Prologue

“The most dangerous opponent for a master is a novice. Therefore, seek to be a novice in all things.”
– Isabella the Mad, only general to ever defeat Theodosius the Unconquered on the field

Anaxares, to his surprise, was still alive.

Perhaps his utter irrelevance in the grand scheme of things had seen him spared, he pondered, but such a thought was too optimistic. More likely the kanenas had all assumed another one of them was going to trigger the stone in his stomach and one would get around to it whenever they remembered. His impending death was such a certainty he no longer spared any time troubling himself over it – what point was there in cursing the river when you were already drowning? At the very least his last days would be interesting, in a truly horrifying manner. The Tyrant of Helike had seemingly adopted him as a pet of sorts, naming him an official advisor to the crown and now dragged him along wherever he went. The villain was amused by his calm. Calling the contraption the two of them were currently on a litter would have been a misnomer: the boy had essentially built a massive dais, slapped a throne on it and now had it carried around by porters everywhere.

A pavilion could be added to cover the surface when weather demanded as much and tables were positioned to allow for the taking of a meal should the Tyrant demand it. The wretched labour involved offended his sensibilities. Foreign Slavers Will Be Known By Their Wicked Works, he added out of habit. May They All Choke On Ashes And Also Snakes. The villain had tried to have a smaller, noticeably cheaper throne put next to his for Anaxares to sit on but the Bellerophan had flatly refused. He’d claimed a wooden stool for the people and discreetly carved the sigil of Bellerophon – three peasants waving pitchforks – on the side. The small act of rebellion had been deeply satisfying, if utterly meaningless. Not, he decided, an inept description of his own existence.

Finally,” the Tyrant said, “we’re getting decent weather.”

Anaxares looked up at the massive storm clouds gathering and cocked an eyebrow. The lands between Helike and Atalante were known for the occasional bouts of week-long rain and storms, blown south from the Waning Woods and the madness that passed for nature over there. The Fae toyed with the winds and the sky the way men did with their clothes, and the farms beneath them paid the price.

“It will be harder for your army to retreat in the mud,” Anaxares said.

He knew next to nothing about strategy –  in Bellerophon the only people allowed to read books on the subject were the citizens who drew army positions, and even they had the knowledge erased from their minds past their term of service lest they Use It In Horrid Rebellion Against The People – but so far the Tyrant’s campaign against Atalante had not impressed him. For one, there’d been no battles. The famous Helikean army had marched east towards Atalante, whose farmers had already emptied their fields, without contest from the enemy. The Atalantians had remained behind their walls as the emptied their treasury buying up all the mercenaries in Mercantis they could afford, only taking the field after they outnumbered the Helikeans two to one. Twenty thousand men had then dutifully marched towards the Tyrant, who had immediately taken his army back through the farmlands he’d just gleefully set fire to.

“Oh, we’re done retreating,” the Tyrant said cheerfully. “I’m bored with it now. Got what I need anyway.”

Anaxares pulled at his third wineskin of the morning, trying to wash down the taste of impending doom. The Tyrant disapproved vocally of his drinking habits, but the man’s servants kept bringing him skins anyway.

“As my advisor,” the boy said, his bad hand visibly shaking, “what would you advise me to do now?”

Just being called that qualified Anaxares for thirty-three different counts of treason by Bellerophan law. Fifty-something, even, if you counted all the articles about foreign collusion separately. His remains would be on trial for years after the initial execution.

“Return to Helike, slit your own throat and let your replacement beg the mercy of the League,” he replied without missing a beat.

“You’re a terrible advisor,” the Tyrant complained. “I should have you hanged.”

Anaxares shrugged.

“If that is your wish.”

Less painful of a way to go than internal organ crushing, he assessed.

“You haven’t gotten tedious yet,” the boy mused. “I guess you can live.”

“I am, of course, relieved and grateful,” the Bellerophan deadpanned.

“You should be,” the Tyrant said cheerfully. “I’m so merciful, it’s why my people love me so much.”

