Chapter 44: Drop

“The only thing more dangerous than being hated by a villain is to be loved by them.”
– Dread Empress Regalia II

That made it twice, that the Summer Court manoeuvred me into a situation where there was absolutely nothing I could do. The golden banners flew high, and with every moment they remained there my legionaries would be dying. In tight ranks, with sappers and crossbowmen at their backs, heavies might have a chance against the Immortals. But dispersed across a dozen different mansions, spread out in pursuit? It would be slaughter. And for once, we would be on the wrong side of it. A part of me already grieved the death of those soldiers, though I knew that even greater caution would have made no great difference. If I’d grasped the enemy’s intent here, Juniper likely had an hour ago – and she’d still sent us in, because this battle was against dawn as much as against the fae. Another quieter, calmer part of me was already tallying how many losses the Fifteenth would incur and assessing whether it would cripple us before the fight against Diabolist.

I didn’t always like the woman I’d become. It was a damningly short walk from we need this whatever the cost to one sin, one grace. That my shade of ruthlessness was different from Black’s was cold comfort. It sometimes occurred to me, in the dark of night, that if I got my and settled Callow I’d be the last monster remaining in it. It was an unsettling thought but remembering the girl I’d once been, the one who’d once thought that there was no need for monsters at all, brought as much disgust as it did rue. Keeping my hands clean clean wasn’t going to stop armies marching, or fields unburnt. It wasn’t going to do a single fucking thing except make myself feel more righteous. And still, once in a while, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have felt like to be proud of the tired woman that looked back when I stood before a mirror. I clenched my fingers and let out a long breath. Whining about the price I’d had to pay to get a seat at the table wasn’t going to change anything.

Blood had been spilled, there was a foe ahead of me. They would break or I would, it was as simple as that.

“Combat formations,” Nauk barked. “Time to earn your ghelsin’in pay, children.”

Kharsum, that. Meant fuck, basically, though with the implication of going at it from behind. Wonderful language, Kharsum. Had more variations on ‘fuck’ and ‘eat’ than any other tongue I’d come across, which honestly said quite a bit about them as a people. There were no Immortals in sight yet, but a banner had risen ahead. Only a matter of time.

“Catherine,” Adjutant said, coming to stand at my side. “We knew it’d be bloody. This changes nothing.”

“Think about the tactic, Hakram,” I said. “This isn’t jaws clamping on our fingers, we lose a thumb and it’s over. They’ll drive us back to the walls, then the Immortals will retreat and the regulars fill the gap again. They’re going to harvest us, one push at a time.”

“That sounds bad,” Archer whispered at Masego. “You’ve been in wars before, Zeze. This is bad, right?”

“Don’t call me that, you horrid sweaty goblin. And she’s Callowan,” Hierophant whispered back. “They love farming, do it all over the country. It could be good.”

“It’s bad, Zeze,” I sighed, ignoring Archer’s delighted chortle. “The Duke of Green Orchards, if it’s really him in charge, essentially turned the outskirts of this place into a meat grinder for the Fifteenth.”

“What’s the blades, in this tortured metaphor?” Archer asked.

“The Immortals,” I replied.

“So we kill the Immortals,” Archer mused. “There, problem solved.”

“It does seem a fairly straightforward issue,” Masego agreed.

Though I had some truly cutting sarcasm to grace them with, I held my tongue. Archer was, well, right might be a bit of a stretch and I definitely wasn’t giving her the satisfaction of saying anything like that but there was a nugget of correctness hidden in that boulder of aggressive ignorance. To pull this off, the Duke would have to spread the Immortals in a thin line across the upper city. And if we broke through that, he was in trouble. The castle would be wide open, save possibly for him and a handful of other nobles. That meant either betting this battle on him crushing us, which was risky for him given our highly murderous track record against Summer, or pulling back the Immortals to get in our way. The Woe could, in my opinion, feasibly deal with either the Immortals or the Duke. Both would be beyond us.

“We punch through and he’s on the backfoot,” I said to Hakram.

“Even if all we manage is to keep the centre from collapsing,” the orc replied, “it’s a rallying point for the Fifteenth and a funnel for reinforcements. It would turn into a match of attrition he cannot afford.”

Neither could we, we were both aware, but what other options did we have?

“Nauk,” I called out.

“Warlord,” he grinned. “We got a plan?”

“Smash through everything until we’ve won,” I said honestly.

“Ah, the Foundling gambit,” he gravelled. “It’s never failed us before.”

“Don’t say that where people can hear, and that’s an order,” I hurriedly replied.

That kind of stuff had a way of spreading. Legion humour was, uh, more than a little dark. Four hundred men already standing in tight ranks across the breadth of the avenue began their advance after a few yells. The Woe took the lead and I sharpened my senses to watch for the likely ambush that awaited further down the road. Though darkness was hardly bar to my sight, the smoke that was spreading across the sky was. Balls of magelight hovered above the two cohorts, kept going by our mages, but I barely noticed them: what was most visible in my eyes was the bevy of standards in the sky. Which was why, when one disappeared, I immediately noticed. Far left, I thought. Hadn’t seen much of what was there, though I’d noticed trees from a distance. Had my legionaries managed to turn back the – ah, Thief was still on the prowl. And aiming to complete her collection, by the looks of it.

“Archer,” I said. “How many of the standards did you two manage to take?”

