Heroic Interlude: Appellant

“One hundred and twelve: always be kind to any monster held in a cage by your nemesis. When it inevitably gets loose, it will remember the kindness and attempt to destroy the villain instead.”
– “Two Hundred Heroic Axioms”, author unknown

A series of explosions rocked the machine and the enormous drill ceased spinning.

Though the Lowest Plaza still had a massive gaping hole in its centre, Helikean soldiers were no longer pouring out of the tunnel: when the Tyrant had fled, swearing ‘eternal and unholy revenge’, they’d begun retreating in good order. Hanno let out a sigh of relief. He’d not needed to tap into any of his aspects to turn back the breach, but after unleashing his Name so many times he was starting to tire. Ash was already making her way through the Delosi soldiers, curing anything short of death with a touch and that semi-permanent frown. The Ashen Priestess was admittedly one of the more combative healing Names: it should perhaps be expected that her bedside manner was rougher than that of the average priest. The White Knight wasn’t exactly displeased. His memories told him that the all-loving types often had difficulty dealing with the realities of war, especially those sworn to Compassion. Their inability to reconcile the way Creation was and the way it should be could lead to some very ugly breakdowns.

The Champion was currently collecting “trophies”, hacking off the tip of swords so she could make rings out of them to add to her necklace. There were already enough of those that the thing could be considered an additional layer of mail around her neck. A somewhat grisly ritual by heroic standards, but that was always the way with Levantines. The heroes that had founded their nation had been rebels fighting the Proceran occupation, after all, and they’d been much more willing to bloody their hands than the average Named on the side of Good. Hanno sheathed his sword and took off his helmet to wipe his brow. Hedge crawled out of the wreckage of the machine moments later, covered in soot from head to toe. She’d gone in there to blow the runic array powering the drill while he held the line, and one again gotten off essentially untouched. Hanno wasn’t surprised: there was a reason he kept sending her on the riskiest ventures.

As long as the Hedge Wizard and the Champion kept bickering ‘amusingly’, they were essentially untouchable. Their heroic band would be much too grim if they died, too dark for the amount of absurdity the Tyrant kept injecting into this siege. The White Knight eyed the giant drilling machine belching smoke and sighed again. Well, the flying towers had been a wash so he supposed it made sense for the Tyrant to try underground afterwards. Usually even villains hesitated before trying that route, since there was always the risk of running into a dwarven tunnel, but this particular monster was a reckless one. Almost too reckless, he’d begun thinking of late. Every assault that had been made on Delos so far did have a decent chance of succeeding, but they were also all half-baked enterprises. It was like victory and defeat didn’t particularly matter to the man planning the operations, which was somewhat worrying. If taking Delos wasn’t the way the Tyrant got what he wanted, what was?

Delosi officers began arranging crews to drag away the broken machine and cordoning off the hole in the ground until it could be properly filled. The Secretariat’s armed forces were not particularly strong, in his opinion, but they were well-organized and had superb morale. Delosi believed that the decrees of their Secretariat were the will of the Heavens, so whenever they were deployed they would not break regardless of casualty rates. It had not been unusual for half a battalion to be wiped out on their first deployment, in the first skirmishes of the war, and yet the same men and women who’d been through that grinder did not hesitate going back to it the following day. He could respect that, the act of putting your faith in something larger than yourself. In this case it was somewhat misplaced, of course. The Secretariat was an institution made my men, and so held the flaws of those men. To find infallible judgement, one had to look higher. Hedge made her way to him, patting away the soot with a lack of method that spread the unsightliness more than got rid of it.

“That should be it for a fortnight, at least,” she said. “Unless he thinks up another machine.”

“He’s tried above and below,” Hanno noted. “We should expect a dimensional shortcut next.”

The Hedge Wizard snorted, her mismatched eyes shining with anticipation.

“If he’s going to meddle in Arcadia that problem might just fix itself,” she said. “The Courts are on war footing; they’ll be shooting everything that moves.”

“The first step always works, Hedge,” he reminded her. “It may backfire later but it’s a virtual certainty he’ll make it into the city.”

The dark-haired woman grimaced.

“That sounds like you’re asking me to do ward work,” she said. “Breaking those I can manage, White, but making them? That stuff is hellishly complicated and it blows up if you get even one number wrong.”

Hanno had been about to suggest a mere alarm measure instead of something more taxing when he saw Delosi troops coming down from the upper levels. The White Knight felt curiosity rise when the officers among them ignored the efforts of the other soldiers and headed straight for him. The highest-ranked among them, a weedy woman with a commander’s insignia branded on her breastplate, came forward and saluted sharply.

“Lord White,” she greeted him. “There’s been an accident.”

“A large one, for a commander to come inform me personally,” he said.

“There was a fire in the House of Ink and Parchment,” the commander said. “An entire wing collapsed. Casualties involve several members of the Secretariat.”

Hanno’s eyes sharpened.

“Which ones?” he asked.

The commander didn’t know since she was not high-ranking enough to be cleared for the information, as it turned out, but she’d been provided with a list. For once Delos’ obsession with records was saving time instead of costing it. The olive-skinned hero scanned the scroll, skipping the names of anyone not ranked Secretary – anyone below that had no real influence in the city. Secretary Colchis, Secretary Mante, Secretary Theolian. Secretary of War Euphemia. Every single high-ranked member of the Secretariat who’d at any point spoken in favour of Delos continuing to intervene in the war past the siege.

“That fire was not an accident,” he said quietly. “It was enemy action.”

Hedge looked at him grimly.

“You think the Tyrant used the assault as a distraction?” she asked.

“Wasn’t our Kairos who did this,” Aoede said.

Hanno released the handle of his sword. The Bard had not been there a moment ago, but in between a single blink of his eyelids she had… filled the space. Arm slung over Hedge’s shoulder, the Wandering Bard for once wasn’t smiling.

“You should have some memories about this,” Aoede told him. “This is-“

She never got to finish. Of the twenty-odd officers that surrounded them, over half had weapons in hand: the Bard vanished before a knife could take her in the belly, wielded by the very commander who’d brought him news.

Stand down,” Hanno barked, blade in hand.

In the span of a single heartbeat the hero noticed three things. First, all the officers with their weapons out looked horrified. Second, there was the faintest trickle of power inside them. And third, they were now turning their weapons on themselves. The White Knight dropped his sword and wrestled down the commander before she could slit her own throat, but Hedge was not so quick. The others dropped to the ground, dying or dead, before anything else could be done. The commander stopped fighting back after a moment and he only just managed to keep her from biting off her tongue. Name pulsing, Hanno focused on the power he’d glimpsed. He managed to feel five layers of something before it was gone, washed away before he even tried to make it disappear.

“Commander,” he said calmly, releasing her mouth. “Are you with me?”

The woman blinked.

“Lord White?” she croaked. “Why am I on the ground?”

Hanno got back to his feet, helped her up.

“Can you remember anything unusual that happened to you today?” he said.

The officer paled.

“No,” she admitted.

“She wouldn’t,” Hedge said quietly. “Someone Spoke to her.”

The Ashuran glanced at his companion.

“You’ve seen this before?” he asked.

“I know the theory,” the Wizard replied. “Five orders. One to wipe the memory, one trigger, one act and two contingencies.”

This… he’d seen this before. Fought this before. The White Knight closed his eyes, breathed in and out until his heartbeat slowed and then ceased entirely. In that moment, his mind filled. A thousand lifetimes he had lived yet not lived, spread across centuries. Hanno focused, filtered through two points: compromised officers, high-tier leadership crippled. Seventh Crusade, White Knight. No, opponent was the Dead King. First Proceran War, Good King. No, this wasn’t bribery. The Paladin, fall of the Blessed Isle. Conquest. Commander of the vanguard and the western flank assassinated, had to be replaced by officers less seasoned. Every outpost off the Isle gone dark. Sentries made unable to see the placement of goblinfire at the base of the walls. His heartbeat returned.

“Calamities,” Hanno spoke. “We’re fighting the Calamities, and they’re about to attack.”

There was a sensation in the back of his head, like a lever being pulled, and a ward covering the Lower Plaza awoke.

A faint smell hit his nostrils and soldiers began dropping like flies.

Alkmene wasted a good two heartbeats looking at Hanno like he’d just murdered her puppy. The Calamities, as in those scary Praesi fuckers up north with a graveyard full of heroes behind their lair? Shit. Shit. Words stronger than shit, which were not coming at the moment because oh Gods they were all about to die. Productive panic, Hedge, she reminded herself. Productive panic is how we survive. They were now inside a ward, which had been remotely triggered and until now had been hidden behind the much larger magical emanations coming from that godsdamned drill from the Hells. Alkmene tested the strength of said ward with her mind and found she might as well be trying to bring down a wall by pelting it with pastries. Modify it? And now the back of her eye was itching, just from a light probe. Whoever had designed that pattern was a vicious bastard and a half. All that was left was alleviating the effects, then. Her teachers had always taught that that a Gifted faced with a ward could only do three things: break, modify or alleviate. By the looks of it, this one was a straight translocation ward that was bringing in some kind of gas at a fixed rate.

Hedge pulled up a scarf from under her robes and covered her mouth. Most poisons could be outright ignored by Named and the rest could be burned out with a trick, but quantity ingested did influence how well that worked. From the way all the Delosi were stiffening and falling to the ground so quickly, this was not a weak brew. Not magical in nature though. That made things easier. Muttering a word of power, Alkmene created a ball of air in the middle of the plaza. The translucent sphere began spinning, sucking in the gas as fast as it could. She kept murmuring and it kept expanding, devouring more and more. Wouldn’t save many of the soldiers, but it would at least make sure their band didn’t go into the fight with enough paralysis poison in their lungs to kill a dozen oxen. Ash, in the middle of the incapacitated men, slammed her staff against the paving stones. There was a pulse of power and the people on the ground began breathing again, turning this from a massacre to a crippling blow. On the other hand, by doing that she’d… Hanno was running towards her sister faster than anyone in plate should be able to, but he wouldn’t get there in time.

A red wedge immediately opened up in the sky above Irene and a burning rock the size of a house fell through.

Alkmene cursed, flicked her wrist and sent the ball of air straight at the projectile. For a heartbeat it seemed like it would push it back, but then with a pop the spell gave. It was just enough of a delay that her sister was able to prepare herself, thank the Gods. Before the pocket meteorite could smash her into paste Irene was swallowed by a cloud of ash that swirled around her before spearing upwards. The rock itself turned into ash when it made contact, hitting the ground and obscuring the entire plaza in a thick cloud. Alkmene sharpened her eyes just before visibility went and winced at what she saw. Irene’s eyes were already grey, which was a bad sign. She’d already used too much power. The Hedge Wizard set that aside the moment she began to feel another spell being crafted, and looked upwards. There was a ball of opaque blue light hovering in the sky above the city, a stable shielding ward. The Warlock, she realized with a dry swallow. She was going to have to fight that. What had her teachers called getting into a mage’s duel with Praesi again? Death by stupidity, she remembered. But godsdamnit, she’d have to anyway. If the Warlock was busy with her he wasn’t smashing everything down here to bloody chunks. Alkmene cursed again and fished out three tiles from her pockets.

She threw them ahead of her, watched them form three steps hovering in the air.

“You don’t have to win, Hedge,” she encouraged herself. “Just, you know, not get horribly killed. It’s all about the standards.”

Nervously laughing, she began the climb up.

Even as the ash billowed past him, Hanno replayed the sequence of events of the last sixty heartbeats in his mind. Nonlethal but dangerous ward that affected mundane soldiers, triggered as the opening move. Their spellcaster moved to mitigate the damage, taking herself out of the equation. Their healer then attempted to heal the affected, leaving herself wide open for retaliation while the other two fighters in their band were too far away to intervene.

Had the Ashen Priestess been a common healing Named, that projectile would have killed her instantly.

They’d almost lost a fourth of their fighting strength before the first exchange was over, and that realization sent a shiver up his spine. These were not military tactics, they were hero-killing tactics. Targeting people in their charge to make them expend effort, then immediately striking their weak point with overwhelming force. Their opponents were not only used to fighting heroes, they were used to fighting bands of heroes. The White Knight calmed his mind. There would be three of them. The Warlock was in the sky, and Hedge was moving to distract him. Now he needed to find the Captain and the Black Knight before they could take one of his companions out.

“Ash,” he called out. “Champion.”

“We here,” the Champion yelled back.

“One, five,” a man’s voice calmly said. “Brazier.”

Magic flared in the distance and the place where the Champion’s voice had come from burst into flames. The light was enough for Hanno to make out a lone silhouette to his left. A man. Short, in plate with a heater shield and a longsword. The White Knight, without making a sound, headed in that direction. With a burst of speed he emerged behind the man and rammed his blade in this back – only to pierce through shadows that collapsed into a pool before snaking away along the ground. There was a faint whistle and he ducked under a crossbow bolt, almost missing the second one aimed at his knee. He managed to parry that one at the last moment, though it marked his armour. The hero could still feel the presences of Ash and the Champion, dimmed. They were still alive, though the fire had hurt. Gritting his teeth, he made his choice and followed the shadows.

