Villainous Interlude: Coup de Théatre

“Never hold anything in a cage you can’t put back in, should it get out.”
– Dread Emperor Terribilis II

Akua had spent most of her thirteenth summer pouring over all the writings authored by Dread Empress Malicia and her Calamities.

Neither Assassin nor Captain had ever put their name to anything, which had narrowed the field somewhat. Scribe, who could be considered an honorary Calamity of sorts, had written a single piece on organizational principles which had never been published and only ever circulated privately among high-ranking Legion officers. Some of what the woman had jotted down on the subject of redundancy in essential systems was useful, but none of it was ground-breaking. It confirmed Heiress’ personal belief that the Scribe was a very talented administrator but not a threat independently of her master. Warlock had been the most prolific author, but all of it was related to either anomalous sorceries or broader magical theory. The sheer spectrum of experiments the man had been able to afford doing did indicate he had access to more wealth than was openly known, which was… interesting. It meant there was a material power base to attack, if she ever needed to distract him. Unfortunately, none of it gave any insight into the way the Sovereign of the Red Skies thought. Still, ultimately the stewards of the path Praes had taken over the last forty years were Dread Empress Malicia and her Black Knight.

Those had been the papers she’d sought the most ardently, though she’d not been the first Praesi aristocrat to seek insight into their ruler and her right hand. Lord Black had penned a handful of treatises on tactics, though they were not personal thoughts of his: merely reports of what techniques had and had not worked during the Conquest, as well as what made them fail when they did. There was a paper on the influence of the original Miezan legions on the Praesi ones, and why some of the leftover practices needed to be abandoned – it had, however, been written before the Conquest. All the suggested changes were long implemented. The only knowledge she’d gotten of that was that the man tended to focus on underlying structures when making changes: whatever he made, he built to last. He dislikes retreating, her mother had said. The last paper she’d gotten her hands on was the after-action report from his fortnight in Stygia. Not the censored one he’d given the Chancellor’s office at the time but the one he’d smuggled to Malicia – then still a mere concubine.

Managing to have a copy transcribed had cost her a small fortune and the lives of seven family agents in the Tower but she’d found the prize worth it. Contrary to popular belief in the Wasteland, Black had apparently not gone to the city with a plan in mind. He’d found the weak points in the Stygian power structure, used Assassin to trigger a collapse and then ruthlessly played factions against one another until they were weak enough for him to impose the outcome he’d desired: a ruling Magister from the faction friendliest to the Empire. The assertion that he’d done the entire thing drunk she could safely dismiss as a jest to amuse Malicia, for his predictions of enemy moves had been too consistently accurate. Back then Akua had simply noted that Lord Black was as dangerous when improvising as he was when operating according to a set plan, but now? Now she saw the pattern. Foundling works the same way. The two of them knew they were more skilled at exploiting chaos than their opponents, so they created chaos. Whether it harmed their own side did not matter, so long as it also hurt the enemy equally – the comparative advantage they gained from disorder still swung the balance in their favour.

Malicia’s works were the most interesting, all in all. In her concubine days she’d written a history of the War of Thirteen Tyrants and One displaying a great deal of political acumen – as well as access to the private Imperial library, which was much more unusual. Members of the seraglio did not get passes unless they were nobly born, and Malicia’s birth was as common as it came. The treatise on international politics she’d penned after her ascension to the throne was arguably the most important piece to be found and it was, in Akua’s opinion, an abomination. Titled “The Death of the Age of Wonders”, it laid out what Malicia believed the Dread Empire’s stance abroad should be for the next few decades. Some of it was common wisdom: the application of political pressure in the Free Cities was an old favourite of Tyrants. But the rest, like reaching out to the Thalassocracy? Whether or not there was a need for a “counterweight south of Procer” was irrelevant: Ashur stood on the side of Good. No amount of shared interests would ever fill that gap. The need to keep Principate divided as she’d outlined was self-evident, but it was Heiress’ belief that Malicia’s ironclad avoidance of direct conflict had led the Empire directly to its current weakened position.

The Legions should have marched across the Vales decades ago instead of resting on their laurels, to burn Salia to the ground and permanently sunder the principalities.

The entire treatise had left Akua uneasy, and it was only years later she’d understood why. Malicia looked only forward, to a future she could shape with her own hands. The past glories of the Empire she dismissed as irrelevant at best and a hindrance at worst. She thinks near all Tyrants before her were fools, as if she were the only clever woman to ever hold the Tower. Akua Sahelian had been born to the ruling line of great and ancient Wolof, the only Imperial city never to be occupied by foreigners after the Declaration. As a child she’d played in the temple-mazes where her ancestors had sacrificed greenskins to the Gods, she’d grown a woman in the shade of the baked mud pyramids where rituals as old as Calernia still took place. Her very blood was running with the history of Praes, its madness and greatness both. To even entertain the pretence of wiping the slate clean with a new reign was to spit on all the Tower stood for. We are the last of our breed, Malicia. The last great villains of Calernia, perhaps in all of Creation.

The drow of the Everdark had collapsed into bickering tribes unworthy of the ruins they haunted. The Chain of Hunger was nothing more than a horde of starving rats, as incapable of villainy as any other animal. The Dead King, that famed monster who’d turned his entire kingdom into undead and invaded the very devils who’d thought to trick him, had not stirred from beyond his borders in centuries. That the Lycaonese had been able to participate at all in the Proceran civil war was a sign of how far the lich had fallen – in olden days they would not have dared to strip even a single man from their walls. Stygia and Bellerophon had been muzzled by the other cities in the League, reduced to petty border disputes, and the same city of Helike that had broken the Principate’s back under the Unconquered now flinched in the face of Procer’s displeasure. All that was left was the Dread Empire, the Tower flying the black banner promising death and ruin to all who thought themselves beyond humbling. And now Dread Empress Malicia would have them turn their backs on that inheritance. It was enough to make a woman’s blood boil.

But Akua remembered, and from this she drew strength. Dread Empress Triumphant – may she never return – had been born in Wolof, and had kept Wolofites close during her reign. She had not trusted them, but perhaps distrusted them less than others. Even as Praes collapsed in the face of the retribution wrought by an entire continent and two foreign empires besides, her ancestors had retreated beyond the high walls of their city and hoarded secrets now forgotten by everyone else. And so now Akua stood in the hills south of Marchford, the very city her rival was marching on after her victory against the Silver Spears.

Heiress had not bothered to bedeck herself in plate, though she owned several sets. That kind of cumbersome protection was hardly needed: the Soninke was a skilled swordswoman but it was a skill she’d acquired more to prevent a weakness than acquire an asset. She preferred for others to shed the blood for her, and had picked her entourage with that preference in mind. Her lacquered armour of overlapping steel scales was styled in the ancient style of Taghreb warriors, the skirt of scales making up the lower part splitting over her knee to reveal hardened leather boots. The rounded helmet protecting her head was wrapped by a scale aventail she’d covered with a red silk shawl, leaving an opening that revealed only her face. The entire set had been tailored and adjusted for her, of course – her curves were not easy to fit under such apparel, even after binding. Reining up her horse, the dark-skinned aristocrat stopped to survey the temple she had come to find.

