Villainous Interlude: Decorum

“Morality is a force, not a law. Deviating from it has costs and benefits both – a ruler should weigh those when making a decision, and ignore the delusion of any position being inherently superior.”
– Dread Emperor Benevolent

Two years at most: that was how long Amadeus had to live.

Maybe only a year, if he blundered badly enough. He’d walked away from his meeting with the Tyrant of Helike knowing this, and was still exploring the implications. When no pattern of three had formed with the White Knight after their confrontation in Delos, Black had found several implications. The first was that the scope of that hero’s story was narrower than he’d thought: it extended only to the civil war in the Free Cities, and as an outsider to that narrative Amadeus did not have the weight required to qualify as a rival. That possibility had been a factor in why he’d cautiously called a retreat even though the Calamities had, arguably, been winning. If they were mere side-characters in that conflict, the most likely pattern for them was to be victorious early then brutally crushed after the heroes improved their power. A whetting stone for the blades of the Gods Above, essentially. By removing himself early he would not have allowed the pattern to truly form. And yet, the premise was flawed.

The White Knight, Scribe had informed him, was not of the Free Cities. He was Ashuran, somewhat surprising given his dark skin. A little digging had allowed his spymistress to find out the man’s mother had been a Soninke exile, eventually executed because of one of the labyrinthine laws that governed the citizenship tiers of the Thalassocracy. The White Knight’s reason to be involved, then was not ‘right of birth’. The two sisters that were part of his heroic band were themselves from the Free Cities, but neither the House of Light the Ashen Priestess had served in nor the hidden covenant of wizards her sister had studied under had been harmed by either Praesi forces or those of the Tyrant. ‘Personal connection’ wasn’t the reason either, then. Amadeus had made sure that both those places of origin would remain untouched for the duration of the war: heroes with butchered families, adopted or otherwise, became infinitely more dangerous.

The only motive that fit was ‘ethical opposition’, but if that was the case Amadeus should have ended up the rival to the other Knight. He represented a larger and more active power than the Tyrant of Helike, arguably with a deeper historical connection with Evil. Unless, of course, some deeper unknown connection existed between the White Knight and the Tyrant. That theory had been buried during his conference with the vicious child from Helike: the other villain was not bound by a pattern of any sort.

Amadeus did not consider his own intellect to be superior, in the larger scheme of things. He’d been at the side of Wekesa for decades and early understood that Warlock was perhaps the most brilliant mind to grace Praes in ten generations, however narrow his interests. Only Alaya stood in the same league, a mastermind who’d been able to fill the function of two Named for over forty years with sheer cunning and ruthlessness while facing men and women who were bloody ambitions made flesh. He was not the strongest, either. In matters of brute force, Sabah could snap him in half in the span of a single breath when it came to martial might Hye stood unequalled under the sky. Black wasn’t even the best at killing: Assassin’s body count dwarfed his, for both Named and mortals, and had been collected without ever taking a single wound. As for Scribe, the way she’d effectively become the bureaucracy and spy network of an entire kingdom without ever having a permanent office was far beyond his capacity. Amadeus’ only noteworthy talent, in his opinion, was clarity of sight. The ability to look at a situation if not without biases then with fewer of them than anyone else doing the same.

That same clarity was how he’d understood why he was not currently in a pattern of three. The White Knight was, in fact, supposed to face a Black Knight as a rival. That individual was simply not him.

Midnight bell was nearing, the villain thought as he glanced up as the starry sky. Wekesa was already asleep inside the gaudy tent he’d taken out of his pocket dimension along with most of their supplies. There would be no waking him until dawn. Sabah was napping at his side, buried in blankets up to her neck like some sort of gargantuan cocoon. Sitting on a log, Amadeus stirred the fire ahead of him with the long stick he’d carved out earlier and shaped a plan. Planning with two years in mind, he now had to destroy or neuter every major threat to the Empire before Catherine became the Black Knight. He would make a second series of schemes in the days to come with the notion of him surviving only a year in mind, but first he needed to establish what the optimal results could be. He’d once thought he had a decade left in him still and planned to have his apprentice ready to replace him in half that but the timetable would have to be adjusted. There were four fronts he would have to settle: Callow, Praes, the Free Cities and Procer. In the back of his mind gears of iron turned as his eyes remained on the dancing flames.

Callow and Praes, as it currently stood, were intertwined issues. The former kingdom was, last he’d heard, under attack by several forces. The Courts of Arcadia, the rebel forces of the Diabolist and a potential Deoraithe uprising. Alaya already had plans in the works for the Diabolist, but that was no longer enough. She had to be dead within the next six months, with minimal casualties. This much he could rely on Catherine to accomplish, and solidify her grip on Callow in the process. The Courts had been an unexpected set of pieces in this game. Amadeus had three standing operational plans for the Legions to turn back a fae incursion depending on where they crossed, but none were designed to handle a full-fledged invasion. Winter had been temporarily handled by his apprentice, but that was mitigating the symptoms instead of the root cause. It was necessary to find out what had driven both Courts to leave Arcadia and permanently destroy that incitement. For now, Amadeus lacked the information needed to make a decision. Scribe would need a few months still to find out what he wanted, so he’d have to trust Catherine to hold them at bay until then.

She should be able to, and that calibre of opponent would quicken her growth. Dealing with creatures whose power was massively larger than her own would prepare her for the fights with heroes she would be facing as the Black Knight. The nature of fae being so closely associated with patterns would also sharpen her eye in this regard, enough she would not be caught on the wrong side of a narrative easily. The dark-haired man had originally meant to train that aspect of her against the High Lords through the controlled battleground of rule over Callow, but in this case the substitute was superior to the original. The Deoraithe were a thornier issue, especially since he still did not know what had driven them to act. Alaya and he had originally allowed the Duchy of Daoine to remain untouched after the Conquest because it served as an ideal border state against the Golden Bloom, both because of the Deoraithe’s rabid hatred for the elves and their limited avenues for growth. While powerful, by themselves they would never be powerful enough to be a true threat to the Empire – and their culture essentially ensured they would never seek foreign allies.

