Hierarchy

“Heed my warning princes and princesses of Procer: for every empire laid low by Evil, a hundred were wrecked by mere greed and stupidity.”
– Extract from ‘The Ruin of Empire, or, a Call to Reform of the Highest Assembly’, by Princess Eliza of Salamans

They kept telling him he had servants now.

The League of Free Cities had no official seat even when a Hierarch ruled since Prokopia Lakene, first of that Name, had never established one. Her native Penthes was too far from the heart of the Free Cities, and she’d preferred playing off cities against each other to aligning with a single one. In the end Nicae was where the Conclave was called, with the Tyrant’s armies still camped outside the recently-breached walls. Delegations from the cities arrived within days of each other, begun to travel long before the Siege of Nicae came to its bloody end. They all came to answer the call to elect the Hierarch of the Free Cities. Atalante, now freed of Helikean occupation for the price of its vote. Delos, whose Secretariat had sent a swarm of askretis to harass him with scrolls before the Conclave even confirmed his ascension. Magisters of Stygia from the ruling faction in their Magisterium, politely inquiring if he desired slaves to run his household affairs. The filthy Penthesians had sent five claimants to the title of Exarch of their wretched city, all demanding his arbitrage. The Strategos of Nicae was dead, slain in battle while she fought the Helikeans, and until one could be appointed the Basileus of the city had seize power in full. The man had granted him the ancient palace of the Strategoi as a residence, as much a bribe to Anaxares as a slight to the office that was ancient rival to his own. For Helike the Tyrant stood alone, and the Republic had sent only one diplomat. The rest of the delegation were kanenas that followed him like a second shadow wherever he went.

He’d refused it. The palace, the servants – servants, as if any soul in Creation was suborned to anything but the Will Of The People – the soft bed and the draperies. Anaxares would have naught to do with this madness. He could not return to Bellerophon, to the Republic, and so he had tried to find work in the city. But the fishermen knelt and shook when he’d asked if hands were needed, and the fields outside the city went without tilling for they were still covered by soldiers. He knew nothing of smithing or shoemaking, for his entire life he had been nothing but a diplomat for his people and he had learned no trade. And so he had wandered into the ruined parts of the city, freshly sacked, and sat in the ashes with a begging bowl. For warmth he burnt trash, for unlike civilized Bellerophon where such things could only be done where an assembly of citizens from the quarter decided to allow in Nicae anyone could do so wherever they wished. He had a threadbare blanket ripped from a burnt house for his bed, and the sea for bathing water. It was a wretched living, but better than this talk of palace.

Anaxares had become a curiosity, to his distaste. Noblemen and functionaries came to his alley to drop coins in the bowl and attempt conversation, though he never replied. Some left gold, and that he tossed aside for other vagrants to have. Copper he took as alms, and silver if there were few enough, not that merchants accepted to take his coin. He had to leave it on their stalls over their protests, and some even tried to force it back into his hands. Mighty Hierarch, they wept. Glorious One. All I have is yours. When he first heard the words he threw up in an alley afterwards, shaken to his core. It was wrong. All wrong, and there was nothing he could do to fix it. There was no hope some delegation would come to its senses at the last moment and gave the single vote against that was needed to prevent his election. The Gods had elected him before men ever spoke their piece, cursing him with a Name regardless of his desires. The Tyrant had been their instrument in this, and for that Anaxares was glad he had seen nothing of him since the night where Nicae fell.

Kairos had ordered dragged at his feet a bloodied hunk of meat that he said was the White Knight, a hero anointed by the Heavens. Taken prisoner in the fight, he said, and now it was the Hierarch who must decided his fate. The Tyrant was, the boy grinned, ever the head of the League’s loyal servant.

“I give no orders,” Anaxares had said.

“Silence is an order as well, old friend,” the Tyrant laughed. “Your will be done.”

The diplomat had washed his hands of the affair, walked away, and in the days that followed men and women of import had come in his alley to praise his mercy. Called his restraint in allowing the heroes to leave unmolested a beginning to mending the wounds of the League. He did not reply, but learned even his silences had weight now. Consequences. There is no escaping this, he thought. Even when I do nothing, it is something. He tried regardless. Decades under the watchful gaze of the kanenas had taught Anaxares to think along grooves already learned, to stay within the path decided upon by the People, but he went further. Eyes open, breathing steady, the diplomat tried to think of nothing at all. To abnegate life, for he was forbidden from taking his own. Hours became mere blinks of blank absence but Creation, Creation always dragged him back. Through hunger or heat or a myriad other little pulls that there was nothing he could do about. Never before had the diplomat so despised that he was but a sack of blood, bound together by bones and skin. He leaked and scraped like a peach, years of soft living having made him too tender by far.

