Chapter 42: Journey

“A journey is one of those magical events that are turned into either an eternity or a heartbeat by the quality of one’s companions.”

– Aldred Alban of Callow, the Prince Errant

It was pretty clear that Cordelia had not been on a day-long ride in years, but to her honour even as she became pained she did not let out so much as a single complaint. Masego filled in the gap in whining, having always despised horse riding with a vengeance and not grown to like it in the slightest over the years, but of all people Akua came to the rescue.

“My own body is not yet fully accustomed to riding,” she told him. “As I’ve only had it for a few months.”

“It is very nice,” Masego told her, looking her up and down shamelessly.

There’d been about as much sexual tension in that look as in a visit to a healer’s tent to get your boils treated, not that it stopped Cordelia’s eyes from slightly widening. I sighed.

“He’s talking about the homunculus nature of the body,” I whispered at her.

It was made with magic, which made probably would make this the first pair of tits he’d actually be interested in looking at. In all fairness, if you had to pick one pair in all of Creation you could do much worse than Akua Sahelian.

“How sweet of you,” Akua replied, not batting an eye. “But it still needs breaking in, which is why I have been using a spell to ease my time in the saddle.”

Huh. Hadn’t known that. Hadn’t felt it either, but that was not entirely a surprise: a mage of Akua’s calibre was capable of hiding smaller workings from my senses if they did it on purpose. She offered to teach him the spell and he eagerly agreed, then took pity on Cordelia and offered to cast it for her as well.

“So that you might gauge the difference,” Akua smiling offered.

I saw the Prince of Rhenia seriously consider refusing her out of principle, but saddle-sore was saddle-sore. The spell was applied and we quickened our pace again, riding north through the Twilight Ways. It was hard to tell how good a time we were making: from a distance, the starlit compass was vaguer. I could only tell we were progressing, not at what rate. Not yet anyway.

Though the company we’d assembled was unusual – ‘the Black Queen, the First Prince, the Hierophant and the Doom of Liesse walk into a bar’, there was a premise – the travelling itself was smooth. I sometimes took Zombie on flights ahead, as much to bag some game as to cure her restlessness, and the addition of quail and rabbit to the cookpot was welcome. It was our custom to rotate the chore, which led to occasional bouts of the surreal. Sending the former First Prince of Procer out to gather firewood while the Doom of Liesse made biryani chicken for four felt like some sort of deranged waking dream.

Masego seemed entirely nonplussed, not that I’d expected anything else. I doubted Zeze would bat an eye even if the entire Choir of Judgment made him morning eggs, so long as they weren’t over-salted.

Three days in, as Akua went to gather firewood and Masego went about skinning the pair of rabbits I’d caught with a disturbing amount of skill – much easier than people, he’d told me with a horrifyingly well-meaning smile when I’d commented on it – I found my eyes following Cordelia’s hand. Or, more specifically, the ivory baton they were holding. The command rod for the ealamal. I knew it was real. I’d asked Masego, and there was no fake anyone in her service would have been able to make that’d fool his eye.

“You stare at it whenever it is near my hand,” Cordelia said.

“And that surprises you?” I replied. “It’s a lot of power bound to a pretty small object.”

She settled herself more comfortably against the fallen log, adjusting so it wouldn’t dig into her back.

“Not so much more than you could bring to bear, given time to prepare,” she said.

I snorted.

“Yeah, no,” I told her. “That’s not comparable, Hasenbach. Maybe with the Crows personally guiding my hand I could bring down something vaguely in the same league, but it’d kill me for sure.”

“You veiled the sun itself in Iserre,” Cordelia skeptically replied.

“I mimicked the effect of an eclipse, temporarily, for a small part of Iserre,” I corrected. “And that wasn’t me waving around a staff, it took months of preparations and an artefact that a once-in-a-century mage made.”

I paused.

“And I didn’t even do the deed,” I noted. “I’m the one who put in the power over the months, sure, but it was Akua and Sve Noc who called down the fake eclipse.”

“If you believe that to be reassuring,” Cordelia mildly replied, “you are sadly mistaken.”

I rolled my eye at her, then put up my palms in a gesture of appeasement.

“Look, at the end of the day we can quibble about precedents and equivalents all we want but you’re holding in your hands the control rod to one of the few artefacts in existence that can just kill me,” I said. “No ifs or maybes – I’m in the range of the ealamal when you use that thing, and I’m dead.”

I snapped my fingers.

“Just like that,” I said.

