Villainous Interlude: Coulisse

“Still waters are the hungriest.”
– Soninke saying

There were so many defensive wards layered around his tent that even insects trying to crawl through would be instantly fried.

It wasn’t for his personal safety, of course. Amadeus knew better than to rely on magic for that: there were ways to undo sorcery, if you had the right tools at hand. Just the belief that he was ever safe would be a dangerous liability – heroes had a way of slipping through the cracks, especially the grittier types. No, this was purely for the sake of privacy. His contact with the Tower had been infrequent at best, these last two decades: letters took months and could be intercepted, two-way scrying could be detected and even listened on. But now and then, it became a necessity to talk with Alaya face to face. For that purpose Wekesa had crafted the both of them a highly specialized tool, two halves of a mirror linked so deeply it took but a touch to have them connect. The protections weaved into the spells were some of the nastiest he’d ever seen, and as far as he knew no one trying to eavesdrop on a conversation between the Empress and himself had ever survived the attempt.

Unlike most people expecting a meeting with the Dread Empress of Praes, Amadeus had not spent a great deal of effort making himself look presentable. There was no stubble on his jaw, not that there should be: he hadn’t needed to shave since becoming the Black Knight, as he’d never thought of himself as someone who had facial hair. He wore a simple long-sleeved grey cotton shirt with some cleverly hidden metal plates, which combined with his comfortable trousers of the same colouring lent him a fairly casual appearance. His sword was within reaching distance, but that was nothing unusual: he could count the number of times it hadn’t been on one hand, since he’d first become a Squire claimant. A gentle touch of the finger had the mirror rippling, and after a heartbeat the silhouette of Her Most Dreadful Majesty Malicia, First of Her Name, Tyrant of Dominions High and Low, Holder of the Nine Gates and Sovereign of All She Beheld appeared on the surface.

“Maddie,” the ruler of Praes greeted him.

“Allie,” he replied just as dryly.

Most people would have expected Alaya to wear some kind of sheer, mind-bogglingly revealing nightdress at this time of the night. The truth was a little different: the Dread Empress of Praes was adorned in loose woollen pants and a conservative button-up shirt that covered her up to her neck. For all that she played the part of the supremely skilled seductress in public, the dark-skinned woman had never truly left behind her very provincial views on propriety. Being part of the Imperial seraglio under Nefarious – may that hook-nosed wretch forever scream in the deepest Hells – had saddled her with a reputation, though, and she’d elected to take advantage of it. It helped that she was undeniably one of the most beautiful women in the Empire. Weaving a few spells into her dresses allowed her to turn that attraction into fascination, and so put everyone dealing with her at a disadvantage. Men and women alike tended to think with their genitals around her, a dangerous liability when trying to outmanoeuvre someone with a mind as sharp as Alaya’s. That she was widely known to be only interested in women was, amusingly enough, not much of a hindrance when it came to manipulating men. There was no shortage of prancing idiots in the nobility of the Wasteland who believed the magic wand between their legs would be the thing to change the Empress’ preferences.

“You have such an unpleasant smile,” the Empress sighed. “It always looks like it’s at someone else’s expense.”

“It usually is,” Amadeus admitted shamelessly.

She rolled her eyes, drawing a grin out of him. He did enjoy the way she acted when it was only the two of them. The woman she turned into when keeping the pack of jackals that passed for the upper class of Praes in line was sublimely entertaining, but she was also a carefully crafted façade. The Alaya he’d met when they were both so young, the same girl he’d spent so many nights with debating the Empire should be instead of the way it was, she only came out rarely nowadays. It had been ages since Alaya had thrown a tankard at anyone, even, which was definitely a shame. Amadeus was of the opinion that the behaviour of the High Lords would improve considerably if the Empress threw things at them every time they misbehaved. And considering the way some of the Tyrants have acted in the past, that wouldn’t even register as eccentric by Praesi standards.

“And now you’re smirking,” Alaya noted. “Spit it out.”

“Just remembering how terrible a waitress you were,” he informed her.

“At least I never toppled a foreign government drunk,” she replied, arching a perfectly-manicured eyebrow.

“I was tipsy at best,” he protested.

They shared a smile, but after a moment her face turned serious.

