Chapter 20: Skew

“An alliance of victors is like a hearth in summer.”
– Julienne Merovins, tenth First Princess of Procer

I’d met a handful of heroes since I’d first become the Squire, and Thief was one of the harder ones to place. She was, quite blatantly, an egotist. Yet she lacked some of the traits that were common with the more arrogant heroes: both the Lone Swordsman and the Exiled Prince – the Prince in particular – had been almost unnaturally handsome. The appearance of a Named usually changed to reflect how they thought of themselves, after all. Yet Thief was not particularly good-looking, I noted as I studied her. Maybe two inches taller than me, she was a skinny woman with short dark hair and blue-grey eyes. The leathers she always wore had been cut for her frame, but weren’t particularly tight: much like me, she’d have little to show for it if they were. Most of all, she lacked the weight to her presence that I’d come to associate with powerful Named. William, for all his flaws, had been able to mesmerize a room full of rebels with but a few words. I had a hard time imagining Thief ever doing the same.

“You sure you should have taken off that helmet?” the heroine smiled. “You’ve seen how costly a mistake that can be.”

I withdrew my hand from the arm of the chair, and slowly sat down. The seat wasn’t made for someone wearing plate, evidently, and it groaned under the weight of my armour.

“We going to play the threat game?” I asked bluntly. “Thief, I could have killed you with a hand tied behind my back last time we met. I’ve since murdered a demigod for power. We both know how that fight goes.”

The other woman’s eyes turned cold.

“A fair fight, maybe,” she said. “I’m not in the habit of having those.”

I snorted.

“And I am?” I replied. “Look, I’m as willing as tangle as the next villain but if I get an occasion to put a shot someone’s back in the dark, I’m sure as Hells taking it.”

“How remarkable,” she sneered.

“Well, I have been spending a lot of time with goblins lately,” I said. “But I gotta say that putdown’s a little rich, coming from someone whose entire Name is about theft.”

Thief smirked.

“Oh?” she said. “Is someone displeased their treasury’s gone?”

“I am,” I smiled thinly. “I’m about to have to find food and lodgings for at least a hundred thousand refugees while also running a military campaign and I don’t have the funds for any of it.”

“The Tower will shell out the gold,” Thief dismissed.

“The Tower’s putting down internal troubles, and I’m about to spit in its eye,” I said. “It’s not going to be giving me a single copper for the foreseeable future.”

“Villains stabbing each other in the back at the first sign of trouble,” the heroine grinned unpleasantly. “History does tend to repeat itself, doesn’t it?”

“I’m not-“ I began, then stopped. “Oh fuck you.”

She blinked in surprise.

“Who do you think you are, exactly?” I asked.

“A heroine, villain,” she replied.

“Someone tried to mind rape a city of a hundred thousand last year, Thief, and it sure as Hells wasn’t anyone on my side,” I barked. “You think being William’s minion for a few months gives you a pass to be an asshole forever and still have the moral high ground? Think again.”

“I spoke against that,” Thief hissed.

“Words are wind,” I said. “You could have taken a stand. You didn’t. So much for heroism, eh?”

“I might have made mistakes,” she said through gritted teeth. “I’ll own up to that. But you know what I’m not, at least? A godsdamned collaborator.”

My face blanked. I’d been called a traitor before. By a crowd in Summerholm, when I was fresh into my name, and by the Lone Swordsman in the months that followed. But it was the first time anyone had actually called me a collaborator to my face. No doubt quite a few people had thought it in the past, but I’d never actually heard it spoken out loud. It stung more than I would have liked, even now. Things with a grain of truth to them usually did.

“I took the path that damages Callow the least,” I said.

“You took the path that involved selling your soul to the Hellgods,” she replied flatly.

“I got a close look at the Hashmallim, in Liesse,” I said. “I think you think your side’s any gentler than mine, you’ve been listening to stories too much.”

“My ‘side’ hasn’t stolen an entire fucking kingdom,” she snapped.

I shrugged.

“And what’s it done to free it since?” I asked.

“It rebelled,” Thief said. “And you murdered the people that did. I’m sure they felt very saved.”

“You think putting a crown on Gaston Caen would have helped this country?” I said, leaning forward. “Gods, Thief, the man fled into exile before the first legion was in sight of Vale during the Conquest. He was a bloody coward and the First Prince owned him down to his toes.”

“So you say,” the heroine sneered.

“So the facts say,” I coldly said. “You think she poured that much silver into a doomed rebellion so an old rival of the Principate could be restored? She wanted a western protectorate to push back Praes, that’s all there was to it.”

“Elizabeth of Marchford would have been queen,” Thief said. “She would not have settled for that.”

“You think she would have had a choice?” I pressed. “After Praes burned the land on the way out, who would have leant the coin and crops to keep Callow alive through the winter?”

“That would have been the Empire’s fault,” she hissed.

“Gods Below, am I tired of hearing about fault,” I shouted. “Fault and blame and Good – none of it fixes any of this. If you want a solution, you deal with realities. With what exists, not the pretty little world that ‘should be’. Praes would have acted in its interest, and that meant torching the country. Procer would have acted in its interests, which was making us a protectorate. Anyone who plans without acknowledging that isn’t planning, they’re lying to themselves. That’s what I can’t stand about the lot of you. Do you think doing the right thing is enough? Fuck you. I’ve had to bloody my hands to get this far, Thief. I didn’t enjoy it, and some of the things I’ve done will haunt me to my grave. But the only clean victories are the ones in stories. Preach all you want, I have gotten things done.”

I panted, out of breath, my tone quieted.

“Which of you pricks on the other side can say the same?” I asked.

“Sometimes you have to take a stand even if you know you can’t win,” she said.

“That’s pride talking,” I replied. “That’s killing people for your principles, and I can’t think of anything more selfish than that.”

Thief laughed bitterly.

“You know, there’s truth in what you say,” she admitted. “But none of it would have mattered if you were a heroine.”

I’d been at this game long enough that the surprise never made it to my face.

“William was never meant to lead,” Thief said. “He was terrible at it. But I look at the party we had, and can’t help but thing there was always supposed to be one. All of us were born in Callow, except for the Wandering Bard – and I’m not convinced she was supposed to be a part of it. One Named for every Calamity, if you’d been on the side of Good. And we’ve all seen what you can do with an uphill battle.”

“I know them, the Calamities,” I said. “I know what they can do better than most. It wasn’t a fight that could be won.”

“The Heavens have a way of evening odds,” she said.

“Prayer is what people rely on when they’ve run out of plans,” I replied. “I’ve no patience for it.”

In this, at least, I was truly Black’s successor.

“What you’ve built is collapsing,” Thief said.

“By the end of the year, there will be no Praesi governor in Callow,” I said.

“I’m not talking about the governors,” she said. “I’m talking about the Ruling Council.”

“It’s done,” I said tiredly. “I tried, it failed. Come sunup the two of them will be dead and I’m not surrendering that authority ever again.”

The heroine frowned.

“You’re naming yourself queen,” she said.

“Vicequeen, most likely,” I said. “A ceremonial title: I can’t run the country if I’m waging war abroad, and it’s become clear I’m not great at it anyway. I’ll name a Governor-General to handle everything and keep power in name only. The Tower won’t accept anyone but a villain at the head of Callow.”

Thief stared at me for a long time.

“What do you want, Squire?” she said. “I thought you’d come here to threaten me or force a fight, but that’s obviously not the case. Why are we here?”

“A tenth,” I said.

The heroine blinked.


“You get to keep a tenth of the treasury,” I said. “The rest goes back in the vault.”

“Are you trying to bribe me with coin already in my possession?” she asked.

“Bribe, no,” I said. “I’m hiring the Guild of Thieves.”

“We’re not for hire,” Thief said.

“Fine, I’m giving you a ‘gift’ for anticipated services, then,” I grunted. “Do I need to wink, or are we on the same page?”

“That’s not-“ the heroine stopped before finishing her sentence. “What do you want to hire us for?”