I wasn’t sure what the boundary conditions for not being killed by the wave of Light even though there’d been tests – it looked like maybe the standards on Judgment deciding to kill you were as low as they could get, but that was just informed guesswork by Roland – yet the odds that I wouldn’t be one of those picked off were so low as to be nonexistent: Warden or not, I was still a villain. In some ways I felt like I was a girl again, walking around with the knowledge that my life was only my own so long as no one decided to snatch it.

It’d not missed the feeling, but the years of war against Keter had done wonders for my tolerance to looming doom.

“So you’ll have to forgive me the staring,” I bluntly said. “It’s not going anywhere.”

Blue eyes studied me, maybe assessing how much of the agitation in my tone had been genuine. She decided it had been.

“I meant no offence either,” Cordelia said.

I shrugged, having taken none. I’d certainly encouraged the perception of my being an unstoppable force over the years, it very much had its uses. But it had led to people overestimating what I could actually do – or survive – sometimes.

“I’ll confess to some curiosity as to how you even have it,” I said, trailing off.

I wasn’t going to push if I hit a wall, but I was more than a little interested. I didn’t know Rozala Malanza all that well, but she didn’t seem like the kind of woman who just handed out doomsday weapons to recent political opponents.

“It was part of the negotiated terms for my abdication,” Cordelia admitted.

Huh. It was true that Cordelia had been in a decent bargaining position when she’d negotiated her abdication. Support for Hanno had been growing, but it’d not been support for him to rule all of Procer and it certainly hadn’t been support for Rozala Malanza to do the same instead. After the war would have been a toss-up, there was no telling whether Cordelia would have ended up an untouchable saviour or the woman blamed for the horrors, but at the time of the deal her throne had been solid. She’d lost most of Procer, sure but the parts that had stayed were still largely behind her.

“Didn’t quite trust her with the doomsday weapon, huh,” I said.

Couldn’t entirely blame her. If I’d built something that stupidly dangerous I would want to keep it under my thumb too.

“Trust,” Cordelia replied, “can be a very complicated word.”

“I’m not casting stones,” I shrugged. “If anything I can sympathize.”

Cool blue eyes studied me.

“Can you?” she said.

“I’ve had issues with giving up power even when it was my decision to,” I frankly said. “I like to think of those times as growing pains, but it’s not quite that clear-cut.”

I’d been an ass to Vivienne for some time, when it’d sunk in what my abdication would actually mean. An abdication she’d in no way forced on me, any more than my choice of her as my successor. It wasn’t the same with Hasenbach and Rozala Malanza, but there was enough in common I could feel pangs of sympathy.

“Have you considered,” Cordelia said, “that perhaps the decision was as much about you as Princess Rozala?”

I blinked at her, taken aback.

“How’s that?” I asked.

Her lips quirked mirthlessly.

“You have a history of only listening when the interlocutor also has a knife at your throat, Catherine,” Cordelia Hasenbach said. “I took the precaution when I believed I was to be Warden of the West, but I stand by it.”

I bit the inside of my cheek, trying to decide whether I should be insulted by that or not. Wasn’t sure yet.

“A complicated word, is it?” I mildly said.

“I took oaths,” Cordelia simply said. “To you, I do not deny it, but I yet heed older ones. If we lose, if the Dead King triumphs and the land teeters on the brink of extinction, I will make the hard choice.”

My jaw tightened.

“If we lost in Keter,” I slowly said, “you want to blast the ealamal. As strong as you can.”

“More than nine in ten should survive the Light,” Cordelia quietly said. “Should nothing go wrong.”

“You don’t know that it won’t,” I flatly said. “You’ve never fired that thing at the kind of strength you’re talking about. The furthest you’ve gone is the borders of Salia.”

“I cannot,” Cordelia grimly agreed. “Yet what can I do but make that choice anyhow, if the other choice is death for all? Even should nine in ten die instead, it would be better than annihilation.”

“And if it goes worse than that,” I pressed. “If everyone dies?”

Her lips thinned.

“Then when a ship next crosses the Tyrian Sea, its captain will not find all of Calernia a realm of the dead,” the blue-eyed princess said. “A cold comfort, but then I am Lycaonese: we are winter’s get.”

I leaned back. I recognized the cast to her face, it was the one she always had whenever I’d brought up the angel corpse over the years. She wasn’t going to be moved on this. And I could even see the grim sort of sense in it: like she’d said, even the most horrific of results was a better end than extinction and become soldiers in Keter’s service. On the other hand, she had to know that absolutely no one who had a decent chance of dying should that weapon be used – a number including every villain alive – would find this acceptable or be willing to tolerate her keeping the baton should they find out.

