Chapter 36: Malice

“It is impossible for the Empire to make an appreciable gain so long as this gain is a loss to every other nation on Calernia. To remedy this, we must discard the traditional lines of allying only to Evil polities and make it so that it is in the interest of other powers for us to rise.”
– Extract from ‘The Death of the Age of Wonders’, a treatise by Dread Empress Malicia

“When beginning a scheme, one must first consider the desired outcome,” the Empress said. “All other practicalities are derived from this, and determining whether that outcome is feasible at all is the most important part of the process.”

I’d lit candles, tired of the gloom inside my tent even if I could see through it. Malicia had taken one of my folding chairs and somehow managed to make it feel like a throne just by the way she held herself – through another woman’s body, no less – while I’d dropped into the seat forcefully borrowed from the Count of Old Oak. ‘Looted’ was such an ugly word. I’d used one of the candles to light up my pipe and propped up my feet against a low stool. Black had never insisted on a formal setting for his lectures and the Empress seemed inclined to continue along the same lines. I’d lain off the wine for the night, deciding the wakeleaf would be indulgence enough. At this rate I was going to run out of satchels of the stuff, though now that Ratface had the Smugglers under him getting my hands on more shouldn’t be too troublesome. Still costly, though. Letting out a stream of smoke to the side, I drummed fingers against the ornate chair arm. I knew what I wanted, I was just pondering the right phrasing.

“I want the fae out of Callow and their influence removed,” I said.

Malicia smiled. It wasn’t breath-taking, not the way I knew she was in person, but just looking at it made me feel at ease. Comfortable. Like I was sitting across from an old friend and not one of the most dangerous women alive. It was the smile of someone who had studied the image that best brought out those feelings and crafted a flawless replica to wear. The Empress was made up of smoke and mirrors in arrangements that had been refined for decades, an illusion masterful enough that it remained effective even while I knew what she was doing. She was everything Akua Sahelian wanted to be, and wasn’t that a terrifying thought?

“You are using an absolute, Catherine,” she chided. “Avoid these, for they leave no room for compromise. You should be aware, by now, that there is no such thing as an absolute victory. The Empire conquered Callow through overwhelming military victory, but did this remove the realities of its occupation? Compromise, much as you dislike it, is a necessity. Without something to offer as boon, your enemy has nothing to lose. This ensures from the beginning that your opposition will be entrenched.”

“The Imperial governorships don’t feel like a compromise, from where I stand,” I pointed out.

“Because they were not a compromise with Callow, whose perspective you still espouse in large part,” Malicia replied. “They were the boon granted to the High Lords after they were denied the direct subjection they believed their due.”

I grimaced. Praesi aristocrats ruling over Callowan cities would have been… bad. The way the histories said the Proceran occupation had been, and probably even worse. When Callow had been divided into a handful of principalities under royals that displaced the old aristocracy, the entire kingdom had been in state of constant simmering rebellion. The knightly orders turned bandit against the foreigners, Principate dignitaries were knifed in dark alleys by everyone from thieves to merchants and fields went untilled as farmers disappeared into the countryside rather than toil for the invader. It hadn’t been great battles that saw the Principate withdraw but the constant grind of attrition on every facet of the occupation.

“That would have been disastrous,” I said.

“Very much so,” Malicia agreed. “That is not to say the governorships were not designed to quell unrest, of course. It is not happenstance that Imperial governors were only granted four year mandates, or that Amadeus was given authority to oversee them.”

I drew on my pipe, looking for the meaning in that. Four year mandates. From where I stood, what did they mean? The sweet smoke hung in the air before my eyes for a while, until I dug far enough back in my childhood I could get a handle on what she’d meant.

“Mazus was hated,” I said. “But every four years, there was hope he wouldn’t be given another mandate. That his abuses would come to the attention of the Tower and that he’d be recalled.”

“Impermanence,” the Empress said. “That was the key. The belief that the enemy could be removed, if they were patient. And who did you look to for salvation, in this matter?”

“The Tower,” I said. “Black.”

I kept my breathing steady, but my blood ran cold. Every time I thought I understood the breadth of the plans they’d made to keep Callow part of the Empire, I found another hidden knife. It was deceptively simple, wasn’t it? If the heroes that popped up failed and failed visibly, then relief had to come from another source and the only one available was the Tower. Imperial governors had been allowed relatively minor abuses that filled their pockets and kept their families happy in the Wasteland, while my people were taught to look for deliverance in Ater one mandate at a time.