“The Empress and Black have networks of informants forty years in the making, backed by the Legions of Terror,” I said. “The First Prince has a hundred thousand battle-hardened veterans and the wealthiest nation on Calernian at her feet. If I want to play in the same league, I need talented people and I need them now. Your people are criminals, but they’re criminals with presence in every Callowan city and a fountain of foreign contacts. Right now I only have eyes in the Legions and the Wasteland – I’m blind everywhere else and it’s already cost me.”

“I’m a heroine,” Thief reminded me.

“If William had stuck to killing criminals in the streets of Summerholm, I would have given him a salary and a godsdamned badge,” I replied frankly. “I work with the monsters because they give me the means to do what I need to, not because I have any illusions about what they are. I don’t fight heroes out of principle, Thief, I fight them because they keep trying to kill me and make a mess of Callow in the process.”

“And if I don’t cooperate?” she asked lightly, but her eyes betrayed how serious she was.

“This is the part where I say ‘if you’re not an asset, you’re a liability’, right?” I sighed. “I get back the treasury, is what I do, because I need it. And then as long as you stay out of my way, I will politely pretend you don’t exist.”

I smiled thinly.

“And I think you will,” I continued. “Stay out of my way. It’s not like you want any of my opponents to win instead: I’m the lesser evil. Besides, in case you hadn’t noticed, there’s wolves at the gates. I don’t have the time or energy to spare on pointless pissing matches.”

The Thief stared at me in silence. I met her eyes without flinching.

“Assassin tried to recruit me, when I first came into my Name,” she suddenly said.

“I’m told he’s a regular bundle of laughs,” I replied.

“The conversation couldn’t have lasted more than a quarter hour,” Thief said. “To this day, I shiver when I think of it. That… thing was death made flesh.”

I wasn’t sure where she was headed with this, so I kept my peace.

“And yet,” the heroine said, “I think you might just be the most dangerous villain I’ve ever met.”

“You’ve never met Black,” I said.

“It’s not about power,” Thief replied. “You make it easy to want to follow you. Because you make sense, because you get results. I should try to kill you tonight, because if I don’t you might just damage Calernia beyond repair.”

“Will you?” I asked.

Silence reigned.

“Baroness Kendal is still alive,” Thief said. “She was wounded, but took refuge in the cathedral. The priests are hiding her.”

I nodded slowly, then rose to my feet.

“I’ll need the treasury back in the vault before I leave,” I said.

“Minus our tenth,” Thief smiled bitterly, looking up at the ceiling.

I made for the door, passing her by.

“Squire,” she said. “No, Foundling now I suppose. If you ever become what you say you’re fighting…”

“Then more dangerous people than you will be putting me down,” I replied, and walked away.

I got the last word, I thought, largely because she had nothing to reply to that.

“Lady Squire,” Orim the Grim greeted me.

He’d been sleeping until recently. I’d learned to tell the signs, with orcs – the voices got a little deeper, and they showed their teeth more often. The general was almost as tall as Hakram, who was unusually so for his kind, and his skin was of a yellow-green I’d only ever seen in goblins before. It was uncommon in the Lesser Steppes, I knew: almost all my legionaries from there were of a green so dark it looked like black. Of the man himself, I knew little. When it had become clear he’d remain one of the important people of Laure for the foreseeable future I’d asked my own orcs about him, but gotten only vague outlines. Juniper had told me he’d been chieftain of the Silent Men before Black recruited him halfway through the civil war, one of larger clans in the Lesser Steppes. Nauk had remembered he’d been known for his warring with the Deoraithe of the Wall, and all Hakram knew was that he’d once wiped out an entire smaller clan in a single night for having stolen some of his cattle. I wasn’t surprised, considering the cognomen his legion had earned during the Conquest: Exterminatus.

The Fifth had been under Marshal Grem’s command during his assault on the Wall, a campaign undertaken to make sure none of the Deoraithe would be with the army of Callow at the Fields of Streges. After taking one of the forts, Orim the Grim had put every soldier in it to the sword as keeping any prisoners would have slowed his march. That had happened a long way from Laure, though. In the capital his reputation was as a fair but distant commander who would not hesitate to resort to violence if pushed. His open enmity with the late Governor Mazus had won him some esteem, since the Fifth’s legionaries had made it a point to put the governor’s men in their place whenever they could. I’d been raised to the sight of big armoured orcs punching the teeth out of city guard who overstepped, and it had gone a long way in teaching me to see greenskins were not the enemy. A long time ago, that. My ascension to the Ruling Council has not granted me any better insight into the man, since he’d withdrawn from any relation to it after ensuring the Fifth would not have to obey any orders from its members.

“General Orim,” I replied.

The room in the barracks was almost bare, a sure sign the orc didn’t use it regularly. In my experience greenskins like to decorate with trophies from victories anywhere they stayed longer than a few weeks. The Fifth’s general staff was nowhere in sight: it seemed Orim had grasped that this wouldn’t be that kind of meeting. Save for a table with a jug of some dark alcohol – almost empty by now – and two cups to accompany it, there was little of note here. I’d not been offered any of the drink, and had not asked: orcs drank liquor hard enough to leave holes in whatever it touched. Something about their stomachs taking to alcohol differently, Hakram had told me. As it happened said orc was seated at my side, across from the general. He polished off the rest of his cup and let out a pleased little sigh.

“Callowan drink just isn’t the same,” Adjutant said.

“They make passable wine in the north,” the general replied amusedly. “But nothing close to brannahal.”

My eyes narrowed. I did not recognize the word. It was from an older dialect of Kharsum, I thought, but aside from the part meaning fire I didn’t recognize the rest. As for the mention of the north of Callow, I almost grimaced. ‘Wine’ to the north of Ankou was actually a heavily concentrated version of brandy made by farmers and cattle-herders out in the field. It was said that in a pinch it could be used instead of lamp oil.

“Deadhand tells me you’re to handle order in the city,” Orim suddenly said.

Coming from a Praesi, the way he’d been called by his nickname instead of his Name would have been an insult. From an orc, though, the meaning was different. The Clans didn’t really have titles aside from chieftain. Even their rare mages did not get much distinction from the mass. Orcs who distinguished themselves in some way earned a nickname, and for someone not sharing a clan to use it was a mark of respect. Evidently Adjutant had made some inroads here while I’d been busy in the city.

“I have the usurpers in my custody,” I said. “I’ll be executing them publicly come morning and re-establishing a civilian government afterwards.”

“We’re under martial law,” Orim gravelled.

“We don’t have the soldiers to waste to enforce that,” I replied calmly. “I need you with General Istrid as soon as possible.”

“She knows the people here, general,” Hakram said. “If she says the peace will hold, it’ll hold.”

The older orc conceded the point with a grunt.

“Where is the Fifteenth headed?” he asked.

“I’ve sent Juniper south,” I said. “She’ll be gathering additional men as she goes.”

“She should be marching to Vale,” the orc bluntly stated. “To put her soldiers under her mother’s command.”

“That won’t be happening,” I replied frankly. “The forces will remain divided for the campaign.”

“Ruling Council’s dead,” Orim said. “And it didn’t have authority of the Legions went it was still breathing.”

“I am the Squire,” I coldly said. “Her Dread Majesty is preoccupied with Wolof and Black is abroad. My orders are not to be gainsaid.”

The general’s face went stony.

“Knightsbane’s fought two wars and a hundred skirmishes,” he growled. “So have I. What do you have under your belt, three half-baked battles? The soldiers should go to Vale.”

“I could make this about power,” I replied idly. “We both know that using a sliver of power I could order you to drown yourself and you would. But I don’t need to. I have information you don’t. The chain of command is clear. Do it.”

The orc was twice my size. Scarred, bursting with muscle and capable of popping a man’s neck off his shoulders with his bare hand – and yet he knew better than to try to loom. Orim glanced at Hakram and saw only ice there. Adjutant had picked his side long ago. The general scoffed, but did not push any further.