They were swift, but not swift enough to outpace a hero on foot. After a few moments it became glaringly obvious he was being led away from the plaza, towards the second level of the city. The sound of fighting erupted behind him, the Champion hooting in joy, but he’d have to trust they could handle themselves. Leaving the Black Knight unattended with an ash cloud as cover was just asking for one of them to die. Hanno found steps under his feet, a sure sign he was leaving the plaza, and shortly afterwards fell the pressure over his shoulders vanish: he’d left the bounds of the ward. The ash cloud behind him, the hero looked for his opponent and found him almost instantly. In the middle of the avenue stood a man, in a bare suit of plate that had the marks of frequent use. His shield had no heraldry painted on it, his sword went without decoration. The only splash of colour was those unsettlingly pale green eyes that could be seen through the slits of the helm.

“You’re a long way from home, Black Knight,” Hanno said.

The man did not reply. He moved forward, shield raised. The White Knight felt the Light flood his veins, scouring his insides, and with hard eyes met the enemy.

The enemy had made a mistake when they’d chosen poison as their means of attack. The method had been clever enough, Irene would concede, as the sheer quantity of poison had made it hard to counteract. Now that she had this much ash to work with, however, it was child’s play to neutralize the effects. After absorbing the airborne toxin with it she’d directly targeted the enemy ward with her power, since Alkmene was apparently incapable of doing as much. Hammering blindly at sorcery with miracles tended to lead to unpredictable side effects, so instead of destroying the ward she’d erased the part that was bringing in the gas. Or at least she’d begun doing that, before nine feet of plate and muscle with a giant hammer had come for her head. How they’d not seen or heard the behemoth approach, given that the ash cloud had settled on the ground by then, was beyond her. Likely the woman’s Name was involved. Regardless, the Champion had stepped in before her earthly body could be made an earthly corpse.

“You not just big girl,” said heroine enthused, narrowly avoiding a swing. “You biggest girl.”

“I’m flattered,” the Captain replied politely. “But also thrice your age and married.”

The Ashen Priestess had never thought much of fighting banter. If you had breath for it, you weren’t trying to kill your opponent hard enough. The Champion was more or less holding the enemy at bay for now, so she focused on the ward again. She could see why her sister had found the structure troublesome: there were little patterns that would make even looking at it dangerous for a mage. Doing so through the lens of a miracle, however, meant it could not touch her. Irene began sharpening her power into a chisel again, breaking one rune after another. Her soul was only loosely attached to her body by a chord, high in the sky as she continued chipping away at the ward. The Priestess smiled as she wiped another cluster, then felt the chord being tugged. Looking downwards she saw the Champion’s shield getting caved in by a hammer blow, quickly followed by the heroine getting punched in the face. Both hits she had gotten by standing between the villain and Priestess’ immobile body. Irene had seen the Champion laugh off a horse’s kick, but after that punch she spat blood before forcing the Captain back. She then unkindly slapped Irene’s body in the face a second time, the chord forcefully dragging the heroine back inside at the impact.

“Ashy,” Champion grunted as the Priestess blearily opened her eyes. “Get your miera joint. This no stroll in park.”

Irene eyed her companion in confusion before she caught the meaning. Get your shit together, Rafaella had meant.

“The ward’s out of play,” she said. “I’m back.”

“Good,” the Champion said. “Two-time big girl now.”

Said ‘girl’ was not currently attacking them, Priestess could not help but notice. The Captain was not wearing a helmet so the studded earring in her left ear was quite visible. And currently glinting with sorcery.

“Confirmed,” the Captain said. “Going full tilt.”

“I no like sound of this,” the Champion admitted, throwing away her crumpled shield and hoisting her axe.

“It’s nothing personal,” the villain said. “I was given an order, and now I Obey.”

The moment she spoke the word, her presence in Creation became heavier. Aspect. Well, that was going to be troublesome. The Ashen Priestess reached for her miracles as the Captain blurred into motion.

Hanno’s sword slid off the shield and he backpedalled to avoid the blades that would have scythed through his knees. At least now he knew how the villain had shot two crossbows at him earlier: the Black Knight’s shadow extended into two tendrils behind his back, the two of them wielding swords simultaneously to the villain’s own movements. The sheer amount of fine control that had to go in that was staggering, not that the hero had time to stop and stare: even with the Light sharpening his reflexes beyond human capacity he was having trouble coming close without taking a hit. The first time the villain had revealed the tendrils he’d waited until their blades were locked before plunging two blades straight into the White Knight’s neck: they’d gone through the gorget and would have gone on to his spine under it if he hadn’t detonated the Light beneath his skin to blow them back. The burns from that were painful, and unlike other wounds wouldn’t start healing given enough time.

Hanno breathed out, having a little space, and timed his advance. The first shadow-wielded sword skimmed his shoulder as he shot forward, trailing sparks. The second came down in a swing but he rolled forward, landing on his feet just in time to parry a lunge that would have gone straight through his eye. The White Knight slapped away the shield, flicked his wrist, and with wide eyes saw the fuse on a clay ball reaching the bottom. It exploded in his face, throwing him back. Before he even landed on the ground the Black Knight was behind him, shadow tendrils swinging swords at the height of his neck and torso. Gritting his teeth, Hanno detonated the Light on his side to stop his momentum – it blew straight through his plate. He took a shield bash to the face, blinding him, and then felt a blade go straight through the elbow joint of his sword arm. Biting down on a scream, he reached for his Name and let out a pulse of blinding light. By the time he was steady again, the Black Knight was twenty feet away and the shadow limbs were aiming crossbows at him.

The hero moved his blade to the hand with a functioning elbow behind it. He wasn’t as good with his left as his right, but it was a near thing. At the moment he could only see two shadow tendrils, but Hanno wasn’t falling for that again. He’d seen a third one hiding those goblin munitions behind the shield, after knocking it aside. The crossbows drew back, however, when both Named heard the sound of marching troops coming down the avenue leading up to the third level. Reinforcements, the Ashuran thought. Alone against the villain they would be wheat waiting for the sickle, but with him too? No matter how many limbs the Black Knight had, he only had one torso. The Delosians spread across the length of the avenue in a shield wall, bowmen setting up behind them. The villain’s limbs retracted and he patiently waited for the soldiers to approach. What was he… No.

“Retreat,” the White Knight bellowed.

“Two, five through eight,” the green-eyed man spoke calmly. “Half.”

Hanno felt magic flare in the distance and saw the villain flatten himself against the ground. He followed suit, and a heartbeat late felt the warmth of a spell pass above him. He got back on his feet as soon as his senses told him the danger was past, jaw tightening when he saw the aftermath of the sorcery. Every soldier in the avenue had been cut through at the waist as if by a giant blade. Blood and viscera stained the stone even as the men twitched away the last of their lives.

“Warlock, you have bleed,” the Black Knight said. “Walls were damaged. Recalibrate.”

Some of the houses had been sliced through as well, Hanno saw, but he was far past caring. He’d just seen two hundred men butchered like animals quicker than you could fill a glass. The White Knight breathed out, mastering his fury. I do not judge. To take justice in his own hands was surrendering his blade to chaos. Only the judgement of the Heavens was not limited by the shackles of mortal perspective.

Ride,” Hanno hissed, running.

Light howled into existence, sharping itself into a steed that the White Knight mounted without missing a beat. His sword returned to its sheath as he devoured the distance, a blinding lance of light forming in his extended hand. The Black Knight cocked his head to the side and the shadow tendrils extended from his back. Hanno waited for the swords, but instead they extended even further and pushed the villain off the ground like giant spider legs, tossing him towards a rooftop to the left. By the time the Ashuran got to where the villain had stood there was nothing left to charge. The mount disappeared a heartbeat later and the lance with it, Hanno landing on his feet. His gaze turned to the rooftop, where the Black Knight was studying him.

“Two, six,” the man said. “Pitch.”

Everything went dark just as the tiredness from using the aspect hit him.

“Oh, come on,” Hedge yelled as she started falling.

It had been bad enough when little dots of red light that burned straight through everything began pursuing her, but now this? There was no way using giant snakes made of flames as a mobile semi-sentient defence could be considered reasonable. Mages used those as a fancy knockout-punch, not decoration.  She only had two tiles left – that little dot surprise had punched straight through one before she learned what they did – which meant she wasn’t so much ascending as leaping from one stair to another. While at least a league up in the sky, pursued by killer lights and very insistent giant fire snakes. Normally the absolute sheer terror knotting up her guts would have been crippling, but having come within an inch of death seven times within the last few moments she’d punched straight through that ceiling of fear into another realm of fresh and previously unexplored horror. She was never going use a staircase again, and anyone who tried to make her was going to spend the rest of their life as the ugliest frog she could manage.

The Hedge Wizard summoned the two tiles back to her, shoving one under her feet hastily so she’d stop freefalling. The dots were slow enough they’d take a bit to catch up, but she was now officially back in snake trouble territory. The odd-eyed woman winced as she saw the spell construct’s jaw unhinge. Just before it closed on her she muttered a word of power and both she and everything she touched turned into flame, just long enough for the snake to pass through her. She came out of it wearing fuming robes and knowing she was running out of tricks to survive that. Her Name allowed her to use and understand sorceries so wide in scope and different in nature that it was effectively impossible for anyone else to know them all, but it did have one glaring flaw: she could never use the same trick twice the same day. Her bag wasn’t running low, at the moment, but it was certainly running low with things she could use to avoid giant flaming snake death. This was, she reflected, a bit of a problem.

She wouldn’t be able to keep this up much longer, while the Warlock did not even seem to be running his actual defences. Could he even, from inside that bubble ward? He’d been casting area-wide magic sporadically, but she wasn’t actually getting any spikes in magic from in there when he did. There was actually a non-negligible chance he was just triggering distant wards while overseeing the battlefield. The most direct action he’d taken so far was the pocket meteor, and that was before she’d found him in the sky. So if I break that bubble, I might be disrupting their entire plan. That was the kind of risk she had to take, horrifying as that notion was. Alkmene did not think they were going to pull through this otherwise, not with how dim she could feel the others getting. Hanno was getting the worst of it, she sensed, but whoever Champion was scrapping with was delivering a hell of a beating. Hedge gingerly rolled her shoulders, watching the swarm of light dots approaching.

The wizard summoned her free tile to her hand and tapped the one she was standing on three times. It broke her heart to destroy an artefact she’d made so recently – because of their equally recent flying tower fiasco, as it happened – but it was marginally better than getting destroyed herself. The tile began lengthening and she ran down the length, feeling it becoming more and more brittle the longer it spread. Halfway to the bubble it shattered under her feet. She managed to get the second on in place before beginning to fall, angling it so it served as a sloped ramp. Immediately she began sliding off but another word of power had her soles sticking to the surface, allowing her to start running upwards. Not, unfortunately, fast enough to lose the dots. Hedge muttered under breath and flicked her wrist: a ghost image of her, reproducing her magical signature, began running away across thin air. The dots weren’t sentient at all, unlike the snakes, so it would be enough to fool them.

One of said snakes managed to loop back to her right before she got to the bubble, though, leaving her only an instant to make her decision. She went with the risk, since her last tile was already beginning to break. She leapt on top of the bubble and pressed herself against the ward, hoping to all the Gods the snakes had been designed not to collide with the bubble. The fire construct veered away at the last moment and she clenched her fist in triumph. Not dying, her favourite kind of victory. Immediately she began tinkering with the ward beneath her. Unlike the first one they’d been hit with, this one had been designed to weather a beating instead of being hard to modify. Small favours. No doubt the Warlock already knew she was there, so her window would be very, very small. Huh, this was actually massively strong. She could have unloaded her entire arsenal at this and barely scratched it. Were the villains under the impression she was a slugger kind of mage?

With a smile of triumph, she switched the last two runes, preparing the fae flame even as a circular hole in the bubble opened.

There was no Warlock inside.

There was, however, an unstable elemental matrix that had only been kept from exploding by the containment ward.

“You utter asshole,” she managed to say before it blew up.

The warhammer came down and shattered Champion’s shoulder, then spun to turn her left kneecap into powder. The Captain did not even attempt to kill the downed heroine this time, going directly for Irene. She’d learned from that initial mistake.

Heal,” the Ashen Priestess murmured.

The shoulder snapped back into place, the knee yanked itself up and the Levantine woman got back on her feet. Irene had been tapping into her aspect for over half the fight and it was starting to take a toll. The wounds healed themselves more slowly now, and not as fully. Given how absurdly tough the Champion was she was able to walk it off anyway, but it was a game of diminishing returns. In more ways than one: the Captain’s hammer came down on the box of light surrounding the Priestess three times before Rafaella was able to engage her again. After the third blow the box thinned, and Irene was certain if the villain had time for a fourth it would outright break. If it did, she gave it half and half odds she survived the experience. Unfortunately the Champion now got back into the fight a little slower every time while Captain showed no sign of tiring. Whatever aspect she’d used earlier wasn’t empowering her by much, but it wasn’t running out. This had effectively become an endurance match, which villains weren’t supposed to be able to win. They would this time, though, because the Calamities had hit when their band was fresh from turning back an enemy assault.

That did not feel like a coincidence.

“Champion,” Irene called out.

“Small busy right now,” the Levantine replied, ducking under a hammer blow.

The mere force of the swing was enough to kick up a cloud of ash behind them.

