Villainous Interlude: Crescendo

“Then let us be wicked,
Let us be reddest ruin
Rent, broken, crooked
Black hearted and cruel

Then let us be doom,
To both friend and foe
Fly banner of gloom
We lowest of the low

Rise, rise all ye villains
You rogues and madmen
Proudly claim the stage,
Of this wondrous age

We are not kind or just
Deserving of any victory
We are a thing of dust
Promised only misery

So smile, Tyrants,
And let us be wicked”

– Final monologue of “The Many Deaths of Traitorous”, a play on the reign of the Dread Emperor Traitorous

In the depths of the city of Liesse, beyond layers upon layers of wards and traps, there was a room. For more than a year it had been slowly crafted to perfection, and for years before that had Akua Sahelian spent days and nights refining its design. Removing impurities and inefficiencies, balancing ease of use and breadth of effect so that only a single soul in all of Creation could use it as it was meant to be used. Should she live for a hundred thousand years she would never make anything half so great, for it was the culmination of everything that she was. All that she loved and hated, all that had made and fought her. There had been a child, once, who looked upon pyramids of mud and blood and felt awe. At the skill, at the scope, at the power that still dwelled within – and though Tasia Sahelian had toiled greatly to make a hollow husk of that girl, a mere receptacle for her ambitions, that spark of wonder had never been snuffed out. It had grown into flame, and that sacred burn coursed through her veins today. And it whispered of triumph.

Diabolist felt the city pulse like a living creature, arrays of sorcery spread across it like arteries all leading back to the heart that was her. In this moment, she knew, she was half a god. How easy it would have been to grow drunk on that might, had she been of a lesser line. But she was a Sahelian, the blood of the original murder. The killers of the first empress, who’d writ the truth of Praes in blood and treachery. Her forbears had been kings and queens, and Tyrants more than once. Rule, the ownership of power however fleeting it may be, was nothing less than her birth right. Walls of carved stone around her were as a pond, and on those reflective facades she saw the Legions of Terror standing with a man before them. The Black Knight, she thought, spoke well. Yet it was wrong, for him to be the speaker. It should have been Catherine Foundling, her match and mirror. Her red right hand in the making. Once she had thought too little of the Squire, believed her to be nothing more than tool and obstacle, but how she had learned since. Fasili had once remarked it was a shame Foundling was not born Praesi, for she had the seeds of greatness in her, but Akua knew better.

It had to be this way. It was the fire, the righteous indignation that made Squire who she was – a burn no lesser than Diabolist’s own. If she’d never been crushed underfoot, she would never have risen from it fangs bared. The Soninke closed her eyes and smiled. She could glimpse the ending of their story already, grasp the edges of its shape with her fingers. Akua would break Catherine Foundling, shatter her beyond repair, and the creature of jagged edges and hatred that remained after would kneel at her feet. And what a fearsome monster she would be, upon emerging from that crucible. She would sweep through Diabolist’s foes with fire and sword, a woe on all she faced worthy of the name bestowed upon her. It made Akua shiver in pleasure just to think of it. The Diabolist opened her eyes and let the words of the Carrion Lord burrow into her ears. The only distraction was her father’s shuffling at her side, for there was only one seat in this room and it would not tolerate the sitting of any but her.

“He’s not wrong, Mpanzi,” Dumisai of Aksum said. “They say nowadays that the legions won that civil war, the orcs and the goblins, but I remember it still. The Calamities owned it body and soul: it defined them as much as their Names. Better not to fight them at all.”

Spoken, she thought, as a man who could have been the Warlock but chose obscurity over the uncertainty of struggle. The odds, she knew, would not have been in her father’s favour. The Sovereign of the Red Skies had begun to earn his title when he was still the Apprentice, and though claimants gained powers when embracing their claim Lord Wekesa would have had the full might of his old Name behind him. Yet it was never a certainty, that an Apprentice would become the Warlock. Praesi Names were never easily won. Akua loved her father, but she would not deny that in the face of offered greatness he had flinched.

“I do not hate them,” Diabolist said. “Nor the Empress. For all their flaws, they sought to make our people rise. I am not Mother, Papa – I do not despise what they are. It is a mistake made in good faith, and killing them was never the point of this. I am surpassing them. If that must involve taking their lives, then so be it.”

And how long had she dreamed of this, of escaping the shackles? The Carrion Lord had been right, in part. They could not win the war by repeating the same defeat with a hundred different fresh faces. But the pair that ruled Praes had abandoned everything that the peoples of the Wasteland were to avoid another disgrace, and that was a betrayal greater than mere failure. They could win and still be Praesi, Akua knew. Go to your grave gladly, Black Knight, having learned the truth of that – you were, for all your weaknesses, a patriot. She would not deny the fearsome depth of that loyalty, however twisted it was. The man’s words ended in the tired adage of the Legions, screamed back by the soldiers, and Diabolist rose to her feet.

“Go,” she told her father. “And stay safe. You are worth more to me than petty victories.”

His arms wrapped around her and for a heartbeat she was a child again, his chin nestled atop her head.

“Live,” he whispered. “Whatever the cost, whatever the consequences. Live. Nothing else matters.”

“Believe in me,” she asked.

“’til my last breath and beyond,” he promised.

No empty words, coming from a sorcerer who knew the mysteries he did. He left after that, the passing warmth of him lingering behind. Diabolist stood before the rune-inscribed walls and laid a single finger on them. They lit up like a starry sky, reaching for a hundred different arrays spread across houses and bastions and pits. The Carrion Lord had spoken for the ruling order, for the woman who held the Tower. She would speak, then, for the Wasteland. For the Empire that was and would be, for the greatness that was not yet forgot. Akua Sahelia stood proud, for there was more to her than mere ambition.

“We are,” she said quietly, “the last of the Praesi.”

They would hear her, her words carried by sorcery worn and ancient. They would hear her and know they might be wicked but they were not wrong.

“The Tower,” Akua said, “is in the hands of a woman who would rule us forever. Before us stand her legions of dupes, led by her most loyal hound. Your heard them speak of dues, and so know they deny the oldest truth of our empire: there are no equals.”

It was like drinking spring water, to speak words she truly meant instead of whatever must be said to gain. Relief, that after years of scuttling in the dark she could raise her true banner.

“There are the rulers and the ruled,” she said. “The greater and the lesser. To deny this is to deny the Gods themselves, for that is how they made us. And now our Empress bows and scrapes to a conquered people, ignoring the reality that saw them conquered.”

She let silence ring loudly.

Power,” she hissed.

There were others in foreign lands that would call this ugly truth, but she spoke to Praesi: the people of altars and pacts, of naked ruthless ambition. What she offered them now was the song of their ancestors, sung anew with fresh promise.

“Twenty years ago, we were more powerful than the people of Callow,” she continued. “Twenty years ago we were better than them, for beyond all the lies and stories that is the bare truth of Creation: the powerful own the world.”

A laugh escaped her lips, sharply mocking.

“They call themselves a different breed, these hypocrites, but what is arrayed before you? Mere force of arms.”

And her people knew steel, that old friend of ambition. How many of their ancestors had claimed the Tower wielding it?

“In the end, all they are is another movement in the Great Game. The enemy might be powerful, but that should bring you no fear.”

She leaned forward, hard-eyed.

“Iron sharpens iron, and when we emerge victorious we will be so sharp a blade as to make the world tremble.”

Akua smiled, a display that should have been beneath her but at this last pivot of her life was not.

“Glory in this day, sons and daughters of Praes,” she said. “The Age of Wonders is upon you, and though it is great and terrible to behold, let Creation remember this – so are we.”

