Epilogue

“What say you, Empress of Praes?
Here you lie upon the blood-soaked ruins of your dominion, surrounded by the corpses of the legions that once swarmed over the world.  Hundreds of thousands dead for the sake of your wretched ambition, your mad design to bring to heel the kingdoms of man. In all the history of Creation no one woman has been so wicked as you, and I will have my answer.
Why, o Empress of Ruins?”
She shrugged.
“Why not?”
– Last lines of the “The Fall of Empress Triumphant, First and Only of Her Name”

(Six Months Later) 1324 A.D., 5th of Mawja, Marchford

A year ago, the commander would have given him trouble. Now? William tore the Penitent’s Blade out of the orc’s throat with a casual flick of the wrist. The sword keened mournfully, taking the greenskin’s life with it as it withdrew. The officer had died bravely, as bravely as one of his filthy species could, but with the orc’s blood on the floor the last of the resistance was over. It was to the Countess’ credit that she’d managed to turn a force of mercenaries and peasant levies into a coherent fighting force in less than a month – though it had certainly helped that their first battlefield had been her own fiefdom. If only all the allies he’d gathered were so competent. The Duke of Liesse had yet to set foot in the city, remaining with the baggage train under the impatient protection of the Exiled Prince.

The hero in question had been miffed he wouldn’t get to blood his men on Praesi legionaries today, but Countess Elizabeth had been correct when she’d pointed out that his troops were singularly unsuited to surprise attacks. No doubt the Duke would insist on a triumphant victory parade when the time came for him to enter, and for that the polished lancers of the Silver Spears would serve perfectly. They’d make a stirring enough image, and the story would spread: the Duke of Liesse had returned, to free the Kingdom from the yoke of the Tower.

Putting a complete imbecile on the throne of Callow was something William was going to have to live with, unfortunately. Oh, the Duke did have a sort of low cunning – he’d left Callow before Laure had even fallen, during the Conquest, and taken his treasury with him – but it was the kind of cunning a cockroach would have. He was a master of survival and little else, not to mention hopelessly self-important. That he was the First Prince’s creature walked the fine line between a virtue and a liability: this entire rebellion was being bankrolled by Proceran silver, but William was not so much of a fool as to be unaware the cold-eyed woman had designs on Callow herself. That was fine.

He was already leading a rebellion against the Empire, and he was more than willing to lead one against the Principate if it came down to it.

The Kingdom Under was a much greater worry. That two thousand hardened dwarven veterans had suddenly decided to form a mercenary company in Mercantis just when he’d been buying up every contract he could get his hands on was not a coincidence. The dwarves had a history of sending troublemakers up to the surface to die in other people’s wars, but the Sons of Stone were not your usual malcontents. If the King Under the Mountains was meddling in topside affairs William was going to have to keep a very, very close eye on it. Over two thirds of Calernia stood above dwarven tunnels and cities: no single nation had a military whose size equalled even the tenth of what the dwarves could muster if they felt like it.

It would not matter, in the end.

Only eight months had passed since his defeat at the hands of the Squire, but her words still rang whenever he closed his eyes. Run and hide and muster your armies in the dark. Make deals you’ll regret until you have nothing left to bargain with. I’ll be waiting for you, on the other side of that battlefield. The dismissal had been a lash on his back all the way to Refuge, where he’d knelt at the feet of the Lady of the Lake and asked to be taken as a pupil. She’d denied him, not unkindly. After the defeat at Summerholm, that had almost been enough to break him.

What could you say, when the great swordswoman in Creation told you you weren’t good enough to beat her old pupil? The sword was all he was good for. His Name was a paradox, in a way: heroes were supposed to galvanize others into something greater than themselves, but his Role thrived on being solitary. The Eyes of the Empire had failed to find him because he’d never been part of a band of heroes, eschewing more blatant heroics for quiet work in the dark. He’d found his answer through pure happenstance, that blessed golden luck that smiled on heroes from above.

He’d found the gates to Arcadia Resplendent, and petitioned the Lady for the right to use them. This boon she’d seen fit to grant, and so began his year in the realm of the Fae. A full year he’d spent fighting for his life against the denizens of that eldritch place, hunted for sport by the horrors of the Wild Hunt. But he’d survived, and learned. There was no comparing his power now to what it had been in Summerholm. On the last day of the year, the gates had opened to let him leave and he’d returned to Creation. Barely a month had passed outside of Arcadia: he would crush the Squire when they next met, and they would meet. The pattern had been set, there was no avoiding it. And when the time came, he would cram her words back down her sneering throat before raising the banner of a liberated Kingdom over her corpse.

Sheathing his sword, the Lone Swordsman left the room and stepped down the stairs. Countess Marchford should have set things up by now, assembling her peasantry in the city square. It was a shame the woman was so ambitious, but as far as commanders went she was by far the best the nobility had to offer. She’d stalemated a Marshal for an entire month during the Siege of Summerholm, holding out until the Legions landed a force on the other side of the Hwaerte and finished the encirclement. Had Grem One-Eye not been driving his army into the depths of the Duchy of Daoine at the same time, it would have been long enough for the Deoraithe to come relieve the siege.

And now she wants to be Queen of Callow, as she would have been had the Shining Prince not died at the Fields. Less of a bitter pill to swallow than the Duke having the best claim to the throne, all in all. She would not be any more inclined to trade a Praesi occupation for a Proceran one than William himself. The streets were full of dead legionaries, the fighting having gotten brutal in its last gaps. A full quarter of the Twelfth Legion had spat in the face of offered surrender, eerily singing that damned Legionary’s Song as they made their last stand against thrice their number. In a person that kind of courage would have been worthy of respect, but greenskins were barely more sentient than animals. Just another horror crafted by the Hellgods to plague Creation, an endless horde of foot soldiers carrying the banner of Evil.

