Chapter 56: Recess

“And on your grave we shall have inscribed: he was witty all the way into the tiger pit.”
– Dread Emperor Vindictive

Nauk had a whole tent to himself, unlike the rest of our wounded remaining with the host. Unconscious or not he kept his rank. His Senior Tribune had been temporarily granted full legate authority, but no one had ever dared to talk of actual promotion in front of me. All those that could speak of the matter knew me better than that. There was no lit candle inside, but that hadn’t made a difference to me in years. I dragged the lone stool in the corner across the dirt and sat on it, eyes stuck on the orc’s inanimate form. His breath still rose and fell faintly and the wounds had begun to heal, but there was nothing pretty about it. His left eye was gone, taken by Summer flame along with ear and cheek and a chunk of his dark hair. It looked like a bonfire had devoured half his face, and though the burns were no longer a horror of charred skin they had scabbed green and peeling. This, I knew, he would be able to live with. That kind of scarring was almost a point of honour to orcs. My eyes shifted to the side and lingered on the stump that ended at his shoulder. The loss of his fighting arm would be harder blow.

Prosthetics could be made, I knew. The Warlock had made a hand for Hakram, after Summerholm, and I did not doubt Masego would be able to make something even more functional now that he had transitioned into Hierophant. But Nauk would forever be a cripple in the eyes of his own, without a Name to make up for his defect. There was much to love in orcs, be it the bone-deep loyalty or the fierceness in the face of peril, but the Clans were not known to be kind to failures – and that was what they would call him for this, I had no doubt.

“I never should have taken you into that fight,” I murmured, brushing back an errant strand of hair. “Neither you nor the Gallowborne. It was arrogant, to think I was powerful to keep you alive.”

I was, in the end, a villain. My power was not meant to be a shield for those I loved. All I can do is kill the enemy before they kill you, I thought. But that too would fail in time, like Black had failed Captain. Death could only be cheated for so long no matter how cunning and ruthless and strong you thought you were.

“I’ve been told Pickler visits you every night, after her hours are done,” I told the orc. “The others came too, even Robber. You haven’t been forgotten.”

There were no wards around the tent but there were guards, and when I heard them give way without comment my mind ran down the list of the few people with that authority. Wouldn’t be Juniper or any of the general staff – most of them had ordered a bonfire made away from prying eyes and begun showing up with bottles when Evening Bell rang. I meant to join them, eventually, but I’d come to visit my mistake first. Not Black, either. He’d been scrying generals and court officials all day, and likely would continue until we left for Liesse. That left only three. Hakram, but the approaching steps were too light. Archer wouldn’t have come here at all. And that meant…

“Lord Warlock,” I said calmly, hand withdrawing from Nauk’s forehead.

The Sovereign of the Red Skies was no more bothered by the darkness than me. He strolled casually to my legate’s side, leaving the body between us, and frowned at the unconscious orc. I studied the villain in silence, eyes tracing the sculpted face and fit form that was made plain by his tailored tunic. There’d always been traces of silver in the man’s short hair, and salt as well as pepper in his beard, but I fancied I saw a little more of both now. He was still, I thought, perhaps one of the most handsome men I’d ever seen. An older man, certainly, but that only added to the allure: there was nothing boyish about him at all. The admission was set aside earlier than it used to be, the way I could dismiss Akua’s looks. Some part of me considered the Warlock an enemy, and enemies were not to be blushed over. He did not reply to my greeting, or call on sorcery. All he did was stand there and look.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “About Sabah.”

Dark eyes finally turned to me.

“Your sympathy is a shallow thing of little meaning, Squire,” he replied. “You knew her for scarcely three years, perhaps a month in all of shared presence. Your grief is pale imitation of ours.”

“And yet I still grieve her,” I said.

His face twitched, sorrow and hatred mingled. In my veins Winter flowed, the darkness in the room thickening. My mantle craved the strife like a parched man craved water.

“She was always the best of us,” Warlock said. “All she wanted was for us to be alive and happy. It made her so very easy to love.”

I did not reply. Tread lightly here, Catherine. Winter had caught the scent of war, and in this it is so very rarely wrong. The tall man continued to watch me, the silence growing tenser every heartbeat.

“I am trying,” the Sovereign of the Red Skies said, “to think of a reason not to kill you right here and now.”

“You might not find that so easily achieved,” I calmly replied.

I’d come too far to flinch in the face of even a man like this. A slow smirk split the Soninke’s face.

“You speak to me of trouble when your soul is one spell away from turning on itself,” he said. “Proud little Squire, having learned all the wrong lessons. Did you really think a mantle was so easily claimed? That there would not be consequences to usurping a demigod?”

My eyes flicked to Nauk’s silent form.

“I am sharply aware of my limitations,” I said.

“You are an altar raised to your own ambition, child, and the foundations are shaking,” he jeered. “You have lied and murdered your way through affairs beyond your understanding. Can you even still suffer the touch of cold iron?”

He laughed sharply, teeth like ivory showing in the dark.

“Perhaps it is too early for that still,” he said. “But thresholds must already be growing difficult, yes? Wards stand stone where they were once parchment, your power mercurial where it was once firmly grasped. You are not more than human, Catherine Foundling, merely other.”

My fingers twitched, hidden under Nauk’s cot by the angle. I felt like reaching for my sword even as the words winded their way into my head. There was an unfortunate stench of truth about them. The edges being turned on me did not cut deep, but my patience was running thin in the face of a berating I had not earned. Or, at the very least, not from him.

“You once warned me about lines I shouldn’t cross,” I coldly said. “I’ve kept to those terms. And yet here you are, knife on your fucking tongue. Act like even half the man you pretend to be, Warlock.”

Power flooded the tent. Not as a spell or an attack – the Sovereign of the Red Skies had simply ceased hiding the sorcery always roiling inside him. Just by standing there, just by being, he was a storm made flesh. My Name’s hackles rose in answer, frost touching my shoulders and my shadow deepening into an endless pit. I stood in front of Hashmallim unbowed, Wastelander. You will not scare me into lowering my head with cheap theatrics.