Now, though, it had been proved they could be made to move. Unless the motive for their deployment was unique and incapable of being reproduced, the odds of which were low, then it was possible for Daoine to be leveraged into action again. That made them a liability, the kind that could not be allowed to exist with a crusade on the horizon. By the end of the current unrest, Daoine would have to be either bound to Catherine definitively in her capacity as ruler of Callow or broken beyond capacity to act. If it was the second case, the best time to act would be after they’d fought battles in the south: wiping out the Watch in their own territory would be extremely costly. Destroying the army and culling the population of breeding age by four tenths should be enough. Amadeus disliked leaving a wounded enemy still breathing, but logistics dictated exterminating the entire Duchy would require too many resources and take too long. He’d send word to Grem and Ranker to assess the situation and act accordingly, if he was unable to return in time to pass judgement.

That left the more complicated issue of the relationship between Callow and Praes, or more accurately the Dread Empress and the Squire. Catherine was about to seize direct power over her homeland, which was one of the outcomes he’d considered most probable. The moment the Ruling Council had been formed, there were only two ways it could go forward: either Squire would terrify the Praesi establishment into submission or she would wipe it out entirely and become de facto queen. Neither result displeased him, as the Ruling Council had always been meant to be a crutch that would allow his apprentice to learn to rule. Given how long Amadeus had left to live, such a slow-paced process was no longer feasible: Catherine discarding the crutch by herself accelerated the process by a few months. Alaya would be furious at the loss of control, he knew, but she would be aware that Catherine ruling Callow with the backing of the population was an unmitigated victory for the Empire. Squire breaking away entirely from Praes was, after all, impossible.

That was the truth under the surface current, and why he’d never once felt threatened by his apprentice gathering an independent power base. Catherine was, after all, a villain. The Principate would not consider Callow ruled by villainous queen any more acceptable than it being an imperial possession. Strife between Praes and her kingdom reborn would only weaken her in the face of Proceran advances: as long as Catherine Foundling held power in Callow, she needed the Empire to survive. Amadeus had taken more stringent measures as well, of course. Though Callowan soldiers had been part of the Fifteenth since its foundation, he’d made sure to give her mostly criminals in the initial batch. That meant that all her closest collaborators were Praesi: her general and all the senior staff were from the Wasteland. Though being in close proximity to a charismatic Named for several years ensured their strongest loyalty would be to her, their ties to the Empire made them into counter-weights against thoughts of breaking away entirely.

Much like him, personal loyalty mattered a great deal to his apprentice. As long as declaring independence antagonized all the people closest to her, Catherine would seek a middle ground instead. Since a boundary had been set in that direction, the other boundary had to be established on the Praesi side. Alaya should already be working on a way to bind Squire to her, and would be well aware that coercion would result in permanent enmity. He did not have to bother himself with this part of the equation. Instead, what he would have to turn his eyes to was the stability of the Wasteland. Alaya’s magnificent decades-long plan had finally come to fruition and destroyed the Truebloods in full. Three legions would scour Wolof clean as soon as a winner emerged from the succession struggle there, removing a nest of unrest in Praes for at least twenty years. It would not be enough. Every former Trueblood not currently aligned with these so-called ‘Moderates’ would have to be killed and their entire family line ripped out root and stem. Amadeus was not above borrowing the strength of Callow to accomplish this, if other legions balked at the slaughter. The Clans were loyal, and need not be touched, but he would need to have a frank conversation with the foremost Matrons and explain to them that if they made a single questionable move Wekesa would bring down the Grey Eyries on their heads. Ranker would back him in this, he knew. She’d long run out of patience with the more isolationist of the Matrons.

All of this would secure their back within a year, if handled properly, which left exterior threats. The Principate was the foremost among those. Cordelia Hasenbach had roped in both Levant and Ashur, which have her utmost naval supremacy and a quiet southern border. When Procer came knocking, it would be with everything but the northern garrisons. At least a fifty thousand professional soldiers, easily twice than in levies, and that was without counting any armies sent to reinforce by the Dominion. If most of the Legions were at the Red Flower Vales, it was possible to resist that strength as long as there was no unrest inside Imperial territories. That was not enough, he decided. If Procer retreated with enough of its force intact, the problem was only delayed by half a decade at most. The Principate had to be decisively beaten, its alliances sundered and the First Prince killed. She was, frankly speaking, too dangerous to leave alive. That meant campaigning inside Proceran borders in an offensive war, which would most likely lead to defeat given the current balance of forces.

It was time to start using harsh measures, then. Using the Calamities to destroy the capital of the Principate, for a start, should incapacitate its ruling infrastructure. Using a surprise strike to torch and poison the central principalities, the main farmlands of Procer, would lead to widespread starvation come winter. As for the Thalassocracy, if they could not be reasoned with Assassin would need to eliminate their entire two highest citizenship tiers. That would create chaos that could buy the Empire two years at least, and if Procer could be dealt with during that time the chances of Ashur resuming the war alone were low. The Dominion of Levant was too far and too decentralized to cripple in one stroke, but their ties to the alliance were also the weakest. They would not remain committed if victory did not look feasible. There were even harsher moves that could be made, of course – the Tower was still in contact with the ancient abomination that ruled the Kingdom of the Dead. But putting that devil back in that bottle after it was uncorked would be impossible, and in the long term more dangerous to imperial interests than the current Procer.

Amadeus had spent over fifty years carefully making sure not to burn too many bridges, to avoid the very kind of crusade the First Prince was assembling, but the hour of reckoning had come. The Principate needed to be so badly damaged it would not recover for a generation, if possible while leaving most of Levant’s strength intact – the Dominion would not be able to resist the bait of a weakened south if its armies were still strong. Most importantly, Cordelia Hasenbach had to die. Even if another war of succession did not erupt, whoever replaced her would be part of one of the regional power blocs Alaya had made emerge. They would have powerful internal enemies to deal with, and given the nature of the Highest Assembly that meant a Principate divided in fact if not in name. All of this, though, would come next year. There was a more immediate problem at hand, the Free Cities.

The balance of power could not be allowed to swing in the favour of Good down here. At the very least, neutrality had to be forced with the Tyrant remaining in a strong position. The threat of Helike armed to the teeth at her back would force Hasenbach to keep troops in the south to dissuade an attack. Neutrality would be better than an outright victory for the Tyrant, Amadeus thought. If the Tyrant won, Procer had an excuse to wage war in the region and secure it before turning to Praes. If the balance was restored, they had a knife at their back and no diplomatically acceptable excuse to remove it. If Procer started intervening in the affairs of foreign nations, its allies would protest. Hasenbach could not afford to lose them if she wanted a crusade in more than name. And the moment the Tyrant is no longer a threat, the entire Free Cities will start viewing the troops she sent as an invasion force. The desired outcome, then, was a truce in the Free Cities with a guarantee they would not participate in the larger conflict. How could Amadeus accomplish this?