His steps took him all the way to the central market, where the citizens of Marchford stood as an uneasy crowd in front of the gallows erected by the Legions. Fifty prisoners, goblins and orcs and humans, already stood on the wooden platform with nooses around their necks. His idea, that: William had not forgotten Summerholm, and neither would those fucking Praesi butchers. He hopped onto the gallows and with a few lazy strides he stood in front of the people, whispers of his Name spreading among the crowd when they recognized his white-gilded armour. There’d been a time where he would have avoided such glaringly heroic garments like the plague, but the time for subtlety was long past. Eyes staring down the masses, the hero took a deep breath.

“Twenty years ago, Praesi boots broke the spine of this nation,” he said, and the words carried perfectly.

Utter silence greeted him.

“They were strong, we told ourselves,” he continued. “Too strong. What could we possibly have done?”

His eyes narrowed.

Cowardice,” he barked.

The crowd flinched as if he’d lashed them.

“There is no bargaining with Evil,” he thundered. “No truce with the Enemy. That we ever gave in to the Tower is a stain on the history of this Kingdom.”

Slowly, William unsheathed his sword.

“But we are not yet beyond redemption,” he told them. “Shame can be expunged. Today, for the first time in two decades, some of us rose to our feet.”

His Name burned within him, a cold flame that turned his blood to smoke and dust.

“Tell me, Callowans, do you want to spend the rest of your life kneeling?”

He could feel it swelling up. He could see it in their eyes, the light ground out by decades of occupation. His power spread through the air, thick and lingering.

“Do you want to continue licking the Empress’ boot, and let your children inherit that life?” he bellowed.

The whisper first came from the back, twisting and winding and gaining strength as it made its way to the first row and the answer came out as a NO that clapped like thunder.

“Neither do I,” he admitted when silence returned. “Take heart, citizens of Callow. Today the Kingdom is born again, and I make you this oath.”

Green eyes burned.

“CALLOW WILL BE FREE.”

Behind him the legionaries dropped, one after another, the cheer from the crowd drowning their dying struggles out. William closed his eyes, letting the sound wash over him, and smiled. There could be no defeat. The Heavens, after all, were on his side. Why else would they have granted him Triumph as an aspect?

9th of Mawja, Ater, Inner City

Akua had never particularly enjoyed playing shatranj, though she was skilled at it. The only reason she was currently playing Barika was that, traditionally speaking, it was expected of her to play shatranj while discussing the demise of her enemies. The way the Unonti heiress played was too conservative, much like the girl herself. Had she not been so reliably loyal, she would never have made it as high in Akua’s council as she currently stood. That was the problem with many of the Trueblood’s children. The old nobility was too stiff, too set in its ways, and it had transmitted that disease to their inheritors. Thankfully her own mother was much more flexible in her ways, and had raised her as such. The truth was that the Empire was no longer the same as it had been in ages past. The Reforms had granted rights to the greenskins, and there would be no withdrawing those without a civil war – one the nobility might not win, given that the vast majority of the current generations of orcs and goblins were Legion-trained.

The old truth that greenskins were inferiors to the Soninke in every way was no longer valid, and so had to be discarded. The aristocrats who refused to admit this were betraying the guiding rule of all Praesi: truth was mutable, and changed according to one’s purposes. Akua was not above using orcs and goblins as tools, though she found the matter distasteful. More importantly, the old hatreds some Soninke still held against humans had to be set aside. Taghreb inferiority, while a fact, was marginal enough in nature it should be ignored. Even the Duni had proved they could have worth, by spawning the most viciously dangerous Black Knight the Empire had seen in centuries. It was a shame the man had declined to take her a pupil, and she truly regretted that she had come to be at cross-purposes with him. Removing Foundling should neuter that liability cleanly enough, and the Knight was much too pragmatic to hold a grudge over such a trifling matter.

“I do not understand why you let the goblin’s death pass without making an issue of it,” Barika said, moving a legionary forward in an unwise gambit that was going to cost her a priest in three moves.

“I tried to press the issue through Court,” Akua noted. “Before I could, a member of the Blackguard dropped a basket with the head of my proxy in it at the mansion gates.”

The warning had been clear enough, and she’d never particularly expected that particular plot to bear fruit anyway. She’d had four people out for Foundling’s blood in the melee, but the goblin had been the only one to get close enough for an attempt. The scheme had been worth making, and had cost her nothing of worth to implement – much like the entire war games affair. Blackmailing the instructor to change Squire’s beginning position and meddle with the memory magic might have been a more expensive endeavour, had the man in question not been caught trying to escape the city and been crucified for his troubles. A rather mild reaction, by the standards of the Black Knight. The last time he’d caught a noble meddling in College business, he’d had their entire family eaten alive by spiders. Malicia was tightening his leash, as she had been for several years.

“Then it was a failure,” Barika said, barely hiding a wince when she lost her priest and found her chancellor trapped in a corner.

“You’re assuming that the point of this enterprise was to deny Foundling the appointment,” Akua said. “While it would have been the optimal result, it was not my main objective.”

In the long term, there was no real way to ensure that Squire did not get to lead troops. She was, ironically enough, too well-connected for that. At best the process could be delayed, and Akua’s assessment of the cost of keeping her out of the Legions for another year had been too much to stomach. And so she’d planned with the eventuality of failure in mind. By making this a public play through the Court, she’d forced her support in the nobility to be open in their backing. The minor loss of face that ensued from Foundling’s victory had caused her fair-weather friends to immediately withdraw their support, allowing Akua to separate the wheat from the chaff. She’d immediately move on those and made examples of them, of course.

Her position in Court was now stronger than it had ever been.

And while Squire had been tearing out her hair over inconsequential collegial games, she’d prepared to place agents in the Fifteenth Legion. That plot, the one that mattered, had been a success. That one of Foundling’s senior officers had become a spy before they were even appointed to the rank had been a source of great amusement to her over the last few months. It was unfortunate that she’d been unable to find leverage on the officers of the former Rat Company, as they seemed to be Squire’s most trusted. Ratface’s familial situation had seemed promising but the boy had flatly told her intermediary that if the subject was ever broached again blades would come out. Legate Juniper’s open distaste for what she called “human squabbling” made her a lost cause in this regard, and had she not been the daughter of a general Akua would already have her had assassinated. A shame, that such talent would be put to work in her rival’s favour. Barika knocked over her empress in a concession of defeat, letting out a sigh.