“Half, maybe?” she shrugged. “After the first few they noticed and we had to be more careful, but there couldn’t have been more than twenty in all.”

And I was currently looking at eight still giving off that golden hue. Thief might not have been much of a fighter, but she was far from useless. I abandoned the train of thought without lingering, as moments later we’d finally come across the enemy. Ahead of us was a roundabout, though a fancier one than any I’d ever seen in Laure. It was wide as a plaza, the avenues circling the statue garden in the centre wide enough for two carriages to share it. Among the alabaster statues of what looked like past rulers of Dormer and a noticeably larger depiction of Eleanor Fairfax – though the sculptor had taken liberties there, since I doubted a knight of her calibre would have ever worn armour that left so much of her tits out in the open – the Immortals had formed a textbook perfect square. Even simply standing around, they were wrecking the greenery of the garden: the trees that weren’t already outright on fire were all smouldering, and the grass looked like a mage training yard. The Summer Court’s elite had not changed since I’d last seen them. Gold plate set with rubies glimmered under closed armet helmets of the same, heater shields so well-polished they could serve as mirrors filling one hand and ivory halberds the the other. Facing them, my legionaries spread across the roundabout. The Gallowborne took the centre, Nauk’s cohort split to cover the flanks.

“Summer Triumphant,” an Immortal from the front ranks called out.

Two hundred halberds slammed down in perfect unison, flickers of flame spreading from where they touched the ground. The words had not been spoken in any language I knew, and hardly been words at all. They’d been the crackle of wildfires, the clash of steel and the spilling of blood on hungry earth. Summer’s the season of war, Archer had once told me. Their words rang of that truth, a boast that rattled the night air.

“KILL THEM,” Nauk screamed.

“TAKE THEIR STUFF,” the Fifteenth screamed back.

We charged, wings enveloping their flanks as smoothly as if this was a practice battle. Like sea against rocks, I thought. The halberds rose, the halberds fell, and there went the first rank of my legionaries. As streaks of lightning filled the air and sharpers were thrown in long arcs, Adjutant and I rammed into the enemy. It was not like fighting the regulars. They did not give, when my sword struck their shields. And there was no slapping aside a strike of those halberds. No match for me in strength, perhaps, but not that far either. No wonder they broke the Sword of Waning Day, when they fought. Winter’s sharpest blades were rusty knives compared to these. Hacking my way into their formation was like taking an axe to an oak. My first blow hit a shield without purchase and bounced off, the halberd taller than I was sweeping down to tear through my shoulder in answer. I had to stick close to the Immortal to avoid it, and doing that felt like rolling around in a pile of embers. They heat they gave out wouldn’t melt my plate, maybe, but it would heat it until it scalded to the touch given long enough.

It took Adjutant and I working together to pry the line open. His shield got a halberd stuck and the tip of my sword pierced just over the tip of the enemy’s, sliding into the opening between the helmet and the gorget. The blood that coated my blade when it withdrew was smoking, but the fae was dead. I kicked the enemy down and forced my way into the gap even as the Immortal behind that one advanced, trying to force me back with his shield. From the corner of my eye I saw Adjutant’s knees give as the shaft of a halberd struck his shoulder and that distraction cost me. The side of my shield caught the halberd’s point at the very last moment, hard enough to change the angle from my chest to my forearm. The ivory went through plate and I screamed as fire burned in my veins. I would have had to give ground, if Archer hadn’t come to back me. Slithering around my shield she struck high, plunging a longknife in the Immortal’s throat and spinning to throw herself at the man at his side. I ripped out the halberd the corpse still clutched and let Winter loose, the flame smothered by impossibly deep cold. I let the strength linger, and took full advantage of the room she’d carved me.

The Immortals were meant to fight in ranks, the enemy in front, and from the side they struggled. Not the most flexible of weapons, halberds. I slammed my shield in the flank of the Immortal to my left and when he turned snarling Adjutant’s axe smashed through his helm and splattered blood. Now that my second was at my side, we began to widen the gap. One of us baited, the other struck. I learned at the cost of what was going to be a nasty scar under my eye that anything but a killing blow was useless on them – they did not seem to feel pain, and baldly ignored wounds. Being on the other side of that was a lot more infuriating than I’d thought it would be. With Archer weaving in and out of our side, knives always moving, we forged a wedge of corpses in the centre of the formation that the Gallowborne filled without prompting. The rest of my legionaries were not doing nearly as well, I saw when I got a rare moment of respite. Hierophant had seen the flanks were failing badly in the face of the opposition and lent them a hand, but the two spells he was working simultaneously took up all of his concentration. A hovering ball of shadow had sprouted tendrils that struck like sledgehammers on the left, while to the right a panoply of small silver circles flew around and shot beams of pale sorcery that not even the shields of the Immortals could withstand without twisting.

We’d killed maybe a fourth of them, fighting tooth and nail for every corpse, and already taken over twice that in casualties. I grit my teeth and pressed on. Attrition would grow more to our advantage the fewer of them were left, and though only the wrecks of two cohorts would emerge from this fight we would emerge victorious nonetheless.

“Sons and daughters of Summer, stand deathless under the sun,” a voice thundered.

Oh shit. Did that mean what I think it meant? Behind me, the dead Immortals proved the truth of the name. Great gouts of Summer flame poured out of the wounds, and they rose to their feet – most of them in the middle of the Gallowborne. A dozen of my retinue died in the first heartbeat and I screamed in fury.

