Chapter 27: Cut

“The worst sin a villain can commit is to hesitate.”
-Dread Empress Maleficent II


“She’s awake,” an orc’s voice said.

I recognized it. Male. Adjutant. Trustworthy.

“Take another step and I’ll activate the wards on you,” someone barked.

Spoken Mtethwa. Soninke, the son of Warlock. Apprentice.


“That may not be Catherine looking through those eyes,” the second voice hissed.

Light flared and I screamed again. Bindings on my legs and wrists, but not made of rope. Roiling blue sorcery, burning into my skin.

“You’re hurting her,” Adjutant growled.

Angry. He sounded tall and angry, ready for violence.

“Shut up,” Apprentice snarled. “Diagnostic spells are complicated enough without – fale’ibashe.

I laughed, or sobbed. I’d never heard this man swear in Mthetwa before.

“She’s still her. But it got to her third aspect,” the Soninke whispered hoarsely. “We have to…”

“What?” Adjutant pressed. “Do what?”

“I don’t know,” Apprentice bit out. “The corruption is spreading.”

“So stop it,” the orc barked. “Now.”

“It’s not that simple, it’s rooted in the aspect,” the mage replied.

“So rip out the godsdamned aspect,” Adjutant ordered, thundering.

I could hear something beyond them, faintly. Like a song. I’d heard it before, I knew that. Where was it from?

“I’d be mutilating her soul,” the Soninke spoke, sounding sick. “She could die.”

Oh, Apprentice. So delicate. Why was he with us? I still wasn’t sure. The song was getting easier to make out. There were words, and if I just listened right I could –

“Gods Below, Apprentice, if you don’t get started right now I will not answer for my actions,” the orc said.

Troubled, he was troubled. But a word was spoken that was like an order unto Creation and I slept.

There was something missing.

Before I ever opened my eyes, I knew this as well as I knew my own breath. I was no longer tied to the bed, or even in the same room. This was not the manor, everything was too small and the wooden walls were shoddy. There was a window, its painted shutters left open. Night had yet to fall but the sky was full of clouds, as they had been in my dream. This did not feel like a coincidence and I shivered, feeling nauseous. The door to my left swung wide a moment later, Apprentice absently waving a hand and snuffing out a rune I hadn’t noticed lighting up on the bedside table.

“Catherine,” he said, tone hesitant.

“Masego,” I frowned.

Relief took over his face and he hurried to my bedside. His hair was a mess, without most of the trinkets usually in it, and his eyes were red like he hadn’t gotten to sleep in too long.

“Lay back,” he ordered, and I deigned to obey.

I’d dealt with healers before, and their presumptuousness was usually there for the patient’s sake. At least this one didn’t drink, unlike the man I’d had to rely on at the Pit. His hands were soft but sure as he inspected my wrists, grimacing at the sight of the healing burns on them. They throbbed dimly, though not as much as William’s gift of a scar did on bad days.

“It’s not as bad as I thought,” Apprentice said, keeping one of my pupils open with one hand and passing a finger wreathed in flame in front of the eye with the other. “Your eyesight is unaffected and the discoloration I’ll be able to fix, with the proper ritual.”

“Discoloration?” I repeated weakly.

There was a strange taste in my mouth, and not the kind you got after a long sleep. Someone had fed me a potion. Everything still felt hazy. Masego paused, smothering the flame and taking his hand out of my sight.

“I’m sorry, Catherine,” he said. “Burning out the contamination was harder than I thought. Some of the… effects may be permanent.”

“I feel fine,” I protested.

“I know,” he acknowledged. “And I’ve been pushing a needle into your cheek for the last twenty heartbeats.”

I jerked away my head, watching a small sliver of metal fly away and land on the floor.

“I- I didn’t,” I began, not sure what to say.

“It only affects the left side of your face,” he explained, and I could feel him make an effort to be dispassionate.

I appreciated that more than I could put into words. I felt like I was walking on the edge of a precipice, and even the slightest show of emotion might tip me over.