The scrolls from the Secretariat kept coming, and though he was tempted to use them to feed the flames he refrained. That would be statement as well. He let them pile up at his side instead, pretending they did no exist and ignoring anyone telling him otherwise. He only understood his mistake too late. Anaxares had made himself a story, and stories were the beating heart of Names. He bit his tongue until it bled to avoid saying the word, but it sounded in his mind anyway. Receive. Another curse forced upon him, beyond his control. To his eyes and ears came whispers and images on the wind, and there was no avoiding them. There was no rhyme or reason to the aspect – it came and went as it wished, sometimes twice in an hour and sometimes absent for two days.

“You’re sure he’s just staying there?” a man in Penthesian robes said.

“Our men say so,” some kneeling figure replied. “The Hierarch has gone mad.”

“All Bellerophans are mad,” the Penthesian said. “This is… something else.”

The morning after the man he’d glimpsed came and left gold in the begging bowl, speaking of supporting him as Exarch to restore order to Penthes.

“The third request for war reparations had been delivered,” a plain-faced woman said.

Her face was tattooed with lines of blue and black ink, marking her as appointed askretis of the twelth rank.

“It was ignored?” a man asked.

His own tattoos were but two thin stripes, black and blue. Anaxares had never seen a member of the Secretariat so highly placed as to have only two lines, not even as an envoy.

“But not burned,” the woman said.

“There must be some manner of proper method for submission we are unaware of,” the man said. “Send a scroll requesting it.”

The woman he’d seen stood before him before an hour had passed with a scroll in hand, and Anaxares was forced to admit the visions were true and not merely torment set upon him by the Gods. The next vision he received, there was no mystery as to who he saw. The Basileus of Nicae had visited him before, a young olive-skinned man with perfect teeth and braided black hair.

“It would be improper to appoint a Strategos before the Conclave has taken place,” the Basileus told an assembly of nobles. “We must not slight the Hierarch by proceeding without his guidance.”

“A Strategos would best represent us at the Conclave,” an old man in armour bit back.

“The Bellerophan’s demented, Your Excellency,” a woman intervened soothingly, addressing the Basileus. “The Tyrant will be the power behind the throne.”

“No one knows what the Tyrant wants,” the Basileus said, looking wary. “He could have seized the Free Cities by force, if he so wished, yet he’s withdrawn from all his conquests. I will not act recklessly before knowing his plan.”

Bickering erupted after and Anaxares was reminded of the debates in the Republic, for a moment. It passed. These were richly dressed, in some closed room away from the people they claimed to rule for. There was not even an empty space left for the Gods Below to fill, should they care to vote – they never had in the history of Bellerophon, but the right had been granted and so it remained. The vision did not die, it merely shifted to another sight. The diplomat felt his fingers clench. Kairos Theodosian was seated alone in his tent, sipping at a goblet of water with a slice of lemon in it.  His hand shook like a lead as he added some pale powder to the water from a satchel. A pair of gargoyles were fanning him with long feathered fans, though not very well. Their movements were too choppy. His red eye closed as he sighed in pleasure, drinking deep, but when it opened it was looking straight at Anaxares.

“So which one is this?” the Tyrant grinned. “Bard likes the personal touch and scrying’s not that subtle. Is it you, my glorious liege?”

The monster cackled.

“Already an aspect,” he crowed. “I knew you’d take well to this. Belief, Hierarch. That’s what makes Names, and it’s not something you can fight.”

The vision ended, and Anaxares was unsure whether it had ended naturally or been broken. He forced himself not to consider the ways of his ‘aspect’ more closely. It would have been leaning into the madness to embrace this Name even slightly. Once begun, there was no going back. In the end, two week passed before the Conclave was held. Every delegation sent messenger to inform him of it, the Basileus even coming to the alley. The young man looked at the filth and ashes with barely veiled-distaste, repeating the hour and location thrice as Anaxares ignored him. It would be in the palace, he said one last time as he dropped coppers into the bowl.