“So,” she murmured. “Are you finally going to tell me what was in the letter that came this morning?”

Heiress smiled.

“Every major city in the south of Callow has risen in rebellion,” she replied.

What?” the other girl replied, openly aghast.

Akua pretended she hadn’t seen the loss of composure, for her childhood companion’s sake.

“The Sixth and the Ninth Legion are to be deployed to put the unrest down,” she informed the other Soninke. “The Fifteenth will be joining them, still at half-strength.”

The purpose behind keeping the numbers of Foundling’s legion at two thousand legionaries only still eluded her, in truth. Part of it must have been the fact that Fourteenth was being raised simultaneously and the recruitment pool was limited, but that answer was too… obvious. There was always more than one angle, when one dealt with the Calamities.

“So that’s why you’ve been recruiting mercenaries,” Barika suddenly breathed.

Akua’s smile broadened, never quite reaching her eyes. Mercenaries were, technically speaking, illegal in Praes. It would have been too obvious of a way for the High Lords to get around the household troops restrictions put into place by Malicia. But the moment southern Callow had risen in rebellion, it had stopped legally being Praesi territory. The roughly four thousand troops she’d hired in Mercantis would be able to operate there without consequence.

“It won’t be enough,” a third voice rasped from the corner of the room.

Akua’s eyes flickered to the mangled goblin. Half of her face was missing, chopped off by a brutal – and lethal sword wound. Various parts of her body had been snapped by falling rubble and even now still remained at unnatural angles, barely functional. Not even the best necromancers on her payroll had been able to restore Chider to something palatable to look at.

“That would be where you come in, Commander Chider,” Heiress replied softly.

The goblin let out a horrible rasp Akua took a moment to recognize as a laugh. Raising a mere enemy of Foundling from the dead would have been a waste of gold, but Heiress had no interest in the greenskin’s skills. It was her nature that was of import. Raising a Claimant from the dead, on the other hand, had been worth every denarii. Picking up her own empress, the Soninke aristocrat felt her Name coil inside of her silently, like a snake preparing to strike. She’d wondered, when she’d first come into her Role, what exactly it meant. It was a question every Heir and Heiress had to answer on their own. Was she the inheritor of the stewardship of the Empire, the return of the forbidden Name of Chancellor? Was she the next warlord of Praes, the successor of its Black Knight? Or was hers to be the hand that cast down Dread Empress Malicia, the woman still hated behind closed doors? Wrong, all wrong. Paltry ambitions of lesser souls.

She was Akua Cisse, and she would inherit all of Creation.

7th of Mawja, Ater, the Tower

Black put down the letter, face expressionless.

The rebellion was not, all in all, unexpected. He’d moved Istrid and Sacker further south to deal with the eventuality, assigning the Eleventh to Summerholm instead. More importantly, Ranker and her Fourth were keeping an eye on the Deoraithe. Scribe’s agents had found out the Duchess had placed an observer with the rebels, but according to the rest of the network that was the only move she’d made. His personal assessment of Kegan had been accurate, then: she would not take action unless the Liesse Rebellion looked like it had decent chances of succeeding. That Afolabi had lost a full thousand at Marchford would be a black mark on the general’s record, but it was a tactical defeat and not a strategic one. No rebel force had yet to dare move north of Vale, and he’d already sent Catherine orders to mobilize her Fifteenth: by dawn tomorrow they’d be moving for the Blessed Isle to join the muster in central Callow.

“So that was your gamble, then,” the dark-haired man murmured into the silence.

He’d wondered about the exact form his Squire’s actions had taken, back in Summerholm. Obviously she’d let the Lone Swordsman go when she could have killed him – the damaged connection to her Name betrayed as much – but it seemed she’d freed the hero for a specific purpose. The boy had shown no inclination to gather large-scale strength before his encounter with the orphan, and such a sudden change in doctrine would have had to be Name-enforced. She branded instructions on his Name as the price for sparing him, then let him disappear into the wilds. Black had not even bothered to try tracking the Swordsman after his run-in with Catherine: the confrontation had initiated a pattern of three, and the hero was therefore beyond his reach. The only person who could feasibly kill him now was Squire, unfortunate as that was.

Still, none of this was beyond the parameters he’d set. The rebellion would have happened anyway, there was no denying that. The numbers did not lie: in the last decade the number of heroes appearing had shot up from once every several years to at least two a year. They were all dead now, of course, but that wasn’t the point. Sooner or later, one of his people would make a mistake. When he’d put down the Unconquered Champion last year, he’d been stuck in a pocket realm for what had ended up being three days in Creation proper. Within that lapse of time he’d been impossible to reach, and the Calamities had… not reacted well. Captain had slaughtered an entire village in a fit of blind rage and Warlock had actually mutilated the soul of an informant in his search for answers. He shuddered to think of what might have happened had Assassin or Ranger gotten involved.

No, the rebellion had always been a given. All it meant was that he had to have measures in place so that the event benefitted the Empire instead of weakened it, and he had managed that much. Barely. Catherine’s intervention had the uprising beginning ahead of schedule, and had he not spent the last twenty years preparing the Dread Empire for war it might have been taken by surprise. As things stood, the rebellion would be crushed before the next harvest and Catherine would blood her troops on real battlefield in the process.  The inevitable losses would teach her some valuable lessons and temper her reckless streak as well as strengthen her emotional attachment to her soldiers – and by extension the Empire.

“Not a bad plan at all,” he decided.