“Lines,” the Warlock hissed. “You dare speak to me of lines when just by existing you bring death to Amadeus? You stand before me reeking of bargain incomplete, a thing stitched together by blood and ignorance, and pretend you are safe for even a single soul in this wretched world?”

Something bubbled up inside me, and against my will a laugh escaped my lips.

“You blustering fucking hypocrite,” I said. “Who are you to cast stones, Sovereign? You’re more abattoir than man. Have you ever accomplished a single damned thing by means other than cutting up men? All I can put to your name is death and horror. I have been civil because Masego is family and for some godforsaken reason Black forgives what you are, but do not mistake that for fear, not for a single moment. You think your record cows me? I’ve bled for it, Warlock, but I have beaten gods. All you are is an aging bag of curses.”

The cloth of the tent around us withered until it was threadbare and blackened, Winter baring its fangs through my open snarl. The Warlock’s eyes dilated, red bleeding into them as the smell of brimstone spread through cold air.

“Hye should have killed you when she had the chance,” he said. “He would have forgiven her, eventually. Damn her for having looked only at the hunt.”

My fingers clasped around the hilt of my sword.

“Talk is meaningless,” I said. “Either act or shut the Hells up.”

The Soninke’s shoulders twitched and for a moment a I thought it would come to violence, my sword already halfway out the scabbard, but in the end the monster stayed his hand.

“My son asked for the life of this tin soldier of yours,” he said, tone emotionless. “Have it back, and count the debt of protecting Masego through his transition paid. Watch your step, Squire. If slaying you keeps him alive, you will not live to see winter.”

I forced myself to leave, because if I stayed there would be blood. Terror was writ plain on the faces of the two legionaries standing guard outsides, and any notion they hadn’t heard the argument was dead the moment I glimpsed it. My sword slid back fully into the sheath and I took a deep breath, wrestling down fury I knew to be not entirely my own. My temper was worsening. Like all the rest, I thought darkly.

“Everything you heard here is under the Tower’s seal,” I told the guards.

I lingered long enough to receive stammering assurances from them, then left. Part of me wanted nothing with the bonfire and comrades awaiting, but disappearing into my tent to stew over this wasn’t going to improve anything about my night. Even if the mood was gone, I would show up. Other, the Warlock had called me. Other than human. Maybe I needed all the company I could get.

“You’re having another,” Hakram bluntly ordered. “It’s a little early for morning dew, so I can hazard a guess why you have wet shoulders.”

I grimaced but offered up my cup to the orc.

“Could we at least drink something that doesn’t taste of burnt orange?” I complained.

I got a few smiles for that, though no laughter. No one was quite drunk enough yet to have reached that place where everything was funny.

“Dhahab is an acquired taste,” Aisha conceded.

Acquired is the right word,” Ratface drawled. “That bottle is worth twice its weight in gold.”

There were ten of us around the crackling flames, and though some of the faces had changed it had reminded me so much of evenings in the War College that I’d ached. Simpler times, though back then they’d felt anything but. These days whatever didn’t involve half a river’s worth of blood felt innocent.

“They served this at receptions in Ater,” Masego noted. “Though it tasted different then.”

“Milkweed extract,” Aisha explained, her cheeks rosy. “It’s the traditional paired poison.”

My Taghreb staff tribune had begun hitting the bottle early tonight and already abandoned the flat stone that had been her seat in favour of lying against the large trunk we were using as a bench. Having traded a cotton shirt and slender trousers for her usual uniform, I got a good glimpse of why Ratface had been stuck on her for so long every time she stretched. The toned curves were hard to notice under the aketon, but now they were in full display. I didn’t allow my eyes to linger, though, and the reason why spoke up right after.

“We’re roughing it like proper peasants, then,” Kilian smiled, cheeks dimpling. “How appropriate.”

I expected Archer to make something out of that, but when I looked she was busy trying to discreetly tie Masego’s braids in a knot. He kept slapping away her hands, so evidently not a great success.

“Frosted another table talking with Kegan?” Juniper asked, seizing Aisha’s cup and watering down her liquor even as she pouted.

“I wish,” I grunted. “Got into an argument with the Warlock.”

“Were you asking about his s-“ Robber started, but Pickler pushed him off his seat with the ease of long practice.

It did not escape my notice he half-leaned into the touch before allowing himself to be toppled. That infatuation had yet to disappear, then.

“Really?” Masego said, coil of lightning forming around his finger just in time for him to shock away Archer from her latest attempt with a flick. “Father doesn’t lose his temper often. As far as I know, the last argument he got into was before I was born.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Huh,” I eloquently said, nursing the liquor. “Who with?”

I wasn’t actually all that curious, but steering the talk away from the fact that I’d drawn steel on one of the Calamities in the middle of my own war camp seemed a solid notion. Even if he’d been fucking asking for it.

“Uncle Amadeus,” Masego said. “Uncle wanted him to open an academy for mages, after the Conquest.”

“There already is,” Ratface pointed out. “There’s a track for mages at the College.”

Hierophant rolled his glass eyes under the cloth.

“A real academy,” he said. “He refused, of course. Father had no interest in teaching squalling Wasteland brats.”

“The War College has a limited curriculum, it’s true,” Pickler said, and I noticed a subtle slur to her words. “The Eyries have entire volumes on engineering and alchemy that will never see light of day.”

“The spell scrolls at the College are very narrow in scope,” Kilian agreed. “And all the more sophisticated treatises are theory, not practical.”

“Praesi hoard spells like dragons do gold,” Juniper said. “That’s always been the way.”

I downed the rest of dhahab and reached for an open bottle of wine before Hakram could fill my cup with that sin against tastebuds a third time. I poured too quick, red spilling over the rim, and unthinkingly licked my fingers clean. Feeling eyes on me I turned, and found Kilian watching. I cleared my throat, in a hurry for a distraction.

“That may change,” I said. “I’ve had a talk with Black.”

There was a heartbeat of silence, my teacher’s name falling like a shroud on the previously light mood.

“Lord Black,” Juniper insisted, breaking the silence.