And in the wake of her words, as the Legions advanced and flanking forces sallied, sorcery bloomed. No wild cheers, from the people of the Wasteland. Acclaim came in the form of death unleashed. A thousand mages stirred to action, and when they struck it was with the wrath of a people cheated their destiny. How long had it been, since Calernia last saw the finest of Praes moved to war? Too long. With every streak of lighting and storm of flame that balance was redressed, and in the face of steel a rolling wave of power was sent forth. It would have swept the legionaries aside like kindling, had it touched them.

It did not, because the Sovereign of the Red Skies had taken the field.

High above a star was born, and it came into the world with a keening cry. It pulled the sorcery like a withdrawing tide, swept it upwards until it was filled and a ring of raging sorcery detonated across the sky with a sound like thunder. The mage lines of the Legions, these half-mages minted and spent like cheap copper, gave answer. A dozen rituals burned and massive lances of flame were sent at Akua’s bastions, but what did she care? These were but pale imitations, and the original stood arrayed against them. Half the lances dispersed within a heartbeat of being thrown, the formulas torn apart like the half-baked jokes they were, and the rest were turned against their own side. The fires changed from lances to beasts, lions and snakes and tigers, and with dull roars they attacked the advancing legionaries. Dozens died incinerated within moments, before the Carrion Lord lent the weight of his aspects to the men and led them through the inferno. Lead, Akua thought. Conquer. Not tools for the killing of heroes but for the leading of armies, and as the Black Knight’s mantled came upon them the legionaries became more. Swifter, stronger, indifferent to the raging flames.

The Diabolist did not strike as the Sixth Legion followed the Carrion Lord in his sweeping advance, turning her eyes to the sky instead. There a single silhouette rode a winged steed stolen from Arcadia, cloak of many colours streaming behind her. An artefact in the making, gathering weight with every fallen army stitched onto the rest. Already Akua suspected sorcery would slide over like like water off a duck’s back, and it was still nascent to its true form. Squire would strike at the heart of the enemy, for that was her nature. Not through aspects, it was too early for that, but Catherine Foundling had another signature. The winged steed passed over the ranks of dead manning the entrenched palisades, deftly avoiding spellfire from the bastions as a simple knife cut down what appeared to be sacks tied to the sides of the mount. When the first arrow took flight from impossibly far, flames coating it, Diabolist almost laughed. There it was. One, two, three – eight in whole. Every single sack of goblinfire was ignited while still dropping, and fell like green rain over the wights. Some reached the bastions filled with mages and engines, but there were panes of force awaiting. The goblinfire burned into them, but they were thrown aside and her sorcerers left untouched. Her general’s careful experimentation with the most dangerous tools of the Legions had paid fruit.

Diabolist returned to her seat, settling against the wooden frame as her eyes remained fixed on the unfolding battle. Soon. She would have preferred to let the Legions overcommit, but the Warlock would soon go on the offensive and he was not to be taken lightly. The Fifteenth, she saw, was not part of the assault. A reserve, likely kept for when the walls were breached. It would serve other purpose, but Akua was not displeased. They would be tied up regardless, removed from the equation. That was how her enemies would lose, in the end. Dispersed to deal with half a dozen threats, they would fall one by one. The Sixth Legion reached the outer field of traps, and Akua’s mages triggered their arrays. Within three heartbeats what had been an empty field was filled with howling lesser devils.

And then they died.

Diabolist froze, blood going cold. Every single devil summoned by the arrays had turned into red dust before so much as striking a blow. The Warlock’s doing, it could only be him, but how had he known? He’d have needed to begin casting before the triggers, which meant…  Someone has studied the lay of our defences, she realized. And done so with a great deal of precision. Akua’s fingers tightened around the arms of her chair. It might be assumed that the devils in the secondary arrays would meet the same fate, and without them serving as a slowing mechanism for the advance of the Legions then soon her palisades would be under assault. And with the goblinfire already thinning the ranks of the dead, they would break. Now. It had to be now.

The Diabolist breathed out and her mind stilled. It’d been seven years now, since she had separated her soul from her earthly flesh. It had spared her ugly end in this very city, once, and from that it was likely her foes had come to assume it was a measure meant for her preservation. To ensure that even if her body was destroyed, she could invest another and continue her plans. As it happened, that had merely been a fortunate consequence. Akua had removed her soul in preparation for something… greater. In the depths of the Ducal Palace, where the anchor of her great working awaited, a small cylinder of pure obsidian covered in runes lit up. Inside it was bound her soul, but it was no mere phylactery. It was a key. Her soul touched the untold millions of dead Deoraithe she had caged, connecting to the greater weave. All over Liesse runes burned bright, the glare alone melting stone and shattering wood around them as the greatest ritual Praes had seen since the days of Triumphant began.

Runic letters formed in front of her, a contract written, and then she gave the sorcery shape.

On the plains to the flank of the encroaching legions, a dot of yellow flame formed. In it the contract she had written shone, and the flame grew. An empty circle was forged, the diameter half a mile wide, and the yellow flame solidified. Creation screamed, screamed in protest as it was ripped apart forcefully and the Hellgate opened. Not a Lesser Breach, but a Greater. The first since the fall of Keter, and unlike the Dead King she would not be forbidden a second. The souls of the Deoraithe were not spent, merely thinned, and would coalesce again in a matter of days. It would take her even longer to stabilize her own, but the true terror of her work was the scale. Distance meant nothing, to sufficient power. She could open a gate in the heartlands of the Principate without moving ,if she so wished. Akua Sahelian’s army was the entirety of all the Hells, and as the first devil crossed her gate, the binding she had written in the flame leashing it to her will, she laughed. The host at her disposal was without end, and she had crafted this ritual so it could only ever answer to her. The array was part of her, as much as any limb or drop of blood.

Waves of wasted power coursed into the escapements she had designed so very carefully, empowering wards that would have taken hundreds of mages to use and just like that Liesse… disappeared. Forced half a step out of Creation. There had been a reason that she had chosen the southern city out of all the governorships she could have secured. The corpse of the angel, though left behind, had ensured that Liesse was always slightly askew from Creation. Easier to move, and given clear boundary by the ancient wards surrounding it. And so now the city was out of reach, save for one entrance she had crafted herself. It lay at the heart of her fortifications on the plains, and the enemy would bleed themselves dry trying to take it. All that planning from the clever generals on the other side yet here they stood now, the forces meant to assault the walls on the sides utterly useless and the exposed flank of the army facing endless onslaught.

Hell began pouring out of the Breach, and the Diabolist smiled the smile of a woman who was going to conquer the world.

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172 thoughts on “Villainous Interlude: Crescendo

  1. JC

    ” The host at her disposal was without end, and she had crafted this ritual so it could only ever answer to her.”

    Sorry Malicia.

    The disappearance of Liesse… does that mean Cat rules over part of the Hells now?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Darkening

      Well, there’s always mindraping her with Speaking, assuming she’s correct about it being unusable by anyone else. I doubt Malicia would care too much about having to turn someone into a brainwashed puppet to use her weapon. That does assume Akua survives the day, which Black and Cat are hilariously unlikely to allow if they can possibly avoid it.

      Like

    2. Vhostym

      The principle of sorcery is usurpation. Also, since Akua is a villain, the mere claim that it is unusable by someone else is the assurance that it will be used by someone else.

      Still though, a very nice setup for a climactic showdown. And I’m hoping that this is what Malicia intended when she referenced using Akua, because otherwise that likely means she had something else up her sleeves.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. I think she forgot about the part where she earned her name summoning demons and devils and then having Cat beat her up and steal them. I’m just wondering whether she’ll keep the breach open or close it after she deals with Akua. Probably close it, devils are a pain to deal with even if you do control them.