Trading a weakened Name for a few months against an opportunity to advance through the ranks in wartime was bold but not overly so. She wouldn’t have known she was damaging her connection to her Role by letting the Lone Swordsman go, of course. He had, after all, carefully kept her in the dark about the way Names functioned. The results of that spoke for themselves. Not even a year into her power and she was already beginning to Speak. She had absolutely no idea how absurd that kind of progress was, no inkling that it had taken Black several years into the same Role before managing it. Ignorance on the subject of what she could and couldn’t do with her Name had allowed her to progress through leaps and bounds instead of a slow grind. It was fortunate that this approach was the best available to him, because Black had no real idea how to teach her.

He’d become the Squire when there was no Black Knight and most of what he knew was either self-taught or derived from Name dreams. He’d had two teachers in his lifetime and both tutelages had been purely related to swordsmanship: first his mother, when he’d been young, and then Ranger later in his career. Deciding how to treat Catherine had been something of a problem for him, in all honesty. He could not treat her as an equal, the way he and Ranger had been, but treating her purely as a subordinate was doomed to failure. In the end he’d settled for moulding her instead of teaching her, carefully exposing her to specific influences so that she would grow through them.

And grown she had, in the eight months he’d known her. The reports from his agent in the orphanage had indicated she had potential, but they’d underestimated how much. It was a good thing he hadn’t had her smothered in her sleep, as the local overseer’s recommendation had originally been. Morals too heroic in nature, the assessment had stated. He’d been ready to tie up that particular loose end should it prove necessary when he’d gone to deal with Mazus, but their unexpected meeting had opened a better alternative.

The dark-haired smiled, rising to his feet and coming to stand by the window. The view offered from the Tower’s one hundredth floor was breath-taking, but he’d become inured to the sight over the years. Black had been amused, when Catherine had mentioned that she felt her Name like a living, breathing beast. The way a Named felt their Role revealed much about them. Warlock said his own was akin to opening floodgates, for he rightfully feared the capricious nature of his power. Malicia compared her own to slipping on a pair of gloves, perfectly fitted to her. And him? Gears. An enormous machine made up of a hundred thousand gears, all of them turning. Slowly. Coldly. Implacably.

The moment his agents had gotten him the news he’d felt his Name react. Lead. Conquer. Destroy. All three of his aspects were awake. He hadn’t felt this alive in decades, and even as the south of the kingdom he’s conquered resumed the war he’d won he felt a strange joy welling up inside of him. Interesting years were ahead. And this once, just this once, he was willing to break a rule of his. Baring his teeth at the Heavens, Black dared them to deny him.

“Just as planned,” he said.

37 thoughts on “Epilogue

  1. Bart

    More importantly, the old hatreds some Soninke still held against humans had to be set aside.
    change this Soninke to greenskins.

    She’d immediately move on those and made examples of them, of course.
    Either moved or make — move is future tense, made is past tense, and they need to agree.

    “He’d been ready to tie up that particular loose end should it prove necessary when he’d gone to deal with Mazus, but their unexpected meeting had opened a better alternative.”
    Woah, woah, woah! This changes everything.

    He hadn’t felt this alive in decades, and even as the south of the kingdom he’s conquered resumed the war…
    should be he’d instead of he’s

    Like

  2. Nice resolution.🙂

    Triumph is a dangerous aspect to face… Especially if Catherine hasn’t returned her Name to full strength yet.

    That Lone Swordsman is a racist asshole though, one who has stained his moral highground with backroom deals and innocent blood. I can’t wait for him to lose.

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    1. Bart

      He can’t lose. The story says that he has to face Squire twice more, and the situation won’t be completely resolved until the (overall) third confrontation. At that point, as Squire pointed out, the good guy converts the bad guy. We’ve clearly seen that Lone Swordsman is a bad guy according to our morals, thus he will be converted. After he joins her side, Squire will probably slay him.

      Like

      1. Nivek

        I sort of expect for Lone Swordsman to wind up being killed by our protagonist and then have her return him as some sort of Death Knight servitor or something. Isn’t that the traditional way for a villain to deal with enemies?

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Catherine set him up with that, knowingly or unknowingly: she planted seeds that quite likely could make Triumph turn to Hubris, beyond the other damage done with the whole “collect an army” thing… and, hubris usually ends one way, be you a Hero or Villain.

      I also find the contrast between Catherine and Akua just as interesting. Both see their individual Names as a means to an end… however, only one seems satisfied with using the Name she actually has as a longer term thing. For all both are equally suited for change.:/ I can’t help but think even Names with “Placeholder” or “Training Wheels” as attributes get a little miffed if you try dumping them at the wrong time.😛

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      1. stevenneiman

        You do make a very good point about hubris. My guess is that he is more likely to realize the monster he has become or possibly get cocky and have someone take him down in the third confrontation, or he might become corrupted and lose access to his Name at the wrong time. Maybe he will break his name and have to change the way he thinks as a trial, or perhaps Catherine will be able to redeem herself by defeating him.

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  3. AvidFan

    Good chapter! Can’t wait for the- Epilogue? EPILOGUE!? Book 1 is over!? Noooo!

    I love how they’re aware that their names are like stories and certain actions will force certain reactions. Every plot line a cliche? Make a story that uses the cliches as a plot line. xD
    (Although, some of them are more aware of it than others. It seems like the Heiress is aware of what her Name can do for her, but doesn’t seem to realise that she is already setting herself up to fail, just by thinking that she can rule Creation. It feels like she thinks she’s above everyone else. Hubris perhaps?)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. FinalPyre

    And the first main arc closes. Fun stuff, I look forward to where it goes next.

    Typos:
    when the great swordswoman in Creation
    great -> greatest (?)

    the man had decline to take her
    decline -> declined

    The dark-haired smiled
    missing word

    of the kingdom he’s conquered
    he’s -> he’d

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  5. Barim

    With a set of tunnels that extensive, I wonder if anyone’s tried to flood the kingdom of Under by trenching a river or ocean to one of the entrances?