The day came and Anaxares did not go.

It was near nightfall when they sought him out in the alley. Servants preceded them, a swarm carrying carpets and wooden seats so that no part of the representatives would have to be soiled. Only Bellerophon, he saw, did not bother. When the diplomat came, she sat on the ground. Anaxares spared her a glance, but did not recognize her. She was too young to have served with him. In that broken alley, a crowd of the most powerful men and women in the Free Cities assembled around him. Five Exarch claimants from Penthes. Two two-striped askretis of the Secretariat. The Basileus and the Tyrant, and from Atalante a pair of grim-faced preachers clutching beads representing the seven Heavenly Choirs the city claimed as patrons. From Stygia a familiar face watched him: Magister Zoe, the only other delegate spared when Helike first began the war. Mercantis had no representative. The Consortium had right to sit on on League session, but this was not one like the others – the City of Bought and Sold had no say in the election of a Hierarch, as it was not member of the League. In the end, the Basileus was the first to speak. It was his right as host.

“A powerful message, my lord,” the young man said. “Making us come to you.”

Anaxares’ fingers clenched.

“If I cut out my tongue,” he bitterly said, “you would expect me to give verdict in ink. If I cut off my hands, you would demand I blink my agreement. Were I but a burnt husk, still answers would be asked of me.”

He bared his teeth.

“Fine, then,” he said. “I will speak. I am no lord, Nicaean. The very existence of that title is offensive to me. Do not ever call me such again.”

The man’s face flushed with anger, but he mastered himself. Young, the diplomat thought. He was too young and green to participate in such matters. Ambition had blinded him.

“No offence was meant,” the Basileus said through gritted teeth. “I misspoke.”

The moment of silence that followed was broken by the Bellerophan diplomat. Once upon a time, Anaxares thought, he might have been the one sitting there.

“The People have decreed the Republic is to put forward motion for the election of Anaxares the Diplomat as Hierarch of the Free Cities,” she said.

“Would that I could rip that treason from their mouths,” he replied harshly.

“Delos vote for,” the askretis he’d seen in the vision said.

“Atalante votes for,” one of the preachers said. “Mercy smile on us all.”

“Penthes-“ an Exarch claimant began, but he was interrupted.

“Votes for,” another barrelled through.

“Nicae votes for,” the Basileus flatly added.

“I bear mandate from the Magisterium to vote in favour,” Magister Zoe said.

“Helike,” the Tyrant smiled, red eye shining in triumph, “votes for.”

“Damn you all,” the Hierarch whispered hoarsely.

“All rise for the Hierarch,” the Bellerophan diplomat said.

The sheer wrongness of watching one of his own people honour a Foreign Despot – for what else could he be called, now? – saw bile rise in his throat. The delegates rose one and all, bowing low. Kairos was the first to be seated again, allowing a gargoyle to feed him grapes. It kept hitting his chin instead and chattering in anguish, but of anything it brought the boy enjoyment.

“The League of Free Cities now stands united again,” the other two-striped askretis said, her voice solemn. “And so Delos now presents a matter for the Hierarch’s arbitrage.”

None of the delegates showed surprise. This, he thought, had been arranged before they ever came here.

“First Prince Hasenbach has been corresponding with the Secretariat,” she said. “And most other cities as well. She seeks truce, and alliance if she may. This is no longer a matter that can be settled by the cities.”

Years as a diplomat had taught Anaxares the ways of the League, and so he knew she spoke truth. In the absence of a Hierarch, the only way for every city-state to be bound to a treaty was if it was agreed upon by member majority vote. Otherwise every city chose for itself. The passed motion to make truce with the Principate had been what first drove the Tyrant to begin his war, and now that the war was over the point of contention was resurfacing. Worse, after the election of a Hierarch precedent dictated they alone held authority to make such treaties for the League as a whole. The head of the League held no more sway than allowed within the walls of the Free Cities, but they spoke for the League as a whole – Prokopia Lakene, his only predecessor, was said to have believed this to be the only way the Free Cities would stand equal to powers like the Principate and the Thalassocracy. Her opponents had whispered she sought to make another Procer out of the Free Cities, and her work had collapsed after her death and the round of wars that followed.