Currently, Atalante was under occupation and Delos out of the war – the removal of the more combative elements of the Secretariat by Assassin had seen to that. The strife he’d begun in Penthes was keeping them busy, though they’d still managed to repulse an attack from the ramshackle army of Bellerophon. The slave armies of Stygia, headed by their Magisters, had joined Helike on the march to the last remaining active opposition in the war: Nicae. Which was filled with mercenaries, Proceran fantassins and its own decently skilled forces. Taking Named out of the story, after marked but not severe casualties Nicae should fall to enemy forces. With a band of heroes backing the city, though, the situation was different. It became ‘the last stronghold, besieged by the hordes of Evil’. Defeat was virtually assured as long as this remained the narrative, and Amadeus did not currently have enough authority with Stygia and Helike to properly influence their decision-making. They would have to be bypassed entirely, then.

The lynchpin of this entire situation, as far as he could tell, was the White Knight. He was the Named keeping the band together. Without him they would either disperse or lose the coherency needed to be a true threat. If the White Knight was dead, Amadeus believed he could turn the victory of the Evil-aligned cities into a bloody draw that would weaken both sides enough they could be forced to negotiate a truce. The Tyrant would be trouble – he’d already begun disrupting Warlock’s scrying, which had cut off the dark-haired man’s conversation with his apprentice – but he was also fickle. As long as he was presented with a more enticing game than his current one, he could be brought to the table. All Amadeus had to worry about was surviving the boy’s inevitable attempts to kill him during the battle for Nicae. Contingencies were already being put in place. The key to this entire situation, then, was eliminating the White Knight. The villain poked at the flames again.

It could be done, with the right preparations. The lack of pattern would not hinder this.

“You look like you’re up to no good,” Sabah said sleepily.

Amadeus smiled. It was an old joke, now more comfortable than funny.

“Did I wake you?” he asked. “I apologize.”

“I sleep lighter than when we were started out,” she said. “We’re getting old, Amadeus.”

The Black Knight chuckled, sliding down the log to sit next to her.

“You’ve still got a few decades in you,” he said. “Enough you’ll see your both your children get grey hair.”

“Amna’s raised them well,” she said wistfully. “I think of them more often than I used to, out on adventures like this.”

Both time she’d given birth she’d left his side for a year afterwards to mother the children, but inevitably Sabah had left Ater to join him – he’d spent most of his time in Callow, the last twenty years. Her husband had done most of the rearing, repeatedly refusing promotions in the Imperial bureaucracy to have enough time for it. Black rather liked the man, though how his old friend had come to fall in love with that diminutive, mild-mannered specimen had long been a subject of wonder.

“I think,” he said, “that our time is drawing to an end.”

The large Taghreb turned amused eyes to him.

“You’re not usually this maudlin,” she said. “We’ve handled worse than the Tyrant. He’s like a crippled take on Heir, only with a sense of humour.”

“He really was a pompous ass, wasn’t he?” Black smiled.

“Catherine’s rival is worse,” Sabah grunted. “I’m looking forward to the kid hacking her in a few pieces.”

“It will be a learning experience for her,” Amadeus murmured. “Killing the Heir was a turning point for me.”

“You were softer before,” Sabah agreed softly. “We all were. I still remember what it felt like back then, looking at his corpse. Like there was a storm ahead.”

She frowned.

“Feels the same now,” she admitted. “Like we’re reaching a pivot.”

I’m going to die soon, he almost told her. But he couldn’t, because if he did she would fight it. Even harder than Warlock would, because Warlock understood that some things were worth dying for. Captain didn’t. She had no great cause, no febrile drive to understand the nature of Creation. Sabah only wanted them to live as long and happily as they could, and if she had to cave in other people’s heads for that so be it. He’d always loved that about her, the purity of the sentiment. He’d never met another Named like her, so unconcerned with their own power. In that sense she was the strangest among them.

“Do you ever regret it?” he asked suddenly. “Coming with Wekesa and I, the morning after we first met you.”

She looked at him, bemused.

“We’ve been at this over forty years, Sabah,” he said. “We’ve killed so many people I can’t remember all the faces. We won, when it mattered, but there were dark days too. Those just don’t make it into the legends.”

The massive Taghreb patted his shoulder gently.

“You’re an idiot,” she told him, not unkindly. “You two are family. You might as well ask me if I regret breathing. Besides, f I hadn’t come along you twerps would have mouthed yourself off into an early grave.”

She paused.

“And you and Hye would still be pretending you still didn’t desperately want to bone,” she added.

Sabah,” he protested.

“Oh, she’s just teaching me swordsmanship,” she mocked in a high-pitched voice. “Like that didn’t turn into an excuse for you two to get sweaty and handsy before the first lesson was over.”

“I learned a lot from her,” Black said.

“I know,” she said. “Tents don’t block out noise very well.”

As one of the foremost tacticians of the age, Amadeus recognized that this was not a battle he could win. Retreat was required. Besides, at least he’d never used an entire roasted pig as a courting gift, unlike some other people that would go nameless.

“I need you to do something for me,” he said.

She raised a thick eyebrow.

“Eudokia tells me Procer is still sending grain and silver to Nicae by land convoys,” he said.

The Tyrant, for reasons only known to him, was allowing them to pass untouched.

“We need to turn the screws on the city before it turns into a battle,” he said. “The emptier their coffers and granaries, the better.”

It would be easier to force them to negotiate if they were all but destitute.

“Been a while since I hunted on my own,” Captain said, staring into the flame. “Might do me some good. The Beast gets wilful when I keep it on the leash for too long.”

He nodded silently and left it at that. Eventually she drifted back into sleep, the two of them nestled close to the fire.

“Two years,” he murmured. “It will be enough. I’ll make it enough.”

The Gods could help anyone who got in his way, if they so wished. It would make no difference.