“You’ll have orders for General Istrid,” he said, tacitly offering to carry them.

“Juniper is already in contact with her by scrying,” I said. “The Knightsbane will be marching on Holden as soon as your men arrive.”

The older orc frowned.

“We’re pretty sure the fae can portal from one stronghold to the other,” he said.

“They can,” I confirmed. “We’ll be splitting their forces with multiple assault so you don’t bear the brunt of it.”

“And you think they’ll just let General Juniper leisurely stroll south?” he sceptically asked. “They’ve raiding parties out.”

“And the Diabolist has an army out in the field,” I said. “So far the Summer Court has refrained from hitting Liesse. I’ve sent two Named down there to remedy to that. Akua Sahelian will have to be dealt with after the fae are repelled, and I don’t want her forces fresh when it happens.”

Apprentice had been less than pleased at being partnered with Archer, but sending either one on their own would have been a disaster.

“My detachment will be stabilizing Laure, then we’ll move on,” I continued. “To Denier. I mean to free Marshal Ranker’s legions if I can.”

Orim’s dark eyes lingered on my skin, the visible reminder that I was at least half-Deoraithe by blood.

“Kegan’s not to be trusted,” he said. “She was never comfortable under the Tower – the Fairfaxes allowed her to run things the way she liked without even tribute.”

“I know what she wants,” I said. “That gives me leverage. And twenty thousand men is nothing to sneer at, if they can be pointed in the right direction.”

“Rely on them and you’ll get a knife in the back,” he gravelled.

“The correct word is use, not rely,” I said. “When can I expect you to move out?”

He mulled over it.

“Two days,” he said. “Supplies are mostly ready, but I want them prepared for a hard march.”

I nodded.

“We should be gone, by then,” I said. “Until we are you can liaise with Adjutant if you need anything. I’ll be busy pacifying the capital.”

He saluted, reluctantly, and I pushed back my chair.

“Hakram?” I prompted.

“I’ll be in touch, general,” Adjutant said.

We left together. I still had over a bell before dawn, by my reckoning, but I’d need to sleep at some point. And when I woke up, I’d have to make sure the largest city in Callow didn’t start rioting the moment my legionaries left. Joy.


113 thoughts on “Chapter 20: Skew

  1. danh3107

    Making deals with Thief seems like a recipe for betrayal, but considering who Cat has dealt with….

    She’s less than an amateur, hopefully this plays out well.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. agumentic

      She’s still a hero, even if neutralish, so she won’t stab someone in the back after a deal, not without believing it’ll be for a greater good. And Cat is extremely good at making it look like loyally working for her is for a greater good, more so because she believes and works for it herself.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. JackbeThimble

        I don’t think there’s any hero rule against deception. Even if there are hero rules I’m pretty sure she’s already breaking several by committing to any kind of long-term collaboration with the Evil Empire.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Duckie

        Not to mention her name is Thief… Even an honorable thief still bends the rules to fit their goals. Other wise they wouldn’t be a Thief. Deception and rule bending and stealing is what a Thief does. Robin Hood is considered a hero of sorts, but in the end all he did was steal the wealth of the rich. It doesn’t matter what he did with it, because in the end he still stole it and thats regardless a bad thing to do. Basically i’m saying if any Hero Name can use deception and rule bending and still be considered good, its the Thief.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. agumentic

        It’s not that there’s rules against deception, it’s more that the stories don’t really go that way. There’s stories about heroes outsmarting villains, there’s stories about heroes toeing the line of honorable things, there’s even stories about heroes agreeing to work with villains to undermine them. But, I really can’t remember the story that goes: “And then the hero stabbed the villain in the back, after dealing with them in good faith and villain never going against letter or spirit of their word”.
        Thief is the hero that can bend the rules of “good” and “bad” a little, but it’s because they still work for what they think is good, in the end. And Cat makes it look like working with her fits this line of thinking far better than working against her.
        Still, I am not completely discounting the possibility of betrayal – Thief can decide that Cat took one step to far, or after a big talk from some hero – say, White Knight – she decides that working with Cat is wrong, but I mark it as unlikely.


  2. xacual

    So Archer is still working with Cat and the Fifteenth? I hadn’t really expected that without some kind of scene saying so. I mean the Winter Court thing was handled, so I thought there would be some scene with Cat talking Archer around to helping with Diabolist and the Summer Court.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually thought something similar until I reread the most recent chapters. I’m pretty sure that Archer was actually sent to help Cat with the Summer Court but got pulled into the Winter mess when she met up with Cat in Arcadia. Winter probably hadn’t even attacked yet when the Empress called in the marker with Ranger to get Cat a fae expert. So I’m pretty sure Winter was a freebie for Cat.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. JackbeThimble

      I doubt it took much persuading to get Archer to go after Diabolist. She has a serious grudge against Akua for getting Hunter killed in Marchford and a big part of her motivation seems to be trying to prove that she’s just as badass as Ranger so generally speaking she probably tends to move towards any big fight she sees brewing, whether or not she knows or cares what side she’s on.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Nicole Weaver

      We already know how independant Ranger’s people are. Archer fulfilled her orders and now seems a bit curious what cat is up to. As well as enjoying herself dealing with the monmey wrenches cat throws in everyone’s way. I expect Archer to stick around until things get boring again 🙂


      1. And, hey: more Fae and Tower politics to stymie on top of a good fight. What more could a girl who doesn’t like either ask for? 🙂

        I can see why Archer has decided that sticking to the sociopolitical grenade that Squire currently is is good for a laugh.


      2. Nicole

        Euodiachloris, right? That and she seems to consider Cat a potential conquest. The 15th is just a barrel full of fun for her 🙂


    4. If you haven’t noticed Cat is forming her own version of the Calamities and their Names are mostly transitional. Cat’s Squire to Black’s Knight, Adjutant and Captain, Apprentice and Warlock, Archer and Ranger. Robber might be the counter part to Assassin since that is what he has been doing for Cat and Aisha might be the counter to Scribe (Remember she has been keeping Cat’s history and is one of her spymasters).


  3. JackbeThimble

    Have we ever covered what happens when a hero or villain switches sides? either intentionally or as a result of falling/redemption? If there’s some special consequence for a hero acting evil I feel like Thief is risking it here.


    1. Jonnnney

      Heros and villains can work together long term. Black once referenced the fact that one of the world powers that helped defeat Triumphant was run by both a hero and a villain. As long as they mostly keep to their own moral code there isn’t going to be any good vs evil side switching.


    2. RoflCat

      Given how Cat took the Role of a hero in Sword in Stone against William, my guess is nothing so long as it doesn’t goes against their Name.

      Thief, like Squire, seem to be a Name that can go either way (or to give another example, Ranger herself is ‘neutral’ but she took side with Evil during Conquest)

      Not to mention that even if she is a Noble Thief, what Cat is having her do should still be within the acceptable range of her Name (gather info for the benefit of Callow)


    3. George

      Didn’t Catherine lose power for a while when she went outside her Role? Same thing for Thief, I imagine, though her Role is much less about doing the ‘right thing’ than a role like White Knight.


  4. JackbeThimble

    There’s no way Malicia’s going to stand for this, if the Imperial governorships are abolished it’s not just a massive insult that the Empress can’t let stand without losing face, it will seriously decrease the empress’s own power over Praes since so much of her influence among their nobility comes from controlling the lucrative governorships. it will also sever the biggest institutional bond between the two countries, essentially turning them into de facto separate states, and remove the only real incentive the Praesi nobles have for supporting the occupation in the first place. Either Cat will have to offer some kind of compromise (maybe they could give landed noble titles to Legion veterans or a mix of veterans and younger praesi nobles) or war is basically guaranteed.