“Procer’s itching for a crusade,” Magister Zoe drawled. “’tis nothing unexpected. Let them cut their teeth on the Empire. Whoever wins, we can extract concessions from the loser.”

“A Stygian preaching opportunism,” the Basileus bit out. “Speaking of expectations. Some of us had the fucking Calamities raining hellfire on our cities but a month ago. Where is your talk of cranes now, Magister? Where are my people’s retribution and redress?”

“You had the Sovereign of Red Skies wrecking your city,” Zoe said slowly, her tone implying she was addressing an imbecile. “And now that you survived this, you want to give him reason to come back? Boy, appoint a Strategos and let someone with godsdamned sense do the speaking for Nicae.”

“Language, my friends,” the Tyrant chided cheerfully. “In front of our Hierarch, no less. For shame.”

Half-hearted apologies were muttered at Anaxares.

“Praes is a den of darkness and iniquity,” one of the Atalantian preachers said. “Let us walk in the light of the Heavens, and join the First Prince’s righteous enterprise.”

“This and a slave’s pisspot for your Heavens, priestling,” Magister Zoe replied tartly, her following gesture highly obscene.

Kairos frowned at the sight, but did not repeat himself.

“There are still three Calamities left,” the male askretis said. “This is not a war to be undertaken lightly. What do we stand to gain, by fighting monsters in their own lair? Let us make truce with Hasenbach and wash our hands of it.”

“Truce doesn’t mean the end of trade,” a Penthesian claimant said. “The Empire will be hungry for grain and steel. Procer will need truce before it feels safe to invade, but we need not grant them more. The longer the war lasts, the greater our profits.”

“And if Procer wins?” another claimant sneered. “Will Hasenbach think fondly of us, then? Best we side with her now, and avoid trouble after the dust settles.”

“It is the belief of the People that nothing is owed,” the Bellerophan diplomat said. “The wars in the north are of no import to Mighty Bellerophon, First and Greatest of the Free Cities. Involvement is unnecessary.”

“Spoken as a delegate whose city shares no river with the Praesi,” the female askretis said. “Isolation is a valid choice only for those who are isolated.”

“There’ll be a flood of refugees going south if Procer manages to take the Vales,” a Penthesian predicted. “The Wastelanders will dig in and flip open the grimoires, but the Callowans? We’ve all heard the rumours. Open rebellion followed by the fae, and they’ve got some girl villain stirring the pot. The place is a wreck, and it’ll bleed people down the Hwaerte and the Wasiliti on every boat they can find.”

“Mercantis will take in many,” Magister Zoe said.

“The Consortium will welcome the rich and send the desperate on their way,” the Basileus replied flatly. “Save for those they force into slavery.”

“The Red Flower Vales are not so easily breached,” the male askretis said. “And the Legions of Terror are no mere footmen. None of us believed Callow would fall, twenty yeas ago, yet the Dread Empress surprised us. She may yet again.”

“The Vales are only one flank, Delosi,” a preacher said. “If Ashur lands an expeditionary force on the coast of Praes, the Empire may well collapse from the inside. As is ever the lot of Evil.”

“We do not know for a fact the Thalassocracy’s siding with the Principate,” the Basileus warned. “Ashurans are a treacherous people by nature, it springs from the Baalite blood.”

“Magon Hadast pulled the rug out from under Levant to her benefit last year,” a Penthesian snorted. “The man’s made his choice, and the rest of the citizenship tiers will follow his word like heavenly decree.”

“Blasphemy,” an Atalantian hissed.

“Kiss angel feet all you like, priest, it makes you no holier,” the Penthesian sneered.

Anaxares let the squabbling wash over him and studied the envoys, tightening the blanket around his shoulders. The diplomat from Bellerophon had not spoken again, and watching her he had no trouble guessing wise. The Republic had not granted her right of negotiation, only to present its position – her hands were tied. Two of the cities, he understood, were truly married to their stances. Stygia pushed for absence of treaty, because it desired to raid the losing side for slaves. It had no real allies in this, but Magister Zoe was unmoved. The Magisterium must have given her strict orders. Atalante, though fresh out of Helikean occupation, was intent on joining the shaping crusade. Why? The city was broken: he had seen it with his own eyes. Was it truly faith guiding the preachers, or the need for plunder to fill the coffers for the rebuilding? It may be both. Atalantians were an emotional breed, and now that they were forbidden revenge on Helike they might be seeking to even the scales with the Tyrant’s allies. Foolishness. They should be seeing to the harvest, not talking of war. The Hierarch watched them, and saw the lines. The words he needed to speak to sway them to war or peace, to alliance or enmity. They were on the tip of his tongue. He bit down on it until it bled.