As far as Anaxares could tell, the reason Helikeans ‘loved’ the Tyrant was that they had been told they did by men with swords and grim faces. The army, though, did seem genuinely loyal. Not surprising: whenever a Tyrant took the throne, they started invading everything in sight. The last one to hold the Name had broken the desperate alliance of Stygia, Atalante and Delos before the southern Proceran princes had intervened and put her down. Glorious war had been waged, victories tallied, and within a decade all the borders had returned to what they’d been before the woman had claimed the crown. Named or not, one could not change the face of the Free Cities.

“Admittedly there is no other claimant to the throne, since your nephew’s death,” the diplomat said instead of rehashing the histories.

“Pretty idiot got himself shot by an orc, of all things,” the Tyrant said delightedly, the red in his eye deepening for a heartbeat. “He always talked too much, it’s how he lost the throne in the first place.”

The Bellerophan’s eyes sharpened with interest as he swallowed another mouthful of wine. The Tyrant’s seizing of the throne of Helike had been one of the most unexpected diplomatic development of the last decade, in the Free Cities, but precious little was known about. A boy that had been by all reports a nonentity before the coup had in a single day taken control of the city and the army, killed the king in his own bed and purged his nephew’s supporters brutally. The nephew in question had fled the city with most of the young nobility and his surviving loyalists, becoming the Exiled Prince in the process.

“Talked too much,” Anaxares repeated, leaving the tone questioning.

“See, Dorian’s father was a lot like mine,” the Tyrant said. “Drank too much, dallied with servants, let the nobility and the army run things. Everybody liked that state of affairs. Dorian, though? He was just so pretty and so good.”

The bitter hatred in those words almost fouled the air.

“Now, the old guard didn’t care much for him. But their heirs? The swarmed him like flies a corpse. Hung on to his every word, his promises of reform and a better Helike.”

The Tyrant seemed almost amused at the prospect of the betterment of his city-state, as if such a thing was unimaginable.

“They figured out eventually that when Dorian took the throne, he was going to be an actual ruler,” he snickered. “Their own children would back him in this. Now that angered them quite a bit, Anaxares. If you steal power and keep it for long enough, eventually you start to think you have a right to it.”

He waved his good hand expansively.

“So they looked at the only other child of royal blood,” he said. “Approached me. And I said: why not?”

“They thought they could rule through you,” the diplomat said. “A mistake of some scale.”

“Most of the I fed to dogs,” the Tyrant smiled, that flash of sharp pearly teeth. “The others fell in line.”

“You were twelve years old,” Anaxares said, feeling old. “And already Named.”

“I wasn’t the Tyrant then,” the boy said. “Just Kairos. Can you keep a secret, advisor?”

“No,” the diplomat replied immediately. “I will report everything you say to the kanenas at the first opportunity, before my summary execution.”

The villain grinned.

“Treachery is pleasing to the Gods Below,” he said. “There’s a crypt in Helike, under the palace, where the first foundations of the city were laid. There’s a creature there, lying under a tomb of stone sculpted to look like someone holding a sword. There is a crack in the side just large enough that you can hear the thing inside whisper, if you press your ear to it.”

Anaxares would have shivered, if years of walking with death in his belly had not effectively burned fear out of him. The words were casually spoken but the description felt more vivid than it should have. He could smell the dusty air, feel the unsettling whisper of an abomination against his ear.

“I don’t know what it is. My father said it’s the first king of Helike, still straddling the line between life and death,” the Tyrant said. “The king, though, once said it is the god who once owned the ground the city was built on – tricked into the tomb and forever bound to give us advice.”

“Advice?” the diplomat repeated.

“Prophecies,” the boy said. “All of royal blood can ask one question if it, in our lifetime.”

“And it told you you would rule?” Anaxares guessed.

The Tyrant laughed.

“It told me,” he said, “that I would die when I turned thirteen. That there was nothing I could do to change this.”

The boy smiled.

“It was,” he said, “a great gift.”

Looking down at his shaking hand, the Tyrant seemed lost in memory for a moment before he gathered himself.

“We spend so much of our lives, Anaxares, shackling ourselves. Avoiding doing this and that because others would frown upon it. Because it is wrong and wicked and unworthy. Once I knew there was only death ahead of me, I started doing what I wanted. I ceased censuring what I was to please others.”

