Chapter 2: Might

“We make the shepherds kings at the end of our stories because they already know how to lead recalcitrant, bleating creatures of limited intellect.”
– Prokopia Lekapene, first and only Hierarch of the Free Cities

Laure had not had an Imperial governor since the unlamented death of Mazus.

The former capital of the Kingdom had been put under martial law while the bastard was still swinging from a noose in the market place, but no replacement had been appointed afterwards – the Empress, as I understood it, had used the possibility of the appointment to effect a little spring cleaning at court. The final body count had been comparable to that of a small battle, with even the Truebloods discreetly clawing at each other through intermediaries as everyone tried to place a relative or dependent at the head of the richest city in Callow. It had come to nothing when the Liesse Rebellion had begun, as there had been no question of ending martial law in Laure while the south was in revolt. The issue of what to do with the city had ultimately become the subject of the very first meeting of the Ruling Council, and it had revealed how the lines would be drawn between its members.

There were, theoretically, seven members. Black was one, the designated head of the council and the only member with the right of veto – which he had given to me along with his vote. Baroness Anne Kendal was another, the first appointment I’dd made. Sister Abigail of the House of Light was the third, a septuagenarian who’d served as a travelling sister for thirty years before settling in an abbey near Ankou in her middle age. She’d been one of the most vocal members of the House to advocate against armed rebellion after the Conquest. She still had, Black had informed me, been put under surveillance by both he and Malicia by sheer virtue of having so many connections across Callow. The House of Light did not have a true hierarchy but some of its members were more influential than others, and Sister Abigail was in the highest tier even among those.

Hakram had also choked the life out of her great-nephew at Three Hills. He’d been the priest who’d prevented us from scrying the Silver Spears, having volunteered to serve with the mercenaries as a liaison for my predecessor in ruling Marchford. The way she seemed to genuinely hold no grudge over the events unsettled me, I had to admit. Priests who’d been under the vows for long enough were always… unearthly but Sister Abigail was in a league of her own. I’d never seen her be anything but the picture of health and Ratface had told me she’d healed a bleeding gut wound in the cathedral without breaking a sweat. There was power behind the doting grandmotherly smile.

The two Praesi with seats were like night and day. Murad Kalbid was sworn to the High Lady of Kahtan, a distant cousin who’d married into a lesser family, and was exactly what Callowans picture when they thought of the Taghreb. Desert-lean and with tanned skin like leather, the middle-aged man had a closely-cropped beard and moustache that made his dark eyes stand out. I’d never seen him without a sword at his hip and he could light candles with nothing but a word. Satang Motherless, as the Soninke was apparently named, was the survivor of a succession dispute in Aksum who’d come into the service of the High Lord of Okoro. She seemed to me a lesser take on Heiress, when it came to appearance, with cheekbones not quite as high and curves not quite as full. Her hair she kept in a series of braid the way Apprentice did, though without the magical trinkets. There was a red mark on her cheek that looked like three lines, and I couldn’t tell if it was a tattoo or some particularly vivid birthmark. Whatever it was there was sorcery in it.

The two foreigners had wasted no time in striking an informal alliance, working together to nudge the Council in directions their patrons would approve of. Early on they’d tried to suggest that properties seized from the nobles who’d fought in the rebellion should be put to auction under Murad’s supervision, supposedly to raise funds for the reconstruction, but I’d stamped the notion down hard with Sister Abigail’s support. Half the treasures would be gone before the first sell was ever made, packed in carts headed for the Wasteland. Aisha was convinced Satang was in communication with Heiress, but I was not so sure. Nothing concrete had been dug up by my people, though admittedly what passed for my spy network was barely out of the cradle. I’d still have to act as if she was, just in case. I knew for a fact Akua kept close eye on the proceedings here in Laure, to prepare for the blows before I could land them on her. So far I’d only tightened the screws by stripping the Liesse governorship of lands and by passing a decree that banned any Callowan official from summoning or dealing with devils, but I wasn’t done. Not until she crawled back to the Wasteland, or preferably straight into the Underworld.

The last and seventh seat was for Malicia’s personal representative, and had gone unfilled. The Empress had sent messengers to cast her vote on occasion, so far only for issues that related to the scope of the Ruling Council’s authority over Callow.

Tonight’s session would be light, in theory, with only my own accounting of the events in Southpool being a topic after we received the monthly report from the magistrates that now ruled Laure. Baroness Kendal had been tasked with overseeing them personally after the appointments were made, but the two Praesi had insisted on a regular report to the council. They weren’t entirely wrong. I doubted a woman like Anne Kendal would try to fill her pockets with bribes but General Orim still garrisoned the city and he’d been openly sceptical about a former rebel being given power over his legionaries. Being able to say there would be oversight by Wastelanders and myself had gone a long way in soothing those ruffled feathers. Compromises, I grimaced. I’d had to make quite a few of those lately, and I didn’t like it. I missed Black, to my dismay, and more than the man I missed his advice.