“Your right leg,” he said, walking around the bed and gently pulling away the covers after I nodded my permission. Someone had put me into soft cotton trousers at some point. “Try to kick with it.”

I broke into a hiss of pain hallway through. A shadow passed through Masego’s eyes, gone as quickly as it had come.

“The limb remains mostly functional, and I’ll brew you something for the pain,” he said. “But you’ll have a limp for the rest of your life.”

“The necrotized flesh,” I guessed.

The dark-skinned mage looked away.

“If I’d begun to work on containment quicker, you’d still have full functionality,” he admitted, ashamed.

I closed my eyes. Every inch of me wanted to lash out at him right now. Slowly I took in a breath, then let it out.

“You saved my life,” I said.

He looked pained.

“Catherine, I-“

“Masego,” I interrupted. “You’ve known Black much longer than I have. If he knew I’d been corrupted by a demon, what would he do?”

The bespectacled man let his fingers ball into a fist.

“He’d kill you,” he said softly. “Immediately, without warning, and destroy the corpse. He would then quarantine everyone you’d come in contact with and do the same to anyone affected, however slightly.”

“And he’d be right to do so,” I whispered.

I let a long moment pass, which he seemed unable or unwilling to break. Several times he opened his mouth, then closed it. I scrambled for whatever little strength I had left in me and steeled myself.

“Tell me,” I ordered. “Tell me why I feel like I’m missing a limb I’ve never had.”

The dark-skinned man bit his lip.

“I operated on your soul,” he said. “The aspect that got corrupted needed to be cut out, or it would continue to spread.”

I forced my hands to stop shaking.

“It’s gone, the entire thing?”

“And some other parts of your soul,” he admitted. “I did not have the right tools to be entirely precise.”

I smiled bitterly. My body was already a mangled mess, even if mage healing had seen to it precious few scars showed. Now it seemed my very soul was following suit. I wondered what would happen if they buried me in consecrated grounds after my death. The thought sent a fresh shiver of fear down my spine: tinkering with a soul in any way was blasphemy of the highest order.

“No replacement will grow, will it?” I asked softly.

“The Name of Squire is permanently crippled,” he replied just as quietly.

I looked away, through the window. The clouds were roiling, just like the magic that had bound my wrists when I’d been screaming. I forced a smile on my face.

“I suppose I’ll have to do with two aspects, then,” I told him.

Masego’s face was unreadable, and for a long moment he remained silent.

“You don’t have to do that, you know,” he finally said. “I was raised by a villain. I know we’re not untouchable. We bleed. We cry.”

“I can’t afford either of those,” I replied, keeping my tone calm. “I don’t have the time for it.”

“I don’t think you can afford not to. Not anymore,” Apprentice said.

“Black-“ I started.

“Wept, when he buried his parents,” Masego interrupted me gently. “Father was there, so I know.”

I am not weak,” I snarled, the words escaping me against my will, and my fist broke the bedside table into kindling.

He did not flinch.

“It’s not a weakness, to acknowledge when you’ve been hurt,” the bespectacled man replied. “We all have to stop sometimes. Roles don’t make us more than human, Catherine. They just give us powers and responsibilities.”

He was speaking from the heart, and maybe that was why I didn’t ram my fist into his face. He was too genuine to be trying to hurt me, at least wilfully. The anger drained out of me, and the strength it had brought followed.

“I can’t stop,” I replied tiredly. “I owe people better than that. Gods, Masego, not even two years out of Laure and I have enough dead on my conscience to fill a dozen graveyards. I can’t let it be meaningless. I can’t lose.”

To my shame and fury, tears were welling up in my eyes. Like I was a bloody child with a scraped knee. My own body was betraying me, with trembling hands and a throat that wouldn’t stop choking up. And now there was fear in me, because of that stark reminder that there were things that cared nothing for how beyond reach a Name was supposed to make me.

“When you came back from trying to rescue the wounded,” Apprentice said. “I expected you to be in shock. Devils are some of the most horrifying creatures to ever be born of Creation and you’d just seen them slaughter hundreds of your men.”

“I pulled through then,” I muttered angrily, “and I’ll pull through now.”

