Epilogue I

“Why did the Black Queen invade Keter?

She’d run out of living to tax.”

– Overheard in a Laure tavern

Cordelia was dying.

Every ragged, rasping breathed told her of that truth. Too much of her throat was gone, devoured by a ghoul even as she killed it. Distantly she heard the buzz of Light coming down, feeling a sliver of cold satisfaction that the Blessed Artificer’s wall had kept the dead away from the ealamal until the end. Her pride had not slain Calernia. Was Alaya alive? She did not know, and her mind was slipping. Darkness crept in from the edges, closing in on all sides. Her breath rattled out, a groan, and the last of the princess’ life began to leave her. A good death, she thought.

Soft fingers were laid against her forehead. There was a shiver and her life stalled, as if caught in her throat.

“Am I too early or too late, I wonder?” Ivah of the Losara mused. “Many will grieve that you are not to be brought into the Night.”

She tried to move, to raise her hand, but it would not move.

“We see you, Cordelia Hasenbach,” the Lord of Silent Steps said, its voice echoing with two others. “You who offered peace to the Firstborn and meant it, who would welcome us into these Burning Lands as an ally.”

Coolness, fresh and pure and so intense as to be almost painful, flooded her veins as her body was wracked with spasms.

“We are the children of the Ever Dark,” the silver-eyed drow told her, “but we have learned our lessons. Steel shall be answered with steel, but you who offered good faith will see it returned in kind.”

Cordelia let out a hoarse shout, hands rising as she convulsed upwards and caught the Firstborn’s shoulder. The cold was fading, and though she was not healed neither was she dying.

“It is done,” Ivah of the Losara murmured. “Death will not have you today.”

The princess breathed out, leaning her head on its shoulder. Exhausted even though she had done nothing.

“Maybe,” Cordelia panted out, “tomorrow.”

And like a seizure, a banner flown in the face of grief, twin laughter sounded in the tent.

Night had fallen over Keter but even past midnight the dark was yet kept at bay.

Thousands of torches and bonfires burned across the Crown of the Dead, the great army that now stood mistress of it gone wild with victory. Casks of beer and liquor rolled down the streets, singing filled the winding streets and it was as if the very seat of horror had turned into a summer fair. Everywhere soldiers shouted and laughed and bickered in a dozen different tongues, old feuds forgotten for a night as all celebrated the end of the Dead King. It was a sight like none other: Alamans nobles sharing Levantine liquor with Soninke mfuasa, orc and Firstborn poets trading tirades with Arlesites over prizes of Callowan ale. Lycaonese and Levantines belting our ribald songs, Taghreb – even the new High Lady of Kahtan herself! – joining the impromptu Barber and Edward play mounted by Callowans and goblins.

There might never be a night like this again, they all knew deep down, and so they roared all the louder for it.

In the shadow of broken flying fortresses the great pyre for the dead was burning low, eclipsed by the bonfires of the living on the great avenues where cattle roasted and a thousand cooks from all over Calernia filled plates for whoever put them on the table. It was a night for life winning over death so it was no surprise that a thousand couples were born in dark corners. For a night, a few or even years to come. Wise heads opened the stocks of tangleroot brew for any who wanted it, intending to avoid accidents, but some bellies were bound to swell in coming months anyway. It was a night for rash decisions, the release of years and hopelessness – revelry sublimating all the horror of the war against Keter into a life without the Dead King’s shadow hanging over them all.

In the heart of the city, though, a handful gathered in a small room inside the black spire as the clamour of the festivities echoed from a distance. It was a distinguished company, the kind whose absence might have been noticed had merry chaos not seized the city outside. The Warden and the White Knight, two pillars of the age to come. Dented from the struggles of the day but yet standing. With them came three that would have seemed mismatched, if not for the clear ease between them: Vivienne Dartwick, the Princess, Indrani the Ranger and the Hierophant himself. Who did not seem so different, at first glance, for all that he was said to have reached apotheosis. Still tall and thin, long braids woven with trinkets going down his back, and his eyes were yet one of flesh and the other of glass.

Only now it was not the fires of Summer that glinted beneath the eye cloth but something else, a vision of miracles and revelations whose very sight would madden the unready. And there was something else, in the way the world moved around him. It was as if he moved free of the current, only faintly touched by Creation’s laws – the way his robes sometimes moved when there was no wind and went still when there was, the lack of footsteps on ash and the way no dust ever seemed to cling to him.

Before all five of them an orc lay on a bed, his breathing laboured

Hakram Deadhand, born to the Howling Wolves Clan. Once the Adjutant, now the Warlord. Though victory had been won, or the so the clamour outside claimed, two evils yet lay in him. One was horror in the mundane, the spine cracked by the Prince of Bones’ hand that now stilled his limbs. Light healing had made the wound livable, but little more. Sorcerous healing of so fine a thing was beyond the ken of any on Calernia save perhaps the finest mage-doctors of Ashur. None were here. And so instead the Warden had sent for another.

“It was a wound taken defeating the Prince of Bones,” Hanno of Arwad quietly said. “It is a tragedy, Warden, but I do not know if it is…”

“Unjust?” Catherine Foundling finished, fingers clenching.

