Last time, Yushuv was so worried about the Wyld Hunt coming back he decided to camp out right next to the road. Today, Ratcatcher. So total competence has probably remained stable.
They’re back at the Prince’s malevolent castle after just a few day’s riding. Lots of ghosts appear in the courtyard and Ratcatcher tells Wren that if he falls behind they’ll eat him. This doesn’t seem too likely considering the horses aren’t in danger. They’re tended by a mix of zombies and sickly living humans.
Overhead, low clouds scudded clockwise across the sky, and beneath them huge silhouettes that most probably belonged to vultures circled.
The linking of death and vultures is a very poor understanding of vultures.
Vultures eat dead bodies. There are dead bodies they’re clearly not getting to eat here. Some might be eating the ones that have gotten too old to work, but zombies are generally retired when they lose structural cohesion, so there isn’t much to sweep up. And whatever is left would probably be too petrid, or else too tough for them to eat – vultures are not particularly strong birds.
Vultures are very much a circle of life bird. They wouldn’t get along well with Abyssals. They’re also intelligent, social, and friendly! Wonderful animals, and many are critically endangered.
Remember Pelesh from a little while ago? He’s there to greet Ratcatcher, which considering how badly they parted, is odd – wouldn’t you wait to find out if he’d been successful or not before getting near? Of course, that would rely on him being bright enough to realize he should stay scarce if it turns out Ratcatcher was successful, and instead he’s thrilled to see the dagger.
Would you care to examine it!”
“Of course, of course.” Pelesh rubbed his hands together in anticipation
“Fine,” said Ratcatcher, and plunged the dagger firmly into Pelesh‘s belly.
He’s using the hilt for this just to freak him out, so the guy doesn’t actually die. Which is boring. You could at least have the evil death-obsessed characters actually killing each other. It’s not like killing him would do much to annoy the Prince, since he’d just turn into a ghost and be put back to work.
They continue their sniping in front of Wren, because it’s always good to give your prisoner a front-row seat for your petty office politics. I guess you could sort of explain this as everyone involved assuming Wren’s too doomed to matter, but he’s presumably going to be around for a bit to torture information out of him, so he’ll have opportunity to bargain. Now he knows the two hate each other, he could later suggest Pelesh let him go so Ratcatcher will take the blame.
Pelesh seethes furiously. “The wheel turns,” Wren distinctly heard him mutter
Seriously, stop saying that. It does no such thing. You’re bringing about the end of the world. There isn’t going to be anything to turn.
If there was a need for phrase like this, it should be pointed out that Abyssals view things as on an inevitable downward trend, which they happen to be speeding up. Everything spirals downward, everything falls apart, everything dies eventually, and nothing is all that’ll be left.
Wren asks if Ratcatcher will hand him over to his prince. Ratcatcher says no, he’s going to hand Wren over to his prince. I’m not kidding:
“Do you hand me over to the Prince, and then go on your merry way?”
“No, I am going to make a formal presentation of you and the dagger to my prince. I have no idea how long he’s wanted the toy, but he’s wanted you ever since Talat’s Howe, and he tends to get vindictive when he’s forced to wait for things he wants. As for what he’s going to do to you, I have no idea, but I expect it will be unpleasant and lingering. I’d pray for quick death, priest, if I were you.”
That said, Ratcatcher does seem like the sort of annoying jackass who’d make unnecessary corrections just so they can lecture.
“I bring gifts for you, my prince. I have been successful in my endeavors for you, and have brought you the fruits of my labors.”
“So you have the boy?”
“The boy?” Ratcatcher’s eyes widened in surprise and alarm. Clearly, this was not going the way Ratcatcher had anticipated, and Wren stifled an urge to laugh aloud.
Making things into a farce is a good way to remove suspense.
Now, the thing is, the Prince here can see Ratcatcher isn’t bringing him the boy, so he’s only asking so he could berate Ratcatcher right off the bat. This just serves to make him look stupid.
“Ah. Then perhaps you have the sword?”