Masego sighed.

“I was honestly more worried about you when you started bantering with Hakram than when you came in barely able to walk,” he admitted. “People don’t just walk off that kind of experience, Catherine, not even those with Names.”

“I do,” I spoke through gritted teeth.

The mage slowly rose to his feet, then looked at me sadly.

“I shouldn’t have to tell you how dangerous it is, for a villain to lie to themselves,” he replied, and left me to my thoughts.

The words lingered in the room long after he’d left.

I wasn’t supposed to leave the room, I learned.

Whatever it was Masego had done to my soul, it had left it vulnerable. The wards on the bedroom where I was kept it safe from outside influences, but until dawn tomorrow I could not wander. Visitors were allowed, but only one at a time. Hakram came first, with reports and some of my personal effects.

“Apprentice’s ritual worked,” the orc told me. “The boundaries were set and we’re preparing defences for when the enemy comes. Juniper went over the reports from your encounter with the devils, and she’s cooked up some countermeasures with Pickler’s help.”

“And the city?” I asked.

“It’s been quiet,” he grunted. “The sky has people afraid to come out, and we’ve found few volunteers to join the defences. Ratface managed to dig up a few mages, but there’s less than twenty in total and most wouldn’t qualify for legion service.”

“They have to be watched over,” I said. “The firefly devils make them a liability. Has there been any sign of them or the Silver Spears?”

“Our scouts have seen a few devils, but they’re staying away for now. There’s a watch set up to keep an eye on the hills, so the moment the Spears come out we’ll know.”

“It’ll be soon,” I murmured.

“The Hellhound agrees,” Adjutant gravelled. “Two days at most.”

“I’ll be back in fighting shape by then,” I said.

Hakram paused, then licked his lips.

“Will you?” he asked. “There’d be no shame in sitting this one out, Cat. You’re still recovering.”

“I will not sit pretty in this fucking room while the city is under attack,” I growled.

Adjutant raised a hand in appeasement.

“If you say you’ll be in fighting shape, you’ll be in fighting shape,” he replied.

We talked for a little while longer, then he rose.

“I’d stay, but I have duties,” he gravelled. “I’ll leave the reports with you. Send a runner if you need anything.”

I waved him away pleasantly, keeping my dismay off my face. I knew everything was in good hands – if anyone could prepare Marchford for what was coming, it was Juniper – but I could not quell the feeling that this entire situation was slipping out of my grasp. The bundle of parchments was full of logistics and schedules, and though I knew it was important stuff my mind refused to focus on it. I eventually set them aside and lay back on the bed, looking at the ceiling. I was still staring at the wooden panels, thinking of nothing, when Kilian came in.

“Cat,” she breathed, and before I could blink I had a lapful of redhead in my arms.

I let my face rest against the crook of her neck and basked in the warmth.

“Kilian,” I replied belatedly.

For the first time today I felt the ever-present tremor in my arms cease.

“I was worried,” the mage said. “I mean, obviously I was worried but…”

“Yeah,” I spoke quietly. “I get it.”

There’d always been a chance that a sliver of what made me Catherine Foundling would be gone, by the time Masego was done. I still wasn’t sure there wasn’t, and the notion definitely wasn’t going to help me sleep at night. If there was something missing, would I notice? Could I notice? The feeling that something was missing had yet to abate. Maybe it never would. Kilian wiggled a little out of my grasp, and to my surprise I found I’d been clutching at her like she was a lifeline. She kissed my forehead gently, and then her lips were on mine. My blood heated up in the best way and I found my hands reaching for the small of her back under her tunic, stroking the soft skin and then greedily going for lower. She let out a small sound of pleasure, then lightly bit the side of my neck with an impish smile.

“Are you sure your body can handle that?” she asked, with more than a little lust in her eyes.

“Only one way to find out,” I replied, and tipped her under me in the bed.

There was precious little talking after that.

We lay together afterwards, more intertwined than not.