“The drow believed the same as you, when they embraced the Tenets of Night,” the Bellerophan said. “And look at them now, Tyrant – packs of savages inhabiting the ruins of an empire. Censure Is Just, Law Is Necessary.”

Glory To Peerless Bellerophon, Whose Laws Are That Of The People, he added silently.

“Your city is the mutilated remains of a people,” the boy said. “That you wielded the knife yourself is the only thing setting you apart from the rest of Creation.”

“We have no rulers, in Bellerophon,” Anaxares said.

This time there was no need for him to speak the words taught to all of them as children, the capitalized praises learned before one could walk. This, he believed for himself. Because the Republic was flawed, deeply flawed, and he could admit this to himself even if he deserved death for it. But what it stood for was… greater than the sum of its faults.

“No crowns. No nobles. No Names. This is not an accident, Helikean, it is a statement. We are all of us free or we are none of us free. There is no middle ground.”

“You’ve lived a heartbeat away from death all your life,” the Tyrant said, “and still you don’t quite get it, do you? You Bellerophans just traded one tyrant for fifty thousand. You don’t get to decide who you are. Others do that for you.”

The boy rose to his feet, stretching out gingerly. He looked almost fragile, thin and sickly under his red silken robes.

“When those nobles and generals came to whisper treason in my ear,” he said, “I did not hesitate. Because I felt like usurping a throne, because I hated Dorian. I was curious to see if it could be done. I was going to die soon, anyway, and what did I care what followed that?”

Anaxares was not a warrior, or a large man. He was thirty and more familiar with wine than a hard day’s work. For all that, looking at the boy, for a moment he was convinced he could snap his neck almost without effort. That the bones would break like a bird’s, shatter like glass. Then he saw the eye, the damnable red eye, and the Tyrant was a looming titan looking down on him.

“So I did it,” the boy hissed. “I crushed them and I stole the crown and I called the would-be puppeteers to heel. And when I turned thirteen, sitting on my throne as the Tyrant of Helike – I did not die. Because Fate isn’t a path we must follow, Anaxares, it’s a tug-of-war between the Gods.”

He leaned closer.

“And sometimes, if you put your hands to the rope, you can tug it your way,” he whispered.

The Named withdrew with unnatural agility, laughing. The intensity there had been to him was gone like mist in the sun. The Tyrant ripped out one of the banners that flew at every corner of his dais – his personal heraldry, a leering skull with a red eye on gold – and leapt down onto the wet grounds. The porters who’d been carrying the dais hastily slowed, not daring to drop the entire thing even as their muscles creaked lest their ruler be splattered with mud.

“Come along, advisor,” the boy said. “We must speak with my general.”

Anaxares followed. The soldiers, hard men and women in scale armour with swords and shield, turned into awed children whenever they saw the Tyrant. Some reached hesitantly for the hem of his silks, which the boy tolerantly allowed. There was no sign of discontent among them even after the pantomime that had been this campaign: in Helike, Tyrants did not fail. Not without betrayal or half the world set against them. They would follow the little madman into the fray without hesitation or doubt. The general they were seeking found them first, riding towards them. A woman, the diplomat saw, then his gaze lingered on her throat. Not that she had always been that.

“Sire,” the general said, dismounting hastily and kneeling.

“General Basilia,” the Tyrant said, patting her armoured shoulder affectionately. “The army is to cease retreating immediately.”

Something feral flashed in the woman’s eyes.

“We are to prepare for battle, then? The enemy is half a day’s march away, we can still set the grounds.”

The Named chuckled.

“There is no need to array our soldiers for a fight,” he said. “Stay in a column. We will be marching on Atalante before nightfall.”

She almost hesitated, Anaxares saw, but did not protest. Loyal, this one. To a boy more than half mad. Gods save them all. He should have brought the wine.

“As you command, sire,” she said. “There is a farm not far from here, should I prepare it to accommodate you?”

“No need,” the Tyrant said. “My advisor and I will be awaiting our friends on the field.”

Without even the semblance of an explication, the boy strode away with the standard resting on his shoulder. The diplomat sighed and made to follow but he was stopped by the general, who put a gauntleted hand on his shoulder. She glared down at him.

“If he dies,” General Basilia said, “you will follow him shortly. Screaming.”