It was a small and wretched thing, even if it had been built in stone. The single company of Proceran mercenaries she’d brought with her had taken it without any trouble, falling on the unwary sentinels by surprise. The building did not appear on any maps, for it was not a place of worship – it was a prison, one designed by the provincials to keep one of the Hell Eggs forever unhatched. Barika rode up to her side, her ornate robes a ridiculous affectation in this barbarous country. The spells woven into the cloth made it hard as steel should anything strike the other woman, as the spells in Akua’s own armour made it resistant to both extreme temperatures and foreign magic, but while such elegance would have been duly appreciated in Praes it was wasted effort out here. Callowans were a people of mud and shit, fit only for toiling fields save for a few superior breeds like the Deoraithe. Of all the members of Heiress’ inner circle, Barika was the least valuable in and of herself: she was not as powerful a mage as Fadila, not a skilled warrior and leader of men like Ghassan and not an inherently valuable piece like Chider. She wasn’t even particularly clever, though she was by no means stupid. She is my most loyal, though, I will give her that. The two women watched in silence as Commander Chider dragged the priest of the temple and slit open his throat with obvious relish, red gushing all over scarred hands as the undead goblin smiled.

“Whatever the necromancer did to bring her back,” her childhood friend finally said, “it left… marks.”

“Savagery can be useful, if properly leashed,” Akua replied.

And there was no denying she held Chider’s leash. The necromancy that bound the goblin’s soul to her corpse and the enchantments that allowed the charred husk to actually move existed only as long as she allowed them to. Undeath, while technically granting magical properties to a corpse, did not allow individuals who’d lacked the talent before their demise to use sorcery. Chider had been born without he gift and so had no way to influence the magic that kept her in Creation. In the distance, Heiress glimpsed the man in command of her Proceran footsoldiers stalk towards her. Large and fierce, Arzachel of Valencis had proved himself when her host had taken Dormer by sneaking in under cover of night and opening the gates. The man moved with the fluidity of a large cat, and his hand was never far from the hooked falchion at at his belt. From the moment she’d first met him there had been desire in his eyes when he looked at her, though Heiress was not inclined to indulge him. There were more suitable men if she felt like sharing her bed with anyone.

“The temple is secured, my lady,” he announced, his Lower Miezan softly accented. “There were few with the priest, only old men and green ones.”

“Good,” Akua replied. “Have your soldiers clear the grounds. If anyone tries to enter…”

“I know the drill, Lady Heiress,” he grinned. “Corpses all around.”

The Procerans had been a good investment, she decided. Former soldiers from the warring principalities, they’d been exiled from the Principate for banditry and hostage-taking – something she’d found an asset more than a black mark. They had a talent for finding gold that had come in useful in southern Callow: she’d already made twice as much as she’d spent hiring them by pillaging rebel holdings. The Stygian slaves had proved to be less resourceful, but then she’d not expected initiative of them when buying their leash. Dismounting gracefully, Akua left behind the mercenaries and passed the two columns that marked the entrance to the inner temple. Barika followed cautiously, her unease at the thought of what lay inside all too visible. The structure was short compared to the high-ceilinged Houses of Light the provincials were so fond of building, hidden away between hills so it could not be seen from a distance. She found the inside to be miserably bare, all naked stone with only dirty beddings to decorate. The living conditions of dead men did not interest her, though.

What she’d come for was in the centre of the room, surrounded by markings of powdered chalk: a large standard plunged into the ground, pitch black with golden snake swallowing its own tail embroidered into the cloth. It moved to a breeze that did not exist, even contained like this. Before Triumphant – may she never return – the Empire’s armies had merely been known as the Legions. The terror in the name had been earned by artefacts like this one, the vanguard of armies that had subjugated all of Calernia for the first and only time in its history.

“A Hell Egg,” Barika said, catching up to her. “Gods, I never thought I’d see one.”

“There are none in the Wasteland. She let all the demons she’d bound in Praes loose when the army of heroes assaulted the Tower,” Heiress replied. “There is one another left in Callow, according to my records, and a handful in Procer.”

What the greatest of the Tyrants had wrought was not easily undone. If it were the Sky Breaker and his wife would not still be bound at the summit of Cloudreach Peak, one cursed with endless hunger and the other with endless healing. It was said that the howls of anguish coming from them both still troubled the sleep of all who dwelled in the Titanomanchy, a reminder to the giants that defying Praes was never without cost.

“You’d think that a hero would have broken the bindings and killed the thing, after all these years,” Barika said. “They’re not limited the way villains are.”

Demons were born of Evil, and so Evil could not destroy them – or so went the theory. Only the lapdogs of the Heavens had been gifted the ability to truly destroy a demon instead of merely jailing them or sending them back to the Upper Hells.

“I chose this one for a reason, Barika,” Heiress smiled. “A demon alone would be a great and mighty threat, yet Squire might be able to contain it until reinforcements came. But a demon from the Thirteenth Hell and a battalion of devils? That is another thing entirely.”

Devils grew stronger as they grew older, more cunning and more vicious. And these have been bound on Creation for over eight hundred years.

“Thirteenth Hell,” a third voice mused. “Corruption, isn’t it? Well, that’s going to be a fucking mess.”

Akua’s sword cleared the scabbard before the first word was finished. Barika’s hands wreathed themselves in roiling shadow, barely contained. A woman was leaning against the wall in the back, a silvery flask in hand and a lute hanging off a leather strap going across chest. Taghreb? No, Ashuran. Heiress had met some of their kind in Mercantis. Not one of Squire’s known associates. Lord Black’s? Wrong direction, this is Callowan holy ground. There was one known heroine part of the Lone Swordsman’s crew who was from the Thalassocracy – the Wandering Bard. That could be a problem, she thought coldly. All the Bard variations were more dangerous than their commonly ascribed ineptitude would have one believe. They were harder to kill than cockroaches, for one, and their entire Role family instinctively understood things about the way Creation worked that even archmages could only grasp at. One of the running theories as to why even villains who should know better let them talk was that they practiced a softer form of Speaking, one that influenced instead of commanded.

“Impressive stuff, ladies,” the hawk-nosed woman praised them, “but it won’t do you any good.”

“And why,” Akua asked softly, “would that be?”

The dark-haired stranger wiggled her eyebrows.

“Because I’m invincible, of course,” she informed them cheerfully.

The Soninke aristocrat kept her face blank, resisting the urge to cast a worried glance at the standard. That kind of talk was like sending a written invitation to the Gods to make the opposite point. And yet, nothing happened. If a villain had dared to say that, the roof would have collapsed on their heads.

“You’re the Bard,” Barika said suddenly, finally catching up. “The one that was in Summerholm with the Lone Swordsman.”

“That’s me,” the heroine agreed. “Almorava of Symra, at your service. Well, not really since you’re dastardly villains, but you get my meaning.”

“I commend you on passing Arzachel’s picket,” Heiress said, ignoring the digression, “but you seem to have squandered the element of surprise.”

The woman chuckled and wiped her mouth on her sleeve after taking a long pull from her flask. Akua sneered at the lack of manners.

“Didn’t walk here, sweetling. I try not to think about how that works too much. But you know us Bards,” Almorava smiled. “We Wander into all sorts of places.”

“And you mean to stop us?” Barika snorted. “You overestimate the strength of your Name, singer.”

“Wow,” the heroine huffed. “Rude. What is it with villains and getting personal? I’m not even here to get in your way. You finally decided to get plot relevant so I’m having a look, is all.”

“You would stand aside and let us free a demon on Callowan soil?” Akua asked sceptically.

“Pretty much,” Almorava shrugged. “I mean, it’s a shit plan so why would I stop you? I’m a little surprised, though, I’ll admit. Foundling thinks with her fists and Willy thinks three days after the battle’s over, so by default you’re supposed to be the mastermind of this story. But clearly there’s no way letting loose a personification of the concept of corruption could ever backfire, right?”

“What you westerners know of demons could not even fill a thimble,” Akua replied flatly, then immediately clamped down on her temper.

An insult this puerile should not have been able to get under her skin, but the casual disrespect she was being offered had her taken aback. Even Foundling, irreverent guttersnipe that she was, had learned to watch her mouth around her. The Bard raised a hand in appeasement as she polished off another part of her flask. Heiress frowned – how much alcohol could there possibly be in a receptacle that large? Had the flask been made bottomless? That would be absurd. A working that rare and powerful would cost a fortune, even in Praes.

