Chapter 40

“Gods be my witness,” Mayor Crespin harshly said, “but if I either of you draws a sword I will have you shot.”

Angharad’s lips thinned, back straightening as she glared down at the man. She had already given her oath, what manner of honorless cur did he take her for? Cantica’s mayor, a middle-aged man with a bushy black beard whose wildness contrasted with the tidiness of his dated woolen green tunic, looked unimpressed by her anger.

“Glare all you want, girl, but I’ve permission from the commander in Three Pines to dispose of any of you who get rowdy,” the man said. “You think you’re the first kids with chips on your shoulders who’ve blown through here?”

“I have no intention of breaking my word,” Angharad curtly said.

Crespin held her gaze a moment longer – how flat they looked, she thought, almost lifeless – before grunting in what could have been either approval or dismissal. The mayor’s dark eyes then moved to Augusto Cerdan, who was yet grinning.

“I only reached for my blade because I felt in danger, good sir,” Augusto said. “I would not dare to break your laws.”

Mayor Crispin eyed the infanzon a moment longer.

“You’re lucky we don’t give out beatings for smugness,” the mayor finally said. “Go stand with the rest.”

That wiped the grin off Augusto’s face well enough. The mayor, stroking his beard, glanced at them one last time then peeled away. The two town guards that had been looming over their discussion leaned their muskets back against their shoulders. Men with much nerve, the Pereduri thought. There were only a handful of them, to pen in five times as many trial-takers, but at no point had they shown fear at the possibility of a fight breaking out.

Angharad supposed that living on this nightmare of a place must do wonders for building one’s bravery.

“You, the new arrivals,” Mayor Crispin called out. “Send me one in front. The remainder goes with the crowd.”

The dark-skinned noblewoman turned in surprise: she’d not noticed anyone coming. Angharad let out a startled noise at what she found: Tristan, Yong and the pale-skinned Sarai. The latter looked like she had done best of the three, at least until Angharad noticed the missing fingers. The others looked like they had been savagely beaten and Yong had clearly been shot but the three were well enough to move. They were warmly welcomed by the rest of their company, Yong more so than the rest – his acquaintance with Lady Ferranda and Lord Zenzele was of long date.

It was Tristan who limped to the front as they had been instructed, the sole part of him that did not look like it had been tossed down a mountainside the worn leather tricorn on his head. The Sacromontan had decent taste in that regard, at least.

“Tredegar,” the grey-eyed man tiredly greeted her, offering a nod.

“Tristan,” she happily replied. “I am pleased you made it through.”

How he had done so was a question for later, she decided. There must have been another path through the maze, one that could be pried open without ten victors.

“You can have your reunion later,” Mayor Crespin said, brusque but not unkind. “Tristan, is it?”

“That is my name,” the Sacromontan agreed.

“Should we be expecting further survivors?” the man asked. “The girl here says all the people she ran the second trial with are accounted for.”

“Our fourth is dead,” Tristan replied, face subtly tightening. “As far as I know, there are no others left.”

Angharad could not, in that moment, recall the old man’s name. Franco, Frecho? She had been told it at some point, she knew, and a slight well of shame came at the realization she had not cared enough to remember.

“Good,” Mayor Crespin said, then paused.

Tristan was looking at him. The grey stare was even, almost mild, but Angharad shifted uncomfortably at the sight. It was an unsettling sort of calm – the kind that came right before someone smashed a glass against your head or bared a knife.

“Not good,” Crespin corrected, “but simpler for us. If everyone is there we can get the Trial of Weeds going.”

Tristan cocked his head to the side.

“Do you need anything else of me?” he asked.

“No,” the mayor grunted, then flicked a glance her way. “Same with you, Malani. You can join the others.”

Angharad smoothed away her irritation at the inaccuracy and inclined her head in acknowledgement, keeping the other trial-taker company on the short walk. No words were shared, the only sound their boots squelching in the shallow mud. Song was waiting for Angharad when she returned, gesturing for her to come closer while Tristan disappeared into the crowd.

“Shalini gave them Ishaan’s body,” the Tianxi whispered in her ear. “They’ll burn it tomorrow, after firewood has been gathered.”

“She agreed to part with it?” Angharad whispered back, honestly surprised.

“They didn’t give her a choice,” Song replied. “They wouldn’t allow a corpse to be dragged around for fear of disease.”

Which was, the Pereduri admitted, a fair concern. Having her hand forced in such a manner explained why the Someshwari looked in a foul mood, however, ignoring Zenzele’s attempts to engage her in conversation. Ferranda stood with them, the trifecta having kept together on the march, and Angharad felt a pang of envy. Everyone she had passed the first trial with was now dead or estranged, save for Song – even Brun, who she thought herself on good terms with, now preferred to stand with Yaretzi and quietly converse rather than renew their acquaintance. Mayor Crispin cleared his throat, putting an end to the small talk, and all eyes went to him.

“First off,” the bearded man said, “since I heard the sanctuary got buried I’ll first ask you this: is there anyone here who would withdraw from the trials?”

He waited for a moment, to utter silence.

“Last chance,” he said. “If you get to hear the rules of the Trial of Weeds, the only ways you’re leaving this island are in a coffin or a black cloak.”

Still silence. The man shrugged.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” the mayor said. “Follow me, I’ll give you the rules once we get to the town square.”

It was not a particularly long walk, though the lackluster streets made it rather unpleasant. They stuck to the sides as much as possible, closer to the occasional wooden planks than the mud in the middle of streets. After four minutes of passing shops, houses and a large inn the mayor slowed as they reached their destination.

The square looked almost out of place given how cramped the rest of Cantica was, all pressed against the palisade walls with narrow streets and rough wooden houses. In contrast the town square was a wide and open space paved with thick square stones. Spread out across it, facing the center, were three large iron cages.  Each was taller than a man and long enough you would be able to walk inside.

Padlocks hung on their open doors.

There was a ripple of unease through their company, which Angharad would freely admit to sharing in. If there had been beasts in the cages they were now gone, and if they were meant for people then…

“Here we are,” Mayor Crespin said. “Come close now, and no chatting. I won’t be repeating myself if you miss anything.”

Dutifully, their company assembled at the edge of the paved square while the bearded mayor came to stand between the cages. Crespin spat to the side, into the mud.

“Now, the Watch is supposed to give you some spiel about the nature of the third trial before sending you off our way,” he said. “But I’m no watchman, and I’ve only heard bits and pieces of the speech over the years.”

He shrugged.

“So I’ll be giving you my own understanding of it instead.”

The bearded man swept through them with his gaze.

“The Trial of Lines is a test of skill,” he announced. “If you don’t have a plan or lick up to people who do, if you don’t have the training to make it to the sanctuary quietly or the strength to fight your way through, then you end up dead.”

Angharad winced at the bluntness of his words, but there was the ring of truth to them.

“Now the Trial of Ruins, it’s a pot,” Mayor Crespin said. “They throw you into the water and turn up the heat to see what you’ll do when it starts to boil: do you fuck over your allies, do you break or run or rise up to the occasion?”

Glances were sent this way and that at the man’s words. Tupoc only grinned at the unspoken accusations, entirely unruffled, and a flattering amount of looks went her way at the last part. Angharad straightened her back, allowing herself a sliver of pride.

It did not last.

“There’s not many of you this year,” the mayor bluntly said, “so you must not have been great swimmers.”

There was the ring of truth to that as well, Angharad thought. Near thrice their current number had walked out of the Bluebell.

“Now, the Trial of Weeds isn’t like the first two,” Mayor Crespin said. “If you got here, you’re good or you’re lucky: either way, the Rooks can use you.”

He smiled, just a shallow stretch of the lips that had precious little mirth to it.

“No, this place is about ripping out the weeds before they get into the Watch, so to speak, and the winnowing is left to your own hands.”

Another ripple of unease.

“We’re not going to put any you in these cages,” Crespin said. “You are.”

Few of them liked the sound of that.

“Tonight, in the time before you retire to your rooms, each of you will be taken aside asked to give three names,” the man said. “One for each person you think should be put in one of the cages. The three of you named the most times will then be escorted into their cage by the town guard come morning.”

Angharad frowned, then cleared her throat. It earned her an unfriendly look from Crespin.

“What happens should two of us be named an equal number of times?” she asked.

It would not matter unless the third position was the one shared, she thought, but should that happen it was possible a draw would need settling.

“You get to share the cage,” the mayor replied without batting an eye.

That was, Angharad silently conceded, callously fair.

“Come morning, you’ll gather up here again,” Mayor Crespin continued, “and after the chosen enter the cages then you get to vote on which of the three will die.”

“You can’t be serious,” Shalini replied. “You want us to kill each other?”

The man shrugged.

“You’ve already been killing each other, I imagine,” he said. “Now is when you call each other to account for it.”

He chuckled.

“I’ve seen the smile drop off the faces of all sorts of clever sorts, when it sunk it that they might have to pay for their bloody tricks after all,” Mayor Crespin said. “The way I see it, this test is for them. If you throw your allies to the wolves, well, you best be clever enough to talk them out of hanging you after.”

The mayor shrugged.

“What use would the Watch have for you otherwise?”

Half a dozen of them spoke up at the same time even as Angharad’s fingers tightened around the grip of her saber. This was madness, she thought, how could they be expected to – Mayor Crespin’s hand rose, and silence fell again. No one wanted to risk missing a piece of the rules.