It’d been a while since we’d had the time to just bask in the afterglow, without any pressing need to get anything done afterwards. She wasn’t due for a meeting for another bell, she’d told me. My body felt sore but for once it was a pleasant sort of soreness: I lazily reached for my shirt, which had at some point ended up in the kindling I’d made of the former bedside table.

“You don’t need to hide it, you know,” Kilian murmured, tracing the red scar across my chest with a finger.

That got a pleasurable shiver out of me, but I put on the shirt nonetheless.

“I don’t like to leave it out in the open,” I admitted.

“Orcs have it right about scars, I think,” the redheaded mage said. “They’re a reminder that you were strong enough to survive, not a mark of shame.”

“Doesn’t make it any prettier to look at,” I replied.

“Makes you different,” Kilian told me. “That’s not a bad thing.”

I ran a hand up her ribs, then allowed a finger to trace where the same scar would be on her. My lover shuddered, eyes fluttering but never quite closing. Now if she bit her lip after that, it meant we were about to go for a second round. I’d learned to recognize that sign very quickly, given the benefits picking up on it gave. Instead she moved a little closer to me, and I was only half-disappointed: strenuous exercise was still difficult, and strenuous was the least of adjectives I’d grant to spending time in bed with Kilian.

“You’re trembling again,” she noted quietly.

I moved away, but she grasped my shoulder and held me back.

“It’s all right,” she whispered.

She smiled gently.

“I’m afraid,” she admitted.

That was the way it always went with her. She never shied away from speaking her own weaknesses, just to make me comfortable with acknowledging mine. I loved that about her, even if I didn’t quite love her.

“We’re in a bad situation,” she continued. “And you’ve seen it up close, unlike me.”

I let myself come close to her again, putting an arm over her stomach and slipping another under her.

“It’s bad,” I agreed softly. “And I don’t know how we’re going to get out of it.”

Her hand came up to stroke the side of my cheek, and though I saw it there was no feeling from the side of my face. I felt my throat choke up.

“It’s that side, then,” she murmured with a frown.

She didn’t stop, though she moved her fingers further down to my neck.

“You’re soothing me like I would a horse,” I muttered with a snort.

“You don’t have to save us every time, Cat,” she told me, ignoring my attempt to change the subject. “We can help too. Isn’t that the point of having a legion?”

“If I need you to do my dirty work for me,” I replied, “then why do I deserve to be in charge?”

Kilian sighed, then drew away her hand to clasp one of mine.

“Juniper rants about you now and then,” she informed me. “About your recklessness, about how you tend to think with your fists. But for all that, never once have I heard her question your ability to lead the Fifteenth. Do you really think that will change because you won’t have a third aspect?”

I clutched her hand tighter, and I couldn’t really express how much it meant to me that even when it almost became painful she didn’t try to unlace our fingers.

“I fucked up,” I whispered. “I thought maybe if I had the power I could get us out of this mess, but all I did was make it worse. It’s coming, Kilian. For us. We’re preparing for the devils and the Spears, but it’s not them we should be afraid of. I made the wrong decision, and it might not have been the only one.”

I hesitated, then spoke the fear I’d been carrying in me since the night we’d decided to defend Marchford.

“What if I condemned all of us to worse than death, just because I wanted to be principled for once? Because I wanted to do the right thing.”

The words came out bitterer than I’d thought they would.

“There’s been Squires before you,” Kilian whispered back. “There will be Squires after you. But we’re not following a Name, you see, we’re following Catherine Foundling. And I don’t think she’s out of the game yet.”

I didn’t fight the tears that time, and the last thing I remembered was Kilian smoothing away my hair as she settled the covers around me.

For all that, I did not sleep well.


63 thoughts on “Chapter 27: Cut

  1. Daemion

    Some people have the worst luck.

    Cat finally got an aspect that was almost a cheat code… and then it had to be cut out. It and more. That is so going to make everything more difficult from now on.