“I suppose we should get to business,” she said. “One of Ime’s people intercepted a diplomatic courier from Hasenbach.”

“Finally,” he murmured. “She found a way around the Augur’s abilities?”

“We think she can only foretell it if it’s been planned,” Alaya told him. “We’re moving additional agents into place to create more opportunities.”

He hummed thoughtfully. He’d have to pass the conclusion along to Eudokia. She’d been getting frustrated at her own failures.

“The contents?”

“Nothing too surprising,” the Empress grimaced. “She’s sounding out the League for military readiness.”

“We’ve still got three of the seven aligned with us,” Amadeus grunted. “The others won’t move with a majority vote that slim, they’d be leaving their own city-states undefended against our allies.”

“She’s just angling to keep Helike off her back,” Alaya replied. “If she pushes an official truce with the Principate through vote, she’ll have the border secure for a few years.”

“Having the Tyrant take the throne there was an unexpected surprise,” the Knight shrugged. “I won’t complain if it helps, but it was never something we planned to rely on. I’d rather she spent time on the Free Cities than dealing with the Dominion.”

“Levant will fold if she pushes back,” the Empress said. “They’re not looking for an actual war, just being opportunistic.”

It was a shame the Red Snake Wall made the Dominion’s northern border unassailable. Hasenbach was looking for a war abroad to consolidate her position and Levant would have made an easier target than the Empire without it. It wouldn’t even be the first time Procer turned their eyes in that direction: the territory now making up the Dominion had spent two centuries as part of the Principate, before seceding with Ashuran help.

“Regardless,” Alaya continued, “I have other concerns.”

Amadeus raised an eyebrow.

“I’m listening.”

“This rebellion. You could have put this whole matter to rest months ago,” Alaya said. “Peeling a legion off of the Vales to flank them and sending another across the Hwaerte would have crushed the insurrection in its infancy.”

“True,” the Knight admitted.

“I understand the need to groom your apprentice, Maddie, but this is going too far. You’re deliberately stretching out the lifespan of a threat to the Empire so that she can prove herself on the field,” the Empress told him. “This entire affair is an unnecessary risk.”

“It is a risk, I’ll give you that much,” the green-eyed man conceded. “But unnecessary? Quite the opposite.”

Alaya’s eyes narrowed. “You’re up to something.”

He shrugged. “Aren’t I always? In this case, the objective is fairly straightforward: I am putting an end to the rise of heroic Names in Callow.”

“I would argue that’s impossible,” the Empress frowned. “The best we’ve managed is to regulate the frequency they form at.”

Amadeus’ lips quirked into a wry smile. “The key word in that sentence being we.”

“Her managing to kill the Lone Swordsman would buy us a year or two at best,” Alaya scoffed. “We’ve gone over this before. Wekesa putting down the Wizard of the West didn’t stop mage-Names from forming down the line, nemesis or not.”

“You’re still framing this in terms of Catherine being one of us,” Amadeus said, leaning forward. “She isn’t. She is a Callowan using a Praesi Name for purposes that ultimately serve the land of her birth. This is no longer a story about the Empire maintaining dominion over its conquest: it stopped being that the moment she became involved. This narrative is about Callow’s soul, which of two paths it should take in the coming years: the Swordsman’s revolution at all costs or the Squire’s appropriation of the system.”

Alaya drew a sharp breath. “And if she wins-“

“When she wins,” Amadeus corrected.

“Then heroes will stop rising to oppose her, until she succeeds or loses her way,” the Empress finished, face troubled. “Maddie this is… Both of us have walked this line before, but that’s something else. You’re trying to manipulate the forces driving a Role. Calling this playing with fire wouldn’t be doing it justice.”

“I imagine it is mildly blasphemous at best,” Amadeus smiled. “Amusing, if not of any great import.”

Alaya grimaced.

“Assuming your gambit is success,” she said. “Which is, for the record, an assumption I am not yet ready to make. In the aftermath, she would have to be allowed to implement some degree of reform. Otherwise she’ll end up having to oppose us as the next obstacle in her way.”

Amadeus blinked. “Well, yes,” he replied slowly.

“That could cost us Callow, in the long term,” the Empress stated. “I do not want to have to put down a Legion-trained native army in thirty years.”