      Like

  2. RoflCat

    >She could glimpse the ending of their story already, grasp the edges of its shape with her fingers. Akua would break Catherine Foundling, shatter her beyond repair, and the creature of jagged edges and hatred that remained after would kneel at her feet. And what a fearsome monster she would be, upon emerging from that crucible. She would sweep through Diabolist’s foes with fire and sword, a woe on all she faced worthy of the name bestowed upon her.

    So…Akua’s plan is possibly binding Cat’s soul or something after crushing her, to make her a forever loyal minion?
    …Somehow I get a feeling that’s a terrible idea given all the tidbits of Callowan revenges we’ve heard about.
    Or rather, considering that while Akua have shown she can do necromancy, Cat is the one who made her Winter-zombies army, so if this Story is going to end with one of them crushing the other and force them into submission, my bet is on the one whose whole reputation is crushing any fuckers who try to crush her.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Erfling

        Whispers abound through creation:

        Squire died once already.

        Squire uses corpses as weapons.

        Squire raises armies of the dead to fight for her.

        A Squire must become a knight, but who says it has to be only Black or White?

        Liked by 4 people

  3. Big Brother

    This is why I love Akua’s perspective. Honestly, she’s had just as much, if not more, growth than Cat throughout this story. And the ability to open multiple Greater Hellgates wasn’t even close to what I thought her superweapon would be.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. soonnanandnaanssoon

      It’s more than just opening a Greater Breach. Liesse is a mobile fortress. Imagine a flying castle landing near you, opening a hellgate and then phasing out of creation so you can’t damage it while a swarm of devils and potentially demons assault you. It’s simultaneously a long-term offense and a short-term defense given mobility and reproducibility. I’m honestly impressed.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. soonnanandnaanssoon

        Edit: I misread the distance part. The ability to spawn a devil spawning point is from anywhere in Creation is strategically terrifying.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. sheer_falacy

        It’s stronger than that – it doesn’t need to land near you. She believes she can open a greater hellgate anywhere in the world. She just opened this one nearby because of the enemy armies.

        Liked by 4 people

      3. Apathy-Peeves

        Actually, slightly wrong here. Akua could open a Greater Hellgate anywhere on the continent without moving. She just opened it where it currently is because well, that’s where she need it.

        Like

    2. Tolack

      I have a hope that I can’t see happening, but hope I shall. I want to see Akua “live, no matter the consequences” be subjugated by Cathrine. I just can’t see a better nemisis for Cat other than Akua, and I wonder just what it’d look like to have Akua work for Cathrines goals. Bloody good writing.

      Like

    3. Vortex

      Also consider that a greater hellgate is what created the first Dead Kingdom and that little area is one of the scariest places on the continent. The Dead King has his own collection of dead heroes he has amassed over the years.

      Like

    4. Honestly, I don’t think she’s really gotten any character development. She’s only acknowledged half of one truth since the story started (that Cat is important to her story, but not that Cat has any real chance of beating her despite being blatantly set up as the protagonist and having surprised Akua with her success every time they’ve clashed). She’s had a lot of character *revelation*, especially in this chapter, but that’s very different from character *growth*.

      And yeah, her superweapon is utterly terrifying. I wonder how it’s going to end up broken/deactivated/turned against her.

      Like

      1. me.me.here

        My bet is that her body will be killed. She’s turned her soul into the key to using the superweapon, but that just means Cat will have Hierophant usurp her autonomy and have her spend the rest of eternity as a lynchpin for the Woe’s use of the Greater Breach Generator.

        Like

      2. ArkhCthuul

        I agree meme.
        That would be.hilariously village.

        Also, that is a much smarter and less directly kablooy superweapon than expected, well.done!

        Like

  4. werafdsaew

    Taking out her trump card so soon? Tactically it is sound, but narratively it is stupid, as it ensures that the enemy has all the initiative, leaving you with nothing to counter whatever surprises the enemy has to offer. Contrast this with Black Knight’s fight against the White Knight, where he avoided using his last aspect until the White Knight used his.

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    1. Gunslinger

      Yeah but she realizes that thief did leak all of her plans and traps meaning the warlock would have planned for them ahead of time. This is why pure magic build is a dumb idea Akua

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yup, her plan lies solely on her superweapon, rather than on her ability to plan around what the enemy is doing. She left them with a (nearly) full bag of tricks. Hell, Cat hasn’t even used a freaking aspect yet. The Fae we’re arguably a tougher enemy, even though this will be Cat’s defining victory of the Book.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. amc

        Isn’t part of cat’s legend her unpredictability? there was some quote early on about boxing cat in and how she’d take the box and beat you with it…

        it’s probably a good idea for any opponent of cat’s to realize they can’t out-weird her, and just not try…

        Like

    3. Thanatos

      Yes but that’s half the point. Diabolist hates that Black fights in such a strategic, calculated manner and using only the force necessary to win. It doesn’t matter to her that it works and this chapter exemplifies that mindset and why it made some of the Tyrants so terrifying.

      Here Diabolist has riled up her enemy and seen them defeat what they believed to be one of her trump cards (her bound devils) and the moment they thought they were winning she showed that all there efforts were wasted against her. That sort grandstanding victory is far more important to Diabolist’s character than any advantage that hiding her trump cards could give her.

      Like

  5. Gunslinger

    Bloody hell this was brilliant. Right from the poetry at the start. That Akua was going to open a greater breach was expected, but the ability to open any number, across any distance, without fear of Keter’s due is scary.

    On a side note I am not sure what the passage describing Cat means. Is it the cloak turning into an artefact that deflects magic, or is it Cat that would simply deflect magic. The latter would be the logical option but the passage does not make it clear. Also I wonder if the Diabolist knows how thinly Cat’s soul is bound and is planning on “binding” it under her service. Either usurp the protection Masego added or force Cat to renounce her humanity, turning into full fae and then some secret part of her bind aspect would allow her to control her.

    Like

    1. Darkening

      She refers to sorcery sliding off the surface of ‘it’, so I assume it’s the cloak that she’s saying would repel sorcery. Interesting to see objects can take on power just by being in proximity to a named and being part of their narrative. It certainly makes sense, and is a fun idea. Wonder if Ranger’s swords are special in a similar way? Hm.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Well, this is the cloak Cat has been given by Black, and she already mentioned during the fight with the Duke of Violent Squalls that it could already resist magic. The main property of the artifact would be something else.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. TheCount

        i like the idea as well, its certanly good to give major characters a signature item, even more so if they can grow with them. There is the pure awesomness and heartwarming when a normal item you started with from the begining stays with you and becomes a mighty artifact as you go on:D

        i dont think its only ranger’s sword that are like this, probably her cloak as well.

        now, we can guess what the if and what the other named’s items are like this:D
        (i think the legion is Black’s 😮 )

        Like

      3. naturalnuke

        Swords that can cut anything because they have a long history of cutting everything? That sounds like and rangeresque artifact

        Like

    2. Author Unknown

      Forged in Goblin’s Fire,
      Quenched in Winter’s Chill.
      This Mantle,
      This Mantle of Woe.

      Proof against sorcerous ire,
      And naked steel.
      This Mantle,
      This Mantle of Woe.

      Stitched by an undead hand,
      A band for every foe.
      This Mantle,
      This Mantle of Woe.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. TheCount

        Nice one, would listen to the other parts of the song too….
        its just me, or its similar to the ring’s story from LOTR?

        Like

  6. narcoduck

    It’s interesting that Malicia plans to usurp Akua’s superweapon, a mobile fortress that can open the gates of Hell, while Cordelia has her own superweapon termed ‘the Stairway’ (Heroic Interlude: Riposte). Can anyone say MAD?

    Like

    1. Dainpdf

      The problem with MAD is that they would have a pretty stark cold war going… With the difference that Cordelia could never depose Malicia because whoever came after her would probably press the button, consequences be damned.

