Chapter 52: Mass

“And so the Black Knight, having survived the battle, knelt before Dread Emperor Irritant and addressed him in despair: ‘Your Dreadful Majesty, our cause is lost. What can we do in the face of such utter defeat?’. To this the Emperor answered: ‘Naturally, we must make more enemies.’”

Extract from Volume IX of the Official Imperial Chronicles

Christophe de Pavanie was training alone.

I wasn’t familiar with the particular drill, but I’d gone through enough of the same sort to recognize what it was for: I’d been a sword and board kind of girl too, back in the day. Might still be, if not for my bad leg and how it made taking on hits a real bad idea. The Mirror Knight was moving in full armour, footwork smoothly moving back and forth as he timed the thrust of the blade to go through throat-height in a fluid killing blow. Then pivots to the side, taking a phantom hit on the shield and cutting the side, only to pivot back and begin the sequence all over again.

There were tracks in the dirt, noticeable enough he must have been at this for hours.

The training grounds were empty except for him and the whole place felt like an island of calm in the sea of the Proceran camps – I could barely even hear soldiers around their cooking fires further out. Though the man’s senses were sharp enough he must have heard my limping gait nearing, he did not stop in his exercises. I was in no great hurry, so instead of interrupting I hoisted myself atop the wooden fence delineating the grounds and waited him out. Another thirteen sequences and finally he stopped, sheathing his sword as he turned towards me.

“Most Named don’t keep up drills,” I called out, curious. “The argument’s that you get more out of spars.”

The Mirror Knight took off the polished silver helm, revealing sweat-soaked light brown hair and a serious face.

“Sidonia offered,” Christophe de Pavanie said, “but I need the drills.”

I cocked my head to the side, considering.

“Because you keep getting stronger,” I guessed.

He nodded.

“If I do not regularly drill my fundamentals, I begin to make mistakes,” the Mirror Knight admitted.

I hadn’t actually thought of that. Supposedly the man got a little tougher and stronger every morning, but my reaction to that rumour had been more one of general disgruntlement at the unfairness of such an aspect more than the practical realities of constantly changing. No wonder he drilled regularly, if he had to adapt to a different grip every three months or so.

“Most of my swordsmanship was taught to me after I got my Name,” I told him. “And my teacher taught it consequently. I notice you’re not using any of the better-known Proceran styles, though.”

“It was an inheritance from my teacher,” the Mirror Knight said.

“One of the duellist schools?” I asked, curious.

Arlesite duellists were famous, though I’d never heard of any who used shields. The green-eyed man snorted.

“Nothing so high-brow, Warden,” Christophe said. “It was my predecessor as the Mirror Knight who taught me when preparing me to take up her duties.”

Huh, I thought, surprised.

“I hadn’t heard of another Mirror Knight in our lifetime,” I said.

“You would not have heard of me either, if not for the Tenth Crusade,” he ruefully replied. “Our charge is to defend the Elfin Dames and it does not involve much travelling about. The Enemy always comes to us, not the other way around.”

“That does tend to be the way,” I sighed, then studied his face. “Were you close?”

His face turned thoughtful.

“I understood her,” Christophe de Pavanie finally said, “perhaps better than I have ever understood anyone. That is not always a kind thing.”

I nodded, understanding perhaps better than he knew. I’d also had a mentor who was a reflection of the ugly as well as the rest.

“I miss her,” he said, with a sincerity that struck. “But her time was finished from the moment I was chosen to succeed her. It’d be ungrateful of me to begrudge her peace.”

I hardly even needed to reach out to lay a finger on the chord, old and faded as it was. Chosen champions, each fighting an opponent and wining. Each fading away in the years that followed, until the Elfin Dames chose a successor and the mantle was passed. I wondered what it was that the lake spirits sat on that needed such protection. Some old horror, no doubt, or one of those wonders that were just as terrible.

“Do you miss it?” I idly asked.

He looked away.

“It was a simpler world,” the Mirror Knight said. “Oaths, duty, an enemy. The paths were straightforward, both the good and the evil.”

“Would that it were always so simple,” I wanly smiled.

“The Grey Pilgrim once chided me for saying the same thing,” Christophe quietly replied. “That making the world black and white was to give away half of Creation to the dark.”