I held no illusions about the people who’d been my charges until recently: if the worst came to pass in Keter, they would be legging it through the Twilight Ways towards the closest port where Baalite ships docked. Learning that instead they were going to get an angel knife in the back might genuinely make a few of them desert and I wasn’t sure I blamed them. It would not be too hard a thing, I thought, to sweep this under my authority as Warden. Odds were Hanno would back me, and Ishaq doubtlessly would. Hells, I could just take the damn thing from her and it wasn’t like she had the strength to stop me.

It’d be a lie to say I was not tempted.

Silence hung between us. It might yet come to force, I thought, meeting those blue eyes. You have to know that. But for all that her holding that ivory length was putting a knife to my throat Cordelia had also extended trust, hadn’t she? She’d told me what she intended without being forced, pretty much admitting that she saw her duty to Calernia as something that came before even the oaths she’d sworn to me as Warden. One step forward and one step back, only it didn’t feel like we’d stayed still.

A noose was just a knot, until you’d killed someone with it.

“A complicated word,” I slowly repeated.

And left it at that.

For now.

The journey was restful in some ways, but in others it was not to be. That much became clear as the days passed.

I’d never particularly enjoyed cooking: it was a lot of tedious little chores followed by equally tedious looking over fires and ending up in a plate that never seemed to be quite as good as when made by others. Still, it would be shabby of me not to pull my weight so I’d learned to be solid with at least few recipes. Of those I liked hunter’s stew the best, since it was about as simple as cooking got, and I’d become a fair hand at it. There would be the usual bickering from the gallery about spices when time came to fill the bowls, I had no doubt, but that was part of the draw by now. Indrani sneering down on Callowan tastes and Vivienne going for her throat in retaliation was always good for a laugh.

Hells, back in the day even Akua got into it once or twice. Like most Praesi, she seemed convinced that any plate without a fistful of goddamned cumin sprinkled over it was unforgivingly bland.

I checked on the pot, finding the stew simmering, and stirred it a few times with the ladle before closing it again. I looked through the smoke as Masego sat across from me, long legs folding as he tried and failed to make himself comfortable perched atop a stone much too small for that. I thought of a praying mantis for a moment, looking at the long limbs, and almost laughed. To think he’d been pudgy when we first met. I could hardly even remember what that was like: he’d melted in the months leading up to the Tenth Crusade and never gained back the weight. Long robes and the black eye cloth, a golden glimmer beneath it, were what I saw in my mind’s eye when I thought of Masego nowadays.

“Won’t be ready for at least another hour,” I told him. “So if you were hoping for an early bowl-”

“I was not,” Zeze calmly replied. “I came to speak with you.”

I narrowed my eye at him. That sounded serious. I wiped the steel ladle on a cloth and set it down.

“I’m listening,” I told him.

He didn’t speak, at first, as if surprised I’d agreed so easily or unsure what he’d wanted to say.

“We have come a long way since the day we first met in Summerholm,” Masego said.

I half-smiled. By some counts, Apprentice could be said to be the first Named to join what was yet to become the Woe. He’d already been a master of his mantle when Hakram had only just begun to come into his.

“You’ve taken to chasing larger creatures than winged pigs,” I drawled.

He quietly laughed.

“Too many still breathe fire,” Zeze replied.

He paused, looking for words, and I gave him the space to think. There was rarely any gain to be had in rushing his mind.

“We have all changed,” Hierophant finally said, gold shining beneath cloth. “You do not seek the same ends you did back then, and you seek them differently.”

“Yeah,” I murmured. “I’ve been seeing that too. We’ve…”

Moved on, I refused to say, because if they were gone from my life what did I have left?

“It is inevitable,” Masego said. “The man who raised me is not the same who stood at Uncle Amadeus’ side during the Conquest. In overcoming circumstance we grow – or are buried, overcome by it.”

“I’d argue they were the same man,” I said. “Just standing in two different places, at two different times.”

Hardship and pleasure bent people in many ways but ultimately they were just colour on the canvas. They did not, could not define what the work was painted on. To my surprise, he smiled.

“I knew you would disagree,” he said. “You still believe in the line in the sand, the difference between right and wrong. I have grown to like that about you, Catherine.”

I cocked an eyebrow at him.

“Have you?” I drily asked.

He nodded.

“You try to make people stay on one side of the line,” Masego said. “And, more often than not, we are better off for it. It doesn’t always work, but I like that you try.”

I cleared my throat, looked away. He’d always been at his most dangerous when he was painfully earnest.

“But you don’t believe in that,” I said.

“I believed that we should try,” Masego honestly said. “You have shown me the value of that. But we’ve had this conversation once before, years ago. In the end-”

“- Creation ends,” I quietly finished. “So it’s not wrong to care about it, but it’s missing the point. We should be looking beyond the bars, not rearranging the inside of the cell.”

