Hundreds of thousands dead for the sake of your wretched ambition, your mad design to bring to heel the kingdoms of man.
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In all the history of Creation no one woman has been so wicked as you, and I will have my answer. Why, o Empress of Ruins?
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We fought and did not grow old. Banned by decree of Dread Emperor Nihilis. Sign In Don't have an account? Start a Wiki. Contents [ show ]. Categories :. Hanno was not certain what was more surreally amusing: that the most prominent villain of their age was expressing sincere worry for his well-being, in her own rough way, or that the First Prince of Procer was seemingly unable to decide what part of this she found the most appalling.
The three of them were riding ahead of the rest of the column and at brisk a pace, though Lyonceau would not be in sight for some time. The White Knight was less offended, for though the touch of Contrition always served a purpose it was not often gentle in pursuing it. As for Endurance… Hanno cleared his throat.
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Some of the last words the Stalwart Paladin had ever heard. That life had perhaps been the most useful to call on, when studying the Black Queen. The Stalwart Paladin, though, had walked among the people of the Callowan city of Dormer and then spoken with the Black Queen for some time. Go home , Catherine Foundling had offered, looking so very exhausted. It was unsporting, is what I mean. It was about the kill-snatching.
I understand what it is that the Tyrant of Helike seeks to achieve through this purported trial. We get a curse on the way out, White Knight, and it sticks. Even when it has no right to. Gods of my ancestors, grant me due , his mother has once snarled. And as the blood-soaked tile through which she had honoured Below for many years shattered, the heavy weight of a curse had filled the air.
All it had taken for it to seize men by the throat was for a knife to kiss a throat, and Hanno of Arwad to become entirely an orphan. Yet it is your own past, that drags your eye away from the truth of this. She considered him with those clever, serious eyes that ever belied the casual manner of speaking she wielded as club and scalpel both. Honestly examining herself for where she might have made a mistake, a misstep. A refreshing thing, this. The willingness to entertain she might have erred. Judgement had already been passed on Kairos Theodosian, on a floating tower in sight of the walls of Delos.
The Tyrant of Helike had ran across half the continent hiding in the shadow of great hosts and great needs, yet now he was delivering himself to the Tribunal of his own free will. There was no escaping that judgement, once it had been passed. Yet I am not a villain, Catherine Foundling. Should the Enemy seek to struggle against the Tribunal instead, then what heeds not justice will be put down with overwhelming might.
Yet it will not matter when the grip shatters rock. He watched her watching him, saw the eyebrows narrow and the thoughts adjust. She had understood, without him speaking a word of it, that there was more to his certainty than she knew. From he could almost see her passing through a list of possible allies, now as nimble in her thinking as William of Greensbury had found her to be on her feet.
Her eyes almost flicked behind them, to look where the other guests were riding, and Hanno nodded in assent. It would be not one but two Choirs the Tyrant of Helike would face, should he bare his fang against the Tribunal. The Black Queen clicked her tongue against the roof her mouth. Her gaze moved to the First Prince, whose face had remained inscrutable for some time as she followed the conversation closely. The First Prince seemed even less pleased, which took Hanno some time to grasp.
Ah, it had been horse-trading. Cordelia Hasenbach would have preferred this to be a transaction, bought and paid for. The Black Queen offered instead a favour, to be repaid in kind one day. It was a bargain that demanded little of Procer yet would benefit the drow in the currency they would need the most after the Tenth Crusade came to an end. The blue-eyed princess turned to him, and already he could hear the question on the tip of her tongue: how likely would it be that such protection would be needed?
Yet she never spoke the words and looked faintly ashamed for a flickering moment. The Black Queen nodded in acknowledgement, then flicked him a glance. Both she and the White Knight moved in unison when there was a tremble of sorcery ahead, though when the silhouettes revealed became clearer the tension went out. The other two he recognized only by description.
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The tall woman in mail with a long green coat and a half-hidden face must be the Archer, a guess that the massive longbow on her back seemed to support. The blind man with dark skin and long trinket-woven braids must be the Hierophant, a warlock who when enthralled by the Dead King had very nearly killed every single living thing in Iserre.
Hanno cocked his head quizzically at Antigone, who replied in the same Gigantes stance-speak. Respect, dislike, danger. The dislike had implication of arrogance, not offence, which was interesting. That spoke to the respect, for the Gigantes prized not a single virtue should it be accompanied by weakness. Simply because the Tyrant of Helike had kept his cards hidden until the last moment did not mean they would enter the trap blind. The White Knight had learned much from his own defeats, from studying the dooms and triumphs of his heroic predecessors.
And this particular method, which he had once discussed with the Peregrine, often served: sending a companion out with only vague mandate when the enemy was afoot.
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It was creating an opportunity for providence to smile upon them, for as all other things providence must be helped along lest if fail. Like her storied teacher the Lady of the Lake, she was likely cast in Roles either heroic or villainous by circumstance. Her allegiance to the Black Queen put a hand on the scales towards Below, it was true, but then Catherine Foundling had often sailed dark ships to pale shores — terrible shores, it was true, but pale nonetheless.
For providence to have offered a stirrup to his foot, his particular knowledge must have been needed. It was a well-trained beast. Which was a peril that Hanno would not lightly risk, as it would expose all those that had broken faith with the Tyrant of Helike to the vengeance that would follow. There was no understanding of this situation that was acceptable, for even if the White Knight was certain to die in such a trial his life would weigh less on the scales than that of Catherine Foundling and Cordelia Hasenbach: without those two, the war on Keter was lost.
The cause would be weakened by his own death, but hardly irreparably. Archer, I need you in Salia.
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Queen Catherine was insisting that should they all die in Lyonceau then Vivienne Dartwick would need both the Archer and the Adjutant at her side to keeps things from collapsing, while the Archer argued not untruly that if the Black Queen died the talks were dead anyway. Antigone inclined her head in question, but he dismissed it. Best for all if she started with them, as far as Hanno was concerned, and Roland as well.
He was not as powerful a spellcaster, but he was cunning and his knowledge broad in scope. And so they resumed the ride forward to Lyonceau, into the jaws of the beast waiting to gobble them up. It had made for a serviceable temple, if to admittedly asinine Gods and the occasional feckless Choir, but it made for a rather dignified courtroom.
Kairos Theodosian had seen to it, assigning his most trustworthy servants to the task. Even as the latest of his esteemed guests passed the threshold of the wards encircling Lyonceau, the Tyrant of Helike leaned back against his throne and cast a critical eye on the stained glass before him, which was depicting the first elected First Prince being crowned by what appeared to be a flock of naked giggling cherubs. One of his trusted servants had painted over the face of Clothor Merovins a bright red beaked nose and touched up his hair with bright blue spikes, which one might venture to say was a fetchingly clashing addition, yet it was lacking a certain je ne sais quoi , as the Alamans said.
Inquisitive chittering was his answer, his last gaggle of gargoyles gathering to hear his regal proclamations. The chittering turned rather enthusiastic, matching his mood perfectly.