It was a powerful boon, Undo. The stuff legends were made of. But like all legends, it had been dealt into hands that would not abuse it: the White Knight could not unmake what he did not see as unjust, and he was a rare kind of man. The kind that dying so others might not, the bloody pyre of heroism. Many of the Named that had died in Keter, most of them, would remain in the grave. It was not unjust to die willingly for something greater than yourself.

“He didn’t die,” the Warden said. “Instead they hurt him, White Knight, and did it where it’d cut deepest. He only just got out of that chair and now they put him back into it. For good.”

The dark-skinned man met her gaze, his face a calm contrast to her stormy one.

“He’s done so much to keep this continent standing that no one but a handful of scholars will ever know about,” she told him. “We both know how the world works, Hanno. In the books he’ll be the Warlord like it’s all he ever was, because that story fits. It’s cleaner. The rest will get swept under the rug, and they’ll just remember him as a footnote – the first Warlord in ages, broken in Keter. End of the tale.”

Her face clenched with fury and grief.

He deserves better.”

Hanno of Arwad did not answer, though he was brave enough not to shy from her burning gaze. The White Knight was not a man whose convictions were easily moved. And yet he stepped back, when instead of trying tirade or persuasion the Black Queen of Callow got down on her knee. Catherine Foundling was a proud woman, it was known. She had held to the bone of that pride ever since, as a girl, her father had taken into the heart of an empire and the mighty had knelt around them he had told her of a way to live: we do not kneel. Her father’s truth, one he had lived and died by. Refusing compromise even in the face of death, unbending for anything or anyone.

But Catherine went down on her knee, because she was more than her father’s daughter and Hakram Deadhand mattered more to her than pride.

“Please,” she asked. “I know there are others as deserving, that you only get once day.”

Her fingers clenched.

“And still,” she said. “Please.”

And Hanno of Arwad let conviction move him, offering a hand then another. The first to bring her back to her feet, shamed she had ever knelt before him, and the second laid on the Warlord’s side. Undo. Creation shivered, then the White Knight let out a small breath as he stepped away. The Hierophant replaced him, weaving an incantation, and after his eye ceased moving around he pulled back to give the others a nod.

“His body is in perfect condition save for the limbs cut by the Severance,” he said.

The Warden and the White Knight matched gazes for a long moment, Catherine Foundling dipping her head into a nod that said much without need for words. Hanno returned it.

“I’ll see you outside,” he said.

“Might be you will,” she agreed.

And with a mute goodbye at the Princess, Hanno of Arwad left the small room where he had brought a miracle. He was not one of the Woe, and the last evil that lay in Hakram Deadhand’s body was not the kind to be beheld by outsiders. The orc began to stir awake as the White Knight closed the door behind him, Hierophant still standing by his bedside. Hakram woke feverish and befuddled, as if did not recognize where he was. His vision swam into focus, coming to Catherine, and tension left him.

“Cat,” he gravelled. “Where are we?”

Her jaw clenched.

“Keter,” she told him, hoping.

The Dead King’s curse had been a mind-killer, but only half of it had reached him. Vivienne had caught the other. The confusion on the tall orc’s face deepened, to the horror of the others.

“What is the last thing you remember?” Masego briskly asked.

“Heading for the Arsenal,” Hakram told them. “Would someone get me out of these bindings, they-”

And the horror on his face when he saw the limbs lost to the Severance was like a blow to the stomach for them all. He fought to master his face, but the anguish was too deep and sudden to be smoothed away.

“I,” he began, then his voice broke. “How much did I lose?”

“Two years,” Indrani said.

“There might be more,” Masego said. “It is too early to tell.”

“It should have been less,” Vivienne bit out. “I caught the spell, it-”

Her words caught his eye, and the way he stiffened did not go unseen by any of them.

“You don’t remember who I am, do you?” Vivienne Dartwick softly asked.

Hakram shook his head, the hint of shame on his face burning the rest of them like acid. The Princess swallowed thickly, blue-grey eyes turning to Hierophant.

“There has to be a way,” she said. “You told us the curse is still in him, why can’t you purge it?”

“It is,” Hierophant simply said, “the Dead King’s work.”

Even from the grave, Trismegistus King’s will was not to be easily overwrit.

“There’s always a way, with curses,” Catherine Foundling said. “You taught me that. The magic fails if there’s not a way out.”

“It has a price,” Hierophant said. “And it will not bring everything back.”

“But most,” Catherine pressed.

“Most,” he conceded.

And the Warden stepped forward, but a hand was laid on her arm and she found Vivienne Dartwick’s gaze had turned to steel.

“No,” Princess said. “Not this time. Let me.”

Neither woman gave, but eventually the Warden was the one to look away. Vivienne knelt by the bed, Masego’s hand on her shoulder, and faced a hesitant Hakram.

“You don’t remember me, right now,” she told him, “but I haven’t forgotten. There’s a debt between us, Hakram Deadhand.”

“I cannot call on it,” he replied.

“You don’t have to,” she said.

And Hierophant’s other hand came to rest atop the orc’s head, his flesh eye finding Princess’ own to seek one last confirmation. A simple nod and magic billowed out like the wind. Currents of it, thick and visible to the naked eye as faint blue trails, as Hierophant bound them all together. It was not a spell, not in the way he had been taught as a boy, but something simpler. Will exercised on the world, the purest manifestation of what he had hoped to become. And through that binding, he drew out the curse as one would a poison. It fought and wriggled and tried to sink its hooks deep, but inch by inch it was drawn out of Hakram Deadhand and into the only place it could be.