He looked pleased.

“So you do remember,” Masego said.

“This,” I said, “is about apotheosis, isn’t it?”

“You have all found purposes,” Hierophant said. “Hakram heals the people he once saw as a lost cause, Vivienne has traded the rooftop for the throne, Indrani has decided that instead of being Ranger she wants to be better than her. And you…”

He mulled over his words.

“You have decided to pull down the curtain on the Age of Wonders and usher what comes after with your own two hands,” Masego finally said.

“Everyone’s changed,” I slowly said, “except you. Is that what you’re saying?”

“I will break the shackles I was born bearing around my wrists,” Hierophant simply said. “I will open my mind to the secret of existence and burn with the truth of the godhead.”

I almost shivered. It was a nice evening out, warm with bright starlight and the merry gurgle of a stream right around the bend of the hill. And still I almost shivered, for though there had been no threat in my friend’s words neither had there been so much as a speck of doubt. Masego had become the Hierophant by peeking at the truths behind the curtain, laws mortals were not meant to understand, and he had been unwavering in his sole ambition ever since: he would become as a god, and then step beyond even that. I studied him, fingers clenching and unclenching.

“I feel,” I finally said, “as though I am being warned.”

“The Dead King awaits in Keter,” Hierophant evenly said. “And when I face him once more, Catherine, I will even the scales between us.”

“You want revenge for your magic,” I said.

“Revenge is not the right word,” he mused. “It is the bargain of an eye for an eye, and that is not a rule I abide by.”

Through the smoke, I saw Masego’s eye burn bright gold through the cloth.

“I will ruin him,” Hierophant said, his calm like that of a deep, dark lake. “I will make of Autumn’s crown a noose around his neck and make him watch as I tear out of him everything of worth.”

The fire crackled. Motes of gold danced on the smoke, as if traced by some luminous finger.

“I will use the sum of his works as a step for my own,” Hierophant told me, “and let him rot like a bloated carcass as I reach horizons he never so much as glimpsed.”

The dark-skinned man leaned forward, long braids sliding off his shoulder.

“That is what I promise Trismegistus King, and only then will I count us even for what passed between us,” Masego said.

I swallowed. These were not idle words, I knew. He wasn’t the kind of man to speak those. Masego genuinely meant to rip out the power of Neshamah and use it as part of his own apotheosis.

“Why tell me this?” I asked. “Why now?”

The glass eye’s light ebbed low, now little more than glimmers again.

“You made room for everyone else in the world you’re building, Catherine,” Masego said, then smiled.

He drew back and just like that there was no trace of the Hierophant left in him, none of the intensity that’d filled the air around likes a physical thing. As if it’d only ever been a trick of the light and the illusion had been broken the moment he moved.

“Remember to make room for me as well,” he asked.

I loved the man like a brother, and he loved me the same, but I knew a warning when I heard one. When the moment came for him to even the scales, if I stood in the way it would not be a small thing. That was what he’d been telling me.

If it came down to choosing between my dream and his own, his choice was already made.

I’d gotten used to my laundering being done for me.

Both the Army of Callow and the Legions had it as an assigned duty, but I’d never served at a rank where I might end up needing to kneel by the river shore and rub the dirt out of my clothes – or other people’s. I wasn’t unfamiliar with the chore, it was one of those we traded around when the Woe travelled together. Usually it was Vivienne who traded for it, she didn’t mind getting her hands bone cold, but she wasn’t along this time. So instead I found myself kneeling in the sand by Akua Sahelian, washing clothes in the stream. It was hard work, and rough on the hands, but there was only so much to wash and when it came to drying afterwards we cheated with magic.

The aftermath found us sitting on flat rocks by the river as we waited on the spell to finish getting the water out of the blankets. Akua had insisted on using a slower one, since apparently it didn’t damage the fabric.

“How do you even know that?” I asked. “If you tell me you’ve ever had to do your own laundry, I’m going to call you’re a liar.”

She rolled her eyes at me, the simple red and yellow robes she wore somehow managing to look tailored instead of plain.

“It is originally a spell meant to rid oneself out of contact poisons,” Akua said. “There’s nothing worse than a botched assassination attempt ruining your favourite dress.”

“Of course,” I drily replied. “How dare I ever think otherwise.”

“It is the common birth, I assume,” Akua kindly informed me. “I have reliably been informed that lowborn children are born with inferior minds.”

I glanced at her.

“Please tell me that’s not actually something one of your ancestors believed,” I pleaded.