“I need you to buy me sixty heartbeats,” she said.

“Also want moon and stars?” Champion complained.

“It’s that or we die,” the Priestess frankly replied.

Rafaella smashed her battle axe into the behemoth’s plate, driving her back a step and cracking the metal.

“Dying not good,” the Levantine conceded.

The Captain leapt back.

“I need Burden in, um,” she said. “Big square in the middle.”

There was a pause.

“I’m not Black, Wekesa,” she retorted irritably. “I don’t keep track of where everyone goes all the time.”

Thirty heartbeats left. She could make it. Her aspect continued ebbing as she pushed another one to the surface. That was the limitation on Heal – she could keep it going, but making it stop took time. There was a flare of magic in the distance and suddenly the box flared into existence above her head. A moment later it broke and massive pressure forced her to her knees. Champion was still on her feet even if she was buckling, she saw, but Captain seemed almost unaffected. The hammer rose and she blurred again.

Oppose,” the Champion laughed.

There was a sound like a crack made in the weave of Creation and the pressure lifted. Rafaella’s axe smashed into the head of the hammer that would have split open the Priestess’ head, the impacts perfectly matched. Both weapons flew back and Captain warily stepped away.

Ignite,” Irene croaked out.

All over the field, the ashes began smouldering. She could feel them pulse in harmony with heartbeat, as much a part of her as any limb. The heat rose and the ashes began rising into the air, forming into spears. The Captain took a look around, then cracked her neck.

“Been a while,” she said. “It won’t be gentle.”

The villain’s eyes turned blood red, her body convulsed and she began shifting. They were, it seemed, not yet out of the woods. Worse, the woods were starting to look rather hungry.

This was not working, Hanno thought as the blade sheared through his cheek. The wound began to heal almost immediately, but his Name didn’t replace blood. Of which he had lost too much already. The White Knight’s eyes narrowed when he saw his opponent giving ground. He was hearing something. Was the villain ordering another strike? Hanno sharpened his hearing, catching only the last words.

“Listen closely.”

Then the munitions detonated. The hero hissed, involuntarily clasping his free hand to an ear. The man had used the elongated sticks that made light and noise earlier, but this was different – it made only noise, but was horribly loud. In that moment where pain filled Hanno’s thoughts, the Black Knight made his move. The olive-skinned hero brought up his sword in time to parry the first strike and sidestep the tendril-moved blade that would have sunk straight in his carotid. But he took the shield bash to the face, and then the other shadow-wielded blade went through the slight space between his breastplate and the lower parts of his armour that only mail covered. The sword chipped on the rings, but it tore through his guts anyway. The sword in the villain’s hand drew back, and in that movement Hanno read his death. It would take him in the eye, killing him in a way no Name could prevent. The world slowed. It wasn’t about power, the White Knight knew. He’d gauged how much both their names could throw around, and he trumped his opponent handily. It was the disparity in skill and experience. Hanno did not have any tricks his opponents had never seen before, and he had not seen most of his opponent’s.

That had always been going to be the way, he’d known from the start. He would have to go against villains who’d been around for decades longer than he, who’d been accumulating power and skill long before he’d even been born. It was why he’d left for the Titanomachy instead of going north to die like the others. I am not enough, but I am more than me. The Light flooded his veins again where it had started to ebb and he silently spoke the word he needed to.

Recall.

They flooded through his mind until he sorted them by height and build. Knight Errant. Hanno’s body moved by itself, the reflexes of his Name replacing his own. He leaned backwards, the tip of the villain’s sword passing just above his nose, and his hand closed around the grip of the sword in his gut. Ignoring the struggling shadow tendril, he hit the Black Knight in the chest with the pommel. The impact bought him a moment he flawlessly used to spin around his opponent. The very instant they were back to back he slapped away the tendril-moved sword that would have taken the back of his knee and with two swords in hand stepped away from his opponent. The villain did not miss a beat, stepping into a lunge that Hanno turned into a parry that knocked the sword out of the man’s hand. It did not stop him: a tendril caught the sword and swung for this throat as the other one slapped another blade into the palm of his armoured hand. No, this wouldn’t work either.

He touched the flood again. Righteous Spear. Tossing away the villain’s weapon, Hanno felt the sword in his hand flare with light and turn into the spear he needed. A parting gift from the Gigantes, a weapon that could be whatever his Name required. The barbed tip of his spear flicked towards the villain’s throat but bounced off the shield. The Black Knight immediately closed the distance and Hanno spun with the man’s swing, shaft of the spear coming to knock down the side of the shield before he spun back to – to have the shaft be caught by a shadow tendril. Weapon forced out of his hand, Hanno touched the flood again. Sage of the West. His armoured gauntlet expertly caught the side of the shield and he leveraged his weight to slam it into the villain’s own helm. The man was caught off guard long enough for Hanno to slide under his guard and flip him over his back. He pivoted smoothly to hammer his heel into the villain’s helmet but the side of his greaves was caught.

Destroy,” the Black Knight said.

The life he’d been tapping into… disappeared. Like smoke. He was the White Knight again, standing awkwardly with his foot in his opponent’s grasp. The villain grunted and smashed him into the ground like rag doll. Tendrils of shadows with two dozen of the clay balls from earlier wrapped around him, all lit. Hanno touched the flood again. Thief of Stars. He slid out of the bindings, though the edge of the explosions caught him. He was tossed to the ground, landing in an ungainly sprawl. It wasn’t enough. He’d have to… The coin appeared in one hand as his weapon reformed in a burst of light in the other.

“Burn,” an indifferent voice ordered.

The stream of flame caught him in the chest. His plate was of the finest steel that could be found in the Free Cities and still it boiled in the blink of an eye. The force behind the flames was brutal, driving him into the pavement as the stone scorched and cracked around him. Mercifully, it ceased. The time to worry about the state of his body after the fight was past, Hanno acknowledged. He breathed out and let the Light fill him. He’d lost hold of the Thief, now the White Knight once more, and his body hoisted itself back to its feet. Flesh a tapestry of red and black, he stood to face his enemies. There were two, now. The Black Knight and his sorcerous accomplice. A tall black man in burgundy robes, currently eyeing him with distaste.

“Wekesa,” the Black Knight said. “The Wizard?”

“Survived the blast,” the Warlock replied. “Currently chasing my second fake.”

“Then why are you here?” the other villain asked.

“The Tyrant is retreating.”

There was a heartbeat of silence.

“You’re certain?” the Black Knight said.

The sorcerer rolled his eyes.

“No, I confused them with the other besieging army that’s leaving,” he deadpanned.

“A backstab I expected, but a retreat?” the Knight murmured, then shook his head. “Are any of them on their third aspect?”

“Sabah’s got her two on their second, the Wizard hasn’t even used one,” the dark-skinned man said.

The Black Knight sighed, then sheathed his sword.

“We can no longer win this,” he said. “Full retreat.”

“They’re on the ropes, Black,” the Warlock said.

“Yes,” the other villain agreed darkly. “We have them cornered, with all their trump cards left. That is not a story that ends well for us.”

“You’re not getting away,” Hanno and the Light said.

The Warlock glanced at him then smiled unpleasantly.

“Well, you say that, but…”

Everything went dark again.

It was night out when Irene finally hit her limit.

Hanno would survive, which was what mattered. The magical burns had been nothing she hadn’t seen before, if never quite so severe, but there’d been some things she could not fix. There were two patches of skin gone almost stone-like on the side of his neck and a few others on his side that seemed able to simply ignore her miracles. It was like the Heavens saw nothing there that needed to be healed. She’d have to ask him about it, when he woke up. Her sister was sprawled across a chair behind her, looking exhausted, and the Champion was snoring away loudly on the only other bed in the room. She didn’t begrudge the Levantine that in the slightest: she’d had most bones in her body broken at least three times, and Irene had not had the power left to both soothe away the lingering pains and deal with the White Knight’s wounds. Washing away the last of the peeled-off skin with the wet cloth, Irene dropped the resulting mess in the water bowl by her side.

“He’s rather plain for a hero, isn’t he?” Alkmene said quietly, studying their leader.

“That speaks well of him,” Irene replied, dragging herself up. “Means he’s not vain.”

She brought a short stool next to her sister’s seat and with a sigh dropped her head on Alkmene’s arm. The odd-eyed woman stroked her hair affectionately.

“You know what I mean,” her sister said. “Look, we didn’t change much when we became Named but there were some changes. I’m a little thinner. You’re taller than me by at least an inch more than before.”

“That’s because he’s a Judgement boy,” the Bard said.

Both sisters flinched at the interruption. Aoede was sitting by Hanno’s bedside, pulling at a bottle of rum.

“Where have you been all day?” Irene asked flatly.

“Nowhere,” the Bard grimaced. “They’ve figured out a few things.”

It would have been impolite for either of them to pursue this any further, unfortunately. One did not simply ask another Named how their Name affected them. The answers tended to be intensely personal, and sometimes forcing an answer could have grave consequences for everyone involved. The olive-skinned woman brushed back her curls, waving her bottle.

“But like I said, it’s because he’s a Judgement boy,” she continued. “The Seraphim don’t have a lot of tolerance for self-delusion. You’re taller ‘cause in your head you were that much taller than your sister. Irene is thinner ‘cause she never thought of herself as going to keep those pounds.”

“That’s fascinating,” her sister said blandly, reaching for a pitcher of wine and pouring herself a cup. “And you didn’t warn us the fucking Calamities were coming to town because?”

“Here’s a warning, since you want one. Don’t drink that,” the Bard replied easily

Irene frowned and her sister pulled away her hand from the cup like she’d been burned.

“Why?” the Priestess asked.

“There’s five Calamities,” Aoede said. “You’ve met three. One’s retired. And the last one is…”

“Assassin,” Irene whispered, eyeing the cup like it was snake. “It’s poisoned?”

“And just when the both of you are flat out of power to burn,” the Bard said admiringly. “None of us ever saw a whisk of him, and he’s still come closest to killing a hero today.”

Priestess found her hands were shaking.

“They’ve learned to work around me some,” Aoede said quietly. “There’s rules. I knew they were coming but not when.”

Irene waved away the unspoken recriminations they’d been offering. The Bard was not the enemy.

“Merciful Gods,” Alkmene muttered. “This has not been our day.”

“We’ve got some time before Hanno is back on his feet,” Priestess said. “We can rest a bit.”

“Seven days and seven nights before he wakes,” the Bard said. “Only one thing to do until then.”

“And what’s that?” Irene asked, raising an eyebrow.

The bottle of rum landed in her lap.

“For once,” the Ashen Priestess said, bringing the bottle to her lips, “I think you might actually be right.”

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158 thoughts on “Heroic Interlude: Appellant

  1. danh3107

    Jesus Christ Almighty only Begotten Son of the Father Most High

    I’m running out of titles for Jesus, that’s when you know I’m shocked.

    This chapter was….. Utterly utterly brilliant, action-packed, intriguing, heart pounding, intoxicating and it left me completely breathless.

    I love this story so much, and we saw the Calamities in action.

    I’d say I’m at a loss for words, but I keep typing so clearly that’s not the case. If/when you publish these as a book set I’ll be the first person in line.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Morgenstern

        Well, Assassin obviously did take part in the end, but the Bard cheated again, and so no hero died at all. 😉 Guess Assassin really is not for sneaking in multiple methods of death at once? Somehow, I would’ve expected more in that one tiny aspec of this chapter, after all it was building up to.
        After all, there are five heroes in the room, even though the Priestess is the obvious first target to get rid of. And only ONE method to kill her employed? Seriously… Assassin needs to go deeper into their trick box.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Assassin doesn’t ever participate in melees like this one. There’s a reason some people in the Empire believe there’s no such Named, just a very talented cadre of killers answering to Black.

        Liked by 4 people

      3. Morgenstern

        Thanks for the clarification. As far as I am concerned, I didn’t speak about melee/action sequences, when it comes to someone named “Assassin”, just to ensure that does not get misunderstood. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. samshadar

    Gods below, what a chapter! This was incredibly powerful, easily the best I’ve ever seen a fight described in any book I’ve read. Congratulations! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “Their heroic band would be much too grim if they died, too dark for the amount of absurdity the Tyrant kept injecting into this siege.”

    So that’s interesting. Does the setting or certain stories have their own set tone? Because Shoo Out The Clowns is a tried and true technique to make a story darker.

    And are hero-killing tactics so rare? I know that in the stories that we are ‘spoofing’ they aren’t but these are laws of reality. Genre-savvy is expected here, unlike other stories where villains have every reason to believe they are in a sensible world. I find it hard to believe only Black and Cat have hard the bright idea of working around common tropes.

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    1. The Archdevil

      There’s having an idea to work around cliches like monologuing, and there’s putting it into action. When all is said and done, it’s not the Name that matters, but the person behind it. Most wouldn’t have the willpower to reject their Role, and would eventually find themselves performing the very cliches they hated and wanted to avoid, without even noticing.

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      1. I actually really dislike the idea of Black and Cat just being Randian Ubermensch superior to all others in history. Maybe I just read too much fanfiction but it’s very repulsive to me. So I’m hoping that there’s another reason for it.

