same post, Lawful Chaotic)

              Liked by 3 people

              1. Tom

                Peace has always been Cat’s goal, as explicitly observed by Kairos. That peace requires life, and if we’re sticking to the whole “order vs chaos” dichotomy, life is always a mix of both. The Dead King’s world would be much more orderly than anything Cat has envisioned, and she finds it horrific: “There was bare, graven beauty to the garden that felt like a knot in my throat. Was this the world the Dead King wanted? A field of grey from shore to shore, so utterly barren that even the sea grew lifeless lapping at it.”

                Liked by 3 people

                1. Yeah, it’s true that Catherine is not at the extremes of the Lawful alignment as envisioned in DnD-like verse. It is also true that relative to the average normal state of Calernia, her wish is to make it more Lawful.

                  Like

          1. Sinead

            Especially if he is assigned Severance to have the systemic acknowledgement of his possibility of growth. Then again, I am a sucker for the idea of Christophe becoming “The Sword and Shield”. I blame JoCat.

            I’m always mixed on Christophe, since as pointed out, he was left to fester. Yes he could have “gotten himself out”, but I think that ignores that there is a lot of pressure on Named to do things a certain way, and he wouldn’t have had the same support structure as Cat did while he came into his power to keep him from making to grievous mistakes or to more importantly correct him. Cat probably had more exposure to the idea of actually working with foreigners before becoming Squire and rising up through the Imperial Legions, while Mirror Knight seemed to have come into his own just before the Tenth Crusade.

            In my head, I compare Christophe to Hakram, but while Hakram gained his power when he gained that certainty in his life, Christophe was handed power and chucked into the world, where the lens that he viewed it through was found to be horribly flawed. And while adaptability is possible, I think it is important to recognise that Names don’t encourage character growth in the same fashion we would expect people to grow (I think the magnification of virtues and flaws is true of all Names, not just Dread Emperor/Empress. The Tower is just the one with the most resources to back it up).

            Liked by 2 people

              1. Sinead

                I kinda felt guilty after we got chapters from his perspective for all the frustration around him. Protagonist centered morality is a hell of a bias, but I thought I was pretty good at avoiding that in this series.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. ninegardens

                  I mean… even in his chapters he was kinda an idiot…. but he was an fool, and a tragic figure, not selfish, not a monster. He was just… kind of dumb. But that’s a forgivable flaw, so long as he accept that he needs to trust people and not lead with his own wisdom.

                  But yeah, realizing how many times he had been the “Last man standing in a massacre” was… it put his story in more context, that he *knows* about the failure.

                  Liked by 1 person

  7. caoimhinh

    So the pattern of chapter titles for this arc is “predictions of the future”.

    With Eschatology (which is the study of the end of times or the end of the world in theology), Omen, and now Signs, these chapters titles are paining an eerie but cool picture.

    And all clairvoyant Named agree that the coming battle is a whiteout where they can’t predict the outcome? And that’s already the best scenario, considering if Vivienne isn’t there they can predict assured failure?

    Well, that’s a war with the fate of their civilizations on the line, alright.

    Liked by 9 people

  8. Reader in The Night

    You know, this conversation didn’t really read like two Heroes and a Villain making a decision, it felt like a Hero (Tariq) and a Villain (Cat) trying to sway his opinion, and Hanno at a crossroads.

    We heard before that Cat couldn’t transition into the Grey Knight because there was no cultural demand for the role, but that’s no longer true, is it? Here, in Hainaut, the battle isn’t between Good VS Evil, it’s between the Living VS the Dead.
    And it’s not just that: this entire campaign has been taking an axe to the old rivalries, the old way to do things, the old Black-VS-White Duality. Cat said it herself, this is not a Crusade. This Tipping Point feels decidedly more… Grey.

    And we have much speculated that Cat will have a name to stand in Judgement over other named, haven’t we? And yet, even weakened as it is, I feel that it’s very unlikely that Cat will get to pass Judgement on the Chosen from Above without the Choir of the same name having a say on things.

