It was a small mark, barely the width of half a palm, but that ‘C/C’ might just get them all killed.
“Trouble,” Lady Angharad Tredegar slowly repeated. “What do you mean?”
Tristan saw the change in the noblewoman, the way her previous sulk immediately turned into a straightened back as she unconsciously made enough room to be able to draw her saber. It was interesting that someone of her birth had learned such a habit – the kind you usually saw in legbreakers and killers who had been in the service of coteries for years, who knew death might come for them at any moment. Someone had tried to kill Angharad Tredegar, he figured, and taken more than one swing at it.
The thief cleared his throat.
“Would you like the short explanation or the long?” he asked.
The Pereduri blinked, as if surprised he would even ask.
“The long, of course,” Angharad seriously said.
“Huh,” Fortuna mused, cocking her head to the side. “No one ever asks for the long explanation. I think something might be wrong with her, Tristan.”
“I mean, she just willingly signed up for you talking more to her, she must be a masochist at the very least.”
It was not possible to strangle an incorporeal goddess, Tristan knew. He had tried enough to be certain. Hiding his surprise – Fortuna wasn’t wrong about thew first part at least – the thief cleared his throat again, placing his thoughts in order.
“A lamplight is not a complicated thing to make,” he finally said. “In essence, it is an iron post about twenty feet high – broader at the base, for stability – with a cylinder of grass and iron screwed on atop it. There is an oil reservoir inside and a wick to light.”
Tredegar was, by all appearances, listening quite attentively. As if interested. It began to occur to him that Fortuna might actually be a right, an unsettling prospect at the best of times.
“The oil itself is cheap,” he said. “Almond oil, but they do not need to be Glare-grown – just cut with infused dust or stone. Iron is cheap in Sacromonte because of the Trench, and an iron post is not a complicated to forge, so lamplights are relatively cheap to make and have been for as long as anyone can remember. It is not a popular good to trade in because there is, as far as anyone can tell, no coin to make in it.”
“But,” Angharad said.
Malani nobles were said to have a better eye for coin than most, he recalled. Or at least their lesser branches.
“Enter Chabier Calante,” Tristan said, “to whom the very Prince of Lies is favorably compared in some parts of the Murk.”
The Pereduri’s brown eyes moved to the lamplight by which they stood, finding the ‘C/C’ impressed into the metal. Her brow rose.
“Decades have passed since then and tales have eaten away at the truth of the matter,” Tristan continued, “but some elements always remain: Chabier Calante was a trader, a Trebian merchantman, and by way of what he believed to be an opportunity came into a large number of Pili cannons – the barrels, to be precise.”
Angharad cocked her head to the side.
“I have read of those,” she said. “Tianxi artillery. Powerful but infamously imprecise. Their use cost the Republics several engagements at sea.”
“I doubt the man would have cared,” Tristan said. “But he was tricked anyhow: the reason he got the barrels so cheaply was because they had been miscast. Some sort of thinned junction, it made the bottoms prone to exploding after the second shot. Even worse, the republic he meant to sell these to averted war by way of treaty at the last moment.”
“So he was ruined,” Tredegar said.
She sounded rather approving.
“Most would have been, but Chabier Calante was bold,” Tristan replied. “Around that time, the City was looking to expand its lines of lamplights into the Murk. Chabier had a stroke of inspiration: by sticking the miscast barrels atop a shorter, hollow base of scrap iron, he would be able to build lamplights for a pittance.”
“Surely the quality would be greatly lessened,” Angharad frowned.
“The story goes that when the contract bids were made to the infanzones, his offered price was almost half that of his competitors,” the thief said. “Chabier’s description of his shorter, squat lamplights as ‘built hardened against the savagery of the commons’ was allegedly found rather charming. They awarded him the contract.”
The noblewoman’s face hardened.
“This borders on corruption,” she severely said. “It is, at the very least, incompetence.”
Tristan wondered what it must be like, to live in a world where either of these things were a real hindrance in holding onto power you were born to.
“Lamplights with that newly minted mark of ‘C/C’ sprouted over about half the Murk the following year,” Tristan said. “All of Soliante, Araturo and Careyar.”
“I do not know these districts,” Angharad told him. “I was lodged in Cortolo and spent some time in Fishmonger’s Quay.”
Tristan let out a little noise of curiosity.
“Cortolo’s one of the nicer parts of the Old Town,” he said. “I’m surprised you were able to get a bed there, most foreigners end up near the ports.”
“My uncle recommended an acquaintance,” Angharad said.
Ah, the blackcloak relation. More likely he had recommended an inn with ties to the Watch, Tristan thought.
“They are districts near the western edge of the city,” he said. “Far from Cortolo, and indeed the eyes of the infanzones. Chabier Calante became very rich from this deal, a man of means, but as the months turned into a year word began trickling in: his lamplights kept blowing up, the top exploding in showers of fire and broken glass.”
Angaharad’s lips thinned. She was, Tristan realized, genuinely angry at the thought of something that had happened in a foreign land decades before she was born.
“It was the parts from the Pili cannons,” Tristan said. “Constant heat warped them, and by doing so turned them into makeshift grenades that blew the top off their own lamplights.”
“What happened after Chabier Calante was arrested?” Tredegar asked.
“He wasn’t,” Tristan mildly said. “Chabier suppressed news a few more years by paying a coterie to frame another for the explosions, which kept him in good odor long enough to marry into a noble house and prepare.”
“Prepare how?” the Pereduri said, sounding baffled.
“By the time it came out his lamplights were essentially a self-inflicted bombardment of Sacromontan streets,” Tristan said, “he had replacements lined up for the pieces whose manufacture just so happened to enrich enough powerful infanzones that not only did he go unpunished, he actually grew richer.”
Angharad Tredegar looked as if she had just been slapped, something that took great effort not to smile at. He could not help it, she was taking it all so personally.
“He should have been hanged,” the noblewoman stiffly said. “And all involved in awarding him the contract stripped of their offices and titles in public disgrace.”
You don’t even notice it, do you? That even in your finer world, you would hang the commoner and let the nobles get away with a slap on the wrist. Tristan could not find it in him to be irked over it. It was the kind of blindness you were born into, as much a defect as a limp or a stutter. Tredegar looked slightly embarrassed by her own outburst, coughing awkwardly.
“This lamplight is one of the repaired pieces, then?” she asked.
Tristan grimaced, for now they got to the bone of it.
“Chabier’s name would not still be cursed for his trick after decades passed had it ended there,” he said. “The replacement pieces, you see, did not work all that well either. The glow of the lamplights tends to wax and wane, and some trouble with the wicks means they can go dark for hours at a time without warning.”