        And I’m not sure I follow your idea. Cliches do not just rise out of the ether, they happen because they make sense in-universe. Even here there’s nothing to suggest that a magical force compels someone to act a certain way, rather the opposite is true. It’s just the laws of probability here are forcing certain story elements to crop up. They do it because to them it’s the sensible thing to do because they genuinely believe the moral that they think the story is telling, villains and heroes alike.

        And it’s part of why I so heavily dislike the idea of Black and Cat just knowing better than all of them.

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      2. 1shot4living

        Black and Cat aren’t the only ones though, only the beginning of a new era perhaps if you consider that the White Knight as well as the Diabolist have been very aware and even manipulating the story to suit them, they are not alone, perhaps just the most visible from our perspective.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Iconochasm

        They’re not the only ones. Remember the old Dread Emperor who forbid the Legions from engaging when they were assured of victory? That example really demonstrates that it’s not just about doing what seems reasonable. What seems reasonable will often fail, due to the narrativium the universe operates on. So a competent Named will operate a meta level above that, like Black backing off there, or when the White Knight relied on their certain doom in the falling tower to get them out alive. The “special” factor for Black is that he’s trying to operate on a meta-meta level, manipulating the Names themselves.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. There’s nothing to suggest a magical force is compelling people to act a certain way? Uhhhh excuse me, but just a couple chapters ago Mr. F. Rider was compelled to share his diabolical plans when he clearly didn’t want to. The concept you prematurely dismissed is actually a major driving force in this world

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    2. RandomFan

      Yes, but in order for Shoo Out The Clowns to work, you need to take them out on both sides. If the story goes that dark, either the tyrant needs to change his tone *first*, or he’s going down along with the comedic relief. In other words, the heroes are matching the villian’s tone appropriately, and that offers protection in this genre. In a more serious one, dark and gritty doesn’t cover for dark and gritty, but the story doesn’t want a joke villian when it goes dark and gritty.

      I don’t know if it’s ever stated they’re *rare*, but the tyrant doesn’t care to use them, or at least not in nearly as overt form as black-and-the-rest are. Plus, even if it’s not a new idea, they might not have had a chance to go up against them before. I’m not sure it’s the novelty that leads to the horror and effectiveness, though.

      The calamities probably have put more time into this than most villians we’ve seen. Praesi don’t seem to have local heroes in any real numbers; I would not be surprised if most villianous lands are in the same position. The calamities have had more chances to fine-tune their hero-killing procedures than most villians get. They may be no triumphant, may she never return, but they’re still a villian group that managed to conquer and hold a heroic kingdom, without killing everyone and everything inside first. Very little will give you more experience fighting heroes than that.

      As for why the White Knight sounded horrified, it was probabaly a “they aren’t just attacking at random, they’re after *us*” realization.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. No tactics the Calamities used here are ground-breaking by Named standards. Plenty of villains have targeted mortals to bait heroes before, splitting a heroic band in several different fights is a staple of fantasy, ect. What scared the White Knight is more the professional manner in which those tactics were employed. No monologues or warning shots, no posturing. They went for the throat from the onset.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Lucas

        Also, there is something that compels them to act accordingly with their roles right? Like the apprentice has to answer even stupid questions.. and we saw other examples, like in Arcadia

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    4. stevenneiman

      The tricky thing is that most Villains who are aware of the narrative either decide to just have fun since they can’t win, or else their frustration with the way the game is rigged against them drive them onto the exact paths that they lose by. Also, most of them don’t really truly expect to win, like how Akua claims to be playing for keeps but is acting like Sorcerous or Sinestra. Most Villains in the end have a very distorted understanding of what victory really is, as evidenced by the fact that their most feared Tyrant who even had winning in her title, didn’t do anything except make a big mess before she died.

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  4. nerfworld

    Huh, so the bard is backing these guy to distract Black and crew away from what Diabolist is doing?

    And is she still giving villainy tips to the tyrant?

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    1. Jonnnney

      I’m not sure how much control over who she is backing. Don’t know how many other groups of heroes there even are on the continent of Calernia and the bard might not exist when not part of a group. I do agree that she wants Diabolist to win because her story ends in failure. If two great evils, Calamities vs Diabolist, clash in an evil empire and the evil with more destructive potential loses it changes the story even more. I’d guess that every previous time such a conflict occurred in Praes the more evil evil won.

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      1. I think everyone is missing the point still getting tied up in the Name and forgetting the Role even after Akua explaining this. Black is actually changing the story because while he has the Name “The Black Knight”, he is actually filling the Role of “Tyrant”, The Warlock is doing the same thing. If Black succeeds in changing the story then what is known as “Good” will be destroyed forever or at least changed as well. That is why the Bard wants the Diabolist to win because the Diabolist is a villain of the original story and in the end “Good” will triumph over “Evil”. Black is not just a temporary threat to the Gods Above as all the villains that came before him were, he is an extensional threat to them and all that rely on them.

        Liked by 5 people

  5. lightdefender

    Well, damn.

    I know the Calamities retreated in the end, but damn. At first I said do not piss off Wekesa, but pissing him off may be more survivable than giving him time to PLAN.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. 1shot4living

      Planning? Definitely some A-Team vibes going here. “Give me a minute, I’m good. Give me an hour, I’m great. Give me six months, I’m unbeatable,” and all that jazz.

      Like

      1. It just highlights why William’s zany scheme to try killing an isolated Warlock wasn’t that crazy. Sodding difficult and several shades of dangerous, sure. Particularly when the Bumbling Conjuror was the only real counter-mage on Team Nominal Hero. But, when reading this, it’s abundantly clear that that tactic was always going to be a walk in the park compared to taking on Team Calamity at almost full strength. 😛

        Like

  6. The Quietist

    Sheeeeeeeeeeeit, that was beyond fucking cool. The chapter really hammered home just why the Calamities are so fucking terrifying. Also White Knight power OP plz nerf, now I get Black bitching about reality favoring Good. Though Hanno is smarter than most Heroes to have gone south to train first as opposed to getting hilariously stomped by heading straight into the fight.

    Like

    1. haihappen

      Yeah, the White Knight, or at least this one, seems to have a reserve of previous iterations that he can call upon, and he just burned through several of them. If he can still Recall them then he is OP.
      But I think the White Knight is so powerful because the powers aligned to oppose him are powerful. StrongAsTheyNeedToBe comes to mind.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Morgenstern

        That would actually be very fitting and hilarious. Though, if the White were really OP, he just might end up being the one to finally kill Ranger (which probably wouldn’t end well for anyone)…

        Like

  7. kinigget

    so this is what full-scale battle between Heroes and Villains looks like…

    I am *not* disappointed

    I can only *imagine* the kind of terror Cat will be when she reaches this level

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So I just realised that the Calamities really are the villains here. I might be rooting for Cat, but I’m not rooting for Black or Warlock and certainly not for Praes in general. What Wekesa did to those soldiers was utterly monstrous, and I found myself hoping White would win this one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. RandomFan

      Wekesa? Seriously? All he did was kill them- exactly like the heroes did when facing the tyrant’s forces. No more trauma, no more horror, just a more effective killing. 200 in a single strike or in 200, who cares? they’re dead either way, and it’s just as valid either way. Note that black’s reaction to the building’s destruction was “recalibrate- you have bleed” which I interpret to mean that the attack only meant to kill the soldiers not destroy the structures.

      I agree that something monstrous happened: Black’s mind control was monstrous, though at least they weren’t awake down there. Treachery followed by suicide is still a horrible thing to force on them though.

      Attacking the government directly might have been, but that’s fair in war, at least.

      Quite frankly, this was entirely tame for villians, and was kinder than the entire angel plot, which a hero was responsible for. It probably was kinder than any plot the Lone Swordsman pulled, actually. They’re monsters, but I’m more impressed with their restraint than ever before.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Oh, I know that very well. It wasn’t what he did, exactly; it was just the utter disregard for human life it showcased. Yes, lots of people die horribly in battles, but this wasn’t a battle. This was a means to an end, a showcase of power, and ultimately entirely unnecessary. I’d feel exactly the same if a Hero did the exact same thing against the Legions, but the White Knight showed, in his outrage, more moral fiber than I’ve seen in most of the story.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. M

        >ultimately entirely unnecessary

        If Black didn’t kill those soldiers, they would have killed him, or forced him to retreat. How is that unnecessary?

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      3. Tolk

        @Not_a_robot you do realise those troops were preparing to get themselves slaughtered in an attempt to kill Black right? You don’t even need to consider Wekesa’s love for Black when he attacked enemy troops that weren’t retreating from such a battle where they are so outclassed; they were advancing instead. Sure, I’ll give those troops props for that, because your morale has to stay so high to actually fight a Calamity without a Name. Getting in the middle of that fight seems like a bad idea to me though.

        I’m not saying the Calamities aren’t Evil, but I am saying that calling Warlock Evil for killing enemy troops also means you should call Good Named magic users Evil when slaughtering enemy troops enmasse.

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      4. Oh dear God, what was done is what happens in a war and that was a a battle in a war. Also you want monstrous? That is the God’s Above the so called “Good” Gods since they care less what happens to their tools, err I mean heros. Look at what happened to William the Lone Swordsman he was used and abused by an Angel just as all the heros are. The whole of creation that is Calnernia is nothing but a game to the Gods (both above and below) that is why neither side truly wins, it just cycles back and forth and the slaughter just keeps going on and on. Unlike all the fools that came before him on both sides Black realizes this and is trying to break the cycle

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Think about your average Fantasy Epic or Space Opera: now, think about all the green-, blue- or greyskins who get down down as simply mook filler. When you actually look at what happens to them, it’s pretty brutal. But, it doesn’t matter: they were Bad Guys™ and we don’t need to expend worry over what happens to them or those they leave behind. :/

      Bet you wince at ’50s Westerns for mowing their horribly caricatured “redskins” down the way they do with the gungho, “Ain’t we being gritty but admirably heroic, salt-of-the-earth anti-heroes to look up to for standing against the tides of barbarism?” vibe constantly jabbing you in the ribs when they casually commit genocidal acts against people on-screen. 😐

      *just points at most Modern Warfare shooters without adding anything more* Well, Spec Ops: The Line gets a pass. 😉

      Or, how about the Ur-epics of White Knights and Scheming Viziers: the romances written about the Crusades. The Song of Roland is horrific when you realise what the merry band of who you’re supposed to root for is actually doing to their “vile” enemies simply because most of them are supposed to be heretics (which most aren’t: you have to believe in a specific dogma to cast aside or deface the thing before you can technically be a heretic — not believing it from the get-go just makes you of a different faith). <_<

      Heroes doing horribly gruesome things to their opponents either for the fun of it or out of sheer pragmatism in warfare goes even further back than Homer. But, it's OK if they do it: they're on Our Side™. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Letouriste

        Oh I see.that’s the disregard for human life? Wait,wtf???
        You talk about warlock here! The very same man dissecting living and dead creature in his lab,inheritor of demon sumoners and often seen playing with souls^^.
        Of course they are villain! And don’t forget wekesa,assassin,black,ranger and miss gigante are not considered as dangerous than scribe;)

        Like

      2. Which is exactly why I am not in a hurry to read an interlude from Scribe’s perspective, as I’m pretty sure murder is just a means to an end to her more than anyone else. And yeah, I know he does, but that’s Evil on a more… whimsical level. This is planned and organised for seemingly no other purpose than being as big an bastard as possible. I still like the characters, I still respect them, and I don’t hate them for it. I just now realised that, whatever my opinion of them, they are absolute monsters and I get why Good is always so reluctant to work with Evil.

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      3. Morgenstern

        BTW, the sooner one side stops the other – the sooner this war is ended. Which seems to be exactly what the Calamities are all about. It is rather the OTHER side here that wants eternal war where no one can win, personified in the Role of Bard…

        Like

    3. Morgenstern

      Uhm. Sorry? Black and Wekesa were doing a PRECISION strike during WAR. Black chided Wekesa on ACCIDENTALLY raising risks to get ANY civilians at the same time (those houses that might have been evacuated or NOT, bc. sb. always stays behind, refusing to go…). It doesn’t get any LESS evil, if you’re actually in a fantastic war about forces that cannot be made to find a peaceful compromise, because the opposite side is out to effing *kill you*. Letting that band of heroes romp free will kill MORE “simple soldiers” and civilians than anything else. You seem to be forgetting the part where the Heroes mass-killed the forces of Tyrant without blinking an eye – plus bringing down those fortresses on the very city they are “defending”… AND inviting Villains to go there. Instead of meeting the Villains out-of-city…. Why aren’t you speaking of the fact that this band of heroes failed to meet the enemy army BEFORE it could engage the city? It is NOT as if they weren’t there already. The whole book started out with the heroes BEING THERE ALREADY. And yet, the Calamities managed to go to that city first, with enough time to implement all those traps before the heroes ever arrived, it would seem.

      Somehow those heroes are not very good at planning to spare either soldiers or civilians or they would simply REFUSE to let mere humans take part at all, but put them far, far, FAR away from where the action is likely to take place. Black and Co. do NOT seem likely to go for those humans simply to anger the heroes. They are only going for them *when it makes sense*, when the Heroes *are there and will defend them*, thus draining the Heroes’ resources.