    1. Kilimandaros

      Currently Malicia has no way of waging war with Catherine, doing so would pretty much lose her Callow for near future. Between Calamities abroad, nobles fighting in Wolof, First Prince lurking behind the border, Deoraithe mobilizing the troops, Summer Fae raiding south of Callow and Diabolist pretty much rebelling against the Tower she can’t antagonize the Squire. Catherine is her best shot at restoring order in Callow. Imperial Governors pretty much all died or are going to die (Akua) so Catherine declaration doesn’t really mean anything – even if Ruling Council was to be re-establish Catherine had the power (4 out of 7 votes) to avoid making any new Praesi governor anyway.
      Noble titles for Legion veterans is pretty much sure way to antagonize Truebloods, so I can’t see how it would work for Malicia. They fought against making orcs from steppes nobles, so how would making orcs, goblins and Callowans nobles make any favour with Truebloods or Moderates?


      1. JackbeThimble

        The war isn’t going to last forever. Catherine may be the man on the ground now but she has to reckon with what malicia will do once the war ends. The Legions aren’t all orcs, goblins or Callowans. Not even most, there’s plenty of Taghreb or Soninke especially among the officers, not that what the Truebloods want is going to matter once since they’re about to be exterminated.


      2. lennymaster

        If you have not noticed, the Truebloods are becoming more and more obsolete. Malica even managed to bleed the most powerfull and richest, their inoffical leader, Diabolists mother, dry of funds and support over the last twenty years and is still working to get more and more power into the hands of institutions. Replacing them by lifting veterans up to nobility from the legions might well be Malicas plan. After all the Preasi thriving to never look back and always reach higher makes it impossible to entirly wipe out the station of noblity, but weaken it and fill it with loyal subjects, why not?


      3. George

        A Catherine who is going against Malicia doesn’t have four votes on the Ruling Council, because Malicia’s puppet was one of her four.

        That’s ignoring that the composition would be renegotiated, of course.


      4. JackbeThimble

        George: That’s the point, Catherine just said she’s going to abolish the ruling council the old fashioned way, essentially declaring herself the sole power in Callow without any clearance from the Empress.


      5. sheer_falacy

        Malicia’s puppet wasn’t one of Cat’s 4 votes on the council. It was her, Black (who delegated to her), and the two Callowans. Then there were the two Praesi who decided to commit complicated suicide and Malicia’s representative.


    2. Jonnnney

      If it means the tributes continue to flow, callow kneels, and no heroes pop up to usurp the tower’s rule I’m thinking she’s fine with it. Also if you think Malicia didn’t see this as a possibility then you REALLY don’t understand the name of Dread Empress.


      1. JackbeThimble

        The tributes don’t continue to flow if she lets her vassals get overmighty. If one of your subjects gathers a massive personal army, controls the entire civilian government of one of your largest provinces and has much more support from the people there than you do then they have the power to rebel any time they want, no ruler can tolerate this situation for long if they want to remain a ruler.


      2. jonnnney

        Yes, IF Catherine rebelled then Malicia would put a stop to it real damn quick, but Catherine is the disciple of the Black Knight and Cat knows the costs of going against the calamities. Even more if Catherine is going to get her way she is going to have to agree to several concessions from the Dread Empress. Once Cat starts to reneg on any of the concessions Malicia will know Cat is rebelling.

        Also, you are failing to see how Malicia benefits from strengthening Catherine. A strong Callow in subservience to the Tower via a disciple of the Black Knight is terrifying to the High Lords. Once the Diabolist is gone the Praesi are going to have to decide whether they want to focus on fighting the reforms which weakens the Empress or strengthening the Empress in order to keep a hold on Callow.


    3. Nicole Weaver

      Well, we know from Black’s tutalage the Tower basically wants Callow for its ability to export food. If Cat can convince them she is loyal to the Tower, perhaps they can set up a prisoner-for-food program that gives the Tower what it wants and lets it focus on its current enemies.

      Its also important to remember that Cat has an intermediate title. If things go south, she just might decide Empress is her next step.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. George

        I think powerful Names require you to fit yourself to them to be claimed; I don’t think Catherine could be Dread Empress and not be more Evil than she is right now. I don’t think she could successfully claim that Name then go on to successfully make things better for Callow long term.


    4. Shequi

      Cat hasn’t said she’s abolishing the Imperial governorships; she’s said she’s just not going to let Praesi hold them, I think.


      1. JackbeThimble

        Same thing from Malicia’s perspective, if she can’t name her governors (or is forced to pick from people who will almost automatically be more loyal to catherine than herself) then she’s effectively lost control over Callow and a lot of her leverage with her own subjects in Praes as well.


      2. Morgenstern

        Ehrm. I’m pretty sure she said in this very chapter that the Ruling Council did not work out – and that will be that. She will appoint ONE governor who only holds power in name (in her abscence), and become Vicequeen herself… So, Queen after all…


      3. jonnnney

        Malicia has already given up the right to appoint imperial governors when she gave Catherine a majority vote of the ruling council. Effectively the Empress has little to no control over ~half of her big cities, but as long as the illusion of control remains then everyone is placated.

        A single person can’t run an entire kingdom which takes months to cross. There still needs to be local rulers in each of the cities/provinces. Whether these local rulers be dukes, princes, governors, city councils, or what have you they need to exist in order to maintain a level of control. Prior to Catherine’s trip to the winter wonderland these local rulers were called imperial governors and answered to the ruling council. After all the trouble has been dealt with I’m guessing these local rulers will still be called imperial governors and they will be answering to a General-governor who answers to Catherine who answers to Malicia.


  5. Metalshop

    Can I just say I love how much political wrangling Cat does? The fights and the magic and the weird societies are all really cool, but my favorite part is honestly watching her try to kickstart a functioning country.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. George

      Yeah I think it does an amazing job of grounding and providing context for all the sweet magic.

      Also I live for lines like ‘dipping a toe in the treason pool’ and ‘I lied.’ tags.


    1. Kilimandaros

      Pretty sure that both “Kill them, take their shit!” and “Fuck the gods” can’t really be cognomen, some kind of warcry maybe, but not a cognomen. Demonslayers also didn’t really match, because they didn’t kill even single demon – Akua recalled it to the standard.


    2. The quietist

      Demonslayers strikes me as a bit too heroic/showy of a name, think about the ones we know so far- Regicides and Ironsides the former is a criminal term and the latter a sort of bleak defiance. Maybe the Coldhearts for obvious reasons plus they’re going to kill a lot of Summer Fae.


  6. nick012000

    So, it looks like the guy who said a while back that the Lone Swordsman’s party was meant to be Squire’s hit the nail on the head.

    What’s more is that it looks like it’s turning out that way regardless: she’s just recruited Thief and Archer, and she has Apprentice to fill the Role of the Bumbling Conjurer, and Adjutant to replace the Hunter. That makes five Named in her band.

    If the Wandering Bard fills the mentor Role the way she seems to, then that means that Cat has someone to fill that Role for her as well: the Black Knight.


  7. Letouriste

    Kinda disappointed by the chapter^^ just two discutions and,even if they are important,are not the most thrilling.
    If you were still on a one chapter by week schedule we would still be hungry.
    Anyway,I find myself craving for more the days where you don’t post anything so I guess the book is starting to roll for real


    1. Naeddyr

      I prefer these kinds of talking chapters (that aren’t infodumps) to multichapter fights because in these, things happen and get done. I mean, in the last few chapters we’ve had huge, huge changes to the status quo, starting from the end of the fight with the Duke, and it’s mostly been talking and wrangling.


  8. James, Mostly Harmless

    Thief is right in a way, Cat has the right background to become a hero which is why Black was having an eye kept on her while she was still in the Orphanage. But Thief is also wrong per Book 1 Chapter 4 ( ““I was wrong,” Black said, though he didn’t sound like he was admitting an error. “You never could have become a hero. You lack the mindset for it.””


    1. Blinks

      You know, i read that section again and the one following it and what really stands out to me more than anything else is that she didn’t actually accept either side.

      She killed her evil side and denied her good.

      I think i’m more and more starting to buy into the idea that she’s simply not going to be either black or white knight but something else.