I snorted into my cup and saw a few smiles bloom. I hesitated to call anything about the Hellhound girlish, but the way she got so coquettishly proper about Black came pretty close.

“I call him sir about once a year, that should be enough formality to meet the quota,” I said. “Regardless, there’s going to be changes in the Wasteland after we clean up the Sahelian mess.”

Stillness hung in the air like fog, the fire crackling loudly around us. The quiet was pregnant with words none of us dared say.

“That sounds like murder talk,” Archer cheerfully said. “Doesn’t that sound like murder talk?”

“It does,” Robber said, grinning hungrily in the dark. “And with official sanction, no less. That is going to be a ride.”

Hakram cleared his throat.

“Enough blade-talk for he night,” Adjutant announced. “War will still be looming tomorrow, but then we’ll have to be sober.”

“Cheers to that,” I said, raising my cup.

“A toast,” Ratface shouted. “To liquor, obtained by entirely legal means!”

“To victory, fickle bitch that she is,” Aisha added just as loudly.

She handed her cup to Juniper long enough to pass the bottle to Pickler, never noticing that the orc poured half of it to the ground.

“To stabbing Diabolist in the face,” Archer said. “Like, at least twice.”

“To claiming her personal possessions afterwards,” Masego contributed.

“If you keep that up, warlock’s get, I’ll have to adopt you into my tribe,” Robber said, placing his hand over his heart.

“That’s illegal, they’ll have you killed,” Pickler noted.

“Then I’ll make my own tribe,” Robber said.

“Also illegal, will also get you killed,” Pickler replied without missing a beat.

“Boss,” Robber said, turning to me, “you need to make your own tribe so I can abuse that power most sorely.”

My brows rose.

“Congratulations, Special Tribune Robber,” I ceremoniously said. “You are the first and only member of the Lesser Lesser Footrest Tribe, by my authority as Vicefuckingqueen of Callow.”

“You said I’d go back to just lesser if I behaved,” the goblin whined.

“Which you did not,” Pickler said, sounding amused.

Goblins,” Juniper sighed, then raised her cup. “To the Fifteenth.”

“Boring,” Archer catcalled from the side, obnoxiously drawing out the word.

“To making it this far,” Kilian said, bringing up her cup before a squabble could erupt.

“To us,” Hakram said, and with that sentimental finish we all drank.

The drinks kept flowing after that, and as the hours passed the stillness returned bearing sted tiredness instead of nervous anticipation. We did not speak of plans or war or the deaths to come, however close they may be. We talked like the friends I’d wished to have, back at the orphanage, and that I had found in this strange place along that winding path my life had taken. That the path also took me to dark and ugly places, I could not deny, but once in a while it led to golden nights like this as well – and they almost made up for the rest. When talk finally died down half my friends were asleep, Aisha draped over Juniper’s side and softly snoring as the general fondly looked down at her. Hierophant was having a quiet conversation with Pickler as Robber interjected less than helpfully, Archer passed out over the mage’s lap. For all that they bickered constantly, it had become plain for anyone to see how close the two of them were. He’d tightened her cloak around her shoulders, earlier, gentle in a way I’d never Masego be with anything but books. I was gazing at the scene, something between happiness and contentment having found me, when Hakram nudged my rib. He inclined his head to the side and I followed the direction, finding Kilian worrying her lip. She rose when she noticed my gaze and I closed my eyes. An overdue conversation, this. I rose to my feet as well, clapping Adjutant on the shoulder, and offered the redhead my arm.

“Let’s go for a walk,” I whispered.

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88 thoughts on “Chapter 56: Recess

  1. nick012000

    >“Congratulations, Special Tribune Robber,” I ceremoniously said. “You are the first and only member of the Lesser Lesser Footrest Tribe, by my authority as Vicefuckingqueen of Callow.”

    Why do I feel like this is a statement with consequences that will come back to bit her later?

    Liked by 12 people

  2. JC

    Confirmation that Hye is alive. Nice.

    Warlock’s words are really interesting. Hopefully Catherine can (once again) subvert her way to victory before she is locked in to any one story or other. I wonder if her being tied down to the fae was a ploy by the Wandering Bard, as if to shackle Black’s legacy of stirring the narrative pot and to force it to obey convention.

    Like

  3. Gunslinger

    Umm wow, Warlock is scary as fuck, but Cat did well to call him on his hypocrisy. I wasn’t entirely convinced about the reasons for his anger. Why is he still so sure Cat will kill Black? His own son transitioned without having to kill him after all.

    The Killian talk is long overdue and Cat will have to own up to her own hypocrisy regarding the sacrifices.

    Ohh and do vote for the Guide on topwebfiction http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=a-practical-guide-to-evil.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Engineer

      Probably because to Warlock, it seems that Black is forcing the bloody succession story. He’s still raw over Sabah’s death and here he sees that his oldest and best friend is soon to die to. That would make anyone be a little on edge.

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      1. Maybe, but his hate for her seemed to be really personal – as if it was her fault. For example why did he threaten her over Masego’s life? She’s never given Warlock any reason to think she’d be a threat to Hierophant, it seems like there’s a story going on that’s forcing them into conflict over very tenuous reasons.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Warlock was acting completely irrationally here, and that doesn’t make sense. Why would he lash out at a target like Cat? The catalyst for this is obviously Sabah’s death, but that’s not a REASON. There’s something else, and I feel like we don’t have enough information to understand. I hope this will be cleared up Monday

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        1. Zach

          Squires succeeding Black Knights by killing them is apparently A Thing that almost always happens, so it’s not entirely unreasonable for Warlock to view Cat as being the person who is very likely to murder Amadeus at some point.

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    2. IDKWhoitis

      I think Warlock is angry at Cat for what she represents in the meta-narrative. She may not kill him with her own hands, but she is adding weight for the universe to kill Black.

      Also, Warlock is in a very, very, agitated state. He’s as sensitive and enraged as Black is, but doesn’t have the cold machine like personality that Black has adopted following Captain’s death. Add that to the fact that Cat has a damned combative attitude, willing to argue with gods and monsters.

      Liked by 4 people

    3. Ward

      Because squire traditionally transforms into either black or white knight and since she isn’t a hero she should become the new black. Traditionally being the key here.