Tredegar was not a slow woman, for all her self-inflicted fettering.
“You said earlier that the glow of these lamplights is perfect,” Tredegar slowly said. “It is not the same as those you know, then?”
“No,” he grimly said. “It is not. The upper half does not look quite the same either, the mark is in a different place.”
“I think,” Tristan said, “that we are looking at the originalcast. Chabier’s first batch.”
“And you said that within a year these pieces exploded,” Tredegar quietly said. “Those in the Murk were used every day?”
“Then even if the people of Cantica light these only the necessary amount to prevent Gloam disease, they should have broken by now,” Tredegar stated, and he was surprised by the certainty in her voice.
Ah, he should not have. Her mother had been some sort of explorer, hadn’t she? No one knew Gloam disease better than those who ventured out into the dark seas.
“There could be other explanations,” he warned. “If the town has only existed for a year or two, for example.”
“It would not have become the crux of the Trial of Weeds were it so recent a creation,” Tredegar noted. “Nor would it have so many established trades on the main street.”
A fair point, he thought as she paused.
“Though I suppose they could have private sources of Glare light,” she said. “Within their own homes. It might be that the use of the lamplights is restricted to the Trial of Weeds.”
“The lamplights are half of what keeps out cultists and lemures,” Tristan disagreed. “The Watch does not seem to be protecting Cantica from raids, by the corpses out front, so they would have used them defensively at least. Besides, think of the costs. Every single family in a small town like this having a private light? It would represent a fortune in coin.”
And Cantica did not seem like a wealthy town.
“I have no notion of the costs involved,” Tredegar admitted. “Much of Peredur is covered by Glare light from the pit above.”
“It’d be cheaper near a pit, like your home or Sacromonte,” Tristan said, “but it would be quite expensive out here on a nowhere island, where all is imported. I doubt even the Watch garrisons on the Dominion have such luxury.”
“Then the people of Cantica ought to be darklings by now, and they are not,” the Pereduri said, her voice gone flinty. “They are hiding something from us.”
It was interesting to witness it, the exact moment when white turned to black in Angharad Tredegar’s mind. Before then the townsfolk had been their hosts, honorable souls deserving of every courtesy. Now they were schemers, looming threats. It would have been easy to mock the woman for it, call it simplicity, but Tristan had seen naivete and this was not it. It was trained mindset, something she had been taught.
Would it not be a useful skill to a noble, being able to decide in a heartbeat that one of your formerly esteemed peers was a hateful foe without taking the betrayal personally?
He was coming around to thinking that Angharad Tredegar was a lot like a thoroughbred trained for the races. Splendid at what she was meant to do – swording people and being mannerly – but somewhat at a loss outside these bounds. Which was only natural: using a racer like a mountain mule was a good way to scrap that very expensive horse. Besides, Tredegar would not be at a loss forever. She was not without cleverness, given time to find her footing she should turn into a singularly dangerous woman.
But for now she was merely very dangerous, so the thief intended to find her a racing course to put that danger to use. What to say, what to hide, what to leverage? Tristan sketched out the angles, then made his decision.
“This cannot be spread around blindly,” Tristan told her. “Some would panic and tip off the townsfolk we are onto them.”
“If we are in danger,” Tredegar said, “we must warn the others.”
The thief feigned hesitation, preparing to concede down to the compromise he had wanted from the start.
“Only those we both agree on,” he offered.
After a heartbeat of hesitation Tredegar nodded. It would serve, given the Malani obsession with keeping their word.
“We need to find out what they are hiding,” the noblewoman said. “What kind of dark pact has kept them from becoming hollows without Glare light.”
“I have a guess as to what might be going on,” Tristan said. “But considering who I believe has the answers, I will need your help.”
Tredegar cocked an eyebrow.
“My help?” she skeptically asked.
“We need to find Tupoc,” Tristan said.
“He despises me,” the noblewoman informed him. “An entirely mutual feeling, I assure you.”
The thief doubted that, in fact – at least on the Izcalli’s side – but now was not the time for that talk. Or ever, really.
“It doesn’t matter,” Tristan said. “Tupoc Xical is not going to answer any question I ask him, because he and I both know that if I press him he will savagely beat me and dump my unconscious body somewhere humiliating.”
Tredegar opened her mouth and then closed it, speechless..
“You, on the other hand,” Tristan continued, “can savagely beat him should he attempt this, which he is equally aware of. That capacity is the required foundation for having any kind of halfway polite conversation with Tupoc Xical.”
The noblewoman squinted at him.
“Tristan,” she said, “are you attempting to use me as some sort of street tough?”
That was absolutely what he was attempting to do, yes. Outright lying to the woman whose entire way of life was bound to the concept of honor seemed a mistake, so he decided on a different angle.
“Be a pal,” Tristan tried. “Do it for justice.”
A heartbeat passed.
“I am not sure whether I should be offended at the implication,” Tredegar muttered, “or relieved that someone is finally asking of me something I know for certain I can do.”
“That uncertainty,” he sagely advised, “is the garden where friendships bloom.”
Angharad did not stab him for that, which was good as agreement in his book.
Tupoc Xical, spear assembled and at the ready, loomed over them from the rooftop.
The pale-eyed Izcalli was perched at the edge of the tiles, surveying the streets of Cantica like a hunting cat waiting for the right prey to pounce. Tupoc was bound for the cages and likely the grave unless he found the secret that would spare his life, so it hardly surprised Tristan that the man had decided trying to rustle up votes was a waste of time better spent on getting the lay of the land in Cantica. Indeed, the thief was counting on it. Everyone else, including him, had dabbled elsewhere.
“Good evening,” Tristan cheerfully called out.
The Izcalli sneered down.
“Less so now that you waste part of it,” he said. “Run along, rat.”
A full two seconds passed.
“Lady Tredegar,” Tupoc greeted with a nod.
It was almost impressive how excruciatingly deliberate he had made that pause.
“Your manners are lacking as ever,” Tredegar frostily replied.
“They match the soul they are offered to,” Tupoc drawled.
Insult and compliment all at once, Tristan thought amusedly. How crafty.
“We ask only for a conversation,” the thief said.
“We?” the Izcalli snorted. “How the mighty have fallen, Tredegar. Are you now cowering away in fear of the dark with this one?”
Angharad Tredegar cocked her head to the side.
“Shall we,” she mildly said, “speak of fear, then, Tupoc Xical?”