    Currently, the Choir of Judgement is locked in battle with the Hierarch. The Hierarch himself is largely factionless in the Above-Below conflict, but he ends up weighting more for Below because he’s tied to Bellerophan Law, and that polity is tipically Below’s. If the Choir manages to absorb the Hierarch, it might not come back as lily-white as it used to be.

    A new power, a Greyer power, coming into play at a dramatically appropriate moment, claiming both the Representatives from the sides as it’s own (with lighter or darker shades of Grey, of course), could have a lot of narrative strenght. More, it would have a lot of story symmetry.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. The Practical Guide to Evil being not lowercase evil has been the case since Chapter 2, when Amadeus first walked Catherine through the implications and reasoning involved with governance.

        Uppercase Evil has to stick, though, alongside uppercase Good 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  9. edrey

    To put a cherry on top of all that, the bard make a move. Who want to bet?
    Now i have a theory about triumphant, she was close to be a god, the DK said she has clarity like anything he had seen before and the godhead is a trick of perspective. She fought a angel head on and won after all.
    Also, The Rapacious librarian? Wasn the forgetful librarian?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. saithorthepyro

      If I had a nickel every time events that happened were theorized as a Bard Plot…let’s not forget that not only does this require Bard fooling a lot of augurs and prophets at the same time, but Augur has gone toe-to-toe with Bard before and won. There’s a very good chance that she cannot really mess this up.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Crash

        Altought I do see your point on this(The Bard is much like Death Flags and Rules of Three, in this comment section) this might be the one time where there’s some merit to this.

        It’s not so much that she had fooled the augurs but that her presence in addition to Cat’s and the increased interest of the Dead King in this fight makes her being present a good explanation for the issues the augurs are experiencing. Not by way of nefarious 45D Chess, but by her nature as one of the people who fuck with the Augurs.

        She doesn’t need to be masterminding anything here, just showing up and fucking with predictions and generally disrupting the situation by simply showing up to say Hi and immediately sending Catherine into paranoia would be enough to fuck with this very delicate situation.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. This is a good bet, IMHO. Not that Bard’s necessary for this – there’s plenty of mess already, as Catherine has commented, and “we literally cannot fucking tell what’s going to happen” is a good oracular backdrop to a climactic battle – but her presence would definitely contribute to it, and is not entirely unlikely.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. mamm0nn

      My own theory is that the Bard has made many Named to dilute the batch. Named are rare and powerful and meant to leave an impact, but then a Named came along who went around creating little Named to remove that. Now we’ve got so many Named that most are even forgotten or just one-note Roles.

      We know that Hierarch wasn’t one of Bard’s creations, she said so herself, and he without any training other than existing went up against a Choir. Perhaps the likes of Triumphant and the Dead King were such true Named too, ones that trickled through in the early days of the Age of Wonders where the Intercessor appeared and broke the power of the old Named.

      True Named are greater, more meant to create Stories than follow them. They’d be like Triumphant, able to do so much more despite being in an era way behind the modern advances, or DK who is still the leading figure in knowledge of the arcane even after millennia. Maybe Cat has broken through to such a True Name herself, but whether that’s the case or not there’s no real need for a pre-Age of Wonders Named to be a god of any sort to be as potent as they are.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. edrey

        Its possible, but at the same time i would say that hierarch was so powerfull was because his first rival was the bard. He led creation guide his aspects and his third aspect is based on the soul of a city without a story for a millenia and with the corpse of a god as base. The power of a name depend of the story but we lack the details to say more.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Frivolous

      The upcoming Battle in Hainaut is already a WB move. See the conversation between Tariq and Catherine in chapter 61 Adouber:

      “But why the sudden obsession with the armies in Hainaut?” he finally asked. “What changed?”

      “You fight the Bard, Catherine,” he said. “Neither walls nor locks nor oaths are enough to keep her from learning secrets if she wishes to know them.”