He paused.

“That we could do better.”

“And you agree?”

He looked sad.

“I don’t know,” the Mirror Knight confessed. “In the end, Warden, he was such a sad man.”

My breath caught.

“He was not proud of his work,” Christophe de Pavanie disbelievingly said, shaking his head. “Him, the Peregrine! All those evils laid to rest, and still he held himself with such sorrow.”

“There are costs to victory,” I said, “and Tariq Fleetfoot was the great victor of his time.”

“It was the look in his eyes that I have grown to fear,” the Mirror Knight said. “The tiredness. And I am slow of thought, Warden, but on that look I have thought for long.”

I balanced my leg against the wooden plank, studying him in the gloom of the spreading dusk.

“And what did you decide?”

“That I do not want to ever have that look,” the man bleakly laughed. “And that mayhaps the first step down that road is to admit that I cannot go back.”

He looked down at his armoured gauntlet, clenching the fingers.

“I have seen too much to be able to fit in that small, simple world again,” the Mirror Knight sadly said. “Sometimes there is no going home.”

“But leaving it,” I replied, “is the only way you get to see beyond the horizon.”

He did not disagree, pushing back a sweaty lock of hair.

“May I ask why you have come, Warden?”

“Curiosity,” I said, fingers closing around my staff.

As to why Hanno would advise me to go and see you.

“And is it sated?” he asked.

I smiled.

“You’ve grown, Mirror Knight,” I said.

And I understood what Hanno saw in him that made him want to trust the Severance to his hand. The man I had faced in the Arsenal had been tempered by the passage of time, by the fires he’d gone through. I could still see the flaws in him, but they no longer threatened to devour him whole.

“Is it really growth,” the man tiredly said, “to simply earn fresh scars?”

“Sometimes, Christophe, I think it’s the only thing there is to earn,” I confessed.

He did not look relieved to hear it, but then he wasn’t meant to. I slid down the fence, landing in the dust, and began to limp out of the training grounds.

“Was that truly all you wanted, Warden?” he called out.

I turned and met his gaze, then inclined my head the slightest bit.

“I look forward to working with you, Mirror Knight,” I told him.

And I found, as I turned my back on him, that I might actually mean the words.

Prince Otto Reitzenberg was something of a rising man these days.

He’d begun the Tenth Crusade as the third in line for the Principality of Bremen but over the same bloody evening that’d seen him earn the sobriquet of ‘Redcrown’ he’d shot up the line of succession all the way to princeship. And now he was in line to inherit a great deal more, as Cordelia had not hidden her intention to pass him the crowns of Rhenia and Hannoven when she left to settle in Cardinal. Considering Mathilda Greensteel of Neustria had left no close heirs, Otto Redcrown was most likely going to end up as prince of all Lycaonese when the war ended.

Prince of broken lands in the hands of the dead and a people made penniless refugees, but it would not stay that way forever. The northerners would return home, in time, and do so with both swords and ploughshares strapped to their backs. And they won’t spread out too much at the start, they’ll clear out a few cities and territories, which is why Cordelia’s scheme might just work. After a generation or two of building and fighting together, even if the Lycaonese spread outwards would they still think of themselves as Neustrians or Bremenites? Cordelia had bet that they wouldn’t, that her people would come out of it with the boundaries between them erased.

The dour man didn’t particularly look like a prince set to rule over lands that’d make up about a fifth of the territory of the Principate, though. His dark hair was cut rough and short, his clothes plain. And not the kind of plain that was a subtle boast, precisely tailored and woven: it was badly died woolen shirt he wore, a little too broad around his shoulders, and his hide trousers were worn enough that the seams going down the sides were loosening. He was not handsome, his nose large and almost hooked, but dark eyes and thick eyebrows made him look rather intense.

It was a face naturally made for brooding, I reflected, which seemed like fate as work given his known propensity for it.

Frederic Goethal could not have been more different, from the fair curls to the sunny demeanour, which made their evident closeness all the more eye-catching. The Kingfisher Prince had come decked out in enough silk to compensate for the other royal’s plain clothes twice over, all in the blue and red of his house. They were pretty tight on his body, which was worth a second look I wasn’t too shy about taking. After all I knew from… personal experience he didn’t exactly mind. Vivienne looked like she wanted to elbow me when she noticed, but thankfully we were in front of royals so she had to hold back.