The eerily perfect man went still, a statue of flesh and blood, and Tristan hid his surprise. Tredegar had something on the man, she must have for him to react this way. How? Nobody had something on Tupoc, the Leopard Society man was like a pile of razor blades fashioned into a man’s shape. Tupoc leapt down from the roof, landing in a smooth crouch that was just close enough to force Tristan to take a step back, but the thief hardly even cared. This was just too delicious.
That Angharad Tredegar, of all people, would come into the power to hold Tupoc’s feet to the fire was enough to make his day.
“Do not waste my time,” Tupoc said. “What do you want?”
Tredegar cleared her throat, turning her gaze to Tristan. This had gone remarkably quickly, the thief mused, and he had not had to suffer nearly as many condescending threats against his life as he had been expecting.
Angharad was already proving a remarkably useful stick to shake at people.
“To trade in secrets,” Tristan said. “You have been looking over Cantica for hours now, Xical. Where is it?”
The noblewoman at his side frowned.
“Where is what?”
“The place where the bodies are buried,” the Izcalli said. “Where our beloved hosts are keeping their dirty little secrets.”
Tristan cocked an eyebrow.
“On the right side of town, near the palisade, they keep large piles of lumber for firewood,” Tupoc said. “Only the wood is old while the tracks that come and go in the mud are fresh.”
“So and underground cellar, most likely,” the thief mused. “They are keeping something down there.”
Tredegar looked uncomfortable.
“I have been told,” she hesitantly said, “that Cantica might be keeping darkling slaves. If such a cellar exists, it might be a gaol of sorts for the disobedient.”
Tristan stilled for a moment, fitting the pieces. If his growing guess about what the people of Cantica actually were proved true, then it was only sensible that hollow slaves would be kept around to work the fields and do the busywork. He had thought that the streets were empty because the townsfolk were keeping away from the trials, but Glare lamplights would force hollows off the streets.
“That would be a boon,” Tupoc said. “Tortured slaves always tell on the masters when given the opportunity, hollows most of all.”
Tredegar, he saw, was struggling between a polite dislike of slavery and her inability to approve of a slave turning on their lawful superior.
“Time to have a look at thar cellar, then,” Tristan said, rolling a shoulder.
“Trade means I get something as well, rat,” Tupoc said.
The thief nodded.
“No question,” Tupoc said. “I am coming with you, that is my price.”
“No,” Tredegar immediately denied.
Tristan said nothing, which after a heartbeat earned him a glare and a reproachful Tristan from the swordswoman. Mentioning that Tupoc seemed like a splendid scapegoat should anything go wrong with their little trip was unlikely to sway Tredegar, so instead Tristan tried a different approach.
“Why do you want to come?” he asked Tupoc. “You could easily trade for us telling you what we learn afterwards instead.”
The Izcalli’s pale eyes narrowed, a grudging look seizing his face. Tupoc recognized the offered branch for what it was – a way to talk himself into coming along – but resented being given at all anything by the likes of Tristan. This was turning, the thief mused, into a most satisfying interlude. Squirm some more, he thought, smiling pleasantly at the other man.
“This trial,” Tupoc said. “There is something wrong about it.”
“There is nothing wrong about being called to account for your own deeds,” Tredegar bit back.
He dismissed that with an irritated gesture.
“I mean in the way it is done,” the Izcalli said. “What prevents any group with half the votes from killing off everyone they dislike regardless of the stated purpose of this trial? It is supposed to weed out the unworthy but it is too easy to rig, even with a way to get out of being killed.”
“Ah,” Tristan exhaled. “You think there is something out to kills us beyond each other.”
“We are forbidden from fighting each other and the townsfolk,” Tupoc said. “But what if there was something else inside the walls with us?”
Something that could walk under the light of the Glare, something that would not reveal itself before it struck. Tristan had slowly but surely come to the same conclusion, but on a larger scale than Tupoc was considering. The Izcalli was yet thinking of this as a hunt when he should have thought of it as a racket.
“Attacks in the night would punish us for lingering too long,” Tredegar quietly said. “Force us to balance the righteousness of executing the deserving and the risks we incur to the innocent in doing so.”
Something the blackcloaks would be most interested in learning about their company before welcoming them into its ranks. Is the hidden rule that hunting the killer during the night gets you spared? It would be a way to preserve talent that had burned too many bridges but might still be useful to the Watch.
A rule to preserve the likes of Tupoc Xical, in other words.
“I want answers, same as you, but that is not why I want to go with you,” Tupoc said. “It occurs to me that my foe might just be tempted into an attack should it look like we are about to uncover Cantica’s secrets.”
Tredegar breathed out.
“That is what you have being doing,” she said. “Standing alone in an attempt to bait them out.”
Ah, Tristan thought. The blinders went both ways. He saw the affairs as a racket, so it had not occurred to him that Tupoc might be trying to outfox the hunter. It was good Tredegar had caught it, for it finally allowed him to understand what exactly it was the Izcalli had been doing all this time.
“He will coming along whether we like it or not,” Tristan told Angharad. “He is dead if he does not find the hidden rule, there is nothing we can do that will be worse than the outcome should he miss that opportunity.”
The noblewoman stared at him for a long moment, face reluctant, but he did not blink. Tredegar sighed.
“Though you will be accompanying us,” she flatly told Tupoc, “you will not be of our company.”
An important distinction to her, he expected. Perhaps she would not be bound to offer him aid in battle if he was not a ‘companion’.
“You are hurting my feelings, Lady Tredegar,” the Izcalli grinned.
“Count your blessings that an oath prevents me from hurting anything more than that, Xical,” she bit back.
And without another word she walked away, leaving the two of them standing face to face.
“Looking for fresh coattails to ride, Tristan?” Tupoc idly asked. “Yong seems to have finally shaken you off of his.”
“I am going to find out what she has on you, Tupoc,” Tristan affably replied, “and walk around this town shouting it at the top of my lungs.”
With the proper courtesies now observed, they hurried to catch up to Tredegar.
The piles of lumber were exactly as they had been told: large, old and much too frequently visited to truly be what they pretended to be.
The three were careful to avoid walking in the mud and leave tracks – rather, he and Tupoc were and Tredegar observed the same route without asking why – as they approached. The place was deserted, likely to avoid drawing attention in the first place, but they avoided staying out in the open anyhow. The faster they were done here the better. Though they swept around looking for the expected lookout, none was there to be found.
“We are taking too long,” Tupoc grunted. “Best we start looking for that cellar.”
The part where the lumber was stacked was dry ground, so tracks were not so easily found, but after they began going around testing them Tredegar soon let out a noise of surprise. Her stack was easily moved, lifted one-handed, and though the Pereduri was a strong woman she was not that strong.
It was hollow, glued together, and there was a trap door beneath.