      “You think she sold us out to the Dead King?” I skeptically said. “If there’s one person I’d buy she wouldn’t sell us out to, it’d be him. What would she even-“

      I froze the dreadful thought that came all too soon. The Grey Pilgrim sighed.

      “So he comes after us with his entire hateful might,” Tariq said. “So we suffer a stinging defeat at his hands and, like children in the dark, we pray for deliverance by our own guardian angel.”

      Chances are very good that everything Vivienne mentioned about how Hainaut will be the result of the WB tattling to Neshamah.

      And yeah, it should be Forgetful Librarian.

      Liked by 9 people

  10. So I fucking love this.

    Neener neener to everyone who expected a disaster to the south to be the reason for Vivienne coming, FUCK DOOMSAYING.

    Of course, doomsaying is also what actually happened in-universe, and like… holy shit. This is so cool. There are so many ways this can go, with the premise being that if the whole Woe isn’t gathered together everyone will lose. Scenarios range from “Catherine dies and Vivienne needs to be here to substitute for her” (I’d say it’s unlikely given book 7 will also exist, but knowing Catherine’s history with dying so far,) to “Vivienne needs to talk Catherine out of a stupid thing / openly go against her at a crucial moment to prevent a mistake” to “Vivienne needs to MAKE a mistake that would unpredictably lead everyone to victory” to “this conversation was literally it, Vivienne’s addition to the mix at the start changed the dynamic to one that would lead to the better outcome” to “the Woe needs to be together to make a collective self-sacrifice” to “Vivienne is about to come into a Name and save the day” to HOLY SHIT I HAVE NO IDEA THIS IS SO MUCH FUN.

    THE WOE IS BACK TOGETHER SQUEEEEEEEEE

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Crash

      So, knowing Cat’s history with dying I’m about to go ahead and make a bold claim: I don’t think she dies again, and if she does it’s next book at some very climatic moment.

      As she mentioned this very chapter she has danced with death thrice already, I think she’s gonna give it a rest for a bit. Reckon the next one might stick haha

      Altought doubtful, I’m here for Named Viv and the absolutely horrible migraine that’d cause Cat lmao ( been leaning towards Heiress lately, cause that’s fun)

      Liked by 8 people

      1. I’m sticking with Shining Princess for Viv, as it will cause a headache and solve a problem simultaneously in the most entertaining way! It will also illustrate a problem with Cat’s “no Named rulers” idea even further than it was already discredited XD

        anyway yeah I’ve been leaning more and more towards “naw Cat’s not dying easily”
        like, those previous three times? they were legitimately with a chance of her not coming back from that. they were for real
        now? Cat has established a pattern of “death is temporary” and now she’s unkillable unless you go to the same lengths as she had to to even get a hit on the Wandering Bard.

        I really want Cat to die again, only for it to gloriously not stick, this time for no particular reason other than “she’s Catherine Foundling”. It probably won’t happen, you’re right – I want many things, some of them mutually exclusive – but if it were to, it would be great and fit well. IMHO.

        Liked by 7 people

              1. Sinead

                Oooh that’s even better than my “Cats have 9 lives” joke. Perhaps if we want to really make it interesting, her resurrections are like her soul searching, where she has to murder both the Below and Above representative in her soul to come back to life.

                That would be an interesting twist. You get the resurrection, but you have to earn it every time. And I like it more than Bard’s body snatching (it took me so long to realise that Wandering Bard is basically a Name that became sentient, considering that she checks to see what her calling name is every time she takes a new body/kills the mortal)

                Liked by 1 person

        1. Crash

          Yeah, I like Shining Princess since I saw it as a suggestion it’s just that a Callowan Heiress sounds interesting.

          A traditionally Praesi Name in the hands of a Callowan born, who often opposes the Wasteland but acts as heiress to the Squire who proved the curren Practical Evil works.