Vivienne Dartwick let out a shuddering breath, accepting it whole as she closed her eyes.

The magic ebbed low, then guttered out entirely. Hierophant’s hand retreated and Hakram suddenly clutched his forehead as he let out a roar of pain. Fangs drawing blood from his own lips, he shook wildly until the fit passed and a light returned to his gaze that had been gone. It lit up the room, reflected in the others around him as their hopes soared and he let out a wounded noise at the sight of the Princess.

“Vivienne,” he said. “Gods, Vivienne, what have you-”

The Princess of Callow let out a rasping laugh, eyes opening as the curse’s foul magic flared.

“My turn,” she said. “The choice came, Hakram.”

The curse boiled out, Vivienne Dartwick’s left hand turning to ash until there was not even bone left above her wrist.

“And I judge you well worth a hand,” she finished.

Looking more fragile than anyone had ever seen him, Hakram let out a grieving curse and drew her into his arms. It was as if a dam had broken, all of them coming together onto the sickbed in a pile of limbs clutching the others tight. The Warden rested her chin atop Indrani’s head and breathed in raggedly. For the first time since she had left the Dead King’s all, it felt over. Finally over.

“Alive,” Catherine Foundling whispered.

Crippled and lost, a parade of the mangled, but they had gone through the storm and all five of them come out the other side breathing.

When she finally let herself weep in relief, she was not alone.

There’d been talk of having the ceremony at dawn but when faced with the very real possibility that most of the Grand Alliance would be too hungover to show up common sense prevailed.

It would be held at noon instead, which still ended up requiring the shepherding of a great many nobles and soldiers still quite drunk. The Plaza of Five Palaces, a soldier’s sobriquet given during the dark hours of fighting at the foot of the black spire since the Keteran name for it was anyone’s guess, remained beautiful even after the previous night’s festivities. It had to be cleared out and cleaned but there was no lack of willing hands for the work, for who didn’t love a wedding? Besides, Razin Tanja and Aquiline Osena had become beloved figures beyond even Levant as much for their war record as their open affection for one another.

Guests began arriving an hour before the ceremony, and some soon realized this was to be the most highly attended wedding in the history of Levant. Though the Champion’s Blood had no one sitting for them, foreign guests were the most prestigious of perhaps any wedding on Calernia. The First Princess of Procer and every last remaining – recognized – royal of that realm, the queen and princess of Callow, the Empress of Aenia and representatives from every single city of the League, the chancellor of the Confederation of Praes and even the first Warlord of the Clans in several hundred years.

A dash of the exotic was added by the presence of General Rumena and a handful of sigil-holders as well as the Herald of the Deeps and his generals, then a dash of the legendary through the presence of Kreios Riddle-Maker and the last living spellsingers. Had the elves not disappeared without a word, every realm of Calernia would have had someone in attendance.

The Dominion’s ways were not as elaborate as those of some other realms, but no less eye-catching for it. Razin Tanja and Aquiline Osena arrived not in dresses or fine clothes but naked from the waist up, painted entirely in the colours of their Blood: red and grey for the Binder’s Blood, green and bronze for the Slayer’s. The paints were a work of art, the most skillful hands in Levant having helped shape the elaborate patterns even though it was the betrothed who had themselves applied it as was tradition. The two of them were a sight, black-haired and handsome Lord Razin smiling softly at slender, lethal Lady Aquiline.

The crowd, made up mostly of guests and Levantines but swelled with thousands of curious soldiers from every stripe and banner, went wild at the sight of them. It felt like spitting on the Dead King’s grave, for the young couple to come to stand before the black spire and exchanged their elaborate wedding knifes. A tall and bearded Lantern bound their hands together with hemp rope and they cut their way out with the knives, emerging from the common trial wed in the eyes of Gods and men. The two of them kissed with enthusiasm that had the crowd roaring once more, and it was a done thing. Many of them, in some way, knew they were looking at more than just a wedding.

Razin and Aquiline embraced each other under a sunny sky, in the heart of Keter, and it was the first step towards the end of the Dominion. It was the first step towards what would come after, for good or ill, but with the sun so bright and the sky so blue no one thought much of the ill.

On the night of the wedding, after the banquet was over and the festivities had ignited all over the city again, a somber few assembled in the palace known as the Garden of Crowns. A great sprawl of greenery and stone, it had been chosen for its silence and beauty. The Revenant that had guarded it was long gone, so in the stillness of the Garden graves had been dug. For all that the day had been the domain of life clawed back from death, with dusk came death’s dues.

And there were many of them to pay.

Named were lowered into graves, some who had in life been loved and others hated but who were now all honoured in death. The pillars of the Truce and Terms, Ishaq Deathless and Hanno of Arwad, did not intrude into private the private griefs of the Named assembled before them but they spoke of the commonality binding them all.

“In the face of the end of times,” the White Knight said, “we came together. We made accord, where never before had there been so great an accord between Named sworn to Above and Below.”

“We’re past the storm,” the Barrow Sword said. “We lived through it, and now that we have what kept us together will fade. The Liesse Accords will not be the same rules that bound us through this war.”

Struggle between Named would begin anew, the Game of the Gods returned. Rules of engagement would bind it as they had not before, but steel would come out once more.