“HIEROPHANT,” I yelled. “KILL THAT STANDARD.”

Before I’d even finished speaking a handful of runes formed just before my eyes, shining blue, and transmuted into a word: warded. Fuck. We weren’t the only ones who could use those.

“BATTER IT DOWN,” I screamed.

We were way past conserving power for the Duke of Green Orchards. At this rate we’d never even reach him. The detonation that followed rocked the entire plaza, statues flying in pieces and even Immortals being thrown to the ground. I widened my stance and was only blown back a few feet, though Hakram was thrown straight into two legionaries and had to extirpate himself from the mess of limbs and armour. To my horror, when I looked up, a globe golden light shone around the standard as it remained unharmed. Oh, this was bad. I ripped the halberd out of the grasp of an Immortal swinging at me, dropping my shield, and swung it around so that the edge of the blade tore into his skull. He dropped dead like a stingless puppet, but how long would he remain like that? The fae might not be able to pull that trick as often in Creation as they could in Arcadia, but how many times would that mean? Four, nine? My legionaries couldn’t even afford for it to happen twice. I would have called out to Archer, asked her if she had anything in her quiver that could take care of that, but she was busy trying not to get skewered by a pair of very angry Immortals.

It was a shiver, or at least that was how it felt to see it. It spread from the left flank, slithering through the thick ranks of Immortals and only turning into something real when the silhouette emerged out of thin air. Thief put a foot on a shield meant to smash her down, using it as a foothold to move to the shoulder of another Immortal. The fae tried to shake her off but she was already moving, jumping off the helm of an Immortal and somersaulting in the air. She went through the golden globe like it wasn’t there at all, hand snatching the standard at the apex of her leap and spiriting it away in a heartbeat. I felt the impact before she’d even begun to come down, the way every Immortal on the field flinched. I grinned, right up until the moment she was engulfed in apple-green flames and began screaming. Wings ablaze with eerie light, the Duke of Green Orchards stood atop the battlefield with mild disinterest writ on his face. A single hand held up, her kept Thief aloft and burning seemingly without effort.

I furiously tried to break through the Immortals ahead of me, but their ranks had tightened and the halberds were keeping me back. They weren’t going for a kill, just delaying me. It was Hierophant that managed to step in.

A gust of wind blew out the flames and Thief’s blackened body was dragged back behind the lines through the air. Gods, her entire hair was gone. She was scorched, but breathing and moaning in pain. Masego immediately began healing her, but she was done for the night. For more than that.

“Lady Foundling,” the noble fae greeted me politely. “It appears this affair will come to close momentarily. Perish.”

The nightmare began. Before he’d finished speaking I’d leapt off my first ice platform and was about to land on my second, and Archer had sent her first arrow flying for his eye. The shot went through the silver flames that appeared when it got close, but it slowed enough the duke caught it with his hand, crushing the wooden shaft to powder. The other hand had lashed out with green flame, a small orb of it tumbling towards me. The size of an apple, and the exact colour. Fuck. I’d thought for sure he’d be more like the Count of Green Yew, and hoped the torched trees would mean he was limited in his power, but he obviously had a work around. That first hit on Thief had been nowhere as strong as what I’d seen some dukes and duchesses pull out, but it was still exceedingly dangerous. A twist of will had a platform to my side forming and I took a turn there to avoid the throw, frowning when I saw the apple kept tumbling down. Was he really unable to redirect those? Oh Merciless Gods, I realized. I lashed out with ice, trying to keep the explosion contained when it hit the Gallowborne, but it was too little and too late. Then dark globe of ice was torn through almost instantly, green flame pouring out and consuming a full tenth. It moved from there, devouring men as the Duke calmly moved his hand to guide it.

Hierophant struck directly at him, a dozen spears of what looked like water-like shimmering iron getting stuck in the silver flames as they kept pushing at it. The fae grunted and the green fire gutted out. I should have advanced, but my eyes remained on the half-bare skull of Tribune John Farrier. Most his body was gone, even bones turned to ash. On all front of the melee the Fifteenth was giving ground, step by step as halberds tore through mail and plate. I’d known John for over a year now. Had fought by his side, bled with him and laughed with him. I’d liked him and relied on him. And he’d been swatted down carelessly, like a fucking insect.

Creation grew muted.

I could feel it all deeper now. Feel the night grow thicker, until the sight of the moon in the sky was obscured. Feel the beating from the shard of Winter that was my heart slow, and then cease entirely as I drew deeper from that well than I ever had before. My breath came out steaming and my plate crackled as frost spread over it. I peered at my anger, at my fear and calmly picked them out. I fed them to the cold, let them disappear into the flow until nothing was left at all. I’d always held back, I knew that deep down. I’d ripped the mantle of a god from its corpse and still acted the mortal. Wanted to be just Catherine Foundling. All these worries of humanity and remaining someone I could stand. The whining of a petulant child. I would be whoever I needed to be to keep my people alive, and damn me for flinching in the face of that truth. Beneath me the Immortals stirred and I felt the threads coming from them, those that had once bound them to the banner even in death but now lay inert. I reached out for them, two hundred threads growing into rivers as I forced the power of Winter through them. There were screams, there were curses and shaking and clawing at their armour. It made no difference to me. The Immortals died like flies, falling to the ground under the weight of my mantle.