The room the Ruling Council used for its sessions had once been the private meeting room of the sovereigns of Callow. The Queen of Blades once sat in that same seat I called my own and so had Jehan the Wise. So had the likes of Mazus, later on, but that era was over now. It was tastefully decorated – marble floors with hexagonal tiles and old wood panelling under a beautifully painted ceiling – but I wasted no time on the sights before heading for my seat at the head of the table: the other members were already there. All six of them. So the Empress finally sent her representative, I thought, studying the woman in question. Soninke, dark eyes betraying a common birth and no callouses on her palms. Not a fighter then. Probably a court appointee. Neither of the other Praesi in the room seemed to know her and that clearly made them uncomfortable. As it should. Wastelanders were afraid of Black in the dark of night, I’d found, but they were always afraid of the Empress. She’d given them reason to.

“We’ve a newcomer, I see,” I said, taking off my riding gloves and setting them on the table.

The representative rose from her seat and gracefully bowed.

“An honour to make your acquaintance, Lady Squire,” she said. “I am Lady Naibu, representative for her Most Dreadful Majesty on the council.”

Lady Deputy, in Mtethwa. Ime’s sense of humour still made me wince from across an entire empire. I really shouldn’t have expected any better of a woman who thought calling herself patience would lend her mystique.

“We’re pleased to have you with us,” I half-lied.

Not that convincingly, if the way Sister Abigail discreetly coughed into her sleeve was any indication. Baroness Kendal smiled pleasantly, murmuring courtesies at the newcomer from her neighbouring chair as Naibu sat and I settled into my own seat.

“I didn’t see the magistrates waiting outside when coming in,” I said. “Was their report already given?”

“It was delayed until tomorrow, Lady Squire,” Setang said. “There’s been news of greater import from Dormer.”

I raised an eyebrow. Anne Kendal’s former barony had been one of the first governorships to be filled after the rebellion – she’d suggested one of the town’s eldermen for the first mandate, to smooth the transition when a more long-term appointee was found, and after having him looked into I’d seen no reason to refuse.

“There’s been a Fae incursion,” Sister Abigail said. “A handful of Summer court fairies snuck into the town after finagling an invitation, then forced the people to dance until a priest drove them off.”

I blinked slowly. The Fae? They never left the Waning Woods. Dormer was one of the Callowan holdings closest to the woods, certainly, but it was still a few days of riding away. The only known gate into Arcadia was near Refuge, and- I stopped cold. That was no longer true, was it? Masego had speculated as much months ago and he’d confirmed it since: when the demon of Corruption had lingered in Marchford, it had weakened the borders between Arcadia and Creation. Nothing had come through, so far, but… Shit. I need to talk with Apprentice.

“There were no dead, as I understand it,” Murad said, facing the sister.

“A handful of sprained limbs was the worst of it,” Baroness Kendal replied, drawing his attention.

“Then there should be no need to lower the taxes due,” Setang smiled.

The segue was too smooth for the two of them not to have planned it.

“The priority at the moment should be making sure the Fae don’t come back,” I said sharply. “There’s no legion garrisoning the region, if some of the fairies into the rougher stuff come knocking they’ll be vulnerable.”

“I am told the Fifteenth regularly holds field exercises,” Naibu spoke up, the first time since the conversation had begun. “Perhaps one might be arranged close to the town.”

I eyed her cautiously. I’d been thinking of saying as much, but hearing the words coming from an unknown had me rethinking it. My men would be close to Heiress’ wheelhouse, if they went there, and if she hadn’t cooked up some nasty tricks since we last met I’d eat my godsdamned gloves.

“I’ll speak with General Juniper,” I finally grunted. “It’s placeholder solution, regardless. The Fifteenth is based in Marchford so if this become an unstable border there’ll be a need for a more permanent presence.”

“Reaching out to the Lady of the Lake might yield answers as to why it happened,” Sister Abigail suggested. “She’s said to know Arcadia better than anyone alive.”

I knew the Empire was in diplomatic contact with Refuge, but I honestly had no idea how that contact was maintained. Scrying that close to a gate into Arcadia would basically be sending a written invitation to the Wild Hunt but surely they couldn’t be sending messengers on foot every time? Less than half of them would actually make it to Refuge: those entire woods were even more of a death trap than the Wasteland. I didn’t want to admit to ignorance in front of those people so I smiled knowingly instead, meeting Setang’s eyes until she looked away. When in doubt, pretend it was always part of the plan.

“Measures will be taken,” I said vaguely.

That should keep them guessing. No one else seemed to have anything else to add, so Baroness Kendal suggested we adjourn for the night – my own report on Southpool could wait until tomorrow, when we saw the magistrates. It was a little abrupt considering how little we’d talked but they’d grown to know a little of me in the last six months: whenever proceedings got too tedious or I had other business I tended to end the sessions early. Council members rose one after another, bowing before asking my leave. I gave it absent-mindedly, eyes on Naibu – who was still seated. Well now. That promised to be interesting. Sister Abigail was the last to leave and she closed the door behind her, leaving only silence. I was about to speak up when Malicia’s envoy suddenly twitched. Not just a little, too: her entire body convulsed before stilling suddenly. A heartbeat hadn’t even passed before I was on my feet, sword in hand.