      And I’m not entirely sure even Tyrant would go for mere humans for sheer laughs. He seems to be very much about going up against HEROES. Even though he might have some package for all the humans laughing at him, being mean to him, or pitying him…

      I’m almost sure, that ray of destruction (or whatever it was) that Wekesa cast to cut those soldiers in two was not even meant to actually get the civilians – it was counting on the effing Hero being THERE who can summon a horse to stand in front of them.
      Only he didn’t do it, the ruthless “hero” molded after their fashion…. Which effectively means that the part of changing the Guideverse into a more real setting is already succeeding. It’s definitely not just people like Black or Cat on one side, it has already changed the very (leading) Heroes of this story, too. Only Bard does not seem to realize or want to realize it — or is still counting on turning the wheel back by having this Practical heroes band triumph over Practical Evil only to be met in turn by the Oldschool Evil (which is, as we have already learned, though, *not quite* simple Oldschool anymore, EITHER, so yeah, I personally think Bard is overlooking a few things, just as Akua is and Malicia might be and others are). The Change is Already In Progress. Has been for some time, it would seem.

      Like

      1. Morgenstern

        Basically: Both sides don’t give each other one tiny scrap in general as long as they are about war and exterminating the other side. Goes to show how horrible war is, but definitely not how horrible at least being practical about it is.

        The US so-called precision strikes in war are not that at all in too many cases and that is why they are so horrible, not the other way round. The problem is the defining of any male of fighting age as outright “enemy” instead of actually trying to get the real enemies. They are killing way too many civilians.

        I don’t see Practical Evil doing that here so far.

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      2. Morgenstern

        I am not contesting the notion of Warlock (including Apprentice) being uncaring about sentient life and thus “monstrous”, what with all the dissecting, trying to break the whole world etc. as in “science, baby – it doesn’t care about you and it transcends any morality”. Just to prevent someone reading this into my words. 😉

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    4. Vortex

      We have seen a lot more sacrificed for less. I would point you to the lone swordsman calling up a rebellion that had zero chance to succeed and gave heiress an opening to unleash a demon of corruption. And then trying to sacrifice a whole city of civilians to an angel of contrition.

      Liked by 1 person

    5. stevenneiman

      He humanely and efficiently killed enemy combatants who probably would have died from slower wounds if he hadn’t.
      Recall that William was perfectly willing to mind rape thousands of innocents and that Good was willing to put the stamp of approval on him doing so. And that Hanno kills people for the same cause and similar leadership, then claims that he doesn’t have any responsibility because he was “just following orders”.
      This band (except for the Bard) might be pretty decent as heroes go, but don’t forget for a moment what their side stands for and who they tolerate as allies.

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      1. stevenneiman

        Oh and remember that despite his “Just following orders” schtick, Hanno is happy to cut through his own army of foes without even checking them, just because he assumes they aren’t important.
        Also, remember that the only things he really fights for are tradition and authority, not people for their own sake.

        Liked by 2 people

    6. Solaire

      @Not_a_robot
      I find it redundant that you actually read that far till now just to complain about not liking a Villain doing Villainous things on a story based on Villains.

      Also, to point out, many many chapters before, Cat Already pointed out that Black is a monster when he hanged the rebels in front of her, just to show her what villains can do.
      If you felt uneasy about villain killings, it is more obvious to make a comment to complain at that chapter than here.

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  9. Seems the walking Role of Trope Enabler which is the Wandering Bard doesn’t currently handle subversion or deconstruction all that well…

    I think the Calamaties are on to her quite specifically, somehow. And, she might only now be aware of that. :/

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Morgenstern

      As I understood it, she is specifically aware of how they can slap her out of existence for some time by doing it three times over, like Black did when she popped up at the “battle” with the “rebel host” in Callow. They seem to have done that here, too, if I got the insinuation. That might be why she didn’t warn the Heroes of the Calamities’ coming.

      Or maybe the Bard is simply (also) limited to ONLY being allowed to talk of something, when it actually happens / the Bard is sure of the exact circumstances (as she was talking about herself knowing they would come, but not WHEN/WHERE exactly). Maybe she is prevented from talking about it at all, if she can’t give the details, but only “vague prophecies”. She’s not a Prophet, after all, but someone who is defined to “recount” the story.

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      1. 1shot4living

        Perhaps it is a part of her role, as a Bard she can tell the story as its happening or even about to happen to provide a good moment of suspense and such, but providing spoilers would ruin the story?

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    2. stevenneiman

      I don’t think they’re after her specifically, but they’re trying to kill what she stands for and lives by, which has much the same effect. More so even, given that dying of stab wounds probably wouldn’t harm her any more than dying of alcohol poisoning did.

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      1. Morgenstern

        “Forget”ing her, I would suppose. Going unnoticed seems to be THE key feature we know about her so far. Goes in line that everyone IS “forgetting” about her. It’s one of her Aspects.

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      2. stevenneiman

        @Morgenstern I would guess something like Fade, for the way that she can fade from the memories or at least the attention of anyone she doesn’t want to realize how dangerous she is. Then maybe something like Manage to allow her to keep on top of so much more than anyone else could handle without missing anything, and I have no idea about her third Aspect.
        Remember that Aspects are always a verb relating to what the Named himself or herself is doing, and I assure you that the Scribe is not forgetting anything.

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      3. Morgenstern

        I thought of “Forget” as a command to others, in that case, obviously. You’re probably right about it being more about what the person using it does, though. 😉 Thinking how the Tyrant has “Rule” to use it on other/sth. else as one instantly reminded hint. I’d have to re-check the whole books, though, to feel really, really sure. ^^ (Maybe it’s all the university studies, but I make rather sure to never take anything for granted, much more so when it comes to assumptions on fictitious works – which do, however, have the great asset of being able to actually be clarified once and for all by the author, should they so wish. For that one story as it is, at least.)

        Liked by 1 person

      1. The quietist

        Not so sure myself remember Scribe being amused about how Assassin would be pissed he’d missed some of that cult in the sewers. I can imagine they might be romantically involved though, or at least friends. My only theory about Scribe is that she’s Delosi, especially since she mentioned she and Black met in the Free Cities.

        Like

      2. stevenneiman

        I rather doubt it. Aside from one key skill (being ignored and underestimated), their Roles and skillsets are very different. Scribe works as an administrator, and her great weapon is her ability to control the Praesi bureaucracy in ways that nobody else can and allow herself and her allies to use the substantial resources of the Dread Empire to deadly effect. She’s also a sort of villainous Bard, able to travel wherever she needs to be and see and understand whatever she needs to, but unable to act directly. The difference is that she has that power over the paper trail where the Bard has it over the story.
        Assassin’s abilities might be equally subtle in their own way, but much more personal and much more direct. Scribe arranges for people to be killed and other things to be done, and Assassin just kills people.
        Of course I try not to be too certain about any of this, as the story has come up with plot twists and reveals more surprising than that in the past.

        Like

  10. Alright, there’s a certain thought that’s been bugging me since the dialog about patterns for Praes and Callow as a whole: why Names? The divine interference, while technically unlimited, is shown to target separate individuals, not entire nations or professions. We already know that different species like elves have a different imprint on the Pattern, and that it can affect numerous people at once, so something like more pronounced national stereotypes wouldn’t be impossible.

    My theory is that the Gods’ opinion about what happens in the Creation mostly concerns The Choice That Matters. From the point of view of an average person society as a whole is a pressing, but vague concept, while a charismatic Named can change his ways. Since people trust first and foremost other people, and give the more abstract opinions only as much credit as the one who expresses them, a Named can be as convincing as a close friend or a family member, all without coming in direct contact with the audience, only as a story.

    This is why stories are so important for Gods both Above and Below: they describe what sways people’s hearts and cliches allow them to predict what will happen next and how it would affect The Choice. Just as Lone Swordsman noted, heroes and villains are meant to inspire, and tropes allow for long-term planning where a broader stereotype would leave more room for interpretation or attract less attention. Emperor Treacherous is exactly the kind of person to win a civil war or a presidential election and grow even more popular for it, despite not being much of a winner in general.

    Think about Arcadia, a world shaped more by perception than physics and created to accommodate souls in corporeal form: it’s a place where without reality to counterbalance them behavior is enforced by the tropes. A person is exactly as powerful as they are plot-relevant, Arcadia even lives on Webcomic Time (presumably attention-based). It’s not a stretch to imagine that outside of it people’s choices are being influenced too, especially in the matters of faith.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yitzi

      I have a different theory about the Names: The whole “creation as a cosmic wager” deal reminds me a lot of Eddings’ Belgariad setting, where matters were likewise settled via choices and contests between agents of Light and agents of Dark.
      (This is why I find Cat’s position “on the fence” to be extremely interesting.)

      Like

  11. Mike E.

    Damn, the Calamities are very well-rehearsed working together to have what appears to be a library of contingency plans to be enacted with a simple set of codes. That was insane to read. The POV jumping took a few reads to figure out properly though.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Gunslinger

    Holy shit this was epic. I’m a bit disappointed that the heroes all came out alive. Also wekesa was impressive as usual it’s black that really shined. Fucking hell he totally wrecked the white Knight.

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      1. stevenneiman

        In fairness, only one of them was a martial Name and she had to resort to a dangerous trump card to come out on top. Even so, that was awesome.

        Like

      2. Gunslinger

        Indeed, I guess my disappointment is the same one as Black. The general unfairness of the universe that gives heroes Trump cards.

        Like

  13. Letouriste

    In all the fight the heroes looked outmaneuvred,so much I expected them to all die…and then you reveal they all still have trump cards:o
    And how the hedge magi managed to flee the explosion without using an aspect?
    Well,Thanks for the chapter anyway that was good:)

    Like

    1. Jonnnney

      She said she had a few things left that would defend against giant flaming snakes. I’d imagine those same defenses would work against an explosion.

      Like

  14. maresther23

    “The first step always works”
    Tyrant first step: drill underground
    Effect: breach Delos defenses
    Black first step: kill the leaders of Delos
    Effect: take the city out of the war

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  15. Shequi

    So… does that initiate a Pattern of Three between Black and White, beginning with a Draw?

    The knowledge of how many times a day a Named can call upon their Aspects clearly drives Black’s tactics in Named combat.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “So… does that initiate a Pattern of Three between Black and White, beginning with a Draw?”

      No, the Pattern of Three doesn’t begin with a draw, it begins with a victory for the Villain and the Hero escapes with his life because the Villain monologues. Remember that is what happened to Cat, she beat William and then didn’t kill him, letting him escape. Their second battle ended in a draw and the third ends in William’s victory (That is why Cat let her head get chopped off).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Morgenstern

        I rather doubt “let” is the correct impression here.

        She prepared for the contingency all right, by preparing to be raised and use what she had coming instead of simply going down “doomed” as she was (or rather: seemed!). But it was the skill of Will that lopped it off, not the story, even if you take those “pattern of three” thingy for real (which I can’t really do, because the count doesn’t add up for me). Also her believing in that pattern and only preparing for defeat, not victory might have shifted things a bit (her going into a DUEL at all, while she know she’s not as good as him…), as somebody else said quite a few chapters ago.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Morgenstern

        So, in a way, it was also Cat being stupid (plus Will simply being good at fighting)… I don’t get why people keep seeing Cat as somehow being OP or too savvy or whatever, as long as she always has those repeatedly grinding-on-the-nerves lapses of good sense, turning events only by a hair’s breadth via luck and hilarious-overplanning /-at-the-moment-last-ditches instead of being actually practical.

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      3. Solaire

        Well, Black is actually “won” over White but he let White go despite having “assured” of victory. This setting is quite similar to Cat’s when she let the Lone Swordsman go when she can kill him too.
        So there is actually a high possibility of the Pattern of Three happening unless there is some other reason to convince this is otherwise.

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      4. The situations are not the same. The first meeting between Cat and William was single hero vs single villian. This is more similar to Cat and William’s second encounter which was a draw: Group of villians vs a group of heros. Keep in mind in that draw a hero did die, so no this wasn’t a Black “victory” over White.

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      5. Solaire

        Either you have not worded it right, or you had simply confused the settings and what is necessary to logically win or lose. Also to note, even though Black and White are fighting in groups, Black vs White and fight each other individually during their battles. Also another note, during Cat’s first win over the swordsman, they are not fighting alone too, there are other claimants involved in the battle too.

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      6. You keep missing the obvious: the Black v White fight was planned and fought as nothing more than as a part of a group battle and again is in no way similar to the first Cat v William fight. Black’s whole fight was based on what the others in his group were doing against a group of hero’s. Black even states at the end of the fight to Wekesa, there is actually no way for them to win at that point: “Yes,” the other villain agreed darkly. “We have them cornered, with all their trump cards left. That is not a story that ends well for us.”

        If Black had not pulled out at that moment the villains would have been defeated, the best they could get is a Draw.

        Now lets look at Cat’s first fight with William. Cat wins the fight, William uses his Trump cards early and Cat was not part of a Named Villain team (She was looking for Rebels on her own Book 1 Chapter 11 Sucker Punch) and neither was William part of a Hero Band (He was forming a rebellion in the city), she was working alone and so was William. Hell it was her fight working with William that secured the Name Squire (Book 1 Chapter 12 Squire). As you may have noticed Black already has his name and him and White didn’t fight on the same side. Also unlike the fight between Black and White, William was at Cat’s mercy and she let him go by pushing him off the wall and into the river just as Black got there. Bottom line the first fight between William and Cat was nothing like the fight between the Calamities and Whites Hero Band.