Given the size of that, this is again rhetorical.
“Let us tally your accomplishments, then. You do not have the boy, for whom I sent you. You do not have the sword, to which the boy was to lead you. You do, however, have a ragged priest on a leash
Let’s recap what Ratcatcher was actually told:
find the boy. Find the blade he took. Find the grave he took it from, and if that is not enough for you to do, find me Wren
Ratcatcher has 2/4 completed. Particularly damning here is that the Prince just identified the guy with Ratcatcher as a priest, and he knows he sent Ratcatcher out to get a priest. He also knows he sent someone else to the grave and told Ratcatcher as much, so that finding the grave was implied to be a secondary task. It makes the guy look like a moron.
The whole conversation is just annoying. The Prince could have just asked what Ratcatcher had and he’d be done. Instead he’s dragging it out despite previously claiming he hates how Ratcatcher drags everything out.
Ratcatcher asks if he can explain. The Prince cuts him off for a very lengthy comment about how the Prince guesses he should so they can get done with this.
Wren could feel the impotent rage bubbling off his captor, as well as the helpless devotion he felt to the Prince.
“Helpless devotion” under the circumstances, is probably a good indicator of social charms. And the Prince being a social monster instead of a combat monkey would explain why he’s able to keep the rest of them convinced he’s in charge and unbeatable. Not a stable long-term strategy when dealing with other exalts, but it’d last a little while, and admittedly, it’s quite possible they’ll destroy Creation faster than they invest in social defenses.
Anyway, Ratcatcher is still a moron, because he doesn’t use his finally-won promise of explaining himself to quickly say what he does have before the Prince gets bored again.
“My prince, may I present you with this gift? It is more precious than rubies, more powerful than-”
“Yes, yes. Ratcatcher, you wax theatrical at the oddest times.
Rubies are a semi-precious stone. Probably not the best comparison for something that’s made of ultra rare magic gold and then magicked to be extra super on top of that.
Also, notice that yes, Ratcatcher ended up interrupted because he couldn’t just say he found the dagger. Luckily, the Prince guesses it’s the dagger he asked for, so things can finally inch forward.
And I do mean inch, because now Ratcatcher has to recap the people he got it from. Then the Prince takes it and waxes lyrical about how it’s a +1 dagger that could kill an army.
Oh, Toloc, you ancient bitch, how sorry your shade must be to see this.”
Stop calling women that, book.
He holds up the dagger and makes it glow. It’s too bright to look at for Wren and possibly actually painful for Ratcatcher, because Wren hears him scrabbling at the floor, begging the Prince to make it stop
A dagger that hurts creatures of darkness is not something any of them should want.
Creatures of darkness is an official designation, you see. It’s the list of people and types of people the Unconquered Sun hates, such as anything dead and still running around and anything “demonic”, ie, of the primordials who they rebelled against, and it means that if you use “holy” charms they’ll do extra damage against them. You can’t have something that hurts Abyssals on this basis but not deathlords, which the book seems to think the Prince is again. Abyssals are living people stuffed with dead essence. Deathlords are dead people stuffed with dead essence, dead primordial essence, and possibly chunks of dead demons from those dead primordials.
Now, COD and being hurt by holy effects doesn’t actually mean you’re good or evil, because the setting lacks objective morality, just people with good PR. You can get hit with COD designation just by getting a Wyld mutation that makes the loom attach the tag to you, plenty of non-deathlord ghosts can be nice people, and torturing babies to death won’t give you the COD designation. And some theories of the deathlords are they’re actually sleeper agents, and their COD nature has no bearing on that.
But if you are a COD, you can’t use holy charms. You might be able to trigger the effects from an artifact depending on how it works, but it’ll probably hit you in the process and even if it didn’t, it’s like a vampire carrying around a stake as a weapon, you’re just asking to get disarmed and killed with it.
In short, just use soulsteel, god.