“But those who died here died for more than just Calernia’s survival,” the White Knight said. “They proved that, when the storm comes, we can stand together. That there is a line between doom and the world, that we all stand on the same side of it.”

Eyes went to the Warden, who stood silent by the Ranger’s side along with Hierophant and the Warlord, but she said nothing. She had not been the captains of these Named, at the end, and so it was not her place to speak. Hers would be the world that came after, not the funeral of the old one.

“It might be that call won’t come again in our lifetime,” the Barrow Sword said. “And perhaps we’ll never see the likes of this war again. But if the time comes, if horror rises again…”

“There will be a truce,” the White Knight said.

“There will be terms,” the Barrow Sword continued.

“And when we beat back that storm, the victory of that day will have been bought by those we bury here.”

A murmur of agreement, like a shiver in the air. Respected men, both of them, but there was more to it than that. For all the grief that clung strongly to the air in this Garden of Crowns, there was a hard sort of pride as well. They had beaten death, in the end. They stood over the sacrifices, of which there had been too many because there were always too many, but they had won.

And so the world changed.

The crowd broke up, coming apart into half a hundred small burials. Some gathered many grieving, Alexis the Silver Huntress’ not only bringing the last two survivors of Refuge but also many who had liked her or fought at her side. Others were small things, like the Hunted Magician’s who only earned a single faded flower from the Artificer and the Blacksmith each before he was put to the ground. Sobs filled the night, away from the laughter and merriment that still held much of the city around them, and quietly the lost were given their dues until there was only one left. In a silent corner, standing far from all save Hanno of Arwad, Kreios the Riddle-Maker buried his daughter.

He looked old, and his grief was the grief of all the world.

They celebrated the victory for five days and nights.

The festivities lost their edge of desperation as time went on, the disbelieving tinge that came with having survived the end times becoming a sort of jubilant savagery instead. There could be no corralling soldiers finally releasing all the tension and terror of the war on Keter, especially not when the sergeants and captains that might have tried were part of the hollering crowds. Wisely, no such order was given as the leaders of the Grand Alliance and its allies – historians had already begun to wrestle with the turn of phrase, looking to avoid the repetition and make a name form themselves by picking the one that’d stick – instead rode out the wave. By the sixth morning ale rations had run out and the stashes of contraceptive herbs were running dangerously low, which wound down the merrymaking more efficiently than a thousand shouting sergeants might have.

Armies began to put themselves together again, staggering back to the parts of the city where their banners had been raised. It was slow-going, and though it was rumoured that High Marshal Nim had wanted to hurry it along by sounding the gathering horns and threatening the lash for those who dragged their feet it was also said that Chancellor Alaya had intervened against it. Instead it was stretched out for another day, though soon there were enough soldiers back in the ranks that the work of preparing the departures could begin. Though with continued dwarven support there was no risk of running out of supplies and indeed the Herald of the Deeps invited the hosts to remain as long as they wished – a pretty gesture that some, perhaps cynically, suggested might not be unrelated to the fact that most the Kingdom of the Dead outside Keter and its outskirts remained swarming with undead – for some of them the war was not yet over.

The Principate of Procer had been saved from utter annihilation, but it was still a broken realm of which large swaths were yet occupied by roving corpses.

That knowledge was enough to sour the Proceran forces, often the rowdiest, on the thought of agitating to rest longer in Keter before marching away. With so many officers dead, the camps ravaged and some soldiers still missing even the most disciplined of the armies found it impossible to leave in good time, so compromise was reached. The hosts would leave through Arcadia in waves, the first of which would leave on the morrow: the eighth day since the fall of Keter. Which brought one last matter to the fore, an old promise it was time to fulfill. Though summons were only sent to the Army of Callow and a few of the kingdom’s allies, once word trickled out into the ranks there was no stopping the tide. It was, after all, to be a historic event. The kind you got to boast to your grandchildren of having been at.

Some of the nobles thought it a strange choice, to choose the ashen ruin of a breach over a more majestic site like the Dead King’s black spire or the Plaza of Five Palaces where the great Levantine wedding had taken place, but none who knew either of the two women. No matter how high Callow’s red-handed goddess of victory had risen, she had never quite gotten the mud off her boots – and oh, how her soldiers loved her for it. Even now, even still, for what else could you offer the woman who had led you to triumph against the King of Death himself? And Vivienne Dartwick, though crowned and heroine twice over, had never shaken the old urge to take to rooftops at night. Princess she might be, but she had once been a thief and not since learned squeamishness.

Besides, the both of them faintly understood something. That the moment where the Army of Callow had crossed the chasm, threw its defiance in the Enemy’s teeth and shattered the hold of the dark, had been the end of a tale. One Callow told itself about itself, a tale of bloody victories and long prices and a kingdom earning back the pride it had lost in the Conquest. And just as faintly, they understood – had for years, one way or another – that this tale could not last forever. Must not, lest Callow break itself upon the world again and again, just as surely as Praes once had and still might. And so they would honour that tale, but they would also bury it.

Near a hundred thousand were crammed in the streets and houses, atop rooftops and through ruins. A platform had been raised and greats of the era stood besides it, Named and rulers alike. The hallowed survivors of the war on Keter were resplendent in their armour and finery, but it was not to be their day. It belonged only to the two women on the heights, who had not even sent for a priest.