“That won’t be necessary, Catherine,” she said, voice eerily calm.

The Soninke held herself differently now. Straighter in her seat, hands folded primly into her lap. There was command in her bearing.

“Your Most Dreadful Majesty,” I said.

The meat-puppet smiled approvingly.

“Deputy, is it?” I muttered. “Someone had fun with that.”

“This is a flesh simulacrum with a semblance of personality inserted,” Malicia shrugged gracefully. “One of Nefarious’ rare slivers of brilliance. It serves my purposes better than coming to Callow in person.”

I sheathed the sword slowly.

“Are you always in there, or…”

I gestured vaguely.

“Do not ask that question if you want to sleep well tonight,” the Empress smiled. “Suffice it to say, anything my deputy hears will eventually come to my ears. You may consider her opinions to be mine for all practical purposes.”

One of those days, I was going to come across something from the Tower that wasn’t the stuff of nightmares. But not today, evidently.

“I take it there’s things going on I don’t know about,” I said.

There was a safe bet if I’d ever made one.

“You are not incorrect. First, however, I bring news from the south,” Malicia said.

I perked up at that. Black had been in the Free Cities for a few months but word trickled up to Callow slowly. Whatever I heard was always late enough to be largely irrelevant.

“Last I heard he was in Penthes,” I said.

“There are currently twelve claimants to the title of Exarch in the city,” the Empress informed me amusedly. “A little excessive even for him, but they are effectively out of the war until the matter is resolved. At last contact he was headed for Nicae, but with the latest developments I believe he’ll turn to Delos.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“It hasn’t fallen?” I said. “I thought the Tyrant was marching on it.”

It had drawn quite a bit of attention when an unheard-of villain had come out of nowhere and grilled the third of an army on his way to Atalante. Said city-state had been sacked and conquered a few weeks afterwards, its armies dispersed in the field. Apparently half the mercenaries Atalante had bought turned to banditry after the defeat and had then been press-ganged into the Tyrant’s army one band at a time. The Named and his army had moved towards Delos afterwards, which was the last I’d heard.

“The initial assault was repulsed,” Malicia informed me. “The Tyrant is sieging the city with his… usual flair.”

The last part was spoken with distaste.

“The man basically tore through an army on his own,” I said slowly. “And he was slapped down by a place known for its scribes?”

“There are heroes in the city,” the Empress said.

Well, shit. That explained why Black was headed there, too.

“I don’t suppose we know the Names?” I asked.

“The White Knight is one,” she replied. “And a woman I believe you know, though she goes by a different face now: the Wandering Bard.”

I cursed. White Knight sounded ominous like all Hells, but the Bard was a pest I was more familiar with.

“Well, she was bound to turn up eventually,” I said. “That’s going to be a mess.”

“There are at least three others, but on those I’ve yet to acquire anything concrete,” the Empress added.

Five heroes. The usual number, when something was going to go horribly wrong for villains. Was there a specific term for that, I wondered? People used cluster for fish and herd for sheep, there had to be a term for heroes. A murder, I snorted. Or maybe a gaggle, like with cats. So Black was going to be stuck dealing with a full gaggle of heroes. That ought to make his year.

“Procer’s still staying out of it?” I said.

“Dearest Cordelia has been sending her disaffected soldiers to Nicae,” Malicia said. “More than ten thousand already and the number grows by the day. More importantly, she convinced Ashur to lift its restrictions on Nicean commerce – so they can actually afford to feed them. The fulcrum of the war will be the battle that host fights, the current conflicts are merely setting the stage.”

“Keeps her too busy to sniff around Callow, at least,” I muttered. “Small favours.”

The Empress took a hand off her lap and rested her chin on the palm, somehow managing elegance in a body not her own.

“Callow is what brings me here as it happens,” she said. “You’ve been rather busy of late, Catherine.”

That, I reflected, did not seem like the beginning of a pleasant conversation.

“Still learning the ropes,” I said. “There’s so much to do even three of me wouldn’t be on top of things.”

“Delegating to Baroness Kendal was the step in the right direction,” Malicia said. “Continue to find trustworthy individuals and invest them with authority.”

I cocked my head to the side.

“Not a lot of those around,” I admitted.

Most of the people I could rely on were in the Fifteenth, and I couldn’t keep piling civilian duties onto them. Their workload had already expanded massively with the way the legion had swelled.

“Then find leverage on people you do not trust and use them regardless,” the Empress said. “Murad has children in Kahtan and cares for them. A scare there would keep him in line. He has experience commanding a city guard and you need someone to head Laure’s.”

“I’m trying avoid importing leadership from Praes,” I said, trying to keep my tone not accusatory..

“The Empire decapitated Callow’s ruling class two generations in a row,” Malicia noted. “Train replacements, by all means, but you need people filling positions now. Through your actions you’ve begun to centralize authority in Callow without crafting an administration that can wield that power. The result of that can only be anarchy.”

I swallowed. I was, well, out of my depth here. The Empress sighed.