    Like

    1. The amount of work involved for that… Dear god.

      Considering that they are Under the Mountains, there is no way digging a canal from a water source to their kingdom would be anything short of insanely difficult, if not also a waste of resources- the dwarves could then just dog a trench draining the water out.

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    2. In 732 A.D. a princess from out of the southern principalities of Procer tried to clear out dwarven miners by trenching a river in. It worked, but within the month ever major city in the principality had been sunk underground as retaliation. The water flow was later turned into an irrigation system underground. It’s now illegal by Proceran law to interfere with the Kingdom Under, and most major polities have similar rules.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Unmaker

    Typos:

    had decline
    had declined

    lost of composure
    loss of composure

    must have been the that
    must have been the fact that

    Reactions:

    Wow, a lot to comment on.

    OK, so now we have a name for the damned hard-wounds-to-heal sword: Penitent’s Blade. That name really doesn’t work – a penitent is someone who feels remorse but the victims rarely live long enough to feel remorse (although I bet they wish they hadn’t gotten cut) and the Lone Swordsman surely doesn’t.

    Exiled Prince? Named as a ‘hero’, but is it another Role?

    “the great swordswoman in Creation told you you weren’t good enough to beat her old pupil” Black later says that only his mother and Ranger taught him. Ranger apparently has an unbroken string of wins against Black, so perhaps Ranger is the old pupil?

    She branded instructions on his Name as the price for sparing him
    Run and hide and muster your armies in the dark. Make deals you’ll regret until you have nothing left to bargain with. I’ll be waiting for you, on the other side of that battlefield.
    Names can be coerced?! Admittedly, it sounds like an insanely dangerous thing to do, but a mind like Black’s could make use of such an ability. And it sounds like the form of wording is important – William ran and hid (his visit to Arcadia Resplendent), mustered his armies outside the kingdom using back-room deals (in the dark, if you stretch the meaning), and is making deals he already thinks he will regret.

    Oh the freaking irony, that the “hero” thinks orcs are subhuman monsters but the “villain” Catherine sees them as people. Black’s opening of the ranks for orcs and goblins is arguably a good act, even if it was done for pure practicality.

    “it was expected of her to play shatranj while discussing the demise of her enemies”
    Huh? The Heiress does nothing that doesn’t benefit herself, so this must be some Name crap, or just for appearances.

    “old hatreds some Soninke still held against humans”
    Aren’t they another race of humans? Or do they just consider themselves a different race? I am confused.

    Good on Ratface for standing up to Heiress.

    The implications of Chider are interesting. Does Heiress believe that Chider could possibly claim the Name by killing Catherine?

    Wait a damn minute, Black is somehow keeping the lid on some of the other Calamities? How? Or was it just a reaction to his disappearance?

    I wonder how many times the “Unconquered Champion” has to be defeated until the Name slinks away and vanishes. Since the Names are somehow linked to stories, I guess it happens when the story dies. Which is a point: why hasn’t someone discovered manipulation of public opinion as a way to manipulate Roles? Bribe Bard (the Name, if it exists) or a bunch of un-Named bards to spread a tale that creates, destroys, or alters a Name somehow.

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    1. While it’s never been stated outright in the story, it’s been implied several times that the Lady of the Lake, the woman who runs Refuge, is Ranger. Which would make her the greatest swordswoman in the world, and Black the pupil.

      Like

  7. Unmaker

    Chapter 10: “I will not lie to you, Catherine, or deceive you. … Not out of a sense of honor or altruism, but simply because it would be foolish in the long term. It’s the way these things go, you see – if I deceived to you, you would inevitably find out I did at the worst possible moment and then avenge yourself in a way that would lead to my downfall. The amount of my predecessors that died because they failed to learn that simple, easy lesson is staggering.”

    Epilogue: He [Black] had, after all, carefully kept her in the dark about the way Names functioned.

    So apparently not revealing information isn’t the same as lie or deceive. Which is technically correct, but I wonder if that technicality will come back and bite him.

    Like

    1. Daemion

      Well, he did it because he honestly believes it to be the best option for Catherine. He can’t offer her formal training because he never received it himself, so he set her up to find her own way through all the challenges thrown at her and she came out much, much stronger than she should have been … simply because she didn’t know, because no one told her that her progress should have been impossible.

      Like

    2. The best part is, even though she’s been given the data often, both through name dreams, and the discussions of Black when he was Squire, and Juniper suggesting a “transitory” name, she still hasn’t figured out that she’s supposed to become the Black Knight eventually.

      Like

  8. nipi

    I always thought that Black was so careful not to give Catherine any reason to hate him because thats how he ended up killing the previous Black knight. Guess I was wrong.

    Also why is Heiress called Heiress? Dread emperors and empresses come to power by killing their predecessors. Has there ever been an exception? Wouldnt having someone that feels that he/she should be the next one be a threat to the current ruler. I dont understand why it is tolerated and so openly at that.

    Like

    1. Bart

      People can feel when there’s a rival claimant for a name, as Catherine found out. The Empress surely removes anyone who is a rival for her Name. The thought probably hasn’t occurred to the Empress that Heiress might be going above her head.

      Like

  9. HI! Just came over here from readers’ recommendation from webserial TGaB by D.D. Webb, and I must say, a Practical Guide to Evil has been quite fun so far! I’m quite sad that it currently ends at Book 1 because now I have to wait a good long while for the story to conclude and not just archive-binge, but that also means I get a chance to be one of your commenters while you’re writing it:D Thanks for the excellent tale!

    Like

  10. sigmacheck

    Very very interesting…
    I am not sure if Malicia is really teightening Black’s leash, or if Black simply didn’t want to scare Heiress off. Because it seems he is very happy with what Heiress did in regard to Foundling.
    Heiress to all Creation, isn’t someone ambitious? It looks like hubris. I wonder who this spy is – and who that spy is loyal to in reality. ^^ Wouldn’t be the first one to change their opinion.