“Our current methods won’t work for much longer, you know this,” the Knight frowned. “Rebellions will keep cropping up and it’s a matter of time until the Principate is able to mount an invasion again. We can’t win a war with them while putting down domestic unrest, both Grem and I have run the scenarios.”

“Procer is being handled,” the Soninke replied.

“You can only start fires in the First Prince’s backyard so many times, Allie,” Amadeus told her frankly. “She’s already managed to cut you out of their internal politics and now she’s making making progress in the Free Cities. As soon as the Dominion backs down she can turn all her attention to us.”

“She won’t be in a position to make a move for at least two years,” the Empress informed him. “As soon as I have additional agents in position I can start funding her opposition regardless of those pesky little laws she put in place.”

It had been a masterful stroke, when Hasenbach had passed the legislation through the Highest Assembly. The origin of loans above a certain sum to the rulers of all principalities now had to be disclosed to the First Prince, which had put an end to the activities of the Pravus Bank on Proceran soil. If Alaya propped up a political opponent of the First Prince, the woman in question would know in a matter of weeks. And if the loan went undeclared, she would have a pretext to move against her enemy as soon as the information surfaced. Which it would, there was no doubt about that: Hasenbach’s spy network was nearly as good as theirs and she had a Named future-teller on her side. There was a reason Assassin hadn’t already taken care of the First Prince – both attempts made had been anticipated and neatly countered before they could get anywhere close to her. Still, there were ways around the laws. Multiple smaller loans through proxies would achieve much the same result, but putting said proxies into place would take time. When everything was finally in position, though, odds were that Hasenbach’s position in Procer would no longer be vulnerable.

“Two years won’t be enough,” he finally said. “Even if we raised another five legions tomorrow Procer would still outnumber us nearly two to one in professional soldiers. We wouldn’t be able to hold the Vales, and it would all be downhill from there.”

“And what’s your alternative, Maddie?” the Empress replied tiredly. “What does your Squire actually intend to do, if she gets her way? I’ve yet to discern an actual plan of action from her. She just strolls from one mess to the next.”

“She’ll want official authority to curtail abuses of Imperial power on Callowan soil, at the very least,” the dark-haired man spoke. “Not, all in all, an unreasonable thing to ask.”

“You want me to give a sixteen year-old Callowan girl power of life and death over Praesi high nobility,” Alaya pointed out. “I know you’ve been staying out of Wasteland politics, but you should be able to guess how well that will go over.”

The Knight smiled coldly. “So let them grumble. Let them rebel, even. There’s a reason half the Legions are still in Praesi territory. The moment they take arms they will be crushed underfoot, as they were when we first took power.”

“We’re not the underdog anymore, Maddie,” the Empress replied in an irritated tone. “There’s more to ruling than hanging whoever disagrees with you. We already took the Empire, now we have to actually run it. Something you’d know, if you hadn’t spent the last twenty years playing soldier abroad.”

He let the comment pass, this once, though sharp replies were on the tip of his tongue. There was nothing to win in allowing this to become a personal argument instead of a political one.

“The Truebloods have been pressuring you,” he guessed instead.

“They closed ranks behind High Lady Tasia,” Alaya explained. “Killing Mazus and his father was too stark a reminder that we’re keeping them on a short leash. I’m going to have to make concessions to keep them under control.”

Heiress’ mother. Not unexpected, thought definitely unwelcome. It was to be expected that the High Lady of Wolof would leverage her child’s rise into becoming the leader of that band of malcontents.

“What do they want?” Amadeus asked. “They should know better than to ask for a lift on the Chancellor ban.”

“If she was that stupid she wouldn’t be a threat,” the Empress replied. “They stayed moderate. Reinstatement of goblin breeding restrictions to pre-Conquest levels, the end of tribute reduction for Clans who provide legionaries. They also want the tributes that went unpaid under Nefarious to be collected retroactively, with interest.”

“Going for the Reforms, then,” the Knight grunted. “They’re not even being original anymore. How will you put them off?”

The Truebloods hadn’t made a push for changes in the War College, which was for the best. He’d have needed to take punitive action if they had, and the current climate was already volatile enough. The nobility’s ongoing struggle to take back the changes made when Malicia had first taken the Tower had been mostly fruitless so far, though they’d managed a handful of victories. Mostly in the way they’d managed to stop any other steps forward: his own attempt to have noble titles granted to Clan chieftains had been tabled for at least the next decade. Met with silence on the Empress’ part, the green-eyed man frowned.