      Like

      1. Oshi

        Malicia uses her own enemies to insure her eternal rule and the safety of The Wasteland. Pretty fucking evil in my book and perfect for whos she is.

        Like

    1. Nostradamus

      Akua wants to conquer Cat as much as she does Calernia. She means for Catherine to become her soulbound Black Knight and serve as her right hand, likely steeped in blood.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Nafram

    Well, now I know for certain that, even should Akua win this day with seemingly impossible odds on her favor (a nearly impregnable fortress and a virtually inexhaustible supply of troops with her enemy likely caught off guard), then she wouldn’t survive much longer. Sure, she would likely become a second Triumphant, but the whole “Open portals to hell anywhere and control all demons that come out of it” thing is too much Hero bait. She would be flooded by every single hero in the world, and eventually, one would succeed. Should humans fail, then the Dwarfs and every other Superpower out there would be out for her blood once she started expanding out

    Liked by 3 people

    1. And, she’s created herself a Bond Villain fortress OF DOOM! To the right Hero, it might as well be putting out a Welcome mat with the key to the control room under it. I can see why TWB doesn’t really mind Akua all that much: she’s got a limited shelf-life. <_<

      Any bets on trapdoors/shoots somewhere to dump people into? Maybe a small hellgate? No? 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dainpdf

        Yeah, that’s the problem with her superweapon. How long before an anti demon hero appears? Exorcist, Inquisitor, Templar or something like that?

        Like

      1. When the Dead King created his breach, the Dwarves said “Nope” and sealed up every tunnel that got near his domain. I imagine they’d do the same here. They’re strong, but they’re not *that* strong.

        (Plus, they’re Dwarves. They know what happens if they dig too deep and uncover demons from Hell.)

        Like

    2. Gotta agree with you. The way I see it, there are two possibilities: Either her powers really are beyond anything else in Calernia or they aren’t. If they aren’t, then everyone will band together to defeat her, and if they are, the gnomes will probably make an exception to their “only stomp on nonmagical technology” rule.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. oldschoolvillain

      Oh gods, Triumphant (may she never return).
      Remember what Robber said, way back when? “When she croaked it, several of her legions went down with her. Odds are they ended up in the same place. Old girl conquered more with less.”
      Triumphant has been brought up a couple times already this book, and EE has shown that they can set up long term Chekhov’s guns. What if Dread Empress Triumphant is about to return?

      Like

  8. d_o_l

    Alright, place your bets on who’s dying:

    Diabolist 3:1
    Black 3:2
    At least one of the generals 1:1
    Warlock 1:3
    At least one of Cat’s crew 1:4
    Killian 1:5
    Hakram 1:6
    Thief 1:8
    Hierophant 1:10
    Archer 1:15
    Malicia (cause fuck it, why not?) 1:50

    Liked by 1 person

    1. PhDEevee

      I’d put good money on Warlock dying, actually. Why? 1) Akua is playing with boundaries, which is Warlock’s strong point, which means he’ll probably do something. 2) Black seems to have started a story arc where all of the Calamities die (and I bet he or Ranger will be the last. 3) Warlock’s son has come into his own name (it’s no longer relevant to teach Apprentice). And 4) Warlock’s already shown signs of coming apart at the seams.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Istrid dies and Juniper more than takes up her mantle.
      Diabolist dies, but not to her own machinations, and not to any other sorcery. She dies a clean death under the blade of Squire.
      Black dies at the same time as Diabolist. The death of the two fuel her accent into a Name greater than that of a Knight.

      Everyone else is fine, Lillian maybe not so.
      5 is s magic number for groups.

      Like

    3. Letouriste

      Black will not die before a long time,he is still too plot relevant and him dying now would lead to malicia killing cat so 100% unlikely.99%?

      i think one or two generals could die+diabolist and her father for sure.
      Warlock should not die here,I think black still need him narratively and I doubt that guy could die easily anyway,too intelligent.the others should be safe,injuries at most.

      Like

      1. Metrux

        Actually, Malicia is only helping Cat because she want Cat on her side AFTER Black’s death. There on the beggining, when she first sent for Cat to come speak with her, seh sayd that Squire is to succeed a Knight, and that she thought that is why Black chose her. So if Black dies, Malicia ust stays the same with Cat.

        Like

      2. letouriste

        @metrux: yes but that was BEFORE she pretty much proclamed herself queen and gained all that strenght.she is useful but really hard to contain and i doubt malicia would hesitate much to kill cat if her plan to delay or even stop the crusade succeed.
        from what i understand about malicia,all her plans have several benefits.she helped cat against the fae and at the same time she enforced her control on her.she made cat doubt black etc…

        she hope cat will not threathen her position that way…but she also is ready to kill her if that is judged nessesary.she is not close to cat emotionaly and she is probably ready to fight her close friends if they are not useful anyway;)

        Like

  9. So, I take it that Akua doesn’t know yet that Catherine had recruited the Thief, nor that she probably entered the city before the fighting even started? The only reason why Squire wouldn’t use the same trick as from the skirmish with Fasili would be getting to the phylactery to Take over the army or the ritual, and Akua had left her only one entrance.

    Also, depending on how thoroughly Vivienne had studied the escapement system, Warlock might be able to Imbricate the city back. I mean, Hedge Wizard already did something similar in their fight (only she phased into Arcadia, and the Diabolist knows enough about Squire’s powers to not go there; she’ll probably use the same dimension from Triumphant she moved the church in the second book to).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shoddi

      *presses knuckle to forehead*
      May she never return…

      …however, with a brand-spanking-new, half-mile wide Greater Breach that just opened up, that Praesi oath might not hold up much longer…

      Like

      1. blarg2429

        I’ve long felt that “may she never return” is a phrase which, due to the rules of Creation, makes Triumphant’s eventual return likelier each time it’s uttered.

        It really seems like one part possible foreshadowing (out-of-story) and two parts tempting Fate (and due to tempting Fate, also serves as foreshadowing in-story).

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Holy freaking hell, that was beautiful. Maybe all the chapters have been this way, and I just haven’t noticed because I’ve been binging until now, but I feel like this chapter is up there as one of the best written. The language in the first half of the chapter was especially poetic, but the battle was also chilling and awe-inspiring, goodness.

    You paint a terrifying picture of Cat as Akua’s red right hand…I…kind of want to see it? But not in any serious way – Akua has earned her place as one of the most infuriatingly competent and well-written antagonists ever. She needs to end 😛

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, all the villains in this story are their own artistic form of batshit insane.

      The Dead King seems to have taken to a grave form of caricature as humor, a solice in his solitude.
      The Tyrant is nothing more than candle burning brighter than the stars, blinding and blinded.
      The Diabolist is ambitiously grand, so much so that her machinations are greater than the one before.
      The Black Knight is cold and callous, a figure whose eyes are colder than his steel.
      The Dread Empress wishes for nothing more than change, to do so she needs not to be greater than all before her, but better.
      The Squire whose passion burns hotter than goblinfire and her steel sharper than her tongue, a woman who tries to right a wrong that was never not.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. TheCount

    Damn, i love what she did with the city, the summoning on the other hand not really my personal favorite…. (im into gadgets be they magical or not rather than sheer power) but damn, its impressive.

    Let us see what she had cooked up to welcome the legion of terror!:D

    Like

  12. Setback

    I’m not entirely sure that Diabolist’s plan to keep her city in another dimension is the best idea. After all both Warlock and Heirophant specialize in dimensional magic. It isn’t that far fetched to imagine them either seeking her in there or collapsing the pocket dimension he is in.