    Like

  11. Alegio

    Not sure if I am happy couse this came out the day of my birthday or sad couse Its the end of the first book:/.

    But still loved this since the first chapter and hope to read it until it ends

    Like

  12. Hey there! First time commenter, and I’m absolutely LOVING this series! No seriously, its really good! I’m actually peeved that I’ve already caught up with everything and have to wait…WAIT…for more content because I’m an impatient ass who wants what he wants now now now! C’est la vie, I guess. I’ll have to wait until new stuff comes out. Sigh.

    There’s one thing regarding Squire’s Name problems I’m not getting though. Particularly with regards of why its reacting so negatively towards letting the Lone Jerkman go.

    If you think about, the Name Squire would almost certainly incorporate the Role of Ambition. After all, the whole point of squire-dom(?) is that it’s a stepping stone to bigger and greater things. One only becomes a squire (or Squire, in this case) because they directly aspire or hold ambitions to become something important (usually a knight). So in that regard, Squire letting the Twerp Lonesome go would neatly feed into the Role of Ambition perfectly. I mean, even Black seems to have figured out why she let the Hero go, and sort of approves of her machinations, even though it has led to Name problems. I’m also not clearnon why exactly would the Name of Squire have issues with letting a fie live as nothing I’ve seen so far seems to indicate that the Name of Squire has anything to do with sparing someone’s life to warrant it feeling “betrayed”.

    Unless there’s something I’m missing here, like how two Names cannot have the same Role attached to them separately (and let’s be real;every single Name shown so far could very likely have Ambition as a Role, except for maybe Captain). Or that a Name can in fact incorporate two contradictory Roles within itself, and leave it to the bearer to sort out the balancing issues (in Squire’s case, I’m guessing it would be Loyalty and Ambition).

    Like

    1. Hi! Thanks for all the compliments.
      As for why Catherine’s Name reacted adversely to her letting the LS go, it’s a fairly nuanced issue. As her motives were arguably villainous (as in, sparing an entity that will cause great destruction for the sake of her personal ambitions) that’s not what the Name was reacting to. By sparing the hero Cat initiated a pattern, one that usually ends in the redemption or death of the villain. That goes against the very nature of her Name, which is meant to allow her to advance to a more important villainous Role. Through that she temporarily damaged her access to her Role’s power.

      Like

      1. Ah, I get it now. The Name is basically looking at the bigger picture, and not just the “moment”. Damn, Names are convenient!

        Though now I am curious to know if a Name can incorporate two potentially contradictory Roles into them. And speaking of incorporating Roles, do all Names have a standard list of Roles attached to them, or are Roles adopted according to the individual?

        Like

      2. To clarify the terminology, what you’re referring to are aspects. A Role is the function of a Name in the pattern (as in, a Tyrant is meant to rule and a Thief to steal). It’s possible for a Name to have aspects that contradict each other, yes, but that is a Very Bad Thing. The Named would have to be patently insane to get aspects like that and they couldn’t tap into their power without weakening themselves through the contradicting aspect. In the long term, it would outright kill the Named.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. stevenneiman

        The funny thing is that it strikes me that if her role were more naturally manipulative she would have been able to pull off bending foolish heroes to her whims without breaking the name. Hard to say, though, given that her actions naturally have such a high risk of redemption.
        What happens if a Named does get redeemed/corrupted so thoroughly that they lose touch with their Name completely. Do they automatically get a new set of powers as an example of a new trope, do they die, or do their powers simply leave them. Obviously, sometimes Redemption Equals Death so they might just die “naturally” as a result of a redeeming heroic sacrifice or whatnot, but I’m not sure what happens if they don’t.

        Like

  13. stevenneiman

    “when the [great->greatest] swordswoman in Creation told you you weren’t good enough”
    “Akua would already have [her had->had her] assassinated.” I’m not sure if it is grammatically incorrect, but it reads very awkwardly to me at least.
    “blood her troops on [real battlefield->real battlefields/a real battlefield] in the process.”
    “The dark-haired {man} smiled”
    “as the south of the kingdom [he’s->he’d] conquered”

    Spooky. I look forward to seeing what exactly Black has planned.

    Like

  14. Tetsuki

    I just hope the heiress wont be the main antagonist….

    She sounds like a delusinal prick. Just die you are not needed I would say. If she at least had an intersting ambition I wouldn’t be so annoyed… she just rubs the wrong way everywhere. Please don’t let her live for long😉

    Like

  15. A phenomenal read, as you certainly know.
    Nevertheless, here are some typos I found in Book 1. In the interest of avoiding spamming the comment section, I collected them. Gotta catch ’em all, after all.

    Chapter 6: Aspect
    “The Most Illustrious Histories of the Inimitable Dread Empire of Praes”, volume I to III, made up up the top layer and I lost interest after checking that ones right under were a study of the Licerian Wars. Gods, those bred like lice. → that the ones
    “I’m assuming you want me those read those and not, say, bludgeon someone to death with the pile?” → want me to read those
    “Only you can answer that. It will come to you in due time. Learn is a typical one, which is why I believe that throwing off the proverbial cliff when learning languages will yield the best results,” → throwing one/you off

    Chapter 7: Swords
    A cognomen was what we mere Callowans would call a nickname, thought the books had given me the impression that there was a little more to it than that. → nickname, though the books

    Chapter 8: Introduction
    With all the weight that meant I was pretty sure his mount could double as a battering ram in a pinch, though that would do to the horse under it did not bear imagining. → though what that
    Still, stumbling blind into the situation blind was a decent way to head for an early grave: → (remove 1 blind)
    “There was a situation Laure that needed seeing to,” the Knight spoke mildly. → situation in Laure
    Black’s band of bodyguards was no longer as silent as it had once been around me, but they’d reverted to silent statues as soon as we’d come in sight of Summerholm. I glance towards Scribe who had, I saw, also dismounted. → glanced
    None of the stories I’d heard mentioned her except in passing, and it wasn’t like she’d surrendered any information about herself since we’d met. I knew disappeared for a few hours everyday and came back with fresh new correspondence, → knew she disappeared
    She looked almost half-sleep, her yellow eyes were half-lidded even as she gave me an once-over before turning towards my teacher. → a once-over (technically this is the exception to the exception of that particular grammar role, so… yeah.)