        Now lets look at Cat’s second fight with William which was a Draw. Cat enters the fight with Hakram already earning his name (Adjutant) and Warlock and Apprentice already in the city. William had Thief, The Wandering Bard, The Bumbling Conjurer and Hunter (Book 2 Chapter 5 Recognition and Chapter 8 Reversal). The fight starts with 3 Named Villains against 4 Named Heros in Chapter 8 (Warlock isn’t in at the beginning). Now here is one of the few differences between the fight we see between the Calamities/White’s Band and Cat/William round two: The Hero’s attacked the Villains in Cat/William round two and it is the opposite with Black/White and that matters since the attacker in both cases had to retreat and get a Draw or they would have lost. The second difference it that in Cat/William the Hero’s stayed too long monologuing and Warlock appeared (a trump over what William was doing) and killed the Bumbling Conjurer forcing the Hero’s to run for it and leaving a wounded Hunter to be captured (Spent Hero’s/Fresh Calamity). In the Black/White group fight no one died on either side because Black recognized that if they stayed a Hero would use a trump to kill one of them and or get them captured so he wisely didn’t banter and retreated. Black didn’t make William’s mistake from Book 2 Chapter 10 Release that you have been wanting him to make.

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    2. stevenneiman

      I think it might actually have been a loss for Black against Kairos. He was the one on whose account everything actually happened since he gave Black the setup and then forced him back by retreating.
      I really do wonder what his game plan is, since his whole backstory of rejecting tradition seems to speak against him blindly following Evil’s agenda the way his nephew followed Good’s, but at the same time he’s spoken out against Malicia’s attempts to break the wheel and he acts deliberately cliche.

      Like

  16. KageLupus

    The Heroic Axiom at the top of this chapter reinforces something I have been thinking for awhile now: The side of Good is chock full of people who hardly count as such at all. The axiom is saying “Be nice to the villain’s caged monster, because it will be useful to you if you do so”. Not because that monster is imprisoned, or wasn’t given a choice, or any other reason you would expect from a Good person. Instead, it just says to be nice because it will be useful. That kind of pragmatism falls into the same grey area that some Villains operate in.

    William was a perfect example of this. He was labeled as an Anti-hero for doing things like torturing prisoners just to leave a message. Not for information, not because it was a distasteful thing that had to be done to save the day. He wanted to demoralize and terrorize his enemy and was willing to cross any line to do so. That is the textbook definition of a terrorist. But because he was given a mandate by Heaven he was considered a Hero, regardless of how he acted.

    Basically, it feels like everyone in this setting looks at someone like the current Tyrant of Helike and says “That is what a Villain is, and look at how Evil he is. All Villains must be the same.” So Catherine gets lumped in to the same bucket as these crazy Villains, even though all she wants is to make things better for her country. She was just as willing to go to war over it as William, but because of which side she started on reality as a whole puts her at a disadvantage.

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    1. Morgenstern

      Heroic Axiom: I guess more people are also wondering about how “the beast” perfectly fits our formerly “Cursed” and the one treating “it” nicely being Black? Someone seems to have read that book and taken it to heart. 😉

      (As far as the backstory that we so far saw is concerned, btw, I can’t shake a lingering “smell” of “Peasants Out For Revenge/Retribution” plot, anyway, them taking on any Roles/Names that they can get their hands on… doesn’t necessarily always end in a path down the slope. “You’re the one who named me evil before I ever did any villainous deed, don’t wonder if…” and so on and so forth. “Them” including quite a lot of people, of course, in a world where “Fate” tries to put people in templates that don’t quite fit much of any actual person. Stereotypes and labels almost always fall short.)

      Like

  17. Morgenstern

    ” The heroes that had founded their nation had been rebels fighting the Proceran occupation ”

    So… one can get Heroes cropping up *against Good*? I mean, we knew already that Good nations will fight against each other, too, but I never quite saw Heroes involved or even cropping up from that. So Heroes against Heroes should also be a thing, too, not just Villain against Villain; basically “anything goes”? Interesting.

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    1. stevenneiman

      This reminds me of a thought about a setting I’m designing for GURPS.
      “When our noble allies of other races fight against the encroaching darkness, that’s glorious. But when our petty backwater tyrant makes a land grab against them, that’s also glorious.”

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    2. jonnnney

      It has been mentioned by Black that one of the great powers of the world is lead by both a hero and a villain, so yeah anything goes. Good fighting good is how the original Kingdom of Callow came into existence. The Queen of Blades conquering the Duchy of Daoine.

      Like

  18. Morgenstern

    Captain’s stud being visible: BAAAAAD mistake. (No, I haven’t read the full chapter yet, but no matter if in this one or some chapters following… the instant-communication having been seen is gonna hurt at one time or another. Might even get *influenced/twisted* instead of just being shut down. Ouch. Very ouchy.)

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    1. Morgenstern

      update: Seems this will be upcoming. Or the Heroes seriously did not notice and Bard was not there, which would be rather hilarious. But somehow I can’t see that not getting used somewhen and ending in Shit Hits The Fan and only scraping by and getting out by hair’s breadth, probably even one of them dying because of it.

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      1. Morgenstern

        I wouldn’t necessarily call it an “anchor”, but at the very least a kind of “inlet” to meddle. Unless that is just another nice trap like the ones prepared for the Wizard in this chapter, of course *g

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      2. Morgenstern

        Maybe it’s because the thing is so very reminiscent of those tiny in-ears people apply in the real world and I have read too many stories using such real-stuff-into-fantasy-conversions *shrugs

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      3. Morgenstern

        Many other systems, of course, do not need any actual material for telepathy *shrugs*
        It was just the first thing instantly coming to mind. Maybe that’s what it’s aimed at – more’s the fun then for us, when the Heroes should have the same instinct. 😉

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      4. Morgenstern

        Warning: Massive post incoming.

        I’m (obviously) not really good at “cutting it short”. Far from it.
        So, I did the CONSCIOUS thinking this time, because it bugged me, especially since you yourself reacted to it… thus: clarification incoming. (That is, I HOPE I do not muddle it even worse, but I don’t think so.)

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      5. Morgenstern

        Okay, so I thought it more or less through, far as I got, consciously this time, seeing as you already “jumped on that” and “I still don’t quite get it”. “it” meaning magic in the Guideverse in more general thinking, too, I guess (or so I feel). 😉

        – First and instantly arising question:
        What is the actual definition of an “anchor” (in magic) for the Guideverse?

        Just anything in terms of physical material to be in specific places one needs for some spells to work? Some integral part of the spell/ritual? (Like Apprentice needing the hearths for the warding spell.)
        [With the exclusion of physical materials = ingredients used up by the ritual, of course. It obviously has to be sth. that has to *stay (inviolate)* on the spot or the spell would, seemingly, break (or worse).]
        ———————–
        – ** [1] Scrying, the out-of-story considerations to my while-reading-reaction : **
        Usually denoted as sth. to actually SEE in(to) other places;
        spell massiveness defined by 1) how far you scry, 2) the quality of scrying (including other senses as another quality thing possible to add) [as the basic things]
        and 3) security of scrying, 4) tricks of the trade: what materials, formulae etc. to use to make it safer / less costly [as the additional / optional ones];
        and all of that WITHOUT an anchor at the place you want to scry, just using a bowl of water as the most common basic “ingredient” almost everyone knows as a device for scrying from some story. Most stories I know never ever use any anchor for scrying (least of all in the place you want to scry, if anything you have to have been to that place before or know someone there that you scry), although they might use wards to prevent others from scrying back or doing other stuff through your connection (if they detect it, which is always a possibility).

        Not sure, if / how / to which extent this “usual definition (by other stories)” applies in/to the Guideverse, seeing how you answered that I am assuming an anchor for *scrying* when I was talking about my first (unconscious) impression).
        [Some more thoughts on “anchors” in that respect below.]

        —————————-

        I can now say, after consciously thinking about it, what (in)formed that *first impression* (without actual thought, just as direct reaction during reading) that cropped up from that – which was actually NOT one of *scrying* (as in the “usual” definition I know) *at all* [ = thus my confusion and still-confused re-comment when you started talking about *scrying* as answer to my comment ] :

        1) seeing how the Calamities all TALK to give info to Wekesa what to do where
        2) seeing the stud on person (while the other two have sth. to prevent seeing a possible other stud on them, unless I was mistaking Wekesa having long hair over his ears and Black wearing a helmet) [more on that below] = in combination with fact 1)

        = adding up to instant reminiscence of those in-ears that professionals in OUR “real” world use 😉 [too many movies? ^^]

        Seeing how you answered, that was probably simply a massive mix-up my brain did by connecting two inherently unconnected tidbits of this chapter. *shrugs* It does that sometimes, latching on to wrong things and creating confusion. 😉
        (Sidenote: Isn’t that what makes for use for surprises by authors all or at least most of the time, if hints are strewn in at all = i.e. when not just relying on readers simply *not knowing*? ^^ The mistaking-/confusing-things I mean.)

        —————————–

        *** Further thoughts due to that : ***

        – ** [2] If Warlock SAW it all (*)– why the hell would he need any talk by them *at all*? **

        ( (*) = that’s what scrying implies to me (as the first most basic thing you ALWAYS get when scrying, even with the most basic version of the spell) — is it, though, in the Guideverse??
        It *did* SEEM to be all about seeing as the first thing judging from the first two books, and then potentially hearing/talking/listening in as the second, but the seeing being there *all the time* as the underlying concept you cannot remove. = If there is no seeing, it is no scrying, but sth. else.)

        Secondary notion: Might be because he’s not meant to instantly do stuff on his own when he sees fit and informing them, but only acting on requests?
        That might fit with actual scrying-as-I-know-it (see term definitions above), i guess.

        I still don’t *quite* see why they would need those numbers for *that*, hmm….
        > Third/Fourth notion:
        – Might just be meant to be confusing to enemies… (doesn’t “feel” quite right on first look, though, but that might be intended.) Potential hint for that: Some place in the back of my brain seemd to register that some number cropped up at least twice, which just might not make sense at all, that is: if thinking of actual specific mini-regions of the city, denoted before-hand [sorry lacking the correct word/term for that right now… like when you make many parallel and diagonal lines over the map to get tiny spaces?].
        – UNLESS, of course, we are speaking about / thinking of simply using clock-numbers meant to designate the direction around the person speaking = no confusion there, totally makes sense.
        [back to professionals’ method, with a slight twist of not using assumed in-ears for *talking only* ^^ — although i AM wondering then, if there are any actual clocks like we have (they use some other counting for time in the legions at least) and/or how many numbers are on *those* then… or anything else that would serve as idea-giver for that notio.
        unless you simply denote directions and the start for that at random, starting a normal count from 1 (up to whatever, depending on how many you can think of) at this random starting position.. it just might be sth. intuitive (minus what you choose as starting position), i guess. what’s directly in front of you for the start maybe? behind, left and right are rather normal directions on top, fine calibration in between those usual directions being the problem.]

        ——————–
        Sidenote -Telepathy:
        Misapplied term by me, wrongly coming up in the first confusion due to your coment, when I was scrambling for a term to show I was NOT thinking of scrying at all, sorry.
        Would have meant the same problem/question(s) cropping up.

        I was *thinking* of that D&D spell (also used in many other RPGs/stories, far as I know) that lets you TALK (not *think*) to each other over such-and-such a distance “as if you were standing right next to each other” (so even possible to only whisper). Cannot currently for the life of me remember the name/term for *that* thing. =/
        ——————–

        – ** [3] Scrying in general: **

        I was, so far, obviously actually of the unconscious impression that scrying did NOT always need magical “anchors”, but that such anchors were used to further safeguard the scrying to make it a two-spots-only-connection as far as possible (so that only people at the two spots connected by the “anchors” (e.g. the mirrors used in one example) can see/listen in). Far as I can relate back, if that is a mis(in)formed impression it cropped up due to the scrying on the battlefield of Marchford where there was a room full of the “usual”-seeming bowls of water with a spell on them known from other stories that *simply let you look at something* (probably even without hearing yet?) WITHOUT any anchors needed at the spot to which the image in the water connects. If the mages had to implement anchors in those spots, it either was simply not mentioned (probably in the assumption that we all knew about that by then) or I simply missed it.

        > Problem arising if anchors are needed for the most basic version of that: What happens if those anchors are found?

        Simply remove such an anchor, influence it, use it… ??
        (Are we to assume that there are almost always heavy wards against that? Spells to hide them, that do not themselves crop up on “magical vision” (which would, obviously, defeat the purpose..)?)

        – Secondary thoughts to that:
        > Shouldn’t such anchors BE (normally( find-able by beings who are supposed to be magical ones, potentially able to somehow “sense” magic or be “visual” in their version of seeing, like mages can usually switch their sight to “magical sight” at will in other works? I.e. the anchors being a) magically active and b) part of the ritual/spell?

        [where b) brings up the idea for there probably being some way to influence/use this.]