I offered her a pleasant smile that was not smug in the slightest before turning my attention back to the other two. They’d gotten here a little early so Pickler wasn’t there yet – it would have been a feat worthy of a Name to drag her away from the siege preparations a breath earlier than was necessary – so we’d been making light conversation over drinks, but I couldn’t help to notice something a little off about the both of them.

“If you don’t mind my saying,” I began, “the two of you look to be in a rather fine mood.”

Better than I’d expected, given that they should both be aware of the answer we’d gotten from the Kingdom Under.

“It is the news from the north,” Prince Otto said, his Chantant somehow always sounding a little curt.

He was visibly pleased, though. I cocked an eyebrow.

“News?” I asked, flicking a glance at Vivienne.

She shook her head, as much in the dark as I was.

“Before the Ways were shattered, we received word through Salia,” Frederic smiled. “Rhenia yet stands.”

Not the principality, obviously, since it’d pretty much collapsed the moment the undead forced the Rhenian Gates. He meant the capital city of the same name, Cordelia’s seat.

“I’d heard it was under siege,” I ventured.

“It’s Rhenia,” Otto Reitzenberg said, lips twitching. “It fears sieges like a fish fears water.”

“There is fortress dug inside the mountain,” Frederic explained. “The people retreated when the walls were lost.”

“They lost it since,” Otto informed us, “but there’s tunnels that lead to the cavern-keeps.”

“The cavern-keeps,” Vivienne slowly repeated.

“Lost those too, so they collapsed them on top of the Enemy,” Frederic cheerfully said. “Then they retreated to the Old Chasm while the undead dug up the tunnels.”

“The giants used to mine there for ore,” Prince Otto told us. “The stories say the Chasm used to go all the way down to lava, until some of the cliffs fell. The Rhenians burned the bridges behind them and dug in.”

“And they’re still holding?” I asked.

“There’s a secret passage from the Old Chasm to the mountaintop,” Frederic said. “They sent a messenger up there and towards Salia three months ago.”

“They’ll hold,” Otto said, not a speck of doubt in his voice. “They’re Rhenians. By the time the Enemy takes the Old Chasm they’ll have built a fortress atop the mountain.”

I’d often heard that Rhenia was the strongest fortress raised on Calernia by mortal hands, greater even than Hannoven’s famous seven walls and Summerholm’s brutal street-by-street slaughterhouse, but it was only now I was genuinely starting to believe it.

“A stubborn lot these Rhenians, I take it,” I said, cocking an eyebrow.

Otto Redcrown, his mood still the finest I had ever seen of him, went as far as venturing a few bars from a song I did not know. The Kingfisher Prince was the one to add words to the chorus, though.

“I broke your wall, said Old Bones,

So Rhenia built another,” Frederic Goethal grinned.

The Prince of Bremen joined his voice to the rest, lips twitching.

“I took your keep, said the Rat,

So Rhenia built it higher!

And we’ll never run out of stone,

so you’ll have to try harder!”

I traded an amused glance with Vivienne, which did not go unnoticed. The Lycaonese looked abashed, but Frederic utterly unrepentant.

“Drinking song?” I idly asked.

“An old favourite,” Prince Otto admitted. “Even outside Rhenia only Turn the Season is sung more often.”

I was curious enough to ask about that, always in the market for a good drinking song, but that was when my legionaries announced Pickler. She was sent in without wait, the Sapper-General of Callow eyeing me with mild irritation that turned to confusion as she took in who Viv and I were entertaining. No one rose to greet her, she was by far of the lowest rank in the tent, but she got a round of greetings – she’d worked out in Twilight’s Pass with the two princes for over a year and there seemed to be genuine amity there.

“Take a seat,” I invited. “We were about to begin.”

Pickler slowly nodded.

“The phalanges weren’t clear on what this is about,” she said.

“You’re here to listen,” I simply said.