“Nine,” Anaxares replied.

“What?” she said.

“The number of times I’ve been threatened with death today,” the diplomat clarified. “Will we make it to ten before noon? It is an auspicious number, in Bellerophon.”

He strode away after that, while she was still too surprised to protest. He found the Tyrant alone in a sprawling field of grass, gazing ahead. The boy hummed, as he approached.

“And now?” the diplomat asked.

“Now we wait,” the Tyrant said.

It was mid-afternoon when the forces of Atalante arrived.

They were a sorry bunch to look at, compared to the soldiers of Helike. Citizen levies armed with spears and shields and decked in hardened leather, city and caravan guards who’d traded cudgels for swords, unarmoured conscripts with javelins and slings. Only the cavalry looked professional, nobles with long lances and chain mail. The mercenaries looked more fearsome, infantry from all parts of Calernia that dwelled in the mercenary villages surrounding the shores of Mercantis until hired by patrons. There were Ashurans there, he saw, with their curved bows and ornate armours. Levantines with painted faces and hooked swords, even Callowan knights with long banners who must have survived the Praesi purges. Behind him, the army of Helike remained in an orderly column and did not move. The commanders on the other side ordered a halt, but after most of an hour passed without anyone moving orders began being screamed along the Atalantian lines. In good order, the enemy began to advance again.

“They’re not even sending an envoy to talk with me,” the Tyrant complained.

“You murdered the last one,” Anaxares said.

“It’s still very rude,” the boy said, rolling the wooden shaft of the standard between his palms. “They ought to have better manners than that.”

The diplomat watched twenty thousand soldiers marching in his direction and wondered which one would kill him. Hopefully one with a sword. Spear wounds tended to kill slowly, he’d been told, unless something important was pierced.

“Last night, Malicia’s hounds set foot in Penthes,” the Tyrant said conversationally.

“May The Ground Open Up To Swallow The Base Penthesians,” Anaxares replied out of habit.

“The city will be eating itself alive before a fortnight has passed,” he said. “Nicae won’t move until they’ve grown fat with Proceran silver and ‘mercenaries’, Delos will be dealing with the Stygian phalanx moving north. That leaves only our dear Atalantian friends and their escorts.”

“Who you have decided to fight,” the diplomat said. “Without your army.”

“Oh, I could have had General Basilia tear those poor fools alive, if you’ll forgive my language,” the Tyrant said. “It wouldn’t even have been very hard. That’s how the Praesi do things, nowadays. Let tactics and preparation carry the day.”

The frail boy’s lips curled in distaste.

“And to think they were once the greatest among us.”

“The Dread Empire is the most powerful it has been in centuries,” Anaxares frowned.

“And their Empress plays shatranj with the First Prince across an entire continent, winning more often than not,” the Named said. “For all that, they’ve lost their way.”

The Bellerophan raised a sceptical eyebrow.

“It’s not about winning, Anaxares,” the Tyrant said. “It’s about how you win.”

The standard rolled again between the boy’s palms as the enemy host crept ever closer.

“Even now, if I gave General Basilia the order I believe she could win this. It would be a victory, yes, but would it be a victory for Evil?”

“You are a villain,” the Bellerophan said. “A victory for you is a victory for Evil.”

“A mere clash between armies? No,” he said. “It takes more than that. The war I am fighting has little to do with steel: I am soldier for the Gods Below in the game that will settle Creation. A point has to be made, a sense to the story.”

“And what is the point of us standing on this field, watching death arrive?” Anaxares asked.

“Twenty thousand men march to end me,” the Tyrant said. “They will break, because they are in my way. Watch, diplomat, and learn.”

The boy drove the standard into the ground, flying his banner of one in the face of the host that spread across the plain.

“I am Kairos Theodosian,” he laughed. “Tyrant of Helike. And I say that my Rule extends to even the sky. Come, servants of the Heavens. The Age of Wonders is not dead yet. Not while I breathe.”

The cloud above thickened, more black than grey now. For a long moment nothing happened, and then lightning struck the soldiers of Atalante. Thunder clapped, the sky danced to the whims of a madman and Anaxares watched the largest army he had ever seen break apart at the seams. The Tyrant of Helike stood there, smiling.