“You are young, younger than ever we were when we seized power,” she said. “I do not expect immediate flawlessness of you. What I can teach you, I will.”

She leaned back into her seat.

“Let us go over your actions in Southpool, as an exercise,” she said. “What do you believe the common perception is of what happened there?”

“A corrupt Praesi governess was removed,” I frowned.

“Forcefully,” Malicia said. “Strung up in front of the fortress gates for all to see.”

“The Empire isn’t exactly shy about making examples, as a rule,” I said.

“In exceptional cases,” the Empress said. “Governess Ife was not one. Removing her was necessary for your purposes, but the manner was incorrect. You should have had her assassinated discreetly and moved in your replacement.”

“If she just disappears then the point doesn’t get made,” I grunted.

That whole matter was still like an itch I couldn’t scratch, and going over it wasn’t exactly my idea of an agreeable evening. I listened anyway: the Empress hadn’t managed to command a pack of wolves like the High Lords for over forty years by looking pretty. If she had advice, it was worth hearing.

“It is made to the people it is meant for,” Malicia disagreed. “More than that, think on what the people of Southpool saw. Wasteland nobility, hung like a common Callowan criminal.”

“She acted like a common Callowan criminal,” I said, temper flaring as I struggled not to raise my voice.

“Every eye on Callow is on you, Catherine,” the Empress said. “You are the person setting their cues. If what you employ is violence, in violence they will follow. Against all available targets.”

I rubbed at the bridge of my nose, then grunted.

“Fair,” I said. “Riots against the legions aren’t what I was going for. Still, I don’t have assassins to use. My closest equivalent is…“

“Currently checking the progress of your opponent,” Malicia completed for me, when I let the sentence trail. “The natural tool for you would be the Guild of Assassins, but you’ve other ideas.”

I grimaced. Of course she knew. No part of that had been a question.

“In the future,” she said, “have your mages use a more advanced version of the scrying spell formula. Apprentice will know several. The one you currently use is exceedingly easy to listen into. Heiress certainly has been, among others.”

That she wasn’t being smug about it actually kind of made it worse.

“Their existence as an entity breaks Tower law,” I said defensively.

“There has never been nor will there ever be a nation without hired killers,” Malicia replied. “You might, at best, disband the organized aspect of it for a few decades. The trade will still be plied as long as someone has a knife and another has coin.”

“So I should just allow a pack of murderers to do as they want because people are assholes?” I retorted. “What’s the point of even having a law against it then?”

“The purpose of law is not to define right and wrong, it is to regulate behaviour,” the Empress said. “You are a ruler now, Catherine. Your only concern should be control.”

She shrugged languidly.

“If you deem it necessary to assert greater control over the Guild of Assassins, do so,” she said. “But attempting to destroy it entirely would set you on a collision course with all of the Dark Guilds. You cannot rule a realm if you are at war with every institution in it.”

“Are you ordering me not to disband them?” I asked through gritted teeth.

Anything short of that wasn’t going to make me back down. The simulacrum the Empress was possessing studied me for a moment.

“No,” she finally said. “If you fail, it will be a learning experience. If you succeed – well, I have been faced with the occasional surprise over the years. I will warn you, however, that you do not currently have the resources to face them.”

I grimaced. Marchford had been one of the richest cities in Callow, before the rebellion. Before a demon had set camp for a few days over the silver mines, filling the streets with disaffected miners and their families. There was a reason enrolling in the Fifteenth was so popular at the moment. With bridge that was the main trade route in and out of the hills only just freshly raised after the Silver Spears had torched it, trade had yet to pick up. And that wasn’t even counting on the gaping hungry maw that was rebuilding the devastated city. I was beginning to regret having told Robber to torch that manor, since I’d been supposed to actually live in it.

“Apprentice told me the mines will be purged of contamination within a few months,” I said. “It’ll be easier after that.”

“Upon you return to Marchford,” Malicia said, “you will be presented with an offer by the Matron of the High Ridge tribe. It could prove a solution to your woes, though you should think long before accepting it.”

I frowned. High Ridge? Pickler’s tribe, that, and the reigning Matron would be her mother. Ominous.

“Make haste back to your holdings, Catherine,” the Empress said. You’ll find greater trouble there than you know – your bastard has been surprisingly competent in suppressing rumours.”

The meat-puppet leaned forward, the Dread Empress of Praes looking through it.

“But above all, do not think for a moment that Heiress being silent means she has forgotten you. You might be a legacy, Catherine Foundling, but then so is she.”

Lady Naibu twitched, then went still. The only sign of life there was the steady rise and fall of her chest.

“It’s going to be one of those years, isn’t it?” I sighed.