“To conclude this matter,” Malicia said, “that is why your abolishment of this system is not offensive to me. I no longer need to appease the High Lords, for as an internal threat they are ended for the foreseeable future. The remaining objective is to stabilize Callow as part of the Empire, and you represent a valid alternative in this.”

I dimly realized, in that moment, that this exchange had not occurred naturally. She had, even before first mentioning the occupation, known how I would react to that mention. The Empress had then used what I’d say to lead into what was both a lesson about what I’d come to her for help and a gentle reminder of the political currents I’d have to deal with when getting Callow back on its feet after all this. Gods. It was such a little thing, but such a telling one. That a woman I’d barely spoken to a handful of times could predict me this easily and fold that into a broader intent without missing a step. I cleared my throat.

“No absolutes,” I conceded. “I want the fae physically gone from Callow and any harmful influence removed.”

“Good,” Malicia smiled, and for a fleeting moment I was reminded of sunny days on the docks and the first girl I’d ever kissed.

There’d been seemingly genuine joy on her face and for a heartbeat I’d believed it. She wasn’t using sorcery, I knew that. There was no artefact or Speaking at work. She could spin me around with just words and body language. I wondered if it was more effective because I was Named – I’d not been able to study people so closely or accurately, before becoming the Squire. I’d become more sensitive to details, and that sensitivity would feed straight into her game: I’d grown used to listening to my instincts, and my instincts told me what I saw was true. Gods, if that was true then she’d managed to turn one of the basic advantages every Named took for granted into an edge for her alone without exerting so much as a speck of power. I reached for the bundle of Winter inside me, let the freezing cold flow through my veins. I was careful not to let the bleed affect the temperature, since it would be as good as sending up a written notice of what I was doing. The icy sensation spreading through me brought some much-needed clarity with it. I pulled at my pipe to hide the vapour that would have come out of my mouth amidst the wakeleaf smoke.

“Then let us speak of the entities that would stand in your way, should you seek to achieve this,” the Empress said.

“The Winter Court,” I said. “The Summer Court. Possibly the Diabolist, if she goes full opportunist.”

“These are entities that will actively oppose you,” she said. “Extend your perspective, my dear, to those who do not want you to fail but may withhold assistance for their own interests.”

I frowned.

“The Dark Guilds,” I said. “Some of the upper echelons of the Legions of Terror. I’d say the High Lords, but you seem to have them in hand.”

“Those of them that would invest in seeing you defeated have already done so through the Diabolist,” Malicia said. “You may consider the aristocracy of the Wasteland as no longer in play. Let us begin with the lesser liabilities. How can you clear them away?”

“I have no leverage on the Guild of Assassins,” I admitted. “Haven’t found a real way to affect them aside from threats. The Smugglers have been scared into cooperation. And for the Legions, doing anything there is like throwing a stone in a glass house. They answer to you and Black alone, so meddling never struck me as being in the cards.”

“That is because you still think of yourself as a separate entity from the Empire,” the Empress gently said. “Discard this perception, Catherine. A few scrying sessions making it clear that you speak with my authority end the issue entirely. If I am to rely on you, as you wish me to, learn to rely on me as well.”

I balked, more out of habit than any reason I could express in words. I fiddled with the shaft of dragonbone and forced myself to seriously consider what the Empress had said. Had I ever really considered myself as part of Praes? I already knew the answer to that, deep down. I’d taken my first steps onto this path with the notion that I would join the Legions to gain authority and then use this authority to change things in Callow. The heart of it had always been that I’d be part of the Praesi hierarchy without ever belonging in it. I’d stuck to that, even as the situation changed month by month. I’d relied on Black, sure, but only to teach me and shield me from other Wastelanders. Even when I’d forged the Ruling Council, the motives for its structure had all revolved around limiting Praesi influence in my homeland. There was a reason it had stung back in Laure, when Thief had called me a collaborator. I still saw the Empire as the enemy and for years I’d been dancing from one flourish of rhetoric to another to avoid owning up to that, because almost everyone I loved came from it. Saying I didn’t oppose Praes, just the parts of it I found unacceptable. That I was willing to live with what it could be, if not what it was right now.

But I was running out of excuses to not make use of the parts of the Empire that I’d already said I believed in. I wasn’t above throwing around my weight as the Squire to get my way, because I’d always thought of the Name as mine. But it wasn’t, not really. Praes at large listened to the Squire because she was the apprentice to the Black Knight, the leading villain of the next generation of Calamities. The moment I’d taken Black’s hand I’d chosen a side for everyone to see, and lying to myself about it wouldn’t get me anywhere. I couldn’t have the authority coming from being part of the Tower’s rule without actually being part of the Tower’s rule. It wasn’t a nice thought. It was bitter, and it felt like I was spitting on everything I’d ever dreamed of as a girl. But it would work. And if I kept mouthing off to heroes about how their pride and principles just got in the way of getting the shit that mattered done, then I had better be ready to follow through. Otherwise I should not have lived this long.