          That’s kinda poetic. Also Viv would absolutely fucking hate it lmao

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Sinead

            I just think it should be “Shining Princess -> Sun Queen” because she’s not just any old Good Queen of the Old Kingdom. She’s the Dawn of the new era.

            Vivienne’s reign will be an enlightened era, but her work to not have Cat discarded by Callowan history is to frame her reign as “Dawn restored from the dark by a thief in the Night”.

            Vivienne recognises that she would not be where/who she is without Cat/the Woe extending her trust. If she frames her entire reign that while is worthy of respect in it’s own way, also a tribute to Cat’s own work, I think it would be the best ending that Cat’s work in Callow can get.

            Of course, we could both be wrong. Perhaps Vivienne just gets fridged to motivate Cat because she isn’t motivated enough already.

            The whole point of the Book 4 was that it was the pit of despair for all the Woe (save Hakram). Now it’s “breaking all the armies in Creation” time.

            Liked by 4 people

              1. Sinead

                I just word it like that because I am getting really pissed off at all the “DEATH FLAGS!”

                Maybe characters will die, but I really feel like PGtE is a much happier setting than people give it credit for. The most common elements that are used to make a setting “grimdark” are avoided for the most part, and pointed out as exceptions when they do occur.

                This is why I genuinely expect the Woe to make it through more or less intact. If Hakram was going to die, I really feel like Arsenal was the place to do it. The fact that Cat made a point to mend rifts between the Woe (her talk with Vivienne) enable Hakram to wake. Yes, Cat and Hakram had their own working out to do, but that has progressed positively! Why do we need to undo all that hard work in a story that genuinely rewards investing in others? To me that’s the actual moral of the story: “Institutions/cultures/groups matter more than any one person. invest in people, and make the point to do so, and you will be rewarded with what they do for you in turn.”

                Liked by 2 people

                1. THIS THIS THIS THIS THIS

                  > PGtE is a much happier setting than people give it credit for

                  THISSSSSS

                  It’s “MATURE” but it shows how MATURE doesnt have to mean grimdark and deadly and hopeless????

                  > I genuinely expect the Woe to make it through more or less intact.

                  ME TOOOO FUCKING GOD

                  > Why do we need to undo all that hard work in a story that genuinely rewards investing in others? To me that’s the actual moral of the story: “Institutions/cultures/groups matter more than any one person. invest in people, and make the point to do so, and you will be rewarded with what they do for you in turn.”

                  this is some good shit right here

                  Liked by 1 person

            1. Sinead

              On one hand, I see where you are coming from, but I think Cat’s legacy is helping bring Callow out of the Age of Wonders into the Age of Order, and that is better reflected with Vivienne starting with a Name that fits the Old Kingdom (especially with the rumblings about Cat ignoring the Old Ways) and transmuting it into something that will thrive in the the Age of Order.

              Vivienne is the Heiress of Cat’s legacy, yes. But since that is for the Crown of Callow specifically, not the general flexibility that Heiress implies in Praes, Shining Princess is a better fit. Plus, coming into Shining Princess could be the finalised boost to Vivienne’s own martial prowess.

              Hmmm, some speculation: what if one of the reasons for Vivienne to be here is as the rallying point of pitched army battle? Part of the issue is that the White Knight is the only big rallying point Above has, so if Vivienne becomes another such figure (along with her reputation as one of the Woe), this may serve as something to bolster resolve.

              Either she along with Cat bolsters resolve during the siege while the White Knight rides after the bridge, or she does the same role if the bridge assault fails and she is needed to serve as an additional rallying point in the _second_ siege.

              It is a lesser pull than the White Knight, but a band of 5 that works as closely as the Woe do could make the difference, especially if you have the work that Cat has put in for the lesser named to have the holding power amplified (Arthur with the legions, Sapan and Masageo with the mage lines, etc.)

              Liked by 2 people

        2. > I really want Cat to die again, only for it to gloriously not stick, this time for no particular reason other than “she’s Catherine Foundling”.