101 thoughts on “Chapter 2: Might

  1. metrodorus

    The protagonists are all so consistently likable that I occasionally find myself viewing them and rooting for them in the same way I would for protagonists from more traditional stories. Then along comes a delicious moment of “telecommuting via almost-mindless flesh puppet” to make the skin crawl and remind you just what this Practical Guide is for.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. nehemiahnewell

      Eh, Flesh-puppets aren’t any more horrifying then The Wandering Bard. I mean, they aren’t LESS horrifying either. They exist at exactly the same level, since their nature is so similar.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Morgenstern

      I don’t see why mere flesh would make the skin crawl. If it were a PERSON that was made into a mindless puppet, yeah… but as far as I understood it, it is a CONSTRUCT. No real person in there and never having been in there… No problem whatsoever.
      ( I never quite understood the taboo around corpses, either, to be fair… Yeah, I get the emotions for which it might be a focus point for some time, while people grieve for the person that was once in there, but… a corpse if just dead meat. Nothing more, nothing less. We EAT meat every day… most of us anyway. )

      Liked by 5 people

  2. JackbeThimble

    The quality of the editing has definitely improved in this book. I only noticed one typo in my first read-through of this chapter.

    Catherine had better vet her Callowan Gubernatorial candidates very carefully, the first time there’s a major scandal involving one of them having their political opponents murdered or enriching themselves off the taxpayers she’s going to be in a very awkward position.

    If she needs to find competent bureaucrats to run her central government the obvious first place to look would be the church, since they’re an institution that already has a certain amount of trust from the general populace but are extremely unlikely to maintain their power under a different Regent. They would also be qualified to enforce her proposed ban on diabolism.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bart

      Found some:

      the first appointment I’dd made
      change I’dd to I’d

      I knew for a fact Akua kept close eye on the proceedings
      add “a” after kept

      I’m trying avoid importing leadership from Praes
      add to after trying

      I said, trying to keep my tone not accusatory..
      Remove the extra period. Also I think you should change “not accusatory” to “unaccusing”.

      And that wasn’t even counting on the gaping hungry maw that was rebuilding the devastated city.
      change “that was” to “of”

      Upon you return to Marchford
      change you to your

      Those are the ones that aren’t mentioned later in the comments at this time.


      1. WealthyAardvark

        Typo thread, I suppose.

        first sell
        Maybe ‘first sell’ is a correct UK usage, but I believe this should be ‘first sale’

        said. You’ll find
        Quotation mark missing


    2. Morgenstern

      There are a lot of minor ones centering around single letters missing or being wrong. Your brain is probably doing the autocorrect there, though. Sad that mine almost never those that – except, even more annoyingly, when looking at my own texts while writing and often even shortly after, needing distance to un-do the autocorrect there… -.-


  3. The Archdevil

    Man, Malicia just knows everything. Makes me wonder if Amadeus has Scribe sending her intelligence reports. And the flesh-puppet must be fun, though I would love how it works.


    1. Unoriginal

      She doesn’t need intelligence reports from Scribe/Black. She has her own very powerful spy network and I think (I haven’t checked in a while) that its implied to be better.


      1. The Archdevil

        Fair enough. The established spy network of a villainous empire would probably be better than Black’s fledgling-by-comparison network that Scribe runs for him.


      2. Letouriste

        You guys have forgotten “lady patience” right? The spymistress of the empire;) she have her own network for helping malicia…still she is probably less skilled than scribe.


    2. Morgenstern

      Ime was implied to have gotten Malicia more info about the Free Cities and what’s going on there than Scribe did for Black. Although, maybe he just wasn’t interested in that back then… who knows.


  4. Naeddyr

    > She still had, Black had informed me, been put under surveillance by both he and Malicia

    by both HIM and Malicia

    Rule of thumb, if you have a pronoun and a conjunction and you don’t know what case to use, just simplify the conjunction phrase and see what comes naturally. It’s not “put under surveillance by he” when it’s just the single pronoun, so it shouldn’t change. Burn the style guides, do not fear them! Listen to your heart, cut the words down until they obey. Hypercorrectism is a nagging worm in your mind, do not listen to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Morgenstern

      It’s like the odd “xy and I” every so often. I am quite sure that is usually used as “xy and ME”, too. Or did I just encounter the wrong sources for that (I’m not much for Brits’ English, though) 😉


  5. nick012000

    Maybe Cat should consider turning the Guild of Assassins into something like the Morag Tong from the Elder Scrolls series: a government-sanctioned guild of executioners that act to remove problematic elements in society. If a minor nobleman rapes a peasant’s daughter, the peasants could band together and pay to get the nobleman offed. If a group of bandits is attacking a noble house’s merchant caravans and they don’t have the resources to take care of them, they can hire the Morag Tong. And so on, and so forth.


    1. I can’t help noticing that Catherine currently has a difficulty getting accurate local intelligence due to a feeble spy network ,and that the local guild of assassins would likely make for an excellent recruiting ground for spies.

      Instead of shutting down the guild entirely she should just carefully turn them into the Callowan secret police. A little training in advanced spycraft from a few Praesi spies, some proper uniforms and a salary. I’m sure not all of them will sign up but you’d get enough with the right approach.