“Alaya?” he said, then felt his blood run cold as the realization sunk in. “You can’t be serious.”

“Valid arguments were made,” the Empress replied flatly. “The Tribes already recovered all the losses they incurred when we took Callow. Allowing them to accumulate more numbers would shift the balance of power in the Empire to our disadvantage.”

“And the tributes?” he asked.

“They broke the law by ignoring their obligations to the Tower, even if Nefarious was unfit to rule,” the Soninke noted. “As for the rest, incentives to enrol are hardly needed given the numbers of orcs we already have under the banner.”

“If you implement both it will cripple enrolment in the Legions,” the Knight said. “The Clans won’t be able to part with even half as much of their people under that kind of a financial burden.”

“Tasia’s very objective, I imagine,” the Empress replied. “Not one I entirely disagree with. Too large a portion of our armies is not human.”

“Humans still make four legionaries out of ten,” the Knight pointed out. “Only orcs come even close to that. The gap will only widen if Callowans start joining in significant numbers.”

“That’s still over half our legionaries born to loyalties other than the Tower,” Alaya retorted.

“The entire point of the Reforms is to give them a stake in the Empire,” Amadeus reminded her. “Keeping them under our thumb is counterproductive when we’re trying to make a fist. Allie, they’re pushing now of all times because it’s working. Catherine’s boy proved as much: an unprecedented Role, bound to the Legions of Terror and in the hands of an orc.”

“Yes,” the Empress said quietly. “To the Legions. Not the Tower.”

Amadeus felt the old calm settle on him. The clarity that came with danger, the perfect awareness that had seen him survive one uphill battle after another.

“We’re better than this, Alaya,” he said. “You’re better than this. If we begin to doubt each other now, all we built will come down on our heads.”

The dark-skinned woman let out a long breath. The controlled façade she’s put on when the conversation had taken an unpleasant turn broke for a moment, allowing a glimpse of very real dismay. Or was it? He’d never been good at reading her. There was a time where that had hardly mattered, but they were no longer the people they’d been when they were young even if their faces had remained the same.

“You think I enjoy this, Maddie?” she murmured.  “Gods, you’re the only person I’ve been able to trust since I was seventeen. You may well be the only man in this entire Empire I can call a friend.”

“But,” the Knight spoke quietly.

“But,” she repeated in the same tone, “in the end, there can only be one person sitting on the throne.”

Amadeus closed his eyes. How had it come to this, he wondered? He’d always known that the degree of trust between Alaya and himself was unusual, by villainous standards. But it had needed to be, for what they’d done. By outlawing the Name of Chancellor they’d shifted the balance of the ruling class of the Empire. There was no buffer between the Empress and the nobility, which meant she had to deal with their intrigues herself. In some ways, Alaya had more direct power over Praes than any other Empress or Emperor before her – but that also meant that dealing with internal matters had to take up most of her time. Which, in turn, had meant that she’d had to delegate almost all authority over Callow to him. He’d been King of Callow in fact, if not in name, for the last twenty years. In and of itself that would not have been much of an issue, but the fault line rand deeper than that. Out of the current thirteen marshals and generals of the Empire, ten had started out as officers under his command. Their loyalty went to him over Alaya, a damning fact when the strongest pillar of the Dread Empress’ power over the Empire was the Legions of Terror. Could he really blame her for crafting a power base independent from his own? No. But blame doesn’t matter. Never has, never will. Villains must attend to reality or be swallowed by it. The Black Knight opened his eyes. In the back of his head the machine woke up, a hundred thousand gears starting to turn as his Name stirred awake.

“Forty years I have fought for this Empire,” he spoke. “I made myself into a liar, a cheat and a murderer. I smothered infants in their cribs and engineered the deaths of thousands. I watched the love of my life walk away from me. And not once did I regret it. Do you know why?”


“Because it worked,” he hissed. “Because we took the laughingstock of this continent and turned it into a nation to rival any other. And we did it without cutting deals, without taking shortcuts. We’ve tried their way for a thousand years, Alaya. Built the flying fortresses, bled the sacrifices. And it failed, every godsdamned time.”