          Oh, that would be awesome. Just imagine the looks on people’s faces…. While Cat’s all “well, I guess I am kinda special…”.

          Liked by 3 people

    2. Point

      When I read the Augur’s words about Vivienne and the Fourth, it felt like a death sentence to me. As if her presence leading the Fourth will result in her death and that will bring Cat’s name to finally bloom to decide the battle in favor of the Alliance.
      I hope to be wrong, but it gave me that impression.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Crash

    I spent half this chapter convinced the cause of the whiteout was either Cat’s Name( though I still believe it makes most sense for it come at the very end of this book) what with the whole Woe back together again, or, failing that, the Bard making a move, possibly by means of the angel corpse.

    But then this conversation came, yeah it’s definitely Hanno. Guess he is about to find his pivot. And there’s a Squire in the mix for it ( Named Arthur! Gods Bellow and everburning, I’m still not over this.)

    Either way, we’re approaching a climax here, might be we’re heading into the final (extended) conflict of this book?

    The Queen’s own band of five is back together, there is a Dragon in need of conquering that requires a Heroic band of five to match and all the augurs are having mild panic attacks, this should be fun.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Axel Rafael

      I’m calling it, if Cat doesn’t get her name until the end of this battle, she’ll either get a lot deeper into it or get closer to a form of “godhood” (that’s going to be inevitably related to her forming Name) 😎

      Also, this Chapter sets so many things for the future of the story 😵

      And I missed hanging out with the Woe. Watching them interact with each other reminds me they’re still human with Petty flaws and preferences 😊 Love The Guide ❤

      Liked by 3 people

  12. Heh. Abigail is successful once more. This time offscreen, so we missed out on the entertainment of her inner thoughts juxtaposed with what those around her see.

    Viv being present with the Fourth just makes things indeterminate as opposed to definitive loss? That’s definitely going to be rough. Though, of course, we already knew that, and so did they.

    If Hanno’s not in charge of the bridge Band, then who else does Tariq think could be?
    Mirror Knight could maybe be part of the Band as the muscle/tank, but there’s no way he could lead it. Both because he lacks the leader skillset, and because nobody would accept him as leader.

    Unless the Kingfisher Prince is present and nobody mentioned it, I cannot think of a Heroic Named that could lead a Band of Five on something this high stakes.

    Liked by 7 people

      1. mamm0nn

        Ah, so that’s how everyone dies.

        I hope not, Pilgrim would doom us all if he thinks that MK is going to pull through in that regard. He’s been quite stubborn about being stupid.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Crash

        Which is absolutely the kind of moon logic heroes ascribe to, “those who don’t want to lead are best suited to it” bullshit.

        This is most likely what Tariq would like. The Squire is also an option in this, potentially the Blessed Apostate and the Apprentice, if he truly wants to make this a learning experience.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Konstantin von Karstein

          The Blessed Artificer would be a catastrophically bad pick for leader thanks to her personality. Sending inexperienced Named to lead what is probably the most important Band of 5 of the century looks foolish.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. The Blessed Artificer is a catastrophically bad pick for an extended independent mission because of the nature of her Name. She’s an ARTIFICER. An Artisan. She’s a Tinker. She needs materials and a workshop for every trick she can pull later.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Crash

              I didn’t even mention the Artificer though? I fully agree with both of you. Adana has never met someone she hasn’t instantly annoyed or insulted in some way.

              I meant the healer that was opposite to the Burned Apostate (?), The boy Cat met early in the book.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. …Stalwart Apostle. Neither of the halves you mentioned were a part of her Name. You confused Apostle and Apostate, which was Tancred’s Name (Scorched Apostate), and has the exact opposite meaning.

                So yeah, we assumed at least one had to match who you meant 😛

                Liked by 3 people

            1. But like Cat says here, you need to be able to back up your story.

              Before the Keter trip, Pilgrim could have said “well, I have more experience”… but that doesn’t necessarily apply anymore, what with Cat’s stolen Bard power.