“No need to get all offended,” the heroine said. “I’m just wondering what your deal is. Like, what is it you do? Being rich and pretty isn’t actually a magical power, sweetheart.”

“It seems your own deal is being a drunken twit,” Heiress smiled pleasantly.

“Oooh,” Almorava purred. “You’re one of those. Old school Praesi villain, with a closetful of self-importance and megalomania. At least that finally explains why your schemes are so terrible.”

These were more familiar grounds. This was close enough to court intrigue Akua could glimpse her opponent’s intent, and the attempt being made was feeble.

“This would be the part where I lose my temper and reveal all my plans to you, I imagine,” Heiress noted calmly.

The Bard grinned. “Can’t blame a girl for trying. But I was actually referring to your little operation in the south.”

“You mean our victories in the south,” Barika corrected sneeringly.

“You know what’s not going to be a great victory?” Almorava said. “Allowing two thousand slaves to come into contact with a hero. In private Willy’s got all the charm of kettle of fish, I’ll grant you, but out in the field? You don’t need to be a Bard to predict how that’s gonna go.”

“Slavery is illegal under Tower law,” Akua replied. “They are all free men.”

The heroine rolled her eyes. “I’m sure they volunteered to fight a war on foreign soil because you asked nicely. Well, you girls have fun with your hilariously ill-advised plan. The battle’s about to start, so I’m needed elsewhere.”

The shadows still wreathing Barika’s hands formed into long whips and she stepped forward.

“I think not,” the mage said. “You’ll be our guest for a while, Bard.”

“Nice delivery,” Almorava praised. “Way to work that sinister intonation. But I see you your creepy shadow tentacles and raise you… the Sands of Deception!”

Shoving her free hand in a pocket, the heroine took out a handful of sand and threw it in Barika’s face. The mage coughed and lashed out blindly with the shadows while Heiress carefully stepped out of the way, unsure what the effect of the artefact would be. When she went to flank the Bard, though, she found the irritating wretch was gone. Outside my line of sight for the blink of an eye, and she disappears. That is a very, very dangerous ability. There had to be limitations: Names were never this generous without taking a toll of some sort, or adding restrictive clauses to how the power could be used. Barika allowed the shadows to lapse when she realized they were now alone in the temple, picking the grains out of her robes.

“This is just regular sand,” the mage noted, confounded. “… Wait, is that the deception?”

Akua had never more keenly understood the age-old Praesi tradition of summarily executing one’s subordinates. She let out a slow breath and mastered herself. This entire interlude had been somewhat frustrating, but ultimately it changed nothing.

“She’s right, though, isn’t she?” Barika spoke hesitantly after a moment. “Why did you leave the Stygians with Ghassan if you knew they’d have to fight the Lone Swordsman?”

Heiress walked up to the standard, idly smudging the protective powdered chalk patterns the priests had been making for centuries with her foot. That should weaken the pattern enough that the demon would break out within the next two days – already she could feel a presence inside the artefact stirring awake, tasting the damaged holding spells. It would not do to linger here.

“For the same reason we play shatranj, you and I,” Akua finally replied.

Heiress had never enjoyed the game. It was horridly simple, two sides with equal capabilities taking each other’s pieces in a slaughter without elegance. And yet she was known for playing it, because she had willed it so. As a youth her mother had introduced to baduk, a game from the kingdom beyond the lands of the Yan Tei, and this one she’d actually come to enjoy a great deal. Baduk was not about a limited handful of sequences, it was about positioning. The word meant “encircling game”, and Akua had not played it once since she’d come into her Name. For the same reason you don’t know I’m a better mage than you are, Barika. So long as everyone else thought they knew what game she was playing, they predicted her moves accordingly and thought they understood her designs. Her enemies had yet to grasp the most salient of all truths: in games as in all things, the only move that mattered was the last.

She’d been setting up hers from the moment she’d first laid eyes on the Squire.

88 thoughts on “Villainous Interlude: Coup de Théatre

  1. In Baduk, though, they don’t actually mean that much. Most of the territory is claimed and secure, and you’re just scrambling for another point or two at best.

    Whether it’s a Go board or Chess, certain strategies never fail. Granted, if you’re playing semantics, the pieces need to be knocked aside rather than over, but the point stands.

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      1. NIvek

        Is it wrong to hope that the Wayward Bard and the Black Knight wind up in a drinking contest at some point? That would be hilarious!

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      1. I may be no professional, but I’ve played since I was six.

        By the endgame, most of the pieces have their life or death determined already and the focus is spent at the borders for immediate gain. The last moves are almost intrinsically less important than the earlier moves when you’re staking, securing, or invading territory.

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    1. Unmaker

      “Whether it’s a Go board or Chess, certain strategies never fail”

      Sorry, no, neither game has been proven to be deterministic. The strategy that never fails for both games (now) is “have the best computer program plus the fastest hardware” because computers have now passed the best human players in both games. But that still doesn’t make the games themselves deterministic.

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      1. haihappen

        Sorry, I have to nitpick. Go, by design, is absolutely deterministic. There is no random element in Go.

        They game these characters play sounds more like snakes and ladders. In the dark. With real snakes.
        Difficult to cheat on that one. Unless you play with fire.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. NIvek

      Like Scribe being “not dangerous independent of her master”? I seem to recall Scribe being described as more dangerous than assassin when it came to the “never see them coming” category.
      I also notice how the line at the start of the interlude being in complete opposition to her tactics with both the undead claimant and the hell egg.
      Finally, releasing a demon of corruption against a villain whose entire story is based around the corruption/destruction of her homeland’s names? Really?

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      1. Daemion

        Yes, exactly what I meant.

        She also imposes her own sensibilities and expectations on others, like not believing Black did all that while being drunk… because she lacks imagination. I don’t think she can deal well with the unexpected either. She needs to plan ahead and then sticks to her plan even when it ceases to be effective.

        Akua is an oldschool villain, the type that wrecked impressive chaos before predictably losing to a hero. Of course she is hiding how clever she really is… but she has a reputation as schemer, what does it matter that she plays one level higher than everyone believes? They’ll still expect her to be manipulative. Of course she’s hiding that she’s a powerful mage… but all the good villains have an ace up their sleeves. It’s almost tradition.

        She’s still dangerous and more than capable of wrecking things for Catherine, but she is overestimating herself and that’s probably going to be her downfall.

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      2. Akim

        Well, of all the writings Akua got her hands on the two books Catherine got from Black are not on the list. ☺

        She would be alot more afraid of the Bard if they were ☺

        After this Chapter I am at least sure how the Bard is Travelling.

        Since the 4th wall seems to be especially thin in creation and Bards are more or less travelling libraries my guess is that she is just walking through L-Space.

        And I bet Diamonds to pigs thats where all the Bards have their secret clubhouse.

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  2. Cap'n Smurfy

    The more you think about it, the more meta the Bard becomes. I mean she is literally describing the story from a reader’s point of view while simultaneously being an important part of said story.

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    1. stevenneiman

      That’s rather the point of the Bard roles. They might not get many class benefits like most roles, but one of them is that they can metagame like there’s no tomorrow and the DM just lets them. What else would you expect from a character whose whole purpose is to understand stories, in a ‘verse where stories themselves are the most potent kind of power?

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  3. Cap'n Smurfy

    “One of the running theories as to why even villains who should know better let them talk was that they practiced a softer form of Speaking, one that influenced instead of commanded.

    “Impressive stuff, ladies,” the hawk-nosed woman praised them, “but it won’t do you any good.”