      1. Morgenstern

        Yeah, Black Ops / Intelligence Agency of her own (probably not all of them… some will be … “beyond saving”, but yeah) was exactly what I already thought last chapter… 😉


      2. Morgenstern

        And/Or “Secret Police” (kinda summed that up under Black Ops, though). Nipi is right about the inherent problem, of course. But I’m sure there’s a myriad of ways out there how they could be MADE … trust-able, if not trust-worthy. Why, oh why, do I have to think of Apprentice now, again? ^^


      1. Morgenstern

        Second that. Then again, Cat is not much for diplomacy so far. First (few) year(s) and all that, just like Malicia predicted… at least so far. 😉


  6. First time commenting, so this will be about Cat’s glorious career as an evil warlord so far and other plot-related stuff.

    1) You’ve managed to give Cat a great balance of frequent brilliance to show she has great potential, just as frequent bull-headedness to show she’s still a teenager, and the occasional gross stupidity that makes for a believable main character without the experience of other players in the field. Good job!
    2) If anything, your characterisation of other individuals is even better, whether they are Cat’s friends and subordinates, or her superiors and enemies. No character is flat, which is a great achievement for any literary work. Everyone is a person, even if they have blatantly stereotypical roles.
    3) When it comes to the meat of the story, the unfairness of protagonist (usually good) vs antagonist (usually evil) roles, I find it rather ironic that Cat is on the side of Evil that wants to break the unfairness when she is essentially in a protagonist’s position. For all the challenges she faced, Fate still conspired to grant her victory in the end. The way coincidence stretched to extremes to give her the tools to win, from her very first encounter with Black to the way her initial defeats initiated a pattern of three that guaranteed some victory, make her hypocrisy a bit annoying.
    4) Am I in the minority that I want to see Heiress succeed or at least survive, and have her and Cat either be forced to genuinely cooperate to avoid being overwhelmed by heroes in the future, or have them as semi-hostile rulers of their own nations by the end of the story? Akua outsmarts Cat a half-dozen times and loses mostly because of Role shenanigans, after all…


    1. Letouriste

      Fate? You’re wrong,fate is AGAINST her.
      She have a supporter(hint when she resurrected) but everything apart that is on her own.
      Her meeting with black and the rest is fitting with a story,not the only one still.
      Akua is not as smart you think,she just is persuaded she is.Also,she is the one to use the most role shenanigans for her,not cat.


      1. Nivek

        Actually, it’s implied that until she finished the patterns of three with both Lone Swordsman and Heiress she was functionally immortal. The force that brought her back was probably the second pattern of three. Also Fate doesn’t care which side wins, Fate is the wager not a side (see prologue of book 1).

        It is probable however that Cat’s habits allow for her to draw from both sides of the pattern since she always seems to pull the most outrageous of her stunts at the very start of the fight for the villainous-shock-and-awe aspect of the story before killing the heroes with a non-magical sword for that underdog protagonist value added to the story at which point she either forces/bribes the non-Named to surrender or destroys them with a dramatic flourish (such as a wall of fire) for some more villain points.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Morgenstern

        “Band, Cat, it’s called a band.” was my initial reaction to that one. Although gaggle etc. are, of course, much funnier. Simply “group” also works..
        (Sidenote: I’ve never heard “family” being used in any RPG so far, since over a decade, but that is probably region-specific?)


      1. Morgenstern

        Is there any specific word for a female goat? oO I was under the impression the word was simply.. well. Goat. oO Funny how I either never noticed that one or don’t remember it… one would think a brain like mine would, it tends to push out relevant info and collect such trifles like this one =P


      2. Morgenstern

        Relevant info meaning real-world info. Job stuff, names, numbers.. Stories and almost everything in it obviously count as collectables ^^


  7. Dunno if my first comment went through – I can’t see it for some reason. In any case, here are some more general thoughts;

    1) Are Malicia and Black making a mistake when they discount magic from the Age of Wonders in their worldview? Sure, the invisible tiger army was stupid, and the turn-to-giant-spider or steal-the-weather thing didn’t pan out for some of their predecessors, but why are more useful bits of magic not used? A flying fortress for example would be a massive tactical advantage if practically used. Just fly over an enemy army or fortress out of weapon range, and shoot down at them. Spears, rocks, goblin munitions; if it is falling from a mile high the difference is mostly academic. And if making a flying fortress is an enormous expense in sacrifices because of how powerful the magic has to be, why not make a flying room instead? Just a metal box a few yards across just small enough to not need sacrifices to enchant with flight. Then have Warlock and a Legion’s worth of mages (as in, several hundred) produce them one at a time. Usable as individual siege weapons and aerial scouts, or as a flying fortress when assembled together. And if an enemy is really giving them a hard time, load a flying box with a few tons of Goblinfire, fly it over their city, then let it drop. No way to defend against it, and when the goblinfire is charged up by eating the flying spells themselves, it will spread to burn the entire target city to the ground. Weapons of Mass Destruction are always good.