      1. George

        Yeah, I see a bit of a chance at Black Knight just because the current one may have changed the Role a bit, but I think we can safely discount White Knight, Warlord, and Queen of Callow in favor of erratic doing something clever.


      2. Dianna

        George. I feel similar about her rejecting both sides. In the comments, I have heard the term Gray Knight, and Green Knight, passed around (Though don’t ask where they got Green from). But I have to disagree with you on the name “Warlord” right now that feels like it could be being foreshadowed, given all the orcs are calling her that. Then again it might not, who knows. But what is Cat if not a Warlord (or Warlady)? She gains power mostly through her ability to kill stuff, and she uses war to gain even more power. That was the whole point of letting The Lone Swordsman go, to start a rebellion and gain power. She is doing the same with this war, though she didn’t plan for it this one to break out, she is still using it for leverage to gain yet more power.


        1. The Archdevil

          Gains power through her ability to kill stuff, has power over Cold now, frequently animates her own body, causes conflict where many die. Possibly Necromancer name?

          Liked by 1 person

      3. B

        I don’t know if Cat will ever actually get a full Name. Her staying with a transitional name and still coming out on top is just the sort of spitting Fate in the eye that would be thematically appropriate for Cat.

        Cat’s purpose in this story is to be a breaker of Fate. Black cracked the foundation by tweaking the Story, but it’s Cat who will shatter the grooves in Creation established by the Gods by using Good and Evil as she needs and rewriting the Story to suit her purposes. She’s neither Good nor Evil because those are terms defined by Fate. Despite the guarantee that Cat will use whatever full Name she receives as she pleases, her accepting a full Name kind of feels like a slipping back into the grooves.


      4. TideofKhatanga

        I think she’ll be Black Knight. The way the story repeatedly reminds the reader that Squire only leads to Black or White Knight, it tries quite hard at foreshadowing a twist. So much that I think Cat becoming the Black Knight as initially planned will, in fact, be the twist..

        The way her story is shaping up, she can’t be Warlord or that kind of stuff. She’s not about commanding and ruling, she’s about fighting. Her legend tells about that time she torched a city to flush out a hero. About how she punched down an ogre, a castle gate and a fortress-sized devil, in no particular order. About how she battled a demon and won. About how she broke an angel to her will. About how she killed a highborn Fae in duel. She isn’t known for her command (Juniper is the one commanding anyway) or her rule. She’s known for picking impossible fights and winning.

        If the word wasn’t so firmly associated with Good, I would say she’s heading towards Paladin (which is roughly covered by White Knight here). But she’s a villain and the closest evil counterpart is Black Knight. The Name is just a coat over the true player that is her Role anyway.


      5. Dragrath

        Dianna I think the Green Knight comes from the legends of King Arthur but I don’t think it really fits as the Green Knight is a Judge or tester of the character of The knights of the Round and in legends It just doesn’t match Cat at all.


      6. The quietist

        Agreed, though perhaps if she had become a hero she would have done a Black i.e. shift her role down a pragmatic institutional path i.e. no final battles one on one in fiery castles. Which would mirror the broader pattern as one side evolves changing the other in turn.


  9. Vortex Magus


    >Praes would have acted in its interest, and that meant torching the country. Procer would have acted in its interests, which was making us a protectorate.

    Praes would have acted in its interest, and that meant torching the country. Procer would have acted in its interest

    (They’re both singular nations, so “interest” should be either singular or plural – the same for both of them)

    >“William was never meant to lead,” Thief said. “He was terrible at it. But I look at the party we had, and can’t help but thing there was always supposed to be one.

    “William was never meant to lead.” Thief said. “He was terrible at it. But I look at the party we had, and can’t help but thing there was always supposed to be one more hero.

    (Pivotal sentence confused me for a bit!)


    1. Vortex Magus

      >“The First Prince has a hundred thousand battle-hardened veterans and the wealthiest nation on Calernian at her feet.


      (I’m pretty sure the continent’s name is Calernia, right?)


    2. Morgenstern


      “William was never meant to lead,” Thief said. “He was terrible at it. But I look at the party we had, and can’t help but thing there was always supposed to be one.”

      You corrected the thing that needed no correction (“one” refers to LEADER, the role which William was *not meant for*.) and your mind seemingly autocorrected = overlooked the one glaring typo: “thing” should be “think” in this sentence. 😉


      1. Vortex

        Eh I am pretty sure that if she had said “William was never meant to be leader” then yes you would be correct. But “William was never meant to lead” makes the implied “one” different and it is necessary to specify that there is “one more leader” in the sentence.

        You are totally right about thing -> think though LOL


    3. Laferno

      “[I think you think your side’s] any gentler than mine, you’ve been listening to stories too much.” –> “If you think your side’s]…”

      “We’ll be splitting their forces with multiple [assault] so you don’t bear the brunt of it.” –> assaults

      And you think they’ll just let General Juniper leisurely stroll south?” he [sceptically] asked. –> skeptically


      1. Shequi

        Sceptical is the correct spelling. Skeptical with a k is a US-specific neo-usage. I’m sure ee has said somewhere before that they are used to Commonwealth English.


    4. Well all knew
      change Well to We’ll

      The outer gates to the Royal Palace were wide open, and its grounds freshly tread.
      I have no idea what the latter half of this means.

      And it didn’t have authority of the Legions went it was still breathing
      Change went to when


    5. stevenneiman

      “Look, I’m as willing [as->to] tangle as the next villain”
      “the wealthiest nation on [Calernian->Calernia] at her feet.”
      “it didn’t have authority of the Legions [went->when] it was still breathing.”


  10. Ren

    And just like that, we have our fifth Calamity equivalent.

    Squire – Black Knight
    Apprentice – Warlock
    Adjutant – Captain
    Archer – Ranger
    Thief – Assassin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dianna

      Maybe, maybe, though in my heart Robber will always be on the list of Named in the Jr Calamities. Theif can never truly fit into the bloodied, broken, and ravaged place He ruthlessly ripped out of our hearts.


    2. jonnnney

      There are 6 calamities. Given Thief’s squeamishness about killing guards and her becoming the spymaster for Catherine I’d call her the Scribe equivalent.

      I’m still holding out hope that Robber gets a name and becomes the Assassin equivalent.


      1. Cicero

        is he not already one? i think in one of the interludes akula described him as a named one. And goblins do not talk about their names.


      2. Jonnnney

        It’s unclear atm. There have been allusions to him having a name, but his personality and power don’t match up to them. His encounter with thief showed his limited strength and he thoughts about Pickler and his fear of the matrons regarding the stone tongue makes me think he lacks the strength of personality to be a named.


  11. narcoduck

    Vice Queen? That’s interesting considering what Akua is railing against in her interlude.
    “Praes is a story,” she said. “A Tyrant to lead us. A Black Knight to break heroes. A Warlock to craft wonders. A Chancellor to rule behind them. And an Empire like clay, to shape into the tool they need: an entire nation built to empower the ambitions of a single villain.”

    Foundling to lead, her 15th Legion with a Knightly Order to break Creation, Apprentice to defy the Gods, and a Governor General to rule behind them. Where Praes calcifies, Callow bends to the whim of a waif of a girl to become something new.


  12. First,
    At this point there have been MULTIPLE 1-on-1 conversations between Black and the Empress where Black points out Catherine’s STORY of working within the Praesi system to rebuild Callow is his Callow Endgame, meant to exterminate even the POSSIBILITY of new Heroes rising in Callow “Unless Foundling loses her way.” Malicia has agreed, or at least gone along with Black on this every single time it has come up.

    Second, Malicia (just like Black) is ACUTELY aware that Black’s time as the Black Knight is coming to a close. She was aware of that (and told CAT as much during their FIRST personal meeting) and that’s why she was so keenly interested in finding out “What does Cat WANT?”
    When you announce in a matter of fact way that the Black Knight’s expiration date is nearing to the individual who traditionally succeeds the Black Knight as the new Black Knight, you’re already looking to the future.