He bared his teeth.

“We go back now and we’re no better than those who came before us. Praes is not special. It is not unique. It is not predestined for greatness and neither are we. The moment we forget that, we deserve to lose.”

Malicia’s face was blank of emotion.

“Are you done?”

“Am I?” he asked tiredly. “Gods, how I have wondered. If my Role finally caught up with me, if I’ve become as mad as they say I am. If I turned into just another raving fool with a Name, screaming at the Heavens. But if I’m not… Allie, all I can see down the path you’d take us is failure. Trading short-term gains for long-term disasters. So I implore you, think about this again.”

The Empress’ face softened, after a moment.

“I forget, sometimes, that you are under just as much pressure as I am,” she replied. “I’d say it’s because you so rarely show weakness, but it’s not much of an excuse. I should know better. Get some sleep, Amadeus. End the rebellion. We’ll revisit this when the both of us are in a better state.”

The mirror’s surface dimmed, leaving only his reflection. The Black Knight leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes.

The gears kept turning.


51 thoughts on “Villainous Interlude: Coulisse

  1. Cicero

    o shit, knives are getting brought out. Seeing how the black knights ideas are destroy, lead, conquer he might go against the empress at some point. this chapter certainly aludes to it. Looks like the situation is getting less stable overall.

    Names influence people to a greater degree then i might have tought until now given their interactions in this chapter.

    @Author are you taking a break after this book or are we getting into book 3 swiftly afterwards?


  2. Arkeus


    So Amadeus thinking, at least, that Catherine is needed in order to keep Callow a vassal-state is as much as said. Can’t be kept under their thumbs without curtailing the rise of heroes name within the military climate.

    It’s also interesting that it seems Amadeus is actually quite unable to think in Political terms at all. I always wondered given his semi-recurrent speeches about what to do with the nobility/etc, but it does seem he wasn’t joking and has this big, glaring weakness.

    Interestingly, it might be that Alicia has the same weakness when it comes to the military, hence why their repartition of Power was so effective.

    If it’s a Name thing, as hinted, it’s probably very possible that Catherine is being HUGELY influenced by Learn and the Squire’s role, and it would explain a lot of her inability to actually doubt and see Amadeus’ manipulations and the actual living style of Praes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevenneiman

      It seems strange that someone whose entire way of viewing the world is based on the skill to manipulate and an intricate knowledge of cause and effect. On the other hand, it might not work when the number of individuals is large, but not large enough to view statistically. He has a blind spot between handfuls of dangerous Names and masses of voters in a democracy, and the political situation of Preas just happens to fall there. Or perhaps it only works when he is destroying, leading or conquering, and when he isn’t the leader and he just needs to maintain he might not be able to think with his Name.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Arkeus

        My guess is he also gets interference telling him he should be Destroying/Leading/Conquering stuff that he should be Running instead.

        This iswhy he has no big trouble with Callow as he basically has been Leading his men there, Destroying the people’s morale and Conquering their lifestyle- he still sees himself as an enemy there.

        But the Tower is a different thing as while he still considers them ‘others’ he can’t quite get he has already won and should be thinking on how to manipulate the place and not how to conquer it.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Well, the black knight wasn’t that bad about politics actually, he is obviously someone who had quite a degree of knowledge in between soft power and hard power when he treaches Catherine about this when she had faced the Heiress.
        He also thought about his coversations with Malicia being a political one instead of a personal one. Given that how much he is leading the conversation most of the time.
        This also gives me a glimpse who is actually the one taking the lead behind the scenes instead of what is actually thought on the outside.
        And I hope the last line is not a deluded to the Empress being played by him in some of greater plans in the future.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Learn isn’t really an aspect that influences thinking, except maybe in the sense that Catherine can acquire a lot of knowledge quickly. That said, Names do heavily influence the way Named tend to think – Black acknowledged as much as early as Chapter 2 of the first book, when he referenced the “tunnel vision” a lot of his predecessors had.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. stevenneiman

        If it wouldn’t be a spoiler, is that tunnel vision a direct result of having the Aspect, or just the fact that having that Aspect gives them a perfect motivation and excuse to do what they wanted to do anyway?