    Chapter 9: Claimant
    I snarled at her and reached for my sword before common sense could kick in. That little- → (italics)
    I might as well have tried to empathize with a statue. A particularly unconcerned statue, even. Pushing down a sight, I knelt across the table from her. → down a sigh,
    Which meant his was no longer about sneaking around: it was about cornering a quarry. → meant this was
    My hand drifted to my sword, and with a sinking feeling I struck me that I hadn’t been the only one playing a game tonight. → feeling it struck me
    The masked ambushed was in the tricky position of having to keep an eye on me as they stepped back, → ambusher
    He was trying to get back towards the crowd where he could hide among the crowd, but that kind of thing was harder to manage when I knew exactly what he was trying to do. → (double crowd this close is… weird)
    I was in slightly better shape, though not by much: fight in the Pit tended to be on the short side, and they rarely required much running. → fights in the pit
    Looking straight into the flash was a good way never to see anything again, and even through my closed pupils the explosion light was horribly painful. → explosion’s light / explosion of light
    there was not a speck of green on her skin, all of the flesh bared by her chain mail a shade or red nearly orange. → shade of red

    Chapter 10: Menace
    You cant get back to your games after we’re done talking. → can
    Getting out had been easy enough, which not that I took the time to think about it was rather surprising: he’d ordered a lockdown of the camp. → now that I took the time
    I couldn’t see her eyes from where I stood, but I could make out high aristocratic cheekbones and elegantly style eyebrows. → styled
    Black was smiling, the same always did when at his most dangerous. From the sudden wariness in the Soninke’s body language, she seemed to be just as aware of that as I was. → (First sentence is weird)
    I shrugged in agreement – the taste was growing on me, thoughtI doubted I’d ever drink it by the barrel the way so many Praesi did. → though I doubted

    Chapter 11: Sucker Punch
    the other one was made up of former members of the Thieves” Guild → Thieves’ Guild
    Whether the doubter was actually convinced or just cowed by the uncomfortably emotional display on the Swordsman’s part was up in the air, bur regardless he objected no further. → but regardless
    “I’m guessing Chider’s somewhere in this mess?” overhearing the sound of fighting out of sight as I asked the Soninke girl. → (somethings missing there)

    Chapter 12: Squire
    I hacked away the shaft of the missile with a trembling hand, but actually taking it out would have to wait: I was pretty sure that kind of bleeding would kill me, after how much of Rashid had already gotten out of me. → how much Rashid
    Faster than the eye could follow, I pushed him off the wall. He yelled something I couldn’t make out and as he fell into the dark waters and I took a step back from the brink. → make out as he fell

    Chapter 13: Order
    Squire have ground fluidly, trying to find an angle where his sword’s longer reach would be able to come into play. → gave ground
    That’s the thing with practical sorts, Commander,” Squire told her gently. “We cheat.” → (quotation marks)
    I could still hear the low voice of the Commander and the shriek of those arrows as they fell form above. → from above
    Good,” the warrior grunted. “You’re awake.” → (quotation marks)
    Barely,” I agreed. “How long was I out?” → (quotation marks)
    It’s been two days since your little stunt,” she said. “You came damned close to never waking up.” → (quotation marks)
    Should I sent a thank you note to the Legion healers, then?” → (quotation marks)
    You tore your body up way past what they can handle,” → (quotation marks)
    You mean they bled me, right?” → (quotation marks)
    Don’t be obtuse, girl,” she grunted. → (quotation marks)
    Who were they?” I croaked out. “The people that died → (quotation marks)
    I’ll talk to Scribe, then,” I muttered, shivering. → (quotation marks)
    You can do that later,” Captain grunted. → (quotation marks)
    What does he need me for?” I asked Captain → (quotation marks)
    Just needs you to be seen out and about,” → (quotation marks)
    That’s still burning?” I asked. → (quotation marks)
    They managed to cordon it off,” → (quotation marks)
    Let’s go and get this over with,” → (quotation marks)
    Squire,” he greeted me, → (quotation marks)
    Black,” I replied. → (quotation marks)
    The restoration of order,” → (quotation marks)
    You can’t do this,” I said urgently. → (quotation marks)
    And so were party to the assassination of an Imperial governess,” → (quotation marks)
    You already knew who the members were,” → (quotation marks)
    They were tolerable, so long as they were harmless,” → (quotation marks)
    This is butchery,” → (quotation marks)
    I am already hated in this city,” → (quotation marks)
    You bound my Name,” → (quotation marks)
    Your powerlessness is of your own doing,” → (quotation marks, changed font)
    So you’re punishing me by killing Callowans?” I snarled. → (quotation marks)
    I am hanging traitors who took up arms against the Tower,” → (quotation marks)
    I will have no part in this,” → (quotation marks)
    I will have no part in this,” → (quotation marks)
    Stop.” → (quotation marks)
    Turn around.” → (quotation marks)
    Did you think this was a game, Catherine? → (quotation marks)
    We leave with the noon bell,” → (quotation marks)
    (Boy, you did dislike opening quotation marks for this one, didn’t you?)

    Chapter 14: Villain
    If he’d been even a little more thorough, just a little less sure my wound would kill me… I took a deep breath a steadied my hand. → and steadied
    They only people they’d hated more were each other → The only
    How can you justify working for these tyrants? the Lone Swordsman had asked. I finally had my answer. Justifications only matter to the just. → (I do love this line. It feels me with seething glee.)