“It doesn’t end there,” the bearded man said. “After that’s done, each of you will get asked a question in private: should another round be played?”

You could have heard a pin drop.

“All it takes is one yes,” Crespin said, “for there to be another.”

“That is absurd,” Augusto bit out. “How many of us will die for petty grudges?”

It was uncomfortable, Angharad thought, to be forced in a position where she agreed with the man.

“As many as you lot care to kill,” the mayor said, indifferent. “The Trial of Weeds ends when refusal of another round is unanimous. After that we’ll hand you fresh supplies and you get to toddle on north to Three Pines to join the Watch.”

Though Angharad could feel indignation about to erupt, their company held on to silence a little longer. Crespin liked toying with them. They proved right to, as the mayor chuckled a few heartbeats later.

“One last thing,” he said. “There’s one last rule, which is a secret you will have to find on your own. A way for someone in the cages not to die even if they get picked. Sniff around for it however you will, so long as you remember the rules: no violence against my folk, or each other.”

Mayor Crespin offered them a nod.

“That’s the whole of it,” he said. “My people will find you to ask the names, don’t try to go to sleep before you’re given leave.”

He walked right through their crowd, forcing them to part as if to make a point, and for a few heartbeats silence followed in his wake.

Then chaos came screaming out.

The first thing that happened was that Tupoc Xical walked away.

Without a word, ignoring the jeers from Ferranda and Zenzele. Angharad searched his face for fear as he walked past her, for regret, but found neither. He looked, to her dismay, thoughtful. He knows he is certain to be sent into a cage, she thought, so he is going on the hunt for the hidden rule that might save his life. He must have committed to that decision before the mayor was even done speaking. It was a tortured thing to admire Tupoc’s composure – he would not have needed to be composed, after all, were he not a feckless traitor.

Everything admirable about him was intertwined with the worst of traits. In a way his qualities made it easier to despise him, Angharad thought, for Tupoc was capable of acting with honor she he want to. He had the skill, the discernment.

It was a choice for him to be heinous.

“We should all agree now on who we send into the cages,” Yaretzi was saying. “The trial thrives on mistrust, should we simply be open with-”

“How would we know if someone’s lying?” Lan casually asked. “We’ll give our names in private, the mayor was clear about that.”

Yaretzi turned a gimlet eye on the older woman, Angharad only then noticing that one of her turquoise earrings was missing. It must have fallen during their flight to Cantica.

“Trust,” Yaretzi began, but derisive laughter cut the sentence short.

“There is still a murderer among us,” Zenzele, who’d been the one to laugh, cut in. “There should be no talk of trust, Yaretzi.”

“Chaos is to no one’s advantage,” Song opined. “Some semblance of an agreement can only help.”

“You sit on more secrets than anyone here, Tianxi, and some are fresher than others,” Zenzele Duma flatly said. “I will not invade your privacy by pressing, but do refrain from taking us for fools. I will not be a tool for your schemes.”

Song met his eyes with her unblinking silver gaze, face hardening.

Angharad’s brow rose at the tension. That was a strong claim, but a lord of Malan had spoken it so he must not believe it a lie. And he has a contract that would let him sniff out secrets, she thought. Zenzele had seen her own vengeful oath, though he had not known what it was. And now he says that what Song keeps to herself dwarfs even that. A sobering thought. Yet secrecy was not deserving a scorn: had Angharad told them all she was pursued by assassins?  No, not even when she had foolishly feared that Zenzele Duma and his lover might be killers sent by her nameless foe.

“There is ruin in all our wakes, Lord Zenzele,” Angharad said. “To chase each other’s shadows is a game without a victor.”

The dark-skinned noble – taller than her even with his hat in hand, though not by much – fixed her with a steady look. Ferranda elbowed him, after which he gave Angharad a curt nod and wrenched his gaze away. Song looked about ready to speak again, but it was another who stepped in first. Master Cozme Aflor’s flair had never quite recovered from the loss of his hat, but the older man still cut a respectable figure with his finely groomed mustache and beard. The cuts he’d suffered on the Toll Road only added to it, the bandages around his arm lending him a wounded veteran’s look.

It was with his hand on the pommel of sword – loosely, resting and not threatening – that he went to stand before everyone.

“I have made mistakes,” Cozme Aflor bluntly said. “I own that.”

A burst of shrill, mocking laughter.

“Oh, sweet Manes,” Augusto Cerdan said. “To think I’d see the day where you bent that stiff neck enough to beg for your life, Cozme. The voyage was worth it just for that.”

The older man glanced at him with distaste, then ignored him.

“I tried to keep my oaths to House Cerdan beyond what was wise,” Cozme said, “but never did I bare a blade on any of you, or take revenge for a contract being used on me without provocation.”

A meaningful look was thrown at Shalini there, who sneered back.

“If you feel it has grown cold outside, then you should have thought twice before walking out,” the Someshwari replied.

Brun cleared his throat.

“One does not lightly leave the service of the infanzones,” the fair-haired man said. “Defiance is not without costs for Sacromontans, Shalini Goel.”

The short Someshwari eyed him with surprise, and some abashment at the reminder that she had come here as the close and trusted companion of a noble while Cozme was merely a retainer. Angharad, though she kept an eye on the talks, was instead taking measure inside her own mind. Tupoc was headed for a cage, that much was certain. He had made too many enemies. The only question worth asking was who else would be headed there.

“Let us not pretend being a soldier for a house right beneath the Six is the same as being a rat,” Tristan flatly said. “Pity is a fine thing, Brun, but Cozme Aflor never gave a shit about anyone but his charges until that bridge was thoroughly burned.”

“And he should be killed for that?” Brun challenged.

A harsh laugh.

“You will have to forgive Tristan,” Yong said. “He’s grown used to deciding who lives and dies.”

That earned the pair measuring looks – it was an obvious break in a previously cordial relationship – but Angharad was yet running down the list. No one, she thought, had made more foes than Augusto Cerdan and Cozme Aflor. It was near a sure thing that the two of them would be sent to the cages along with Tupoc. Only Yaretzi, who had fought Tupoc and been accused by Shalini, could even begin to come close.

“Everyone with a gun has that same power, Yong,” Lan blandly said, “and I see you carry two.”

“I don’t think this is going well for you, Cozme,” Augusto loudly whispered. “Perhaps you should… go with the current, old friend. It will be faster.”

Angharad almost winced – there was no almost about it for the older man – as she remembered when she had last heard that sentence.

“To consign someone to the cages does not mean death,” Angharad pointed out. “A mark of shame, perhaps, but not an oath to send them into the grave.”

“Well said,” Yong grunted. “I have been told I might be bleeding out, so I’m to look for a physician. I will, however, leave you with this: Tupoc, Augusto, Tristan. Make of it what you will.”

He began limping away after. Sarai, whose face was flushed pink with exhaustion, traded a look and a nod with Tristan before slipping away from the crowd to help Yong limp forward. The veteran looked as if he wanted to refuse, but after a moment conceded and slung an arm around her shoulder as they disappeared into the town.

“That was most unwarranted,” Augusto complained. “I’ve hardly even spoken with the man.”

“Hardly must have been enough,” Angharad evenly replied.

He cheerfully flipped her the finger, seeming unworried even though he was sure to be bound for a cage. Is this bluster, or is he genuinely without fear? Cozme, whose speech had been diverted by sundry distractions, cleared his throat and claimed attention once more.

“I have said my piece,” the older man said. “I can now only trust in the fairness of those assembled here.”

“I truly misspoke when I called you a cock,” Augusto mused. “How could you be such, when you have such a talent for fellatio?”

The infanzon chuckled.

I trust in the fairness of those assembled here,” he repeated in a nasal voice. “At least get on your knees first, if you’re going to be working at it so hard.”

Cozme’s cheeks reddened in anger as he reached for his sword, not quite unsheathing it, and even Angharad felt her jaw tighten at the uncouthness of. Augusto had somehow become even more odious since the Toll Road, and no longer cared to keep his venom in check. By the looks on the face of those around here, that was doing him no favors. But then he would have been headed for a cage even if he turned sweet as honey, Angharad thought.

As Mayor Crespin had said, the Trial of Weeds was a reckoning for the other two.

“Talking here is pointless,” Shalini said. “Half of us can’t trust the other and there can be no serious talks with snakes coiled in our laps.”

“She’s right,” Lady Ferranda said. “And so was Yong, in his own way.

She paused.

“Tupoc, Augusto, Cozme.”

“I’ll be taking that up with the Villazur, when I return to the city,” Augusto mildly said.

The fair-haired infanzona cocked an eyebrow.

“That’d be quite a trick, without a head,” she said, and walked away.

Shalini went with her, and Zenzele flicked them a glance before clearing his throat.

“Consider Tupoc a given,” the Malani. “The rest bears thought.”

He then tipped his head at them politely and hurried to catch up after the others. There were still many of them left, Angharad saw. Of the fourteen they numbered there were still eight standing here in the square. But the moment Shalini and the other had left the prospect of keeping this out in the open had died. Even though there were numbers enough here to decide the matter if they wanted to, the illusion of unity had shattered.

Everyone would be cutting their own deals, as if this were the High Queen’s court.

Angharad met Song’s eyes and traded a small nod. They were done here, both agreed, and within a minute had taken their leave.

However cramped the planks on the side of the street, they were preferable to walking in the mud. Even if it made speaking as they moved somewhat awkward.

“I have a degree of acquaintance with Sarai,” Song told her. “I will seek her and find out what happened when our company and hers parted way.”