  3. And suddenly the overlarge number of Callowens in the Squire’s army makes sense. Black isn’t just using Cat to conquer Callow, he’s using her and her army to warp it’s very soul into something that wouldn’t, would ever, even want to rebel against Praes. By using Callowens to take Callow, he might be able to see it consolidated permanently into Praes, securing that area completely.
    Black Knight is now officially my favorite villain ever, his plans are seriously the best.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. stevenneiman

        I don’t think he is actually trying to warp Preasi Names so much as create new ones and possibly co-opt some of the old Callowan ones. What I think his endgame is would be a Preas where every conquest and protectorate has grown its own crop of Names unique to their status as vassal states, ensuring that their culture becomes tied to that of Preas on the most primal level while also making them feel valued because they get to use their own Names. And of course there is the obvious military value of simply having more Named at your disposal ready to fight and lead.
        Hell, its already working, as his efforts have so far yielded one new Name tied to an orc serving the Legions of Terror, and one Callowan with a transitory Name just waiting to be outgrown and the increasing fame she’ll need to create her own Role, tied to protecting the interests of the Callowan people and earning their love while serving Praes and thinking carefully about everything she does. If Black’s gambit pays off, he and Malicia could leave Praes with a veritable rogues gallery of minions perfectly tuned to keep the conquered states in line, serve the Dread Emperor’s agenda, and inspire loyalty in Legions raised from every corned of the Dread Empire, along with a proof-of-concept for how to create perfect Villains out of the culture of every conquered province.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. I”m glad you enjoy Black, he’s one of my favourite characters to write. The original concept for the Guide was actually going to cover his rise to power, though it became clear really quickly that Cat makes for a much more interesting protagonist – the remnants of that draft are usually seen through the Name dreams Catherine has now and then.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. cartesiandaemon

        Oh, awesome. Yeah, I really love reading about Black, but I agree it’s probably better told in flashback. But I love the little moments of humanity, his and the empress’ history is so much more interesting for having that.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Unmaker


    line rand
    line ran

    (maybe – works either way, but both the ‘s’ before the apostrophe and after are pronounced, so the second way looks better to me)

    Empress and himself
    Empress and him

    making making


    There are two apparent trumps, one on each side, that the other side is unaware of or ignoring. On the Good side, the trump is declaration of a Crusade, which could technically force the neutrals and opposed to help. On the Evil side, it is the existence of a clear win strategy against the rebellion that Malicia just talked about. It seems unusual that two apparently competent sides are blind to the potential trump of the other. On the Evil-looking-at-Good side, Crusades are a known historical event. Why exactly have the Calamities not thought of this? Have they done so, but off-screen? On the Good-looking-at-Evil side, why haven’t the supposedly competent generals questioned Praes’s strategy and noted that the Empire let the rebellion go when it shouldn’t have? Again, that could have occurred off-screen, and it could be water under the bridge at this point, but we have heard of the Good generals discussing Preaes’s military strategy.

    “he hadn’t needed to shave since becoming the Black Knight, as he’d never thought of himself as someone who had facial hair”
    So the appearances that a Named person has are based on their self image? I wonder if that is the reason many of them don’t age: they don’t think of themselves as old, so they aren’t. Of course, that is also manipulable: change the self-image, change the appearance.

    “two-way scrying could be detected and even listened on”
    Which means every conversation between Amadeus and Catherine.

    Well, no one can accuse Amadeus of thinking small, can they? Manipulating the entire Role system is trying to manipulate Heaven and Hell indirectly. Mildly blasphemous indeed.


    1. Arkeus

      For the trumps, they were partially explained earlier on:

      “The Stairs” mention makes it look like calling a crusade is really difficult and needs specific requirements that Blake and maybe Malicia don’t think they can get.

      As for “end the rebellion”, there is at least one explanation: the First Prince flat out thinks that Procer is not used to fighting against Names so a lot of their understanding is a bit ‘off’ here and there.

      Another explanation is that “Ending the Rebellion” might actually work in Procer’s favour if it does it in a very violent manner. After all, Procer is mostly afraid of the Memetic Warfare that Praes is doing, but if Amadeus ends the Rebellion very violently, well… this might actually work well for Procer, and they believe Malicia knows that, so it doesn’t register as something they think will happen.