His hand no longer shook.

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77 thoughts on “Prologue

    1. jonnnney

      I’m curious. Are the green parts in Praes, Levant, the Titanomachy, and the Kingdom of the Dead just meant to show forest or are they independent areas full of fey like the waning woods?

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  1. RandomFan

    And I remember the real reason why I hate the heroes yet again. Because for all that the villians love bland platitudes as much as the heroes, the heroes always get the trite ones. This is the ever-cliche zealot, but it’s one that realizes his madness, and revels in it.

    I’m curious about hell, though- in a world where it’s a provable concept, why do do few ever think about it? Is it because heaven is just as bad in any who’d be a villian’s eyes, or something else?

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    1. I’m not sure where you’re getting the hero hate, since none made an appearance in this chapter?

      As for the Heavens/Hells that’s a more complicated issue. Technically the Hells is where the devils are and the Heavens is where the angels are, in a physical sense. Good and Evil cultures believe that their souls go to their respective Gods after they die, unless angels/devils have a claim to them, but no one has ever passed on to the other side and remembered what was there so there’s still a degree of uncertainty. Faith would be a pretty meaningless concept if the afterlife was a physical certainty.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. RandomFan

        It’s just a lingering grudge against the lone swordsman. Destruction is made more insulting if the other party refuses to admit that’s what they’ve done, and even in the end, he didn’t *repent* of the right things. I don’t know, maybe i’ll get to see a truly good & competent hero this book- but most of the heroes in the last one failed one of the two.

        Even the most destructive of villians have a more interesting perspective relative to the devastation inflicted, which just makes the grudge stick. Even heiress.

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  2. Lamora

    Calling it right now. The Tyrant has already usurped Bellerophon in some way which is the reason that Anaxares hasn’t been murdered by his mages – either by corrupting the mages or by some other explicitly Evil way. I base this on the way that the story keeps touching base on the fact that he’s not dead yet from his stomach stone being strange – there’s nothing special about Anaxares, so it ought to be something on the other end.

    As another slightly more out there callout, I’m gonna say that Anaxares either is in line to gain a Name or the Tyrant is manuevering him to be, so he can have another Named on his side. Probably something that’s a perversion of his own idealogy, like Oppressor or something. It’s doubtful the Tyrant is keeping him alive purely as a whim.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Letouriste

      Hum? To me that looks like EXACTLY he did that purely on a whim,impressed by his reaction,finding some commun ground with him on his way of life.You’re not a villain if you don’t have people to show off around you:D…well that’s not true but you get the idea;)
      For belerophon,the key is the opinion of the mass,without ruler or people more knowledgeable than others this is easy to manipulate the opinion of the crow for your purpose.
      Here Tyrant spoke about malicia:I think she somehow have way to influence this city.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Or, the Tyrant has worked out how to hack the magic connected to both the stone and the psychic (or whatever) connection with the kanenas back home. I think a hack job would be a good first step to corrupting he whole system, no?

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      1. nick012000

        One of his Aspects is Rule, and he can use it to control even things like the weather. I wouldn’t be surprised if he decided to take control of the stone so that he can set it off at his whim and ensure that it does not go off before then.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. stevenneiman

        My guess would be that he figured out some dramatic way to threaten the kanenas. We know that they have mind-reading powers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they decided not to do anything that might piss him off after a guided tour of the inside of his head.
        Alternatively, he might have somehow taken over Bellerophon already. After all, they are used to taking orders and he has an Aspect that seems to be based entirely around doing that.

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      3. Jonnnney

        It might be a proximity issue. When Anaxares was introduced it was mentioned that two of the 10 diplomats were kanenas and those two were the ones that he had to worry about, if he still had the ability to worry. The tyrant could have simply killed those two, rendered their connections null and void, or threaten to kill a large number of Belerephon citizens if Anaxares was killed.

        The ability for individuals to read someone’s mind from halfway across the country would be a bit overpowered in this universe because it would be simple to just make the connection between two servants and use them for real time communications anywhere in the world.