      Liked by 3 people

    4. His son didn’t transition into the new Warlock, which would have meant the old Warlock had expired. By the rules of the Named, The Squire is fated to kill The Black Knight to become the new Black Knight, just like how Amadeus killed the previous Black Knight when he was the Squire.

      Also in the scary as fuck scale Warlock doesn’t even crack the Top 5 Catherine has faced and in a couple of cases beat.

      1. An Angel that Catherine beat with her wits to be reborn.
      2. The Summer Court including the Queen which are Demi Gods and in the Queens case basically a God, through wits and combat.
      3. Hye, The Lady of the Lake, The Ranger. Of the Calamities she is far and away the most deadly and scariest and Cat for about 30 secs stood up to her and almost lost her head for it. Hye could kill Warlock and it wouldn’t be that much of a challenge to her after fighting immortal being such as the Undead King and the Courts.
      4. The Empress. She doesn’t seem that scary but keep in mind if she wanted Warlock dead, he would probably be dead and he would never see it coming. For all of his intelligence the Warlock has a big blind spot when it comes to scheming and planning which is the Empresses wheelhouse. Also remember she knew what Cat was going to do even before Cat did, if Cat ever sits on the Praesi Throne it will be because Malicia plotted her own overthrow and picked her.
      5. Black himself. There was and is a reason that Black lead the Calamities even though his actual power was less than the other four, Without him all but Hye would have died long ago because they would fall back into the rut their Name and Roles provide to them. If Warlock thinks to go after Cat, more than likely Black will have Assassin kill him because he will not let Warlock ruin the goal of getting Cat prepared for Procer, especially since doing so would mean Captians death would have been in vain.

      Right now Warlock is letting his emotions run away with him and start righting checks his ass can’t cash, if he doesn’t watch out the last thing he will see before he dies is Cat standing over him sword in hand and him realizing just how she is making the gods bow down.

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      1. Ben

        Amadeus didn’t kill the previous Black Knight, and I don’t think the Squire is fated to kill either of the knights–but she is fated to succeed them, so I guess her existence is like a constant tug on the narrative towards a story where one of the knights dies, and no one in the story right now sees that being the White Knight.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Engineer

        All points are valid save 5. I don’t think Assassin would agree to that. He’d be putting down a fellow member of his band.

        More likely Black would get Hye to do the job. Of all the Calamities she strikes me as the one who would and could do that relatively easily.

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    5. Anastas

      He’s so sure Cat will kill Black because she WILL, directly or indirectly. That’s the way the Story goes. Our wide-eyed Squire is discovered by their White/Black Knight, (s)he trains under him/her, grows to love (for Heroes)/hate (for Villains) their mentor, then the Knight gets killed by a Villain (heroes) or by the Squire him/herself, thus providing the motivation to step up to the plate and continue their master’s work.

      True, Cat probably isn’t going to kill Black herself, but there IS a climactic battle approaching right as the beloved mentor approaches, which is the perfect time for Fate to cause some confusion or a dramatic twist that ends with Black’s blood on her blade, and even if they manage to avoid that, that just means Fate gets to switch to the lesser-used but still possible tracks of the Black Knight being killed by someone else, or even old age or a sufficiently dramatic magic disease or curse.

      Point is, from the moment Black picked a Squire at the very least, Black started on the downswing of his arc, and with it his life. Now that he HAS a replacement, he must soon die and BE replaced, and I’m sure Warlock realizes that to some degree. So, at least in theory, Cat’s death would slow Black’s hourglass again, at least a little. Of course, villains don’t live forever, successor or no, and Cat dying would surely make Black angry, but at this point I don’t think Warlock cares. With Sabah’s passing cutting through his accomplished-villain-arrogance and reminding him of the Calamities’ ultimate mortality, and Black’s death plainly on the horizon, all he wants is a little more time, no matter how much that might tangle up the Grand Plan they’ve been working over forty years for.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. See, you’re working with the assumption that Warlock was acting rationally, in his own best interests. I don’t see any reason to assume that. I’m afraid this is going to be a common theme in the rest of the comments for this chapter, so this comment is really for all the others that I’m not going to read as much as for you so don’t take it personal 😉

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    6. Fern

      As far as I can tell, it’s less that Cat’s gonna kill Black and more that Warlock is deathly afraid that she’s not thinking about what flags she’s placing in the story. The reason Bard got a win on Black in the first place could be traced to Cat, after all; Bard is a character in Cat’s story, after all, I imagine she was fated to get a win to prove how serious of a threat she is. The fact that Black managed to severely wound White is probably the only reason only Captain died, and this went from a Pragmatic Evil Wins story to a Evil Always Reverts to Stupid Evil story.

      Beyond that, I can see several ways how Cat’s actions – if she isn’t very careful – could lead to death flags being placed on Black and several members of her own Demesne. This plot thread could turn out very interesting indeed.

      EE I’m really liking some of the character work you’ve been doing recently. Characters that are Allied but not Friendly to our protagonist add a lot of depth to this story, keep it up man.

      Like

  4. oldschoolvillain

    You’re making us wait the long gap on THAT? Gah, it was a glorious chapter with some proper villain vs villain smacktalk, but Gah give me Killikatherine stat!
    Anyhoo, just had to get that out of my system. The chat around the campfire was wonderful, as so many character building things are, but the real glory of this chapter was Katherine’s . . . ‘talk’, with the Sovereign of the Red Skies. Even with all she’s done, all the power she’s gathered, even though she could probably meet Warlock blow for blow in a straight fight, she’s still head and shoulders below the old school of villains and seeing that after so many chapters of her steamrolling one problem after another was great. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. PhDEevee

    He hates her because she is Black’s successor, and for Evil succession always means death (see the quote atop the previous chapter). This is often the case for Good as well, but not always.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Engineer

    This chapter reminded me strongly of the kind of shit Monkey D. Luffy usually pulls in One Piece.

    Excellent chapter, EE. One of the best.