    Three, Malicia has made it clear to Black where she draws the line at the free hand she’s given him to mold Squire as he sees fit. Black, in turn, and as he just recommended Cat by scrying mirror has made it clear where HE draws the line. Cat hasn’t crossed any of those lines…what’s MORE:

    Fourth, Black AS MUCH AS STATED that when he returned, he and Cat would go on a good old fashioned put-noble-heads-on-pikes reaving. It was even freaking CAT out, how far Black was telling her he was willing to go so long as she understood Callowan Independence wasn’t in the cards.

    Fifth, the Dread Empire judges by results. If this all blows up in Cat’s face, of course she’s a treasonous bitch for claiming partial autonomy over Callow and forming a Knightly Order. If, on the other hand, the Fae are repelled, Diabolist is dealt with and Procer is kept on their side of the border, there will be public laurels for Cat, and private concessions to the Tower for going rogue in a limited way. Behind the scenes however, Black and Malicia will approve of her effective seizing of the initiative to, as Cat say, get things done.

    Or at least that’s how I see the various chapters implications.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Soronel Haetir

    “An alliance of victors is like a hearth in summer.”
    – Julienne Merovins, tenth First Princess of Procer

    I thought even the female leaders of Procer were styled ”Prince’. Certainly the current holder of the role has made a point of being addressed as ‘Prince’.


  14. Fantasyaddict

    Hi, I’ve read your entire series so far, and love it. I think with a good edit and ending book 1 early you’d have a great book to release. 1 significantly better than most of the self published fantasy novels out there. I at least would buy it in a second.


  15. Pretty disappointed Thief doesn’t have anything of substance to say in response to Squire’s rant. You’d think she’d be a little bit sharper and be able to find a chink in her rhetoric to point at.


    1. Cat’s rhetoric is not that solid, given how much of it relies on promises, but between being the only major player in reach that doesn’t want Callow on fire, and Thief’s own mindset of a rascal that meddles with the right people to get away with it, the more she objects, the easier is it to undermine both her only feasible option and her “at least I’m trying” moral high ground.

      Cat doesn’t build a solid argument, she probes for Thief’s objectives and morals, and then proposes a course of action that would allow her to keep hold of them, loosely.


      1. Dylan Tullos

        Cat’s argument is simple, practical, tailored to her audience…and wrong.

        Unlike Cat, we’ve actually seen inside Cordelia Hassenbach’s head, and we know that she isn’t interested in expanding Procer’s borders. The First Prince seeks peace among all Good-aligned states, and she would be glad to have a strong, independent Callow as an ally.

        Cat has a skeptical view of Procer, and history justifies her skepticism. She can’t know that Cordelia came to power with a genuine commitment to serving the cause of Good, not increasing Procer’s secular power. If Black and Malicia are “Practical Evil”, Cordelia is “Classic Good”; she’s willing to play the game of thrones, but she keeps her eye on the larger goal, and never forgets that the Princedom has a larger role to play in the battle between Good and Evil.

        As Cat’s strength grows, a rebellion against the Tower becomes more and more possible. Most of the Fifteenth is Callowan now, and most of her new recruits are former rebels. Callowans are learning the methods of the Legions, developing the knowledge and experience they’d need for a successful uprising. If Cat manages to make peace with Summer and thwart Akua’s plan (big ifs), she’ll have a substantial, battle-hardened army trained in Legion methods and entirely willing to kill Praesi on her command.

        Black is placing a great deal of trust in an apprentice who isn’t loyal to the Dread Empire. The day will come when Callow’s interests no longer converge with Black’s plan, and the First Prince will be ready to lend her aid to any Callowan rebellion.

        (Also, I just realized his plan to eliminate Callowan Heroes isn’t going to happen. Cat just resurrected a Knightly Order, and she’s rejected the idea of Callowans as light-skinned Praesi. We may see a return of traditional Callowan Names under Cat’s command, but it looks less and less likely that they’ll go away.)


      2. Dylan, but Cordelia isn’t just forging an alliance of Good nations, she’s doing it to launch the tenth crusade. It’s stated in the first interlude where she appears, that a war abroad is her only way to both consolidate the principalities and to keep the otherwise unemployed soldiers out of her rivals’ hands. Her motto is “We are the wall”; leave her to stew in peace for a couple of decades, and she’s not the wall anymore.


      3. Dylan Tullos

        _ _, I am sorry if my reply is out of order. The “Reply” button doesn’t appear on your latest post, so I can’t be sure that my post will appear under the comment I was responding to.

        Yes, the whole point of forming an alliance of Good nations is to launch the Tenth Crusade. But the Tenth Crusade isn’t going to involve Procer invading the Dominion of the Levant, or turning Callow into a protectorate, or any of the territorial adventures that they’re so historically fond of. Cordelia Hassenbach has accepted that Procer’s borders are just fine as they are, and she’s not interested in expanding at the expense of her neighbors.

        Thanks to the Tyrant Kairos, Procer has a partial solution to at least one of its problems. Cordelia has been able to ship off thousands of her soldiers to serve as mercenaries in the Free Cities, where they can serve Procer’s interests rather than being an ongoing problem. She’s acting as “the wall” against Kairos, who adores playing the part of the villain, and reinforces her Good vs Evil narrative just by existing. A long peace would be bad for Cordelia’s status as the Warden of Good, but it doesn’t seem likely right now.

        Unlike Black, Cordelia is just fine with a strong, independent Callow. By accepting that Procer doesn’t need to grow its territories, she’s opened the door to being a real ally, rather than an imperial power that needs to control Callow. What would be the problem with a Tenth Crusade that liberated Callow, drove the Praesi back to the Wasteland, and ended Malicia and Black’s reign? Catherine would have a chance to rule a stronger, more functional Callow without Praesi interference, and she’d have an allied nation whose cultural ethos isn’t based on compulsive backstabbing. That doesn’t seem like a bad thing to me.


        1. “What would be the problem with a Tenth Crusade that liberated Callow, drove the Praesi back to the Wasteland, and ended Malicia and Black’s reign?”

          The first crusade was a good one. The second crusade was “crushed into dust”. The third “ended in disaster and the end of the crusader nations – to further compound the disgrace, a weakened Callow was occupied by Procer in its wake. The Fourth Crusade, a last-ditch attempt to reclaim Praes, was drowned in such a sea of blood by Terribilis that never again was a crusade to turn East.”

          After that, the four following crusades never attempted to fight the “Evil” Tower and Praes, they instead all turned against the truly greater evil, “the Dead King and his realm of horrors, a monster who called even devils to heel.”

          Then he waxed on about the seventh crusade. Strangely enough, although there have been nine crusades, William only reminisces about 8. I’m not sure what happened during the ninth crusade.

          Anyway, the tenth crusade might sweep towards Praes, because “Malicia was no great warlord, not the way Terribilis had been, and her greatest general was getting old.” But someone has to kill the Black Knight first.

          “The First Prince of Procer was plotting a Tenth Crusade, holed up in her capital, and William would give it to her. But it would not be a Proceran enterprise, and it would not end with Callow as her protectorate. The rest of Calernia would not stand for that sin being committed a second time.” Or would they? You’ve heard of the golden rule, no not that one, the one that says, “He who has the gold makes the rules”? After the First Prince retook Callow, and had beaten back Praes, would the rest of Calernia really have the strength to stand up and tell her, “No”? Not to mention, pretty much all that fighting would happen in Callow. Most of Callow would be decimated, most of its cities would be destroyed, and then how would ruined Callow be expected to protect itself? No, she’d have to claim it as a protectorate, even if but for a “temporary” time, or it’d just get retaken a few years later.


      4. Dylan Tullos


        The First Crusade defeated Triumphant, and in the Second Crusade, it was the Praesi, not the Crusaders, who were “crushed into dust”. Heiress mentions the aftermath of the Second Crusade as the moment when the Praesi came closest to their destruction as a nation. Terriblis II managed to save the Dread Empire from division into crusader states and cultural obliteration. He defeated the Third Crusade, and destroyed the Fourth so utterly that no Good nation ever tried to occupy Praes again.