She looked like she was swallowing a sharp retort at that, but she sat anyway. I glanced at Vivienne, who got the conversation started. As well she should, having handled most of the negotiations for this.

“I was glad to hear of your response to the amended terms,” the Princess said. “I would not press you to formally sign a treaty while we are besieging the Crown of the Dead, but I believe an agreement in principle would be pleasing to all parties.”

“I am ready to sign the formal treaty whenever it is presented writ to me,” Prince Otto bluntly replied. “There is no difference between principle and ink.”

I found myself believing him, to my surprise.

“I appreciate the intended courtesy, Princess Vivienne,” Frederic replied with a smile, “but it is not bending our arm to see this inked. Our word has been given.”

“Then I will see it arranged at the earliest convenience,” Vivienne calmly said. “And tonight we can simply end the talks with a drink.”

“The very best way,” the Kingfisher Prince approved.

I snorted. So did Otto, so I winked at him. He actually looked amused.

“Congratulations are in order,” I said. “Bremen are Brus will be the first crowns west of the Whitecaps to officially invite goblin tribes to settle in their territory.”

At my side, Pickler went still as a stone.

“If only more would come,” Prince Otto groused. “Six will hardly be enough to settle the entire Kaltwend.”

“You should have offered better tax incentives,” Frederic sagely said. “It is how I convinced my tribe to settle in the marshes. Gods know they’ll be rooting out undead for years.”

“All I can fill my treasury with is iron,” Otto Redcrown sourly said.

A sentence that had no business sounding as arresting as it did, I noted. As the talk continued about where the seven tribes that had accepted the offers extended to settle in their lands through the intermediaries of the crown of Callow and the matron-attendants of the Snake Eater Tribe – our own Callowan goblins – I felt Pickler’s breath slow as she listened to the words. It was a comprehensive treaty, for all that Vivienne was refraining from boasts. The goblins were formally recognized as subjects with all attendant rights, the tribes guaranteed certain territories and tax exemptions in exchange for duties agreed-upon.

Mostly taking up arms against the ratlings, mine mountains and work on the Lycaonese great fortresses. Frederic instead wanted his tribe to work on roads as well as the Bruseni mines, which was why he’d also offered generous terms to any former sappers that might want to settle in Brus. He was rather canny for a hero, one of his more attractive qualities.

The talks tonight had been a formality, an end to the negotiations where I’d be present to make it clear that I was endorsing the treaty, so they did not stretch out overlong. After a few drinks the princes took their leave and Vivienne, ever discreet, took a single look at Pickler and I before excusing herself. It left the two of us alone in the tent, Pickler of the High Ridge Tribe’s face unreadable. Those large amber eyes did not blink as she stared at me, her once-smooth skin now creased with wrinkles. Goblins, even those of Matron lines like her, aged so much quicker than humans.

“You did this,” Pickler finally said.

“Vivienne handled most of it,” I said.

“But it was possible,” she said, “because you put your weight behind it.”

I did not deny it, since it was true, but she was putting too much on my shoulders. The Lycaonese had already been interested, it’d just been a question of getting the practicalities of it done. And getting Rozala Malanza to approve, though strictly speaking her approval wasn’t actually needed since princes were free to handle such a matter as they wished. It’d helped, though, and would prevent trouble from the Highest Assembly down the line. The way Vivienne told it, Rozala hadn’t been eager but she’d been disinclined to fight the matter. I expected if there hadn’t been clauses about no goblin munitions being made in Procer she would have been more enthusiastic, but I could only push Praes so far before Chancellor Alaya was forced to fight me.

“When Vivienne had it announced that goblins were free to settle in Callow,” Pickler quietly said, “I though that was the end of it. That it was as far as it would go.”

She grimaced.

“It was already no small thing,” she admitted.

But it wouldn’t have been enough, we both knew. To just open the door in name and then do nothing more with it. To let it end there. To tell the goblins they could go elsewhere but then let the Matrons make sure they never saw it. So it wasn’t what we’d done, because I still remembered that night in the tent the plea she’d made on her knees. They kill us for sport, she’d said, echoing the words of someone we both missed like a limb. Please, she’d asked. If not you, then who?

“You told me,” I quietly said, “that there are fifty thousand more like him in the Eyries. Boys that never got out.”