    Like

  7. Big Brother

    I get the feeling Warlock is weaving a fail-safe into Nauk so that if Black dies, Nauk will use Cat’s trust in him to try and kill her. That’s what I’d do in that situation, were I an immensely powerful Named faced with losing a dear friend.

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    1. Good way to get Cat to kill him. Warlock is letting his grief and arrogance talk and not thinking because if he did he would not want to piss off the girl that made Demi-Gods and Gods do her bidding.

      Like

  8. Shadowxhunter

    Sniff… she came so far. I remember her first meeting with warlock. She couldn’t even speak well. Now she was even ready to fight him to death.
    Frnkly i don’t want her to transition as the black knight. It doesn’t suit her. Her raw power already surpassed all black knight ever born. Right now she is even stronger than black. And the way warlock acted show that she reached a level where even the calamity have to be wary of her.

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    1. lostdeviljho

      “Her raw power already surpassed all black knight ever born.”

      That is a /bit/ of a big statement there. She’s stronger than Amadeus, yeah, but the /traditional/ role of the Black Knight is to be the Empire’s “big stick”. Saying she’s stronger than any Black Knight ever born is… well I don’t want to say it’s /the/ height of arrogance but it’s eye the spot with intent, if you take my meaning.

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      1. I keep wondering just what archetypes are available besides the black knight.

        Warrior, Winter Knight, Strategist, Breaker (there are other breakers than the trickster), Captain, Gladiator. The problem is finding one that fits Cat’s personality.

        Come Woes, let us reason together on how to break this story …

        That said, I’m glad she is going to resolve things with her lover.

        So much in this, so much. No idea where it is going to go. Wish I did.

        Like

    2. I am not sure that she is more powerful than any Black Knight. Black said that his predecessor could topple a tower with a single blow and that he himself is a weak villain powerwise. I‘m also not so sure that Cat could defeat Warlock. Maybe with her power as duchess she could possibly nearly match him powerwise, but he is not a brute force tool, but a highly experienced and intelligent wizzard, who almost certainly has a way to deal with powerfull fae or fae like opponents, if he knows their weaknesses.

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      1. Letouriste

        Her soul,he would target her soul.her soul was already damaged after the run against the demon and now that seems there is an opening there since her winter evolution

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    3. Bruce Chesborough

      The way Warlock acted? He acted like a Marine drillmaster faced with a skinhead nephew daring him to start something.

      “I could wipe out this arrogant little shit in a heartbeat any number of ways, but my brother would be SO pissed… but what if it’s worth all the bad feelings to keep him from having from having to deal with all the consequences of letting this worthless waste of space run free? Damnit, it’s too close to call!”

      Like

  9. Engineer

    New idea for Cat’s next Name. WOG already said Grey Knight is out of question but what do you guys think of Catherine Foundling, the Other Knight?

    Like

    1. Vortex

      Personally her kit right now suggests to me the Winter Knight since so much of it is tangled with the fae.

      That being said, I am still hoping for death knight. She had shown a remarkable affinity for necromancy (her mount, her mount in the last battle, and even her own body).

      Plus it would be a great way for ErraticErrata to show more of the Dead Kingdom and the Dead King, which we only got to see once in Ranger’s interlude. Death Knight ftw!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gingerbreasd_man

        Still clinging to Warlord. I don’t care if you’re meant to be an Ork to get that Name, it’s just way too appropriate. Winter Knight is a good contender for second favourite though.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Engineer

        Yeah, I’m with you on that all the way. Death Knight would be pretty badass and it would sidestep the Story of Cat killing Black to become his successor quite nicely. Since Nobody ever said that a Squire MUST become EITHER a Black or White Knight. The Squire must just become a Knight. And besides, I remember White accessing a Name called the Knight Errant, so Black and White Knights aren’t the ONLY Knight Names. It’s just the role/story that Cat is caught in right now seems to be railroading her to take Black’s Name. Taking another Knight name will subvert that story.

        And that kind of subversion is precisely what Cat is known for if she’s willing to bear the consequences.

        Thought: The Soul Construct breaks. Cat is totally consumed by her Fae powers. She dies. The Story between her and Black Breaks/concludes. She rises again, with the help of the Hierophant and takes the Name Death Knight. Hell Masego could probably even hijack Abua’s ritual array to do this ala Dead King style.

        Don’t worry about weight. Her legion is large and her dying and rising again will solidify the notion in their minds that she is a Knight that not even Death can claim.

        Black is no longer forced to die and he has a chance to live happily ever after with Ranger or something. Warlock no longer has to be The Sovereign of the Red Jackasses and Cat doesn’t have to cross swords with Ranger. Or maybe she does, Rangers is kind of messed up in the head and Cat taking that Name would DEFINITELY make her a viable hunt.

        Masego already brought her back once when he was just an Apprentice. Him being the Hierophant with intimate knowledge of Cat’s soul would probably allow him to do a better and complete reconstruction.

        Then when she’s The Death Knight she could easily claim the Name Black Queen when she becomes ruler of Callow in truth, setting up Book 5 where the Dead King takes center stage and Triumphant returns to battle her.

        Apologies for the Wall of text, but the ideas just kept flowing.

        Like

      3. AshSlanabrezgov

        I don’t like theme of Death. Catty is all about struggle and breaking, dying but mending. Death is stillness and rot. Cat is not.

        She is closer to Nightmare if you excuse me my pun. I mean when Black Night fell over your eyes and a Beast is lurking in the dead Winter forest kind of nightmare.

        By the way – she was given a name Black Queen by soldiers. I think folk tales and beliefs shape names – so maybe her new name would have not Knightish theme but Dread Queenish? Eh. Warlord or Brawler would suit her best though. Pity that first is orks only and Brawler is starting to feel not awesome enough.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. cburschka

      I know I already guessed the same thing with “Warlord”, but maybe it’s going to be related to her latest epithet (“Black Queen”).

      (But another growing hypothesis is that she simply won’t transition at all. The sheer power and mileage she’s gotten out of Squire already show that she doesn’t really need it badly.)

