Last time, Ratcatcher finds out Wren’s missing.
And back to Yuyu!
Yuyu informs us that the javelin to the shoulder was but a flesh wound, and he’s still in good shape.
Carefully he wiped the knife on the grass, then stood. The monk was still out there somewhere, and Yushuv knew that he, not these broken corpses, was the true enemy here.
The author seems oblivious to the fact that repeatedly saying people weren’t your real enemy starts to make you look like kind of a dick for killing them.
Holok decides to show up now.
White light surrounded him as he flew, and he landed gently next to Taenat’s body. Yushuv saw that his left hand was bandaged, and that blood had soaked through the wrappings. He looked down at the corpse with a mixture of pity and regret, and in that instant Yushuv stabbed at him.
That’s right, it’s time for a dickery-off. Who will win, Holok or Yuyu? Yuyu’s made a good showing before, but currently he’s being attacked by people who want to kill him for existing, which gives him a major handicap.
Holok makes a strong opening here, effortlessly walking up to Yuyu and making it clear that he could have attacked earlier and probably spared all those Dragonbloods. “Pity and regret”? Condescension and smug self-importance. You can almost hear him saying that it’s such a pity it was necessary.
Settingwise, there’s a reason for why a Sidereal might act like this – he’s expecting to have to go all out in the battle and doesn’t want to blow his cover in front of the others. But in this book, that hasn’t been explained and Holok has done a shitty, shitty job of being concerned about anyone figuring out he isn’t who he seems to be. And anyway, if that was the plan he’s a jackass insisting they come with him. He could have let them go after Ratcatcher while he looked for Yuyu on his own.
Yuyu’s own dickery here is just the stabbing, and under the circumstances that’s pretty reasonable. It only comes off badly at all because technically speaking, Yuyu’s the one who attacked first and killed the rest of the group, and the book keeps failing to supply the emotional basis for doing that. But it’s quite easy to fill it in, and with that, his actions are defensive instead of aggressive.
Anyway, Holok effortlessly catches Yuyu’s wrist and disarms him, then shoves him down.
“I’m sorry, boy. That was unkind of me.”
I think this comes down to how you read it. The book gives no indication this is supposed to be any flavor of taunting, but neither does it read as sincere. Which it’s meant to be then determines how Yuyu comes off with his next action, darting for the knife. If this is Holok toying with him, Yuyu’s lost the dickery contest completely, everything he does is excusable on the grounds that he’s probably terrified and desperate in the face of some effortlessly stronger than he is. If this is Holok trying to talk and avoid further violence, Yuyu’s coming off as a mad dog.
Anyway, Holok just kicks him away and picks up the knife himself.
It was a horrid thing, and thin gobbets of meat still trailed in the serrations along the cutting edge. “It looks old. The right Guild trader might give you a fortune for it. I’m less generous.”
So he snaps it. A point for the Holok toying with him thing.
Yushuv glared at him, eyes bright with hatred. “I killed the rest of them, you know,” he said.
But a point for the mad dog thing as well.
“Yes, yes,” Holok replied. “I saw you do it. Your artistry is remarkable. It’s why I didn’t intervene. Well, that and the fact that Neleh would no doubt have been very upset had I saved her life again. Once in a fortnight tends to test the limits of gratitude, I find.”
And thus Holok wins the dickery-off, supplanting our former champion Yuyu. He goes on to say he’d like to be momentary sociopath buddies with Yuyu: Unfortunately, it won’t get much older. I have to kill you.” More gently, he added, “You do know why, don’t you?”
It’s extremely unlikely he does and you know it, Holok.
This sort of sympathy can be very humanizing. It’s just that it falls flat after saying you let the rest of the group die because you wanted to watch their murderer show off his skills.
Yuyu figures it’s because of, you know, all the killing. Holok says that nope, that was totally fine. It’s just he’s got power and it’s cursed power.
You’ve killed today, boy. Does that bother you? Another few years and it will be armies you’re laying low, and the dead will number in their thousands. And the worst part of it will be that it will bother you not at all.”
Between this and the bit directly before about how Holok isn’t killing Yushuv because of what Yushuv’s done today, the moral here appears to be that killing is only okay up to a certain number of people.