“And every day,” Pickler murmured, “they die choking in the dark.”

“It’s a box, Pickler,” I told her. “And it only works so long as the Matrons can keep it closed. But after the war, oh after the war…”

No longer. Too many tribes had taken the offer to leave, to settle abroad. It would be impossible for the Matrons to keep it quiet, and from now on every time they raised the whip it would be with the knowledge that now goblins could leave. That the choice was no longer the Matrons or the grave. And I saw that knowledge sink into Pickler, down the marrow of her bones. Saw it burn bright like a candle.

“I cannot repay you for this,” she finally said. “I do not have the years. But anything-”

“You told me,” I said, “that your people don’t believe in debt.”

She smiled, baring teeth like needles.

“For this, Catherine,” Pickler replied, “I wouldlearn.”

“There’s nothing to pay back,” I gently said. “Even if it weren’t the right thing to do, even if there was nothing to gain, I would still have done it.”

I met her eyes.

“Because I do believe in debts,” I said. “Because you’re one of mine, Pickler, and you asked.”

Goblins didn’t really touch others, not unless they were either trying to kill each other or sleep with each other. But her small, spindly fingers found their way into my own and squeezed. I squeezed back. We sat there in silence for a long time, the only sound in the tent our breaths.

“Do you think,” she murmured, “he would be proud?”

I swallowed, finding my throat dry.

“Yeah,” I murmured back. “Yeah, I think he’d be.”

And we sat a little longer still, the two of us and the ghost we hadn’t named, until I had to leave.

There was still one conversation ahead of me tonight.

Even now that she was no longer First Prince or Princess of Salia, Cordelia’s tent was heavily guarded. Fortunately my name was among those that were to be ushered in when they arrived, and I wasted no time taking advantage of that.

I was surprised when I saw the drinks on the table – mead – but less so when I recognized the other woman sitting with Cordelia. The resemblance wasn’t strong, but it was there: Agnes Hasenbach shared the clear blue eyes and blond hair of her royal cousin. The Augur always looked a little lost, I’d thought, with those big blue eyes and short bob of hair, but I knew better than to think her foolish or harmless. Oracles were always a little odd, it came with the territory. Besides, tonight she was smiling and more… present than I could ever remember seeing her before. They both rose when I entered the tent, though Agnes needed to be reminded.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” I said.

“It’s all right,” the Augur said. “I saw you coming.”

I eyed her warily.

“Prophecy?”

“The window hole,” Agnes solemnly replied.

Had I just gotten had by Cordelia’s unearthly waif cousin? It was, I grimly thought, certainly looking that way. And the other Hasenbach’s amused quirk of the lips, which we both knew she was allowing to show entirely on purpose, wasn’t helping things.

“Your Excellency,” Cordelia greeted me. “A pleasure.”

“Not an unexpected one, apparently,” I drily said.

Agnes enthusiastically nodded, which honestly made it hard to stay miffed at her.

“I’ll just borrow your cousin for a bit, if you don’t mind,” I told her.

“So long as you put her back when you’re done,” the Augur said.

“Agreeable terms,” I replied, so we shook on it.

Cordelia’s eyes were soft as she followed me to the back of the tent, behind a flap and near to what appeared to be a bathtub and some very nice sleeping robes. Silk and fur, huh. I cocked an eyebrow at her, but she strategically refused to meet my eye. Feeling rather more even than I had until then, I cleared my throat.

“She seems to be doing well,” I said, jerking my head towards the flap.

“She ceased pushing herself after the march on Keter began,” Cordelia said, sounding relieved. “There is no point in the exertion when the Dead King’s power clouds all auguries regarding him.”

Good on her, I thought. We could use the edge, in truth, but I’d heard some stories about what happened to soothsayers that looked a little too close at the Dead King. It didn’t tend to end prettily.

“Glad news,” I said. “Not the only ones for House Hasenbach today, I hear.”

Cordelia’s backed straightened, as if reminded she was yet Prince of Rhenia.

“I expected no less of the capitals,” the blue-eyed princess said. “I saw to it that enough of my subjects too refuge south that we were not gambling it all on Rhenia’s walls, but I have no doubt they will hold until the end.”