“Then please do so, Your Majesty,” I said, taking a deep breath. “Can I assume you have leverage on the Dark Guilds?”

“Malicia,” the Empress reminded me. “Call me Malicia, darling. And I have a few irons in the fire. Scribe was the one to call them to heel after the Conquest but I’ve people in their ranks. Enough that a message can be sent.”

I breathed out. There were only smouldering remnants in my pipe, so I took a last pull from it and set it aside. The smoke drifted lazily in the candlelight, a wall that would do nothing at all to protect me from the woman in front of me.

“That leaves the worst three,” I said.

The Empress shifted slightly in her seat and I side-eyed her. There was something… In some intangible way, I felt like I could trust her more now. Also like I should take my feet off the stool and straighten up. The Winter cold wavered when I realized exactly what she’d done. She’s mimicking Black’s body language, I thought, horrifyingly impressed. If they were closer in height I might never have noticed. There was an amused glint in the puppet’s eyes when I stared at her face. She knew perfectly well that I’d noticed.

“We arrive at the interesting part,” the Empress said. “Before touching upon how these entities can be affected by us, consider their nature as agents and how this informs their actions.”

My brow creased.

“I’m not sure I follow,” I said.

“As an example, let us study Cordelia Hasenbach,” Malicia said.

I leaned forward interestedly. It wasn’t everyday I got to have an assessment of the ruler of the Principate from the mouth of the very same woman who’d been fighting her across the continent for the better part of a decade.

“At first glance, dearest Cordelia is the most powerful individual on the surface of Calernia,” the other woman said. “She commands the largest and wealthiest nation on the continent, her armies are recently blooded and her personal diplomatic reputation is pristine.”

“Procer’s isn’t,” I immediately said. “The reputation, I mean. No one that has a border with the Principate remembers them fondly.”

“Indeed,” Malicia smiled. “The history of the nation she rules does influence what actions she can and cannot take. At a more basic level, consider the limits of her position. Cordelia Hasenbach is Lycaonese, the Prince of Rhenia. Her support base is primarily Lycaonese as well, which means it is poorer and less populous than that of her internal opposition. She can only project military strength temporarily, for the Lycaonese armies are needed at the northern borders. What does this mean for her position in Procer?”

“She has rich, powerful rivals,” I said. “And she needs to keep them in check if she wants to keep her throne.”

“Precisely,” she smiled. “To compound the issue, the civil war that Amadeus initiated and I fed has ravaged large swaths of the Principate, leaving her with large amounts of dispossessed and unemployed soldiery. She is unlikely to face open rebellion, as it would be reputational suicide for any ambitious rival to try to remove her by force after the last decade of war. Yet if she does not deal with this issue, she risks being set aside in favour of a ruler that will.”

“So she needs to keep her soldiers busy and out of her lands while she rebuilds the Principate,” I frowned. “Then why Praes? Why Callow? There’s easier targets. Sure her reputation will take a hit if she scraps with Levant or the Free Cities instead, but it’s kind of expected of Procer they’re going to be real pricks to their neighbours.”

“We now return to your earlier insight about reputation. If Cordelia acted as you said, she would face the same issue that the Empire traditionally does,” Malicia said. “She would stand alone. Make no mistake, Catherine, Procer has been greatly weakened. It cannot afford war on more than one front, which is certain to erupt if the Principate turns expansionist again. The Calernian balance of power would be shattered if she was allowed to make gains.”

I chewed on that. Hasenbach needed a war, but she also needed her other borders quiet. Which meant a target that didn’t worry everybody else, and the way she could accomplish that was…

“A Crusade,” I sighed. “It has to be a Crusade, from her perspective. She can’t not be at war and she can’t take on any of the southern nations without pissing off the others. But if she’s fighting Praes, not only can they not backstab her they might actually have to help.”

“And so we come upon the nature of Cordelia Hasenbach as an entity,” the Empress said. “She must be at war, but cannot be at war with a nation that is Good. These are the rules she has to obey.”

“It’s why she can meddle in the Free Cities but only to back the faction fighting Helike,” I said. “Otherwise her southern borders catch fire. She has to fight against Evil or her alliances all collapse because no one can trust Procer.”