    2. x

      More typos:
      debating the Empire should be instead of the way it was
      debating +how

      the way some of the Tyrants have acted in the past
      had acted

      Assuming your gambit is success,
      +a success / successful

      sixteen year-old
      either both should be dashes or neither

      The controlled façade she’s put on


    3. Unmaker

      Forgot to transcribe one of my thoughts over:

      …and Malicia didn’t exactly say what she was going to do, did she? Which may be why “The gears kept turning.”


      1. I think that the gears are still turning because his Name doesn’t think that his plan is out of danger. They started when he went into it. The author would be more entitled to an opinion than I am.


    4. The First Prince is at least somewhat aware that something strange is going on with the Praesi military response. She was about to ask her uncle as much in her interlude, but got interrupted by the Augur’s message.
      As for the Empire they’re not unaware of the threat, but not just anyone can call a Crusade whenever they feel like it. Procer essentially lost their chance to call one when they decided to fight their own civil war and left Callow occupied for twenty years. Right now, if the First Prince declared one most nations would see it as a naked power grab and treat it like one, especially given the aftermath of some of the past Crusades – one of which ended with the Proceran occupation of Callow, a precedent no one is really comfortable with. It doesn’t help that there hasn’t been a successful Crusade since the sixth one, either.


  5. Unmaker


    I can no longer get the Book 1 menu to open up – clicking on it goes to the prologue, but doesn’t actually show the chapters. My memory says it used to, but my memory isn’t the greatest. Tested in Firefox 44 and IE 11.


      1. Unmaker

        Why not just add all the chapters as subheadings like they are for Book 2? Yes, as the story gets longer you would have to scroll a ways to get to the bottom, but the newest chapter is easy to get to anyway, so if you are looking at the table of contents you probably aren’t looking for the newest chapter anyway.


        1. Considered that, but keeping in mind that I’ve planned five books that would become a horrible mess pretty quickly. I might change the site’s skin at some point if I can find a better alternative, whenever I end up having a day to kill.


  6. alegio

    Ok black if black is actually trying to manipulate the force of names, which are as I understand pretty much the power of destiny itself, then he is a lot more badass than I actually tought,.

    The way black defends catherine is a little too hard for the way he is, which makes me think maybe, just maybe he actually may see her a little more than just a piece of his plan.

    And well… is it just me or calamities just love to talk about blacks drunk adventures? XD


  7. stevenneiman

    “debating {how?} the Empire {as it?} should be instead of the way it was” one of those two, I think.
    “but the fault line [rand->ran] deeper than that.”

    So, I think I see what Black is up to, and boy, that man does not go for thinking small. If I’m right, he has a plan that will not only prevent Praes from having to deal with revolts in currently captured territory, he will be able to fundamentally alter the balance of power. I think he has an idea to transform the Namescape of every captured territory to provide new Names with every conquest and prevent insurrections including those led by Named. That would mean that for the first time ever a faction could meaningfully capture territory that otherwise would inevitably end up as a drain on whatever resources the conquering state has to spend on controlling it and almost certainly slip from their grasp eventually. More importantly, it would make the world a better place because it could basically only be used by good Evil characters. This means that rather than simply inventing a weapon to be used by anyone, he is developing a way to make his faction and HIS FACTION ONLY more powerful. That could very well be the idea that wins the war for exactly the kind of people who ought to.


    1. Arkeus

      Black Idea is not new at all, this is basically how pretty much all the wars are won longer term in that setting. See how people always talk about that old empire who destroyed the names of the Orcs/etc, or how each country has their own names.

      Memetic warfare has been told to be the way to go from the very start, there is nothing new about this, what Black is doing is just what every country does when they want to control places for a long time, AND it’s just that Praes itself had been doing for hundred of years before when they took over Dunis/Sonnoki/etc.

      Nothing new there.

      Also, there is no good Evil character, and this method can be used by ANY faction that has a “theme”, as you just need to try and impress your theme upon young people.