    Like

  13. Fern

    Akua and Catherine, by drawing on the Hells and Arcadia respectively, have accessed a strategic power that no one else on Calernia could match. It’s already been mentioned once, but as long as the Black Queen (and maybe even Black, if he can live through Liesse) can watch their blind spots regarding heroes, they can they can absolutely fucking trounce the forces of the Principiate. After that, what can the rest of Calernia do to answer? The forces of Good will lie in disarray without the Principiate serving as a center, and our protaganist has become too especially good at squashing Old Evil to be stopped by the likes of the Dead King, not even mentioning the tatters of the Chains of Hunger or the Drow in the north. All that’s left then are the elves, and through them the entire planet.

    Like

    1. You forgot Tyrant down south along with his trusty aide.

      And Tyrant is damn fucking good at the meta-game, plus it seems he’ll stop at nothing to ruin the day of every other character.

      Like

    2. unoriginal

      Remember that the Empire isn’t even a footnote. You’ve got the Dwarves in the Kingdom Below as a regional power and this is the Kingdom Below that refuses to recognize the right of humans to own property and gets away with it because they can sink the cities of those that piss them off. And all land on the continent below a certain depth is owned by them.

      Then you’ve got an entire empire of Elves who are not on the decline and hopelessly racist like the Golden Bloom, The Chinses, and Indian equivalent empires and did I mention the fucking gnomes? because the screaming flying machines sound like jet-aircraft to me and they have Sheild Style flying ships.

      Soooooooooo, no.

      The Empire is not ready to play in the big leagues until it consolidates its power.

      Like

      1. Engineer

        Those damn sentient lawn ornaments probably have nuclear weapons too. The fact that the sun and plant life exists on this planet is proof that nuclear reactions are possible in this world.

        Just imagine the advances that could be had in this world if a mage of considerable talent is introduced to the scientific method. However said mage would probably get blasted to oblivion as soon as he/she made any significant discoveries. Godsdamned lawn ornaments…

        Liked by 1 person

  14. At last! Both the cloak and Zombie the Third are intact. I suspect Cat will end up kneeling to Diabolist as Squire, with her will and soul bound. I expect she will break the binding upon becoming Black Knight and recalling Black’s iconic phrase – “We do not kneel”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Vhostym

      I doubt it. For one, the whole “we do not kneel” idea was already tried in book 2 when it was much more thematically relevant, and it was found wanting. Also Cat is more breaking in a new mold rather than retreading an old one.

      But more importantly, that would require the diabolist to succeed, at least initially, and really that just isn’t going to happen. Diabolist’s plan sounds good, because it’s written from her perspective, but if you reread it with a critical eye it becomes obvious she has no idea how to wage war or make strategies. Her descriptions are filled with assumptions, like assuming that the armies will choose to follow her laid out path, or that there aren’t already agents within Liesse. She really has no chance in the end.

      At this point I’m of the mind that Diabolist exists to fuel Masego’s growth, since as the hierophant he grows with the number of miracles witnessed. And creating a hellgate like this by channeling a near godlike mass of souls is most certainly a miracle from a sorcery perspective.

      Like

      1. It’s a bit silly to say Diabolist doesn’t know how to wage war when she outmaneuvered Cat to lose one of the Callowan reinforcements several chapters ago. Her assumptions are well founded: it’s been mentioned Liesse is warded to a point where Cat can’t get to it through Arcadia and Diabolist is well versed in sorcery – if she’s confident there’s only one way through I’m inclined to believe her. I will grant you that she probably doesn’t expect her city to be infiltrated but it might be that she does, and simply doesn’t think on it in her moment of triumph.

        I think you’re vastly underestimating the kind of power she now commands. She has eighty thousand undead and an inexhaustible amount of devils at her disposal, in a heavily fortified, difficult to get to and magically protected position. I think the story dictates she will be defeated but it’s not unreasonable of her to think she could conquer the world from where she stands.

        It’s a lot more than just a way to learn some sorcery for Masego – this is the biggest conflict in the story so far – against Cat’s nemesis from the beginning no less.

        Like

      2. soonnanandnaanssoon

        In addition to Cold Cyberia’s answer, Akua has shown willingness to adopt some Legionary doctrine and war tactics with Fasili strategizing and laying
        out the tactics for her. I think her main weakness is how strongly she believes in her ruling-ruled ideology itself; it’s biasing how she views the Story she’s in, and I think she’s on the track to lose just like Black did to the TWB. Akua overconfidence isn’t unjustifiable given her many strengths and resources, but Narratively she isn’t that good at stacking Stories on her side.

        Like

      3. Vhostym

        I see where you’re coming from, and your examples are accurate, but just don’t seem to ring true for this case. You’re right that Diabolist outmaneuvered Cat a few chapters ago, but I’d argue that a truly one-sided war almost never occurs, and Cat’s ability to mitigate the consequences is about as telling as Diabolist’s (or Fasili’s, more likely) ability to outmaneuver her.

        In this chapter I think that Diabolist is leaning strongly towards the Emperors and Empresses of old Praes, where she creates crazy and wondrous inventions, but relies on others to properly implement them, as opposed to the new Empress who leaves that to others and concentrates on ruling. At this point we, as the audience, know that Malicia herself was funding a lot of this, so while it’s possible that she didn’t tell Black or otherwise let him and Warlock learn of Diabolist’s plan, she is confident in their success regardless.

        You’ve mentioned Akua being knowledgeable about sorcery and that if she says there’s only one way to attack her fortress she’s probably correct. I’m not so confident, though you could be entirely correct. Since we know most things from Cat’s perspective we really don’t know much about sorcery or loopholes that the ‘heroes’ could abuse here, but generally I’m reluctant to rely on absolutes here, especially as the Hierophant’s type of sorcery seems to be somewhat distinct from what normal Praesi are capable of. Either way I suspect that her statement about their options is either incorrect due to her understanding of their abilities, or due to her understanding of what they need to do to win.

        Regarding her army, you’re probably right about the power of the Hellgate, since we don’t know much about how they work, and it seems highly unlikely that they can shut down such a powerful trump without huge amounts of effort (barring possible prior informing from Malicia). The 80,000 undead though? I suspect they’re a non-factor now since Cat and Masego are well known to be good at necromancy and usurpation, and Akua knows this. I think the undead were more of a bait than expected to be an actual factor in this.

        You’re right that I was pretty flippant in my earlier comment, and the actual battle is likely to be great and wonderful and touch and go at some points. Nonetheless, I think the result is a bit of a foregone conclusion unless she has significantly more up her sleeve, not even considering the lack of narrative/story weight on her end. And really, she’s basically set herself up to lead the doomed old ways in the face of the new, story wise. And that never ends well.

        Like

  15. Nairne .01

    EE, You really know how to ruin the rest of my week. How am I supposed to wait until Monday just to see how Cat screws Aqua’s plans? Really this interlude should have been posted on a Monday. Damn authors who belong to the S part of the universe. Whats a fellow S like me supposed to do?!

    Jokes aside. Thanks for the chapter 🙂

    Like

  16. TideofKhatanga

    From Chapter 33:

    >“At least Procer hasn’t invaded,” I said, trying for a bright side. “And no one’s unleashed a demon in a year.”

    >“High Lady Tasia did, in Wolof,” the orc reminded me.

    >”I can’t believe I have to lower my standards lower than they already are,” I complained. “Well, nobody’s opened a permanent portal into the Hells. There. I refused to go any lower.”

    >“Give it time,” Juniper grinned, ivory fangs flaring.

    He told you, Catherine. He told you about taunting Creation. But nooooo, you had to jinx it and ruin everything for everyone.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Engineer

      Black was also guilty of this in the epilogue of Book 2.

      Then he got bitch slapped by the Judgment Choir and he lost one of his best friends.

      Yeah, I long for the rise of Dread Emperor Boringus. He who never ever gloated or taunted Creation and followed the Evil Overlord list religiously.