      Like

      1. Metrux

        The problem here is that this is BORROWED power, the same thing Black always sayd to avoid. Sure, it’s part of her and she is the Last of Winter, but it can still be subverted. Unless she transitions into someting that makes the Winter true part of her, she will have a glaring flaw to be exploited.

        Like

      2. Engineer

        Metrux, she didn’t borrow the power; she earned it through the story she enacted with that Winter Duke to become the Duchess of Moonless Nights. According to the story she weaved the power is hers in truth and notice that all of the Summer Royals refer to her by her title. In their eyes she’s the Duchess through and through and now being the last Noble of Winter that consequently makes her a Princess. That power is hers. The only issue is her body is not capable of using the full power effectively without the frozen heart of the Winter King. Masego needs to get his ass in gear on that front.

        Like

    3. I’m thinking Catherine will just transition directly to Dread Empress. Catherine and Akua are almost certainly in a competition to decide the direction of the Dread Empire – and Akua is clearly aiming for Malicia’s spot. That bit about Catherine hearing the “Girl Who Climbed the Tower” song in her head was a pretty clear indication of where she’s headed eventually.

      Like

      1. Letouriste

        That’s bit of a long shot.i don’t expect her to give a shot at the tower before a few years…maybe just before the war with procer if malicia continue to prevent and slow the forming of that crusade

        Like

    1. Letouriste

      Why? They obviously still have feelings for each other;) I guess that will depend of how that next chapter will go.EE must have a lot of pressure on that,this conversation will not be easy to write right

      Like

  10. Sniggs44

    Ok, so a few things.

    First, Cat needs to learn when to shut the fuck up. Seriously, it’s gone way past “scrappy underdog facing down the man” and is now approaching “compulsive contrarian” territory. Warlock was obviously grieving, which means he wasn’t thinking rationally. You don’t play games with people when your carefully constructed mental model of them is so out of whack that you have no idea how they’ll react. She didn’t bravely face down a threat, she needlessly rolled some dice and got a 20. Stupid, stupid, pointless risk.

    Also, Warlock is a special flavor of the classical psychopath, in that he has empathy for a few select people in the world and treats the rest like furniture. Cat doesn’t fall into the first category, so she needs to be really fucking careful about how she approaches the guy who could disintegrate her with a gesture and then teleport away with no lasting consequences. Her puffing up when facing down the angel made sense, because it was necessary to get her in the right mindset to resist its mind control and win. Her mouthing off here only increased the odds that Warlock would snap and put that tiny bit of extra weight into the “Amadeus will forgive me” column. If the guy is searching for a reason to end you don’t go out of you way to hand him one.

    Second, now I’m worried that it may not be Black that goes off the rails due to Bard’s SAN attack, but the rest of the Calamities once he bites it. If he’s the only one they’re loyal to what’s guaranteeing their “good” behavior once he’s gone?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Darkening

      It was mentioned during her meeting with the Winter King that she pretty literally can’t help herself because of the way Names amplify personality traits, so her backing down in the face of a threat isn’t really in the cards, even if it would be smart. As for the calamities going nuts, yeah, that’s pretty likely. Captain’s dead, so no vicious werewolf running around slaughtering people, but something needs to happen with Warlock, especially after this chapter. Ranger should probably get taken out too, not just because she’ll probably take Black’s death poorly, but because she’s way too much an overpowered wild card in the story. Assassin and Scribe are more muted and less likely to cause mass death and destruction, but they might take it in their heads to kill off Catherine, I know seeing a second meeting between Assassin and Thief would be interesting.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Engineer

        Darkening and Keyen are right. Cat’s Name has always been likened to a voracious Beast and her Winter title is described similarly. Both of these traits were already present in pre Name Cat and now having them amplified by A Name and a Fae Winter title (Fae are notorious for being almost UNABLE to change their Nature) all but ensures Cat holding her tongue is about as easy as water spontaneously flowing uphill. After she left the tent she even said that the fury she felt wasn’t entirely her own.

        Sniggs, your assessment is valid for a regular mook with no Name. But Cat is Named and they shape Creation through their will. Look at Ranger, would you say her behaviour is any way sane? Look at Triumphant too, would you also say that her behavior is sane? Look at the successes those two have under their belt. In this world, like in One Piece, willpower is key to accomplishing great things and Cat has that in spades.

        And her assessment of Warlock was correct. He’s powerful, but he’s human, not a capital God. Weight is on Cat’s side in that fight, the Calamities’ time on the Stage is nearing it’s conclusion. It’s time for them to step down.

        Like

    2. Metrux

      The part about her mouthing off has been explained nicely by the others, so i’ll just adress the statement of disintegrating her with a gesture. First things first, she’s WAY more powerfull than before, more powerfull than any Squire has a right to be, and the story is on her side. If things last a while, which they would, given the low difference in raw power, Black would come, and we all already know which side he’d take. So, yeah, in a direct one on one fight Warlock is likely to kill her, not only defeat, but not fast and this would never be a straight and direct one on one, even the others of Cat’s band could come and get involved, I just don’t know if Masego would side with his father or Cat, especially because Archer would be with Cat… If this fight broke out, alot of common people would die in the fight, and Akua would probably see, but it would end with Warlock dead, not her.

      Like

  11. Thea

    I simply love Last Supper-style scenes like this. Last Barbecue. Whatever. So beautiful and strong. The next arc is going to be brutal, isn’t it?

    By the way… Doesn’t Cat have a nice, little pattern of three going with the Warlock? First time she couldn’t look him in the eyes. This time they parted equally exchanging threats. Next time… Time for Cat to Break Warlock in some manner?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Engineer

      Holy shit you’re right.

      And it fits too with the theme that the Calamities are on the way out too.

      Still all that can be avoided if Cat simply takes another Knight Name. Doesn’t succeed Black rather sidesteps and surpasses him. That’s the key to resolving this mess with all parties concerned more or less happy.

      Like

      1. It would fit… except that, theres been signs that you can’t be in more than one “pattern” at a time, and it was hinted at that Kat is in some kind of pattern with the White Knight… so I don’t think it works out

        Like

  12. It strikes me that Warlock really isn’t that far off from the standard villain mold at all. He’s a dangerous vindictive maniac who doesn’t really care about the Empire on a practical level like Black does. The only thing distinguishing him from other old guard Praesi is having a bit more sense, not caring about politics, and being loyal to the ur-protagonist.