There was no greater sin than to rob the free of their freedom, and he would have no part in it.

“Ladies, gentlemen,” Kairos Theodosian said. “Lend me your ears.”

The silence that followed as absolute. There’d been many among those present who’d mocked the Tyrant, once, but that had been before the war. In the span of a year the Tyrant of Helike had sacked two cities of the League, forced a third to surrender and forced the election of his chosen candidate as Hierarch. For all that – horrifying as it was – Anaxares had been named head of the League, the true power within it was a crippled boy with shaking hands and too broad a smile. When he spoke now, men listened.

“All this talk of the crusade whispers that we are but accessories to it,” the boy said mildly. “Witnesses and servants, not truly of import. Without even knowing it, you have surrendered the fate of Calernia to Cordelia Hasenbach and Dread Empress Malicia.”

His good eye twitched, a spasm he did not control.

“Does this not shame you?” he smiled. “To have learned the lesson of our irrelevance so deeply you no longer question it?”

“No one wants to follow you into war with Procer, Theodosian,” the Basileus said.

Brave young man, Anaxares thought, but not a very clever one.

“Leo, Leo, Leo,” the Tyrant sighed. “Is silver truly all that is needed for you to become Hasenbach’s pet?”

“How dare-“

“The days of Tyrant Theodosius are past,” Magister Zoe interrupted, cutting of the Nicaean. “No one disputes your… achievements, my lord. But Procer is no longer a loose confederation of warring princes. Should we strike at one principality, we bring the full weight of the Principate down on our heads. No amount of lightning will turn back that tide.”

“Then your objection is one of capacity,” Kairos said. “Not intent.”

“The Magisterium has no love for the Principate,” she snorted. “Neither does anyone here with any sense.”

“Procer is the bulwark against Evil to the north,” the Basileus barked.

“The Lycaonese have served such a purpose with distinction,” the female askretis said. “This does not erase the many bloody deeds of the Arlesites. Many a war has the League fought against the principalities of the south.”

“The League of Free Cities,” the Tyrant said smilingly, “is pathetic. We have held on to our borders by the skin of our teeth, but what great power has not humbled us? Praes occupied half our cities for two decades under the second Maleficent. Ashur strangles our trade whenever it pleases and Procer, oh Procer – have you all forgotten why this League exists at all? How close we came to being under the rule of princes.”

“Tyrants ever speak of war,” an Atalantian said. “Yet always defeat finds them. How many of our people need die for your ambitions?”

“Look at the world, my friends,” Kairos chuckled. “Look at the lay of the land. The Empire stands besieged, Procer prepares to bleed breaching it. Ashur is led by an old man who would send the Thalassocracy’s fleets to war very, very far away.”

The boy’s eye shone red, red like blood, and his grin was a villain’s grin.

“When has such an opportunity ever come to us?” he asked. “Never before, and it may never come again. Do you want to be remembered as the men and women who had a chance to bring greatness to their people but flinched away out of mere fear?”

His bad hand was steady now, curled like claws.

“Are you not tired, my friends,” he asked, “of kneeling to these greater nations? Are you content with forever remaining pressed between titans, hoping none turns and rolls over us?”

He bared his teeth.

“I want the Samite Gulf,” he said. “I want Tenerife and Salamans and Valencis to be cities freed, brought into our league. I want Praesi and Procerans to cease warring over who rules our own streets.”

He raised his hand.

“And so I call for war,” he hissed. “A good old war, my friends, the kind that carves up a continent forever. I want sieges and desperate charges, I want hosts breaking and smoke darkening the sky. I want the rivers to run red and palaces to burn. Give me the sound of horns and shields shattering, the sound of arrows falling like a rain of steel. Give want victories so great they will tremble to hear of us from Smyrna to Rhenia.”

The red was deepening, Anaxares thought, to unearthly crimson. The boy’s words hung in the air like a haze, silvery as a fae’s glamour.