      Like

  17. haihappen

    Does anyone else see Thief strolling in there and Take the soul stone?

    Its a classic villain plan: Brilliant, Great in Dimension, and with a single piece of failure that any Band of Heroes would inevitably exploit.
    Essentially all the tropes in play here usually have the antagonist facing a set of heroes, not villains (eh, sorry, I meant “Individuals of questionable morality”). Is Akua relying on that fact not to suffer “I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for You Meddling Kids, and that dog too.”

    And thinking about it: What is the Bard’s end game here? Akua failing, but with the knowledge of Still Water or Remote Hellgate getting out, triggering an Instant Crusade?
    Or, since Liesse is now a bridge between Dimension, maybe she wants something from there to cross over, an Angel, for example.
    Whatever it is, it is safe to assume it is part of a greater end game scenario in which “The Greater Good” wins. Or the Bard can finally die.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I imagine Bard’s endgame with Akua is to eliminate Cat, much like what she tried to do in Book 2. Even if the Diabolist conquered the entire continent, she would still be an old fashioned villain that would inevitably be overthrown by heroes.

      In contrast, she’s mentioned several times now that the villains who think they are doing what’s necessary are the really dangerous ones. Cat not only thinks she’s doing the right thing, she’s got the right combination of old villainy (amassing tons of power) and new villainy (metagaming the story).

      Like

      1. unoriginal

        Meta-gaming the story isn’t a new concept it’s just the Neo-Evil and the pragmatism embraced by the Calamities is just the concept executed right. We’ve gotten hints of how much larger the world is outside of the backwater continent this is all based on and with how the entire universe seems to run on the power of narrative, it would be silly for the Empire to have thought of meta-gaming the story first.

        Like

    2. Pretty sure that Bard’s goal is still to ensure that a kind of Evil that Good can defeat comes out on top here. What exactly her plan is to accomplish that remains to be seen, but I’m certain that Black coming home angry and down a friend is part of it. On the other hand, she’s not infallible, as proven by the fact that she gave her own gloating villain speech to Black. Considering that she pretty much only exists when she’s on-screen, I doubt that she’s going to get away with that. And the reason she won’t get away with it probably involves Cat’s band of meddling kids.

      Like

      1. werafdsaew

        It looks to me the Wandering Bard can only act by attaching herself to a Heroic band, and currently there’s none around, so she cannot act.

        Like

      1. Shequi

        Hmmm. In that case she’s deliberately put a Greater Breach somewhere that our friendly local reality-unweaver can get at it.

        That’s *spectacularly* stupid of her.

        Like

      2. Letouriste

        She crafted that really well,I guess she is confident he can’t do anything to that.she used a lot of energy for powering the thing and crafted that in years.if masego could destroy that in a jiffy that would be unfair^^

        Like

      3. Metrux

        AS unfair as that would be, isn’t that just the villain’s thing? Justice is for the just, Fariness is for the fair. Hierophant’s not any of them :B

        Like

  18. I’ve seen people talking about a Death Knight in the comments before, so I had a little idea.
    If King Arthur could be a King and a Knight, why can’t Cat be that too? Queen of Knights (Nights) or something, with the Name Black Knight to accompany it. And all shed have to do after Amadeus is dead, is to raise his corpse and annoit him as the Death Knight.

    Food for thought?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ane

      I’d never thought of that before, but I really like the idea of Cat ressurecting Black. Black still dies to the immense narrative weight demanding he dies, and allows the Squire Cat to ascend to a new Name at the same time. In reviving Black, Cat also continues to subvert the story.

      However, it makes more sense for Cat to become Death Knight, since Black is only being brought back, and Cat is the one asserting control over the domain of death.

      Like

      1. Eh, I always kind of thought that Death Knight kind of applied to someone dead that also controlled dead people. He’d be a necromancer otherwise?
        Kind of like how Dread Emperor Sorcerous become the Dead King.

        Like

      2. This is actually somewhat supported by the story. I believe Zombie the Third preened at Cat when she was fighting against fae in Dormer, which implies her necromantic constructs retain some personality or sentience. If I recall correctly, Masego even remarked that this “has interesting implications” so it could be possible Black would be more or less himself.

        Like

    1. Lunariz

      I have a feeling that would permanently ruin relations with the Fae… And the Fae could make Cat’s life way more difficult in the future if she ever wants to use Fae portals fast travel in the future.

      Like

      1. Engineer

        They can’t touch her when she’s traveling through Arcadia. That was the deal. All bets are off when she’s back in Creation though.

        Like

  19. Red Letter Enthusiast

    Theif has a portable pocket dimension that smuggle a fleet of ships, and has infiltrated Lisse. Cat has a large supply of goblinfire, and a reputatuon for burning down cities. Also, goblinfire can eat magic. I suspect that the spy mission from a few chapters ago was also the setup for a large explosion in the middle of Akua’s victory monolouge

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Vhostym

      That would make a lot of sense. And now thanks to your mention I’m terrified by what would be possible if there ever is a person with the name Saboteur, because that goblinfire tactic combined with aspects moderately more suited to its use than hold (which is already pretty darn well suited) would be absolutely terrifying.

      Like

      1. soonnanandnaanssoon

        When the Thief wasn’t part of the Woe, Saboteur was one of the Names one reader proposed in a discussion for Robber lol. Since the Thief is a Woe, I find it hard for sufficient narrative weight to be given to Robber getting a Name but EE has proven me wrong lots of time haha.

        Like

  20. Tibstrike

    I really love seeing Black in his element. Leading armies and crushing opponents armies. His Aspects make so much more sense in that situation which just makes him all the more dangerous.

    He’s gone through decades of life as the pre-eminent villain using Aspects that aren’t really all that suitable to single combat. They are, but they clearly shine in large-scale warfare.

    And now we have his apprentice who is essentially a 1v1 specialist who he has molded to fight as a strategic general and ruler.

    It’s fantastic.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Draeysine

    Not sure anyone’s mentioned it yet but um…. what about the Gnomes? Pretty sure this is red letter material. They might just show up and wipe the whole continent off the map to make sure the threat is gone

    Like

    1. narcoduck

      It’s actually interesting to note that the Gnomes don’t seem to be interested in these old sorceries as a threat. The sunken city of Kerguel was not destroyed because of their mighty magics but because they were interesting “natural physics”. The Dead King and his Hellgate is unmolested by the Gnomes. The Empire didn’t receive Red Letters because of their demons or devils or doomsday weapons. They got Red Letters for a farming machine and playing with powders.

      Maybe the Age of Wonders is over because it’s archaic and ultimately not a threat. After all, the Wandering Bard knew perfectly well what Akua was doing (going as far as deterring the Elves), and she still thinks Malicia/Black/Cat are the real Evil that must be stopped.

      Like

    2. Argentorum

      Gnomes seem to be interested only in technological advancement. Praes didn’t get a letter for Triumphant’s (may she never return) Flying Fortress. None of the characters, likewise, are worried about any level of Praesi sorcery earning a Red Letter.

      Like

    3. OmniscientQ

      This isn’t Red Letter material. The gnomes don’t care if you make nuclear weapons, so long as you make them out of magic. If you started trying to refine fissile material so you could make one that ran on entirely non-magical physics, however, they would care.

      The gnomes exist purely to enforce Medieval Stasis on Creation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. @Engineer I think that real tech, especially tech effectively married with magic, just has a lot more potential than the crazy shenanigans you can get up to with magic alone. The gnomes have power because they’ve realized that potential, and they’re taking steps to make sure that that power doesn’t become available to anyone else. At the same time, they can’t make themselves a generalized existential threat because that would trigger heroic stories about saving the day against these super-powerful invaders and even the gnomes aren’t powerful enough to feel confident against that degree of Fate.