    Although… where did Masego put whatever he cut out? Did he destroy it or contain it?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. stevenneiman

      My guess would be that it had to be destroyed. The nasty thing about Corruption as I understand it is that its like a disease that can infect anything, including medicine. If Apprentice tried to contain something that was Corrupted it probably would have suborned his wards eventually, if not his own magic and soul.
      But I’m betting that either there’s some sort of advantage to losing part of the Name, or else she’ll just prove herself to be a badass by thrashing people with more Aspects than her when that shouldn’t even be possible.
      Anyway, I’m pretty sure that specific Aspects are tied to a given individual’s interaction with their Name, so unless there are just three Aspect slots in a person’s soul, she should get a whole new set if she takes on a new Name. I wonder if Cat or Squire will end up losing Aspects permanently. Either, neither or both of them might, and Masego did say that the Name of squire was permanently crippled, not “your Name”.


  2. dapperAF

    i want her to stalk heiress, steal her Name, force her own mutilated state onto the bitch, and then bloom to her full potential. please. make it happen.


  3. Well, at least it was only the Name of Squire. I’m still not entirely sure how Names work, but perhaps when she becomes a Knight, she’ll be able to get a 3rd aspect then.

    Part of her soul was cut out, though. That’s definitely going to be a liability.


    1. demonhighroller

      I’d hardly call it a liability. Less soul means less you have to defend against corruption, which allows for a stronger defense with the allotted mental resources at ones command.
      Of course, it also means that if the corruption finds a way in, it’s gonna be a hell of a lot faster than before.
      Power is always a double edged sword, and those who aren’t careful can fall upon their blade just as easily as an enemy.


        1. demonhighroller

          But why would a soul maintain a cracked state after loss of material? Such an ephemeral material wouldn’t be confined to a single shape, but would instead adapt to what its host form would require.
          And, even though this’ll sound redundant as anything in the Burning Hells, the less soul someone has, the more soulless they become. Harder decisions become easier, whether they be good or evil in nature, and they’ll be less burdened by feelings of guilt, sadness, rage, or empathy.
          The closer to being completely soulless someone becomes, they also stand that much closer to being a demon, and having the power of a demon backing the power of a Name is a terrible, wondrous font of power and destruction.


      1. Not wedge into the soul it self, but between the soul and the body. If it still fills the body as much as it did whole, the soul is stretching itself thin. Besides, I’d actually say that those emotions may end up burdening her more, based on what we have to go by.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Cap'nSmurfy

      Having less soul means your being closer to being souless, not a demon. Demons in this story are creatures that are the opposite of creation. Losing bits of soul is just going to make Catherine weaker, not capable of using demon powers.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. stevenneiman

      I agree that she’ll likely get her third Aspect back when she gains a new Name, but I doubt that Name will be Knight. Black seems to be doing a fine job and showing no interest in stepping down or dying, so my guess would be that she will either come into a different name or create one entirely new.


  4. naturalnuke

    Well I just fucking cried at that. Thanks.

    (I really should not read emotion heavy* content after 16 hours with no sleep.)

    *that was emotion heavy right? I can’t tell anymore


  5. On the plus-side: Squire still has Learn as a default Aspect — and, that didn’t get corrupted. If Learn gets pushed, a lot of compensation around not having a third can happen. It just means Squires in future will have to get really, really good with the one other Aspect they get. On the downside… it’ll mean a high turnover rate of Squires. Git Gud as a basic premise doesn’t make for a very long lifespan thing. :/

    But, poor Catherine. 😐 Welp… at least she’s given Struggle a chance to shine. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

      1. George

        I mean it was pretty clear to me that the Name itself was damaged. If they start failing another transitional Name might crop up to replace it but this one’s kinda stuck like this barring some really absurd shenanigans.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Morgenstern

        Oh? Well, if it just Catherine’s Name, then that effing did not read as it should… =/ It sounded very, very VERY much like “the Name of SQUIRE” was damaged, not hers.


      3. Morgenstern

        Ugh. That didn’t read quite as it should, either XD *lol

        I mean, it read like the Name itself got damaged (Squire) and is damaged forever, whoever carries it for the future (unless someone could, somehow, repair it).

        But: Catherine obviously included – that is, as long as she is stuck with “Squire” as her Name (but not her status of being Named in general), of course.