    “And why,” Akua asked softly, “would that be?””

    I think this part really neatly sums up Heiress. She’s smart enough to realize how dangerous Bards really are and theorise how they might have the ability to make Vilains let them talk even though the know better. And then immediately afterwards she lets the Bard talk even though she know better.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Forum Solipsist

    Bard Name Power: Narrative Flow.
    As in see where the story is going and flow with it.
    You can’t kill a bard easily because most stories don’t fare well when the narrative voice changes halfway through.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevenneiman

      Mostly I think the Bard fights like Deadpool. Where everyone else is trying to just avoid tactical and strategy mistakes, the Bard ignores common sense and tries to become such an audience favorite that Fate won’t kill her off. Nobody suspects because it just seems so absurd that she could possibly be trying to curry favor with anyone the way she acts.

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  5. Akim

    Sorry ,, Wall of Text incoming.

    My Brain went into overdrive after my Bard post .. so here it is.

    First : @ NIvek .. I think Heiress assumption about Scribe is true from a Character Point of view.
    Scribe ties heavily into the “nerdy girl secretly loves/protects protagonist” – trope in her connection to Black . She is tied to/leashed by him and his welfare. As long as Heiress does not act openly against him she is save from Scribe. .. Should Heiress choose to do otherwise .. and gods below forbid, should she ( Heiress ) have actually a hand in the demise of Amadeus, Akua becomes the new benchmark for Eternal Suffering.

    P.S. to that .. SInce both are Schemer/Spy characters “Acting Openly” may be a pretty wide definition

    That said I like the whole game-metaphor and I think the best insight into a character would be to see which game he thinks he is playing the others in.

    Akua thinks that everyone else is playing Chess while she is playing Go ..
    which is a nice assumption but thats what puts her in the oldschool Villains shoes aiming for a single minded goal using the Mastermind role for one single target

    My guess of Empress and Blacks game is a two-man con while playing Poker or Risk.
    They play the players, and for keeps. Its even in the Names🙂
    Empress/Queen , Knight / King, Squire / Jack , .. and bad puns .. Ahm a Deuce

    But I can only fathom how far Empress gameplan goes ..
    And I just figured out the final piece ..not only is the game different but the goal ..
    Heiress plays to Win. Captial W like all the other Villains before her. One Million Dollar
    King of the Hill.
    Empress plays against the Evil predominant in Creation. Her Goal is not to Lose.
    Herding the Catsplosion of asshole, hipster cats while not having !!FUN!!.

    While on the other hand seems to play Almorava D&D or FATE,( Or worse the Song of Ice and Fire RPG )

    And William, I don’t know .. Tag ? Hide and Seek ?

    Catherines game allready got a chapter quote🙂 She does not play. She takes the box and does the things where the camera pans out and you see the other people go “Eeeeeew”

    Something completely different.

    The other thing I have to get out there is my other insight into Amadeus.
    The Bard made me think alot about Tricksters. Thats what made me think of the Long Con Alia and Amadeus are playing and also putting him in the role of one.

    That thought clicked while Heirress said He and Cat thrive on Chaos. They plan and scheme for greater goals while still being quick on their feet and taking the sweets from the other kids.

    But actually I wanted to compare Knights of dark colors.
    There is this one particular guy Black reminds me of .. He is actually one of the weaker heroes around. A bit of a mastermind but actually without a greater plan while still prepared for everything and their grandma. He knows the playbook and is feared and respected by even the strongest. And he had a few powerful Squires of his own by now ..
    And of course .. he wears a billowing black Cape.

    Sorry for all who now see pointy ears on Blacks Helmet😀

    —-

    Finally Endgame Analysis.

    I think its a great Plan for Empress to put Catherine in Charge of Callow.
    If she can befriend Cat she can actually pull of what Palpatine and Anakin** failed to do.
    Enlargen the Circle and brodening their powerbase.

    With Callow under Cats rule she pulls it away from the lordy Lords of the Snakepit while still reaping the benefits. This would free Black from his responsibilties there and Malicia could use him away from the Lords of the Tower. Because I guess the thing Malicia said about him to Cat that he loses his value as henchman in the Tower was no forshadowed backstabbing.
    With Blacks enlightened selfinterest about telling the truth he knows this allready.

    This could, with Cat being a Deoraithe descendency, make it possible for her to slowly turn that part of Callow. Which could then connect the Empire with the other “lesser” Evil countries that Akua so nicely recounted for us.

    Which could then turn the anarchic oligo-despotism of the empire into some kind of Evil Republic. Like Machiavelli’s satiric Il Principe suggested all along.

    Then some Trading Alliances with the Dwarves .. and then the WORLD .. MUAHAHAHA !!
    ( remember, we are still evil here )

    ** w000t .. another one wearing both the title and that oh so popular color.

    ——-

    P.S. Everytime Cat says her bet about gems and pigs I see a Soninke or Tahgreb Merchant popping up like a meerkat and looking around … “I take that deal “

    Like

    1. As said before, the pigeon strategy tends to work for most any game that doesn’t involve hunting one. “Knock over all of the pieces, shit on the board, and then strut around like [you’re the victor]”

      Like

    2. Unmaker

      “I think its a great Plan for Empress to put Catherine in Charge of Callow.”

      Expansion: the plan may be to put an Evil Named in charge of as many surrounding kingdoms as possible. That would give the Empire buffers against the Good kingdoms.

      Like

    3. stevenneiman

      Did anybody besides me get the Dwarf Fortress reference?
      I think you’re right that Malicia’s plans are far less grand in scope in favor of being well-reasoned and actually viable.
      I think Black actually plays one level higher than you think, he doesn’t play the game or even the players so much as he plays the whole gambling hall. His big idea is to manipulate the Names themselves to the favor of enlightened, beneficial Evil. His plan is to pioneer a way of creating new Names to give conquered provinces more of a stake in his empire, which he has already succeeded in doing with the orcs and I think he’s halfway there with Callowans, he just needs to get Catherine a strong enough rapport with her own people that she can get the Collaborator Name (just my guess as to what the Name is called). In fact, I bet that’s why he isn’t worried about her going for his Name, since he plans to help her make one of her own.
      I personally doubt that anyone wants Catherine in charge of the whole empire. In her own crazy way she is a great warleader, but I don’t think she can really manage the much more hectic and less clear-cut nature of politics. Serving as both an ambassador and idol to a new generation of Evil, Praes-loving Callowans, though, that she could do.

      Like

      1. stevenneiman

        Not in your chapter, the comment about !!FUN!! the original comment. Something that could sort of be called a tagline of DF is “losing is fun”, and as a result players often refer to anything disastrous as “fun”. Double exclamation points around something mean that it is on fire (which is very dangerous in DF), and the notation is sometimes used to refer to things other than actual objects, like !!FUN!! or !!SCIENCE!!.

        Like

  6. that1sungod

    I disagree with heiress, the most important move in a game is the first. it determines whether you are leading or reacting. or merely appearing to react

    Like

      1. There isn’t a single villain in Imperial history who’s been stupid enough to summon a demon as a “pet”, though admittedly some of the crazies came close. Praesi are known to summon devils, but only the worst of villains ever brought in demons – you’ll note Black tread lightly around the one that serves as gatekeeper for the Tower, and that one’s still bound.

        Like

  7. Shequi

    Realising things upon rereading again; this passage is very interesting:

    “The Legions should have marched across the Vales decades ago instead of resting on their laurels, to burn Salia to the ground and permanently sunder the principalities.”