    So considering that Black is planning to do away with that old order completely, Warlock might find that when the time comes he ends up the first to be purged.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Engineer

      Black definitely wouldn’t want to live anymore after he completed that plan. He’d be killing everyone he held dear to pave the way for Cat. Yeah, we saw how he was after Sabah died which was not entirely his own fault. Him having a direct hand in orchestrating the deaths of his friends would destroy the Black Knight completely. He’d be less than even a Monster after that is concluded. There’s simply no way he’s NOT swinging from the rafters (if he doesn’t get killed first) when all is said and done. He even said it himself, to prolong his existence after that would make him a crutch to Cat. That would be pretty fucking dark.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Morgenstern

      It’s been hinted at enough in Black’s own inner monologues, to be sure… How many of his friends will he have to kill off to ensure his desired end comes around, indeed…

      ..unless, of course, Cat becomes the grain in the machinery and DOES find another way out 😉 I’m really, really hoping for this. Though I, too, somehow feel and have felt for quite some time, that Warlock should be on the list to go at least BEFORE she can find a way out (though I really, really hope she does and this is NOT a “mentor must get lost first”, traditions-bullshit story in this aspect, after all; I like Black WAY too much – and as others have said here again: she is STILL not ready to be a replacement. Yeah, she’s become more awesome. Doesn’t quite nail it YET, at least, though – and frankly, I’m simply tired of this killing off the mentor bullshit, instead of finding their own way by OTHER means, e.g. by DISAGREEING with the mentor BEFORE he finds some peaceful end after some happy-ever-after TIME at least, instead of dropping him in the middle of the story, because somehow that’s how stories supposedly go. Drop dead, Bard. Fanclub Black wants to keep Black just as much as Cat does.. Let her succeed. Black Queen ftw!)

      Like

      1. Morgenstern

        Somehow it would feel kinda unexpected-but-unexpectedly-appropriate to me, if Wekesa would find himself doing some “throwing HIMSELF in front of his friend to save him from certain death”-move instead of the traditional “that is only for heroes, villains only ever get revenge”… this is supposed to be an UNtraditional story, right? 😉 Let him do something less than expected, while still fitting in character.. do the same for other plots that everyone seems to feel-know “have to be” simply because “that’s how stories usually go, can’t be any other way”… Pretty please? -o.O´

        😉

        Like

      2. Metrux

        I… Think Black won’t want to stay, even if she does sidestep and no one else dies. He’s broken and sacrificed too much for the objective, after this is done, he will have nothing to live for. He has, already, nothing else to live for, even his “family”, counting the Calamities, Malicia and Cat, are all things he needed to make it happen. If he does survive until the end, he will end up a depressed philosofical machine, cold and bare on the inside. I’d rather see him die than live like that…

        Like

  13. Mike E.

    I feel bad for those two guards…knowing what we know from 1-7 about how violent two Named can be, they probably needed a change of underwear after hearing Cat and Warlock threatening each other.

    ““The last time they had a spar without holding back, Captain knocked down a tower and Lord Black threw a whole statue at her,” he informed me cheerfully. “Hilarious at the time, of course, but the local baron was less than pleased.””

    Like

  14. Shoddi

    “To stabbing Diabolist in the face,” Archer said. “Like, at least twice.”
    “To claiming her personal possessions afterwards,” Masego contributed.

    Hahaha!! That’s the most hilariously formal rendition of “Kill Them, Take Their Stuff” I’ve seen. How did Robber miss that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Engineer

      He didn’t. Remember he offered Hierophant a spot in his tribe right after that. Or at least said if Masego continued on that trend he would. He didn’t miss it.

      Like

  15. Green I Guess

    I think that Killian is the traitor in the camp. Akua could have tempted her after she broke up with Cat and Killian was refused (by Cat) her ascension. Akua has all sorts of nasty old sorcery secrets she could have given Killian in order to have the legion mage send information unnoticed. It seemed a little coincidental that we were reminded this chapter about all those old Praesi magic hoards again, to me at least.

    Like

  16. Blue

    Black is currently the thing keeping monstrosities like Warlock in check. And Warlock is a monster. He takes people apart just to figure out how they work and Heirophant is no less of a psychopath just colder. They are evil in the true sense with nothing noble driving their actions. Cat at least has the motivation to free Callow behind what she is doing. What Cat is going to have to come to terms with is how to keep them in check. She’s ok to kill Warlock since she can see him for the monster he is, without it being clouded by being his friend like she is with Hierophant.
    And that brings us to Killian. I wonder if Cat is finally seeing her hypocrisy when it comes to how she reacted with Killian. Maybe she didn’t like the mirror being held up to show that she loves people who are capable of doing terrible things to make them more powerful. Some part of Cat does not like being reminded that she is the villain and she took it all out in Killian. They can get past this but Cat will need to start treating Killian like an equal, or maybe Killian can make her see her as such. I mean who’s to say that Summers mantle is not available for someone to step up to take.

    Like

  17. nigeltheoutlaw

    As much as I love some good violence and story, you seriously do dialogue and companionship very well. I’d love to see more chapters like this (especially with Robber) even if it means less action.

    Good shit as always, you’re in my top three web serials around.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. First,
    I know I’m bucking the consensus here. Yet I really want Cat and Killian to reconcile. What Killian lacked was the screen time and the circumstances to grant her the kind of depth we see in the other members of Cat’s inner circle. (Which by no means are all Named. Juniper, Aisha, Ratface, Robber and Pickler are all significant to Cat as well.)

    Cat recognizing the hypocrisy in her refusal of Killian’s need would be a great start. I’d love to see Cat showing her support, despite her distaste, by doing the manual scut-work to set up Masego’s ritual for Killian. That all this ruminating on death and mortality, and her regrets about Nauk and the Gallowborne being where they could get hurt and exterminated respectively due to her call has allowed Cat to recognize that what she potentially has with Killian shouldn’t be discarded because of a principle she already tramples on regularly. I think if we get to see more of Killian in-depth, in addition to her relevance being increased due to an increase in her power, perhaps Killian might win over some of her detractors here.