Angharad could read between the lines. The two women were acquainted, but the Triglau was less than fond of Malani. Understandable, if somewhat unwarranted – Angharad had never owned a slave nor traded in them. Their first conversation after the reveal of her origins had been… less than skillful, admittedly, so the Pereduri said nothing on the subject.

“I am rather curious what tunnel they found to escape,” Angharad admitted. “It must have been unknown even to the Watch.”

“They are a canny lot,” Song said. “I expect it will be an interesting tale.”

Angharad nodded, then cleared her throat awkwardly.

“I expect I should speak with Lord Zenzele first,” she said.

She delicately did not mention that her fellow islander had taken a clear dislike to Song. Said Tianxi eyed her from the side.

“He is not wrong,” the silver-eyed woman said. “I keep a great many secrets.”

“Your eyes bind you to such a fate,” Angharad shrugged.

It was, if anything, reassuring that Song was not prone to voicing the many hidden things that her eyes were certain to reveal by simple virtue of being in their presence. Angharad would much rather that pact be held by a woman inclined to secrecy than a blabbermouth. Song looked away, stepping through the shadow cast by the lamplights above.

“More than merely that kind,” she said. “I joined the trials on the Dominion for a particular purpose, Angharad, and thought I am yet bound not to speak of it the time approaches where I will be able to tell you.”

“That is not necessary,” Angharad assured her. “I do not begrudge silence, save if it causes harm.”

“It is necessary,” Song replied, sounding almost amused. “I intend to make you an offer when we reach Three Pines, and when I make it I would not have you think our entire acquaintance was a ploy.”

The Pereduri appreciated that, truly. All this scheming and lying, how exhausting it had become. Sifting through every sentence for ten meanings, every offered hand a trap. Even the closest to a pleasant diversion Angharad had found had been… Her jaw clenched at the memory of how Isabel and looked, her face a red ruin. Song’s open admission that she was keeping secrets and would offer a bargain was refreshing, a clearly drawn line in the sand.

She could do with more of those in her life.

“You have saved my life on more than one occasion,” Angharad said. “Whatever else may come to happen between us, Song, you may be assured that I will always hear out any offer you have to make.”

The other woman studied her for a stretching moment, steps stuttering on the planks, and it occurred to Angharad that Song was actually quite striking. Silver eyes set in a face of pale gold, the cut of her slender and elegant. Bearing a plaited braid and folded leather hat, she seemed almost like a huntress of story. A passing thought, almost absurd. No huntress out of a story would have been so intent on cutting her rations precisely that she ended up with leftover string-thin slices of bread that she never actually ate.

That and she snored, though the noise was amusingly dainty.

“Words worth remembering,” Song finally said.

They left it at that.

The inn they had walked past earlier was called the ‘Last Rest’.

The words were carved above the door in scrabbly Antigua, the townsfolk apparently being unacquainted with the notion of hanging a sign. If not for the large and open shutters she would not have known the place for what it was from the outside. The ground floor was a common room full of long tables, with a fireplace at the back and a bar counter. Behind that counter a door led into what looked like a kitchen, while a little to the side rickety stairs led to a second story.

Song had gone across the street, where the town physician and gravedigger – an efficient combination, Angharad had mused – was allegedly having a look at Yong’s wounds. Sarai would be waiting on him, as good a time as any to talk.

The three souls she had been on the hunt for, however, were in the Last Rest’s common room. Having claimed the end of the table near the fireplace, they were sitting with warm meals and what appeared to be tankards of ale. Moving their way, Angharad noted that while Shalini appeared to have claimed one of Zenzele’s sausages she had in exchange surrendered her beer. Ferranda had traded nothing, but was poking at her peas with a distinct like of enthusiasm. Angharad could not blame her, they were horribly common fare.

It was Ferranda Villazur who first saw her coming, and when Angharad gestured towards the open space by Zenzele’s side with a raised eyebrow the infanzona gave a shrugging nod. Permission enough, the noblewoman decided. Loosening her sword belt, she pulled it off and set it down to the side before sliding onto the bench by Lord Zenzele. The man in question swallowed his drink, then smiled her way.

“Lady Angharad,” he said. “Come to get a meal out of them as well?”

“I would not mind,” she admitted. “Is it expensive?”

She did not have much coin left, and to be honest the thought of coin had her a little dazed. How long had it been since she last paid for something? Not even two weeks, and yet it felt like an entire world away.

“No cost.”

Angharad tensed at the voice coming from behind: she had not heard someone approach. Turning, she found a startlingly young man that could not have been older than seventeen looking at her with mild boredom. He wore a leather apron over a roughspun brown cote – a long-sleeved tunic in an antiquated style – and his messy black hair went down to his shoulders. He must have been Lierganen, by the tan, but she could not place the accent.

“As part of our charter with the Watch,” the man said, “we provide room and board for all trial-takers as well as run the Trial of Weeds. You want a meal?”

Angharad slowly nodded.

“What is available?”

“The meal,” the man drily replied. “With or without beer.”

“It is barley beer, Tredegar,” Zenzele told her. “Criminal stuff.”

It did not seem to hinder him any from getting started on the second drink.

“Maize beer is a Malani obsession, Duma,” she amusedly replied. “My people make barley wine like civilized folk.”

“I’m sure you think you’re interesting,” the innkeeper said, sounding like they were anything but, “but I’m still waiting on an answer.”

Angharad asked for a meal, without ale, then cleared her throat.

“What is to be the arrangement for rooms?” she asked.

“Usually we split you lot between here and the Warm Coffin across town, but there’s barely any of you this year so you’re all going upstairs,” the man said, jutting his thumb towards the stairway near the counter. “Take whatever room you want, then come back and ask me for the key. There’s numbers on the doors.”

“Thank you,” Angharad nodded.

The man snorted, then walked away.

“I do not suppose the Warm Coffin’s owner would be any more polite?” she drily asked.

“It’s closed,” Shalini got out after swallowing a large mouthful. “Ferranda asked when we heard about the meal.”

“He seems young to run an inn,” Angharad said. “Even for a border town.”

“That we did not ask,” Ferranda replied. “Still, I would wager it had something to do with the cultists impaled before the gates. The entire town seems on edge, they might have been attacked recently.”

That made a great deal of sense, she thought. With the landslide burying the Watch garrison near the mountain, the cult of the Red Eye might have thought it opportune to try a raid on Cantica. It would also explain how few people they had seen out on the streets. The innkeeper was back with her meal: sausage, peas and sliced almonds. She thanked the man, asking for his name, and got a raised eyebrow as only response.

“Tried that too,” Zenzele drily said. “Not the friendliest of fellows, this one.”

Shalini, who had polished off her entire plate and had begun eyeing that of her neighbors, let out a grunt.

“He might not see the point in getting friendly when the trial could kill any of us,” the Someshwari said.

Ferranda discreetly used her wooden fork to empty most of her peas onto Shalini’s plate, smiling winningly at the other woman when Shalini turned to cock an eyebrow, but the grim mood brought on by the reminder of the Trial of Weeds was not so easily lifted.

“It is a bloody affair,” Angharad agreed.

“And it now brings you to our shores so you might know where who we will name,” Lord Zenzele said.

“That is of some import,” she said, “but my greater concern is to ascertain where we will stop.”

Looks of surprise.

“Barring a surprise or a miracle, Tupoc Xical will die come morning,” Angharad said. “My question to you is this: will the trial end there?”

The three traded looks, and again she felt a pang of envy at how closely they now kept. A few days ago they had been strangers.

“I had thought,” Zenzele slowly said, “that you would want a second round if only so that Lord Augusto might follow in Xical’s wake.”

Angharad shook her head.

“I can do my own killing,” she flatly replied. “I do not need a trial to do it for me.”

The oath she had given to Mayor Crespin was straightforward: she was to do no violence to trial-takers or the townsfolk while a guest in Cantica, unless attacked first. The moment they stepped out of the town the infanzon was no longer protected.

“That is,” Lady Ferranda hesitantly said, “to your honor.”

“You’re not the only one with grudges to settle, Tredegar,” Shalini said. “Putting Tupoc’s head on spike hardly needs selling and Augusto could do with getting his breathing rights revoked, but there’s a murderer still on the loose and I will see her face justice.”

Angharad stilled.

“Her?” she asked.

“Yaretzi tried to murder Ishaan on the way to the temple-fortress,” Shalini said. “You might not believe me, but I saw what I saw. I would have her put in a cage for it, then in a grave.”

“Do you have proof she murdered Jun and Aines?” Angharad asked.

“No,” Shalini admitted, “but how many vipers can there possibly be among us?”

Ferranda sighed.

“I do not agree, and did not vote accordingly,” the fair-haired woman said. “I am yet convinced that another was behind the deaths, acting through catspaws. I have heard… rumors about Yaretzi, however, that are suspicious.”

Isabel had said that ‘Yaretzi’ was a foot shorter than she was supposed to be. Ferranda did not seem to be putting strong stock in the other infanzona’s words, but neither was she dismissing them. Angharad cocked an eyebrow at Zenzele, leaving the question implied.

“Looking back, I find some of her behavior during the Trial of Lines unusual,” Zenzele admitted. “She was very used to roughing it, for a diplomat, and though she struck a friendship with Ayanda she showed little grief when the cultists took her.”