Yushuv doesn’t believe this. Holok says he wouldn’t kill kids if he didn’t have a reason, and we get this bizarre exchange:
“It’s always hard killing children.”
“It’s harder doing the killing.” Moving like an old man, Yushuv stood.
Holok frowned. “No, it’s not, and it gets easier every time. That’s what brought us to this endgame.
This appears to be Yushuv agreeing with Holok’s statement for some reason, then Holok disagreeing with Yushuv’s agreement of his original statement.
Anyway, Yuyu takes a look around and sees there’s nowhere to run. Holok says he’ll kill Yuyu cleanly. He says so kindly, which argues for all his preceding statements to be similarly friendly despite the fact that doesn’t make much sense.
Yushuv keeps thinking about how much he wants the knife.
He could feel it tugging at his hand, pulling it closer. The two belonged together. They had traveled together, drawn blood together, killed together. Now, of all times, they should not be apart.
And suddenly it’s in his hand, fixed.
This would appear to be a charm use for summoning your weapon, though I don’t think that can fix weapons (normally, a moot point given it’s for artifact weapons you’re attuned to, which can’t be damaged). A better option here would be for him to have been thinking about how much he wanted any weapon and made a glowy essence knife out of the air, which is another charm. Why he’s so attached to the sadism knife is unclear.
But the point is he stabs Holok.
The knife rebreaks but only the top, so that stays in when Yushuv yanks the rest out.
Astonished, Yushuv pulled back his weapon. Once again, it was broken, the few inches near the tip missing and the rest of the blade sticky with blood.
Holok stared at the boy, who suddenly seemed very young. The child stared at his knife in horror, and then looked up to meet Holok‘s eyes. Then, wordlessly, he ran, stumbling down the hill in a windmill of arms and legs
This is a great little bit that doesn’t work at all given the rest of the book.
Yushuv just turned people into pincushions with his arrows. It can’t be five minutes ago that he threw that knife into someone’s chest and retrieved it with utter detachment. But now he’s suddenly horrified.
Here’s how it could have gone – Holok splits with the Wyld Hunt, going off to find the boy that, at this point, he doesn’t realize is an anathema but just figures knows something important. The Wyld Hunt go to find Ratcatcher and quickly lose the trail (after all, he did dart into the underworld next). If possible, the mortals largely survive the zombie attack but when the Hunt splits, Holok takes them because the Dragonblooded don’t want mortals slowing them down and think Ratcatcher’s nearby. Those are who Yushuv attacks, which he does so from a distance, giving away his position. That way, Yushuv isn’t seeing people die up-close, he’s just raining essence arrows at distant figures. The mortals retreat and Holok comes for Yushuv. Yushuv is willing to try to stab him in self-defense, but upon actually succeeding is horrified to see the results and flees instead of finishing Holok off.
Because that last part is very much needed here. Yushuv’s lucky hit has struck vitals, and Holok can barely think straight as his blood drains. In fact, he’s so out of it he starts thinking about it in terms of “the dragons” the way a Dragonblood would, as if he doesn’t know that the very idea of “the dragons” being in charge of what happens in the world is something he helped invent. Had Yuyu not run, it’d have been child’s play to finish Holok off with the next hit. Instead, Holok desperately tries to slow the bleeding while Yushuv shivers in terror a mere hundred yards off and starts crying quietly.
Yuyu’s exhausted and suddenly feels like falling asleep. So he does that, even as his thoughts point out what a stupid idea it is.
At first glance, this looks like an entirely passable chapter. I mean, there’s the bizarre morality, but that’s this whole book. The Yuyu/Holok plot threads have come together, showing signs of wrapup.
Problem is, the book is nearly over, and you’ll notice this didn’t actually resolve anything yet. The Dragonblooded are dead, but the book made it clear they never mattered. The only one who does is Holok, who’s still alive and about to heal up and attempt a second round. So plotwise, we’re still at Holok vs Yuyu, they’re just finally in the same general location. Character development is limited to Yuyu learning new tricks – Holok finding Yuyu and seeing Yuyu’s abilities should matter, but Holok mysteriously figured out/guessed everything beforehand, so it’s not new information. They’re just finally together and ready to resolve things, potentially.