“And those victories I promise you, true as my Name,” the Tyrant grinned. “There is a fate just within our reach, if we dare to grasp it.”

Kairos turned to him then, and inclined his head in a gesture of respect that was anything but.

“Your arbitrage, Hierarch,” he said.

There was no greater sin, Anaxares of Bellerophon thought, than to rob the free of their freedom.

“I give no orders,” he said. “You may all do as you wish.”

The man looked in Kairos Theodosian’s red eye, and wondered if he was imagining the faint sound of laughter ringing in his years.

65 thoughts on “Hierarchy

  1. Big Brother

    Man, now I’m curious what Anaxares’ other Aspects will be, if Receive is the first, and grants him messages whether he wants them or not.

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    1. The first one was Mend, though he never used it. I think that his character arc ends with him finally desiring the tiniest measure of control, so the third one will grant it to him: something like Reward or Negotiate, that would give him no direct power over others but a way so see a thing that one of his “subjects” wants done.

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      1. Shikkarasu

        Oh, he used Mend all right. He Mended the League, whether he wanted to or not. He Received the various representatives(and got the Aspect proactively since it has to do with the future). I also hope his third Aspect is something he finally does on purpose as well.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Is there any way to be able to check all the chapters with Anaxares, and all of those with Kairos? Something like character tags. Don’t really remember how A came to be Hierarch.

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    1. JK

      He was the Bellerophan diplomat assigned to the Tyrant. By surviving a long time (through being amusing, mostly), he acquired a lot of narrative weight.

      At least, that’s my best recollection without rereading.

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      1. oldschoolvillain

        That, and Kairos arranged his election on the super-sly, sneaking him past the Black Knight and the Wandering Bard both. It was the Tyrant’s plan to make him Hierarch, and it was hella convoluted, but well played when it came down to it. But, tldr, Tyrant strongarmed the League into making him Supreme Leader.

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      2. WuseMajor

        Not just that. Everyone thought the Tyrant was trying to become Hierarch. And the Tyrant appointed Anaxares as his Most Trusted Advisor, while Anaxares betrayed him at every opportunity. Story-wise the natural outcome was, of course, that Anaxares would usurp the high seat when the opportunity presented itself, so the Tyrant helped ensure that would happen.

        It’s why the Wandering Bard commented on it earlier, I think.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. werafdsaew

      The Tyrant coerced/persuaded the other members of the league to elect Anaxares to be the leader of the Free Cities, which came with the Name. Before this the Tyrant kept him around as a pet of sorts.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Jonnnney

      He had complete and utter devotion to his beliefs. This certainty in himself is what made him eligible for a name. The tyrant conquered the league to grant him the narrative and role.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No she is still a Calamity as was shown when she showed up to fight the Summer Queen. The explanation is much simpler, you are just over thinking it: 4 Calamities showed up for the battle, 1 died. 4-1 = 3. Once she became a Calamity the only way to lose that group name is to die, just like how the 5 Named that fought in Arcadia are collectively the Woe and will always be the Woe.

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      2. Keyen

        Ranger was alive long before being a Calamity, can be alive long after the other are dead, she is not affiliated to Praes = she is not bound to be a Calamity for the rest of her life. That’s simple logic. Calamities HAVE to be affiliated with Praes. That’s the whole point.

        Same for the Woe. If for a reason or another, one defect and betray Cat, he/she will not be a Woe anymore, by definition.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Letouriste

    Hum…why did he not just leave? Leave the free cities forever? Go at the other side of the world where his Name mean nothing? By travelling randomly he could meet someone killing him someday.by staying,his role is taking shape.

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    1. Darkening

      I think a ruler abandoning their land and wandering the world in search of someone that will kill them would be a story itself… But yeah, I’d have to go back and look at what the kanenas said to him exactly, can’t remember if they restricted him in any way besides not killing himself.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Jonnnney

      His sole purpose in life is to follow the Will Of The People Of Bellerophon First and Greatest Of The Free Cities. The people decided that he should stay and as such he must stay.

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    1. Jonnnney

      Still alive and in the hands of the Tyrant I’d bet. Named are allowed to change sides I wonder what a white knight turns into when there is still a black knight. Even if he does not change sides he follows the choir of judgement he could do well as an enforcer of the Heirarchs justice.

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  4. “My friends, it has often been said that I like war.