Shalini looked away at that. She and Ishaan had refused to pursue the warband to take back Zenzele’s lover, Angharad knew. It might have been the sounder call, but it seemed that a growing acquaintance with Zenzele Duma was shading the nuances of that decision in retrospect.

“You are both committed to pursuing Yaretzi’s execution through a second round, then?” she asked.

Shalini nodded briskly. Zenzele followed suit a heartbeat later.

“There will be a death every round, and three of us in cages on every instance,” she quietly reminded them. “You may not find the support you seek before a great many bodies have piled up.”

Ferranda hummed.

“A question best revisited tomorrow,” she said. “Once Tupoc is dead, we can decide how far this is to be pushed.”

Shalini looked mutinous but she kept silent. By unspoken accord they turned to lighter talk as Angharad went through her meal, wolfing down the bland fare. Hunger was the finest spice. Others drifted in as she did, alone or in pairs. Cozme, freshly bandaged, came over to the table to share with them the news that Yong was being cut open – he had a bullet in the back that must be removed – and might not be upright tomorrow. By the time Angharad finished her meal, the absences were more noticeable than those present. Besides Yong, only three were missing.

Tupoc, Lan and Augusto.

Parting ways with the three, Angharad grabbed her saber and went upstairs to pick a room. The stairs led up to a tiny hallway forming a broad L, she found, whose longer length faced the street. Between the two sides there were around twenty doors with a number painted and all were open save for the three nearest to the stairs. The Pereduri suspected these would be locked as well, but did not check. Instead she looked around for which room seemed most comfortable, hoping for a mattress that might not be stuffed straw. She was not the only one with such a notion.

“Comparing the rooms, are we?” Brun asked, lips twitching into a smile.

The blond Sacromontan looked tired, holding his pack loosely, but was still steady on his feet. That tended to be the way with him.

“Straw everywhere, so far,” Angharad admitted. “Have you found anything?”

“Same for the mattresses, I expect we should give up hope for that,” he said. “No windows anywhere, but the three rooms in the corner have a dresser as well as a bedside table. That appears the pinnacle of luxury around here.”

Angharad sighed. It was better than nothing, she supposed. The two of them trudged back past the stairs, turning the corner of the L into the smaller length of hall. While she hesitated Brun stole a march on her, claiming the middle of the three rooms and tossing his pack on the bed. Slightly irked, she walked past him and took the room at the very end of the hall. A twenty-one was painted in white on the door, the key she would need to claim.

Brun was waiting for her in the hall when she came out.

“Have you eaten yet?” he asked.

She nodded.

“Shame,” Brun said. “Was it any good?”

“Do you enjoy peas?” she drily asked.

“More than I enjoy starving,” the fair-haired man amusedly replied.

“Then I expect you will most adequately fed,” Angharad told him.

She could not bring herself to give a better compliment, as it would have been dangerously close to a lie. They made their way back down together, encountering Yaretzi going up as they did. Since the stairs were too narrow for two the Izcalli gallantly went back down to give way, while Brun instead climbed back up to cede her passage in turn. Angharad thanked the other woman with a nod, but no more than that. Given the chances that ‘Yaretzi’ was some kind of impostor, it was best to keep her distance.

When she claimed her key from the innkeeper, a dark-haired woman in her thirties – her clothes as old-fashioned as the young man’s – was waiting for her.

“Alix,” she introduced herself. “I handle Mayor Crespin’s affairs. You are Angharad Tredegar, correct?”

Angharad nodded confirmation.

“I need three names from you, then,” Alix said, picking up a chalk and slate.

After a heartbeat of hesitation, she gave them. Tupoc Xical, Augusto Cerdan and Cozme Aflor. After the first round  and Tupoc’s death Angharad saw no need to continue this vicious trial, but that was not in her power to decide. Perhaps talks could be had tomorrow, after the execution. After going back up to lock her door, when returning to the common room she found that Song was seated with Sarai and a reluctant-seeming Ferranda – something Angharad decided she wanted no part of. She took to the streets instead, feet itching to move for all her exhaustion.

They would not be allowed to retire to their rooms until all had given three names anyhow.

Cantica was smaller than she had thought. Two large inns, the Last Rest and the Warm Coffin, swallowed up quite a bit of the room inside the area walled in by the palisade and ring of lamplights. The rest was rough wooden houses – all their shutters were closed, and Angharad saw precious few of the townsfolk out on the streets – and a handful of shops. The people of Cantica were polite but distant, most of them not even bothering to reply to a greeting beside a curt nod.

The shops were not much to look at either. A half-empty general store and a smithy were nestled one against another, while further down the street a carpenter and a baker made up the rest of the town’s ‘main street’. Angharad found Lan sitting in the alley by the bakery, perched on a crate as she tore into a loaf of black bread. On a whim, she sought out the other woman.

“There are warm meals at the Last Rest, you know,” Angharad said.

The blue-lipped Tianxi smiled.

“You can’t move while eating those, though,” she said. “And there’s a lot to see in a place like this.”

Angharad cocked an eyebrow, somewhat skeptical.

“Is there?”

Lan hummed.

“How many people do you think live in a town this size?” she asked.

Angharad blinked.

“Around two or three hundred,” she guessed.

“Probably closer to four or five,” Lan said. “But you’re in the right area. How many of those people have you seen out in the streets?”

Angharad thought back, slipping into a frown.

“Fewer than fifty,” she said. “And no children.”

“Common sense to keep your kids indoors when you’ve got a dozen heavily armed lunatics on the prowl,” Lan said, “but why so few people are out and about is what has me curious. I figure it’s about the lights.”

The Pereduri blinked, putting the pieces together.

“You think hollows live here?” she asked, appalled.

“No,” Lan said, biting into the bread and swallowing a chunk. “I think people live here, and they keep hollow slaves. Do you know a lot of farmers who’d go out there and till a field when there’s cultists on the loose? They’re using expendables, is my guess. And the Watch allows it, because if Cantica’s turning a profit they can get some tax money out of this place.”

Angharad swallowed.

“And now that the lamplights are lit,” she said, “the hollows stay inside so the touch of the Glare will not hurt them.”

The other woman nodded.

“It’s just a guess,” Lan admitted. “But I find it mighty interesting there’s hardly a house in this town where the shutters are open but that all the shops – the rich parts, the people with coin – are open and their owners around. It paints a picture.”

It did, Angharad thought with a grimace. The Watch did not practice slavery, but Cantica was not the Rookery. It was a colony with a charter, and if the legalities were anything like those in Malan then this town would be something like a vassal state paying tribute. Not, strictly speaking, part of the Watch or its territories.

“Would that at least one part of this misbegotten island was not filled to the brim with sinister secrets,” Angharad bit out.

Lan eyed her, seemingly amused.

“Then you won’t be interested in what I overheard keeping an eye on our friend Augusto,” she teased..

Angharad blinked.

“Why were you following Augusto?” she slowly asked.

“Because Tupoc said he’d kill me and make it look like an accident,” Lan cheerfully replied. “I lost him two streets over, near the butcher’s shop.”

Angharad considered the other woman as she kept tearing into her loaf of bread, rather conflicted. On one hand, Lan was a sneak who looked into everyone’s private affairs and riffled through their bags when given half an excuse. On the other hand, she was so open about this and her generally mercenary nature that Angharad could not quite bring herself to actually consider her a sneak. If a viper told you it was a viper and that it was going to bite you, then proceeded to bite you in the exact way it had informed you it would, could it really be considered treachery?

Angharad cleared her throat.

“Please,” she said, “may I hear what Augusto was doing?”

If the other woman had brought it up, it would be worth hearing.

“Free of charge, since you’re a good sort,” Lan easily said. “Our boy was talking with the town guards earlier, asking about the gates of Cantica. More precisely whether there are other ways in or out of this place.”

Angharad’s eyes narrowed.

“Are there?”

“I didn’t hear the guard’s answer,” Lan said. “But I think his lordship has seen the writing on the wall for the Trial of Weeds, and now he wants to pull a runner before he ends up losing his head.”

That was, Angharad darkly thought, despicably plausible of the man.

“Perhaps I should have a look at where he is, then,” she flatly said.

“Good luck with that,” Lan said, biting into the bread. “And I mean it. You can smell the crazy on that boy, and it’s not even the entertaining kind.”

Not quite sure how to answer that, the noblewoman kept her face blank and offered her most polite goodbyes. Lan only seemed all the more amused, though her eyes were already far away.

The Tianxi was not done sniffing around Cantica for secrets, Angharad could tell.

She did not find Augusto in time.

The infanzon had made himself scarce, and Tupoc was no longer by the butcher shop when she passed close. In truth she did not have long to look around, as a town guard accosted her in the street and told her to return to the Last Rest.

“May I ask why?” Angharad politely said.

“The votes are all in,” the woman replied. “The names and numbers are on the slate by the door. Once everyone has seen them you’ll all be allowed to turn in for the night.”

Though Angharad believed she already knew the results, she supposed there was no harm in taking a look before going on the hunt for Augusto again. Besides, it might be interesting to see the numbers. She thanked the guard and briskly made her way back, finding most of their company out in the street and looking at a slate six feet high. The writing was the same as that of the mayor’s helper – Alix, was it?

Angharad stepped around Zenzele to come closer to the slate, noticing from the corner of her eye that Song was there and looking worried. Why? Her look at the slate revealed that eleven out of the fourteen of them had named Tupoc, putting him at the top of the list. It was, in truth, fewer than she had expected. Augusto was second and had been named ten times, which seemed reasonable to her. Cozme’s name was the third, she saw, but there she blinked.