              Liked by 2 people

  13. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    cover thighs > cover her thighs
    there’d it’s > it’d
    had half > had been half
    wealthy of upbringing (wealthy sort?)
    you’d seen on > you’d see on
    soldiers like > soldiers liked
    shot-term > short-term
    the augur been > the Augur had been
    here on > along with
    my own’s > my own
    must be them > must have been them
    they way > the way
    freshers > fresher
    winesink > wineskin
    I’d deal it out > I’d dealt it out
    wilted every > wilted, every
    accounted for and far (is this right?)
    like was belabouring > like I was belabouring
    must evened, > must ne evened,
    hordes of Evil has > hordes of Evil have

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Okay, I wouldn’t even know which chapter to dig into to find out, but wasn’t Kingfisher with Hanno? EE seems to have sidelined him after giving him “too much” of a spotlight, but this kind of suicide mission is literally what his Name was crystalized around. He’s a leader that’s meant to succeed when no one else can, and just leaving him to collect dust on the sideline seems a waste. I’d rather he be properly killed off than forgotten.

    Liked by 8 people

  15. Eh, Rapacious Librarian? We already have a Rapacious Troubledour, they seem kind of overly-similar. Though it could be another case of there being a bunch of Champion variants.

    I still think Scheming Librarian or Grasping Librarian, might be better.(also we totally need an Ambitious Advisor, or Sinister Vizier)

    Like

  16. nick012000

    Calling it now: it’s gonna be the Squire, the Apprentice, the Page, the Young Slayer, and one other young hero mentored by Vivienne are going to go out and become the third generation of the legacy of the Calamities and Woe, facing a trial by fire destroying the bridge.

    If Catherine wants weight, then what greater weight than the weight of the legacy she wants to pass onto the future?

    Like

    1. Konstantin von Karstein

      There’s no way. They were speaking of WK, WotW and GP, it’s not to send young transitional Named. It’s one of (if not the) the most crucial mission in the war so far, and a failure would be the end of the Alliance.

      Like Cat said in this very chapter, sometimes you fail, and sending children to attack a target primordial to the DK is bound to fail.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. I love that Cat sees fate as a set of scales. It fits with the arbitrator/judge theme and she’s already got the heraldry for it. I’m a bit worried she’ll be blinded in the battle to fit the fair justice trope.

    Hard to say what the whiteout will be caused by. Initially I thought it’d be Cat’s Name – especially if she’s going to fill in the Role of the Choir – but it seems a bit over the top? I’m going to go with Unspecified Bard Plot™. Maybe she manipulates Arthur so that Contrition says hello again? Lots of opportunities for her meddling.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sinead

      I mean, if she gets blinded, she could use shadow construct for Eyes. Especially if Zombie III comes back as a Nightmare (long odds I know, but I gave it a shot since Zombie III got a lot of attention right around the description of The Summoner’s own creations), Cat is right on the Odinn path. Especially if she only loses one eye. Granted, Cat’s had vision, but no real oracle ability before now. Granted at the scale she is operating at, it might just be a “trick of perspective”…

      Liked by 4 people

    1. agumentic

      No, they really don’t. A young party would work if that bridge was their final goal after a long journey, but they are too close to it as it is, both geographically and temporally. It would be like taking the final exam at the beginning of a school year. If we follow Tariq’s logic, what they need is someone already powerful, but in need of a harrowing test to rise above themselves – which really does describe Mirror Knight, as some people above have theorized. Pilgrim can even go with him to fill the role of both a support/healer and mentor, even if that would likely end with his death.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. ninegardens

        I would argue that Pilgrim *can’t* go with him. In order for it to truly be MK’s “coming of age” “Rise above self” test, we need for the mentor to be ABSENT in order for it to work.

        It needs to be a “We trust you” moment, not a “Let us hold your hand through this lesson”

        Liked by 4 people

        1. agumentic

          Well, he can’t hold MK’s hand at the most pivotal moment, but I think he could participate before that. It’s just that the way mentors tend to bow out before pivotal moments is death.