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    3. JackbeThimble

      That seems like a weird choice. The only skills Anaxares seems to have are drinking, Doublethink and (presumably) poker, doesn’t seem like someone who would be very useful as a minion. Also according to Black the thing that separates the Named from the NPCs is the sheer will to impose their will on the world. It’s pretty obvious how The Tyrant earned his name but Anaxares seems like the polar opposite of a named.

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      1. On the other hand, sticking a Bellerophon(ian?) who pride themselves on not having Names with a Name is right up the alley of this guy.

        Maybe create one for him somehow, something faceless and unimpressive. The Republican, or something.

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      2. Nivek

        The thing that makes a Name is the power of a single choice. Anaxares chose to surrender fully to The Will Of The People during the poisoning’s aftermath and became unnaturally calm when he did so. Also the story and culture of Bellerophon would support such complete surrender as the trigger for a Name

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      1. JackbeThimble

        Their anarchic system would seem to work against that kind of forward planning, unless all of the monitors came to the same conclusion it seems like it would only take one to decide to kill him and any who spoke against the decision would probably be opening themselves up to accusations of treason. I think it’s more likely that whatever it was that protected the Tyrant from certain death has somehow extended it’s protection over Anaxares.

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      2. Naeddyr

        Personally, I think they just like good old Anaxares. As far as we know, he’s full-on republican through and through, a jaded and blotchy believer, but a believer nonetheless.

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  3. pyrohawk21

    Just a question, but what ‘exactly’ did you mean with the following couple of sentences?

    ‘A woman, the diplomat saw, then his gaze lingered on her throat. Not that she had always been that.’

    I’ve got several possible ideas, and they’re probably good ones… Just wondering if it’s ‘Plot Important’ or background information that hasn’t been revealed yet but can at any time, or has been revealed but I’ve missed it.

    Also loving this story 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yitzi

      Question: How does gender reassignment work on Calernia? Their tech level doesn’t seem to be up to the task of hormone replacement, I don’t think surgery alone will have the proper effect, and a magical solution (i.e. a transformations spell) seems like it would remove the Adam’s apple as well.

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    1. Cicero

      on second tought, the tyrant and the diplomat are my favourite characters at the moment, since their stories to a degree mirror my own live. Weird how that goes.

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      1. Morgenstern

        Told that he will die in such and such a time // told that he will die whenever, expecting it any moment –> freedom in knowing death could happen any moment.

        Not really “insanely unique” at all. You’re just latching onto the wrong things it would seem. Death could happen to any of us any minute – there are many people who realize this, even when not seriously ill. But we do have things like e.g. cancer or birth defects that make doctors tell you you will probably not live beyond point X. People with such an illness will realize this truth even more easily, even though anyone can realize that they could at any moment of their lives have some accident happen to them. Car crash. Household accident (you won’t believe how common those are..). Heart failure.. Whatever.

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  4. Hi!
    I have some questions.
    On epilogue of book 2, Bard said she knew how lone swordsman story would have been in the future but wasn’t he going to die since he summoned the angel.
    And how strong are gods?
    In Beast cursed killed a god and in this chapter there’s a god trapped under Helike.Can Named really defeat a God? Compared to other things, how strong are they?

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    1. Iconochasm

      There was some talk earlier, with the captured Deoraithe woman at Summerholm, about a distinction between Gods and God’s. Warlock has dissected several of the lower-case variety.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. stevenneiman

      The Gods (capital G) are the beings that originally built Creation. As I understand it, the only practical limits on their power are that they have trouble with other Gods and that they have agreed not to interfere too much in mortal affairs directly, leaving the matter in the hands of Named and their angels or demons and devils.
      The other kind, gods (lower-case g) are beings that presumably are created by the cultures that worship them, such as the war spirit of the Broken Antler tribe. While they have power greater than most Named in most situations, with clever planning, sufficient power or narrative appropriateness (or some combination of the three) they can be brought down. I think they have power roughly on level with demons, though it is hard to judge from so little data on either group. Compared to that, the Gods have power that even angels pale in comparison to.

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  5. Tobias Arboe

    Spelling mistakes:

    “the boy had essentially built a massive dais”
    “the boy had essentially built a massive dias*”

    “Most of the I fed to dogs,”
    “most of them* i fed to the dogs”

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    1. MagnaMalusLupus

      The ability is powerful because he follows the groove worn into reality by his Name more closely than perhaps any other (that we’ve seen so far). He drinks deep from the well of Evil and finds it much to his tastes. He and Heiress would likely get along uncomfortably well.