Akua smiled beautifully.

“Not at all, dearest,” she said.

A pause.

“It was his Mirembe wife,” she told me. “There was a most fascinating treatise on the subject in the family library. Did you know that Callowans are also born naturally subservient? While I’ll admit I’ve yet to encounter such a specimen, very convincing experiments were executed to prove this.”

“I’m going to strangle you,” I cheerfully told her.

“Irrational anger in the face of one’s divinely ordained superior,” Akua noted. “I was warned it might happen.”

I tossed a stone in her direction, though she got a shield and a smug look up in time. My lips were quirking, though, and so were hers.

“So what’s your take on our guest?” I asked her.

She slid me a glance.

“Catherine Foundling,” Akua said, “are you soliciting me for gossip?”

“Indrani’s not there,” I complained. “And Masego doesn’t get the point. He always tries to be nice.”

She was grinning, now.

“She snores like a bear, did you notice?” the golden-eyed sorceress said.

“It was horrifying,” I admitted. “I couldn’t believe it was her at first, she’s always so dainty about everything. I’m impressed at how good she is with a bow, though.”

Cordelia had bagged us a pair of rabbits a few days back, which had been a pleasant addition to the cooking pot as well as a surprise.

“Lycaonese nobles are expected to hunt, I believe,” Akua said. “Not unlike Praesi, though presumably with fewer assassinations attached.”

“In my experience, that’s always a safe assumption when Praes is involved,” I said.

She snorted at me. It was light talk, nothing of politics or Keter or the many dooms ahead, and it made knots in my shoulders loosen. It was so rare, these days, that I could afford to just sit with someone by a river and talk. We must have spoken for an hour, far longer than the spell needed to finish, but I sensed she was as reluctant as I to acknowledge that and put an end to it. Eventually, though, it became harder to ignore that we would be awaited in camp. I sighed. Her expression immediately went blank, the highborn mask falling down over the lovely face. What had I done? I hesitated, but dimly I could sense that prodding at her now I was likely to lose a finger.

I kept to the silence instead, until humanity bled back into her face and she broke it herself.

“It would be easy,” Akua said, “to simply fall into your orbit again. I forget that, every time we are parted.”

She smiled at me, fondly but without amusement.

“Somehow I always forget that that it is not some subtle manipulation that you entrapped me with,” Akua said. “That you truly enjoy my company, and that is what makes it so very easy for you to win.”

“That’s not what I’m trying to do,” I said.

“It’s always what you’re trying to do, Catherine,” she replied with a strange gentleness. “It’s in your bone, the disease you inherited from the father you chose.”

My fingers clenched into a fist. That wound was still fresh. I wasn’t convinced it could ever be any other way.

“I’m not sure what it is you’re saying,” I said.

“I have had enough of cages,” Akua told me. “And choices being made for me.”

“You’re talking in circles,” I replied.

“If I choose to serve as the jailor of the King of Death,” she said, “it will not be at anyone else’s behest.”

“I’ve asked nothing,” I replied.

It had taken years for me to make it so I wouldn’t have to. It had gone wrong in Ater, all the small steps I’d taken. The moment they should have led up to never came to pass. There’d been too much going, and the Bard had put her fingers to the scale. Had the pivot passed, had I failed? Looking at her, seeing her looking at me, I had to consider the possibility that I had.

“Nor should you,” Akua said, gracefully rising to her feet. “Of all the debts I owe, the one I owe you is far from the heaviest.”

She began to gather the clothes, a clear sign the conversation was finished. And it left me wondering a question I would rather not have to entertain at all.

If I had failed, what then?

On our thirteenth night on the road we found the guide Sve Noc had sent us for the latter half of our journey to Serolen, waiting seated by a shallow river. The colours of my sigil painted on its face, Ivah of the Losara offered me a smile as it rose to its feet.

“First Under the Night,” Ivah said, bowing low, “it has been too long.”

69 thoughts on “Chapter 42: Journey

  1. And so the fifth member arrives. This was a very nice chapter. Very light, with friendship conversations with each of them.
    I believe this has been said before, but Masego is fucking terrifying.

    Liked by 15 people

  2. I love Masego, but despite knowing his goals for a long time I find this rather unsettling. I hope that he remains intact, mind and soul, and not just a figment of himself shallowly pressed onto godhood.

    Liked by 6 people

      • Masego has very substantial insights into the ascensions of the Sovereign of Winter, Neshemah, and the Crows as examples to study.

        Apotheosis is no easy task, but I would certainly hope he could learn from some of their mistakes, and do better.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I want apotheosis for Masego. I hope that if he is ever required to choose between apotheosis and balancing the scales with Neshie, he’ll choose apotheosis.