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96 thoughts on “Villainous Interlude: Decorum

  1. Kingbob12

    Man, all these Villain chapters one after the other have been so fantastic. Amadeus in particular is so cold and clinical and determined. I’m gonna be sad when he dies.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Darkening

      Huh, yeah, that would explain why Tyrant’s leaving them alone, to goad Black into sending someone after them so he can take them out. Black’s scary as hell in this, seeing how casually he thinks about butchering 40% of the population of a region, having assassin murder entire castes of Ashur, etc. As much as I don’t want Captain to die, since she’s oddly endearing for a rampaging werewolf, seeing Black lose his cool over it would be fascinating. I’m not sure if he’d flip out or just go even colder as he worked for the Tyrant’s death. Whatever happens, I’m sure I’ll enjoy reading it. Was kinda hoping we’d see what’s going on in Arcadia today, but this was really interesting to see too.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Roger W

        Strictly, it’s not 40% of the population.

        It’s 40% of the breeding age population.
        Anyone over the age of ~30 (assuming “true” peasant lives”, or ~40 otherwise), and under the age of 14 is not part of that, and that’s post eliminating the army, which is almost entirely breeding age. I’d say 15 to 25% of the total population. Lower the closer to “real” peasant lives as the lifespan drops and the child mortality (and hence # of children) rises.

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      1. Cap'n Smurfy

        Shit, Captain is definitely the most likely to die. Black hasn’t noticed the Tyrants trap and she has the least connection to the new generation. Adjutant is pretty much her counterpart to Catherine and they aren’t related. Warlock and Black Knight both have apprentices and from what we know of Assassin dying isn’t likely. Plus she’s nice, least deserving of it and wants to go back to her family. It’s too tragic, therefore all but certain.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. RandomFan

      I just hope it’s a mistake and not a betrayal. That Black genuinely didn’t anticipate it. Of course, this could be a fake-out, but what’ll really sting is if Black planned on it happening, and her not surviving.

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    1. The Archdevil

      Some things you can’t fight against. Black’s been a Villain for a long time, especially a Black Knight according to the story. He should have a sense of when he’s dying by now, and him knowing a rough estimate isn’t all that surprising.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. RandomFan

      As a villian, you get one wish. If you work hard and do it right, maybe it’ll come true. But to aim for more is to ensure you lose all of them in the end. A man who chases two rabbits catches neither.

      He’s willing to die to ensure his victory, just like William was. There’s no rage in the equation at all, just the same determination that there was before. Half turned into a prop against the other half. He’s willing to die to change that.

      Liked by 4 people

    3. KageLupus

      Black isn’t really a “rage” sort of guy. At least, not in a big dramatic way. He just sees a problem and then decides to fix it, and once those gears start turning Creation will either change or get ground into dust.

      This chapter actually shows off exactly why Black is such a terrifying person. He realizes that the way the current story is playing out, he is going to die. He then proceeds to give zero fucks about that fact as it relates to him, and just starts focusing on what it means for his plans and what he needs to do to accomplish them.

      Black is one of the most ruthlessly cold and logical characters I have ever read. He has an idea for how the world should be and lets nothing stand in his way of making it so. Thousands of years of Praesi history and tradition? Throw it away because it is impractical to his needs. Some country might cause trouble if left to their own devices? Murder so many of them that they are literally unable to muster an army for at least a generation. There is no solution too terrible to be considered when Black has a problem. If he chooses not to go for it it is because it wasn’t as efficient a solution to the problem at hand, not because there is a line he wouldn’t cross.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. At least she didn’t hoik out a locket with a picture of the hubby and kids. :/ She is unlikely to make it, but she’s assured of making a lot of people regret waking up that morning before she goes down.

      And, something tells me she could pull a pyrrhic defeat off with her death: lose, but undermine the winner by doing so. 😐

      Like

  2. RandomFan

    Of course, all Amadeus can do is build a structure and hope it lasts, in the end. It won’t, not forever- but long enough to count, I hope.

    Odds are he’ll die without knowing whether it worked out or not. Winning in death is a very callowan notion, though- as he said, villians die cursing their enemies. He’s learned a lot from them; that shouldn’t surprise me. It still feels like a heroic notion, to die for something greater.

    I wonder- was the heiress right, about some of them at least? That they’ve become mere stewards? Amadeus seems very aware that he’s holding the title of black knight until Catherine is ready, at the least.

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  3. RubberBandMan

    So Amadeus realizes that the White Knight is destined to struggle with a Black Knight, just not him. Which leads him to think that obviously Squire is going to change into Black Knight to fight this White Knight.

    So Amadeus decides that White Knight must die, because he knows he outlives Amadeus? I’m not sure if this makes sense or if this is a logical absurdity. I know named are epic story bait, but then there is stuff like the Shining Prince and Page, who got killed without any sort of connection between them and Squire.

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    1. nerfworld

      No, it cause if the White Knight has no rival among them then that may mean he will be used against Squire in the future after squire kills diabolist and has a opening for a new rival

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    2. Letouriste

      He just realised the white knight is meant to be a futur rival for his squire;)
      The key word here is futur,this is not set yet.so he can kill him,there is just no story around that=>the last sentence where gods will go in his way refer partially to that;meaning he will fight a hard battle but he still will win at the end,because this is his way

      I guess now black will not being in many stories:maybe one in the free cities if he lose something or someone:(,maybe one in the principate and his final one where he dies

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    3. Byzantine

      He’s trying to end the story before it starts. Breaking a pattern once it begins is almost impossible, but by striking before the pattern can take hold works. It’s how the Calamities have operated all along.

      It won’t save him, his death is destined and he can’t prevent it, but it can save Catherine one hell of a headache.

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  4. sheer_falacy

    I love how analytical Black is in this chapter, but I’m kind of astounded that he doesn’t consider the 5th major threat to the Empire: the Calamities. After he dies, depending on how he dies, they could easily ruin everything he’s worked for. We heard what happened once when he went missing – Warlock destroyed someones soul and Captain killed a village. None of them care about Praes (well, we don’t know about Assassin, but it’s unlikely) – they’re all tied to Black, and only Black. Heck, Captain’s Name is fundamentally tied to him – I wonder if she’d become the Cursed again without him to Obey.

    Actually I guess if he arranged his death to be obviously caused by Procer then that would solve one of his problems. I think 4 in 10 would be generous casualty numbers for them if that happened.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Byzantine

      In all likelihood he will be the last calamity standing, apart from the Empress herself. In Evil, just as in Good, when the successor finally reaches maturity the original is doomed. Apprentice is on the edge of claiming a new Name, which means Warlock doesn’t have long to live. Captain just had basically every relevant death flag thrown all at once.