    2) With the exception of goblins, the Legions of Terror still use mostly human military doctrine. IMHO, they aren’t using non-human soldiers and creatures to the fullest. How about this;
    a) Give the Ogres bows or crossbows. At the same range, an ogre should be able to launch a missile dozens of times heavier than a human. Or, for a less heavy missile, have two or three times the range. Basically every ogre could be a ballista. A hundred ogres from one legion could shoot dozens of times before a human enemy army could get into range, inflicting heavy casualties. And once they get into normal ranges? Shoot goblin demolition charges at them. I mean, there are humans that can throw spears 200+ yards with an atlatl. An ogre could send a similar weight much further.
    b) Orcs are significantly stronger than humans, but are also taller. They can see over a front-line of humans and better support them. Instead of putting them in the front line, put them in the second with a front line of humans. The human warriors would have close-combat weapons and heavy shields, while the orcs would have spears with more reach than a human army could use. This double line would be highly effective in defending against close-range attacks, especially against armies that don’t have non-human warriors.


    1. Nivek

      As best as I can tell, the practical villains refuse to trust “reusable” magic weapons (for good reason) since if somebody depends on the magic superweapon then it will fail or be turned against them at the worst possible time. One-offs like goblin munitions or suicide goats don’t get turned against the sender since they are already exploded. And even those get duplicated/looted and used against the inventor a lot (Martial Sacker lost an eye to sharpers, Heiress used a munition-filled ghoul during the climactic showdown at the sword-in-the-stone).


    2. stevenneiman

      As to Age of Wonders magic, Fate makes it basically useless. Winning isn’t a matter of superiority, it’s a matter of there not being a story about you losing. If she made use of that style of weapons and tactics she might get a few victories in but she would then lose to the first batch of heroes that showed up. At best she could hope to relive the life of Triumphant, complete with exactly the same ending that she died without having accomplished anything lasting except that people still curse her name.
      That isn’t the main reason though. The main reason is the same one that Kairos didn’t just let Basilia stomp on his enemies for him. It would have worked, but it would not have been appropriate. To Malicia the Age of Wonders is dead, and every victory she wins by diligence, competence and pragmatism is one more step in the dance on its grave.


    3. Morgenstern

      Flying discs weaponized: Ill just say this much: Wind.
      There HAS to be a hero with “wind magic” that can simply turn it aside or even do the “return to sender”…


      1. Morgenstern

        On further thought… there actually was a lot of mention already about how heroes and villains make wind with their SWORD attacks already, so much that they push back people with it.


  8. stevenneiman

    “She’d given them reason to {be}”
    “after having him looked into {him} I’d seen no reason to refuse”
    “It’s {a} placeholder solution, regardless”
    “Last I heard [he] was in Penthes” He who? I’m assuming you’re talking about Black due to the fact that the next line relates to putting a city out of the fight by arranging a diplomatic mess.
    “It had drawn quite a bit of attention when an unheard-of villain had come out of nowhere and grilled the third of an army on his way to Atalante.” I’m honestly not sure what this is supposed to mean
    “With {the} bridge that was the main trade route in and out of the hills only just freshly raised”

    Well, it’s interesting to see that Malicia isn’t just going for instant solidarity with Black. I really wonder how this is going to turn out.


    1. stevenneiman

      They’re people who have basically been allowed to live exempt from the rules because it would be inconvenient to oppose them. Mazus was like that, and took immense joy in his death. If she can’t bring down the assassins by herself, then she might as well admit that everything she’s done was pointless because all she can do is come crying to Black to fix her problems whenever anything goes wrong.


  9. I think I’m having a crisis of faith in the Guide:
    I thought commitment to their Story was a Named’s best friend. The Tyrant’s action against the army of Atalante seemed to drive that point home if the Angel-mugging hadn’t.

    So Cat goes after the Assassins for her Story reasons, and things get worse? Or is this the adversity Creation puts up as the “test of faith” in her Story? Doing the not-expedient thing of trying to dismantle the Assassins Guild when she really doesn’t have the means to do it effectively would seem to be at least akin to the Tyrant leaving his army out of the battle with Atalante’s forces. Cat is trying it to reform Callow from inside Team Villainy.

    Or is this a case like the Tyrant was criticizing during his murder of the envoys. Cat speaking the words and missing the meaning? That doesn’t seem right to me either though.

    Anyone have a possible explanation here? (Beyond the obvious, no Name mechanics involved, it was just on balance, as “Malicia” said a bad idea to try and take them down because something like the Assassin’s Guild is necessary to the workings of such a society, I mean.)


    1. jonnnney

      Her reasoning isn’t valid for a villain so she doesn’t get to cheat the rules. She isn’t taking out the dark guilds because it would help cement her power, cow the populace, or because they might oppose her in the future. She isn’t even doing it because she wants them to die. She is doing it because it is the right thing to do.

      Even more she is going against a fundamental aspect of her story. Last chapter she said:
      “I did not cover this land with corpses just to change the flavour of tyranny that rules it. If I don’t make it better now, when will I?”

      She is trying to justify her actions to Hakram and justification only matters to the just.