    My friends, I like war…

    No, friends, I love war!

    I love holocausts.

    I love blitzkriegs.

    I love defensive lines.

    I love sieges, charges, I love mop-up operations, and retreats.”

    -The Major, Hellsing

    Ah, i thought the Tyrant’s speech sounded a little similar. XD

    I gotta say, I really love Anaxarxes’ characterisation. All the other big players in the universe go out and do great things, and he just runs away. But like the story of Jonah, greatness finds him anyway.

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  5. lennymaster

    And they all utterly understimate Cat. One would think that after all the shit she survived, she led her army and people through, they would know better. Cat is the pinnacle of modern Evil, she unites the crazy and fucked up powers of old Evil with the cold logic and reason of new Evil, all while still caring about her people. She leads a band of monsters, no less crazy and capable than Blacks, though I would have loved to see Robber as Saboteur instead of Thief being one of them. Just think of the Aspects she could get as Black Knight, with her whole Winter Mantle and the like. Or as the Black Queen of Callow, leader of a people, that while deeply entwined with Good and Heros had revenge stretching over generations as one of their fundamental aspects, or should I say Aspects. I mean, Daoine has been sticking the souls of their dead in a gigantic power source for their Elite soldiers because they were pissed about the Elves pushing them out of their original homeland.
    Before this is all over Cat will have most likely slaughtered her way through most of the continent, wiped out the Elves and destroyed the Kingdom of the Dead, maybe riding on an Aspect that makes her, and all the soldiers under her comand ridiculously strong against people that ever crossed Callow somehow, or by leading two dozen Legions around, the biggest and best trained and equipped warchine in the history of Calernia. Quite possibly several of those being close to entierly independent undead.

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    1. Keyen

      She also have huge weakpoints, like the problem with her soul, the fact she is extremely easy to anger and bait, she is too trusting, and she is telling how people could kill her to anybody (like the tips to Thief) I.E arrogant. And even in pure power, she could be killed by many characters (not even including heroes, she could be killed by Ranger, Hierophant, Warlock, Archer, probably Black, probably Assassin, now Thief, and by Hakram if he wanted).

      I really doubt this story will be about an overpowered MC, far from it. Either her transition will remove lot of power (like how Black aspects are shit), or she will lose something else (because she will switch side or something like that).

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      1. lennymaster

        First, there will be no redemption, this is not that kind of story.
        Second, I did in no way say that it would be easy to get there.
        Third, this is the end of the third book of five and Cat still being still an underdog becomes kind of ridiclious. She literally KILLED A DEMIGOD AND STOLE HIS STUFF. And that soulweakness is probably cleared up at the end of book by her ascending into a new Name.
        Fourth, Sacker already thought in skirmishes 2 that Cat has overcome Blacks only weakness, pure power, and while she may not be as experiencedas him, that will come in time.
        Fifth, the Calamities are dieing, the Woe is rising, I would not be too sure who is more dangerous one on one, cat or warlock, her aspects and skill are far better suited for duels.
        Sixth, she is very much aware that there are plenty of people left that can curbstomp her, she said to Black just a few chapters ago that Ranger nearly killed her at their first meeting in fary.
        Seventh, she thought the trick she gave Thief was pretty much common knowledge, and admitted to herself afterwards that telling her might have been unwise.
        Eighth, trusting people and motivating them to trust her is a big part why she got this far, she got Adjudant for her blind spots, as he told Thief during their little talk. Giving her that tip, even if she thougt that was nothing special is something Thief obviously did not know, and it might just be, that it is what allows Thief to be more effective against Heiress.
        Ninth, Blacks Aspects are not weak, just more suited foe leading armies rather than duels. Despite that Cat thought just last chapter that he was damned good at it, Black Knight being after all a Name intended for being the Emperors/ress right hand man and killing Heroes.
        Tenth and last, she is constantly thinking how something she pulled of with a lot of blood, sweat and sacrifice could just as easily have gone wrong, how she has to be more carefull than in the past because it gets ever harder to spin a story in wich she is the underdog and how the challenges ahead (war with Procer, the Elves, etc.) could easily break her, and how her constant fear of losing herself is both a hindrence and a good sign.
        I think we can concloude Cat is rightfully confident, not arrogant.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Keyen

        Never said anything about redemption, just switching side, which is completly different. Basically, if you think about it in a D&D alignement system, while Black and Malicia are something like Lawful Evil, Cat is neither Lawful nor Evil. More like Chaotic Neutral. She don’t give a shit about Evil philosophy (while the whole goal of Black is Evil winning). She doesn’t give a shit about Good either. She was clear enough in the T3 chap 13, she will kill anybody, either heroes or villains, no difference, no question asked.