      Assassin is likely to go out in a blaze of glory following Black’s last order to him, probably with no one ever quite sure if he really died until the next claimant to the Name occurs.

      Ranger parted ways a long time ago.

      The Empress? She’s going to be around awhile yet. Her end will likely come because of Catherine. We will see.

      I’m mostly curious what will happen with Scribe, once Black is gone. She’s not the type to go on a murderous rampage, but I can’t quite figure out how she will die.

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  5. ̥̥͗̾́̽ͧͅͅ

    >Mfw i hand my legacy to a hero. (yea i know she isn’t a hero but she probably won’t end up being a villain in the most conventional sense neither, probably will be called villain by heroes and hero by villains but meh)

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  6. Rq

    Alternative conclusion: Black is supposed to fight a White Knight, but not *that* White Knight.

    I don’t think that this is at all likely, but it does also explain the lack of pattern, and matches the faked prophecy about Catherine killing her adoptive father figure.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Morgenstern

      Somehow I always thought that had a lot more to do with how THIS “White Knight” is not THE White Knight (of his time) at all, but has basically all FORMER White Knights bunched up into him. He’s not really himself, not really a *person* anymore *at all*. it’s all gotten burned out of him. How can someone like that EVER have any r/Rival? Seems much more like a drawback for this White Knight version that is also some kind of a merit he might be able to use against his enemies OR they against him…

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    1. Byzantine

      He either didn’t think of it or he’s considering that once he dies the calamities are going to go insane. Captain, Warlock and Assassin all need to die before him. And he knows it.

      Like

  7. haihappen

    Either the foreshadowing is really strong in this one, or we, the audience, are swimming in a sea of red herrings. Also, this screams “this is a set up!”. Also, this screams “this is a set up!”.
    It is nice to see what decisions the characters are making based on their respective information.

    My personal 2nd favourite guess: The Squire must become a Knight, but it is not ultimately determined which one. Catherine is unlikely to become a White Knight, as she lacks the mindset of a hero. The Black Knight staple also may not fit completely, as she never conquered anything, strictly speaking, she only takes up the sword to defend the people (more or less accurate…).
    In the Monochromatic spectrum, she is more in the middle, a very solid Grey.
    Grey Knight. Unknown? Unlikely? Definitely Unconventional.

    my favourite theory I will be keeping to myself 😉

    Like

    1. Byzantine

      The problem really is this world doesn’t really have an appropriate name for Catherine to transition into. Grey Knight would fit her best of the obvious options but it isn’t a Name as far as we know.

      Like

  8. Th3saint

    Why do i get the feeling that if they off white then squire will get the title just to mess with everyones head, i can see it now “yes i am the white knight and a villan live with it”.

    Like

    1. Morgenstern

      I at the very least agree on the VERY heavy feeling that somehow, funnily, Black forgot to take into account Catherine, when still thinking he can mold her into THE Black Knight.. she just isn’t. She won’t be. Hakram’s late chapter made that rather clear.. Funny how someone like Black of all people seems unable to see that and plan for THAT eventuality. o_Ô

      Like

      1. Morgenstern

        Yes, hubris. Because despite his “Alaya and Wekesa are the great thinkers”, somehow HE is making the plans her and thinks that will work out, come Heaven or Hells. Oh well.

        Like

      2. Morgenstern

        Random acute sidenote: I wonder how far exactly Arcadia covers this world…. i.e. how far Cat can go… Anyone else suddenly having an image of HER popping up in the Free Cities (and thus, maybe, fighting this strange “White Knight” that is no person and no one W.K. of his time anymore, after all)?

        Like

      3. Byzantine

        I think the problem is there are only two possible roles for Catherine, as far as we are aware. But she isn’t really cut out for either of them. Squire is neutral, and suits her best. She is a Villain, but she isn’t really the type of Evil that’s appropriate for Black Knight. The world needs a better Name for her, really.

        Regardless, as far as Black is concerned she doesn’t have an option as to what she will transition into. If something else happens he is going to be shocked.

        Like

  9. Great Chapter!

    “It was necessary to find out what had driven both Courts to leave Arcadia and permanently destroy that incitement.” – I believe enticement is meant, not incitement.

    “The Principate was the foremost among those. Cordelia Hasenbach had roped in both Levant and Ashur, which have her utmost naval supremacy and a quiet southern border.” – gave, not have

    “You’ve still got a few decades in you,” he said. “Enough you’ll see your both your children get grey hair.” – remove the first your

    Like

  10. Laberlampe

    Some thoughts and a few pet theories:

    Catherine will ally/ get together with Cordelia.
    They would complement each other really well, with Cordelia doing the ruling/scheming and Catherine being the fighter. Both are also more in the neutral area and pargmatic, rather than really idealistic or evil. It would also make sense story-wise, Cordelia has way to many uncertanties and possible backstabbers in her own ranks and that is not even counting the dominion. As stated in this chapter, either side winning is not really a realistic outcome, as casulties will be too high to keep away other threats.
    That they are good-ish and evil-ish also should not be a problem. If i remmeber correctly one of the free cities has two rulers who are doing the same thing.

    Second theory:
    Catherine will either not be the Black Knight or become something else along the way (possibly Empress).
    Simply a guess with a bit of argument in her being too good and most likely a pretty important ruler soon.

    This will be really akward if this has not been entirely planned yet, but at least the first one i would really like to see.
    If it is bs, then i still say thanks for the chapter and please continue the good work, you make a lot of us really happy every week.

    Like

    1. Cicero

      If i remember Catherine aka foundling heard the same song as the current empress when she was young. The one about climing the tower. So i find the empress theory more likely.

      Like

  11. TwiFire

    catherine’s growing so fast, black must die so she can take his place. if she wasn’t so competent, he would have a few more years to live. instead, her unparalleled growth will enable her a much more long lasting story, and a greater empire than he has. she will not be the stragiest (and our current black knight has a name that doesn’t fit his role, speaking of which,) catherine will be the sword of the empire instead, waging war and killing goodies with a blink of an eye.

    edit:
    Besides, f I hadn’t come along you twerps would
    if I hadn’t

    Like

  12. Shoddi

    I notice in Black’s analysis of the White Knight’s band of heroes, he left out the Unconquered Champion. No mention of her background or motivations, or how she fit in the group. Odd for him to overlook an enemy.