“Rise,” I ordered, and they did.

Blue eyes burning behind their visors, the pride of Summer gripping its weapons as wings of ice spread from their backs.

“Shit,” Archer muttered, still among them. “That doesn’t look good.”

My gaze met the Duke of Green Orchards’ and the man smiled.

“Ah,” he said. “And now we finally meet, Duchess of Moonless Nights.”

The trees in the garden below burst into green flames, apples forming by the dozens and dropping from the branches without missing a beat. I moved with four hundred wings, my snarl on the lips of every Immortal. A storm of green flame swallowed the world, and the battle began in earnest. For the first heartbeat, it was only the two of us. I could sense his will in the flames, shaping them as men and beasts to fight my Immortals. They rose into the sky, pursued by Summer wrath, and Hierophant struck again. I saw his will slip into the green, follow along that of a lesser god and learn its workings.

“Shape is intent,” the blind man whispered. “Intent fractures.”

Like picks in stone, the Hierophant’s will struck at the sorcery and collapsed it. With a sound like a bell the flames reverted into apples, hanging harmlessly in the air, and my Immortals buried the Duke in a storm of blades. For a heartbeat all that could be seen was a pile of armour and ivory, until branches grew out. A globe of wood was spreading, swallowing the Immortals as it did, and I could feel them struggling against the crushing pressure inside. It would not save him. My will buried like a blade in the minds of the imprisoned corpses, forcing Winter into them until their bodies were overfilled vessels. One after another they burst, ice digging into the wood and tearing it from the inside. It groaned and broke, then the Duke burst out from the top in a shower of shards. Archer’s arrow would have torn through his knee, if he hadn’t caught it. He raised a mocking eyebrow.

Then it blew.

Hissing in pain, his fingers shredded, he seized the floating apples again. I ignored that, plaques of ice forming under my feet as I ran across the sky to him. The flames exploded as I felt Archer tap the back of one of the surviving Immortals. Without even glancing in her direction, I sent the corpse aflight with her hanging on the back. We reached the Duke at the same time. The fae pulled the fire to him, but through ears not my own I heard Hierophant speak.

“Burning is transmutation set by boundary,” he said. “Boundaries are mutable.”

His will rang like a bell and the fire intensified, beginning to burn even itself until all that was left was a single flame that guttered out. Archer and I leapt together as the enemy’s face darkened and he allowed himself to fall, the burnt out husks that were the trees below us collapsing into a hunks of burning wood that gathered to him in a protective shield. I grabbed Archer by the arm and tossed her at it, leaping down from a platform to follow. Her blades dug into the shield to no avail, and so did my sword. Frost spread from where I’d struck, putting out the flames but little else. A hand lightly touched the globe, Thief’s scorched face grim as she leaning against Adjutant.

Steal,” she coldly said, and the shield disappeared.

Beneath it the Duke of Green Orchard’s eyes were wide. Seven wooden pillars formed around the fae, followed by four runes linked by pale light. The same binding Hierophant had used against the Princess of High Noon. The duke’s body grew rigid and Archer’s blades dug through his abdomen on both sides, straight into his lungs. I did not bother to speak. My blade ran straight through his neck, spider webs of ice spreading from the wound as life winked out of him. I panted, slowly, and felt the remaining Immortals collapse one after another. Nothing but corpses, now.

“Hierophant,” I said. “Destroy the corpse.”

He did not quibble. Hazy power devoured the remains, leaving nothing behind, and slowly I returned to myself. I’d taken four hundred men into battle. Sixty still lived, most of them wounded. All that remained of the roundabout was a smoking, broken wreck.

“Nauk,” I croaked. “Where is Nauk?”

I strode through the ash and corpses, shouldering aside a legionary and glaring at the first officer I found. She paled, shivering.

“Where is your legate, lieutenant?” I seethed.

“Ma’am,” she stammered, “he’s…”

I saw the few remaining mages attending to the wounded as best they could, yellow light covering their palms. I could see Nauk among them. He was not moving, his breath faint. The left side of his face had been made a burnt eyeless husk, and the arm on the other side ended at the shoulder. They were not healing him. Fury spiked, the pavestones under me cracking.

You,” I said, hoisting the closest mage by the chest. “Why aren’t you healing him?”

He only babbled uselessly, so I dropped him.

“There’s nothing more they can do, Catherine,” Masego said, passing me by as he knelt by the legate’s side.

“Then craft me a fucking miracle, Hierophant,” I hissed.

He frowned, then drew runes over Nauk. The frown deepened.

“I can keep him alive,” he said. “Anything more is beyond me. Parts of his mind were shredded by the fire.”

“Do it,” I rasped. “Who? Who can heal him?”

Pinpricks of light formed above Nauk, sinking into the body as Masego murmured. The orc’s breath grew steadier, but nothing more.

“Father,” he said. “Possibly Diabolist. Or…”

He hesitated.

“Tell me,” I said through clenched teeth.

“It was fae fire that did this,” he said. “Fae sorcery could likely heal it.”

I clenched my fingers into a fist.

“Catherine,” Adjutant said.

I hadn’t even noticed him approaching. Thief was further away, leaning on Archer. Neither of them met my gaze.

“Dawn is coming,” he said. “We cannot linger.”