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    2. haihappen

      I don’t think he necessarily commands the weather. As he said, he especially retreated with his army until there was a storm.
      This seems more like a move a bard would play: The villain, alone against an army, with a storm in the sky. OF COURSE lightning would strike.
      But, his “Rule” (assuming its his aspect) could potentially extend not only to the people of his domain, but also earth and sky. That would make everything written a foreshadowing to a part of the plan: how that piece of land is haunted by storms often and he retreats only when their numbers were swelling to their limits.
      He is like an mad evil bard. Using story tropes to instil fear and awe; Overcomplicated plan with a myriad of steps; manipulating everything to set up a grand stroke.

      I kinda like the tyrant. As mad lunatics go, his motive and actions are somewhat relateable.
      Also, the story would not be half as funny or interesting if the POV was the Tyrant himself. Anaxares is the designated witness, both by the Tyrant and the author.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. stevenneiman

        His Aspect is Rule. He explicitly stated that what was going on here was his command extending to the sky itself, and considering that he hasn’t actually lied to anyone thus far I’m inclined to believe him.

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    3. JackbeThimble

      Clearly the Atalanteans should have known better than to send a ragtag army of conscripts and mercenaries against a professional army lead by a Named with only 2:1 odds. Not sure what they were thinking.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Letouriste

        Well,given they are obviously not trained to war(apart the mercenaries,and they don’t have command) I feel that’s right in their alley to underestimate a named…

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      2. Jonnnney

        I’d guess they were thinking, “I don’t care about the lives of these conscripts and I only have to pay the mercenaries if they live. So I’m gonna send them out to weaken the Tyrant enough for him to be eventually defeated.”

        Even if the Helike army had won they still would have lost soldiers and they don’t have the money or the people to replace those loses and Procer is eventually going to intervene directly.

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    4. stevenneiman

      I don’t think he has any influence over the Gods Below (who aren’t allowed to interfere so directly as to control the weather). His power is to Rule, and he applies it directly to whatever is necessary to see his will to reality. All that happened here was a perfectly mundane but powerful storm, that appeared exactly when and where is was supposed to.

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      1. Morgenstern

        I’m not sure he even “called up” the storm – he might simply have gambled for a natural one, retreating until one was there … and then used Rule on what was there, to designate who gets hit by the lightning. Much less “OP” (as some here think), if so.

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  6. Shequi

    Yay! It’s back! Interesting prologue. So the Tyrant is *not* a practical evil Villain, but has more in common with Heiress and the Truebloods… and even a reason of sorts for it. Fascinating.

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    1. stevenneiman

      The Truebloods are weak because they mix the ideologies. They think that if tradition is powerful, it will be even more powerful if they guide it with modern pragmatism and strategy. Kairos is an example of how the true power of traditional villainy comes from rejecting that pragmatism, and that it can achieve awe-inspiring results when it does. He just got Creation itself to destroy his foes for no more reason that because he told it to, and nothing the Truebloods have been trying has come close to that level of power.
      Meanwhile, Black and Malicia have used pure pragmatism to render that level of power unnecessary, and achieved more subtle but equally potent results. The Truebloods fall short when they try to top the one Tyrant’s raw power and madness, and the other Tyrant runs rings around them when they try for pragmatism and cleverness. They won’t commit to one or the other, so they’ll never succeed.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Draconic

    Thanks for the new chapter! It’s been too long since the last one.

    Also, there is something that’s been bugging me for some time:
    Are Dread Emperor Traitorous (mentioned in book 2 chapter 8), and Dread Emperor Treacherous (mentioned in book 2 chapter 1) the same person? They seem remarkably similar, so it could be either a misspelled name, or two emperors, who chose similar names. I think Traitorous appears only in the qoutes at the beggining of chapters, while Treacherous appears only in the chapters themselves.