    It’s interesting because it shows that while Heiress is all about the soft power *herself*, and within the political games of Praes, when it comes to things external to Praes and Praesi policy she defaults to the hard power that she simply doesn’t understand. Marching Legions through the vales would simply unify all of Calernia against Praes (including the nominally “swing states” between good and evil in the Free Cities). For all Heiresses reading of history she fails to understand that Praes (or, in Catherine’s plan & Black’s plan, Evil) needs to keep its enemies divided for long enough to consolidate its hold on Callow.

    Ultimately, while Heiress might have read History, she doesn’t understand History, and is thus doomed to repeat it. Despite noticing that what Black does, he does for underlying reasons, she hasn’t even thought to wonder what underlying change he’s actually trying to do now.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. x

    Typos:
    pitch black with golden snake swallowing its own tail
    +a golden snake

    If it were the Sky Breaker and his wife would
    If it were, the

    her mother had introduced to baduk
    introduced +her

    Like

  9. Hardcore Heathen

    “Her enemies had yet to grasp the most salient of all truths: in games as in all things, the only move that mattered was the last.

    She’d been setting up hers from the moment she’d first laid eyes on the Squire.”

    So…your plan is to run a Xanatos Gambit against someone whose entire modus operandi is creating chaos? And said plan involves unleashing a powerful demon you have no control of? I’m with the Bard; there’s no way this can go wrong.

    Obligatory sniping out of the way, I liked this chapter. I think it gives a lot of insight into not just Heiress, but Praesi nobility in general. They have this elitist obsession with the past, even if the past wasn’t exactly full of success. Hell, she’s justifying her traditionalism by calling back to the successes of Triumphant (may she never return), regardless of the fact that the woman’s been dead for CENTURIES.

    The focus on the glories of the distant past is even weirder when it’s highlighted against her plans for the future. It’s very, very clear that Heiress has no understanding of how to actually win, in the long term.

    She says that the Legions should have kept marching, once they’d subdued Callow? They still haven’t subdued Callow! Heroes and rebellions are cropping up – your mercenary company is in Callow right now BECAUSE OF A REBELLION! But Heiress just sort of dismisses it with pithy racism, which is kind of disappointing. She’s incredibly intelligent, and is a clear student of history. She should know that Callowans are worthy foes, foes that beat your Legions for as long as you’d sent them west. You don’t get to dismiss them because they lost to Black.

    It’s not mentioned directly, but I think Heiress has this view of conquered lands rebelling as inevitable, as just the price of doing business. She only mentions the activities of her mercenaries in the context of how the plunder personally benefits her, instead of how she can put an end to rebel sentiment or further the interests of the Empire. Which should be a concern for her, seeing as she wants to rule the Empire (and the world) at some point.

    tl;dr: Heiress is unable to actually take the long view, despite her obsession with tradition. She’s a typical, archetypal Villain: short-sighted and grasping, and it’s going to be her eventual downfall.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Her ruling the world… Wouldn’t last ten minutes even if she could get to that point.😛

      Would-be world rulers don’t trash the place by unleashing demons to run loose for style points. <_< Ruins your projected tax revenue from that part of the continent for the next fifteen years, for starters.😛

      Liked by 2 people

    2. stevenneiman

      I think her problem is that she has no mindset besides pure manipulation and pure brutality, which should not be the only tools in anyone but a specialist’s toolbox. She understands pitting foes against one another, leaving them off-balance and setting them up to be surprised when they expect an easy win, but she doesn’t understand making meaningful alliances or winning hearts and minds. She is too busy thinking how to beat any given opponent to consider how much connection there is between their losing and her winning. In general, I don’t think she could hold on to the world, but she might just break it trying.

      Like

    3. Stargazer

      She has the exact same flaw as most other villains. It’s a flaw that Black and Malicia don’t have, and that Catherine is learning not to have, and it’s likely to lead to her downfall.

      Akua/Heiress does not realize that other people are also allowed to be smart. Your enemy can and will use the same tactics you do.

      This is proved in the *hilarious irony* involved in having in a single post a statement that ‘Scribe is not very dangerous’, based on a single paper you read from her once, and then a brag that you never reveal any of your own true power in order to keep your enemies guessing.

      She so megalomaniac that she constantly underestimates her foes. All her plans are inherently flawed because she’s playing the role of a traditional villain, with all those traditional problems inherent in that. She is the perfect target for Black and Squire’s style of ‘dance as fast as you can’ chaos management, because she flat cannot react well to unexpected events, and her ignorance allows her somehow to understand clever things opponents have done in the past, and dismiss them as things that will either not work against her or not indicitive of future cleverness.

      From our perspective, and that of the bard, it’s almost sad. She’s doomed, and she can’t see it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. stevenneiman

        To be fair, I don’t think Scribe is terribly dangerous on her own, but the thing is that she never does operate on her own. She is always assisting and directing those who are more powerful than her. I think one of the main problems that Akua has is actually that she doesn’t understand strength that is different from hers. As a result, she doesn’t recognize that a Name with only utility functions can in the right situation have as much power as or even more than a Name with only combat and deception functions. The funny thing about Scribe is that she doesn’t even really hide her power so much as let people’s own biases hide it for her. Honestly, she plays a somewhat dangerous game because she has no other way to be useful. If anyone genuinely smart was ever gunning for the Calamities she would be the first target because she is of at least equal importance with very little of the combat prowess. On the other hand, I suspect that she has some kind of teleportation power and I would bet that it can get her out of danger when the shit hits the fan.

        Like

  10. Shikome Kido Mi

    Confirmation that the Dead King does rule part of the world. Interesting.

    I guess he’s getting settled into a rut in his old age and no longer seriously trying to expand his borders.

    Like

    1. Shikome Kido Mi

      Well, that or he’s working on some kind of looooong term plan because he’s developed patience and an altered sense of time.

      Like

      1. Akim

        Maybe he found a different border to expand to, one not so well defended.
        It has also been established that left and right aren’t the only directions one can expand to.**

        Since it’s now established that Heiress is the brilliantly stupid kind of villai, the story also established the conflict between Squire and Heiress is inevitable it seems to me that the Names are fighting to see which way the story of the Dread Empire of Praes will continue.

        Can Black and Malicia succeed with their plan of change or is the inherent narrative of Praes to strong to be changed.

        **There are also up, down, sideways, inwards, yellow, outwards, other dimensions, and hell.

        Like

      2. stevenneiman

        I kinda figure that he is just resting on his laurels, although he might be building up for a big surprise. Maybe the fact that people no longer fear the Dead King is exactly what he had in mind.

        Like

    2. Cap'n Smurfy

      Wasn’t there talk of him stirring in one of the interludes? I’d say he’s just waiting till someone inevitibly screws the kingdoms and cities up for him to sweep in during the mess.

      Like

      1. NIvek

        So just like every other undead sorcerer-king then. Wait for an opportunity and strike, trusting to time to kill foes that he can’t beat himself.

        Like

  11. Bart

    Typos

    the skirt of scales making up the lower part splitting over her knee to reveal hardened leather boots
    should be knees instead of knee

    There is one another left in Callow, according to my records
    should be other instead of another

    If it were the Sky Breaker and his wife would not still be bound at the summit of Cloudreach Peak
    add a comma after “were”

    Like

  12. “I say to you againe, doe not call up Any that you can not put downe; by the Which I meane, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use. Ask of the Lesser, lest the Greater shall not wish to Answer, and shall commande more than you.”
    — Jedediah Orne to Joseph Curwen

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I swear to any and all gods that if Bard and Robber aren’t having copious amounts of smarmy, pun filled, head board shattering sex at the end of this story, I will destroy the earth because it would simply mean nothing is truly sacred and everything deserves to be purged.

    With hellfire.

    That smells of Taco Bell beans.