Princess Vivienne Dartwick stood resplendent in a long dress of Fairfax blue, pale accents evoking the rays of a sun radiating from the neckline. Her missing hand was replaced with a wooden one covered by a white glove. She wore little jewelry save for a silver bracelet, her hair made up in the same milkmaid’s braid that had become her signature, but as thousands beheld her none of them would have thought her born as anything but royalty. Behind her stood two veiled banners, held up by knights of the Order of the Stolen Crown.

Queen Catherine Foundling wore black and steel. A soldier queen she had been and would be, wearing scarred plate over a black tunic. The eye she had lost to the Hawk was covered by black eye cloth, down her back went the famous Mantle of Woe and in her hand she held a dreadful staff of dead yew. The sole jewelry she wore was the crown she had been anointed with in Laure, when she stole a kingdom back from Praes after the Folly. She needed nothing else.

The ceremony was, in the end, a simple enough thing. The Black Queen stood before her soldiers, the rest of the world behind them, and told them true.

“I took my crown,” Catherine Foundling said, “to fight a war.”

Boots on stone, shields and swords rattling. Not only from her own but also from the rest of this grand army, for love or hate none would deny that the Black Queen had brought them to this day.

“It took us far and wide, that war,” she said. “East and west, north and south, until we reached the edge of the world and brought doom to the King of Death himself.”

Cheers and shouts, the sky itself rattling from the noise of it. She waited until it wound down, letting it wash over her.

“We won it,” the Black Queen said. “Keter has fallen and with it we brought an end to the Age of Wonders.”

The crowd roared again. It passed.

“I took my crown to fight a war,” Catherine Foundling repeated, “and that war is over.”

Slowly, almost regretfully, she reached for the crown on her head. It was as if a spell had been cast over all the city, for a pin could have been heard dropping and none dared to move. None save one: as the Black Queen removed her crown, Vivienne Dartwick stepped forward.

“We’ll have peace now,” the Warden promised the world. “And I have been war’s queen. Peace will need another.”

And a roar answered, for though never had Catherine Foundling been more beloved of her people than after this last victory, they loved peace even more and Vivienne Dartwick stood for that. The roar drowned out the entire world, as the princess of Callow smoothly knelt and her queen crowned her. Vivienne rose a queen, and Creation whispered in a quickening perhaps in time a Queen, as the tale of the Black Queen of Callow came to an end. The Warden stepped back, from the kingdom and the stage, leaving both in Queen Vivienne’s hands. The queen’s face was calm and bright, smiling patiently until the shouting ebbed low, and only then did she speak.

“It would be easier,” Queen Vivienne said, “to look only forward. To chase the sun and leave the grim years we fought through behind us.”

She shook her head.

“It would be easier,” she told the world, “but we have not come so far by choosing what it easy.”

She stood tall under the sun in a way that had nothing to do with height, blue and pale and every inch a queen.

“I will not forget that the crown I now bear was forged in mud and blood,” Vivienne Dartwick said, voice high and clear, “that tomorrow we will get to stand the warmth of the sun because of the hard decisions made in yesterday’s darkness.”

And behind her, the woman who had crowned her went still as stone.

“We made mistakes. Great and small, tragic and laughable. Ours was a long, hard road and more than once we lost our way.”

They did not look at each other, but it was a conversation between the two anyhow.

“But I will not deny that road. I will not forget it, try to bury it out of sight,” Vivienne said, and there she finally met her friend’s eye. “I may regret the mistakes but not the journey.”

Something passed between them, too intricate to be simply called love but no less shining for it.

“For that, I feel only pride.”

The queen turned back to the other woman’s red-rimmed eye.

“It was an orphan, a Foundling, that led us to the edge of the world and brought us back. I’ll not let another name steal that deed.”

The crowd breathed in.

“House Foundling will rule Callow,” Queen Vivienne said. “I will bear the name, as will those who come after me, and we will not forget.”

The crowd breathed out, its roaring approval a wall of sound that seemed like it beat back even the wind.

A gesture from the queen and the knights revealed the two banners. The queen’s personal arms were unchanged, a white sun on Fairfax blue. But the royal standard, the Sword and Crown, had changed. A silver sword and crown had once been held in balance on it, the sword weighing heavier. Beneath them an old claim had still been writ, justifications only matter to the just. No longer. The sword and crown stood even, one no greater than the other, and the words had been cut short.

Only to the just, it simply claimed, as in the Book of All Things.

“We lived through the end times,” Queen Vivienne smiled, bright as sun above her. “Now what comes after is ours to make.”

94 thoughts on “Epilogue I

  1. Only one chapter left! I’ll be making an announcement regarding the Patreon and the break I’ll be taking before beginning to make Pale Lights public when the final epilogue comes up, but until then I hope you enjoy the closing of the series.

    Liked by 52 people

    1. Mirror Night

      Its been a Great Run. Hard to imagine only a single chapter remains. But I suppose all good things must come to end that is the nature of reality.

      Enjoy your break EE, you have certainly earned it. And I look forward to Pale Lights a shift from more classical fantasy to a different sort of fantasy where the world has fallen to ruin to agree. Kinda perfect timing lol with Horizon and Elden Ring coming out.