When he’s done playing with magic superfire while being made of tinder, he compliments Ratcatcher.
explain the thing on the leash.” The Prince strode down the steps and over to where Wren stood. “He does not bow. He does not speak. He does not try to escape, which shows at least a modicum of wisdom. But there are many, many Immaculates in the world. Why bring me this one?
You can see where Ratcatcher got the idea it’s fine to take forever to say anything. Come on Prince, time’s a-wasting.
At least Ratcatcher’s realized he should just get through this quickly now. “It’s Wren, my prince. Look at that. Four short words, with the important one being the second.
This sets the Prince off and there’s another paragraph where he asks Wren what he thinks of the Prince’s lovely castle.
Wren stood still, stood silent. Slowly, an expression of rage crept over the Prince’s face. “Answer me,” he said softly, and took a step forward. Wren said nothing. “Answer me,” the Prince cried again, more loudly.
The book can’t decide what the hell the Prince is supposed to be. Is he scary because he’s intelligent and dangerous, or because he’s powerful but crazy? They’re very different things. I wouldn’t want to be in front of a nutcase, but I wouldn’t be worried overly about his plans for Creation, because he’s going to lose to anyone halfway competent.
“I am the Prince of Shadows.No man mocks me with silence. No man averts his gaze from me unless I wish it. Now answer me, or I will carve the Immaculate Texts on your liver and slice off your eyelids so that you might study them better.
I mean, really. No matter how gruesome and inventive your threats, it can’t change the fact this guy just did a “I am X and no one Ys” speech and no one takes those seriously. Also, he kicks Wren around afterward, which is lame.
I’m not sure why Wren thinks utter silence is such a great plan, admittedly. Admittedly, the guy’s temper tantrum is quite violent, so maybe he figured that he’d be killed quickly, but he only learned that by refusing the first few times, because it really wasn’t obvious by the Prince’s initial behavior. And he’s been told repeatedly that they can kill him and torture his ghost, so death isn’t much of an out. Besides, he could probably have killed himself earlier if he’d put his mind to it.
The Prince nearly maces his head in, but either was just trying to threaten him – which is dumb because really, a quick blow to the head is to be hoped for – or realized at the last second that doing so is idiotic. Instead, he tells Ratcatcher to punish Wren.
He looked up into Ratcatcher’s pitying face. “You should have answered, you know,” the Deathknight said, and then the blows started to fall like hail.
Another flash of inconsistent Ratcatcher that we’re being told is his internal struggle. A guy who cares about something as minor as a few blows wouldn’t have tormented Wren like he did on the trip, or done the various other bits of viciousness we’ve seen from him so far. He knew he was delivering Wren here for real torture, what’s getting smacked around a bit?
Anyway, Wren passes out and we switch to Ratcatcher’s POV. He’s told he didn’t do a particularly skilled job, and he says he wanted to keep it simple. I think this translates to knocking the guy out earlier than he needed to.
Have him taken to Unforgiven Blossom to have his wounds tended, and then place him in a cell.
She’s an astrologer, why would she know anything about healing? It’s because she’s a girl, isn’t it.
There are mysteries to this priest, and I want answers to them. Why would Kejak send him to Talat’s Howe when he is, really, nothing? And how did such a nothing kill Sandheart?
1) Because there wasn’t much of anything at the place, and Sidereals don’t grow on trees. Sometimes you send elite fate ninja, and sometimes you send someone expendable.
2) By setting a trap. Come on, Prince, you were right there, you could see the quality of the traps. If they really were superhuman, say that you don’t get how he set such traps, but otherwise, she got unlucky and careless, that’s how. It’s not like it’s hard to hurt a nemissary’s body.
The Prince also asks if Ratcatcher might have developed a bit of sympathy for the guy, and Ratcatcher says with ridiculously exaggerated disinterest (staring at his fingers like he’s bored when in the company of someone he should be paying rapt attention to) that he only said the bit because he thought it was amusing to be able to tell an Immaculate monk the course of wisdom.
The Prince either believes this, or, far more likely, knows but just doesn’t give a fuck, because he drops the subject and just says to stick him in a cell.