  6. Empiricist or not

    I really like that idea of stealing one to all of Heiresses aspects. It fits learn and struggle, and I bet Masego would do it if they have enough proof Heiress released the demon. Do you think the empress did something similar with the Vizere, because it’d be nice if there is precedent.


    1. nnipi

      Im not sure I want Cat to have a piece of the Heiress in her. Not sure how much better it would be to being part demon. Id rather have Hunter somehow end up being her “unwilling kidney donor”.

      Then again there are plenty of potential (eventual) donors out there. I mean among other things Black seems to be planning for his eventual death. Empress might want to carry on in a sense should she fall. Kilian might die/sacrifice her fay part. Hells she might even end up with part of Williams soul. Ect. ect.


    2. George

      I think that would be a major cop-out. The only ways I see her getting a third aspect are *maybe* somehow if she rips the demon a new one or when she transitions to a new Name.


  7. eduardo

    Katerine must find a way to compensate or else she will be lost.
    Even if she wins this fight, the nobility will eat her alive, Heiress will have succeeded in her plot.
    I suppose that she can`t take the aspect back from the demon. So, when fighting a name with three aspects she WILL loose.
    When the difference in power is too big, …
    Or the she finds a way, or the author cheats (and this author is too good to come with a deus ex machina to save the character) or we are reading a tale of a eight year old girl trying to fight a full grown man armed with a knife. It is sad, it is ugly, but she will loose.


    1. nnipi

      Im not sure I want Cat to have a piece of the Heiress in her. Not sure how much better it would be to being part demon. Id rather have Hunter somehow end up being her “unwilling kidney donor”.

      Then again there are plenty of potential (eventual) donors out there. I mean among other things Black seems to be planning for his eventual death. Empress might want to carry on in a sense should she fall. Kilian might die/sacrifice her fay part. Hells she might even end up with part of Williams soul. Ect. ect.


    2. stevenneiman

      Not really. Having a missing Aspect is less like a D&D sorcerer getting less spell slots, and more like them knowing less spells. They have to stretch a lot more to keep up with the versatility of another, but they can still match or even exceed them in effectiveness with what they have. Also, I’m sure that you can think of a couple of cool stories about badass cripples who had to struggle to overcome their disadvantages, and that matters a lot in a world where both a strong will and a cool story are meaningful advantages to develop.


      1. James, Mostly Harmless

        I suspect that losing her third aspect will supercharge STRUGGLE, since she will need to struggle even harder to fight devils, demons, and Names with three Aspects…


  8. lennymaster

    I really hope the last two chapters will not become a precedent for the future.
    There are already so many stories out there that torture their protagonists endlessly and without reason to make them suffer through every mutilated pseudovictory possible and impossible that serves no purpose but to make the inevatable deus ex machina in the end – to somehow save a hero so stupid, soft and incompetent he/she simply is not worth saving – even more unlikely.
    It’s beautiful how we get a look into Cat’s soul and a very good way for deepening the relationship between her and Killian, but nontheless she already has several impossible goals and half a dozen unbeatable enemies, she does not need to be crippled physically, namewise AND emotionally in addition.
    I truly hope that she will somehow find a way to either get her aspect back from the demon or steal one from heiress or the like, because I cannot stand to watch this wonderful story go the same route as so many before.


    1. stevenneiman

      I don’t get why everyone is acting like losing one Aspect is such a big deal. Its not like she can draw any more power for having more Aspects, and from the sound of it Seek as an aspect would honestly make things way too easy. Besides, I strongly doubt she’ll keep Squire forever, and I give it 75% odds that she gets a complete new set when she takes her next Name.


      1. George

        I mean, I think she actually can draw more power by invoking multiple aspects at once. It wouldn’t be something we see with Learn though.


    2. nobody

      The battle ends with victory, we already know that from Juniper’s log. And the deadhand can’t die for plot’s sake. The other minions are replaceable.


    3. George

      I think it’s a far more common problem to have everything go right for one’sprotagonist, but that aside we’re way too high up the alleged slippery slope for you to dump this extent of negative criticism on the author. I think you need to be more restrained in criticising and try to drop stories doing things you hate before you get to the point of being this sensitive about those things.