      Liked by 12 people

    2. TRUELIKEtheRIVER

      Hey, one minor request regarding the discord: If you have the chapter ready on time thursday, can you delay it by 40 minutes for one last RIOT before PGTE is done? (20 minutes past release time riot starts, 20 min after that, riot stops)

      Liked by 3 people

    3. To everyone who was complaining about last chapter and the way things ended, *this* is why. Car is not horrifically maimed. She, and the world she built, will live on, prospering instead of just surviving. That victory is far greater than anything against death, and required far more of the books runtime. This chapter is victory against the things Cat has fought since page one, not whatever book Nessie showed up

      Liked by 4 people

    4. I found this story after a brutal injury put me in a wheelchair for several months, and I really can’t describe the amount of joy and satisfaction it has brought me over the last few years. It has been solace in turmoil, a reward for a hard days work, and an inspiration to work on my own stories. The care and craftsmanship that went into this story is genuinely uplifting, and I eagerly look forward to discovering the new worlds you’ll build in the future. Thank you for this tale, and I’ll see you in the next one.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mirror Night

    Well one more to go until the end of the road. Quite the journey.
    This felt a bit short though lacked a bit of meat. But I suppose you need to rest a bit after the heights we hit. I suppose it mostly feels light cause all this wrap up is kinda predictable. Hakram Fixed, Viv is Queen, Levant Marriage, Funerals, Truce & Terms Confirmed.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Djinn O'Cide

    “Had the elves not disappeared without a word, every realm of Calernia would have had someone in attendance.”
    Chain of Hunger’s missing also. And they really know how to party.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. DeadOfKnight

      I have been reading the web serial for 6+ years and I don’t never if I have ever commented, but on the eve of story’s completion, I just want to thank you for the incredible journey and how much I’ve enjoyed PGTE!

      Liked by 9 people

  4. Eris

    Dang. I have no complaints or questions, just appreciation.
    I’ve been reading ‘A Practical Guide to Evil’ as soon as a new chapter would come out for almost two years now. I think it was book 3 or 4 when I got caught up.
    It’s pretty crazy. My life has changed so much and it’ll keep on changing. I’m graduating high school and leaving on a mission, and it’s time for me to start being an adult.
    It’s fitting that my favorite book series ends when the new season of my life starts.
    I’ll always look back on this with fondness. One of the highlights of my high school was waking up a little earlier every day a new chapter would come out so I could read it before school, so I could think about it and imagine being a Knight of the Broken Bells, or a Proceran Fantassin, etc.
    Thank you!!!!
    Also Long Live the Republic of Bellerophon!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Veivisurter

      199. This list began with the simplest of axioms, the first. In the years since others like you have added to or taken away from it, a chain that goes back further than any of us know, changing and twisting as it grows. In time no two list will be the same, save always in this one regard: there is no two hundredth axiom. That place remains empty, so that once you learn something worth passing down you may fill it yourself. Look forward, as we once did, and let those who come after you learn from our mistakes. What greater gift can there be?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Juff

    Typo Thread:

    rasping breathed > rasping breath
    her throne (throat?)
    our ribald > out ribald
    years and hopelessness > years of hopelessness
    the so the > so the
    kind that dying (valued? believed in?)
    taken into > taken her into
    them he had > them, and he had
    once day > once a day
    them come > them had come
    foreign guests > the foreign guests
    and exchanged > and exchange
    private the > the
    undead – for > undead – as for
    two women. (missing something like “were surprised”)

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Zggt

    It’s been years. When I started reading this, this story was one of few, online literature being mostly a raw, undeveloped thing. It has stood out from the get-go, and even as the online landscape has wildly changed, that fact remains. I’m so glad that there was no trite “and then the main character died winning the final confrontation”, which has become a tired cliche for writers attempting an epic (looking at you, Sanderson).

    Years of reading on the bus on the way to work, a varying number of times a week. From a junior in my field to an expert, through bad relationships and good, while essentially reinventing myself, this story has been a constant joy. For turning something as tedious as a ride to work into something for which I could get excited. I may have enjoyed it more in a binge, like so many who will get to read it from now on, but somehow, the fact that it has been beside me throughout this journey makes it so much more profound.

    Thank you. Thank you so very much.

    Liked by 6 people

  7. Wonder

    I love that the main Villain party has survived , before I have come to know ,love ,rage at sometimes .

    Only to the Just.

    Callow begins to recover even now!!
    And Cat goes off to build Cardinal.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. badatgames2911

    HAKRAM AND VIVI YOOOOOO WELL WORTH A HAND BITCHESSSSSSSSS

    Classic weding shananerganery between the lordlings

    Ivah saves cordy wooooooo, gotta have cardinals diplomat at the end

    drunk soldiers do be like that tho

    RIP WotW. I really hope we get a burial for some of the named we knew more personally. *ROLAND* Cough cough

    i guess even tho there was no body the Valiant Champion is truly dead

    They said they needed a mage healre from Ashur, but there were none? Was Mage killed????? Wasnt she trained as a healer??

    Godrophant is chillin like a Villain

    its not over yet. but the ride was wild EE. thank you so much

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Earl of Purple

      Sapan lives, but she’s the Mage. They need the Silver Mage for this, one whose craft is purely dedicated to healing and not bastardised by war magic, artifice and anything else she learnt from Masego.