“Promising,” Tristan said.
They moved aside the false pile. Tupoc tried to prevent it from being too obvious they had moved it from a distance, but Tristan suspected that was a lost cause. Secrecy would only be had by speed. Pulling at an iron ring, Tredegar opened the door and revealed a lightless stone chamber below. Tristan knelt at the edge, peering down, and frowned. The stink of human filth was strong, but he saw little aside from bare stone.
“We will have to go down,” he said. “I do not suppose either of you has a lantern?”
“Matches,” Tupoc replied.
It would have to do. There was a small makeshift ladder leading down and down they went one after another, the Izcalli taking the lead. Once Tredegar closed the trapdoor over their heads, Tupoc scratched a match. Flickering light revealed the boundaries of the small chamber they were in: stone on all sides except one, where instead a door of thick iron bars faced them.
“You were right,” Tristan murmured to Angharad. “It is a gaol.”
There was a padlock on the door, the same kind as the cages in the town square, and as they got close the match guttered out. Tupoc scratched another, revealing the dozen darklings laying down on a floor covered by filthy straw and dust. Most were half-naked, all bruised and several look like they had been cut. Or clawed at. Tredegar went stiff with outrage, Tupoc remaining unbothered. Tristan instead studied the prisoners inside, finding that thought most were either asleep or unconscious one woman in rags was look at them with wide eyes.
Blue eyes, he saw, and the sight of that with pale skin had his belly clenching with something unpleasant.
“You’re not them,” the woman rasped out in accented Antigua.
“The townsfolk of Cantica,” Tristan said. “They are the ones who put you here?”
She feebly nodded.
“Masters,” she said. “I took more rations, for my brother, and they said I am a thief. Put me here.”
“You are a slave, then,” Tupoc said.
His voice was soft, almost gentle. His match died and he struck another, revealing that his pale eyes were as cold as they’d ever been. A Leopard Society man at work, the thief thought.
“All slaves,” the woman said. “We work fields. Cut wood. Serve.”
“The lamplights,” Tristan said. “How often are they lit?”
The woman coughed, rasped out that she did not understand. Tredegar’s face was a painting of anguish. Tupoc spoke a few words in a language Tristan did not know – a hollow cant? – and then repeated the second part of the thief’s question.
“Once a year,” the woman said. “A few days.”
She coughed again.
“Can you,” she began, licking her lips. “Can you let me out?”
“As soon as we have the key,” Tupoc lied without batting an eye. “Do you know why the townsfolk have not become like you? Why they are still of the Glare?”
The slave shook her head, then hesitated.
“This place,” she said. “Those who come here do not come back. Maybe this. Please, won’t you let me out?”
Pity was never any help, Tristan knew. It was best set aside.
“There are stories of Triglau tribesmen sacrificing men to gods so they might avoid going hollow,” Angharad quietly said.
He traded a skeptical look with the Izcalli before the match went out, another scratched into life. Malani sailors had many a wild tale about the folks of their far-flung territories – always spoken of as a tale told them, of course, to avoid lying.
“The town might have something like a candle,” Tupoc said. “It would not support many without regular blooding, but that might explain why we have seen so few townsfolk.”
We have seen few townsfolk, Tristan thought, because this is not a town. Not anymore than this gaol is a gaol: it is, in truth, a larder.
“We need to leave,” the thief said. “We have been down here too long and she has nothing more to tell us.”
Tupoc nodded. Tredegar looked torn, but there was a reason the Pereduri had said precious little since coming down here. She knew she was in no place to make promises.
“Please,” the woman rasped, crawling their way. “Please.”
Tristan wrenched his gaze away. Tupoc was the last one up, as he had to keep scratching matches, and that was a mercy.
He was the only one of them those hoarse pleas were not making flinch.
Tristan had half-expected an ambush the moment they were back to standing among the lumber piles, but there was not a soul in sight. Not even a rat. The thief hummed, trying to remember if he had seen any animal at all since coming to Cantica. Not one, he thought. Not a single cat or dog, much less a rat. There would be cattle somewhere, for there was a butcher’s shop near the main street, but the lack of anything else was telling.
It went on the tally, along with the way the townsfolk never showed their teeth when smiling and kept conversations short – when they could not avoid talking entirely.
“We should split up,” Tristan suggested. “If we stay together people will ask where we have been.”
Tupoc gave no argument, as was only to be expected. Half the reason the Izcalli had come was because he’d wanted to be attacked, he would not insist on sticking together. Tredegar hesitated, still shaken by what she had seen below, but nodded after a moment.
“Let us meet again at the Last Rest,” she told him. “We must talk.”
Tupoc snorted dismissively at them and stalked away, disappearing into the bowels of the town. Tristan nodded his agreement at the noblewoman, then invited her to head out first. He waited until she had turned the corner to follow suit, every second growing tenser. He was the easiest prey of the three, he knew, and if someone was lying in wait… Only when he sped away from the hidden cellar after having put the hollow pile back in place there was no sudden attack. There was, indeed, no trace of anyone at all until he was close to the main street again.
There he ran into a couple out on a walk, the both of them silently nodding back when he gave a cheerful greeting.
“Not a chatty folk, are they?”
He almost leapt out of his skin. Maryam was sitting on a small bench by the side of the road, tucked away into a slice of shadow as she looked on. He had missed her entirely, which did nothing for his nerves. Calm, he told himself. You have already discovered part of the trap.
“That they are not,” he said.
She moved over to make room for him when he approached, sitting by her side almost close enough to touch. Tristan hesitated a bit, then bit the blade.
“How is he?”
“His chances are half and half, the physician says,” she replied.
Tristan grimaced back. Not only because Yong’s life was now a coin flip but also because he was no longer certain that the physician could be trusted to speak the truth in the first place.
“We have trouble,” Tristan said.
Blue eyes narrowed at him. He swallowed, remembering the pleas that had followed them up the ladder before trailing off into a ragged silence just as heartbreaking.
“Once, just once, I would like to have a light-hearted conversation with you,” Maryam demanded. “How goes it, Maryam, lovely weather we’re having isn’t it?”
“Delightful,” he replied, unable to follow her mood. “Cloudy with a chance of devils, you might say.”
She stilled; all humor stolen right out of her.
“Inside the walls?” Maryam whispered, leaning closer.
“I think every single person we’ve talked to since arriving in Cantica has been a devil,” Tristan said, and it was almost a relief to finally say it out loud. “They all smile without showing their teeth and a many of them avoid actually talking.”
Not all devils were skilled at mimicking voices, their kind growing more adept at deception as they aged.