    I mean, that’s the likely result anyway, but I hope that he doesn’t pick torturing Neshie for eternity over subliming.

    Liked by 11 people

    • Just imagine it: post-apotheosis Masego would be the absolute best arcane patron.

      Like, so far Cat has made pacts with an archfey (total dick, ageless king of hidden knives and frozen corpses) and goddesses of theft and murder (forged through millennia of magical cannibalism).

      What’s the worst Masego’s gonna do, whisper pedantic corrections into your mind whenever your prayer contains factual inaccuracies?

      (Sure, his words would probably come as an unsettling thousandfold chorus of voices, but I’m sure if you brought that up he’d be like, “O̵̜͌H̸̰͌.̴̧̈ ̶͔̒ ̶̗̂I̵͕̓ ̶͍͊D̸̼̋Ĭ̴̠D̷͈̔ ̵̺̊N̴̩͌O̵̗͐T̴̰̓ ̴̬̇A̴͙͝C̸͖͂C̴͖̀Ő̴ͅŪ̸̼N̴̦͝Ṱ̶̑ ̷̨͐F̸̯̎Ȍ̵̬R̸̪̀ ̵̊͜T̸̖́H̷͉́E̴̦͊ ̸̭̌F̸̙͋R̴͓̀A̵͚͐Ì̵̢Ĺ̶̫T̵͎̈́I̴͕̕E̸̛̠S̸̏ͅ ̵͜͝O̸͚͌F̷̧̂ ̶̗̈́Ẏ̴͜O̵͖͒U̸̹̇R̵̙͌ ̵̡̾M̵̰̈́O̴̳̽R̷̩̋T̸͉͠A̷̅ͅL̴̀͜ ̵̬̅M̵̞̓I̸͘ͅN̵̘͝D̶̮̀.̴͉̄ IS THIS BETTER?” and then grant you a boon in embarrassment.)

      Liked by 5 people

    • Hey I like Ivah, but best Drow?

      I’d like to throw the Tomb Maker into the hat. I just can’t ignore what he said to the Saint of Swords about how he didn’t need a weapon to spank an errant child…

      Like

  4. Nice to see you recover. Interesting chapter with especially with how Cat had her conservations with Cordelia, Masego, and Akua, they were all very in theme with the characters. I also like the 5th member of the band being Ivah I really missed it.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. Typo Thread:

    worse thank > worse than
    nonplussed (nonplussed actually means confused. the “not bothered” sense is mostly an american mistake)
    conditions for > conditions were for
    Judgment > Judgement
    It’d not missed > I’d not missed
    Procer, sure > Procer, sure,
    become soldiers > becoming soldiers
    likes a physical > like a physical

    Liked by 3 people

    • “American mistake”? That’s not how languages work, dude. I know you’re probably framing it that way facetiously, but I personally am not amused. It carries a hint of the same overweening cultural arrogance that causes empires to form to begin with.

      Liked by 4 people

      • It is how languages work – they spawn dialects, or engulf them; some dialects go on to become other languages; some languages wither on the vine. Looking at the history of almost any word demonstrates that.

        “Nonplussed” threw me right out of the chapter with Masego. I kept trying to see where a missing negative would fit in, and it didn’t and doesn’t. That break in the immersion did actually spoil that part of the chapter.

        If you want to argue it, “nonplussed” is from classical Latin: “nōn plūs”, meaning “not more, no further”, that is: you’ve arrived at that spot beyond which you can’t go. (For reasons of confusion, or whatever.) It’s difficult to get “not bothered” out of that.

        Having said that, meanings shift. If you want to define what you’re writing and speaking as American, I don’t believe anyone would have a problem with it. It’s just that Microsoft appears to think there’s something called “British English”, and there really, really isn’t. (Not unless you want to also carve up and name the various Commonwealth countries’ use of English, and heritage countries like India, and the use of English as a business language…)

        In other news: lovely, bittersweet chapter, full of love as well as forboding. And things never get this good without the wrath of the Gods (possibly quite literally) descending on our villains.

        Which reminds me. Isn’t Cat being a bit quiet about the problem that the Angel of Mass Destruction is going to void the world of all its villains? Very probably leaving the heroes untouched? I just feel she should be reacting a bit more.

        I miss Hakram…

        Liked by 4 people

        • RE: “British English”
          There’s normally an option for British vs American and, if they felt like pretending they were thorough, Canadian. Personally, I’m in favour of having an Indian English, Australian English, etc. option in spell check/language options. They are all valid dialects of English and it’s fascinating to see which bits of the old “King’s English” survived in each one. Talking to native English speakers from India, for example, should be an absolute treat for anyone with a passion for language, since they still have turns of phrase from 1800s Britain that the British stopped using at some point in the past hundred years or so.