“No doubt,” I affably agreed. “I’ve been told Rhenians are a stubborn lot.”

Narrowed eyes.

“If we must,” Cordelia Hasenbach very mildly replied.

I raised my hands in peace, which sadly did seem to entirely appease her. A bloodthirsty lot, these Lycaonese.

“And how did your talks with Prince Otto go?” she asked.

“Like you don’t already know,” I snorted.

“It is polite to pretend,” she serenely replied.

“Treaties were signed,” I said, rolling my eye. “I’ve already leaned on Chancellor Alaya, so it’s pretty much a given that tribes will be settling up north. Who exactly will depend on recruitment after the war, but I wouldn’t surprised if you did end up nabbing some of my sappers after all.”

Vivienne would be settling another three tribes in Callow after the war – Kegan had thrown a fit, I was told, but had bent to the argument that we needed sappers and couldn’t exactly keep bringing them in from Praes – but across the Wasaliti was still a little too close to the Eyries for some. Those that went would do so with my blessing and a bag of coin to help them get started.

I had to spend the Sahelian treasury on something.

“Congratulations,” Cordelia said, sounding honest. “From what I have seen of goblins, they will take well to the spring wars with the ratlings.”

“It’ll be like they never left home,” I drily replied.

Only better, because the rats weren’t anywhere as clever as rival goblin tribes. Given the sheer amount of territory Lycaonese needed to reclaim, their fortresses needing to be rebuilt and their borders in need of skirmishers this was pretty much a match made in the Hells.

“A diplomatic success is heartening, given our other… difficulties in this area,” Cordelia added.

I grimaced. So she’d been told about the dwarves.

“Wasn’t sure you’d been told about that,” I said. “Making sure you were was half the reason I came.”

“The gesture is appreciated,” she assured me, eyes calculating. “And if I were to inquire as to the other half?”

Do you still think we can win, I did not ask, or should I be worrying about the ealamal lighting up tonight? Only it wasn’t fair to ask, or entirely true, so I didn’t. Cordelia didn’t look like she despairing, I thought, but she was so tightly controlled a woman I wasn’t sure I would be able to tell if she were. She wouldn’t pull the trigger early, though, I knew. She wasn’t the impulsive sort. Even if that’s the decision she’ll make, she’ll let us try and fail first.

“I’ll be pushing for an attack tomorrow,” I told her instead, pretending it was that. “We need to take a swing at Keter so we know the kind of opposition we’ll be facing.”

Her face tightened slightly. Hadn’t bought that, huh?

“How bad is it, Catherine?” she quietly asked.

I began to answer, but she raised her hand.

“Not the answer you would give a general or a subordinate,” the fair-haired princess said. “What you truly think.”

I exhaled, passing a hand through my hair.

“We’re cornered,” I admitted. “On parchment we have three weeks, but in my opinion we’ll know within eight days at most whether it’s feasible to take the city with our forces. Past that crest, our strength will be going downhill.”

“But it is not,” Cordelia slowly said, “impossible?”

“No,” I told her, and honestly. “It’ll be damned bloody work, mark my words, but we have a few nasty surprises for him that no army’s ever brought to his gates before. That, and there’s still a ball I tossed up.”

She stared at me flatly, which after coughing into my fist I took as an invitation to elaborate.

“It’s something the Tyrant once said to Hakram,” I said. “A classic heroic trick: when you’re juggling stories, you make sure that when they come to a head the ball you want falling down at just the right moment is the one you threw.”

At the Graveyard, the Grey Pilgrim had sent all the horse of the Grand Alliance into Arcadia under the guidance of the Rogue Sorcerer. He’d been keeping a heroic, overwhelming charge up his sleeve the entire time we’d bee fighting. Sadly for him, Kairos and I had both seen it coming.

“You still have a story up in the air, then,” Cordelia said, following the thread.

More than one, really, but there was no need to lay it out just yet.

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat, let’s leave it at that,” I replied.

Blue eyes studied me.

“You are keeping your cards close to your chest,” she finally said.

“That’s the way this game’s played,” I replied.

She was not pleased, those fair eyebrows creasing, but she’d been in my boots often enough as First Prince not to argue.