“It’s the eyes that give them away, usually,” Maryam contested.
It was. Eyes were fragile, especially when you emptied out the body behind them to wear it over your misbegotten form, so they tended to dry out our rip. In modern times devils were said to wear spectacles over them to hide the detail, but half of Cantica wearing these would have been a dead giveaway.
“I was taught to check the teeth,” Tristan replied. “The careful ones keep the human teeth, but if you look deep enough you can see their own creeping up behind.”
He had never seen the true body of a devil with his own eyes, though he had seen diagrams in books. Something neither quite crustacean nor insectile but every inch a nightmare, all chitin and pincers. They had to fold themselves very carefully to fit inside a carcass, and should they lose their temper they were apt to rip through the fragile shell allowing them to walk around under Glare light. Maryam shivered.
“If the Watch allowed them to settle here, they should be signatories of the Iscariot Accords,” she said.
Relatively few things had been asked of Hell’s regents, when peace was made and the Accords signed. The two large concessions had been the sealing of Pandemonium – the birthplace of devils – and that their kind would cease to eat humans and wear their skin. Modern devils, those that some nations allowed within their borders, wore skin taken from corpses. Fresh corpses, so the shell had not decayed, but they took only from the already dead.
The devils here should not be meaning to eat them, Maryam meant.
“I’m guessing they eat whichever poor bastard in a cage gets picked to die,” Tristan mildly said. “They would need the bodies to replace the shells that rot or get torn, anyhow.”
Shalini had been promised that Ishaan would get burned, but he now had some doubts. More likely something would get burnt, and next year Ishaan Nair would be one of the faces greeting whoever made it to the Trial of Weeds.
“The man running the Last Rest is very young,” Maryam said after a moment. “Doesn’t even look twenty. If that was a choice made because they only have so many shells to pick from…”
“Then they are not given free rein to devour us at will,” Tristan slowly finished. “That is something, at least.”
“But not much. We need a way out of this place if it all goes to – well, you know,” she embarrassedly finished.
Hell, he amusedly realized she had been going to say.
“I expect there is more than a single way out of this place,” he said. “A town of this size cannot do with a single gate.”
“Find it,” Maryam said. “I need to warn someone meanwhile.”
Song Ren, he thought.
“I am to meet with Tredegar at the Last Rest in a while,” he said. “To discuss plans.”
“I will be there,” Maryam said. “And see if you can find Lan before joining us, she was looking for you earlier.”
It was his turn to nod. Lan had sharp eyes, he would not be surprised if she had noticed something stank about Cantica. And someone had warned Tredegar about the likely slavery, hadn’t they? That rather sounded like the dealer buying herself a friendly mirror-dancer. Tristan suddenly hesitated, Maryam cocking an eyebrow.
“Out with it,” she asked.
“There are slaves here,” he said. “I found an underground gaol with Tredegar and Tupoc, it is how I put the last details together.”
That the prisoners in that gaol never returned because the devils ate them. Maryam sighed, passing a hand through her hair.
“There are slaves in many places, Tristan,” she said. “My own father kept several. You need not tread so lightly about it.”
Tristan almost told her she would not say as much if she had seen how the slaves in the gaol were treated, but he bit his tongue. Maryam had seen more of Vesper than he had. They had never said as much, but they both knew this. She knew full well the ugliness of slavery. It had been him that was unprepared: it was one thing to know of the hollows in the Trench, how they were treated no better than beast of burdens, but another to see such a thing with his own eyes.
“It is a foul thing,” he finally said, exhausted.
“And fouler yet when made into a trade,” Maryam softly agreed.
Neither said any more than that.
Lan was hanging around the slate where all the names and numbers had been writ in chalk, staring at them in what Tristan suspected was an attempt at figuring out who had tried to put who in a cage. The thief himself was rather curious who had named him, but he had significantly larger swords hanging above his head at the moment.
“Tristan,” his fellow rat greeted him without turning. “What have you been up to, I wonder?”
“Seeing the sights,” he drawled. “You?”
Lan eyed their surroundings. No one was all that close, most the others inside the Last Rest to eat or drink, but the shutters were open and sound might carry. She gestured for him to follow, the two of them moving into the alley to the side of the inn.
“Brun is up to something,” she said, lowering her voice. “And I think Yaretzi is part of it.”
The thief eyed her.
“I’m listening,” he said.
“They’re always talking,” she said. “And they have the two rooms besides Tredegar’s.”
“He has no reason to go after Tredegar,” Tristan pointed out. “Not only would she promptly kill him for it, she has a high opinion of the man and people listen to her.”
“Maybe it’s about Yaretzi, then,” Lan impatiently said. “They’re up to something, Tristan.”
The thief grimaced.
“I still believe Brun is the killer,” he finally said. “No one else fits. But I think I might have been more certain in the moment than was truly warranted, Lan.”
She eyed him coldly.
“You don’t really think that,” the blue-lipped woman said. “You just think this is too much trouble to deal with on top of whatever you disappeared to sniff out.”
That was, he silently conceded, not entirely unfair of her to say. It certainly weighed on the scales – Brun was something to deal with when the threat of devils was no longer hanging over their heads. But it was not a lie either to say that he had thought twice since threatening the other rat.
“Even if he was out to kill someone again,” Tristan said, “why would Yaretzi help him?”
“What else would they be doing?”
“An alliance, for fear of ending up in a cage,” he said. “Or dead.”
The thief shook his head.
“Bring me more,” Tristan said, “and it could be acted on. But you don’t have enough, Lan.”
And however sharp her eyes, he thought, wanting her twin’s killer dead was not like to keep them clear. Lan licked her lips, the blue on her tongue faded darker, and scoffed. She stalked away angrily, but they both knew that for the concession it was. Tristan watched her go and sighed.
He had a gate to find.
To his utter lack of surprise, when Tristan slid into a seat across the table from Angharad Tredegar her minder was at her side. Song studied him calmly with those unblinking silver eyes, weighing and taking his measure. The thief wondered if Maryam, who was sitting on his side of the table, was to be taken as his minder.
There might even be a grain of truth to that.
“We must decide on what we tell others,” Song Ren evenly said. “And do it soon, as people have already begun to retire to their rooms.”
Tristan glanced at Maryam, wondering exactly how much of their own path to Cantica she had told her – colleague, accomplice? The relationship there was still nebulous.
“That we have reason to expect that there will be an attack in the night,” Tristan suggested.
And then the idea came to him, quick and silver bright and so utterly tempting he could not resist.
“And that we should be ready to retreat from the Last Rest if trouble finds us,” he added.
Tredegar’s brow rose.