        [ For an on the spot notion: I am thinking of at least that one demon as one thing coming to mind. Why did it not notice and attack those anchors, if there WERE anchors, *had to be* by that understanding? Hindered by being in that horse and then “not of import” anymore anyhow? Trying to stay in hiding and not risking being exposed too soon by knocking a few things over as a panicky horse might? There might have been other occasions as well, I’d have to go back first, though, to check. ]

        > Or is that simply *not possible* in the Guideverse??
        Or at least “not easily”, “not by just anyone”, but only the VERY highest order of magic(al) users/beings?

        = If anchors are absolutely necessary (things on the spot you want to scry) and cannot be more or less easily detected on top, that would be a deviation from what I know of magic in all the other stories ( = thus assume “as the usual” as long as stuff is not pointed out as being different in the Guideverse, either explicitly or by example) and thus probably a case of “you wanna point that out somehow” (in-work or out-of-work) for the reader.

        Unless I read all the “wrong” stories (for that), of course. 😉 Cannot ever exclude that possibility. *shrugs

        ————————

        – ** [4] Captain’s stud, other possibilities cropping up as instant ideas: **

        – Might just be some personal item (maybe a gift from her husband? or some memory thingy from her past, who knows). (Which would, thinking of sympathetic magic (what I know of/as such… if that can be applied to the Guideverse at all), of course still mean it can be used against HER, in the worst version even to control her, if ever acquired by some of their/her enemies.)

        – Could be related to her control over “the beast/rage”. Though I personally would rather doubt that, even more so after that story of her defeating a god (lower case) to drag away its knowledge of how to use the rage instead of one’s consciousness being eviscerated by rage’s rampage. Would already doubt it by Black seemingly being able to wake her out of it even before that – although that simply might be something else. No other people so far seemed to be able to do that, after all, in that chapter of her going on rampage.

        – – – – – – – – – – – –
        – Keeping in mind my seemingly-DIFFERENT understanding of “scrying” beforehand, me thinking of an entirely different spell, in my first version (direct reaction while reading) I was not thinking of what I understand a magical “anchor” is, but rather some kind of “enhancer” / “securing ward” to the connection, even more so as an afterthought when thinking about what it could mean if the spell base were scrying and not something else.

        I guess my first impression-connection of action-movie “in-ears” just might equal an anchor, though? Not sure… The mind-jump between magical anchor and device for listening is not really easy for me to make, somehow. To me, it feels more like such a device in a magical world would be some far-flung extension of the original spell, NOT a direct part of the spell itself – but still something that one can use. (#)

        * Anyway, what I was thinking of back then was more along the lines of the following (assuming it was some more removed device, not an anchor (as far as I understand the term “anchor”)) : *

        Especially to simply listen in, of course, assuming someone would take over the post of “observer and tactical director” on the other side, of course. But I was more thinking of tampering with the device to try to turn it into listening in even when they are not consciously using that device to convey anything or use it as sympathic-link for actually scrying on them or something. Simply listening in and trying to act on it, if you understand the code, is, of course, already doable in a mundane fashion by their opponents as they TALK. Obvioulsy more or less LOUDLY so.

        The most extensive usage in that thought, of course, still being tampering with the original spell/ritual via following the link back to its source and potentially modifying it (very, very hard, difficult, time- and energy-consuming, though, I’d have said, but someone just might have what it takes and be perseverant enough),

        – e.g. as one basic thought: adding in own, wrong orders that seem to come from one of the people linked that way..
        (one might avoid all the hassle of meddling with the spell/ritual at all, if one could get one’s hands on the original device directly, was one of my basic ideas, if one has what is needed to POSE as the other person to use it (if a more basic thing: simple voice mimicking should do..); but the same might be done magic-wise, I guess, if one has the juice, knowledge, and experience for it, but why the hassle..)

        – OR at least (#) stopping it from working; maybe shielding specific people or regions from being reached that way.

        (#) Could likely simply destroy the device for that effect, of course ( = being my very first thought for how to abuse such a device), if you can reach it manually or target it with a destructive spell. Which should already cause some havoc, if someone is suddenly taking out of the connection and thus cut off from the command center, kind of.

        Like

      6. Morgenstern

        … and I definitely have to go back to Book I, for the very first scrying scene when Cat got an introduction. ^^

        I do remember it as being some heavy-duty-scrying bc. of who was talking (and probably in which situation), and sure, that felt like there were “anchors” (or rather wards??) there, but I don’t remember it conveying that such had to be there *all the time*, not only for two-way-“holo”-talk-“as if there in person”-with-heavy-security. (#)

        Guess I have to revisit the other scrying scenes, too, because they mostly seemed rather different. The pools in the first scene with Black seemed like just another (bigger) way of the mirrors Heiress used – thought it was different from normal, more basic scrying. But after much and much thought something about “the same material” and tiny stones is scraping at the back of my mind… Might be one of those “repeat, repeat, repeat” things, because it’s such a long time in between plus going against “the normal”? My memory is not perfect, either, though I do seem to tend to memorize more than other people (or simply other things, who knows…). I guess it’s also different if it’s your own story versus someone else’s. My players on my gaming table *always* remember less than I do – but, then again, I have the whole background, they do not; I know what to focus on, what’s really important and what is just diversion – they don’t. I guess there is some similarity here to players at a gaming table in that respect when only reading a book, especially if stretched out over a long time (I have never read much web serials so far, this is more or less my first, at least the first I actually kept on reading and didn’t drop because of the waits), so that might be just what is happening to me here, right now.

        ( (#) The latter might fit this here situation, though, come to think of it.
        Simply didn’t think of that before, though; as I said, I didn’t think about it being scrying at all, but just Warlock having made gimmicks so that the others can speak to him and he doesn’t need the upkeep of yet another spell (no 2-way-speaking and only speaking, not seeing for those gimmicks), potentially at a price for the lower cost (e.g. security measures, like, I thought so far, scrying in a more basic version; maybe I just got scrying horribly wrong there, clinging to the old known definition that refuses to be thrown out ^^).)

        Like

  19. Morgenstern

    ” Unlike the first one they’d been hit with, this one had been designed to weather a beating instead of being hard to modify. Small favours. No doubt the Warlock already knew she was there, so her window would be very, very small. Huh, this was actually massively strong. She could have unloaded her entire arsenal at this and barely scratched it. Were the villains under the impression she was a slugger kind of mage? ”

    Yeah, I guess their intelligence service wouldn’t be so very bad to not even know her Name that she has been openly addressed with. Hedge wizards are not known for being Archmages, after all. Nice trap, so very inviting to its intended victim. 😉 I’m celebrating this chapter so much right now ^^

    Like

  20. Morgenstern

    ” There’s five Calamities,” Aoede said. “You’ve met three. One’s retired. ”

    Huh. And people think Villains/Heroes never (much) get to retire, huh?

    Like

      1. Morgenstern

        Huh? Ah. You’re talking Name-wise.

        I wasn’t really thinking of that, here. More of “retiring” (switching … “jobs”? life-choices etc.) in a more general sense. Yeah, she obviously did not give up her Name. But it would seem to be ever more in evidence that one can switch roles, and probably then even Roles?

        Like

      2. Morgenstern

        Seeing how Ranger never gave up hunting… that role/Role speculation, too, might simply be a misassociation because of one word, of course. *shrugs

        ———————————-

        Anyway, aren’t the speculations half of the fun? 😉 I like how you don’t spell things out too openly and mostly avoid direct statements affirming or outright denying anything. 😉

        Personally like all of that stuff: surprises because something is incoming that I never anticipated as well as being able to go back and find hints afterwards and also my suspicions being confirmed as true. The best is always a good mix of the three. =)

        ———————————–
        General disclaimer:
        What I do in my comments (besides typo spotting, if the mood strikes me for those) is just some observations and a lot of speculation, simply because I cannot help the thought machinery going ticking on some stuff, even if it’s occasionally just some puns incoming 😉

        [ My rambling during the last few chapters’ comment sections is also just one of “likelihoods” at most and trying to make general comparisons to other stories and stuff I saw go down; I always try to keep an open mind, personally – just because I don’t think something likely (even if as in “not likely to persuade me”) doesn’t mean I don’t like the occasional (positive) surprise of someone pulling it off anyway. Only that I’m a sceptic about some things (which still includes a potential of “curious how you would pull that off (potentially including: without xy)”).
        So in case of author reading in: Take it with a grain of salt, in case you should be reading those, too. I’m more talking to/with other readers (and occasionally even just rambling on on my own to get that whirlwind in my head to slow down a bit (oops)).. in some cases I might simply be procrastinating/relaxing from other stuff by occupying my mind with, well, other stuff than that stuff ^^ > If I shouldn’t… just say so. I can always just do it with wordpad in my PC and never post it anywhere..

        But it’s always nice to get the occasional tidbit/hint (or even diversion ^^) out of the author, of course, just because ^^ Gives me the feeling you care about us, which is heartwarming. =) ]

        Like

  21. BartHumphries

    Haven’t read all the comments yet, but a Ctrl+F didn’t find “typo” so…

    Typo thread

    there was no one should could trust
    add “she” after “one”

    to the cost of many, mnay lives
    change mnay to many

    shortly afterwards fell the pressure over his shoulders vanish
    change fell to felt

    Like

    1. somnolentSlumber

      She’d gone in there to blow the runic array powering the drill while he held the line, and one again gotten off essentially untouched.

      “one” should be “once”

      Her teachers had always taught that that a Gifted faced with a ward could only do three things: break, modify or alleviate.

      Every colon used before and after this one should be a semicolon. This single instance is correct.

      Like

    2. stevenneiman

      “He’d not needed to tap into any of his [aspects->Aspects] to turn back the breach”
      “and [one->once] again gotten off essentially untouched”
      “and shortly afterwards [fell->felt] the pressure over his shoulders vanish”
      “She managed to get the second [on->one] in place before beginning to fall”

      Like

    1. Morgenstern

      Well, Oldschool Evil wants the reputation for themselves, no?

      It would also have ruined his “see you later some other time” (or sth. the like), that only works as trope move, if you actually DO leave, not stay and get back into the fray immediately (those chapters seem to be supposed to very much right after one another (#), if the heroes are “in somewhat bad shape already” because of the last move against Tyrant), if he wants to set himself up for a Win over those same heroes and not just losing because of “over-staying” and losing due to “perfectly good win chances”.

      ( = Probably even the same thing Black saw and thus called the retreat, only Tyrant made his move earlier; Tyrant might even have been at a viewpoint where he cold better overlook how the battle was going, if you credit him with enough intelligence to see the same thing coming – not being in the middle of the fray enabling him to simply see this a few moments earlier than Black who was right in the fray).

      The other Villains might just say them more as rivals. And Tyrant might just even label them under “those shitty people with so-called empathy”, because they are restrained/practical evil, which also calls for going against them.

      Tops, “Villains will always stab Villains in the back, even during fights with Good/Heroes” was recounted in-story as THE ultimate trope for (Oldschool) Evil, for explaining why the heck they always lose. They keep NOT closing ranks during major fights with Good (who seem to *always* close ranks, as soon as Evil gets involved and it isn’t just “bickering” (wars) between Good nations for national reasons, territory/power…).

      —————————
      (#) = On a sidenote:

      Which sadly makes for shitty pacing (at first impression / during the first seven chapters), btw, because Cat’s story seems to be months, while these interludes happen in mere days, **it would seem**.

      I am quite sure, after this chapter as the utmost stone in the board for that (what with the Calamities’ preparations obviously having taken place behind the screen) that there was one big months-long gap between the Tyrant killing diplomats, preparing to attack other cities, and then the flying fortresses plus this one. Problem being that the hints for that are somehow too obscured in the first few interludes, or so I feel. I had to reason out-of-story that it must be so, but the lack of a tiny bit more info during story made itself felt as nuisance factor while reading, because it shunted me out of the story.

      Like

      1. Morgenstern

        Gack… -.-

        ” The other Villains might just say them more as rivals. ” > “say” = “see”, of course…

        Like

  22. ben

    Great chapter! The fighting was excellent, but just as much I loved how there were also lore drops all continuing from the words of Heiress at the end of last chapter “it’s not about the Names, it’s about the Roles.”

    Like, Black and Wekesa discussing whether something is winnable based on aspect usage, and Aoede pretty much outing herself as The Most Important Hero on the side of good. Because of how she Tells things, including The Story, I feel like defeating her is the ultimate end game if the Calamities and the Empress want to change the story permanently. I hope they and/or Squire manages it because that’s going to be impressive to watch.

    Like

  23. “You’re a monster, aren’t you?” I spoke softly into the night, looking at him from the corner of my eye.

    He smiled. “The very worst kind,” he replied.

    Thank you for reminding us who the bad guys in this story are.