      Liked by 4 people

  9. Reader in The Night

    Could Hanno not have healed Antigone with Undo? I know that by Hanno’s logic, a single life, even a life dear to him, was a fair price for the death of something like the Drakon. But didn’t he bend his rules a bit for Hakram?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Mirror Night

      Maybe but I think this is more about giving Cat a happy ending. Not Hanno cause Cat is the main character. The more annoying part is we don’t really get much reaction to Hanno losing all his friends…

      Liked by 4 people

      1. ninegardens

        I mean (A) Hanno is a weirdo, who has been repeatly stated to be unnaturally serene, and is established to not express emotions so much.
        (B) If Hanno undid Antigone’s sacrifice, then umm…… Would that bring the Drakon back? Cause unlike Hakram’s injury, her death was VERY deeply died to the death of the Drakon.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Cpt. Obvious

          The point about Antigone’s death being tied to the death of the Drakon is what makes Hanno using his aspect to help Hakram slightly more palatable for me. There were so many who deserved better than dying. Christophe was about as purely good as anyone, and he was a big reason they managed to off the DK. On top of that he had really tried to learn how the world worked and how Good didn’t always equal good.

          But Hanno and Antigone loved each other and the only reason I can see for him not to try to bring her back is if her death is what’s keeping the Drakon from resurrection.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. shikkarasu

            There’s also the issue if it being a sacrifice. It was mentioned that even Tariq could not Forgive self inflicted harm when Masego was being possessed by DK in proto-Twilight. The act of inflicting the harm on yourself makes it harder to heal in-universe.

            Becoming like a god and devouring herself? There was nothing left to heal and you would have to fight the will of the god she briefly was to do it.

            Liked by 2 people

        2. ohJohN

          Even setting aside whether he sees her death as an injustice, not just a deep personal wound — I’d worry that to revive her would just be to reincarnate a god of devouring. BEST case scenario there, she immediately gobbles herself back up.

          Liked by 2 people

      2. Isi Arnott-Campbell

        I feel you about Hanno, but the fact that Cat didn’t lose any of her direct companions in the final battle is A) not a fact to begin with: her almost-girlfriend and favorite treacherous advisor has been voluntarily trapped in a role that has been observed to break the spirit of so great a being as the Wandering Bard; and B) the first true happy ending Cat has gotten in the story.

        You wanna talk about main characters’ dead friends? Ratface, John Farrier and his fellow Gallowborne, the entirety of Liesse, Robber, Nauk, almost Hakram on several occasions that came close enough to be worth mentioning in terms of pathos, Amadeus, Captain (Cat’s de facto mom), almost all of Indrani’s adoptive siblings from when Hye raised her, many of whom went to their graves not knowing she’d ever cared they were alive, both of Masego’s dads, Juniper’s mother; I could go on. I get where you’re coming from about Hanno being unable to keep even one friend and not getting the screentime to mourn them properly, but it’s more surprising that the Woe is as intact as it is than that several heroic bands with one common member were almost wiped out.

        Still would’ve been cool to have Raphaela around, at the very least.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Piu

      Well, as we saw he can Undo something happened millenia ago (DK resurection). So nothing says he cannt Undo Antigone’s death tommorow… But it seems he lacks justification for that.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. JJR

      I’d guess that undoing a heroic sacrifice is “possible” but would also undo the effects of the sacrifice. So Antigone comes back but so does the Drakon. You’d could get a story about being careful with your powers that way.

      Liked by 2 people

    4. caoimhinh

      The added rule of “Hanno needs to think it is unjust to Undo it” seems weird and even goes against what Hanno himself had perceived when he obtained that Aspect, which was “Once a day, he can Undo a tragedy”, which -let’s not forget- was awakened to resurrect Marshal Nim who had died fighting the Scourges.

      The bit about needing to think of those things as unjust in order to Undo them was added afterward, probably to justify the many wounds and dead that will remain as such. But Hanno could resurrect the Dead King using Undo, so this really doesn’t fly that much.

      It would make sense that he can’t resurrect someone for whom there’s not a body left, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was always under the impression that Hanno had to consider it unjust in order to *Undo* it from its very first use – he’d made a mistake not listening to *Save* because he wanted to try and finish off the Prince of Bones first and Nim was dead because of that mistake. It’s been there from the beginning of the aspect to my mind, even if it wasn’t explicitly stated. Plus it is thematically very appropriate for Hanno to judge what is fair, given his journey.

        https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2022/01/28/interlude-legends-iv/

        As for the Dead King, it was unjust that he could continue gaming the system when good men died and, more than that, his avowed commander had *Sentenced* him to live-then-die and that’s the very definition of just if Hanno’s going to trust Cat’s judgement.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. shikkarasu

          Even if he didn’t view it that way, I think Sentence bent the rules to let them get away with it. It’s basically Dark Providence. I would go so far as to say that it’s also the reason that ZeZe was able to catch DK’s soul so easily; Sentence > Return.

          Liked by 1 person

    5. Zach

      I think the main difference is that Hakram getting paralyzed wasn’t really something deliberately/knowingly done “in exchange” for defeating Prince of Bones. It was just an injury he took in the course of a fight. But Antigone deliberately sacrificed herself to defeat the Drakon, with the weight of that sacrifice likely being necessary to the outcome.