I forced myself to grow calm.

“Can you do anything more?” I asked Hierophant.

He shook his head.

“They’d already stopped the bleeding from the stump,” he said. “All I did was restore the organs.”

“Then we go,” I said, turning to the silhouette of the castle ahead. “Let’s end this.”

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93 thoughts on “Chapter 44: Drop

  1. Kingbob12

    We get so used to Cat winning, that when she loses, it hurts all the more. And here comes the real test. Will Cat let Killian unleash her Fae power to save one of her own? Or hold fast to her principles.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. -Mech-

      She’ll always place her principles over getting power, its been the theme of the story for a while. Yes, there’s the statements about ‘Justice is for the Just’ and all that, but that only comes into play when she’s engaging the ‘Good’ guys. (Like seriously, why can’t we have a single sympathetic good character) Otherwise, everything to do with dark magic is a no-no.

      Okay, I’ll admit I’m being a little, sorry, very obnoxiously prissy about this, but its getting a bit thick with the references about how literally every other faction is more cavalier about human lives.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. OldSchoolVillain

        The band of heroes that Black is duking it out with is very much more caring about human lives, with the exception being the Bard. And it’s implied that The Lone Swordsman was . . . irregular, in his approach to heroism. We just don’t see much of other factions that care about collateral damage, is all, because we’re seeing Cat’s perspective and Cat’s enemies.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. stevenneiman

        That’s kind of the point. Black is trying to prove that Evil can meaningfully win, and Cat is trying to prove that people with some shred of compassion can.

        Like

      3. But on the other hand, the coin seems like it actually *does* reflect the will of heaven, to the point that Black got smacked down by an angel for trying to interfere with it. So listening to what the coin says isn’t as crazy as it sounds.

        Like

      4. sheer_falacy

        Except the Heavens are jerks.

        On the other hand, I don’t think the White Knight would do the coin thing to random people. He kind of knows that angels aren’t nice.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Nastybarsteward

        Hmm, but there is also the greater question of whether good is right and evil wrong.
        I think a few heroes, esp bard, have tip-toeing towards being more wrong than right, and Catherine has definitely been trying to do right with evil.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Big Brother

    Holy shit, I have been waiting for Cat to go Nuclear Winter for so long. Sucks that Farrier had to die to do it, I liked him.
    But Cat’s Necromancy just took a massive step forward, using Winter to control the Cold of the Grave and raise all those Summer Immortals into her puppets.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. esryok

        The Lone Swordsman was racist, but to me Farrier always embodied the Callow’s “we’ll even the score someday” theme. He held a grudge against greenskins because one killed his grandfather, scorned Procer because of its past transgressions, and hated the Empire because of the Conquest and its general moral bankruptcy.

        He was also fairly collegial with Adjutant, and freely praised the competence of greenskins in the Fifteenth.

        And of course was devoted to Cat, ’cause she’s more or less the second coming of the Queen of Blades.

        Like

      2. stevenneiman

        He was raised racist, but I found him all the more sympathetic for the fact that he actually tried to not act like it, and he had the respect of a few of the orcs iirc.
        He hasn’t really got much character development since the Gallowborne became a thing, at the Battle of Marchford.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Dainpdf

        He wasn’t as much a character as a type, overall. He was a symbol of those loyal to Cat, those who follow her unflinchingly into battle. Those who died in droves with every one of her battles.
        He also represents those in Callow who see her as a new hope for the kingdom. Well, he and the knight guy.
        His death represents how much, not Cat, but the kingdom, has paid for her decisions.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. -Mech-

    Rest in peace, Tribune. Your duty is done.

    Its unfortunate that despite all these deaths, its still likely that Catherine’s not going to be able to fight on the scale of the duke. Sure, she broke out the magic this time, but I fully expect that some contrived reason will pop out that she’s powerless or drained.

    I recognize the need for the protagonist to always be challenged , but it gets a bit stale when every army except the Dread Legions get to break out the special stuff. All they have is going to be sappers and siege weaponry, whilst Fae have super magic, Deoraithe super archers, even diabolist legions of demons. Sure, there’s the whole mundane shtick going for them, but conventionally, they should be getting steamrolled by everyone they face. Except for the knights of course, they’re special but kept in reserve like a Deus ex Machina.

    Hopefully something other than the knights are in the hands of the Fifteenth, otherwise they’re just a bunch of mooks that get murked every time Catherine needs to lose out somehow without sacrificing a named character. Yes, a hundred nameless scrubs got massacred here, or there, but it just seems to be overlooked so easily. Although I’ll definitely admit, losing the Tribune was a nice touch to remove a named character, albeit a powerless one.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. -Mech-

        Well, the whole this being a story thing means she’s going to be fighting nothing but outliers, unless her enemies suddenly get depowered.

        There’s the Procerans to consider, I’ll concede, but I’ll bet that some super magical unknown army comes in specifically to get in Catherine’s way. Cos she never gets a break.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. me.me.here

      I dunno, Zombie the Third and company seem pretty special, and they’ll probably be sticking around for at least a little while. Wouldn’t that count?