“Have you wondered why I never expressed fears of you attempting an independent Callow, Catherine?” Malicia smiled. “This is the reason. Assuming you achieved that result and even sought to remove the impetus for Imperial invasions by trading us grain, you would still have to face Procer. You are, after all, a villain. An acceptable recipient of dear Cordelia’s wrath from a diplomatic perspective, and from a political one a long-term threat. Procer cannot afford another hostile border, from a purely logistical standpoint.  It needs Callow to be Good and at war with Praes, to keep them both in check.”

That made it twice that she’d turned an offhand example into a pointed lesson as to where I had to stand. As I understood it this was unusually straightforward for her, but I wasn’t surprised. She would be tailoring her approach to who she was approaching, and I wasn’t unaware I reacted best to people being direct. The part she’d left unspoken was that if Callow with me at the head was at war with the Principate, it would be without the Legions backing me. That wasn’t ending well for my side, and since Praes wouldn’t be able to tolerate a Proceran protectorate just across the river that meant Callow would once more become the battlefield of the continent when the Tower made its move.

“Point taken,” I said. “Nature, huh. The Summer Court is the easiest to figure out. The Queen has three rules that bind her, I’ve been told: destroy Winter, protect Aine and ‘see the Sun victorious’.”

“All points of pressure you can feasibly reach,” Malicia said.

“I’ve got the sun stashed away, so I can bargain with that,” I said. “Threaten to destroy it, maybe? I get the impression to actually do that in Creation would be a very bad idea, but it wouldn’t be the first time I lied to a god. The other two are a little trickier.”

“As I understand it, my dear, Winter is not a static state,” the Empress said. “It is transient, fated to come and pass. You do not need to think of destruction as requiring force. If what Winter is no longer corresponds to what Summer believes it should be, that may very well qualify as ‘destruction’.”

“You mean force it to pass into Spring or Autumn,” I said, taking a look at the notion. “I’m fairly certain the seasons only shift when either Summer or Winter has lost the war. I’m not sure that’s feasible.”

Malicia smiled warmly.

“It would be a mistake, to believe yourself bound to the traditional fae outcomes,” she said. “This entire affair began by one of the Courts believing these were not impossible to avert.”

A way to make Winter no longer Winter. There might be something to that.

“That leaves Aine, the seat of Summer,” I said. “I can make gates so getting there isn’t impossible, just… really stupid. There’s no winning a fight there, and the fae can cross back into Arcadia much easier than they come into Creation. It won’t be undefended.”

I paused.

“I’ll need all three, if I’m to force the Queen’s hand about anything,” I said. “She’s not really a thing that gets compromise. Anything less than complete failure, anathema to what she is, and she’ll just keep on slugging.”

“If your strength is insufficient, borrow strength,” Malicia said. “She has enemies as well, does she not? If I understand your plan correctly, this assumption lay at the heart of your taking prisoner the Princess of High Noon. Should Summer fail to secure her return, should they lose too many soldiers, they will afterwards fall in the face of oncoming Winter. This is one of the limitations she must abide.”

I spared a moment to hope my intentions weren’t this fucking transparent to everyone out there. I would have spared another to be intimidated by the fact she’d understood my plan without being involved at any point in the making of it, but I’d grown dull to that breed of surprise by now.

“Winter winning fucks it all up too,” I said frankly. “I’m not sure if worse is the right term, but it will definitely be a similar yet different shade of godawful.”

“Let us speak of Winter, then,” the Empress lightly said. “You have treated with the King of Winter in person. Become bound to his Court, in part, and fought at the side of his greatest captains. What did you glimpse from this?”

“Take two vicious, spitting furious cats and shove them in a bag,” I said. “Then add that it has been there since time literally immemorial. The King’s the cat real desperate about getting out of that bag.”

“A colourful description,” Malicia said, arching an eyebrow. “Yet short on useful specifics.”

I almost laughed, until I remembered how fucking dangerous it would be to actually like this woman.

“He doesn’t have a plan, I think,” I said. “Or his plan was just to drag Callow into this mess and he doesn’t really need to control what comes after that. He wants out, Malicia. I don’t think how he gets out actually matters all that much. And that he thinks that way at all is scaring the other fae. I don’t think he’s supposed to.”

“That,” the Empress said quietly, “is worrying. Wekesa once told me that Arcadia is akin to a first draft of Creation, and mirrors it still. If Winter is meant to he be the reflection of villainy, and yet bound to it, there are… implications.”

I didn’t have to look all that far to find the villains who’d made the largest mark on Calernia in the last century, so her meaning was pretty clear.