          RE: Cat being a bit quiet
          You can kill every Villain on the continent, much like how Maddie killed every Callowan Hero, and still expect new people to take up the torch. There is no point for Cat to bring up how many friends and allies she would lose. If Cordelia did kill all villains, Cat knows this would be a last resort due to the number of Proceran lives it would forfeit, so there isn’t much point talking about it further. They each knows where the other stands.

          Liked by 2 people

        • When you said “it is how languages work,” I think you meant the same thing I did when I said it isn’t. Clearly I could’ve worded my comment better. The “that” in my “that’s not how it works” was referring to the idea that one dialect is more proper than another. In any language, it’s all just what it is (until it’s something else), and emerging in a specific geographical area doesn’t confer special properties. I will admit that the specific case of a word with two diametrically opposed meanings does lend itself to the idea that only one of those meanings can be correct.

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  6. Masego. I love you. And I love that for all the granduer of this story your goals are just… Beyond it.
    Like… the central thesis of his philosophy is *so damn good*.
    BUT.
    BUT…..

    One of Nessie’s most basic tricks is “Lol, I put a piece of my soul in this book. Now I am going to eat your mind”
    Do you *really* think it is wise and/or safe to use *that fuckers* science as the basis of your apothesis? Couldn’t we just like…. *not* do that?


    Villians don’t age Zeze. You have all the time you need. Why try to cheat by eating the author of the necronomicon.

    Hell, you know what? Zeze taking Nessie’s science and using it to reach godhead is probably a victory condition as far as Nessie is concerned. Even if he doesn’t get to beat the gods, so long as someone does, that’s still pretty good, right?

    God damn it Zeze.

    Liked by 6 people

    • also, I can’t help but think Cat is tragically missing the point when she says “You want revenge for your magic”.
      Zeze doesn’t give a damn about his magic. Zeze wants revenge for the Dead king laying so much as a finger on Indrani. Or hijacking his brain, or… plenty of other things. But the magic? That’s like… WAY down the list of things he wants revenge for.

      Liked by 14 people

      • Yeah, and it’s not like Neshama’s high-level goal is inherently bad, or even too far off from Masego’s own — the problem comes from, you know, trying to kill every living thing on the continent to achieve it.

        If Masego happens to achieve one of the DK’s victory conditions, for his own reasons and without all the genocide, I don’t see how that’s necessarily a problem? Just because a bad dude wants it doesn’t mean it’s always a bad thing in itself.

        Liked by 4 people

        • The real risk, here, is that DK will pull another trick to live on in Masego’s mind. Remember that Masego needs a good story to beat DK. Archer dying in front of him gave him the True Love powerup needed to win an arcane wrestling competition with DK, and he failed to Wrest the Hellgate at the end of Book 6. It is a very real concern that he flatly cannot beat DK in a fair* competition, and will be wholly or partly consumed.

          * “fair” herein being defined as two mages each given similarly vast time/resources to prepare for their confrontation. Masego having the Arsenal and sente feels roughly on par with, or inferior to, DK having millennia to accumulate power and defend against literally anything he can imagine.

          Liked by 2 people

  7. I really want Cat and Akua’s thing to work.
    Cat just has to get over her long price thing and accept that she has changed Akua for the better and that should be enough.

    Liked by 6 people

  8. I’m pretty sure Cordelia thinks Masego is a casanova. From her perspective, Masego is making a pass at Akua. Indrani made it known in the arsenal that Masego has seen Catherine naked and insinuated intimate relations between them. Vivienne reinforced that image when she signed Masego up for something like a sex club as a prank. It would be hilarious if Cordelia is now having second thoughts about joining them because there’s a sexual predator on the loose.

    Liked by 10 people

  9. I feel like that line about Indrani should have said that she wants to be better than Hye and not to be Hye. It’s already been strongly indicated that she very much does want to be the ranger.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wants to be the Ranger, but not the current Ranger. I think something is lost by differentiating between Hye and Ranger too clearly. It is more clear, but less poetic, especially since it was once the other way around. Indrani used to want to be just like the current Ranger, but didn’t care for the name or role. Now she wants to do the job, but doesn’t really care about the woman.

      Liked by 6 people

      • I wouldn’t say she doesn’t care for Hye. I think she still respect her, but I think she’s realized that she never loved her.