“You believe the night attack will be so dangerous?”
“He’s right,” Maryam said. “It could be a god they made a bargain with or a pack of devils, we cannot know. What we do know is that the Watch expects that attack to be capable of taking on fighters sharp enough to make it through the first two trials.”
“I would prefer to stand our ground,” Angharad admitted, “but some of us are not fighters so I’ll not deny it might be wiser to retreat and draw the enemy onto better grounds.”
And there was the shape of his opportunity. Dozens moving around at night, with violence and chaos afoot?
“We should pick two different locations for folk to gather at,” the thief casually said. “If we get dispersed, or are pursued, it might not be easy to gather in a single place or wait for everyone. I found a postern gate on the side of town, that can be one location. The front gate for the other?”
“That seems wise,” Tredegar nodded.
Silver eyes on him, but he did not flinch. Maryam would not have told her, he chose to believe that. Gods, how could he not when she has lost fingers to save his life?
“Each of us can head to one such place should the worst come,” Tristan said. “I imagine I should take the side gate, since I am the one who found it.”
A shrug, the Pereduri agreeing.
“And now we tell the others,” Tredegar breathed out.
She seemed tired, at long last.
“It would be best to split that duty up, each of us talk to only a few,” Tristan said. “Our hosts might notice something is happening otherwise.”
It was only sensible, so naturally they agreed, and he ignored the weight of Song’s piercing silver eyes as he rose.
“I need a favor,” he whispered to Maryam.
He got something like a smile, cold and entirely savage.
“I thought you might,” she said. “I’ll take care of it.”
Tristan did not begin with him, that would have been too obvious. He did not need to rush anyway, as Tredegar was now on poor terms with the man and so unlikely to approach. As for Song, well, Maryam just happened to want a word with her at that moment. Cozme Aflor was third on his list and already eyeing him warily by the time he sat across the man. The explanation was short, the mustachioed man then seeking Song’s eyes across the room and getting a nod in reply.
“Keep it quiet,” Tristan murmured. “Augusto will not be told and if there is chatter the townsfolk may notice we are onto them.”
“Of course,” Cozme nodded, stroking his mustache. “I will be most careful, Tristan.”
“I’ll see you there,” he smiled.
That ‘there’ did not happen to be a place where anyone but the two of them would be gathering was not something his father’s executioner needed to know.
As the last of them began going up the stairs, Tristan lingered just long enough to watch darkness begin to creep through the shutters. Night had come to Cantica, the lamplights ringing the town doused one after another. Alas, there would be no sleep for him.
His work was now beginning.
Patience did most of the work.
The thief waited until the innkeeper doused the last of the lights inside the Last Rest and left. There had been no doubt that the devil would, as a simple look at the size of the kitchen compared to the floor upstairs confirmed there was no chamber built for him to sleep in. Tristan waited for minutes more, then crept down the hall and the stairs. The windows were shuttered but the door was unlocked – cracking it open, he peeked through.
The streets were dark and empty, but there were lights in the distance.
He snuck out, closing the door behind him. The lights, he saw when got out to have a better look, were from torches. The town square, he thought. Tristan stayed off the main street as he went, keeping to alleys and passing behind houses. He could not risk going out in the open: not only did devils see in the dark but they were said to have uncanny senses. His method got him close to the square, but the particular alley was a dead end. Tristan could dimly make out voices, but he was too far for anything useful.
Grimacing, he eyed the side of the house he was hiding behind. There was a way up, with a little work. An empty crate – which creaked under his weight enough to have him wincing – got him a foot higher, enough he was able to wedge a foot against a jutting plank and grab at the edge of the tiled roof. Only the work was shoddy, he discovered, and if he held onto the tiles to pull himself fully onto the plank they were like as not to come loose. Swallowing a curse, the thief looked around for something to use and found a shovel with a bent head. He crept back down, took it and then tried to keep the crate’s groaning as a minimum as he wedged a foot against the plank again.
Using the shovel as a counterweight, he pushed himself so he could stand on the jutting plank. He was careful not to let the shovel fall, propping it against the wall, and then climbed the rest of the way onto the roof. Creeping up the tiles, he pressed himself against the cool clay until he had reached the top of the roof – and from there found a commanding sight of the town square below. The thief breathed in sharply. There were only a few torches, held up by the handful of pale-skinned hollows in the square, but there must have been more than fifty people in the square.
All of them looking like children of the Glare, but as he watched them mill around the cages Tristan could not help but feel they were slightly off. They weren’t moving quite right, arms and legs sometimes bending more as the confirmation of movement than the reason.
“- not seeing anything.”
A man’s voice but stilted. Like it took too much care pronouncing every syllable.
It was also coming from behind him, down in the alley.
Tristan held his breath, pressed close against the roof and prayed. Some shuffling down in the alley. There were at least two of them.
“It was a rat,” another voice said. “The thralls are getting fat, I tell you. They don’t hunt them as thoroughly as they used to.”
By the sound of it, one of the devils below kicked the shovel he’d left propped up.
“We better not have missed anything,” the stilted voice said.
A scoff that sounded ever so slightly of clicking mandibles.
“None of it means anything until Akados gets here,” the devil said. “The fresh casts listen to him like he’s some duke of Hell.”
“As if,” the stilted voice snorted. “He’s not even an elder, he-”
A crate was kicked, Tristan almost flinching at the sound.
“Still dangerous,” the other devil said. “Watch your wagging.”
Angry hisses, then he heard the pair walking away. Tristan held his breath until his lungs burned and his eyes watered, releasing it only when he was dead certain neither was close enough to hear him. That had been uncomfortably close. If he’d been just a little slower to climb… There was no time for fear to set in, however, as the crowd below coiled with unspoken tension. It was not hard to put a face to the source, as the devils around him all fell silent.
The devil wore the skin of middle-aged man, Tristan saw, with broad shoulders and a balding pate. He had a vaguely Malani look about him, and by the looks of the clothes the thief thought he was likely the town butcher. If that is not Akados I’ll throw away my hat. The devil deftly leapt up to sit atop one of the cages, the crowd of his fellows rippling around him. Tristan’s lips thinned: no man could have moved like that. It was simply not something people’s legs were capable of.
Mayor Crespin, or at least the devil wearing that skin and name, came to stand in the middle of the square and cleared his throat.
“Now that all are in attendance,” he said, voice slightly buzzing, “we can begin. We have a hunt and a hunter to choose this night.”
The crowd shivered. The butcher, the one Tristan thought might be this ‘Akados’, had been the one to speak.