      Like

    2. oldschoolvillain

      There’s really no reason for Cat to be drained of her power, and nothing to really cause it. The challenges she’s going into – the Queen of Summer, Diabolist, the incumbent Crusade – are going to be more than dangerous enough for her without somehow losing her power. Right now she’s slugging at a power level somewhere between a Duchess and Princess, but all of the threats above are still a league above that. Diabolist took two Princes of Summer head on, and was willing to duke it out with Princess Sulia before Summer retreated. Procer’s Crusade is implied to be backed by dozens of experienced and legendary Heroes who so far have considered Praes to be below their notice. And then there’s the Queen of Summer, the Prince of Nightfall, and the King of Winter that Cat still has to deal with. She and the Woe have their hands plenty full as it is – somehow draining her of her power would be trite and meaningless other than to set the uphill battles she’s looking at even steeper.
      It’s possible that a transition to a full Name will cut off her access to Winter – it’s tied into her Name of Squire and her Fall aspect – but a final Name will bring whole new levels of power with it that should make up for the loss.

      Like

      1. nick012000

        Diabolist was about to be killed by the Summer Princes she was fighting; she’d already used all three of her Aspects and was relying heavily on their power, so if Cat had waited another five minutes before entering Arcadia, she would have lost.

        Like

    3. stevenneiman

      The point of the Legions is not to rely on anything crazy, and it works. With the way that Fate works they also have a distinct edge against previous Legions just for having a good reason to be there, because past Legions were clearly dredged forth by the narrative because Callow needed Legions to beat back. Of course, they have an advantage with Named on the field, because everyone has an advantage with Named on the field, if they’re willing to accept the attendant risks.
      Also, remember that she’s a Callowan beating back the most foreign of all invasion forces, which is an advantage in itself even if not as much as it would have been before the Conquest. The fact that that invasion force relies on crazy bullshit is just icing on the cake, however frustrating it might be tactically.

      Like

    4. Dainpdf

      As has been pointed out, not relying on flying fortresses and sentient tigers *is* the point of the Legions. This allows them to standardize their maneuvers, have reliable performance, and most importantly not backfire crazily due to some “evil is hoist by its own petard” narrative.

      Like

    5. Moginheden

      The super magic all of the other forces are relying on has been proven time and time again to backfire or disappear just when you need it most, (see Thief stealing the shield the duke relied on in this chapter.) This is not a matter of the underdog winning, or the story allowing the weaker force to win. This is a matter of how you define strength. The super-magic might make each of your forces worth 100 legion members… but when the legion outnumbers you 200:1, the legion still wins. It’s not flashy, and it costs an enormous amount of human lives, (though less than the sacrifice-powered flying fortresses) but it works consistently.

      As for Cat being de-powered in the future, that has already been setup in the narrative. It’s not contrived. She has a huge power boost from winter, but to win the war against the fae she needs to get rid of ALL fae influence in creation. That includes her own fae title.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Gunslinger

    Regarding her well of power though wasn’t she already using the max her body could take? She would freeze if she took more? Or has she transitioned into a fae body (extremely unlikely)

    Like

    1. oldschoolvillain

      She wasn’t using the maximum she could draw on after Masego’s ritual, but she was starting to feel tired after creating her army-sized Staircase of Doom. She still had an impressive well of power to draw on going into the final stretch of the siege.
      Before Masego’s ritual though, yeah, she’d have turned her blood to so much crimson ice by now.

      Like

    2. esryok

      Yeah, she explicitly mentioned her “heart” stopped beating. Sounds like she pushed her blood all the way to frozen, though apparently this isn’t as fatal a problem as previously imagined.

      Might end up relevant to her past worries about having to murder her way back into being human.

      Like

  5. pyrohawk21

    The Forge is ready, the Crucible has been Filled.

    The Ore has just been put to the heat, will the Metal be what is needed?

    And what shall the Ingot be made into, by the Smith and the Hammer waiting nearby?

    Like

  6. Sieral

    Oh noes, looks like Catherine will sacrifice some poor folks to use in a ritual to restore Nauk. Though it’s entertaining seeing Catherine struggling with her already shaky morals,I’m a little sad Killian will return. It genuinely feels like some cheesy attempt at pandering to me when her and Cat’s relationship woes gets trust in my face.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In Chapter 42, we see that Cat’s necromancy can preserve, or revive the personality of her thralls, like she did with the horse. Nauk isn’t dead, but Masego speculates that the only accessible way to heal his mind is with Fae magic. We’ve also seen Cat use necromancy on her still living self to move when badly injured, so it doesn’t need to be used on completely dead things. I bet that she uses it, in combination with her natural Fae magic, on Nauk to revive his mind. However, I don’t think he will come back exactly the same. It IS a common trope for revived people to come back with their personalities warped, but Cat with her very own Orc whitewalker is too cool an idea to pass up 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Panic

      God I hope not. The best thing to happen in this book so far is the two of them breaking up. I never liked them getting together to begin with and I did not feel their relationship bringing anything of value to the story at all. Not that Killian hasn’t had a part to play but being lovers with Cat is not one I fancy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ashen Shugar

        I get the feeling that the “story” would be pushing Cat and Archer towards each other (and other people away), seeing as Black and Ranger had been a couple. It’s probably not a big push, seeing as this is like only the 2nd iteration of the story (though there may be some stories of hero parties that would kinda match to make a deeper groove for it to follow) but it might be enough that things “naturally” tend to go that way.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Shequi

        I don’t think Killian has summer ancestry because her Fae ancestor was specifically mentioned as being part of the Wild Hunt and we’ve been told that doesn’t exist when Summer does.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Dainpdf

      I got the distinct impression that it was more of a “probable chip in the Queen’s table” thing, but you raise a good point.
      Cat specifically said she wouldn’t sacrifice people for power itself, but for her friends she would. That’s one short lived Chekov’s gun.