    Chapter 15: Company
    Black had pushed our usual personal lesson earlier in the day, since the evening would likely be spent introducing me at the Imperial Court → to earlier
    There was an old fort in the valley the Blackguards escorted me to, a leftover from the days where the Order of the White Hand had occasionally crusaded their way east to Ater itself. → days when
    “We’re up against First Company, and they get to be on defence too.”“Ratface,” the captain finished curtly. → (Bracket?)

    Chapter 16: Game
    I’d have to be swift and quiet if I wanted to make it without getting caught, just like when I’d used sneak out of the orphanage to go fight in the Pit. → when I used to sneak
    I passed hand through my hair, only now noticing I’d been running around without a helmet this whole time. → passed a hand
    “How many?” I asked, keeping her voice down. → my voice

    Chapter 17: Set
    You might have an axe to grind and that’s your own business, but don’t ever talk bad the Black Knight in front of a greenskin. → talk bad about the Black Knight / badmouth the Black Knight
    “I was just asking,” I replied quickly, awkwardly warding him off with a raised while still balancing his weight on my shoulder. → with a raised (?)
    “Nilin’s setting up the watches,” me sergeant informed me. → my sergeant
    Hakram was about to follow suit but I discreetly shook my head → discretely
    I still had a few questions to ask me sergeant. → my sergeant
    The outer wall was made of stacked stones and about the height of a half a man, → height of half a man
    “Lieutenant Callow, third line of Rat Company,” I agreed as she raised my shield and steadied my footing. “And you’d be?” → as I raised

    Chapter 18: Match
    I frowned and readjusted her plans. → my plans
    The greenskin sergeant cocked is head to the side and eyed me thoughtfully as he tried to puzzle out the meaning behind the corrected instructions. → his head
    The noise of blade slapping against shields and cheers drowned out everything else for an instant, my own legionaries joining in without hesitation. → blades
    The only clean victories are the one in stories, Catherine. → ones
    sacrificing people under my command left an even worst taste in my mouth. → worse

    Chapter 20: Rise
    Black stepped forward and I followed, Captain a close behind us. → Captain close
    “The necromancy keeping the heads alive goes back to the Declaration,” Black mused. “No one’s been able to reproduce it since, and not for lack of trying.” → (Not a typo, but… as I understood it, the tower was razed at least once, and the magic couldn’t be recreated, so how did this room retain its magic?)
    The usual theme of black marble hard returned with a vengeance, but this once there was actually a bit of colour around → marble returned

    Chapter 21: Fall
    Smiling in that heartbreaking manner of hers, she cast a warmly fond look at the Court. → (warmly fond is weird. Repetitive)
    Malicia lightly tread around us, forcing us to turn as the kneeling nobles rose to their feet. → treaded
    She might as well have vanished into thing air, → thin air
    There had been Black Knights of Duni blood before my teacher and a few Warlock. → teacher, and a few Warlocks.
    I’d grown to know the person he presented himself at and even looked the monster he could be in the eye, → himself as

    Chapter 22: All According To
    On the bright side, she’d unlikely to hold a grudge,” he mentioned. “She’ll want to win this one too badly to focus on us: she’ll go for victory, not payback. → she’s unlikely
    I’d tried to come up with something to trump the Hellhound and come up empty. → came

    Chapter 23: Morok’s Plan
    Another three clans had been come over to their side in the aftermath of the last victory, bringing them up to a little under four thousand soldiers. → had come over (unless you meant the forced passive, like… “The king has been abdicated.”)
    Aisha had claimed one within hours of the melee was announced. → melee’s announcement
    “I have a question,” I said. “It’s a little personal, though, so feel free to tell me to bugger off it you want.” → off if
    “Enough,” I Spoke, and they went still as statues. “This isn’t the Highest Assembly, and you aren’t Proceran princes. If I give an order it will damn well be obeyed.” → (before you used bold text to indicate Speaking, here you used italics, which you also use for emphasis, memories, and thoughts-rendered-speechlike. This is a source of confusion.)

    Chapter 24: Aisha’s Plan
    More importantly, the ogre tenth had a free path right into my mages. Aside from my sappers they by far my most vulnerable line. → they were by far
    Hakram and the rest our line had come to stand behind me while I was distracted. → rest of our line
    Kilian hand’t though to concentrate on a single target. → hadn’t
    Ahead of me Kilian’s mages were holding off down enemy advance with a near-continuous stream of fireballs → (remove down)
    Aisha’s legionaries had done the same to another two lines and were getting started on a third. If Morok didn’t pull out now, the Lizards he risked elimination by numbers. → (something’s missing in last sentence)
    His companu sounded the retreat, → company
    Oh, fuck you Heiress. Seriously? → fuck you, Heiress.

    Chapter 25: Snatcher’s Plan
    Too many places had been dug into for all of them to be covering a demolition charge, but there was way to tell which of them really were mined. → no way
    I watched Ratface position his men just out of crossbow range and prepare his line as Hakram did the same with own with my forces. → (what?)
    I would have stayed to watch longer, but Wolf Company was getting close and there was a limit to how any people I could take on even with my Name. → how many
    “As you’ve no doubt noticed,” he started, “ the walls to my second ring of my fortifications are stone and dirt.” → to the second ring

    Chapter 26: Juniper’s Plan
    I was late already, thanks to Hatcher’s failed assassination plot, but I shouldn’t be a problem as long as – I tensed, waiting for the alarm to ring. → but it shouldn’t
    “Well,” I said. “That’s going to be a problem. → (quotation marks)

    Chapter 27: Callow’s Plan
    “And tell them what?” I scoffed. “That I have no idea how to get us how of this mess?” → out of this
    As for the sapper lieutenant’s main minion, he’d been chewing on something through all the reports which I took mean he was just fine. → took to mean

    Epilogue
    It was a shame the man had declined to take her a pupil, and she truly regretted that she had come to be at cross-purposes with him. → take her as a pupil
    What could you say, when the great swordswoman in Creation told you you weren’t good enough to beat her old pupil? → greatest
    The dark-haired smiled, rising to his feet and coming to stand by the window. → dark-haired man smiled

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