    Seriously, if there were any two people in fiction who are meant of each other…

    Like

    1. NIvek

      You know how Black thinks that goblins have self-concealing names? I bet that Robber has one… one that has the word Bard in it…

      Like

      1. stevenneiman

        I kinda figure by default that unless noted otherwise any race that humans find unattractive generally mirror the sentiment. After the comment about what orcs think of hairless, pale brown creatures with stubby teeth I can’t imagine why anyone would expect anything else of goblins.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Unmaker

    Typos:

    one another
    one other

    without he gift
    without the gift

    at at his belt
    at his belt

    Reactions:

    The comment theme seems to be Heiress bashing. And while I think she isn’t as inadequate as people think, two internal dialogs of hers stood out:
    1) “It confirmed Heiress’ personal belief that the Scribe was a very talented administrator but not a threat independently of her master.”
    This is in direct contradiction to the warning that Catherine got about Scribe, which was more believable.
    2) “The assertion that he’d done the entire thing drunk she could safely dismiss as a jest to amuse Malicia, for his predictions of enemy moves had been too consistently accurate.”
    And yet Warlock says this too and Black doesn’t deny it, he just plays it down.

    it was Heiress’ belief that Malicia’s ironclad avoidance of direct conflict had led the Empire directly to its current weakened position
    No, actual combat has led to the Empire getting knocked back every damn (pun intended) time because it is a clear threat that others respond to. Malicia seems to be going for slow infiltration and corruption, which doesn’t get the moderate kingdoms riled up enough to attack.

    Well he**, the Wandering Bard is the narrator. Or at least that’s a working theory. Even if wrong, genre-savvy wiseasses that lean heavily on the fourth wall and insult everyone else’s narrative sense are so fu**ing fun. The greatest insult, the one Akua should have picked up on, was “You finally decided to get plot relevant”. Which says that what Heiress did before wasn’t important enough to matter – that should have really been a kick in the old ego, but Heiress seems to ignore it except the general comment on disprespect. I suspect there’s some Cassandra syndrome going on here – Bards can tell people to their face what is going on but the people listening tend to ignore it.

    And my supposition last chapter seems to be wrong: apparently Named can sometimes match demons more or less directly. Or maybe that means that Catherine and her organization could match a weaker demon. Did Heiress not know that Catherine is teamed up with Apprentice? Because having a powerful mage backing Catherine is a significant advantage when dealing with a demon.

    “Allowing two thousand slaves to come into contact with a hero. … You don’t need to be a Bard to predict how that’s gonna go.”
    Wandering Bard is saying that the Lone Swordsman is going to end up leading them? Is that right?

    There had to be limitations: Names were never this generous without taking a toll of some sort, or adding restrictive clauses to how the power could be used.
    Guess: for observation only, never for offense or even spying. And never in actual combat. And not really under control, but a Bard can get around that by making opportunities for the power to work.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Daemion

      I wrote it earlier already but Akua is still very, very dangerous despite her flaws and shortcomings. She’s going to make a big mess before she goes down. Remember what a mage can do in this setting.

      “Bashing” her is taking things too far. We haven’t met anyone perfect yet (although Black, Malicia and Scribe come close), everyone has their weaknesses and blind spots.

      There is nothing wrong with Akua being a traditional villain, even if that means she’s bound to screw up and get defeated. What’s interesting here is that it probably won’t be a hero this time around. This is a world of stories, so there have to be people who play the role of the antagonist who loses.

      What’s funny here is that despite her genre savviness she outright ignores facts because they don’t fit into her view of the world. Heiress wants to repeat what the villains of old did and hopes that unlike them she will succeed.

      The villains of old… who summoned demons, built flying fortresses and raised armies of undead and monsters. Who terrorized the neighbouring countries, left a trail of destruction in their wake and who could only be stopped by a hero. Eventually.

      Akua already made the first few steps by releasing a demon, it’s going to get worse from here a lot before it gets any better. Underestimating her only because she’s not perfect is going to lead to defeat. One needs to respect her abilities, her cunning and her power. She is a serious enemy and while we as readers got glimpses of potential weak spots, no one but the bard knows of them yet.

      She’s basically a villain who read the “100 Things I’d do if I ever became an evil overlord” list and then dismissed half of it because the old way is traditional and she knows better. She could never accept being wrong about something so ingrained in her.

      Like

      1. stevenneiman

        I at least never suspected her of having a chance at actually doing any of the things she claims she’s trying to do. In fairness, she never really wanted to actually accomplish anything either, she just wants to take part in a tradition of trying her best and going out with a maniacal cackle.

        Like

    2. Bart

      “And not really under control…”

      Which is perhaps why she drinks so heavily. Perhaps she is not the master of her own fate, the captain of her own soul. Simply dragged hither and yon.

      As to Heiress, she may be eventually doomed to fail, but that doesn’t mean she won’t be wreaking some major havoc and causing Catherine some major personal grief in the meantime. It’ll make Killian’s death that much more… speaking of which, Catherine had mentioned that she’s bi several times, but we have yet to see her bringing in Apprentice. Doesn’t the genre expect some sort of relationship between them?

      Like

      1. I like the idea that Bard’s teleporting isn’t actually ‘porting, but her Name forcibly moving her to places/people/actions that are of signifance, with no warning whatsoever. It would make anyone an alcoholic, being shunted anywhere and everywhere with zero control, on top of having to see who knows what kind of things.

        I dont think the “story” (this kind of story anyway) would have Catherine and Apprentice hook up. If anything, the “story” would prefer to see Lone Swordsman and Catherine, because it adds more “flavour” to the tale. One is an anti-hero, the other is an anti-villain. Both have similar end goals but are going about it in vastly different ways. All this, tainted with the ‘forbidden love’ angle of fratranising with the enemy? Catherine’s “story” would find this most appealing.

        As for Akua, I’m betting she’s gonna nix everyone’s favourite one armed orc. Kilian is an apt target, but I don’t think that would suit Heiress’s style or MO. She frames everything as a battle, and in that regard, the right hand man is a far more important target than a lover or family. Plus, I don’t think Heiress would do that because she would deem such a move to be beneath her. Plus, such a move is more than likely to drive Squire wild, and wildness is chaotic, and she has at least enough foresight to know that making things more chaotic would work against her.

        Like

      2. Bart

        “and she has at least enough foresight to know that making things more chaotic would work against her.”

        Which is why Bard pointed out it was stupid of her to release a demon of chaos, right?😉

        Catherine thinks the Lone Swordsman is stupid. Nothing is going to happen there. A bi relationship with two magicians, one of either sex, both of whom specialize in weird magics, one of whom is half fairy and the other is half devil? That’s a story.🙂

        Like

      3. Demon of corruption, actually. The difference is more important than you’d think. As for the Catherine romance stuff, bisexual doesn’t mean polyamorous and Apprentice is more interested in dissections than girls. Or anything else, for that matter.

        Like

      4. As our darling Akua has written Scribe off and basically reacted to the Genre Savvy Wandering Bard with what amounts to a giant raspberry, I’m kind of looking forward to those two just… incidentally removing her presence from the record in any way she’d find palatable — be it separately or in concert.:/

        She earned it. Catherine may wind up being her official nemesis, but in reality… it’s better not to piss off the wordsmiths.😛

        Like

      5. Related thought to previous post: in a world running on roles, tropes and narrativium… the Name of Heiress should, perhaps, get worried its latest bearer is in the process of colossally underestimating those who play with words for a living.:/

        Like

      6. stevenneiman

        I don’t think that Almorava is really all that concerned about being a leaf on the wind in some ways. She’s also in some ways like a person playing chess against a roomful of blindfolded people, only a few of whom even know how to play chess. If anything, she seems to be having some fun with the Role, which fits given that she is the least serious archetype. Of course, Good follows the will of the Gods and is naturally fatalistic, so she might be a little depressed sometimes.
        As for her and Apprentice, I don’t think there’s really anything there. Even leaving aside the word of god from EE, he just doesn’t seem all that interested in romance, and Cat doesn’t seem particularly interested in romance with him. He seems to mostly just enjoy slinging around powerful magic and personally surviving, and there’s other women around if he does decide to take an interest, assuming he is even interested in women.
        William, though is an interesting prospect. I very much doubt it will be much longer before their fateful third encounter, and I don’t think there’s any escape clause from one of them changing sides or one or both dying, and if Cat died there would be no story and if she turned the title would be ruined, as would all of her plans. That leaves either Will dying or him changing sides, and he is a reasonably sympathetic character when he lets himself be, so an Evil redemption complete with new love wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility as I see it.