        Like

      2. Engineer

        @EE, thanks for confirming. The fact that you didn’t deny it outright means that they will make an appearance and become plot central in the future books. If not, well there would be no harm in denying it, now would there? 😉

        @stevenneiman that hypothesis explains their observed behavior and likely motivations extremely well.

        Like

      3. RandomFan

        @Engineer No it doesn’t. EE could have not wanted to spoil that they _wouldn’t_ show up- which would also result in this comment. in which case, the post would have pulled off the intended result on you.

        Like

      4. Engineer

        @Randomfan yes, that too is a likely explanation of EE’s comment.

        However, a commentator in a previous chapter (or book, not sure atm) asked about the continent across the seas where the elves interbreed with humans and EE replied and said that they weren’t going to be present in the story. So EE is fine with telling details that are not plot relevant to the story.

        Therefore, his dodging of the question regarding the gnomes appearance in the books to come is evidence for their appearance and their plot relevance because like I said; if they weren’t going to appear or be plot relevant then there’s no harm in saying so, no?

        Like

  22. Gorgoroth

    You know, I see people mentioning Cat ascending to Death Knight as her next name, but I don’t think she will. Her soul is a Squire, but that’s not all she is anymore, and we know the right conditions would let her become more than just a Knight.

    Catherine Foundling is the Squire of Praes, but she is also the Duchess of Moonless Nights, last of the Winter Fae nobility. She is the Black Queen, crowned ruler of Callow. She has a history of using necromancy to her own ends, and aspirations of subverting story-mandated deaths (Black, Nauk, Herself, etc.)

    I think her next name is going to be Lich Queen.

    Like

    1. Letouriste

      Liches are dead sorcerer you know? Expert in dark magic etc…
      I get she can move corpse but she doesn’t know what she is doing,that’s all her Name shenaningans.she is no mage.also,I don’t think she plan to kill herself again:D

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I don’t think so. Death is somewhere Cat has been forced to visit a couple of times, but I doubt that she’s ever going to end up living there. I expect her next Name to simply be Queen of Callow, or some corrupted version thereof.

      Like

      1. Engineer

        If Akua succeeds in binding her soul it’s highly likely she would transition into that Name if Black is still kicking when that happens. Akua’s description of her as her Knight is an apt description of how the role of a Death Knight.

        Like

  23. AshSlanabrezgov

    Akua’s passion feels so… shallow. It feels pale compared to Black’s intense creed, his SPITE.

    Everything has a price. But I find that when she pays her price for power, her bid is shallow and not pleasing. She doesn’t suffer herself, no, she sell souls of other people. So clean, so tidy.

    Where in this is a worthy and interesting price?

    You could compare her to price which Black and Cat pay. Now, that’s exquisite and weighty.

    As I read Akua’s thoughts, I whitnessed her misunderstanding of Callow, and the importance of it to hungry Praes. Where Black had a plan to fuck Good for good – I mean really in a way that matters – by grabbing a food source for Praes and capable allies, she is playing Wonderwaffe card.

    Those Wonderweapons never cut it.

    Overall she doesn’t feel like the most world-wracking villain out there. I also question if forces she plays with are playing with her.

    Will Hell strip from her proper price?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think that the old creed just don’t understand that it’s more ambitious to try for something that might succeed than to beat your head against a wall you know will never break. The old school villains convince themselves that they expect to win, but the truth is that they’re afraid to try in a way that might succeed, because if they do they’ll have to admit that they had a real chance and they blew it. The mad schemes they can always claim didn’t work out because Fate screwed them over and ensured they were doomed from the outset (which it probably did, but that’s no excuse), but a plan that turns even Fate into a gear in the machine would leave nothing to blame but your own failure.

      Like

  24. WuseMajor

    When we first met them, Cat was brutally straightforward and Akua couldn’t do anything without having half a dozen hidden machinations behind it. Ever since, Cat has been learning duplicity and Akua has been clawing her way free of her mother’s influence. Now Cat has surprised her with a secret plan (with more to follow) and Akua’s finally spoken from her true heart and revealed her final trump card.

    Very very nice.

    Like

      1. Engineer

        Thief is no mage and getting past the wards of the room where the phylactery is held would definitely not be easy.

        If Hierophant tagged along most definitely but those wards were woven by a highly skilled fully realized NAMED sorcerer, with MONTHS of tweaking and refinement with the aid of The First Mage. A man who passed up the chance to become a Warlock not because of magical ineptitude, but because of his personality.

        I really don’t see how she could feasibly enter a room like that.

        Assassin however…

        Like

      2. AshSlanabrezgov

        Thief is not a mage, indeed.
        But a Hero she is still, yes?
        Who already used to steal at least something as outrageous as the Sun and succeeded?
        And this is Unassailable Fortress Of Evil, with Artifact Of Inescapable Destruction ready to commit genocide of country full of innocents?
        And Thief might be trying to steal The Only Weak Point Of Evil Sorcerer?

        I don’t know exact chances, but I think it might work. If that’s the plan.

        Like

      3. Engineer

        In most stories where that is in play said character usually dies after successfully weakening the evil overlord so the hero can deliver the final strike.

        But this is a fight between two villains and calling Thief a hero is a stretch. She’s neutral at best. The sun stealing is different because said sun was not inside a heavily warded room that is keyed to the very Named sorcerer that created it.

        Like

      4. AshSlanabrezgov

        Thief being a Hero is a stretch, yes, but stretch like this is exploitable.

        Methinks it could be the story about two villains. But if framed right it would be a story of saving Callow from villain. Or another favorable story.

        Black knows how to frame stories. Cat has some talent and practice with inhabitants of Arcadia.

        Seems doable?

        Like

  25. Letouriste

    errr I get she think that plan of her can deal with villains and their armies but that fortress look totally hero bait^^
    I seriously doubt she can face procer like that,I mean they even have an oracle saying where she will teleport in advance.

    Like

  26. Shikome Kido Mi

    “Heri to… [t]he killers of the first empress, who’d writ the truth of Praes in blood and treachery. ”

    Yeah, but from a certain point of view, those are the people who fucked everything up and stopped Praes from every attaining it’s true potential.

    Like

  27. So Diabolist has a gateway to one of the Hells, a highly fortified Liesse, innumerable devils and demons, and all signs are pointing to Black dying in this battle? And she thinks there’s no way the other side can win?

    Akua, you poor, silly girl. You’ve just made some basic Villainous Mastermind rookie mistakes. Let me break it down for everyone.

    Error numero uno: You’re attacking the Legions…. and that means the 15th. Which has a chapel/temple of House of Light in their camp, which is presumably now right in the path of the Hellgate. The hopelessly outnumbered defenders, in their homeland, with a symbol of the Heavens in the middle of their camp, fighting against the forces of Hell (literally in this case). You’ve written your army’s own defeat here.

    Error the second: Small band of Named attacking a Evil Villain’s Impregnable Fortress of Doom, which holds the source of power for the Ultimate Superweapon of Doom? You may as well open the main gates and throw a party for Cat with a Plot line that tempts Creation like that.

    Error number three: The father figure to the Rightful Queen of Callow (in pretty much all of her men and most of Callow’s eyes), slain by the machinations of the wannabe usurper Evil Empress? I just hope you’re not stupid enough to give them a double boost by trying to knock of Hierophant’s father too.

    Final error: “Diabolist smiled the smile of a woman who was going to conquer the world.” You’re gloating. The instant you utter anything along the lines of “I am Unstoppable!” as a villain, Creation raises a pimp hand to bitch slap you with a dose of Hubris – often via Ironic Critical Existence Failure.

    It’s a shame her parent’s never bought her the Evil Overlord’s Handbook to help avoid all these tropes.