    4. I’m not particularly fond of works torturing characters for no reason or solely for the shock factor. That said, actions have consequences. That’s a major theme for the Guide: characters who think and plan ahead will consistently do better than those that don’t. Catherine made a bad decision, trusting that she’d be able to bluff/fight her way out of it as she usually does. Consequences ensued. You could consider this entire arc as her learning the lesson that there are opponents improvisation won’t work against. What she does with that lesson is, well, character development.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. DeNarr

    Ugh, this chapter is frustrating. Maybe next time she will listen when she’s warned that she’s about to do something that she really shouldn’t do though.


  10. Well at least her second aspect, struggled, can be called on easier. I mean, with her being handicap, the equalizer will be more useful. It reminds me of Lung in Worm, but the reverse.


  11. x

    I’d never heard this man swear in Mthetwa before
    spelled “Mthethwa” elsewhere

    the man I’d hade to rely on

    gone a quickly as it had come
    as quickly

    I wondered what would happen, if they buried me in consecrated grounds
    i think the comma should be removed (probably)

    and though I knew it was important stuff my mind refused to focus on it
    stuff, my

    I felt the every-present tremor in my arms

    There’d always been a change that a sliver of what made me Catherine Foundling would be gone,

    and though I saw it there was no feeling from the side of my face
    it, there


  12. Random thought: could Adjunct become the replacement “Squire” kind of transitional Name? Squire could then become a “Beginner’s Guide To Names” Name — for very young or very novice people who could go on to other Names, transitional or otherwise? If it’s damaged, but still functional — well, I can see it becoming a kid hero or kid villain Name rather than a young adult one. The medieval squires sometimes got picked up as what we would consider children from as young as twelve or thirteen, if I remember rightly. Although, they were usually a couple of years older. Pages could start much younger, at six or seven.


    1. stevenneiman

      Adjutant, you mean?
      Personally, I would guess that Squire will become a more badass Name, since it will end up going to the kind of badass who takes pride it beating people down with a broken tool. Sort of like Jack Slash and his fondness for convincing his allies to take dorky pseudonyms so that it would be all the more impressive when people learned to fear them anyway. Or, alternatively it could end up going to scrappy underdogs who always have to make do with second-best. We all know what happens to them in stories.


  13. stevenneiman

    “There’d always been a [change->chance] that a sliver of what made me Catherine Foundling would be gone” unless I misunderstood the sentence entirely
    I somehow doubt that the loss of a potentially game-breaking Aspect is going to inconvenience Cat much. She managed just fine without it even before the very nature of her Name ensured that she defaults to being an underdog. Considering that Aspects are more about how faithfully you stay with them than how many you have, I would guess that the underdog factor is worth at least as much as an overpowered Aspect.Besides, she still has some darn thick plot armor at least until the final confrontation with Willy, so unless he shows up for the battle (and likely realizes that a demon is worse than any Villain), Cat will have to beat the demon in order to make it to him.


    1. Demons are outside of Creation.

      If the Plot Armor exists within the Creation (and since the Names were created by the Gods, it’s highly probable), then it might not make any difference in front of a Demon.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. stevenneiman

        I’d kind of assumed that Demons were a side project by the Gods. Just because Creation is their flagship product doesn’t necessarily mean anything about whether or not they made other things. And the fact that Good has the power to harm them more effectively than Evil seems like it would indicate that they fit into the Gods’ system somewhere. Besides, we know that at least when they are within Creation they have some vulnerability to the power of Names, considering that Cat was still able to fight them.


    2. Cap'n Smurfy

      Cat might make it to him alive, but how wounded would she be? How much of her Legion would she be able to salvage? How many friends would she lose? She has to have a confrontation with him, that’s all. He can still lose to the demon.


  14. Ghast

    People seem to think a new name would give new aspects, but wasn’t learn the only Squire-specific aspect? I thought the other two were personal, reflections of the Named which she could not recover. And if her ability to Seek has been ripped from her soul, will she have difficulty seeking things in the future?