      In this instance, what Black has been doing is create Apathy into Callow so they slowly lose confidence in their own Names, then prop up a puppet from Callow that adopt a Praesi name and become a Callowan leader becomes a Recocnized villain by the Callowan population with a very strong theme of “See how efficient and invincible she is” from the outside, and “See how efficient and invincible Praesi is” from the inside (E.G what Catherine thinks and why she stays a vassal).

      If it was old-style Praesi, they would have tried “see how AWESOME they are” as they did with Dunis/etc before.

      If it’s Callowan, they would have used Chivalric themes, etc.

      We have gotten examples of countries doing the same thing MANY times in the past.


  8. Shikome Kido Mi

    This raises an interesting question: If the Black Knight were to crown himself Dread Emperor, would that open the way for Catherine to assume the mantle Black Knight?

    How do double Names work? The Captain apparently once was The Accursed, but she’s still a supremely powerful werewolf, despite changing mantles.


    1. The Cursed was a transitional Name, much like Apprentice and Squire. Her Role eventually matured into a different Name, that of “the Captain”. If Black became the Dread Emperor the Name of Black Knight would be open for claiming, yes, though that wouldn’t guarantee Catherine claiming it. Heiress would have a shot at it, at the very least, as would several others – though being the Squire does give Catherine the strongest claim to it.


      1. Shikome Kido Mi

        I hadn’t considered that The Cursed would be transitional. It’s a lot less obvious than “Squire” or “Heiress”.

        Still, good to have my ideas confirmed, that essentially you have to give up your old Name to take a new one. Now, when someone’s Role changes to a new Name, I’m supposing their abilities change a bit? For example, Dread Emperor Black might be a bit less of a fighter and even more charismatic (or whatever his people look for in a leader)?


        1. Roles don’t change, only Names do. Though aspects do change when the Name does, so there would be a difference in powers. In the event that Black became Dread Emperor, he’d be a lot more military-oriented than Malicia is. There’s a lot of variation in what the Tyrants can represent: the first Maleficent was great stateswoman and unifier, while Terribilis II was essentially a warlord that restored the Empire. Treacherous was a master of intrigue, but utterly ineffectual at everything else. Some were better at balancing things – Dread Empresses Regalia and Maleficent II in particular – but typically Tyrants have a particular focus.


      2. stevenneiman

        Something I was wondering: The leader of Praes is personally called a Dread Emperor or a Dread Empress, but either way their Name is referred to as the Tyrant, because they take the same Name no matter their gender. Is the Tyrant of Helike also called an Emperor or Empress, are are they just called the Tyrant?


  9. stevenneiman

    “but the fault line [rand->ran] deeper than that.”

    I like this chapter. Good reminder that as superhuman as the great Named might seem from Cat’s perspective they are still people, and the challenges they face are of a level suitable for their great power.


  10. This is a lovely story. Thanks for writing it. This chapter finally made me comment.

    I love Black’s prescience and understanding of Squire, and I love seeing that he had very similar views as Catherine. He broadened the Empire’s circle of concern to include goblins and orcs (yes, his motivations were pragmatic rather than altruistic; so what?), and Catherine wants to do the same with the subjugated Callowan humans.

    Now that Black’s legacy is threatened, I’m curious about what he’ll do long-term. (Also, I wonder how Catherine would react to this. She may not care about Black’s legacy, but she’s befriended orcs and goblins and would presumably not want to see them suppressed by nobles.


  11. Nieldun

    Seems to me like Malicia might have just created a self-fulfilling prophecy when she chose to worry about Amadeus. Previously, there was a bond of trust between them that would have kept Amadeus in check but now that she’s severing it and appeasing the nobles, Amadeus might have to get rid of her to prevent the nobility from screwing everything up.


  12. Meow Meow

    My inner shipper sat up in attention the moment “the love of his life” was mentioned.
    i’m a fool for tragic love stories, i already love em as a couple ;_; we need ranger in the story like yesterday, seeing them interact is gonna rock.
    Love the chappie, tnx.


  13. oliverwashere

    Once he starts sounding unnaturally convincing, you know he’s tapping into his Name. He’s trying to Lead her policy. He’s trying to Conquer her will. Can she be certain he’s not trying to Destroy her?


  14. standardtypo

    Typos [standard]:
    {line rand} rand -> ran
    making making -> making
    debating the Empire -> debating how the Empire
    {Assuming your gambit is success} success -> successful


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