      Like

    4. stevenneiman

      They had an enjoyable relationship that broke apart due to politics. It would be realistic for them to try and reconcile, but at the same time it would be realistic for them not to, especially since as was mentioned below Cat is drawing heavily on a story which involved her and Archer’s analogs falling in love.
      Personally, I liked them as a couple but I feel like if they did come back I don’t think the relationship could really work, since I feel like it would have to be something where either one of them won or they found a workaround and then pretended like it didn’t matter anymore. I personally agree more with Kilian’s attitude that if the justice system is thorough enough in making sure that they really are guilty of crimes serious enough to warrant death, getting some use out of killing criminals isn’t any worse. On the other hand, Cat isn’t entirely unreasonable in thinking that it creates a perverse incentive towards harsher criminal law that leads to more profitable executions.

      Like

      1. I loved them as a couple it brought forth a different perspective and dynamic, which was a good change of pace. However this would be a terrible way to get them back together. Not a bad way to drive them further apart though. In the whole allied but with bitter feelings between them.

        Like

  7. danh3107

    Jesus fuck….

    Also, Fae aren’t human so sacrificing them doesn’t really seem like hypocrisy in my book. They’re barely even sentient.

    Like

    1. Unorginal

      They seem very self-aware and capable of feeling, non-sentient would mean they aren’t even capable of understanding concepts like pain or emotion, so I’ll contest you there as they are cleary sapeint if bound to patterns.

      But you are righ about the sacrafice bit… it isn’t ‘Human’ sacrifice and they’re immortal as well so does it really matter *wink wink*.

      Like

      1. Sentient and sapient are two different things. And I’d agree that they have most of the makers of sentience: they are responsive to their senses and are (self)aware. Sapient is closer to wise and that’s harder for me to pin down. However they are lacking one of the implied valuable traits we associate with sentience: the ability to make choices based their awareness. Apart from the winter king, it’s been strongly implied that they lack that ability; that the decisions they make are closer to programmed reactions than true choices.

        Like

    1. Jabes

      Pyrrhic victory? I am seeing Cat sacrificing her personal retinue, including Ferrier and Naul, and a lot of power, to bring down what was going to mince most of her region. Why she gave up things/ people that are very important to her, I think they actually just saved thousands of Legionaires.

      Like

      1. Dainpdf

        Still a Pyrrhic victory. The cost of the battle, overall, has been huge. She spent a lot of power, Thief is basically done, Masego also spent a lot, Adjutant took a lot of hits, her retinue is fucked, and the Queen has a “heal Nauk” chip on her side of the table.
        In the context of the overall war against the Fae, not good. In the context of facing Diabolist after this, still pretty terrible.

        Like

  8. Fanon

    Killian not adding anything to the story or relationship is exactly /why/ she broke up with Cat.

    Unless Killian can stand on relatively even footing with Cat’s named, she’s only going to be known as Cat’s lover.

    If they get back together, it’d be because Killian is no longer absolutely useless and powerless in comparison to Cat. A more equal, balanced relationship.

    I’d put decent odds into Cat letting the ritual take place, too. This story is all about principles and what you’re willing to sacrifice those principles for in order to accomplish your goals, and what better temptation for corruption than human sacrifice in order to take back your lover and save your friend?

    Like

    1. Dainpdf

      I was pretty sure it was the fact that Cat couldn’t countenance something she thought was obviously okay. You know, the culture clash.
      Even if Cat allows the ritual now, they’d still need to resolve this very important difference.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Skaven

    Not sure why everyone’s assuming that Cat having Kilian go through with the ritual would involve them getting back together. It was pretty much stated when they broke up that the values dissonance meant that whatever direction they went with regarding the ritual, they wouldn’t be able to stand to remain together.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Barrendur

    There’s really nothing *wrong* with Killian as a character, but there’s nothing *right* either. As readers, we wouldn’t know, because Killian is the most ridiculously UNDEVELOPED significant character in the story!

    It wouldn’t even be fair to call Killian “underdeveloped”; no, she’s a cypher, a silhouette, a shadow of a character whose only moment of development came when she broke things off with Catherine — and her reasons for doing so.

    Killian’s a cardboard figure, with a single promising splash of colour on her. No wonder readers don’t like her; we know so LITTLE about Killian that Cat might as well just be masturbating when they go to bed togther

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shequi

      I wouldn’t say she was undeveloped. We know that she has family she cares for, sending half her pay to them, we know some of her aims (& have done since way back in Rat Company), we know she gets a lot of racial discrimination as Duni and part Fae both.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Letouriste

      You are exaggerating.like you said we know little about her but that’s because we never got her POV and her personality has only being presented by ratface(in an interlude) and cat.and somehow ratface pov had more depth^^.

      Like

      1. Dainpdf

        Orcs seem to have a tendency to just throw themselves headlong into battle, and Nauk has always been something of a berserker even among his kind.
        Plus, it seems like people under his command die constantly, including that one guy who was a traitor. And whose name I forgot.