Five times. He had only been named five times.

And the name under his was a scrawled ANGHARAD with a four besides it.

She had come within one vote of ending up in a cage, the Pereduri dimly realized. All this time speaking with others and never even noticed she was resting on the knife’s edge. Under her Tristan had been named four times as well, another injustice, and then of all people Brun had been thrice named. Yaretzi being named thrice was slightly less startling, but it came as a blindside that the last name on the list would be Song – named twice.

Perhaps Angharad should have tried to match votes to faces, to piece it all together, but her eyes kept returning to her name right under Cozme’s and how close she had come to being sent into the cage in his stead. Feeling stares lingering on her back, the Pereduri flushed in embarrassment.

Four votes, Sleeping God.

Augusto and Tupoc she could understand, but who else had she offended to deserve such a slight? Was Cozme two-faced enough to ask for her mercy and in the same breath try to have her encaged? The Pereduri’s jaw clenched. He likely was. And that still left one more among the fourteen who had wanted her put on display like a wild animal, having never said a word to her face.

Her mood significantly fouled, she ignored Song calling out for her and strode away. Absence of company would do her well. A minute or two of walking around with enough of a scowl that the townsfolk gave her a wide berth calmed her down, enough that when she caught sight of a familiar silhouette she did not avoid him. Tristan, after all, also had four votes to his name. She did not believe him any more deserving of such slander than she.

The scruffy man was leaning against the side of a house, Angharad saw as she approached, and looking up at one of the pale lamplights that ringed the entire town of Cantica to keep away lemures and strike fear in the hearts of darklings. The man flicked a glance her away as she came near, offering a polite nod that she returned.

“Missing home?” she asked. “It must have been quite the change, leaving Sacromonte for the first time.”

“There’s fewer lights in my parts of the city than you’d think,” Tristan replied. “But there is something nostalgic about this, I’ll admit.”

His lips thinned.

“These are the exact same kind of lamplights they use in the Murk.”

Angharad had not been long in Sacromonte, but long enough to hear of this Murk. The city’s slums, though there were wild and colorful rumors about what went on there. She cocked an eyebrow at the man, for this did not seem a detail worth staring at.

“I imagine they must import them from Sacromonte,” Angharad said. “It is the closest city to the island and the Watch has ancient ties to it.”

“I figured that as well,” Tristan agreed. “Only, Tredegar, those lamplights are in pristine state. Their glow is perfect.”

“And what does that mean?” Angharad asked.

“Either nothing at all,” Tristan quietly said, “or that we are in very serious trouble.”

78 thoughts on “Chapter 40

  1. The trials get more sadistic with each success. I love it.

    Really makes me wonder how the Watch maintains discipline among its members when there’s good chance the initiated recruits could hold a grudge for the treatment.

    I don’t remember hollows being mentioned at any length before but my memory might be wrong. I assume they’re not the same as darklings. Anyone remember if they’re discussed in more detail in a prior chapter?


    1. Earl of Purple

      Hollows and darklings are, in fact, different names for the same group. Darklings because they’ve been altered by the darkness of the Gloam and now are burnt by Glare, can see better in the dark, and so on; hollows because superstition says their souls are damaged, hollowed out, by the process of becoming a hollow, split from the cycle of reincarnation that Angharad calls the Circle Perpetual… Though how true this particular belief is, we don’t know. Their souls are intact enough to make contracts, after all.


      1. Earl of Purple

        @Abnaxis: Yes, the bishop who turned off the injured guy’s pain before Tristan dosed him with anti-lemure stuff and sent him off to get eaten by the airavatan in the first trial. Possibly the bishop that was working with Tupoc as well.


      2. Jkyoulost

        The bishops could have just been using Signs or Gloam. We don’t have specific informations that said that was a contract.


    2. Henry

      “Really makes me wonder how the Watch maintains discipline among its members when there’s good chance the initiated recruits could hold a grudge for the treatment.”

      From what I understood previously, I think these trials are not the normal way to join the watch and is reserved for the incredibly desperate. So it would only be a small number of recruits that succeed in joining this way. Probably helps that anyone who succeeds in these trials is likely to be crazy in their own way and might not hold that sort of grudge.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the chapter
    Hmmm those lights are new, maintained extremely well or made here. The latter of the two suggest some very out of place expertise which could be quite worrying.


  3. Pendantic Counter

    Hmm. The final trial seems like a believable way to manufacture consensus and ensure that any recruits who join have reached a relatively stable status quo. But there has to be something more, some way to exert pressure on the recruits and keep things moving forward. I wonder if the Blackcloaks would take the opportunity to meddle in the background under normal circumstances, false vote counts etc. Everyone’s smug certainty about Tupoc’s death makes me pretty confident that he’s not going in the cage. I doubt we’ll even play a round. As it stands, the trial is clearly FUBAR for the current situation.

    Tristan is tired and slipping, pushing for Cozme was unnecessary and risks tipping his hand. But it’s in character. On a related note, I’m pretty sure Yong is dead. He survived to get to this trial to make the others reevaluate Tristan’s character. In Angharad’s words, ‘a mark of shame not an oath to kill’. And he did it very publicly. If only Tristan and Maryam had survived, they wouldn’t have shown any public conflict so the other recruits would have no/less reason to doubt Tristan.

    Song definitely popped Isabel. Zenzele either saw it or sees the connection. He also seems remarkably okay with it. Decent odds that he saw Tristan’s connection to Cozme/Cerdans and is equally okay with that. Speaking of Song, it looks like Angharad is finally noticing her now that Isabel isn’t smothering her with her contract. It might even be mutual given Song’s previous reactions and interest in Ybanathi’s poetry. This will be interesting Angharad finally finds out what happened to Isabel.

    Actually, a thought occurs: I wonder if Galatas was supposed to be the third minder like Song and Maryam? On the Bluebell, Song starts watching Angharad, Maryam watches Tristan, and Galatas joins up with Tupoc. Then when Angharad, Song, and Galatas fight the Saint, Song knows his name. Maryam specified that ‘all of the recommended’ are being watched to see if they qualify for special enrollment. I think it’s possible but unlikely, Leander never quite works with the others the way Song and Sarai did with reveal of the bloody knife. There’s no reason there needs to be a third, there was no one dedicated to watching recommend pairs (Shalini/Ishaan and Zenzele/Ayanda). Additionally, Tupoc seems at least as equally well informed about the trials as the others and ‘was given support’ in his intention to join the Watch. Plus, Wen steps in to stop that fight only after Tupoc gets involved. That might just be because Tupoc is recommended, but as Song and Sarai show there’s levels of recommended…


    1. Earl of Purple

      Shalini/Ishaan and Zenzele/Ayanda weren’t recommended, they bought their seats. They’re included in with the Recommended in Gwenn’s art because at the time it wasn’t entirely clear which of the foreigners were recommended and which weren’t, I think, and the Nobles and Paid Seats already made nice groupings.

      Leander being tasked to look after Tupoc would make sense, I think. Song and Sarai were recommended by allies, so they knew each other; a clique of three (or more, given the first vessel’s doomed compliment) is far more likely to be a cabal of plotters than a pair of old friends, and I rather think there is a cabal of plotters behind the scenes, which Abuela isn’t part of and perhaps doesn’t know about.


      1. The two couples were recommend. From Chapter 3: ““The two Ramayans got recommended because they have family in the black,” the sailor continued, pointing at a pair of youths. […]

        First a pack of three dark-skinned Malani, a younger pair whose air and clothes screamed ‘money’ with a scarred older woman behind them that had a fighter’s look. A guard, he figured.

        “The younger two were recommended,” Lucia said. “I heard there’s a Malani swordmistress coming, but it shouldn’t be one of them.” ”

        It’s unclear if they’re the same level of recommended as Tristan and Angharad though. Afterall, Angharad got recommended because she had blood in the black too. They don’t seem to have the same level of foreknowledge as Song or Maryam, but we’ve only seen them through Angharad and I’ve met more perceptive mummies. There’s definitely a lot going on in the background we don’t know about at all.


      2. I truly hate the wordpress comment system. At the risk of double posting…

        The two couples were recommend back in chapter 3, the sailor Yong and Tristan bribes tells him:

        “”The two Ramayans got recommended because they have family in the black,” the sailor continued, pointing at a pair of youths.” […]

        First a pack of three dark-skinned Malani, a younger pair whose air and clothes screamed ‘money’ with a scarred older woman behind them that had a fighter’s look. A guard, he figured.

        “The younger two were recommended,” Lucia said. “I heard there’s a Malani swordmistress coming, but it shouldn’t be one of them.””