          Liked by 1 person

  18. Frivolous

    I have to wonder: Will the whiteout be because:

    1. There will be too much interference and power for Bestowed like the Augur to see through?

    2. Creation itself will shake and shatter during the battle?

    So far we’re expecting #1, which is a relatively technical issue affecting unusual senses and Named aspects, but it could be #2 that happens, which will affect everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. emperorirritant

    My predicted lineup for the bridge mission is: WK as leader, Blessed Artificer to take down the bridge as I feel like she could make some sort of device or tool for the job, I think Forsworn Healer would be a good pick just like Cat said to add some survivability, Silver Huntress for a sniper/specialized killer partly because we have seen and heard that the Revenant Archer is really good at sniping but the actual Archer needs to be with the Woe, and as a final muscle the Valiant Champion could go assuming she’s in the city. I could also see the Rogue Sorcerer going on the mission as I think he’s probably more pragmatic than the other heroes and just willing to get dirty, he’s also super versatile which is always handy

    Liked by 1 person

  20. ChillyPepper

    Let’s see how this would go. Creation wants Hanno to carve a story path that will become a blueprint for future names of his new one. In such an attempt the Witch of the Woods is going to be hurt and/or die in this battle.

    It might have something with her trying to do a Gigantess thing she was taught by her ‘godly’ mentor, and this is why the other Gigantesses are important in keeping things from going downhill after she does I assume?

    In her hurt/death she will become a motivation for Hanno to carve this new path.

    Although, I do have to wonder if the fourth and Vivienne fit into this narrative as the cushion to the blow going against creation.

    Like

    1. > In her hurt/death she will become a motivation for Hanno to carve this new path.

      I am fairly certain “fridging a female character to motivate a male character” is the one thing we will NOT be seeing played straight in PGTE. Ew.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Considering they are however respectively female and male, I do think EE will not write it like that.

          I do not think it’s a coincidence that Squire’s Dead Backstory Partner was written to be a guy.

          Doylist-ly speaking.

          Like

  21. hoser2

    One way Vivienne becomes necessary is if someone needs to hold things together in Cat’s absence. I can see Cat being disabled or going raiding. I prefer raiding, but nobody asked me. Vivienne as proxy leader seems like it will give her some of the experience Cat wants her to have.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. hoser2

      On further reflection, another unique contribution that Vivienne could make would be to intervene with Akua. IIRC, she was aware of some of the previous mechanisms that Cat implemented to check Akua and there was a recent interlude wherein they interacted. Vivienne could have crucial interactions with Akua (particularly in Cat’s absence).

      Liked by 1 person

  22. Frivolous

    I predict that former Dread Empress Triumphant, probably a Revenant but who knows, will make an appearance at the Battle of Hainaut.

    Why? Story-wise, tons of foreshadowing.

    More logically, she’s one of the few people who has ever proven to be a match for the Gigantes.

    Or maybe the causality is reversed. Maybe the Gigantes agreed to help the Alliance because they knew or predicted that their great enemy Triumphant was an ally of Keter.

    Triumphant would also explain why the odds are against the GA at Hainaut. I mean, it’s Triumphant, may she never return. And now she has.

    Like

  23. Trebar

    Maybe Vivienne needs to be there because the band going for the bridge ends up being the Woe. I know the claim is it can’t be a villain or a mixed band because that messes with Providence, but I could definitely see the story going in that direction. If they want to send the big guns, then the Woe is the biggest gun they’ve got.

    Like

    1. Wrong kind of gun. Hakram’s an administrator who currently walks on crutches, Masego needs to pull power from others to use it, Catherine’s entire Role has been building up around being a leader of nations and armies, Vivienne isn’t even NAMED at the moment, Indrani’s the only one who matches but at that point you might as well send her solo, she’ll do better without having to cover for the others being liabilities.

      Liked by 4 people

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