    Like

    1. Morgenstern

      He. I like how that comment can still be turned both ways. *g

      Sad pun: Can’t shake the immediate real-world feeling of how simple humans can be the worst kinds of monster…

      Like

      1. Morgenstern

        Gotta say that whole discussion about war, the “action(s)” that we love in stories, and how did what and what is more horrible, was turning rather “real world” rather quickly. Which, if I’m honest, doesn’t feel like such a good thing. It’s not that we would want such things in real life, now would we…

        Somehow I don’t wanna read stories that way. “Action”, war, killing etc. are all interesting in stories, imho, because we KNOW that they are only “in story” and *because* we do not have those things around us right now and *because* the people portrayed as “fatalities” or even “collaterals” are .. well. Not real people. Including not rounding them up to be real people. It would never serve for escapism otherwise. =/

        Like

      2. Morgenstern

        It’s enough if such thoughts crop up in the back of my head during reading. I really don’t *have to* have them come out outright in discussions on top of that and ruining the fun feeling of the story. Guess I’ll stay off the comment section for the next few chapters, this is turning to serious for my taste at the moment; can’t stomach this more than once in a while. It’s not as if we didn’t have actual war looming on the horizon in the real world… I really don’t need the turn into over-dark and bitter in stories on top of that all the while. Sometimes is okay. But not every turn when hilarious (seemingly? made to look-)unrealistic action sequences happen. I thought they were meant to be entertaining and given you some shiver, but an ultimately *pleasurable* one…

        Like

      3. Morgenstern

        Ehrm… ” and how did what and what is more horrible” —- “how” should have been “who” dammit.

        Like

    2. stevenneiman

      Uh, the guy who’s literally using the exact same logic as the nazis tried at the Nuremburg trials to justify his penchant for killing?

      Like

      1. Morgenstern

        “Just following orders”?

        The White Knight then? Or Captain? They obviously both do… 😉 She even has it as an Aspect… *g

        Like

      2. blitzbasic

        Following orders is not a bad thing if the people that give the orders are good. The White Knight doesn’t follows orders to escape the responsibility of his actions, he does it because he doesn’t trusts his own judgement to be just.

        Like

  24. Morgenstern

    Because it cropped up so very much this time (and I ended up clicking on the TV tropes link about this series):

    Does someone wanna give those following two a shot for application-discussion?

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LovableRogue?from=Main.LoveableRogue

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/JustifiedCriminal

    (I will not be reading this for quite a few days, taking a real-world-break from this, but I assuredly WILL come back for answers when I’m in the mood again; I am very much interested in opinions to see what the variety of perception is here, as I think we do have a rather large variety, judging from the discussion this chapter.)

    Like

  25. Tofuuu

    Great chapter! I’ve been binge reading this because it’s so good. I think i’ll be rereading this. Also just a suggestion, could we get like a page for all the quotes? It’s hard to remember which chapter to look for them. Not just the start of the chapter quotes some lines a really well delivered too! it sends shivers up my spine I’d be happy with a page dedicated for them.

    Like

  26. Geez, at first I was intimidated seeing there are already 100+ comments on today’s chapter, but it turns out most of them are from the evil banker Morganstern.

    I was expecting Warlock to die this battle, I thought Akua doomed him when she called him out last interlude.

    Like

    1. Maybe she would have. Except, she’s a little wrong. The guy is highly creative in an area traditional for Warlocks: cheesing the opposition using remote spell-constructs built around nested trolling.

      Seriously, that was some epic-level, dangerously arcane Heath Robinsonism he had going on there. Sheer artistry. 🙂

      Like

    2. jonnnney

      Akua effectively stole his role in the Empire of Praes. Specifically the creator of evil wonders. I think she was successful because Warlock doesn’t seek to destroy the good half of creation. Rather he seeks to understand, manipulate and then break all of creation. I think the Apprentice said it best in Chapter 37:

      “Fuck the Gods,” he said, calmly. “Every single one of them. I can respect what you and Uncle Amadeus are trying to accomplish, I really can – but you’re looking at the other prisoners, when you should be looking at the bars.”

      I think this is the main thing that Diabolist fails to realize. Most Villains are champions of the Gods Below in a war against half of creation. The Calamities and their successors aren’t just being evil in a different way. They are fighting to change the base concepts/assumptions of the war and by doing so they are challenging all of creation, not just the good. This empowers them to achieve what few other villains have accomplished, but it leaves the traditional Praes roles open for others.

      Like

  27. Nafram

    Well, is it just me, or did Black just set up a Pattern of 3 in his favour?
    Considering that the Calamities went there with the express purpose of killing the heroes, which they completely failed, revealed themselves and some of their capabilities, failed to take the city as a secondary objective AND we’re back stabbed by their allies, not to mention that they lost the element of surprise and failed to ensure that Delos left the war, with Black even outright saying that it was impossible to win that?

    In short, the Calamities, while impressive and shown to be superior to the Hanging of Heroes they faced, failed to accomplish any of their objectives and lost key advantages, while the Heroes successfully repelled the surprise attack without any Hero casualty nor any permanent wounds and now aware that the Calamities are there and that they assassinated some key members of the Secretariat.

    Clearly, this was a loss for the Calamities

    Like

    1. Solaire

      Now that you have said it, I am actually disappointed that how impressed everyone were at the Calamities despite their obvious unsuccessful attempts.

      Like

  28. Here’s a fundamental question I’d really love to see answered. In the Guide Prologue, the two Factions of the Divine later identified with “Good” and “Evil” respectively are spoken of in equal terms. It states all out conflict between them would have wiped out Creation. Then goes on to state both sides willingness to engage in the Wager thought of as “Fate.”

    We fast-forward a bit, and certain grooves get carved into Creation through the repetition of these patterns. From these recurrent pattern/grooves, we get Names/Roles.

    So, how did we start from a point of relative equality between Good and Evil, and then end up where Good gets all the OP-reality cheats. All the narrative-defying miracles, and assists from the upper echelons of their pantheon?

    From the way Black and Malicia burn to create an example to the Heroes of a time when being Good JUST WASN’T ENOUGH, we’re given as the audience to understand that if it hasn’t always been this way, it’s been this way for so long that even accessible scholastic resources don’t tell of a time when the metaphysical shoe was on the other foot.

    Why does Good default to the more powerful position? To keep with theme, one would expect for every Angel who interferes to create a Hero, an Arch-Devil would be doing the same with Villains. Did the Gods Below almost immediately decide they didn’t care if Good swallowed Creation?

    I mean the One Choice that Matters itself can get heavily skewed. Many people with the will and the inherent personal moral ambiguity to go either Hero or Villain could easily be swayed to the side of Good not because they believe in Good, but because Good clearly has more and more consistent advantages to hand its followers.

    I adore the Guide. I’m Team New Evil all the way. Yet a lot of times when I look at the story and think of a Yin/Yang symbol, visually it feels like instead of being equal spirals, in the Guide the White Spiral would be 66.6% of the material, and the Black Spiral the remaining 33.333%

    I don’t get why Good gets to alter reality willy nilly. (Now they’re packing hundreds of Doctor Who-like incarnations in the White Knight’s head to make up for the disparity in skill, talent and experience.)

    If, every time Evil pulls itself up a rung with huge effort, by dint of special individuals of enormous commitment and will. Good gets to pack hundreds of unearned lifetimes of experience into a White Knight who is the quintessential Villain and just doesn’t know it. How does the Wager ever resolve in anything but lasting victory for Good…eventually?

    I mean I could understand if there’d been an epoch sometime thousands of years prior, where for centuries Good got the short stick from reality. It’d be cyclical. Symmetrical even.

    Either way, it won’t dampen my love for the Guide. Adored this last chapter. Just something that’s been gnawing at me a long while.

    Like

    1. BartHumphries

      Because most people don’t like tragic stories. By and large, they don’t sell. So any story worth telling basically has to allow good to win, in some way.

      “So, how did we start from a point of relative equality between Good and Evil, and then end up where Good gets all the OP-reality cheats.”

      Because otherwise Evil wouldn’t deserve to win.

      Like

    2. nick012000

      Because the Evil gods were about people being free to follow their own path, while the Good gods were about people following their will. It then logically follows that the followers of Good are then subject to much more interference and receive much more support than the followers of Evil – if the Evil gods interfered like that, they’d be undermining their own positions.

      Like

    3. Solaire

      @Shawn Panzegraf

      Damn, now that you said it, it almost made good in general seems like the old school evil where ” the wonders of evil” still exist. This almost made me thought that Black is planning to do something like that, by turning good to seem like something evil.

      Like

    4. Phantom Renegade

      Keep in mind everything I’m about to say comes from a feeling that I can’t quite put to rational argument.

      I feel there is a balance but it’s an asymmetric one.
      Consider Praes in all its previous iterations, a Dread Emperor(ess) rises to power, creates a evil wonder, no doubt draining the empire of many of its resources, uses it to get some early victories and then inevitably gets turned back by the forces of Good or backstabbed or something like that.

      How did Praes not get itself completely eradicated by the forces of Good when it’s always putting itself in a vulnerable position?

      There must be some dynamic of characteristics between Good and Evil that allows this ebb and flow to continue unimpeded, it might be that on average Villains are more competent than Heroes and so heroes need the divine intervention to even things out, in fact Villains Wonders might themselves be the counterpoint to the Heroes’ divine intervention.

      It might also be that Evil is more inherently alluring than Good thus ensuring that Evil’s ranks are replenished faster and would kind of be in theme with there being and endless number of devils and demons but a fixed number of angels.

      Also considering your argument of:

      “Many people with the will and the inherent personal moral ambiguity to go either Hero or Villain could easily be swayed to the side of Good not because they believe in Good, but because Good clearly has more and more consistent advantages to hand its followers.”

      It might be that in the Tropes being enforced by creation a person who decides to go to the side of Good not because they believe it is the right thing but rather because it afforded him or her more advantages would actually be pushed into the side of Evil.

      Either way it might simply be that the balance feels skewed because we are reading from the PoV of Villains when they are in a high point and thus constantly at risk of being overthrown by Good. It’d probably feel the other way around if we were reading from the PoV of a Hero claimant who kept surviving by the skin of its teeth in Praes occupied Callow, dodging plots deadly plots from the Calamities and Scribe that keep popping up left and right.

      Like

      1. BartHumphries

        Because Good always quits early.

        Think of every heroic movie you’ve seen or book that you’ve read. The evil kingdom has risen up, and Good goes and cuts off the head of the snake (sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically). Then they rejoice and go home, able to live their lives in peace. Only that doesn’t really eradicate the evil kingdom. And it may be more of a detente than a peace.

        For instance, take Russia and the USA after WW2. Even after the wall fell, and we became good friends, is there anyone who doubts that Putin would invade the US in a heartbeat if he thought he could get away with it? No, of course not. Well, maybe Trump, but I digress.

        Like

  29. Kylen

    I personally enjoyed this chapter silly for showing a MUCH higher level of power and skill than we’re used to seeing. It shows you the playing field BK and associates are playing on, which is leagues from Kat and Co.

    Like

  30. I get that the Gods Below were about mortals choosing their own direction, as opposed to those Above believing mortals “needed to be lead to greater things.”

    That said, the Gods Below making firepower available to Villains those chose to seek it wouldn’t at all undermine their position IMHO. If the Villain(s) made the choice without any interference from the Gods Below to seek and gain power from them, that Villain would still be acting as a free moral agent (What they espoused in the beginning.)

    As for the PoV being different if we were watching a Hero narrowly survive in Evil-dominant Callow, the parallel doesn’t work. ALL Heroes are given strength, talents and resources that handily trump their Villainous counterparts.

    Likewise for the argument that Evil may be Quantitative while Good is Qualitative: If such were the case individual choice would be largely irrelevant. It wouldn’t have taken this long for mortals to catch on that the Heavens are always going to cheat while the Hells lie largely quiescent.

    I’m totally for Good having its own advantages, but this “Creation itself is out to get all Villains” takes it a bit far IMHO. Again, it’s like the Gods Below are utterly indifferent to their own cause. Could also understand if they didn’t lend support in anything like the same ways, but did lend it.

    At one point Good and Evil were only deterred from direct conflict by the certain knowledge total destruction would result. So now we have the following situation:

    Good and Evil each choose one chess player of amateur skill. Good puts an earpiece in their player’s ear, allowing a concealed chess grandmaster to coach the amateur playing for Good. Evil sees this, but Its response is to allow the game to continue as-is, good-cheating included.

    I guess what I’m ultimately saying is this: DESPITE his hundreds of Time Chamber-granted incarnations, the White Knight was still losing out, so great was the skill disparity. STILL the world-narrative saves him. Cheat Mode+ wasn’t enough, but Good pulls it out anyways.

    How does that say anything meaningful about the choices made by Hanno, Champion, Hedge Mage and Ashen Priestess? With everything handed to them, plus genre-savviness supplying them with outs regularly, where’s the downside in their Roles? It’s less Heroes V. Villains and more Villains Vs. A Creation Hostile to Them, with Heroes nothing more than the equivalents of white blood cells.

    It makes it that much harder to feel like the Villainous achievements matter, when its clear there is absolutely no upper limit as to what the Heavens will endow their tools with the continue enforcement of the status quo.

    If it’s about the narrative in a meta-sense, the world would be inherently Evil-slanted. Look at Cordelia (First Prince of Procer) own situation. Even after she proved the Pravis Bank was of Praesi origin, her peers kept going to it for gold to continue the civil war.

    Like

  31. alegio

    Daaaaaaaaaamn dude! With this I am now scared of the calamities, not because of their powers but that sheer efficiency with which they fought the heroes. Blacks fighting style is the most ruthles thing I have ever seen, the white knight said so himself, he was stronger but black was using his name in a more efficient way.

    And this is why black will always be my favorite villian.

    Like

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