        As you say, every other known Crusade has been against the Dead King. I assume that the author’s failure to mention the Ninth isn’t an oversight, and that there’s something unusual about the last Crusade in Calernia.

        Since we have the benefit of seeing inside Cordelia’s head, we know that she doesn’t want to occupy Callow. Cordelia is focused on Procer’s role as the Warden of the West, the defender of Good. An occupied Callow would be a constant source of discontent and rebellion, a weakness that would give Praes an opportunity. A strong, independent Callow, allied with Procer against the Dread Empire, would allow Cordelia to complete her Grand Alliance of Good vs Evil, shutting the Praesi up in the Wasteland.

        Cordelia lives in the north of Procer, facing off against the Chain of Hunger, with the Dead King always waiting for a chance to invade. Her primary concern isn’t “how can I expand my territory”; it’s “how can I protect my people”. She would be glad to rebuild Callow, no strings attached, so that the Kingdom can return to its historical role as the guardian against Praesi invasion, freeing her people to return to their historical role as the guardian against the Chain and the Dead King.

        Catherine is used to the princes of southern Procer, who are shielded from Praes by Callow and from the Chain and the Dead King by the northern realms of Procer. The southern Princes are safe from the forces of Evil, and they’re frequently willing to weaken the cause of Good if it increases their own secular power. After all, it’s not their lands which are going to get invaded. Cordelia comes from an entirely different situation, and her focus is on working together against Evil, not backstabbing fellow Good nations.

        The question isn’t “Could Cordelia turn Callow into a protectorate?”, but “Does she want to?”. Since we’ve seen inside her head, and know that the First Prince is genuinely committed to avoiding Procer’s past mistakes, we can see the possibility of a real alliance between Procer and Callow. Cat can’t see that possibility, but it’s real, and if she ever gets to meet Cordelia, she could learn of an alternative to her current arrangement with Black.


        1. “Does she want to”

          No, the real question is, “Would she have to?” I don’t think her allies, and her people, would be just fine with donating lots of resources to a land on the brink of starvation.

          Basically, it would be like West Germany after WWII (where a couple slices of bread might be all the average person had to eat for a day, and with all their factories destroyed), but with Hitler still alive in East Germany. Sure, the American people were fine with shipping millions of dollars in food aid, and military aid to thwart Russia but would her people feel the same way, especially with “Hitler” (i.e. Malicia) still alive in the country next door? Probably not.


      5. Dylan Tullos


        Cordelia wouldn’t convince Procerans to rebuild Callow out of the pure generosity of their hearts. They would pay to rebuild Callow so that Procer would have a powerful ally standing between them and the Dread Empire. As we’ve seen in the Free Cities, Procer is willing to give huge sums of silver to their allies so that the Good-aligned Free Cities can hire mercenaries to fight the Tyrant. There’s no meaningful difference between giving the Free Cities money to hire mercenaries and giving Callow food and aid in rebuilding. In both cases, Procer is acting for practical reasons, supporting an ally so they’ll be strong enough to fight Procer’s enemies.

        Having Malicia alive and in charge of the Dread Empire makes Cordelia’s case simpler. If their main enemy is still a threat, it only makes sense to ensure that the state that traditionally halts the Dread Empire is capable of doing their job. Every copper they spend on food now is a copper they don’t have to spend on armies later. As long as Cordelia frames her arguments in terms of “rebuilding Callow’s armies” rather than “helping Callow’s people”, she’ll be fine. It just so happens that rebuilding Callow’s armies means helping Callow’s people, since it’s difficult to recruit peasant levies when their families are starving to death.

        America didn’t pour wealth into West Germany because Americans were all nice people who felt for the poor Germans; we paid to ensure that our client state would be strong and stable enough to resist Soviet influence. Procer would pay for a Callowan army that could resist the Legions, freeing Procer from the need to fight the Dread Empire on their own. No charity or goodness is required.


  16. Is it intentional that Cat’s mooted title of ‘Vicequeen’ is just a letter away from Ice Queen? I mean now that she’s single it could also be argued that she’s building her kingdom of isolation. She also still has the power to rise like the break of dawn…

    If she starts telling herself to let it go, or breaks into song then I’m calling it.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. DocTao

    Is there a possibility that Cat is gonna get the Chancellor name?
    If we think of a name as a thing with its own motives, that one has been repressed for a while, must be dying to get on the field. Work with and at the same time oppose the Tower.


  18. Barrendur


    Thank-you! Fantastic chapter, and the “where do you stand?” exchange between Cat and Thief was so good — squee! Vivid, meaningful dialogue between two well-realised (well, Thief a bit less-so) characters, consistent with their histories and personalities… ooh. And It was incredibly satisfying to see how Cat’s actions match her intentions, and how it hurts when she fails… and I do like the fact that Thief is revealed as a bit of poser; like real-world Liberals, she just never thought the implications through. Doing the right thing and failing is nothing more than a grand gesture; it’s neither heroism nor useful.


  19. nehemiahnewell

    One thing that worries me…

    ” “And the Diabolist has an army out in the field,” I said. “So far the Summer Court has refrained from hitting Liesse. I’ve sent two Named down there to remedy to that. Akua Sahelian will have to be dealt with after the fae are repelled, and I don’t want her forces fresh when it happens.” ”

    She’s turning to deal with Akua after she deals with summer. If she had to deal with Akua on the way to dealing with Summer she would be garentteed a win – it would be the first step, and villains always win the first step. But dealing with her afterwords is consolidating her victory. Squire tends to win the conflict, but is thwarted in the afterward in a way that leads to more conflict.

    Likewise, Akua had a big step up, so Squire to Diabolist was Squire as the underdog. But now that she’s the Duke of Moonless Night they’re once again peers.

    Squires path to the top isn’t complete yet, she’s still in a transitional name – I could see her defeating her peer and rival for the final time if she was on her final name, but she’s still in a transitional one, and Akua has some sort of plan to ascend further.

    I’m sort of done with her, but I suspect Akua will find a way of swing it where her actions might break the letter of the law… but so did Squires. Both of them “had” to do what they because of the situation. Squire was just warned she’ll have to make concessions because of resurrecting the Knightly Orders. I think Akua is that price.

    She’ll be able to swing her actions as for the glory of Praesi even if against the letter of the land. And as Squire did the same it’s all ok.


      1. nehemiahnewell

        Nah, it was prep work. These weren’t ‘real’ opponents. If thief decided to make it a fight, sure, but she fell in line. It’s just like how Tyrant killing everyone but Anaxares didn’t count. It needed to happen for Tyrant to make his war, but didn’t really count as part of it. Just prep work.

        Well, that’s my viewpoint.

        But by putting her off till after and raising the Knightly Orders, I think she’s given up this chance to get rid of Akua.


      2. “But by putting her off till after and raising the Knightly Orders, I think she’s given up this chance to get rid of Akua.”

        I think it’s clear now that Diabolist is her counter, the antagonist to her protagonist status, her archnemesis. I agree, I don’t think she’s going to be getting rid of Akua any time soon. I think it’s going to be like The Princess Bride:

        (spoiler alert)

        Kid: “Who gets Humperdinck?”
        Grandpa: “I don’t understand.”
        Kid: “Who kills Prince Humperdinck? At the end, somebody’s got to do it! Is it Inigo? Who?”
        Grandpa: “Nobody. Nobody kills him. He lives.”
        Kid: “You mean he wins? Jesus, grand-pa, why did you read me this thing for?”
        Grandpa: “You know, you’ve been very sick, and you’re taking this story very seriously. I think we’d better stop now.” Grandpa gets up as if to leave.
        Kid: “No, I’m ok. I’m ok. Sit down. I’m all right.”

        As much as I’m annoyed/angry that Diabolist might not die and otherwise get what’s coming to her, the narrative structure of the story might just keep bringing her back. Ad just because she lives doesn’t mean that she wins. 😉

        PS What’s the update schedule for this story now? I thought I heard something about twice a week?