“It’s not that clear cut,” I said. “The parallels aren’t so direct. But it’s crossed my mind, yeah.”

“A matter to consult more sorcerously-inclined minds over,” Malicia finally said. “Desperation is a useful tool, Catherine, especially if it can be given outlet. If your read of the creature is correct, it is the easiest of your obstacles to bargain with.”

I grimaced.

“He has my heart,” I said bluntly. “And I don’t mean that in a romantic sense. Ripped it out to make a point which, uh, complicates negotiations a bit.”

The Empress smiled, almost fondly.

“I sometimes forget how much Amadeus has left his touch on you,” she said. “Catherine, one cannot always deal from a position of strength. That is mere vanity. And doing so does not mean the negotiations will be at your expense.”

“Fae always screw you on deals,” I reminded her.

I’d always thought that Black’s quirk of lips was terrifying, the blade-smile that always heralded something dark happening to someone he thought deserved it. Looking at the Empress’ face then, the languid and almost lazy amusement, I found something to match it. This had been the closest to a glimpse of the person underneath the crown I’d gotten since I’d first met her, and what I saw there had my fingers itching for a blade.

“Darling, you forget what side you chose,” she drawled. “You stand with the Dread Empire of Praes, Catherine. We have murdered gods and made doorkeepers of demons. We have tricked angels into damnation and made orderly host of the hordes of Hell. Fae?”

She smiled amusedly.

“Fae will be a pleasant reprieve from the High Lords, my dear. Let me show you.”

Fuck, I thought. Now I like her.


84 thoughts on “Chapter 36: Malice

  1. No matter how much I know it’s a bad idea for Cat to like her, I can’t bring myself to disagree. Now we’re getting a closer look at the woman who’s changing the story of an entire nation, possibly the world eventually.


    1. callmesteve

      Exactly. I still can’t really read her, though. I think that’s the point, actually.

      To some extent, she really IS evil and manipulative, but even those who might not like that still have to agree with what she wants.

      But with Cat and Malicia working together… Cue Jaws theme…


    1. vietnamabc

      So that is why all spies are assumed to be compromised when Malicia talks to them directly, the lady pretty much weaponized charm.

      Also Winter = Old Evil really wants out, I think the guy see that the board is about to be wiped so he want to be out of the game, I think Bard would try something like Hashmallin but on much larger scale, like Judgement Day types of board-wiping since there’s no way Good can win conventionally now, Evil has entrenched way too deep, its influence is too wide to contain now so we need a hard reset.


      1. stevenneiman

        I don’t think he’s trying to escape a sinking ship, so much as one that’s been stuck in the doldrums since time literally before time. I doubt that the Bard is planning any kind of nuclear option since she’s bound by the traditions of Good, since in a sense she is the traditions of Good. If she was, I think that the King of Winter would deliberately put himself in the blast radius just to have it over with.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. vietnamabc

        Calling Bard Good is really stretching it since her recent actions don’t really seem that heroic to me, baiting William to brainwash a city, throwing Hanno to crazy evil Tyrant and putting the two sisters to sacrifice is what Evil and general douchebag usually do. Even Black does not throw his teammate to the wolves like that.
        About Winter even if the board is reset, I think the guy will still be reincarnated and stuck in the new cycle so this is why dude want out now and not later since there is not much of a later.


      3. Ed

        Vietmanabc -You’ve made a very common mistake there ‘good’ does not mean nice. They were the sacrifices that had to made so that the greater good was served and evil could not prosper. Those that gave their very lives should have done so gladly in the knowledge that their sacrifices would make a difference in the eternal fight against evil.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. There is a saying that goes something like this: To plumb the true depths of Evil you must first strive to do the greatest good. There is also the quote by Nietzche that definitely applies to the Wandering Bard who appears to be an immortal soul that takes over mortals bodies: “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”

        The Wandering Bard is a much greater monster than the Calamities because she will do the most despicable things all in the name of the “Greater Good”.

        Liked by 3 people

      5. callmesteve

        Not to mention that she does not need to Speak (at all, not even the normal kind!) to compromise; she can do it wordlessly. I still think she did not do that *here*, though. Cat is probably too useful on her own to be put on strings like that, plus it’s unnecessary. She already wants to do something very much like what the Empress does, or at least it would go that way eventually. That’s not to say that she has not been backdoored (Ew, not THAT way!) by the Empress; I am sure that Malicia would make sure that someone who is that dangerous would have a hidden control so that she can’t turn, even if it’s unlikely. Remember Masego and that exploding pendant…


      6. stevenneiman

        Bard is a perfect example of the difference between good (the concept of morality as understood by people outside the Guideverse) and Good (the divine faction within the Guideverse). Remember that the brainwashing superweapon that the Bard wanted William to unleash was literally Good incarnate.
        The thing about the Bard is that she’ll do horrifying things in the name of Good, because all she cares about is doing her job of making sure that the stories run smoothly and the villains lose. She doesn’t care any more than Black does if her method of winning causes harm to the innocent, and if anything she has more destructive means available since a villain’s nastiest tricks are all inevitably self-destructive.