“It seems to me,” the butcher continued, voice slow and lazy, “that the rooks are in disarray. Their mountain collapsed; their fort was buried. This year is a loss to them, good as written off.”
A scoff from another in the crowd.
“They gave us rules when they stranded us here,” the other devil said. “A hundred years playing their game and the term is ended. Why should we risk the guns of the Watch instead, Akados?”
“To feed,” the devil replied, voice hungry for all the laziness. “Not the scraps they allow us, but to truly eat to our heart’s content as we were made to. Not nibbling at dun souls or breaking up a soul in pieces like biscuit – a proper meal.”
Dun? Tristan frowned. It meant dark, he recalled, or perhaps drab. He might mean the hollows. Rather more worrying was that the oldest devil in Cantica was attempting to talk the others into what sounded like a massacre of the trial-takers and there was not a great deal of opposition to it. Still some, however.
“Everyone knows you anneal from slaughter,” a devil called out. “You just want one to get closer to being evergreen, but what is that to us?”
“We all want a slaughter, Vane,” the devil replied, baring the teeth of a man and the pincer-like teeth of a devil behind them. “To feel them writhe in the Empty Sea, to partake of the colors. I will gain, true, but who here would not?”
A challenging look.
“They will not come after us with powder and shot for a year that is already scrapped,” Akados said. “We are not so easily replaced. And if we can get away with it, what is staying our hand?”
Reading a crowd of devils was like trying to read foreigners through a panel of silk, Tristan thought, but were he inclined to bet he would have said the crowd was already halfway talked into it. It was only a matter of time now: too many of the devils went eerily still whenever feeding was mentioned, the expressions of the shells gone slack with want.
It was, Tristan mused, time to get the fuck out Cantica before they all died.
The arguing would at least serve to cover the sound of his sliding back down into the alley. Tristan crept away, more hastily than he had come for he now felt the urgency biting at his back. Could he still pull things off with Cozme, now that he would not have the time to lay his ambush as he had planned? Maybe, he thought. He would need to take stock of things before deciding.
Yet even as he snuck his way back to the Last Rest, the thief forced himself to take a detour. Angharad Tredegar would be leading her lost lambs out through the front gate, but Tristan had his sights set on the postern – for more reasons than one. It would be best to first see if there were guards near it. Likely not devils, he thought, but perhaps hollows. Foes nowhere as fearsome, but perfectly capable of raising the alarm.
Steps silent, he turned the corner on the wooden sidewalk and risked a glance. The thief hissed in a breath, catching sight of movement and drawing back. He looked again, more carefully, and was relieved to see it was only one man with his back turned. The relief lasted only until he recognized the ragged cape he was looking at. With a soft cry of triumph, Augusto Cerdan ripped open the postern gate and swiftly moved aside.
This was, Tristan dimly thought as cultists began pouring into the town, going to be a problem.
27 thoughts on “Chapter 41”
Visual chapter overview fanart This one might have had the least official changes from on page info yet. (I did clean up most characters a bit, though)
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Another great Tristan chapter and I love the interaction between Angharad and Tristan. Its the most we’ve had I think. Reading this I hope they don’t become enemies. “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
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I think this is the climax we’ve all been waiting for. Tupoc, Angharad and Tristain going into a gaol.
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It would appear devils are appropriately named. Given the malignancy of so many previous names, I did not anticipate a race somehow worse than human slavers. Granted, it appears we have come across the very worst of their kind, if Tristan’s musings about Devils able to live among humans without consuming the living are any indication. But, if enslavement and routine murder of the marginalized are the result of leaving them to their own devices, one wonders why that is ever allowed.
The question now becomes what it is the Iscariot Accords actually protect. Their sworn enforcers enlist the help of a species of obligate parasites. They also produce the conditions causing all other human misery on Vesper, by maintaining the status quo which empowers nobility. That devils are parasites in human skin goes without saying, but the nobility and societies protected by the Iscariot Accords and Blackcloaks are more of the same. What is the difference between a literal insect who consumes men as sustainence, and a figurative snake who consumes men as commodities? Particularly when the second acquires the services of the first whenever convenient?
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Well, the Blackcloaks aren’t actually a human(and etc) rights organization. They rely on their neutrality for the access necessary to combat the literal people eating in all countries, not just the Republic where your walls of text would be met with cheers instead of reactionary gunfire.
Anharad’s classism blinders and Tristian’s belief that standing for something is a luxury he can’t afford prevent them from becoming the protagonists you seem to desire.
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Basically, while the difference may be insignificant to the victims of nobility, the Blackcloaks don’t have the strength to fight purely human evil at the same time as supernatural evil (and that’s not getting into the fact that most of them don’t recognize it for what it is). People who wish to be free will need to turn to their enemy’s enemies, or organize a revolution among themselves.
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If they fought the human evils they likely would not need to fight so many supernatural ones. Saints, as far as we can tell, arise from the desperate and scared. Whatever insanity the Cerdans are up to could have been nipped in the bud by simply eradicating their line for abuse of power rather than blasphemy. Devils would find it far more difficult to prey on the forgotten if nobody ever was. These are not seperate threats. Nothing ever is or can be.
Man. Angharad and Tristan make a good team … and also Tupoc. Please, please, please. Let Tristan and Angharad team up and be friends, I really think their combination is a 1 + 1 >2 kind of deal
Because Tristan blew up the fort, the devils now feel confident enough to make a move. Ah,… this must be his bad luck catching up to him, and everybody else. He should have just gone the normal way, who knows trying to be smart can have so many consequences. Though, if he wants everyone in his group – the old and disabled Vanessa and Francho, choosing to be smart seems like a good direction.
Tristan, please stop thinking about Cozme, this is not the time. If you’re not careful, the entire group gonna ended up dead. Check on Yong.
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I’m not even sure Tristan is actually capable of not trying to be smart or trying to sleuth stuff out. Honestly, I think he very probably could have made it through with the main group in the Trial of Ruins instead of doing his own thing, but he smelled a secret and once that happens he can’t leave well enough alone. Abuela probably is partially to blame for encouraging this habit. On the bright side, right now we have a case where Tristan sticking his nose into everything might actually save everyone’s lives, because if he hadn’t put the pieces together, nobody would be forewarned that the town is filled with very hungry devils.
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Well this will be a chaotic mess. In some ways Augusto and his cultist army will be a real boon.
I must say I really want to know more about Zenzele and Songs contracts cause surely at least one of them should give some alerts on all these devils or on Augustos new contract.
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While it makes it a lot harder for Tristan to quietly murder Cozme Aflor, the sudden army of cultists actually offers a surprisingly plausible solution to the devil problem!