“So it is,” Cordelia replied, inclining her head.

I hesitated for a moment, then clapped her shoulder. She looked as surprised as I felt.

“We’ve still got arrows in the quiver,” I said. “Spend time with your cousin while you still can, yeah? Tomorrow it starts and there will be no time for comfort.” A slow, hesitant nod and I drew back. Agnes was emptying some of her cousin’s mead into her own cup, trying to be discreet about it, and I offered an approving grin she guiltily returned. I left the last of the Hasenbachs to their drinks, striding out into the night, and went to a reunion of my own.

Indrani would be waiting, and I wasn’t above taking the advice I’d given Cordelia.

35 thoughts on “Chapter 52: Mass

  1. nick012000

    So, uh, what do you think that the Dead King is going to do to the Elfin Dames once the undead forces rampaging through Procer get their hands on them with no Mirror Knight there to protect them? That feels like a pretty ominous question mark hanging over the Mirror Knight’s story to me.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Mirror Night

      I don’t think DK is going to bother. DK will handle the side quest after he has done the main quest. DK is not the one in the rush, as Cat notes they have 8 Days to make significant gains. DK just has to outlast this siege while his armies massacre civilians across the land for the most part.

      I assume Aspects from Cat, Hanno, Indrani and even Viv will factor in. Cat and Hanno only have one Aspect….Indrani is Ranger transitioning so who knows and Viv I think she is suppose to be Princess but its weird she doesn’t get invited to any Hero Meetings. Also Hanno doesn’t have a name at all right now so presumably that will be plot relevant at some point.

      I also based on the setup fully expect to get a back to back badass scene with Christophe and Arthur. Since they have swords forged from an aspect of the two great Heroes from the Old Age. Not to mention Christophe is a rather obvious Lancelot Expy and Arthur is well you know Arthur.

      Liked by 15 people

      1. Agent J

        “It is going to be a long war,” Tariq whispered, the weight of the years heavy on his shoulders.

        “Longer for us than most,” Laurence replied, barking out a laugh. “We’ll be part of the five, old friend. You can be sure of it. I already feel the pull.”

        -the two of us, the Pilgrim added silently. Relics of an age already past, dusted off one last time.

        And so it comes full circle. Splendid as always, EE.

        Liked by 18 people

      2. Cicero

        Well, Cat seems to be expecting the Ranger to show up at the end game anyways. Not certain why she thinks Hue is going to help kill the Dead King instead of her, but we’ll see.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Someperson

          Honestly, I doubt Hye even wants to get rid of the Dead King, seeing as she has raided Keter a fair few times before basically just for fun, and made a point of not trying to actually put an end to Neshamah.
          But neither do I imagine she particularly wants to see him win for good, for much the same reasons.
          It is safe to assume she will show up, but as a bit of a wild-card. Still, even just knowing that she will show up is something you can make plans around…

          Liked by 5 people

          1. It’s not about Hye, it is about the Name Ranger. The Dead King for all his age and power is not very good at Name Lore because, it has been established that Named make ruts in creation called stories and stories repeat, he let Ranger make a rut in creation. Why she wants Hye to show up is because Indrani is on the cusp of becoming Ranger as her Warden powers told her. Indrani takes the Name from Hye and that rut that has been created over time shows that as Ranger she can get to the Dead King. As to why Hye hasn’t killed him is very simple… The Ranger only hunts those worth hunting and the Dead King has long went out of his to never appear as that.
            “I am the Ranger. I hunt those worth hunting. Rejoice, for you qualify.” Book 3 Chapter 32 Close

            Remember that is why she fought the Summer Queen.

            Liked by 1 person

    2. agumentic

      I think Elfin Dames are somewhere on the other side of Procer, so by the time the Dead King’s forces get there, whatever he could do with them would be a moot point.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. ninegardens

    Welp, that seen with Pickler was heartbreakingly sweet, and I actually cried.

    Mirror knight was… pretty good. Mention of the Perigrine (two chapters in a row) was pretty heavy and…. I feel like this is one of the best cases of EE pulling off character development *really well*. Mirror knight takes a long time to develop, and it feels effective and genuine. Very cool.