    2. stevenneiman

      The thing is that Tyrant of Helike (or at least Kairos’ take on the Name) is a dramatic one, while Squire is a humble and tactical one. Kairos can shake his fist at the heavens and come out on top because that’s what his job is to do, especially when it sets the stage for the heroes to come in and screw everything up. Whether he has the means up his sleeve to derail a heroic epic with his Name on it is a question for another day, but right now he is in his element and at least with the way that he interprets his first Aspect he is tapping it like a keg.
      On the other hand, Cat is doing something that is from a tactical perspective a mistake (antagonizing a powerful enemy force that she is ill-equipped to counter) and besides her Name is much more realistic which means much more difficulty whenever she tries to do anything. Also, while this might have been a low-level Struggle before, she isn’t Taking anything and her other Aspects haven’t been revealed. Her Name wins on the open field by superior tactics, and she’s not going to have an easy time of using it to fight an enemy like the guild. Of course her interpretation of the Name is all about slogging through uphill battles she’s unprepared to face, so she still might pull it off. Ironically in order to have a chance she needs to not have a chance


  10. It’s weird that Cat would think that the tyrant is an unheard-of villain given that he is named, is a lord over one of the free cities and how he had acquired his name and power.


    1. jonnnney

      Well Cat is in a fairly unique position of having met most of the Calamities. Plus her mentor has been repeatedly chided for overthrowing a free city while drunk. It probably takes a lot to be considered a well known villain in her book and ruling the free city isn’t a point in his favour.


    2. stevenneiman

      She’s used to thinking of the Free Cities as so mired in internecine conflicts that as a whole they cancel themselves out and are unimportant. If she thinks about them at all.


    3. Morgenstern

      I see an entirely different reason there: He only cropped up very shortly ago in a rather far-flung region. When even Black isn’t quite sure about what exactly is going on over there in the outro(? intro??), and Malicia has to inform him… how the hell should CAT know? She had a LOT going on lately and NONE of it had to do with the Free Cities. She is NOT a ruler yet and is VERY concentrated on Callow. That is, btw, exactly the point made here in this chapter… (so glad you confirmed that, dear Erratic, yay!)


  11. Thanks,
    I didn’t consider that Cat was justifying. That DOES weaken her story. As to the other point, doing it because its right instead of for a “Villainous” reason, that IS Catherine’s Story. Using authority earned from within the Praesi system to effect meaningful positive change for Callow. Or said another way, finding a way to make life in Callow good for the people without the necessity of a successful Rebellion against Praes.

    Malicia and Black even conversed on as much, with Black saying “You know, if she wins we’re going to have to allow her the power to make the reforms she wants to make. Else we become the next obstacles in her way.” (To paraphrase), and Malicia agreed.

    In this case though, I think you hit the crux of it with her decision being essentially a matter of Justification, Jonnnney. Cat can be right on one front, and wrong on another in accordance with the internal logic of her story and have the two decisions “cancel out”…leaving her with the result she’d get without Names/Stories factored into it.

    Good catch Jonnnney 🙂


    1. Morgenstern

      She basically had a return to old wavering boohoo in the last chapter. That never goes well in a ‘verse so bound to story and *believing* in it/yourself…


      1. Morgenstern

        Last chapter she actually reminded me of the Lone Swordsman. Wondering if the took something more from him than just an Aspect until it fades away…. All that lamenting and ALMOST being contrite, at least wavering what is actually the right thing, being unsure blahblah… SO Will. o_Ô


  12. On the assassins and other Dark Guilds, why not simply blood-oath them to her? Come to think of it, why didn’t Malicia and Black blood-oath all the nobles to them after their victory? You don’t have to kill the enemy when you can implant them with suicide triggers or the magical equivalent and force them to work for you.


    1. Thieves and assassins tend to be pretty good at rules lawyering, so it’d work for all of five minutes. <_< Chaos: ignoring boundaries as they please is part of the package. 😉

      The better way would be an appeal to avarice (or, at least, not tipping the board over), Vetinari-style. 😛


      1. stevenneiman

        Which they both did with general success until now, but might run into problems now that Cat’s got her hornet’s-nest-kicking boots on.


    1. Letouriste

      What? You didn’t read book 2 right? This is EXACTLY why her troops love her(well she is badass and loyal too),she don’t hesitate to listen and change her opinion on matters.


  13. There’s a way for Catherine to kill two birds with one stone,
    Though I don’t know if she can do it given her current wealth-related woes. Turn the Assassins and Thieves Guilds into the intelligence and enemy subversion network she currently lacks. She’d need to win their loyalty and keep them paid, but these kinds of challenges aren’t even near the same difficulty as wiping the Assassins out.

    Robber can’t do everything. Even the effectiveness of his harassing Heiress’s new followers was on the wane as of a few Chapters ago. I’m genuinely curious what will happen next now.

    (Though still quite afraid Cat will soon be thrust into one more position of power she wasn’t expecting)


    1. Hakurei06

      Fun fact, those quotes are known as Epigraphs, and most herein also qualify as epigrams.

      “Setang” means “handlebar” in Indonesian and “Satang” is a Thai currency worth 0.01 Baht, according to that google search, google image search, and google translate tell me. A Satang strikes me as a rather terrible name to give your child (I suppose it’s rather like Penny), but at least makes more sense than “handlebar”.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Morgenstern

        For a second there, I actually read that as an English-German mix-up =P Handle-bar = sth. you can handle (bar = able) 😉


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