    Like

  13. amc

    maybe cat falls into another ridiculous plot device that literally bleaches her. then, she can be “white knight¨ and still be a villain…

    but – yeah – i’m pretty nervous about the “prophecy” of killing the father figure…

    Like

  14. maresther23

    I think I can see the story Bard is constructing. One of the Calamities is killed and the rest go nuclear, so the forces of Good join together in a desperate Crusade to stop them. It does have a ring to it.
    You can even ignore all the little details! If Captain was killed by Tyrant, well, Evil is petty. If the war has been planned by both sides for decades, meh. And if they make Callow a protectorate, well, they helped a fellow ally of Good.
    Evil needs a counter-narrative…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. maresther23

      Oh s… Bard is Black’s foil.
      Cat was supposed to be Black’s foil. But instead he recruited her, completely changing the narrative of Callow Vs Praes. The Gods counterattacked, as Malicia warned him, by sending the the storyteller par excellence: The Bard.

      Like

  15. Barrendur

    @Erraticerrata: I don’t know quite what narrative magic you’re employing, but your story is so ENGAGING that:
    A] I find myself checking the story-site several times a day, even when I know there’s no update scheduled;
    B] I’m almost stunned with disappointment when I come to the end of each new update (That’s all? That’s it? NOOOOOOO!);
    and
    C] I think about ‘A Practical Guide to Evil’ even when I’m not actively (re-)reading it, and daydream myself as a character in that world.

    Thank-you, thank-you Erraticerrata!

    ‘A Practical Guide’ is creative, complex and consistent. It’s character-rich and has rich characters; its viewpoint is startlingly sympathetic *to* the characters (and we’re NOT talking Mary Sue-style, author-compelled sympathies here); it doesn’t shy away from the necessary darkness, but it doesn’t revel in it (though some characters might; yeah, I’m looking at YOU, Tyrant!).

    I’m 50 now, and I remember books being this good, once. It would be a tragic loss if you didn’t somehow publish this.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Lamora

    @erraticerrata Trivia question for curiosity, what are the other Choirs besides Contrition and Judgement? And do they have a counterside in the Hellgods?

    Like

    1. Jonnnney

      The choirs are angels not gods. Their counterside are the layers of hell. The combined might of all the angels is the same as the combined might of all the demons and devils.

      Like

    2. I believe I’ve been asked that question before, but pretty much there’s enough that listing them is pointless since only a few of them will ever be relevant to the story. Other Choirs have already been mentioned, though, notably Mercy and Compassion.

      Like

  17. The Archdevil

    I’m honestly hoping Cat breaks the pattern and doesn’t kill Akua. Imagine them actually working together, Akua the Dread Empress and Cat her Black Knight. Oh, might as well throw Cordellia in there as Chancellor. A truly balanced Council of Three, with Good (Cordellia), Neutral (Cat), and Evil (Akua).

    Like

  18. Dylan Tullos

    This is the fundamental problem with all of Black’s plans; everything depends on him.

    Malicia doesn’t trust the Calamities, and they aren’t loyal to her. Without Black as their leader, there isn’t any guarantee that each Calamity won’t pursue their own agenda, endangering Malicia’s control of the Dread Empire. Scribe thinks Black should be Emperor rather than Malicia, Warlock follows Black and couldn’t care less about the government of Praes, and Captain’s loyalty is with Black, not the Empress (Assassin is unknown).

    Just as Black can cripple Team White Knight by killing the White Knight, his own death will spell the end of the Calamities. However powerful and dangerous each Named is individually, it’s teamwork that has enabled them to kill so many Heroes and survive doing it. Once Black is dead, they can be picked off one by one by whoever replaces the White Knight.

    The same problem applies to the Legions. The marshals are loyal to Black, not Malicia. When he dies, she won’t be able to rely on her officers anymore. How can she be sure that General Ranker isn’t planning a coup? Malicia will be forced to choose between packing the upper ranks with her supporters, crippling the military efficiency of the Legions, or living with the threat of brilliant commanders who have the ability and the following to pull a successful coup.

    Black is the center of the reborn Dread Empire, the man who brings it all together. Malicia can trust the Calamities because she trusts Black, and the Calamities obey Malicia because Black does. In the same way, Malicia knows that the Legions are loyal to her through Black, obeying his orders just as he obeys hers. The moment Black dies, Malicia can’t trust her Legions or the Calamities. Everything Black has worked for will inevitably collapse in proper Praesi style, as Malicia seeks to control Named who aren’t interested in working for her, and the Legions begin to conspire against a ruler who doesn’t command the military’s loyalty in the same way Black does.

    The Calamities won’t follow Catherine. The marshals view her with distrust, a feeling that will only grow when she declares herself Vicequeen. Too many of Black’s plans relied on his personal relationships, and Catherine can’t fill that hole. The more successful she is in Callow, the more the Praesi will fear her ambitions. Black is the link between Catherine and Malicia, the mutual mentor and friend that both of them can depend on. In his absence, it’s only a matter of time until the Empress decides that Catherine Foundling is far too ambitious and powerful to be left in charge of Callow.

    This entire chapter is Black frantically trying to avoid the fact that his death ends the current Dread Empire. Instead of standing united behind their Empress, the Calamities and marshals will all be pursuing their own personal agendas. The current setup only worked because, as Akua points out, Black was “Emperor” while Malicia was “Chancellor”. Malicia could deal with the endless internal conspiracies, foreign plots, and details of government, while Black focused on the big picture, strengthening the Legions and managing occupied Callow. Malicia can’t handle the duties of Chancellor and Empress, and she’ll break the Dread Empire trying.

    Strong systems don’t rely on one person. For all of Black’s accomplishments, he never achieved fundamental change. He can go out with a bang, but everything he built will start to collapse before his body is cold.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Morgenstern

      Except Cat is meant to replace BLACK, in that train of thought, NOT the Black Knight, no matter what he said about that in this chapter, because of the rivalry with White Knight not coming up (which might just be faulty analysis, as THIS specific “White Knight” is not really THE White Knight, either, and so HE (too) would be the one why no r/Rivalry is upcoming)… It’s about his Role and not the Name and this is not really about the Dread Empire (“as is”), if we follow that line of thought, but a Praes that DOES become overturned and made into something else. The people you worry about in that theory? They, TOO, are meant to be replaced by the new troupe. So, the old loyalities of the old troupe don’t really matter much, at least not for long.