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  8. Dragrath

    People are saying the Tyrant and the Heiress would get along but would they really? Conventional has little in the way of allegiance after all how much have the courts of Praes spent spilling their own blood?
    Either way it is an interesting start curious how things will go there feels like far more variability at play than the last book had at this point…

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    1. Kirroth

      I think that Tyrant and Heiress would have a strong aesthetic appreciation for the other’s expression of Traditional Evil. But the thing about Traditional Evil is that it’s about the obsessive pursuit of individual aspirations. Any alliance between the two would last exactly as long as their mutual goals aligned, be that a truce of an hour or a decades long political marriage. Then the simultaneous multi-layered Sudden Yet Inevitable Betrayals would go off.

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    2. JackbeThimble

      Ideologically they appear to be aligned with each other but their personalities are pretty much polar opposites: Heiress is all about the schemes within schemes and a perfectly maintained mask that she never lets slip for a minute, whereas the Tyrant’s whole character is based on spontaneity and seizing the evil day no matter the consequences.

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      1. stevenneiman

        I don’t think they are really that similar in end goals. Heiress uses the power of Evil as a tool in order to further her own ambitions of personal gain and success. Kairos detests that kind of thinking even more than Good, and crusades in the name of Evil for its own sake. I think he would rather go out with a bang and leave a scar the world will never heal from than rest on his achievements, while Akua is likely to go out that way but would never willingly sacrifice anything for a goal that doesn’t benefit her personally.

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  9. nick012000

    So, I’ve been thinking for the last couple of weeks: under the paradigm of the world of A Practical Guide to Evil, America would be an Evil nation, wouldn’t it? As Malicia thought in the previous chapter, “Ambition to rise was the beating heart of Praesi identity, it was who they were,” and the same is true in America. It’s a fundamental part of the American identity that anyone can rise to wealth and power, if they’ve got the skills and drive to do so. This is not quite true, of course, given how the wealthy and well-connected elite have acted to secure their wealth and power against usurpers, but that’s now what the national legend is, and the hypocrisy of it also suits Evil anyway.

    On a more day-to-day level, we’ve got a culture of conspicuous consumption that encourages people to follow their base desires and buy buy buy. Buy on impulse, buy to display status, buy to satiate their desire for food or sex or luxury. Oftentimes, we even approach our religions or relationships with other people that way – corporations refer to their employees as “human resources” for a reason, and our strong culture protecting of protecting “freedoms” means that there’s strong cultural forces pushing against judging people for their personal lifestyles and choices. Like the Tyrant said in this chapter, “Avoiding doing this and that because others would frown upon it. Because it is wrong and wicked and unworthy. Once I knew there was only death ahead of me, I started doing what I wanted. I ceased censuring what I was to please others.”

    And then you’ve got the Elites, who build fences out of regulations to hamstring small competitors from becoming threats to their positions. Whose political elites in Washington are all on the take – only really varying who they’re on the take from. Who constantly grasp for more, more, more – more power, more money, more authority, maybe even more children to rape if you believe the rumors about pedophile rings in DC.

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    1. nick012000

      Also, since I just thought of it while I was taking a shower: Even the American military fits into the Evil mold, with its reliance on gadgets and gizmos instead of boots on the ground. It’s a large part of why the earlier parts of the Iraq War were such a clusterfuck.

      Like

    2. Morgenstern

      …. of American ideology, NOT actual identity (anymore). There’s a difference… Realistically, the game has been rigged for decades and the American Dream seems mostly dead or undead.

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      1. Morgenstern

        Thus… i wouldn’t use “identity” because that coalesces more around what really is there.
        In the rest, I very much agree with you 😉

        Like

  10. I didn’t expect to find the story on the part relating to the diplomat and the tyrant to be that interesting and unique to read though.
    Maybe I am just more of a sucker for war stories instead of individual battles that have been more often in the last few chapters.
    I hoped there is more story parts about them in the future though.

    Like

  11. linnilalartyr

    This Bellerophan guy is intersting somehow.
    Why I always laugh when he mention his italic character thought is weird to my ownself.
    Which I should feel pity for him when his will is not his and must thought for the people.
    But that habit is hilarious somehow.

    And this line of the tyrant to the punch. Oh~~~~
    “and still you don’t quite get it, do you? You Bellerophans just traded one tyrant for fifty thousand. You don’t get to decide who you are. Others do that for you.”

    Like

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