        Interestingly, the sailor tells him that Galatas was recommended but doesn’t say anything about Sarai. It also seems there’s different levels of recommended. Sarai and Song obviously no more about what’s going on. Of course, Angharad’s recommendation also came because she had family in the black. And while Tristan was obviously groomed for his position, it’s possible that Zenzele and Ayanda contracts made them potential candidates for special enrollment. Their recommendations came from ‘Aunt Inyoni’s friends in the Watch’. I wonder if we’ll see them at all in the future.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. morroian

    If Yong chose Tristan as implied then he’s lost any sympathy I had for him given Tristan did end up saving his life. On the final sentence does that mean they are in danger of the hollows?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Earl of Purple

      No, but it raises questions on where they are sourcing the Glare to infuse the stones. They are brighter than those in Sacromonte, which is built partly under a pit of Glare.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey. Tristan got 4 votes. Good job, Tristan. They say that when someone respects your skills, they will try to kill you. You must have made a strong impression on those 4 people.
    Please think of a way to save as many people as possible. You guys are going to need it.
    I was wondering if Yong actually did vote for Tristan because I really enjoy his relationship with Tristan. And even though Tristan sold out the people at the fort, he still came back for Yong.
    I don’t want to reinforce Tristan’s belief that even if he does a good deed, it will bite him later. And with his bad deeds, having Wen as a future enemy is enough of a consequence. After all, Vasanti was a bitch and totally planned to kill Tristan despite receiving his help.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Pendantic Counter

      It’s pretty likely Yong did say Tristan. As Angharad points out right before Yong lists his name, it’s not a pledge to vote for his death. It does show how very pissed off Yong is at Tristan, but putting him up against the guy who tried to sell out or kill everyone else and the guy with a contract to the cultists god is a pretty stacked deck. The problem is Tristan hasn’t told anyone anything. Explicitly during his conversation with Yong , he holds back all his exculpatory details.

      That said… who do we think voted for him? Tupoc, Brun, and Yong seem obvious to me. Tupoc’s god is offended at his existence. Brun wants him off the board since Tristan suspects/threatened him. Yong is pissed. Who’s the fourth?

      Song and Maryam can be safely discounted. Shalini/Ferranda/Angharad stated their votes (semi)publicly so we can count them out. Zenzele’s as a 3rd seems unlikely. That leaves Yaretzi, Lan, and Cozme. Lan seems unlikely, she might be holding a grudge over the threats and beatings but I kinda doubt it. Cozme might suspect him about Remund, but he doesn’t really seem to see Tristan coming yet. Yaretzi maybe, we know nothing about her besides she’s hiding something. She started hanging with Brun in the last chapter, maybe he convinced her.

      I’ll put my guesses as Yong, Tupoc, Brun, and Yaretzi.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Abnaxis

        My guess is Cozme or Augusto. He is a rat, the Murk has a reputation regardless of his deeds, and they all have to give three names. Who else are those two going to give?


      2. lysDexicsUntie

        Considering her previous conversation with Tristan, back in the Maze, I wouldn’t discount Song.
        Cozme had no idea about Remund, after all they only saw the two get thrown into a shaft that has previously split people up. And Tristan didn’t push for him hard enough to be a real threat compared to others.
        Augusto had too many people he has a bigger grudge with. Same for Lan, plus Tristan and Lan reached an accord in the manner if Rats.

        My guess is Yong (not expecting him to be killed if his competition is Augusto and Tupoc), Tupoc (because of his God), Brun (because Tristan confronted him), Song (stated dislike of Tristan and few other grudges).

        I also wouldn’t be surprised if a few of those votes were people putting a name they assumed no one else would say up. Basically trying to void their vote because they didn’t have enough enemies they thought deserved judgement/death.

        What I find interesting is that the Trial is set so you have to sentence at least 1 person to death unless they find the hidden way to avoid it. There isn’t an option to quit until at least 1 person is judged, and more grudges developed by showing how many votes people received.


  6. Earl of Purple

    Two people didn’t name Tupoc. (The third is Tupoc.) I wonder who that would be… and I wonder why I suspect Song and Sarai.

    Angharad’s name was a surprise, Tristan’s was not. Lan is one of his four, I think.


    1. Pendatic Counter

      Maybe Augusto and Tristan? Augusto probably doesn’t care and is throwing his votes at Cozme and Angharad for revenge with the third as maybe Song? Tristan because he knows Tupoc is overdetermined and doesn’t need to waste his vote.


    2. Pretty sure one non-vote for Tupoc is Augusto. Brun and Tupoc likely voted Tristan, so that makes 3. I’m not inclined to think Lan voted Tristan. She doesn’t seem to be the type to keep grudges and he did her a favor as well. Not sure if Song would vote him. I’m actually wondering if it was Cozme.


      1. Earl of Purple

        I’m reconsidering Lan as well, as it happens. Cosme, Brun, and Tupoc make sense as three of the four, and Yong said he’d be voting Tristan as well. So that could be it.


      2. Crash

        Yong is likely. He’s sitting on a very, very high horse right now.

        The way he talked about it earlier in the trials, and with his history, he seems to think sometimes you must kill to survive. But tell him it’s a soldier and suddenly it is deeply unjust, because his PTSD is pinging.

        Understandable, still fucked up given exactly how much of his life he owes to Tristan at this point. The fact he thought it was a good idea to announce it to others and, as such, make it very clear that they’re no longer friendly, is wild.

        Threw him to the wolves, because now even if he isn’t voted into it now, he will be later when people have less obvious names to drop.

        Tristan respected him enough to not argue his reasoning but it seems he didn’t deserve that much grace.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Nobody

        Lan might just be trying to coerce him into spilling everything he knows about her sister’s murder. He’s still holding back that his god woke him from an unnatural sleep that night.


    3. DC

      Not naming Tupoc because he’s gonna get it in the neck anyway and you have three other people you want to string up seems reasonable.


    1. No need for murder. Agusto Cerdan will have disappeared during the night…

      Well it’s him or Tupoc, and I think the later will find some other method to keep his head attached.

      At least that’s what I think would be happening in most stories. But ErraticErrata has proven quite happy to kill off characters I expected were to be around for a long time. It’s like we can’t trust the flags in this story…

      It’s quite refreshing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Crash

        Oh man, I don’t doubt EE would pull a POV kill. It’s early enough.

        Tupoc is going to escape, it’s what he does.

        Augusto… He seems to be contracting with the Red Maw and both Lan and Tristan suspect something is up with this town, possibly Hollow related. Augusto might be safest withing the walls, if that is so.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Morgan

      Could Tristan have worked this out well enough to vote for Angharad just to reduce the chance of him dying? As if they share a cage their allies all push in the same direction…


      1. Scott's Folly

        By my read of the rules, the cage would be shared but not necessarily the verdict. It would just mean that this round of the Trial has four choices rather than three in the vote for which deserves death. Which means that having Tristan and Angharad share a cage doesn’t really better either one’s chances.


  7. CantankerousBellerophan

    Lan’s discovery raises the possibility of an even darker origin for the People of the Dark.

    When discussing slavers, it is impossible to ignore the fact that all slavers deserve to swing from the rafters of their ill-gotten homes. Preventing that end is the entire work of a system of systemic enslavement, after all. Twisted ideologies run rampant in slave empires desperately attempting to justify maximal injustice. Police and intelligence agencies grow like cancer to ensure the privileged have means to slaughter or silence dissent. Lifelong traditions of emotional and physical assault break the minds of the enslaved to minimize the number who consider revolt, and for those who might consider it anyway heirarchies among the oppressed are manifested and enforced so there is always something worse to fear and better to hope for. All to prevent the coming of justice.

    The fact that this requires so much work is part of the reason overt systems of hereditary slavery no longer – officially – exist. The labor required to keep so many noses on so many grindstones is both enormous and trivially broken by even an hour’s conversation with a single revolutionary. The example of the Cuban Revolution is instructive here: A dozen men landing on the shores of the island gathered to themselves an army tens of thousands strong in mere months. When both the oppressor and oppressed are equal in capacity, oppression must be obscured in order to be sustained.

    What if that were not the case, though? What if there truly were a class of people whose movements could be controlled absolutely? Who could be barred from the human superpower of collaboration, not through force of arms, but through biology? That such people would have been enslaved at some point is a certainty…but when would it have ended? How could it have, when their capacity for revolt itself was stripped?

    The People of the Dark are such a class, to the Children of the Radiance. Surround them in accursed Glare, and they cannot act against their captors. Lanterns themselves are perfect instruments of torture. Utterly harmless to the oppressor, area-of-effect agony inducers to the oppressed. And it isn’t like the oppresors of this world are not already using Glare as a vector of oppression in the other direction. Its denial to the denizens of the Murk is already noted to be a method of control. This form of enslavement is simply the logical conclusion of all we have seen of Vesper thus far.

    What if this dynamic were deliberate, though? We know the Antediluvians to have been manipulators of Glare and Aether, why not also flesh and blood? We know them to have kept servants incapable of using the magic they infused every part of their technology with, what if those servants were physically constrained as well as magically?

    What if the Antediluvians were even worse than I have already speculated them to be?


    1. Nobody

      It’s possible, but I feel like you could have said that in only a few sentences. 😛 But I suppose the comment sections would feel incomplete without your anarchist walls of text at this point.

      It’s also possible that you’re entirely off-base, though. We just don’t know enough.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Abnaxis

      If I’m 100% honest one glaringly (heh, see what I did there?) missing aspect of the world presented in this work, is how alien the world should be if they are truly subterranean.

      Instead we’re presented with a world that had oceans and islands and rainstorms, forests made up with trees* and spiders and wolves and all manner of other fauna that hunt by sight in a world where light is a luxury.

      By the same token, society seems to evolved along a similar trajectory as our world when that doesn’t really make sense. If light really is that important, where are the prisms and focusing lenses for directing that light where it’s useful? If slaves really are held at bay with light from the Glare, where are the light gatherers for use subjugating them? Why are people digging tunnels with shovels in slave lines to begin with, instead of using specially-trained beasts of burden** or specially-built earth-moving machinery? For that matter, why are all the buildings in the ground–where are the guy wires and elevators reaching up to the ceiling, which would make moving things from one place to another MUCH easier?