    Second, as other have said, Cat ruminated on the fact that just like Masego’s obsession with accuracy was amplified by his being Named, Cat’s inability to hold her tongue even when common sense dictates is her amplified behavior…all the way back during her endowment as a Duchess of Winter.

    Third, for those in the camp of “Squire is enough of a Name for Cat” I say: Masego’s patch-job on Cat’s soul is fairly flimsy. Not only is that patch-job vulnerable to external attack (And as we saw when Summer assaulted Liesse, Diabolist’s Aspects aren’t so much Devil/Demon-focused, as focused on entities and powers foreign to Creation. Diabolist has just the kind of Name to give her the tools to turn Cat’s Winter power against her. Why do you think she sacrificed a mage minion as a spy during her attempted parley with Cat to get an in-person read on Cat’s Fae Power Level. Better than almost anyone else, Akua is likely to understand the implications of a mortal being invested with X, Y or Z amount of Fae Power.)

    So there’s the glaring external attack probability. Masego ALSO said, however, that Cat’s very use of her power now that she’s the Last of Winter is breaking down his patch-job…and any major uses of that power accelerates the erosion of his patching. Warlock wasn’t just blowing smoke. He’s an expert in soul architecture and BOUNDARIES. Look at the precision assessment of his Watch-member prisoner via the blood-ritual. That was without even knowing anything substantive about the source of the Watch’s power. The Fae he understands far, far better.

    Cat is going to need to make a metaphysical change of some sort. Warlock’s assessment that her foundations are shaking isn’t empty. Masego constructing the array he said would take months of tinkering to manage to more comprehensively shore up Cat’s soul isn’t really a viable alternative. She’d essentially be undergoing months of in-patient care. Even if the actual array wouldn’t take months to implement, Cat would almost certainly have to be present for Masego to continually study as he worked out how to create this lasting, one-of-a-kind long-term working.

    Even if Cat’s dance card wasn’t absolutely full to the brim with aiding Black with the Praes purge and getting it ready to beat back the Crusade, she has the ongoing stability of Callow to contend with. Then coming up and enacting those measures she considers necessary to create as insurance for Callow’s survival should Praes be defeated in the Crusade. Followed by actually helping fight against the Crusade for however long it lasts. Plus whatever else the “Uncivil War*S*” entail. Even if it weren’t for all that, Masego said even if he did all that work, she’d still be vulnerable, because her Winter power is no longer INTRINSIC.

    Either the Winter Power has to go (I think that ship has sailed. It seems from the text bound up in more than one way with the Beast of her Name)…or something has to happen to make that power once more Intrinsic to Cat. Name mechanics are the only thing that would allow such a radical integration IMHO.

    I’ve always felt the Winter Knight talk misses the mark…but I think it’s correct in its implications that a Name Change is necessary to incorporate what Cat’s become into something more naturally her. Something that say, fuses the shadow-stuff of Squire with that Winter ice.

    A lateral transition from the assume White Knight/Black Knight inevitability does seem the only option.

    Apologies for the text wall. Hope it didn’t trigger a tl;dr.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is a very good comment, thanks for writing it! I think you have a solid grasp on the magic system in play here. I especially like your portratal of the powers of Warlock and Diabolist, as being focused on boundaries and noncreational powers respectively (I know noncreational isn’t right word, but I haven’t read the pigdragon chapter where Masego explains this stuff in a long time).

      I’m going to have to review that chapter as well as the one with Warlock and the watch member you cite.

      I’m just curious, but how long have you been following the story? I have a theory that the later you get here (ie, the more chapters you get to binge at once), the more likely you are to understand it deeply. A little time for reflection is good, but too much time and you’re going to start talking yourself into nonsense. I know I have before. xD

      Like

  19. Anyone else think cat will kill black because diabolist magic ward isn’t for cat but for black and it controls minds. Random thought at 3 am on a workday. That’s how good a story this is.

    Like

  20. John Galt

    Typo:
    He’d tightened her cloak around her shoulders, earlier, gentle in a way I’d never [seen] Masego be with anything but books.

    Like

  21. Blinks

    Best part of that for me was those two soldiers outside the tent.

    I mean, if there was anywhere they’d less likely want to be at that moment…

    Like

  22. @Warren Peace NFL Report:
    Glad you liked it, and TY for your kind words 🙂 Umm…I’d say I’ve been here since around the time when Cat was discovering her Name wasn’t working right after she’d joined the War College (because it’d been damaged by her allowing William to escape in Summerholm)…so, quite awhile.

    On the other hand, I’m part of an active discussion on at least two forums where people discuss the Guide in-depth. (The better, but less active, discussion is definitely on Spacebattles.) So, I spend a lot of time analyzing and re-reviewing Guide chapters to connect the dots.

    I really, truly believe the big takeaway from everything going on is that the Cat-as-semi-permanent Squire” theory has been shot all to hell with her Winter power turning non-Intrinsic ever since she a) Got her real heart back, but more because b) The fae are now Swinter instead of Summer/Winter.

    So long as she’s got that glaring “My soul architecture is a house of cards, waiting for either the appropriate practitioner to reach in and wreck it, or a sufficiently dire situation causes me to draw so deeply on my Winter powers I shatter Masego’s patch-job” weakness…Cat is profoundly unfit to move beyond the Diabolist fight.

    Truthfully, I see the things Warlock said as prophetic FOR the Diabolist fight. Her struggling with wards, being vulnerable to Diabolist because she’s now “Other” etc etc.

    If I was pinned down and forced to make a prediction, I’d say that the climax of her conflict with Akua is also likely to be where the Name Mechanics change for Cat…to address this Winter Vulnerability that’s been mentioned directly about twelve times now.

    Like

    1. Jason Ipswitch

      Delurking to share my theory on what could happen:

      Diabolist uses Claim on Cat’s winter power. Cat responds by Taking Claim, then Cat using Claim on herself to ascend to her new Name.

      Like

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