        She respect Hye for her skills and for her drive to be self-sufficient in everything. But she’s realized that Hye is a very bad role model. None of the students that walked out of Refuge were prepared for what they found.

        They grew up chasing the approval of Hye, something that was basically impossible to get. The more they tried to please her the more they failed. Hye didn’t train them to be anything but the most skilled. Pleasing others where a weakness as emotional bands would limit them and make them vulnerable. Better to never trust than to suffer having your trust broken. Better never to love than have your heart broken. Friends can betray you. Even hate can betray you. But an enemy can never betray you.

        So Indrani having her sights on becoming the Ranger is not just ambition, something Hye most probably approves of, but also a way to show that she’s achieved what Hye tried to teach her, how to be a better Ranger.

        Dang that got long-winded. Be grateful that I cut out more than four times as much text that was just me rambling in circles, never getting to anything even remotely resembling a point…

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  10. I am still curious by what right Cordelia claims to have the right to nuke the whole continent with an Angel Exterminatus. Its not political power cause well she doesn’t have any any more not that her previous level of Political Power would give her the any rights beyond Procer. And yet she supposedly believes special people ie Named should be controlled.

    Masego staying Masego. Akua still talking about sealing the DK, smfh. I will really hate if she does that.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It was decided through a legitimate democratic process: one person, one vote. Cordelia is the person with the ealamal trigger; she gets the vote.

      (With apologies to Terry Pratchett)

      Liked by 4 people

      • She bargained with Rozala for the rights to it. That may imply she has some rights in Procer I suppose but that agreement doesn’t clear her to use it across the whole continent. And doesn’t jive with her supposed philosophy of governments over special people. By what right does she claim to make such a judgment for the whole continent?

        Not that I consider Procer’s government of unelected princes voting on decisions to be democratic. Even if I thought Cordelia was in the right to have the weapon and use it as she saw fit. I be worried about the safety of such a device in her hands. She is a zero in combat ability.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Cordelia had bagged us a pair of rabbits a few days back, which had been a pleasant addition to the cooking pot as well as a surprise.

          “Lycaonese nobles are expected to hunt, I believe,” Akua said. “Not unlike Praesi, though presumably with fewer assassinations attached.”

          Coupled with the fact that she just passively is Lycaonese I would be shocked if she never learned to fight or command armies. Not as well as Klaus, but well enough. Also, I’m interested in what the minimum range/radius is for the Ealamal. She may very well be able to call in tactical strikes only a few meters wide. The entirety of Salia is ‘the furthest she’s gone,’ not the lower bounds of the weapon. The act of holding it may very well give anyone combat ability, provided they know how it works and can be trusted to hold it.

          As for the right? Kind of the whole point of the Accords is that no-one should have that kind of unilateral power, much less use it, but the Dead King needs to be destroyed before the Nukes can be disarmed. Ethics are legitimately a thing for after the war right now, as horrible as that statement is.

          Liked by 3 people

        • It’s insurance for if everything goes horribly wrong. A chance to give a final “fuck you” to the King of the Dead.

          You ask what right she has to hold it as if that question matters right now.

          Quibbling over beaurocracy at this point serves no one but Neshama

          Liked by 2 people

    • By the right of Inertia. She had the power, she used it well and didn’t abuse it. She is, to paraphrase, “the evil you know.”

      There is no way to know how someone else might use the power should they come into possession of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yep burden of proof is to show who has more right (or that it skittle be destroyed) rather than saying she doesn’t. She had it already, what’s the argument for giving it up?

        And honestly I think it’s clear that Cordelia is NOT ethical, and probably has never been. Her goals of saving Procer and the rest of Calernia, and then establishing the Accords, is why Catherine wants her as an ally, not because she has some internal code of conduct like Hanno.

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  11. Okay, hear me out.

    So, Masego is trying to become a deity. And while he does like having oodles of power, he seems to prefer knowledge, so that would probably be his domain.

    A god with a knowledge domain is almost certainly going to be omniscient.

    This story has two modes: the parts from Cat’s perspective, written in first person, and everything else, written in third person, and some of the stuff in those chapters it would have been impossible for Cat to find out after the fact (e.g. when the character dies). You’d need some sort of omniscient perspective to get this information.

    The obvious conclusion is that when Cat decides to put this all on paper, Masego will be her co-author, taking care of all of the third-person POV chapters, from his omniscient perspective as a god of knowledge.

    Liked by 7 people

  12. I worry that, once they get stories back for Evil people, they’ll swiftly get “Well, some Good person has a ‘kill only evil people nuke’, so it’s only fair that I should have a ‘kill only evil people nuke’.” Cordelia’s continued claim of that weapon risks everything.

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