      It would be different if the Drakon had given her a fatal injury prior to her defeating it – that would be more analogous to what happened to Hakram.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. arcanavitae15

    I am so happy to have read this and to see it March on through the years. Thank you for making this EE. I learned a lot of from this story that I will carry with me for a long time. It was a great adventure and an even greater story.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. arcanavitae15

    Hanno of Arwad did not answer, though he was brave enough not to shy from her burning gaze. The White Knight was not a man whose convictions were easily moved. And yet he stepped back, when instead of trying tirade or persuasion the Black Queen of Callow got down on her knee. Catherine Foundling was a proud woman, it was known. She had held to the bone of that pride ever since, as a girl, her father had taken into the heart of an empire and the mighty had knelt around them he had told her of a way to live: we do not kneel. Her father’s truth, one he had lived and died by. Refusing compromise even in the face of death, unbending for anything or anyone.

    But Catherine went down on her knee, because she was more than her father’s daughter and Hakram Deadhand mattered more to her than pride.

    “Please,” she asked. “I know there are others as deserving, that you only get once day.”

    Her fingers clenched.

    “And still,” she said. “Please.”

    This shook me, it depicts how much her father effected her life and his ideals but also how she has grown past it. Amadeus references always make me feel so awed in how well they are done.

    Liked by 10 people

  12. arcanavitae15

    “Crippled and lost, a parade of the mangled, but they had gone through the storm and all five of them come out the other side breathing.”
    That is the sum of the Woe, broken and lost who found each other and found that they were no longer alone.

    Liked by 11 people

  13. I’ve been deleting emails for this story, and not reading chapters for what feels like forever. Read consistently for like 3 years and just stopped one day, last I remember the crew was in some like pocket dimensions school/vault place that was being invaded by fae? during some special truce with Keter?I think?
    But for some reason I read this chapter, and damn it felt good. Not sure if I’ll ever have the energy to go back and read what I missed, but I’m glad I’m here for the end. I’ll Always think about this story even if I don’t read it anymore and I just have to say thanks for how many memories lie with this adventure. Truly an amazing story, one of the jewels of the web novel era.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. badatgames2911

        Adding window here. Wibbles books are always great and worm was something else. EE and Weeble are some of my favorite fantasy writers for these two books alone.

        Like

  14. I have stuck with this story for 4 years, and it changed and influenced me in the lot of ways. I found it when beginning a new stage in life, and this book has been one of the few red lines tying it throughout. And now it ends, and, coincidentally or not, that stage of life ends too. Sweeping changes rage and I may not find anything like this book again to tide me through thick and thin, but damn, it was a good ride. And I’ll remember it forever.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. alexjmscott

      She’s probably sat in a command tent/office somewhere, trying to figure out what’s about to blindside them while they’re distracted by the revelry. She’s a pessimist at heart, is the Fox: you don’t get something good without a catch, in her experience, and for something this good there’s going to be one hell of a catch coming. And if she wants to retire to Laure on a general’s pension, she’s going to make sure that she gets back there in one piece.

      Liked by 5 people

  15. beleester

    “Only to the just, it simply claimed, as in the Book of All Things.”

    I had to search for this – it’s in one of the epigraphs:

    “Thus the Gods granted us the second boon: beyond the veil of death lies a land of always plenty, which will only be open to the just.”

    So taking Cat’s motto, but changing it from mockery of the idea of justice to an honest endorsement of it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sinead

      Not only that, but they had open Callow for those to return in good faith: first the Thirteenth, and thrn the goblins, as well as other elements of the Praesi diaspora.

      Callow is a land of plenty in a lot of ways. And this now holds tgdm to it.

      Liked by 4 people

  16. mindsword2

    I believe I started reading around the Lord of Silver Spears. It’s been a long time and this will almost certainly be marked as my favorite web novel ever read. I quote this work nearly every week it feels like and the words and phrases have sunk deep.

    Ever worthy, EE.

    Liked by 4 people

  17. BargleNawdleZouss

    I would be totally fine if EE wants to take a week or two to write Epilogue II, and give us the Tolkienesque extended ending (immediate AND long-term aftermath) that we’re all craving.

    Liked by 5 people

  18. Daniel E

    A barb about taxes immediately struck me as more random than normal. A quick search later: Book 1 Chapter 1- “How many Praesi does it take to change a lantern’s wick?
    A legion to conquer all the candlemakers, a High Lord to sell the wicks down south and then we’re taxed for being in the dark.”
    – Overheard in a Laure tavern

    Liked by 7 people

  19. Arexus Galia

    This is the first time I’m ever commenting here, but I’ve been following your wonderful tale for years now. I was studying in college when I first started. You engrossed me so much in your work that I would sometimes read it instead of paying attention to the prof. And here we are now. Years later I know have a job, and now the tale of Catherine ends. It was a hell of a ride. And I would like to thank you for your years of work. God bless man, and good luck in your next endeavor.

    P.S.: Abigail better get her bloody pension. She deserved it!

    Liked by 4 people

  20. SomeGuyWhoReadsThings

    Man I feel like a little hole is about to open up on my weekly routine. And a bigger one in my heart for all these characters. It’s been so long that I legit can’t remember a time when I didn’t read this first thing in the morning. Such monumental work mate well done, can’t wait to read it all in one go now 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

      Does that mean he’ll one day lend his patronage to other would-be gods, at least as long as they aren’t threatening his friends’ legacies?

      Like

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