      The strange problem is that we see that and Black’s “gears” just might have built it into his plans, but HE is still seemingly making the mistake of thinking in the wrong terms, that is – and ONLY then – if we are meant to read a “Dread” before the “Empire”. But all I can find on scrolling back up is actually “Empire” *g* – that might just fit another type of Empire 😉

      Precious Alaya obviously might have to go, too – unless SHE submits. Not Cat… (Although poor Aly is rather unlikely to do that, what with her history and wanting to be the one who calls the shots from now on. Anyways, if Cat survives, she’s not likely to just be the sword of someone else. She has shown advances at becoming a storyteller, too, just like Black – and the real opposition / r/Rival is thus, correctly, the Bard or rather Fate, for whom Bard is just a puppet on stage. This is not about replacing pieces on the stage, this whole story, metagame-wise is about overturning the board, after all.)

      ———–

      When I say, Black seems to be forgetting Cat, I actually means those irritating tidbits of coming close to replacing him as in Name/Role, but WHILE obeying Alaya like he did – I just don’t see her do it. Also, a tiny wee bit, about when it comes to his own death. She’s not about to take his mantle, far as I can see, that’s where he seems plain wrong. He might die, but not for that reason, and she will not take over that way, and that Empire won’t be Alaya’s one – even though the gears farther back, as you just formulated it, seem to turn farther than Black does consciously see, which gives him kind of a victory, but not exactly what he consciously still seems to plan for, if Cat triumphs, as she is likely to do (unless the author pulls the stunt of suddenly trying to insert a new protagonist midway through the books).

      Like

  19. PingleBerry

    Oh and I think I figured out who Assassin is.

    Its Hune.(I actually think its Robbers assistant)

    Probably not but I can hope guddamit.

    Like

  20. Nastybarsteward

    Still think Warlord would fit our sweet Lady Catherine better. Yes, it is a ruling name for orcs, but not so much as it was primarily a banner to war, a leader and warrior that orcs would (quite literally) kill to follow… now why does that sound familiar?
    The Black Knight is a weapon in a rulers hand, fiercely loyal, but never a ruler himself.
    Catherine is different and while I don’t think she’ll become Black, I don’t think she’ll be the White Knight either.
    But joining with the first prince at some point really is an intriguing idea.

    Like

    1. Morgenstern

      Sure is. ^^

      Warlord: I actually thought the tidbit of Hakram in his chapter calling out something like “it is still an Orcish Name and can never be anything else” was quite… enticing. Screaming “break me” (this “rule”). =P

      Like

      1. Morgenstern

        Simply because isn’t that what Cat is doing? Stuff that people claim is impossible to do and changing stuff that supposedly “will never (be) change(d)”? ^^

        Like

  21. EducatedDEAD

    People keep assuming that it means Black is going to die. The story has already mentioned that the Calamities want Black as Emperor, which would also prevent him from becoming the White Knights rival.

    Like

    1. Morgenstern

      That, too, is an interesting idea (although not one I personally think overly likely, nice as it might be).

      But the reason might actually be twofold, coming from both sides or, if one-sided, from the WHITE Knight’s side. The Heavens frigging ERASED him as a person. He is just copies of FORMER White Knights, popping into place as needed – unless the one former White Knight version comes up that Black killed before, no rivalry is possible from the WHITE Knight’s side, because all the former rivals of all the former White Knights are dead, too, just like those White Knights are that got “copied” into this one… He’s a copy. Tons of copies, but still a copy. How can a copy be truly narrative-worthy? He’s something the Heavens/Fate seem/s to try to use, because they desperately needed SOME replacement and/or because someone ELSE has changed their precious Stories too much and they now need to cope and are currently just TRYING to cope and coming up with a rather haphazard solution…

      Like

      1. Morgenstern

        I wonder, though, why Black never thought about this tidbit here. I mean, he saw it in action and seemed to *realize* what was going on with that “White Knight” at the time – how come this does not figure into his musings, like AT ALL? =/

        Like

  22. Nicole Weaver

    I spent the entire chapter waiting for Black to get taken out in mid thought. It just seemed like the perfect moment for arrogance to catch up to him.

    Im glad that isnt how it went. I really like Black.

    Like

    1. maresther23

      Because when the guy that summons meteors for fun tells you “this kind is my son” you don’t discuss genetics with him, you smile and say “Brilliant kid, he has your brains and his Dadas smile”

      Like

    2. OldSchoolVillain

      “Warlock’s Get” could just be their version of referring to Masego as Wekesa’s son – they don’t necessarily know or care whether he was adopted or produced traditionally.

      Like

      1. Sure, that could be so, but considering how often the orcs repeat it, and repeat it (literally every single time) do you actually believe that? Come on. Like the author would really put allll that effort in for literally nothing.

        Look up the word “get” before posting more boring explanations

        Like

  23. Dimensional

    I don’t think Catherine is going to become Black knight or White Knight. Squire is a transitional Name, but she has already been offered the transition to Queen, and her aim’s are and have always been about ruling Callow. Any name she transitions to almost must be about leadership, and both of the Knight names are not. The obvious one is Dread Empress, but Cat doesn’t want to rule Praes. The story is hinting strongly that that’s where she is going to end up but I’m assuming there will be a step along the way that is not Squire. Possibly a new name – a dark mirror of a more traditional Callow Name. Dark Queen? Fae Queen?

    Like

      1. Darkening

        The Choir of Contrition offered her the name of Queen of Callow as the fulfillment of her “redemption” storyline with William. That was a rather special set of circumstances and I doubt her transitional name really had that much to do with being given the opportunity.

        Like

    1. Jonnnney

      When it comes to the rulers of Callow and Praes you get your name once you take the throne regardless of your prior name. If you rule Praes you’re a Dread Empress/emperor if you rule Callow you’re some sort of King or Queen.

      Like

  24. First, I think the theory that everything that Black, the Calamities & Malicia has built will fall with Black is bollocks. First, they influenced Praesi politics of all things into keeping a viable Chancellor from forming. Second, the Orcs and the Goblins are stronger than at any time prior to their societies originally being gobbled up. Third, as Black said, Malicia is intelligent enough to find a means of binding Squire to Praes without coercion.