  20. I finally caught up, so have a brief review.

    It would, I think, be foolish to strenuously avoid comparisons between this and Worm, but for my part I think you’ve surpassed it. There’s several points that I appreciate where you’ve improved upon it; for one, it’s gratifying to see such firm acknowledge of the evil that Catherine has signed on with, and the cosmology that you’ve laid out seems to preclude the kind of late-story ludicrous power scaling that made Worm fall apart for me.

    It’s also very telling to me that you aren’t afraid to let Catherine simply /lose/. Worm threw obstacles at Taylor so she was always threatened, but she never precisely suffered a serious setback or out-and-out defeat. Leviathan was fairly emblematic of the tempo of her story; Brockton Bay was laid to waste, but that was framed as a bloody victory rather than calamitous defeat, because Endbringers had been built up as that big a deal.

    Catherine has had more of a mixed track record. She’s had her spectacular wins, but she’s also had occasions where in the course of the campaign she’s tried something and simply failed. Gambled and lost. Her enemies have outsmarted her, or been more powerful than expected, and she’s been forced to abandon her objective and retreat, her only victory of the encounter that she kept it from turning into a rout.

    This speaks to a confidence in where your story is going, a desire to avoid pointless escalation, and an understanding of the need to actually plan things out.

    Not to say it’s perfect. Chapters could, I think, benefit from a sentence-by-sentence read-through to address some technical failings, but unfortunately I’m not really the person to do that, and equally I understand the limitations of your schedule. That said, I am very happy with what I’ve read so far!


    1. Dylan Tullos

      Tal Morgan:

      When has Catherine lost?

      She defeated her rivals for Squire in Act I, beat the Lone Swordsman, and won the competition for control of the Fifteenth. In Act II, she crushed the Exiled Prince and his Silver Spears, defeated the demonic incursion, and killed the Lone Swordsman. She even beat Akua to within an inch of her life.

      The biggest setback she had was the collapse of her Council, and she’s recovered instantly from that, executing the Praesi usurpers and essentially declaring herself Queen with Black’s support. I can’t think of a single fight that Catherine has actually out-and-out lost.

      The Calamities are even worse. If this story was told from a different viewpoint, they’d be fantastic antagonists, terrifying monsters who have killed a graveyard’s worth of Heroes. Since they’re protagonists, though, they destroy dramatic tension. Black is obviously smarter and more capable than all of the Heroes he goes up against; during his fight with the White Knight, there wasn’t a single point where I felt that he was in danger of death or even serious injury. He dominated the fight, and at the very moment when the Story might have swung things against him, he simply disappeared.

      Much as I enjoy the world and the story, the author writes “Heroes” who are far less intelligent and formidable than their adversaries. With the single exception of Cordelia Hassenbach, who seems to be a worthy opponent for Malicia, none of the heroes we’ve met are real challengers for Team Practical Evil. Though he’s far superior to the Lone Swordsman, the White Knight is hardly a match for Black, and his team, though earning high marks for banter and general awesomeness, were effortlessly outsmarted and outfought by the Calamities.

      On one hand, we have a team of Villains that have worked and fought side by side for decades, veterans of at least two major wars and a hundred smaller skirmishes. On the other hand, we have a plucky, adorable team of Heroes that fights hard and does well against Kairos’s Classic Evil. Fun as they are to read about, I never feel that they have a chance against Black and company, which means the only real tension comes from the conflict between Classic Evil and Practical Evil.

      Maybe I’m forgetting some important defeats, but so far I haven’t been impressed with the quality of Catherine’s Good-aligned opposition. So far, they’ve either been supremely incompetent (Lone Swordsman) or simply not that threatening (Thief). For a protagonist’s victories to be meaningful, they need adversaries who are formidable. Akua has stepped up in that regard, but there hasn’t been a single Hero who genuinely seems to be close to Catherine’s equal, and that shortcoming weakens the story, limiting Catherine to easy victories over chumps like the Exiled Prince and the Lone Swordsman.


      1. nehemiahnewell

        Yeah, and Akua has the problem that she’s the explicit champion of a failed path, and is so anti-charismatic that you can’t even psudo-root for her.


      2. “When has Catherine lost?” She’s never lost a story arc, no, but there are definite occasions such as when she attempted to unlock her third Aspect early, or sallied out to try and rescue her wounded from the freshly-released demonic incursion, where she has simply tried something and failed.


    2. Dylan Tullos


      Yeah, Akua is not the kind of villain people love to cheer for.

      With the vital exception of Cordelia Hassenbach, I feel like we’re being robbed of alternative perspectives; Cat never really runs into anyone who can argue with her or convincingly present a different point of view. Most of her officers worship their Squire, and the Heroes she’s encountered so far are either incompetent (Exiled Prince, Lone Swordsman) or not particularly good at big-picture planning (Thief). I’d like to see some perspectives from people who don’t play on Team Squire and aren’t inept or megalomaniac villains. White Knight is promising, but he’s focused on Black, not Catherine.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. nehemiahnewell

        His surrender of personal responsibility is so abhorrent that it’s basically impossible to have a meaningful discussion with him unless you’re full in to divine command theory territory. He himself won’t engage with it, giving up responiblity to others.

        You just saw her rebuttal to his argument. She’s met an angel, and doesn’t see them as morally superior to Man. Quite the reverse, she finds them evil brainwashing monsters unworthy of respect in a personal sense.

        There can be no discussion at that point.


    3. Dylan Tullos


      Oh, I’m definitely not defending the Lone Swordsman. The only possible justification for his actions is that he went insane after he murdered his sister, wandered into the wilderness, and fell prey to an angel who was looking for a mentally fragile Callowan to use as a human sacrifice. The other Heroes in his band seem more or less human, while William thinks, talks, and acts like a badly programmed robot.

      The problem is that the Lone Swordsman is incapable of making rational arguments because he’s been brainwashed by an angel. If he was a functional human being, he could point out that Black and Malicia are ultimately going to die. Sooner or later, an old-school villain is going to become Tyrant, and they’ll be able to use the professional Legions Black built to engage in the traditional Praesi hobby of trying to conquer the world. Unless Catherine wants Callow to eventually end up under the rule of Akua, or someone like her, she needs to find a way to break away from the Dread Empire.

      That’s just one argument, and it’s not hard to find others. The current crop of Villains in Praes is exceptional. They’re the only ones since Triumphant to actually conquer Callow, two successes out of seventy attempts. Clearly, Callowan independence isn’t impossible; Catherine’s defeatism is a product of historical ignorance and well-founded fear of the current Legions. But successful rebellion is just a matter of waiting for the inevitable Praesi civil war, and rising when the time is right. If William had the good sense to stage a rising when Akua made her move, with the two thousand knights Catherine just recruited, he could have liberated Callow while Black was distracted in the Free Cities.

      I said earlier that Catherine never loses, and I think that’s true. But she never really wins, either. No matter how many people she kills and victories she wins, Foundling is building on sand. Praes isn’t going to change if she kills a thousand aristocrats; their replacements always be looking for another chance to rise, to seize power in Callow. Malicia will die, Black will die, and the Calamities will die, but the culture of the Dread Empire will live on.

      Breaking is easy. Building is hard. So far, Catherine has broken everyone in her path, and she’s built…nothing. The Ruling Council is dead. Callowan trust in the Dread Empire is nonexistent. Her own success comes from the fact that Callow sees her fighting the Dread Empire and hopes that she’ll eventually lead a rebellion. Praes views Callow as a conquered province, just as they did at the start, and Callow views the Praesi as foreign invaders, just as they did at the start. All of her battles and duels and victories have brought her here, and she’s still trying to build a functional nation with a sword, insisting that enough violence can magically solve all of the problems she doesn’t have real solutions for.


      1. nehemiahnewell

        I was actually talking about White Knight with his coin flip. He might be better then the Lone Swordsmen, but his surrendering of personal responsibility is if anything even more absolute.


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