        Like

    3. stevenneiman

      My guess would be that it is a generally benevolent but uncontrollable power with a mind of its own. She did comment about how she had Wandered to some strange places, and it didn’t sound like she had planned to.
      Nice catch on the bit about plot relevance. I hadn’t actually realized how much of an insult to Heiress that was. Still not as good as the bit about who plays the mastermind though, at least in my opinion.

      Like

      1. NIvek

        Did anybody note that she specifically said Wander not wander? I think that she might have named one of her aspects, possibly the one tied into her Name in the same way that Squires have Learn or Black Knights have Conquer

        Like

      2. stevenneiman

        Obviously. I’m not sure if its an Aspect or just a supernatural power like Squire’s ability to raise undead or Black’s shadow powers.

        Like

  15. lennymaster

    Hello,
    I am a great fan of this story, nonetheless this is my first comment not just here but on several other webserials I have read, thus I have to talk about why now and what I think so far about Guide. As English is not my native language please excuse all mistakes or wierdly worded sentences, my knowledge of the language was embossed by native and nonnative English speaking authors and youtuber’s from Cannada up north down to Australia wich means that from time to time some of the weirdest combinations of phrases and curses tend to creep in my language so always feel free to correct me.
    Why write a comment now and here?
    For two reasons:
    First, this is a truly awesome story, in my eyes equal if not superior to many the greatest, beginning with Game of Thrones, Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss, Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake (yes despite of all the explicit sex and super emotional moments-nothing against either, there is just a such a thing as too much- a series with great character development -something also greatly done in this webserial sofar- and before Guide one of the only true true kickass heroines out there. As a male I am not that invested there but it plainly annoys the heck out of me when they write kickass heroine on the cover and the only ass that gets kicked is the heroines) and the only thing still lacking is a bigger world, but I think thats only a matter of time/books until that gets remedied and Guide can compete with the true giants out there like David Weber’s Honor Harrington. That one for example build its world for over 13 books now.
    Secound, because the comment section here is simply a thing of beauty, no spitfull hate comments, no advertisments and an author that actually answers questions (real questions, not just stuff that could be answered by checking the website for two hole minutes, heartfelt thanks to all comentatators on this page!) without spoilering. Simply put, pure, amicable enjoiment of beautifull story!

    Now my thoughts to the recent story and some of the characters:
    I think the way Squire works, compared to other villians gets vastly changed by her growing up in Callow with Callowan stories and legends and will be influenced by the typical rhythm of their kind of story in wich the PROTAGONIST has a happy end. Of course they are heros and she is a villian, but that belief is still rooted in her very heart.
    The Proceans belief that they are the villians of every story and the conviction that they Will get defeated in the end is so deeply ingrained that it influences the way they think and act. In this world thinking a certain way DOES manipulate their very existence, the rules and flow of the world they live in. Look at heiress and her absolutly ridiculous plan of world domination. She does not expect to ACTUALLY win, she plays to win, but deep down she only wants to have a go at it and make it far enough to leave her marks in the world to be remembered and feared by. Thats why she strives to follow tradition, which probably will get her that far, and hates the empress path, which she does not have the courage to take, because that way of doing things may have a high probability of failing and letting the empress be forgotten as a fluke, but it might actually work and grant her and Procer true greatness.
    Look at the stories Black had Squire read. Even in their children stories the protagonists end badly thanks to betrayel and/or plot twists, even when they try to do comparably good things. From her point of view the villians DID NOT get defeated. She ever only experienced the slow and calculated form of Evil that conquered her homeland. The villians that punished the corrupt and inept chancellor of her city and crushed evry half baked, bloody hero uprising without (at least seemingly) breaking breaking a sweet and actually acomplished something. The villianes that are (in her view of the world) her heroes, maybe not those with a capital “h” but in all ways that matter. Add to that the stories she grew up with and their general happy end and you get an ENTIRELY NEW BREED OF VILLIAN.

    One that actually has FAITH IN HERSELF.

    I might be wrong but I am convinced that right now fate is trying to put her bag in her place as a villian because she is grinding in the gears of the very world and possibly changing the rules by which Good/Evil/Fate work.
    Thats the reason why Bard showed up to motivate/stop -wich way I am not sure yet but surely to manipulate- Heiress to free or not free the demon. She definitely DID NOT show up out of curiosity, just as she did not tell the Prince to duell Squire to help him.
    Wich could also be a testament either for Squire not quite fitting anymore into the rules of the world or her out of the box thinking, which differs from other Hero/Villian masterminds/leaders as in her not thinking of everything as a game. (HA a clear reference to this chapter!)
    Either way I am positive Bard cannot show up just anywhere if it is not somehow important for the plot. In fact I doubt that she can do pretty much anything thats not in some way important for the plot.
    That is why Bard just cannot take her as seriously as she should (“thinks with her fists”), because as detached as she is from the entire fight of Good and Evil and the general way of the universe as she is not anything but a tool of fate to manipulate people at the right time at the right place to do just what the pattern of the great plot of the world needs at any given time. (Just waiting for the moment where Bard tries tomanipulate her into listening to her and gets smacked in the mouth)
    I also expect some feats from Kat that actually are more on the heroic side. That is why it is actually hard to tell if Kilian will die or not, that might fit in either way, possibly something that could push Squire over the edge one way or another. It could also be that she develops a name of her own.
    In fact all of her highest officer’s are powerfull and flawed and unique in enough ways to potentially develop names of their own, especially since the entire demographic of callow is without any names exept for the Lone Swordsman and Katherine, and she has proven herself as a far more cappable team player than William could ever hope to be.

    Squire as future Warlord/Monarch of Callow
    Adjudant is already clear
    Apprentice as Warlock/Archmage? (pretty sure the original is going to die)
    Juniper as General/Marshal
    Ratface as Treasurer
    Nauk as Champion? (her version of Captain)
    Robber as her version of Assassin (Harlequin more focused on chaos rather than death?)
    Robber’s Boss is a descendent of a Matriarch (Just cannot remember her name)
    Killian as Squires Consort/Wife/left Hand? (with Adjudant as her right)

    Bye and a great weekend to all of you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevenneiman

      I think you might be on to something about Bard. Having thought a bit about what you said, I’m guessing that she knows what is going to happen and thinks it will be for the better, but she knows that trials and victories will be needed for Catherine to become what she needs to be. That’s why she led the Prince to his doom so that Cat would have a hard time but a chance at victory, and why she didn’t try to stop Heiress from setting off the demon. As readers we already know that Cat will survive the battle and likely put it away in the most badass and support-winning way possible, and there’s little reason to expect that the Bard would know any less than we do.