As far as the devils are concerned, I imagine the cultists are something of a free buffet. And one the Watch probably would actually approve of them killing, although I don’t think they care *that* much what the Watch thinks. The cultists and the devils can fight each other to their heart’s content while the characters who *aren’t* quite as interested in slaughter can slip away in the night in all the chaos.
Of course, I doubt it will actually be that easy. It never is.
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As we all know, taking advantage of utter chaos is a simple matter.
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I have been interested in devils since the beginning. Learning more is fascinating. I wasn’t expecting them, but it makes sense. They have faced hollows, lemures and mad gods, what other foes of the Watch remain but devils? Well, saints, but one was on the Bluebell and keeping one captive seems tricky.
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Y’know, it does make me curious. If a saint is formed from the overindulgence of a contract, then are we going to see one or more saints of the red maw within these cultists? Or perhaps even Augusto himself at some point?
Our two main characters have been persistently built up as foils as foils all this time, it is really nice to see the payoff of them starting to interact more.
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I truly hate the wordpress comment system. Sorry to everyone last week, I tried to post replies but nothing actually went through.
Great to have Fortuna back! She sadly doesn’t talk much in this one, but fantastic that she’ll still be throwing divine shade on occasion. And yes Tristan, we hang the guy directly responsible for the crime. There are things such as levels of culpability and punishment appropriate to the crime. It’s not that we’re letting the nobles off in favor of hanging the commoner, it’s that the commoner actually committed the crime.
Tupoc continues to be a magnificent bastard. And I loved their recreation of the single best scene from Netflix’s Castlevania anime.
I’m feeling more confident about my guess last week that the four votes for Tristan were Tupoc, Yong, Brun, and Yaretzi. I don’t think Augusto would deign to notice him as a rat and Cozme hasn’t quite caught on yet. Lan still wants his help and confirms the Brun and Yaretzi have been plotting together. Actually, I’ve got a guess about Yaretzi. She’s trained like a diplomat, but doesn’t use the right stances. She’s used to roughing it rather than palaces and embassies. When Tupoc confronts her, he accuses her ‘of working for free’ after Aines’ murder. At first it just seemed like a dig at her merchant class status and we all agreed with Tristan that it was Brun. But looking back, it’s only ‘working for free’ if she normally kills people for money, she’s an assassin.
Not that any of the votes matters, as predicted this Trial isn’t happening. Not as planned at anyrate. No one is going into a cage. It’s about to be a crazy threeway fight and Tristan just set up his swing at Cozme…
The devils are crazy and weird and I can’t wait to find out more about them. It makes a twisted sort of sense though. The first trial is about dealing with lemures, hollows, and other humans. The second trial adds crazed gods. The third adds devils. By the third, any recruits will have faced the various major threats the Watch is supposed to handle, in person with live fire. Recruitment might not be the true purpose of the trials, but the Watch did not skimp on making sure it was a decent process
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If you post several times in quick succession, wordpress flags you as a bot and replies don’t go through.
I respectfully think is time go GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE
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“I am not sure whether I should be offended at the implication,” Tredegar muttered, “or relieved that someone is finally asking of me something I know for certain I can do.”
I have to pity Angharad a little. She knows and understands her limitations, but can do nothing about them.
She keeps getting put in situations that are beyond her skills, but her sense of responsibility won’t allow her to give up. Despite knowing she will probably not succeed.
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So, it’s actually only a slight exaggeration to say that all Hell has broken loose now.
Tristan and Angharad’s relationship is both hilarious and extremely efficient. They cover each other’s gaps really well as Tristan noted, they both have blinders that the other does not.
Also I love Tristan’s reaction to the slaves and slavery in general. He’s deeply disturbed by it, but he’s still going to do his thing, it feels in character for him. His talk with Maryam about it is pretty much the closet thing to vulnerability he’s able to muster, which shows how much it rattles him.
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Key about those skill overlaps is that they recognize that they have them and that the other covers those blind spots, instead of stubbornly plowing ahead.
Devils are cool! So very physical, instead of settling for “It’s magic” as an explanation. Sure, they’re fucked up skittering thingies stuffing themselves into humans! Awesome!
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Every new chapter just further affirms my belief that Beatris really was the wisest person possible by getting out while the going was good.
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To be fair, a number of them didn’t have that option.
Tristan and Angharad definitely couldn’t. Song and Maryam may not have to option, depending on their specific deal with the Watch.
Isabel couldn’t unless she wanted to be forced into marriage with one of the Cerdan’s. Augusto and Remund couldn’t leave unless they were willing to give up on marrying a girl they thought they loved, plus Augusto couldn’t really leave after his previous actions without serious repercussions. Cozme couldn’t leave without at least one Cerdan brother.
Zenzele has nowhere to home back to after he ran away from home and his girlfriend was killed. And Inyoni wasn’t going to abandon her nephew.
Shalini wouldn’t have abandoned Ishaan. Ishaan could have left if the Society he wanted to join is the only reason he was here, but that seems unlikely since this isn’t the only way into the Watch.
Ferranda doesn’t want to return home and be forced into marriage after her lover that she was willing to give up everything and join the Watch with (despite others thinking she was trying to get approval for a lover on the side) was killed.
Yong couldn’t leave without sacrificing his husband.
Lan was fleeing death in Sacromonte and probably won’t leave until her sister is avenged.
Felus and Ains couldn’t leave because of their debt and threats against their children.
Vanesa wasn’t likely to survive her injuries and quitting would sacrifice her son.
Franco was being hunted and the Watch was his only escape.
We aren’t sure why Tupoc, Yaretzi, Brun, and Acanthe are here.
Really Ocotlan is the only one who could have taken the easy out.
Even Beatris would have been pretty much screwed if Isabel had survived.
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Even Angharad picked up that Augusto was acting weirdly unconcerned about his unpopularity during what is essentially a popularity contest with lethal stakes, and she misinterprets things so consistently that it’s starting to feel willful! How did Tristan not see this coming when he knows Augusto’s in league with the cultists???
Thinking Augusto planned on doing a runner is actually one of Angharad’s more reasonable assumptions.
All Tristan knew was the Cultists didn’t kill Augusto because he has a Contract with their God. Why would he equate that with Augusto is going to help Cultists attack a settlement they probably know is Devils and haven’t overrun in all the years its been here despite seemingly minimal defences?
Augusto is likely trying to leave the island, and take the Maw off with him, facilitating an attack serms counterintuitive to that goal.
Sure the corpses out front indicate som enmity between the groups, unless they were actually corpses of Hollow slaves. But the Cultists have enough numbers that an open gate shouldn’t be their attack criteria.