      7. jonnnney

        The bard is a viscous bitch, but with her lifespan her fear is a valid one. Her main fear seems to be of what happens after Malicia, Black, and Catherine create a Empire that fully absorbs the strength of Callow. She fears that after than power is solidified another Triumphant will arise and with twice the land manage to turn Calernia in a world power solely devoted to evil.


  2. Naeddyr

    Tricked Angels into damnation? Oh my, I don’t think we’ve heard that one before. 😀

    Thanks for the chapter. You really want to like Malicia, and for Malicia to like Cat. Cat is probably a fresh of breath air, so I’d guess Malicia is somewhat fond of her, though of course her perspective might be Praesi noble enough not to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. callmesteve

      I like to think that is the case. It’s hard to tell, but they might legitimately care. I am pretty sure that despite their positions and their side, it does not stop them from still caring.

      Perhaps more so in the Empress’ case. With so few true friends and having to constantly babysit a rabid sack of nobl — uh, /badgers/, perhaps she would value friends more. However, it evidently does not stop her cryptic mentor/chessmaster act, apparently.


  3. Burnsy

    I like her too.

    …Goddamn she’s good. Shes the tyrant of an explicitly evil empire who clawed her way to the top with the sole motivation of making Evil as a very concept more powerful AND I LIKE HER.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. stevenneiman

        Despite the male and female versions of the title being “Dread Emperor” and “Dread Empress”, the gender-neutral term for the Named ruler of Praes is “Tyrant”. This is kind of confusing given that it’s also the only term for an evil ruler of Helike, but I don’t think either nation consulted the other when it was deciding what to call it’s Evil rulers.


    1. callmesteve

      I am not sure she’s trying to improve /Evil/ per se, save for the fact that she got drafted much like Cat, and it’s simply the only side she can be on, and the only one to work from to fix things. It’s more like she’s just trying to break out of these stupid wars and get everyone to behave nicely, albeit with Evil tactics.

      Oh, wait, she’s trying to turn the Dread Empire into a bureaucracy… Nope, still Evil!


    2. jonnnney

      I do like her, but while she is definitely trying to make Praes more powerful she isn’t too concerned with evil. While the Tyrant is a soldier for the gods below in a war to control creation Malicia doesn’t care about the gods above or below. That is actually the main way that she is similar to Catherine, while the traditional Villain declares war on half of creation the girls who climb the tower are willing to make war, or even peace, with any and all of creation in order to attain their goals.


  4. Gunslinger

    Also I feel like time has been passing on Cat’s side but any of them are yet to hear of Captain’s death. I wonder if it has already occured at the time of the current chapter?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevenneiman

      We don’t have 100% confirmation that she will die. Really, it comes down to whether being the Bard offers protection against the way that things always go to shit when you gloat. Regardless of side, what she gave Black was nothing if not a villainous monologue, and those aren’t even a good idea in real life where reality itself won’t conspire to screw you if you give one.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Misterspokes

    I love that Malicia is like “Bitch, you forget, we’re the Black Tower, the premiere source of Grade A, Unrefined, Captial E, evil on the continent; now that you’ve made it clear you’ve thrown your lot in with us, we’ll be sure to fix that little problem you have with one of the 4 nastiest fae in existence…”

    Liked by 7 people

  6. narcoduck

    Man, Malicia is really living up to her boasts. Really shows why the Dread Empire is at its most powerful since Triumphant which took a continent wide rebellion and two foreign empires to defeat. Makes one wonder where those two foreign empires are now…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Letouriste

        No I think the hero lead the country in the sunlight whereas the vilain take care of managing it in the shadow.each one take care of the flaws and limitations the role/name of the other have.this is also possible the equilibrium is different for each generation of partnership