      Like

      1. It’s not the role of a Bard to do the protagonists’ work for them… Which means our lovely, ever-plastered Wanderer probably gets into trouble with her Name any time she even considers stepping in to directly help if it’s for something more than information exchange, quipping or the underhanded slight of hand, behind-the-scenes sculduggery Bards are supposed to do.:/

        Like

  16. Alegio

    Ok, today I learned that bards are overpowered, 4th wall breaking, pocket sand thrower and scheming noble villians will ALWAYS destroy themselves by overplaning and thinking they are the very best like no one ever was

    Like

  17. stevenneiman

    “Chider had been born without [he->the] gift”
    “pitch black with {a} golden snake swallowing its own tail”
    “[artefacts->artifacts]” may be an alternate spelling I’m not familiar with
    “There is one [another->other?] left in Callow”
    “A working that rare and powerful would cost a fortune, even in Praes.” Unless “working” is a slang term for “enchantment”, there should be a noun after it.
    “her mother had introduced {her} to baduk”

    I loved the bit about the sands of deception. It totally felt obvious to me that it was going to just be a paper tiger, but she pulled it off so well. Sort of reminds me of the relationship of hype and danger in Undertale: the most scary character clearly doesn’t take himself seriously, while everybody who makes a big deal about how dangerous they are turns out to not be terribly threatening. and the “ultimate human killing machine” goes down in one hit and doesn’t even have any attacks.

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  18. H.

    I can’t help but compare this chapter to the one with Black and Malicia talkinga about Squire. At the time, Black said that the conflict between Squire and the Lone Swordsman was actually a bigger conflict, one that will decide the direction Callow takes in future: will it constantly defy Praes, or will it assimilate and seek change from within?

    If that’s so, then the conflict between Squire and Heiress is just as big: it decides the direction *Praes* will take in future.

    Heiress has inherited Praesi Villianous tradition, complete with cackling, henchmen, questionable deals with demons, skill at devious plots and betrayal, a focus on Evil traditions and rituals, and military plans that are satisfying to cackle over but are free of common sense.

    Malicia and Black are a new breed of villian with new approaches, focused on winning above all else. They’ll win even if they have to create slaughter and bloodshed and upheaval, but they’ll also win even if it means giving everyone free healthcare and cookies and genuine compliments and a pet kitten.

    And now, the question: has Praes changed, forever? When Black and Malicia are gone, will others take their same approach? Or will they be a passing note in history where Praes tried something different for a generation? Squire vs. Heiress is the deciding fight here. Two upcoming Villianesses with transitional Names but very different goals and methods.

    Squire is Blacks attempts at making his work permanent — by raising a successor who shares his approach and his ideas, and who will build on the reforms he’s made, not reverse them. Someone who is hungry for social reform, just as he was. Remember, he plays the long game and seeks permanent, structural change that will outlive him. That’s his goal.

    ——

    The comments on evil losing, globally, also make me wonder. Some of the things Malicia and Black have done seem to improve the lives of people by a *lot*. Have they given up that ground to Good? Declared that “make the world better” is now the goal of both sides, and redefined the conflict to have a different focus?

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    1. I think the conflict between Good and Evil here is more about fate and free will. Heroes consider themselves the playthings of Fate, while villains reach and try to get things. Callow has an organized religion and people live according to the gods rules, while in Praes religion is something personal and there are pacts and negotiations with the forces of darkness. Good heroes live human length lives, while evil villains live until they lose their path. Malicia and Black and Evil not because their goals are evil, but because they are refusing to accept Fate and follow the rules of the gods, they are choosing their own path and goals. Of course, this doesn’t means that the conflict between Squiere and Heiress is not important, they are fighting to determine what kind of goals Evil considers worthy, which may be a battle as important as the one for Callow.

      I wonder if the excess of focus in tradition is a result of Heiress’s Name. She considers herself Triumphant heir, and so she is obsessed with the past and repeating her patterns.

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      1. NIvek

        Remember Book 1’s Prologue?
        “The Gods disagreed on the nature of things: some believed their children should be guided to greater things, while others believed that they must rule over the creatures they had made.

        So, we are told, were born Good and Evil.”

        But which one is which…

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      1. stevenneiman

        I’d actually seen Heiress less as the champion of the old-fashioned Praesi villain tradition and more just a symptom of it. I guess I may have underestimated how much damage she is going to do before they take her down.
        By the way, if it wouldn’t be too big a spoiler, does the Wandering Bard have meta-knowledge of the Practical Guide to Evil story or just of the stories that define Fate within the world?

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    2. stevenneiman

      I think you have too much respect for Good. As far as I can see, it has always been about control and is overall indifferent to the well-being of its citizens while Evil is about freedom and ambition but is also indifferent about others’ well-being. I think that Black and Malicia are probably decent people who want to make the world a better place, and what they are trying to do is prove to the world that benevolent Evil is the way to go, since it can be effective while actually making things more livable.

      Like

  19. Griffinhart

    >This entire interlude had been somewhat frustrating, but ultimately it changed nothing.

    I see what you did there.

    Like

  20. Karl

    I kind of feel sorry for the Heiress. Her name dictates that she must follow traditions she has inherited. It’s not that she can’t avoid traditional villain pitfalls, it’s that she must plunge into them, head first. Because that is how the story goes.

    “Her very blood was running with the history of Praes, its madness and greatness both.”

    It also shows just how difficult is what Black is trying to do. He, essentially a character in a play, is trying to influence how the audience sees that very character and what that character should be like. His lines and actions are determined as he has to play his Role and yet he is trying to influence the story itself.

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    1. Unmaker

      “I kind of feel sorry for the Heiress. Her name dictates that she must follow traditions she has inherited.”

      That’s a good catch – that she is an heir to traditions too, but I see causality the other way around: Names don’t attach to just anyone, they attach to someone who fits the Name. So the Name Heiress chose her because she already fit the fundamental definitions, i.e. she already thought in ways that matched the Role. Her thinking may be more constrained now that she has the Name, but she was already well down the road to start out with.

      The follow-up thought is: Heiress is a transitional Role, i.e. unless she dies she will inherit another Name. When she gets the new Name, how will it affect her thinking?

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  21. stevenneiman

    Oh, two quick questions: Does Cat still have any goblinfire yet, and do demons count as magic? If both of those are yes, the problem is less defeating the demon and more surviving doing so.

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    1. Cat still has some goblinfire, but the majority of her stock is gone. No more battlefield-changing traps. And demons are technically not made of the same stuff than Creation, so they’re not magic in the sense I think you mean.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. stevenneiman

        I was just wondering if goblinfire could consume a demon to grow larger the same way that it might have consumed Warlock’s wards. It strikes me that such tactics are surprisingly rare, considering that alchemical weapons aren’t terribly hard to get compared to the damage one could do if used against a Named mage.

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  22. stevenneiman

    One more final thought: Akua thinks that the only move that matters is the last, but that is actually wrong. In a game of chess, for example, I have only played a handful of games where the last move is actually at all important. If one player develops a heavy enough lead, the final move becomes a mere formality, and such a lead can in high-level play be as small as one pawn that was lost with nothing to show for it. The only ways that a game can ever have the last move actually matter are if the loser moves their king somewhere more dangerous than they realized and gets checkmated unexpectedly, if the game is blitz and the loser accidentally makes an illegal move (which forfeits the game in blitz), or if the would-be winner makes a mistake in the endgame and creates a tie by no legal moves for the opponent. Between them, these options can’t account for more than 10% of games, and probably less.
    It might be a smidge more common in a broader battle of wits, but I would still guess less than 1/3 of the time, and even then many of them are just a method of winning an unexpected Pyrrhic victory that still leaves you defeated after costing the enemy more than expected. He who dies having brought down one last enemy is still dead, especially if they didn’t manage to spoil the enemy’s long-term plans.

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  23. arancaytar

    It confirmed Heiress’ personal belief that the Scribe was a very talented administrator but not a threat independently of her master.

    Well, it was nice knowing you, Miss Heiress.

    Like

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