      This being the same author who devised real-world justifications for Dread Emperors constantly invading a Good Kingdom with wild schemes, I expect (hope) there will be a very interesting justification all this that is both interesting and logical from a world-building standpoint. I’m just saying here that I smell something cooking…

      *: And leaves! Wtf are they using their chlorophyll for?
      **:Add “horses” to the list of “creatures that make no sense in this world” list, BTW. Where would they graze? IIRC they’ve made an appearance?

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Someperson

    Well, this trial is certain to go off the rails almost immediately.

    Of the three cage-dwellers, two of them have contracts that aren’t very well understood but which we do know are with very powerful spirits and which specifically make them quite a bit more complicated to kill. Also, while there is always the chance that Tupoc fails to slither out of this particular noose, it must be said that the man is extremely adept at slithering out of nooses.

    Then there is the fact that Tristan and Angharad are both very possibly going to end up on trial, and that promises to be very messy.

    And to top it off, all of these people who are in line to be put on trial… aren’t the actual murderer in their midst.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shveiran

      I realize you mean the serial killer, but there are a lot of murderers here; and I mean that as “people who committed murder”, not just “people who killed”.
      Tupoc, Augusto, Yong, Tristan, Cozme for sure, just off the top of my hat. Song most likely. That’s already 6 out of 14.
      So… yeah, that three of the definitely murderers are at the top of the common list kind of checks out.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Technically, Tupoc hasn’t murdered anyone. That we’ve seen. Taken captive by the cultists is kidnapping, and presumably accessory to murder but he hasn’t actually killed another trail taker.


    2. lysDexicsUntie

      That’s not a noose around Tupoc’s neck. The rope necklace is the traditional garb of his people.

      Everyone is just trying to celebrate and show appreciation for his culture by trying to provide a new one when the old one is removed.

      Also, you know Tristan has killed as many Trial takers as the ‘murderer’ he was just more subtle about it. Angharad is attempting to duel to the death the same number. And we know many of the others, both dead and alive, were either murderers before the trial or killed or conspired to kill another trial taker during it.

      So talking about the actual murderer in their midst is a bit… misleading.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Yong’s actions really blindsided me here. It was clear Tristan’s manipulations had triggered him hard, but he just moved from “you and I are done” to “I’m going to publicly name you as Should-Be-Murdered in the Who-Should-We-Murder ballot”, which is… a development.
    I’m particularly surprised because this happens now, after Tristan and Serai saved him from certain doom. A doom he didn’t expect anyone to save him from, even. Now, if they had saved only Yong, I wouldn’t have expected expecting him to call everything water under the bridge; Yong is a principled man. But… You realize, Tristan and Sarai didn’t do just that.
    Yong survived. He got to the Trial of Lines.

    His husband is safe, now. Which was his line in the sand, his whole reason for coming here. And this is his reaction? Did not see this coming.

    The juiciest part is, of course, the votes. Tristan coming up after Yong’s speech is not surprising, to me: after all, one of his closest ally just named him. Anyone scared to be on the list would have been tempted to name him if only to push up the list someone that could outvote them.
    Though between Augusto, Tupoc, Yong and Brun… we might not even need opportunists, not if Brun is the killer.

    Angharad to me is much more interesting. Tupoc and Augusto, again, could be half those votes, but who else in this group has beef with Tradegar AND might think other would gang up on her? Heck, it’s kind of an odd choice for Tupoc and Augusto as well, unless someone is whipping up votes against her; they are much better off voting for someone that could outvote them. Cozme would vote against her out of fear, but again, she is not really her enemy or out for his blood, so… I’m very curious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For Yong, I think it’s less ” should be murdered” as much as it is “I don’t care if this person lives or dies”. It literally comes after Angharad’s line about not being an oath to put the voted in a grave. He clearly would kill Tupoc or Augusto first, but he’s fine with any of the three dying. Similarly, Angharad doesn’t necessarily want to kill Cozme, but she’s fine with any of her three dying.

      I’m actually not sure Tupoc put Angharad up. He had the chance to kill her before, he didn’t. He respects her skills and has repeatedly tried to team up with her. He doesn’t mind confronting and would gladly fight with her, but I think he wants them both to survive and work together. Of course, he could be putting her name in to mess with her. It’s unclear how much he’s just throwing rocks on the playground.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. lysDexicsUntie

      I think Yong is more expressing his disappointment in Tristan than actually wishing his death. Only one of the 3 is killed, and it is unlikely anyone would be selected over Augusto or Tupoc. So he can vote Tristan with the expectation that even if Tristan goes on trial he will not be the one selected for death. There is nothing forcing him to vote the same next time, and given his personality he is unlikely to vote to continue the Trial.

      I’m convinced some of the Angharad votes where people using her as a throwaway thinking no one else would vote for her. Then again, Cozme, Augusto, and Tupoc all have reason to vote for her. And it is possible Zenzele blames her for his Aunt’s death.


      1. I understand you reasoning, but that still feel like playing with fire on Yong’s part, doens’t it? I mean, once Tristan is among the three, Yong has nowhere near the level of control he would need to keep things safe for Tristan.
        It doens’t matter if Yong doesn’t vote for Tristan: if enough people do, he will still die.

        And, sure. If you are in a popularity contest with Augusto and Tupoc, it’s reasonable to expect you’ll come ahead, it’s just… if it was me, that would be crossing a line, you know?
        There is not having my back, and there is voting for me in the murder ballot.


      2. lysDexicsUntie

        Sure. But other than Tupoc and Augusto no one has done anything against him or his ethics. The only person he can legitimately say wronged him at all is Tristan who, knowing Yong’s past, instigated a situation where he was doing the one thing Yong can’t forgive and intentionally withheld the information to manipulate Yong.

        So he could name a name that is in his eyes innocent of wrongdoing, or he can express disappointment in someone he feels betrayed his trust. In a situation where they are unlikely to come to harm. And as far as he knows not enough people dislike Tristan to even vote him into a cage when there are plenty of other known grudges on display.

        I don’t consider this initial vote a murder ballot. That will be the next vote where they have to vote for someone’s death.
        For this one they have to select three people even if they don’t believe the person deserves death.

        Which actually leads me to wonder what will happen if someone refuses to cast a vote, either for naming three or for the actual death vote. And do the 3 in cages still get a vote for which of them dies?
        What happens if there are an equal number of votes for death? Or if you are down to 3 or less people left alive?
        If one of the top 3 dies in advance or leaves does the next name get caged, or will only 2 people get caged? Does one dieing in advance or while in the cage count as the death or do the surviving 2 still get their lives voted on?

        They really should try to get a few more details…

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Shveiran

    Yong’s actions really blindsided me here. It was clear Tristan’s manipulations had triggered him hard, but he just moved from “you and I are done” to “I’m going to publicly name you as Should-Be-Murdered in the Who-Should-We-Murder ballot”, which is… a development.
    I’m particularly surprised because this happens now, after Tristan and Serai saved him from certain doom. A doom he didn’t expect anyone to save him from, even. Now, if they had saved only Yong, I wouldn’t have expected expecting him to call everything water under the bridge; Yong is a principled man. But… You realize, Tristan and Sarai didn’t do just that.
    Yong survived. He got to the Trial of Lines.
    His husband is safe, now. Which was his line in the sand, his whole reason for coming here. And this is his reaction? Did not see this coming.

    The juiciest part is, of course, the votes. Tristan coming up after Yong’s speech is not surprising, to me: after all, one of his closest ally just named him. Anyone scared to be on the list would have been tempted to name him if only to push up the list someone that could outvote them.
    Though between Augusto, Tupoc, Yong and Brun… we might not even need opportunists, not if Brun is the killer.

    Angharad to me is much more interesting. Tupoc and Augusto, again, could be half those votes, but who else in this group has beef with Tradegar AND might think other would gang up on her? Heck, it’s kind of an odd choice for Tupoc and Augusto as well, unless someone is whipping up votes against her; they are much better off voting for someone that could outvote them. Cozme would vote against her out of fear, but again, she is not really her enemy or out for his blood, so… I’m very curious.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Nobody

    So… Tristian’s going to have this trial keep killing people until Cozme is one of them. He might even try to get Augusto killed in a cage rather than a duel or a firing squad, given how long it’s taking Angharad to start that duel.


    1. Shveiran

      It’s possible, but I think it depends on whether or not tristan thinks he can actually game the system effectively during the third Trial.

      After all, Cozme won’t be returning to Sacromonte anymore, even if he lives: he’ll either die or become a Rook, just like Tristan. Which means the timetable for his murder just extended: originally, Tristan had to get it done before the second Trial because there was an assumption Cozme and the Cerdans would drop out before the third. Since that is no longer true, Tristan could just bide his time.
      Murdering a fellow Rook is dangerous, sure, but if votes start to be thrown his way he might decide he has better odds just waiting until he can organize an accident.


      1. lysDexicsUntie

        Well Tristan will be joining the Krypteia and their leader, Abuela, knows about Tristan’s grudge. He is her protege.
        And the Krypteia have a history of setting up fellow Watch members (as Wen’s stories showed). So I don’t see them both being in the Watch as doing more than keeping Cozme where Tristan can find him.