    Loving all these “calm before the storm” chapters.

    Liked by 14 people

    1. Mirror Night

      I think it works better coming from Christophe lol. I don’t even remember Arthur having a convo with Tariq. I mean it matches thematically as in Christophe is more like Saint in the Ultimate Weapon sense. He is tankier and has better physical stats but lost out on the Mental and skill Front. Arthur especially with his name also matches up well with Tariq, Grey Pilgrim and Vagrant Knight kinda suggest a similar Role. And as I said above I expect a team up between Mirror Knight and the Vagrant Knight.

      So many goddamn Knights…I wonder if we can get a whole power rangers style team up at this point lol. We got a Mirror Knight, A Vagrant Knight, Red Knight, Black Knight….I think that is all the Knights maybe Hanno counts as Honorary as White Knight if his new name doesn’t have Knight in it.

      Liked by 8 people

  3. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    – Extract from Volume IX of the Official Imperial Chronicles (outside of quote box)
    wining > winning
    badly died > a badly dyed
    fate as work > fate at work
    help to notice > help but notice
    is fortress > is a fortress
    Bremen are Brus > Bremen and Brus
    mine mountains and work > mining mountains and working
    tent the > tent and the
    wouldlearn > would learn
    capitals, > capital,
    too refuge > took refuge
    wouldn’t surprised > wouldn’t be surprised
    bee fighting > been fighting
    reunion of my own (missing fullstop)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Marco Boscolo

    Am I the only one getting more and more concerned about Cat? Her plan to trap the Dead King is getting derailed: the ways were shattered, the Crown is a big question mark, Akua might not be the jailer she wanted her to be. And guess who has a Name that means “a person responsible for the supervision of a particular place or thing” and is also used to indicate the superintendent of a prison?

    Liked by 8 people

  5. God, this is so good.

    Christophe third best boy (after Masego and Arthur, in that order)

    THE GOBLINSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

    Agnes!!!! Is Okay!!!!!!!!!!

    Rhenia is holding out Agnes and Cordelia didn’t get literally everyone in their home killed with their war decisions

    Catdelia friendship!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. dadycoool

        I’m personally waiting for her to space out without her eyepatch on and the people around her see the night sky in her eye socket. Unfortunately, every time she goes all Meta, we only see from her perspective.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Frivolous

    I like learning what Otto looks like. I like knowing about his large hooked nose and his thick eyebrows.

    I guess he’s muscular but I’d like confirmation of what his build is like.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. [But after the war, oh after the war…]
    Big “when I retire” energy here. Worrying.

    [“There’s more than one way to skin a cat, let’s leave it at that,” I replied.]

    That… I hope that’s a metaphor and not a cosmically ironic pun.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reader in the Night

    You know who’s missing for this party? Larat. Pretty sure he still has one last debt to settle with Catherine, and I think calling in the Wild Hunt ad literal cavalry is one of the balls Cat has in the air.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Someperson

      Doubt that this would be a winning blow but it’d certainly be a nice eleventh hour reinforcement that keeps the side of the living in the fight for a bit longer until they can do their thing.

      Liked by 4 people

  9. ohJohN

    Emotional moments in stories don’t often provoke a physical reaction from me, but damn did I get choked up during the Pickler bit 🥺.

    This entire chapter was just excellent, three different character payoffs ON TOP OF the ones from last chapter. Expertly done.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Someperson

    On the one hand, I really hope we get an epilogue when all is said and done.

    On the other hand, we have enough foreshadowing about what might come next that I can already imagine the kinds of stories you mighy get.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. BargleNawdleZouss

    1. Agnes Hasenbach aka The Augur: I am picturing her as a very sweet woman with Down Syndrome.

    2. Still awaiting Kreios the Riddle-Maker to show up at the last minute and make a contribution.

    Like

    1. Someperson

      Neshamah: Nothing can stop my world domina—
      Kreios: iF yOu HaVe FoUr PeNciLs aNd I hAvE sEvEn AppLeS, hOw ManY PaNcAkEs CaN FiT oN tHe RoOf?
      Neshamah: what
      Cat: proceeds to shank Neshamah at a critical moment of distraction

      Liked by 1 person

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