    Like

    1. Engineer

      Hehehehe ah that was a good read.

      All those tropes you mentioned however are only really applicable if this was a heroic party assaulting the Evil Wannabe Overlord’s fortress.

      The gloating one is spot on though, as both Cat and Black can attest. Bare your fangs in arrogance at Creation and buy a nice set of dentures for the aftermath.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. werafdsaew

        I don’t think you need to have a Heroic Name to trigger Heroic tropes. After all Catherine was able to trigger the sword-in-stone story despite being a Villain, and Diabolist said that what is important is not the Name, but the Roles in the “Villainous Interlude: Chiaroscuro” chapter. The Book of All Things also claims that Roles came first, and Names are gifted to Roles, not the other way around.

        Like

      2. James Bond often assaults Evil Fortreses of Doom… in a group comprised of people he’s blackmailed, cajoled, tricked, charmed or leaned on to get there. Many of them Bad Guys (but not E is for Evil Big Bad kind of bonkers Bad). Sure, he always goes off and does his solo thing, but they dramatically enter to save his bacon most of the time. Or bring the Good Guys (for the current pilot’s definition of “Good” and “Guys” — actual goodness and guyness may vary).

        Thief is living a Bond tale right now. 🙂 Sure, she’s working with Bad Guys to get her job (save the world, daring-do, rescue relative innocents, take the info and loot) done. But, she’s been combating Really Nasty, Cuckoo, Out-to-Lunch Big Bads with Pragmatic Evil. That’s 007’s whole thing: our Hero.

        I’m just wondering who her Bond Guy/Girl is. XD

        Like

  28. He-Who-Must-Be-Named

    Haven’t read through all the comments, so I apologize if this has been noted, but…

    “And it whispered of /triumph/”

    Anyone else thing Triumphant (may she never return) has…returned? In some reincarnated form?

    Like

    1. AshSlanabrezgov

      I had suspicions but never voiced them. Title ‘triumphante’ means, well, triumfs, winning conflicts consistently.

      But also, as God she might have a child – with a mortal or with an unknown winter fairy lord.

      It all inconclusive, however. Even a family of farmer managed to give birth to Amadeus. You don’t need to be reincarnation or relative of Triumphante to become a Catastrophe.

      Like

  29. You know, Akua has called Black Knight a patriot in this charter, and this, combined with another passage from her speech here has reminded me of another mistake nobody mentions, and the reason I never could understand the concept of patriotism.

    > “Twenty years ago, we were more powerful than the people of Callow,” she continued. “Twenty years ago we were better than them, for beyond all the lies and stories that is the bare truth of Creation: the powerful own the world.”

    What kind of “we” are you talking about here? It’s not “I and all of you”, because twenty years ago you were nothing but your mother’s scheme, the one she denied your father the support to his claim to the Name of Warlock for. But it’s not “we, the peoples of Praes” either! Even if we ignore the fact that you didn’t contribute anything to that victory, the peoples of the Praes are on the other side of those walls. You and your army represent the Praesi nobility, the small part of those peoples, the very same part that the people besieging your fortress had to subjugate first in a far more brutal civil war. Your mother probably didn’t assist the Conquest in any way other than the average amount of taxes she owed to the Tower anyway, and maybe sponsoring a few promising officers to become her spies in the Legions.

    This kind of demagoguery puzzles me. How can people think that slapping a “we” on other people’s accomplishments somehow makes them stronger? It’s a faulty way of thinking even in a universe that literally runs on this kind of magical thinking!

    Like

  30. Sous

    I have just caught up. At probably the greatest cliffhanger of them all, my poor luck.
    But regardless I have to express my respect for the author. The Guide is written very well, and the world-building is subtle and thorough at the same time, which takes mastery. I am hoping so badly that it gets published, since such a work needs to become rooted deeper in our culture.

    Like

    1. Engineer

      If the guide gets picked up for a tv series by directors that know how to deal with fantasy (like the staff of GoT) then the guide stands a goddamn good chance of usurping GoT in terms of popularity.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. letouriste

        i don’t think so.the system of Names and Roles etc… is kinda complicated to explain,i have troubles to see that on screen.
        i remember to be confused by some of the turning points in this novel like the angel church fight in liesse etc… that was already hard to follow written,i don’t see how adapt that;)

        i expect a screen adaptation would be bad or really heavily modified and simplified:/
        also,the fight scenes would not be easy to do with actors,i think an animation adaptation would be better.actually,a manga adaptation could totally work no?:O

        Like

      2. Engineer

        What was left unsaid was that EE should take an active part in the production of the series. He shouldn’t be sidelined for any of the decisions regarding the production of the tv series. That’s the only way we’ll be sure that the series we get is on par with the books.

        With the cg that’s capable today I really don’t think we’ll have troubles with the fights in all their glorious detail. Sure the first season’s fights would be bad quality but that’s only because the first season is the testing season, to get more people watching the show and thus generate more revenue for the remaining seasons.

        I agree with you regarding the Anime adaption being the better choice, however. You can show a whole lot more quality scenes in an Anime than what you could in a live action but you’d have fewer viewers than you’d get for a tv series (most idiots still believe that anime is purely cartoons for kids).

        It’s up in the air is what I’m saying.

        Like

  31. Tolack

    I can actually see Akua surviving this, and not eating Cat’s steel. If Thief got ahold of Akua’s soulstone, then Cat will have her life in her hands, and if Akua listens to her papa dearest then she’ll submit.

    Like

    1. Hammerman

      I can see a certain blind magic user enjoying powering the sworn knights of a Duchess, especially if it allows him to vivisect a living soul stone owner.

      Like

    2. letouriste

      nah,cat promised her that next time would be the last back in the first liesse battle.
      she also said one day she would find and destroy what akua care the most about…and by now she probably suspect that would be akua father…or would kill him anyway and see the result on akua face.

      Like

  32. Big Brother

    This is really a random thought, but didn’t the Choir of Contrition show Cat a vision of her leading the next Crusade as Queen with her Red Right Hand? And now we’ve seen Cat assemble the largest military force since the Conquest, which contains a mix of a few nations (Praes, Callow, and the Deoraithe), to assault the center of power of the “Icon” of Old Evil, all while Cat is slowly accepting the fact that Callow sees her as the Black Queen.
    And then here we see Akua make a passing remark about turning Cat into her Red Right Hand.
    This might be a coincidence, but I feel an Evil subversion of the Heroic Crusade story at work right now.

    Like

    1. amc

      and in the previous chapter, cat more-or-less acknowledged hakram as her red-right-hand… 🙂

      foreshadowing where we least expect it! amazing, ee!

      Like

    2. letouriste

      the angels wanted her to be an hero,they can’t physicaly accept her to be a black queen even if her role would be the same at the end.
      for them only the side you stand on count.they are driven by absolute.

      Like

      1. Big Brother

        I understand this. I’m just saying what she’s doing now is quite similar to what the Choir wanted her to do. Lead a massive army against the bastion of evil in Callow as Queen, which she’s now doing on her own.

        Like

  33. Jerden

    In terms of Names for Cat, I feel like “Black Queen” is the most likely. She rejected the Name of Queen at the end of the last book, but seems to have been slowly filling the role anyway, so it would make sense to assume a corrupted version of the Good Name, and it would fit the successor to the Black Knight. It would also re-enforce the tension between her and the Empress, just in time for the fight against Procer.

    Like

  34. I’m calling it now: Akua is going to win.

    She won’t win cleanly. But Black will be dead, the legions broken, Warlock I don’t even know, but he won’t last much longer… And Cat will have a tough choice to make: stay behind a weakened Malicia, or take Aisha’s hint and back Akua when her offer is good enough.

    Like

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