      2. Earl of Purple

        Is Abuela the leader of the Krypteia, lysDexicsUntie? Or is she a high-ranking agent? I’d have guessed that the leader of the Krypteia stayed in the main base of the Watch, with trusted agents elsewhere feeding them information. Abuela is perhaps one of those trusted agents, one with enough pull to make a recommendation, but I’d have not said she’s the leader.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. lysDexicsUntie

        I could be wrong about her being the leader. Rereading Ch 24 it doesn’t specify, just implies she has a lot of pull.
        And Maryam only said

        “Tristan, the other recommended all had a name with them,” she said. “The person who gave the recommendation. All except you: yours was just a wax seal with the symbol of the Krypteia. I don’t know high up their ranks you must be to be able to use that, but it’s not low.”

        But even if she is just high ranking, it seems the Krypteia would have no trouble assisting him in his revenge even against another watch member.
        Remember Vasanti’s concern?

        “I should shoot you for sneaking in here, but you’re not worth a feud with Nerei. There are too many ways to make it look like an accident at my age.”

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I extremely doubt it. Too many uncontrolled variables and ways for it to go wrong. There are other ways to get a shot at Cozme and Augusto is a walking dead man, either by Angharad or the Watch once they’re informed of his contract. If he manages to get Cozme killed through it, great. But playing the game repeatedly is Russian Roulette with slightly better odds. Better to do the killing yourself and move on than rely on the game.


  12. Mirror Night

    I would guess Augusto plan is less escape and more about sneaking his forces of cultist into the city. Not sure he has enough to take the city but if he has Tupoc neutral….much easier. I do wonder what Zenzele and Song see when they look at Augusto

    Tristan and his gang really should have mentioned that.

    Seems like Tristan and Lan are on the trail Of the same mystery.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can understand not mentioning it. It’s a great card to have up your sleeve if you’re in the cage. Kill him and not me, he has contract the Watch kills people for having. Of course, it would be better for them TO have told everyone but I can understand not.


  13. Nagini

    I thought it was obvious why they’d name Angahrad. You get 3 names, but only one gets killed. Probably in every single trial, the first votes will be almost unanimous because there is always someone who won over the backs of others. But in later rounds, beyond those where the answer is clear? Like Angahrad predicted, one person can simply keep forcing rounds. All you need to get a person in a cage are a few allies because the votes get spread around more evenly once the real bad apples are removed. So if you want to get someone killed, you just have to put 2 other people in the cages people are LESS likely to want to kill. For example, the helpful individual who is good in a fight (and possibly easy to manipulate). Why put her up in the first rounds? Get the idea in other peoples’ heads, maybe.


    1. I was thinking along similar lines, Nagini. Putting Angharad up is strategic, because no one will ever actually vote to have her killed (except for Augusto, but he’s clearly gonna be in a cage as well, so that’s moot). So as long as she’s involved, the one or two you want to actually die have much less wiggle room.



      1. Abnaxis


        It suddenly occurs to me that Augustomay have learned what the secret method of avoiding execution is from his darkling compatriots. They’ve been living alongside these trials for decades–if a survivor has ever been turned loose in their midst they could have learned some of the secrets. That’s info Augusto could trade to manipulate the vote as well.

        Plus, if in really pulling out my tinfoil hat, I still think it makes no damn sense that the darklings haven’t been evicted by force by the Watch the way they’ve been presented here. It’s one thing to leave the Red Maw where it is because trying to kill it is too expensive, it’s another to not only let people dedicated to Red Maw’s worship keep running around sacrificing people to empower it, but Aldi to maintain trade relative with those same people actively working against the Watch’s interests. The cultists and the Watch have GOT to be conspiring somehow here.


  14. trashdragon

    Personally speaking a little bitter about Isabel’s death (she was one of my more sympathetic characters for a couple reasons, big one being that she was actually a noncombatant holding her own among the murderer circus). But guess what? Now EVERYONE gets the accusation followed by murder treatment! Hooray!

    Not like it’s totally uncalled for. All the noncombatants and relative innocents are dead by now. It’s mostly a combination of violence bastards and treacherous assholes now.

    That may be part of the point. A lot of the people showing up at their doorstep are probably the biggest killers of the bunch, both recently and in the past. Their involvement in the trial could be partly to say “Sorry bitch, murder is still a crime!” And with sterling examples of humanity like Tupoc and Cozme on display who am I to say that Cantica’s way of doing things is unjust?

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Djinn O'Cide

    Just for the record, I believe what we have here is a community, either of antediluvians, or of “devils”, hanging around to keep an eye on the Watch and make sure they don’t break their machine. You know–the machine that Tristan and crew just broke?


  16. Crash

    So, how likely is it that the whole Trial or Weeds, as it was explained, is a scam and the mayor is just pulling a fast one over them because the opportunity is here, without the Watch to explain?

    This town is weird, I don’t think it’s wise to take them at their word.


    1. Odd

      Feel like the secret way out wouldnt get mentioned if its a scam.

      Unless. Unless the cage escape is to join the cult that the town is a part of.


      1. Crash

        Why not mention it? Make it more believable. Mayor is pulling a confidence scam haha

        Joining the cult is always a way to get out of town too, alive or dead! Very convenient.


    2. There’s obviously something else hidden, beyond the secret way to survive. There’s not reason the Watch couldn’t run this trial themselves. Why send them to village, at all?

      There’s also no time pressure, no ticking clock forcing people to choose between settling grudges and making peace and moving on.


  17. Downzorz

    >Song kills Isabel
    >Angharad suddenly notices being attracted to Song
    …does Angharad just have terrible taste, or did Song take Isabel’s powers?


    1. Glasshallfullism

      Someone in an earlier chapter mentioned that it was weird Angharad wasn’t attracted to Song and she was all like “no we’re besties it isn’t like that” even though it would make sense. It was probably Isabel’s power drawing all of Angharad’s attraction and now that she’s gone it’s returning to normal.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. This. I think Isabel was drowning out all other possibilities. Tristan mentions somenody else trying to chat her up and not getting anywhere awhile ago during the trial of lines.


    2. lysDexicsUntie

      Angharad has commented on Song’s attractiveness before. She even thought about how Song is her usual type more than Isabel.
      It is just she was to busy obsessing over Isabel and not wanting to screw up her chance there to really notice.


    3. Morgan

      She’s mentioned Song not being bad to look at before, but never in such a particular way, and never with the idea of a ‘story’ (which was Isabels specific power) so I think you may be onto something.


  18. lysDexicsUntie

    I do wonder if anyone actually voted for themselves. With Tupoc and Augusto there is no chance of being selected for death even if you are the third. And you could use it to garner sympathy, sow suspicion, or just establish who wants you dead and how badly.
    If you have allies, they can use discussing votes for gathering information on who holds what grudges and who can be won over.
    At least for the first trial it would be a relatively risk free way to manipulate perception and gain insight into the other trial takers.


    1. Shveiran

      It definitely is a possible move, one I didn’t consider. So good catch.

      I’m not so sure it would be advantageous, though; once you are established as an option, you are more likely to be considered as an option by others, which seems… dangerous. Rather than attract sympathy, it seems to me like it’s more likely to trip you up down the line.


      1. lysDexicsUntie

        I would really depend on how long you expected the trials to continue. And if you thought or knew someone else was going to put your name up, than you wouldn’t be putting yourself out there any extra. Every name up there had more than one vote and likely knew they had enemies.

        It also provides the benefit of, if someone is expecting certain results based on previous votes, throwing off off calculations.

        I’m not saying it is likely, just that it would be an interesting strategy that I could see being used depending on the person (and we lack information about most characters mindset and motivation) and situation.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. Scott's Folly

    There are a lot of unstated edges in this Trial, as it stands.
    – Do those in the cages have the opportunity to vote on the verdict, or to speak in their defence? If not, caging someone purely to silence them in the trial of someone else becomes a tactic.
    – Are those voting obliged to execute a victim in every round, or is there a hidden candidacy for “none of these needs to die”? That would provide an out for someone who was convinced enough to call another round with a particular target in mind, who then finds and accepts that the rest of the group clearly will not deliver the verdict they want.
    – How will the vote be conducted? Do those passing judgement need to be unanimous, do they only need to pass a certain level of majority (which may be higher than 50%), or is it simply given to a plurality (largest grouping) no matter how small? How truly does the means of taking votes measure the voters’ true opinions? Many people of our world may not be familiar with any means of voting other than single-favour plurality-takes-all, but its shortcomings are many and well-established. Not least, in this context, the ease with which a widely detested candidate can win by splitting the opposing vote, secure in the knowledge that there is no way for the specific opposition to them (i.e. “I think that X should be prevented”, as distinct from “I think that Y is the best option”) to even be registered.


  20. Scott's Folly

    We can hardly hold it against Lan that she jumps to assuming slavery of the Dark part of the town’s population, but is it actually proven? That the population is mixed, and the Dark staying out of sight while the Light put on their annual charade for the outsiders, is at the least strongly suggested. That this represents oppression in everyday life, as opposed to just staying backstage long enough for the outside eyes to go away again, much less so.
    Currently, this is more a case of no evidence either way than of definite evidence against Lan’s conclusion. But perhaps the apparent inexperience of the staff at the Last Rest is a suggestion that they are merely filling in their roles until the ‘normal’ staff can return. And given the evidence of other close ties between the Watch and the Dark, I would bet that breaking down those preconceptions is a standard part of their training, to the point that most established members would be no more wary of a Dark than of any Light in similar circumstances.

    Some will no doubt crow indignantly that they see no difference between swaying temporarily to avoid triggering a known outside prejudice and embracing full-on chattel slavery. Others are capable of seeing nuance and tact.


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