    “New Evil” has been more effective in two generations than all of Old Evil combined over centuries. That’s bound to have etched a groove into Fate.

    Second, I do not believe Captain will die at this time. The Tyrant will try, as the Bard suggested, but Captain’s story of one faithful-from-the-heart right hand minion to Black is stronger than her story of mother tragically cut down. Black’s fall will likely involve Captain cradling his dying/dead body, then going apeshit on his killers. She may well die then.

    The Calamities never thought they’d stay on top forever, but they’ve started something. If they are clever, their fall will only strengthen that which they’ve given so much to.

    Like

    1. Dylan Tullos

      Shawn Panzegraf:

      They didn’t keep a viable Chancellor from forming. Malicia may not have the Name of Chancellor, but she has the Role. She handles the Chancellor’s traditional duties, managing internal politics with the nobility and external intrigue, while Black serves as both Emperor and Black Knight, building the grand strategy of the Empire and leading armies in the field. In one of Akua’s sections, she discusses how the real reason for the ban on the Name of Chancellor is to prevent someone else from usurping the Role Malicia is performing.

      Goblins aren’t loyal to anyone. The fact that the Goblins are stronger is a danger as well as an advantage; if the Dread Empire stumbles, the Matrons could hatch their own plot to seize power, or simply to secede. Everything we’ve seen of Goblin culture suggests that they prize bravery, cunning, and ruthlessness. In good times, when the Empire is strong, they’ll go along, but if they sense weakness, they pounce.

      Orcs do value loyalty, but it’s intensely personal. Black is their Warlord, in Role if not in Name, and they’ll follow him anywhere. Malicia does not command that personal allegiance. While Goblins are sneaky and backstabby, Orcs generally revere skill in battle, which Malicia lacks, and have scorn for plotting and scheming, the areas where Malicia excels. She’s just not the kind of leader who can inspire their loyalty.

      The Calamities win because they work together as a team. Once Black dies, there is no team. Captain is loyal to Black, Scribe is loyal to Black, Warlock is loyal to Black, and Assassin is a complete unknown. Captain is a devoted follower, not a leader, Warlock is utterly disinterested in leading, Assassin seems to work best alone, and we Scribe mostly appears when she’s by herself or with Black. Malicia doesn’t directly inspire loyalty in any of the Calamities; they follow Black, who follows her. Without Black, the Calamities go from a united force to a divided group with different agendas that doesn’t trust the Empress and isn’t trusted by her.

      In terms of raw power, the Tyrant is stronger than any of the Calamities; he may be stronger than all of them put together. Old Evil always loses “in the end”, but it is capable of doing immense damage before the fall. Tyrant’s story of “false ally” fits nicely with Captain’s story of “right hand woman”. Nothing is more appropriate than an Evil leader backstabbing an ally and killing his most trusted friend.

      “New Evil” has been successful because Black kept everyone working together. Without Black to keep all the different members of Team New Evil on the same page, it’s only a matter of time until traditional Praesi backstabbing leads to New Evil turning on itself.

      The fundamental problem with enacting change through autocracy is that everything depends on the autocrat. Black has changed things from the top down; once someone different is in charge, he doesn’t have any way to guarantee that his changes will stick.

      Like

      1. Morgenstern

        Except in structures that might survive, as other people grasp at it, because they see advantage therein. Like the orcs and other people in the Legions. Like finally getting rid of the Truebloods. Like Cat going one ore more step(s) further… and people following in her wake.

        It is definitely not the Dread Empire anymore that will rise out of this, like a phoenix out of the ashes (*unless* everything falls into ashes and stays there squabbling for pieces for next few decades or centuries, which might then see a turn back to the old, if some new really powerful Evil Named rise up, i.e. if the Bard, that is Fate using her puppet and the strings, succeeds instead), but something else that will keep a CHOP of the “new practical evil” soul. But not all. If he thought it wouldn’t go further than that, he’d be dead wrong. But no matter this thinking or in places just the (probably/occasionally only misleading) wording – the plans Black made so far all pointed at… well.. becoming something else. Overturning the whole structures, morphing them into something else. And they seem damn pretty effective THERE. It’s just the old people that won’t stay, that don’t really matter… time for new seeds that have been grown differently…

        Like

  25. DocTao

    The idea that Black dies might be wrong as someone above stated, transition to another name fits the facts he uses just as well.
    Squire will still most likely transition to Black Knight imo, because of all those named-dreams (have we looked at those altogether, with the new ones?) and all the foreshadowing. Perhaps into a different one, though in that regard, perhaps she wont progress “forward”, but instead sideways, into Heirress?

    Like

      1. Morgenstern

        Really? Seems like TOTALLY normal Name dream to me, what with the Name in question being Squire that is MEANT to transition into Knight and LEARN about being a Knight…

        Like

  26. stevenneiman

    typo thread:

    “Sabah could snap him in half in the span of a single breath {and} when it came to martial might Hye stood unequalled under the sky.”
    “At least [a] fifty thousand professional soldiers”
    “Enough you’ll see [your] both your children get grey hair.” alternatively, “Enough you’ll see your children both get grey hair”
    “Both [time->times] she’d given birth”

    Like

    1. Morgenstern

      Pretty sure there was an author comment somewhere that said Assassin is definitely a man – so, unless you’re banking on Scribe being a transgender identity….? 😉

      (Might even have been outright said that those two definitely aren’t one and the same, but less sure about that.)

      Like

  27. mavant

    It seems Black is ignoring a couple of options.
    One is that his apprentice has already demonstrated an effective technique for surviving the loss of your name. Black could zombify, drop the title to Catherine, then continue on his merry way as an undead monstrosity a la the Dead King. Maybe he could even claim another name afterwards – Squire would be available…
    A second is to steer into the turn regarding his missing pattern of three. One common narrative (perhaps not in Calernia?) is of two figures who are “the best at what they do” but on opposite sides being forced to work together by circumstances like an outside enemy / greater scope threat, and in the process discovering a friendship that lasts a lifetime. The Tyrant presents an obvious candidate. Black could exploit this narrative by taking the inevitable next betrayal by the tyrant as an excuse to join the White Knight in battle (potentially saving his life at an opportune Big Damn Heroes moment).

    Like

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