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This talk makes me think about how Arcadia relates to Creation, in a fundamental way. Stories are said to be the grooves in Creation, and Arcadia seems to have nothing to base itself on but stories.
    If you tried to draw a graph of how much the Fate affects the world (and could compose a solvable equation for it), then Creation would be the family of solutions that peaks on Fate-influenced points but ultimately approximates zero over infinite stretches of the graph, since it has a material world to fall back on. Arcadia doesn’t, and so its family of solutions would be the one with cyclical graphs that never cross the x axis (never fully become real). They can become close enough for an entity on the border to cross from one group of stable solutions to another. but doing so would bring a whole new unexpected set of outcomes.
    If we go back to the ‘groove’ metaphor, humans can be represented by a ball rolling into the groove, capable of going in different directions inside of it and even of leaving it given enough speed. The fae, on the other hand, are more like a patch of earth lit by a candle standing on it: their actions and thoughts are shaped by the story they are in. Akua’s father mentioned that a fairy isn’t different on material level from a stone in Arcadia, meaning that what makes them semi-sentient is purpose (defined by the Story) and power (granted by the Role they are playing).

    This, however, is a theory, which is why i have to ask. Erratic, is there such a thing as uninhabited part of Arcadia, or a wood falling in a forest without anyone to hear it doesn’t exist there in the first place?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. If you apply the same logic to Malicia, you understand why she want so much Demonist’s weapon to prevent the war with Procer. She need the permanent threat of Procer’s invasion, but prevent it from happening to keep Callow and Cath under the tower.


  8. Morgenstern


    Really? She leaves out the business of Prince of Nightfall plus all those crowns? Even though she JUST came from Sulia who basically TOLD her what bad, bad shit that means, one that even Sulia is scared by? -.- One would think that would be something to MENTION to someone like Malicia, when having THIS talk about important problems, especially in the context of talking about problems to be expected from Winter… *sigh

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Brian P.

      Cat’s got a month to defeat and/or trick two minor gods and their entire armies while retaining enough forces to then immediately go fight against an Evil Diabolist that controls a flying city, and you want her to take on side projects?

      Liked by 2 people

    2. jonnnney

      Just a guess here. I think the seven mortal crowns are the crowns of the seven high lords. . (Some people think it is the free cities, but about half the city-states don’t have individual rulers.)

      Promising a Fae the head/lives/souls/crown of all the high lords of Praes isn’t something you mention to the Empress of Praes.


  9. Dylan Tullos

    And at last we reach the moment when Catherine accepts her leash. She’s been dancing around the subject for a long time, trying to pretend that she’s not a creature of the Tower, but she’s finally realizing the truth.

    Every one of her “rebellions” was within the limits of what Malicia had already planned for. Even if she acted sooner than Malicia anticipated, Catherine was always going to end up as Queen of Callow, regardless of what title she used. She became a servant of the Dread Empire the moment she accepted Black’s offer, and now she’s one of Malicia’s most useful tools.

    Catherine wants to pretend that words like “collaborator” and “traitor” don’t apply to her. In reality, she’s turned Callow into a province of Praes and trapped her people in service to the Tower. When Malicia falls- and she will fall- Callow will be caught in the Uncivil Wars that follow. I don’t think trading a Praesi invasion every generation for a Praesi civil war every generation is the best of trades, but Catherine seems to be stuck with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. esryok

      Perhaps her reasoning is that proper integration with the Empire will help to pacify it. Black told us the story of Praes is to grasp and Callow to be grasped. If these stories are transcended as Cat intends, there’s room for the next story to be a bit less bloody.


      1. Dylan Tullos


        That’s a good theory. Maybe Catherine is right, and an Empire with Callow will be a little less inclined to infighting.

        But stories are powerful, and they have the ability to take new forms over time. If Praes’s role is to grasp, and Callow is no longer available to be grasped, what will stop the new, larger Dread Empire from grasping at Procer?

        The Story right now has Praes as the Bad Empire, and Callow as the Good Kingdom. However, Black’s whole strategy depends on nations being capable of changing their Roles. He wants to make it so Praes doesn’t have to be the Bad Empire; the Story might force both Praes and Callow into the role of Designated Villains, leaving the Principate as the Heroes.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. esryok

          I agree. If Team Evil fails to fundamentally change Praes at the same time as it digests Callow, then everybody loses except the Bard.

          Makes me wonder whether a Crusade would help or hurt Team Evil’s story. On the one hand, a holy continental alliance descending on the Empire sounds pretty bad. On the other hand:
          – Praesi High Lords are currently subdued
          – Callow’s ongoing anti-Praes narrative was just suppressed (according to Black, at least)
          – Praes in general is easier to govern after (during?) a major conflict
          – The Callowan tribes drew together while opposing Praes & Procer. Now the Principate is giving Praes+Callow a common enemy.