    1. stevenneiman

      I’m pretty sure that the Aspects are more of a representation of what the Name means to the user. As a transitional Name, it is expected that any Squire will be trying to Learn all that they can from their new position of power. I Cat’s case, she was also using it to Struggle against an oppressive, uncaring world and Seek the power to do what she felt needed to be done. If she gained a more powerful Name, she would likely gain Aspects based on more effectively bringing to bear the power that she had, rather than trying to level the playing field by getting more.


    1. stevenneiman

      Eh. Her whole shtick is breaking the rules as everyone else understands them. She might get to wield a the power she is expected to have a bit more effectively, but since when has that ever been enough?


  15. Nairne

    I was so looking forward to the third aspect and how she would whoop the Heiress ass with it and was like “OMG Seek is like the best thing that could happen and i can’t wait to see how she uses it” and you threw it in the bin.
    Really, really disappointing and frustrating – crippling my favorite character like that. 😦

    I really wonder what Black will say/think about this – extreme disappointment is a given though. If she can’t get a third one then this already is a victory for the Heiress and its unpleasant to think of how she will react when she gets the news. Screwups like that always come back to bite later on in the worst moment leading to death.

    If Black doesn’t have some solution it wouldn’t be surprising if he cut her off. I mean its not certain she will get 3 aspects when she transitions names. Sure the name is crippled but Name isn’t the soul and there was no mention that Black’s feel for his Name was any different when he was the Squire than now.

    Really really frustrating.


  16. David K. Storrs

    On the one hand, lots of good character interaction and character development in this chapter, as well as plenty of pathos. On the other hand, it’s irritating because it wasn’t earned. You set up a challenge without warning by suddenly telling us that it’s possible to force an Aspect. Granted, we’d seen that it’s possible to force a Name, but I feel that there should have been more setup for this. Then you didn’t show the fight and the “it’s in her soul, we need to cut it out” was literally a sentence. This was a major change to the character, in which you added several new disadvantages, but it was rushed and unsatisfying. Had you shown the fight we would have recognized the struggle and failure. Had you shown the other characters’ efforts to find an alternative solution, that would have given us something to invest in emotionally. Had you closed with “your third Aspect is gone but maybe we can get it back if we ” then it would have set up a character arc. That could have been a really satisfying thing, too: “I can cleanse the Aspect and restore it, but it would need blood magic. LOTS of blood magic.” Then we’d see an emotional / moral struggle leading to character growth, or perhaps Cat would find a third option by having Masego harness the deaths of the enemy on the battlefield. Whatever, lots of good options.

    Instead, what we got was “here, have a cool power up…psych! Ha, you’re screwed and permanently crippled and powered down and there’s nothing you can do about it!”


  17. Vysirez

    Just started reading the story a couple days ago. Liking it fairly well so far. However I have been struggling a bit because I have a hard time seeing Catherine as an effective protagonist. Black and everyone else are so over the top powerful and capable that Catherine just seems like another pawn in their games. Even the others in her generation like Heiress and Archer just walk all over her. So now she is crippled, when she was already working under a massive handicap of skill, experience and influence. It is that much harder to believe she will be anything but a pawn, and I am not really interested in a story about a puppet who is too dim to realize it. Not saying my interest is dead, but Catherine was already struggling with her opposition, not to mention the fact she has people like Black and the Empress hanging over her head. She needed more boosts in power, not to get further handicapped.


    1. stevenneiman

      Did you miss the part where one of them ate two centuries of history and nobody even noticed? I don’t want to brag, but I was scared shitless from the first mention of the types.


  18. stevenneiman

    There’s a lot going on here, but I think my favorite part was what it showed about Masego, especially that conversation about Cat hiding her emotions. As an aspy myself, I think he’s one of the best portrayals I’ve seen in fiction. He might have poor social skills made worse by his Name, and rarely show any interest in anything but his preferred topic of study, but he’s more perceptive than people give him credit for being, and he’s actually rather sweet in his own way.


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