        Like

    1. Unmaker

      I can’t say I predicted it consciously, but I have been cringing every time Catherine led Nauk into battle when the other troops were led by her and Adjutant, i.e. Named. She has essentially been asking for this by putting him too close to enemies that only Named can walk away from alive.

      Liked by 3 people

  11. dalek955

    Typo thread:
    if I got my [wish] and settled Callow
    Keeping my hands [clean] wasn’t going to stop armies marching, or [keep] fields unburnt
    ivory halberds [the] other
    had to [extricate] himself from the mass of limbs and armor
    dropped dead like a [stringless] puppet
    [he] kept Thief aloft and burning

    Like

  12. Wow, so the Immortals are basically the coolest motherfuckers in the entire series from an aesthetic standpoint huh?

    Also, a soldiers job is to die Catherine. They are currency and your job is to spend them to achieve your strategic goals. Kinda sucks that you’re running into this fact now, when it’s ones you’re personally connected to and not the shitloads who’ve already did their final duty up to this point.

    Like

  13. I think Cat’s gonna let the Killian ritual go down. She won’t make Nauk pay the price for her principles, IMHO. Before it was a Killian-wants-it-done thing. Now it’s a dear friend’s life on the line. Cat may hate herself for it, but if all it takes to save someone she cares for a lot is a few bodies to drop, she’s gonna drop them.

    More power to her for it as well. There’s no point in having power if you can’t tell the rules to fuck off when it comes to the people who really matter to you.

    Morals are COLDEST comfort beside a grave that didn’t need to be filled.

    Like

  14. Dainpdf

    Oh shit.
    Two things to say about this: one, Cat got too used to winning without sacrificing the people closest to her.
    Two, wow. She’s getting a bit on the self centered side. First, she talks about the sacrifices *she*had to make when she meant the sacrifices she forced on her homeland. Then she loses people whose name she knows and suddenly the loss is real…
    Oh, and third: anyone else connect Sabah and Nauk? Two berserkers, sent into battle by their boss, both dead due to miscalculation. Both causing their bosses to deviate from their courses, in death.
    Well, Nauk is still savable.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I wouldn’t really equate Nauk getting mangled with what happened to Captain. They all knew going up against the Duke after forcing their way past the Immortals was gonna be a horror show from the planning stages. It’s not like Catherine flubbed a key decision that lead directly to Nauk getting fried, as Black missed the “All the wagoneers he sent the Monster after were Virgins” angle.

    Like

  16. Deft-Blade

    Man is it just me, or is Calernia just begging for some paper and pencil action? I feel like a homebrew set in this world would be so fun, the fact that self awareness of Story and Roles actually CONTRIBUTES to immersion is perfect. I feel like the only necessity would be trust between players and DM, as I feel that he/she would have a bit more plausible leeway in Calernia. Now I’m gonna spend the next two hours thinking up rules and structure before ultimately abandoning it, because I am forever alone in my dice rolling endeavors :-:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Barrendur

      @Deft-Blade

      You are NOT alone! I never thought I’d see pen-and-paper (and actual polyhedral dice!) roleplaying dwindle and diminish unto death in my gaming lifetime, but I’m not giving it up for lost…. And yes, the world of the Practical Guide would make a phenomenal roleplaying setting. With Roles and Story, it would have the metafictional elements and sophistication that narrative RPGs once tried so hard to add White Wolf .

      Like

  17. I don’t get all the hate for Killian. Yes, she didn’t get enough individual screen time, and the lack of PoV text from her perspective hurts her developmentally as a character…but the fact Killian needs more fleshing out does in no wise invalidate the character conceptually. I found the idea of a half-Fae/half-Praesi mage, inspired to become more by close association with a determined Named she’s developed feelings for to have significant potential. The culture clash over the human sacrifice issue was good story fodder, and realistic besides. Long-term relationships are challenging when both parties are simply working 9-5 jobs. Let alone facing life-or-death danger from enemies attacking your front, plus life-or-death danger of treachery attacking you from behind.

    IMO, Cat would benefit enormously from a Named-equivalent permanent love interest. Black allowing his relationships to fade to the platonic level is a big part of how his emotional isolation began, and subsequently ossified. Without someone at her side, Cat’s trodding down the same path whether she realizes it or not. Of everyone close to her sort of elevating her beyond them because she’s always the crux of what they’re doing, and the final authority regarding decision-making. Her after-hours talks with Adjutant aren’t enough. Not by a long shot. Getting involved with Archer would just be a relatively meaningless fling. I mean good sex is great, but a few rounds of that is all that would EVER be.

    For all Cat’s vision of the future she’s fighting to create, if she doesn’t take steps to build a place for herself in it…..I mean she’s already having thoughts along the lines of “If I succeed, I’ll be the last monster in Callow.”

    Altruistic sacrifice is well and good…but if you’re all give and no take, you burn out and ultimately fall short of the contribution you could’ve made in a longer-term sense. At least that’s my view.

    Like

  18. trailer

    Pissed. I spent weeks of days reading. I had no idea this was unfinished. Yes, I didn’t look. Now waiting for an update. Squire with Archer fan club.

    Like

  19. “Not the most flexible of weapons, halberds.” The BALLS they aren’t! Flexibility is the whole point of halberds.

    Argh. I really like this story, but I keep running into these little annoying nuggets of bad history…

    Like

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