          A crisis is an opportunity, indeed!


      2. jonnnney

        The problem with the crusade isn’t the war itself. The problem is it allows the first Prince to fully solidify her control over the whole Principate and heal the wounds caused by decades of civil war. Furthermore it unites all of the good nations into an alliance similar to the free cities which will likely grind down Praes over the following decades.


    2. callmesteve

      Both of their goals are to make sure that Callow is well-enough integrated that any wars are external only. Also to make sure that IF Malicia ever falls, that it does not take out the Empire, far as I can tell. I am not too certain that it’s possible for Malicia to fall for quite a while.


    3. stevenneiman

      The POINT is to turn Praes and Callow into a single unified, stable whole that isn’t going to have a bloody rebellion every generation. By providing a reasonably stable source of food for Praes and producing a unified if not uniform culture, Malicia hopes to create a state which can actually keep itself under control, even after the people who set it that way leave the scene.
      Whether that’s actually going to work out at all is another question entirely, but I wouldn’t say it isn’t possible that it will work.


  10. alegio

    I have always felt chills when the Calamities get serious and/or talk about their intentions, Im just gonna say that Malicia didnt disappoint on that front.


    1. callmesteve


      Lalalalalalalalala, can’t hear you, lalalalala…

      How else do I say that it would be rather scary and disturbing, but somehow I think it would be funny to see?


  11. malicia making cat fall for her was expected, she is the empress after all and cat is way too young
    if i recall well, there are 7 high lords, with cat there are 7 and one for winter, a pity i was hoping for the free cities


  12. Rodrigues

    There was nothing left to imagination huh? I’m kind of sad that there was nothing that we could figure it out by ourselves. everything was interpreted for us readers ;/


  13. “It is impossible for the Empire to make an appreciable gain so long as this gain is a loss to every other nation on Calernia. To remedy this, we must discard the traditional lines of allying only to Evil polities and make it so that it is in the interest of other powers for us to rise.”

    Since Evil is mandated to be defeated again and again by its role and narrative in the Story, how does it vanquish its opponent? By making sure that Story breaks and the cycle is broken.

    Herein you can contrast and compare Praes and Winter. Both have realized that odds are stacked against them in current form, and have decided to change Fate themselves. But how they do so, is very telling. [Whether the fact that both realized at same time is due to inter-connection between Arcadia and Connection is entirely another matter]

    Winter has decided that it will win the war against Summer (or at least not lose it). Whereas, Praes has decided that it will have Good as an ally, or at least as someone who does not make it their life’s aim to oppose them, and even may help them to rise in strength.
    [ They started by setting itself as salvation – Corrupt Governers? Black is Answer, Feeling rebellious? Squire is the solution ]

    It seems to me that while several details are handicraft of Black, overall brush strokes and Political framework have been much likely Malicia’s.


    There is lots of other stuff in the chapter which gives food for thought. I would need time to gather my wits and think on that…


  14. Fanon

    We’ve seen Papa Black as he trained Cat, now we see Mama Malicia being an equally reassuring and absurdly competent parental figure as she helps Cat deal with her heartache~


      1. stevenneiman

        Now that I think of it, just one of those would be enough to bring down the city for anyone who has sufficiently little concern for civilian casualties. Goblinfire really is a massive factor in the way that tactics work because you can’t rely on vast magical power to deal with it since if a goblinfire bomb goes off in just the wrong spot (which Fate can occasionally guarantee), it can turn the most powerful magical array into nothing but more problems.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. nipi

        I dont know. The Goats probably wouldnt have the instincts to use their new limbs and thus the same would apply to Cat once they are undead.


  15. Jabes

    I was so glad to hear Cat finally facing her own hiprocisy. That she finally has to accept Praesi, not just view them as tools, has been something I have been hoping for.


  16. Aotrs Commander


    Now, THIS is what I’ve been longing to see since… Pretty much the start of the story. Finally… FINALLY, Cat and Alaya are on the same page… Because, as daft as it is, as dangerous as Malicia is… She ISN’T Cat’s enemy, and heck, even thinking her of such is a path that will lead right back to square one. (And a reason why, personally, would very much NOT want to see Cat become Empress.)

    Watching people realise they are on the same side and ganging up is one of my favourite things in the world and it so very rarely happens on the villain side of things.

    Also, a terrible thought occurs… Cat+Alaya… That’s kind of scary…! (Unlikely, but it’d be fracking interesting to see…!)

    I wonder if Cat realises that culture changes over time, and the invevitable result of their path will see a change i the culture of both Praes and Callow towards a new, more unified culture…?


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