        So, yes, when she will be truly a Neutral Character (including a neutral Name) and not an Evil name, power could be lost. I doubt she will stay with Praes until the end. If she does, it will because Praes will have switched side and no longer purely Evil (but it doesn’t mean it will be Good).

        You are clearly overestimating her. Her soul is in pieces, Warlock has just to move an hand and it’s done (stated multiple times). She killed a demi god because she stacked the odds very, very, very hard before (they struggled in 5v1 against the princess), and so on. Yes, in time, she may be better than Black. And yes, Black experience will be very useful for her. But it doesn’t change anything in terms of pur power.

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      3. Dainpdf

        I don’t think Cat is Neutral. I’d argue for Lawful Evil. She has standards and rules she follows (lawful) but when all is said and done she doesn’t mind murdering, threatening and torturing her way to her objectives (evil). The alignment system isn’t very good, though.

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      4. Keyen

        Basically, the alignment system is a scale about goals (Good to Evil) and methods (Lawful to chaotic). While I agree on the fact it’s not that great, I think it’s very important, especially when some characters don’t make the difference (like in the discussion between the Swordman and Thief).

        The Lone Swordman, despite his methods (torturing, his brainwashing gambit) can’t be considered by any mean as an Evil character. It’s not his goals which were dubious, but his methods. If you wanted another analogy, Robin Hood, despite using murder, breaking the law and other things, wasn’t an Evil character, but a Chaotic one. Because, in the end, his goal was something Good.

        It’s more or less the Same for Cat. Her end goal is neither Evil winning (or something close to that) nor Good winning (or something close to that). It’s “fuck you, leave Callow alone in your good vs evil war”, which is the warcry of an Neutral character. However, she doesn’t give a shit about official rules, twisting the arm of the fucking Empress if she can get away with it, which is Chaotic by nature.

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  6. Jonnnney

    Wonderful, by having the cities unite under a single leader we get a situation where each city is allowed to do whatever the hell they please towards the outside countries without hindering their fellow cities.

    The genius of the Tyrant is shown. He personally wants the Free Cities to be an evil nation that liberates principalities, but he knows he is strongest when he follows the narrative. The narrative of the free cities is that no shift in power between the cities ever has any lasting effect. The strength of the Tyrant of Helike comes from grasping for power against the will of the rest of the league. He has created a situation where he is strongest yet faces no direct opposition from his neighboring cities. There is no truce, there are some cities that support the crusade, others that seek to “liberate” principalities, and others that seek to raid or trade with all sides at war.

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  7. I wonder if this was part of the Empresses’ plan. It’s going to be impossible for Procer to launch a crusade if they’re currently being invaded by the League, and it’s happening at exactly the time when the Empire is weakest (even if they beat Diabolist, the Legions are going to be shredded)

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    1. Dainpdf

      I believe Kairos may have deviated from her plan, but still be within her accepted parameters. As in, she didn’t necessarily want things to be this way, but she doesn’t mind this development.

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  8. Shoddi

    Atalante, Bellerophon, Delos, Helike, Nicae, Penthes, and Stygia, plus the Hierarch of the Free Cities. And now the pieces fall into place.

    “You have already struck bargains, mortal,” she (Sulia) sneered. “Two that my eyes can see. I wonder what you promised Larat, to have him risk my wrath on the field.” That was the Prince of Nightfall’s name, I was pretty sure.

    “I will take the crown of seven mortals rulers and one, to lay them at the feet of the Prince of Nightfall,” I said.

    Her face went still. A glimmer of something like fear passed through those shining eyes, and shit that wasn’t good at all. “You know not what you have promised,” she said. “This must not come to pass.” — Book III, Chapter 35: Questions

    Kairos, if Calernia is the ONLY place that gets carved up, we’ll all be lucky.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It can’t be the Free Cities because Bellepheron has no mortal ruler.
      That’s the whole point of it.

      It’s going to be Procer that she takes the seven crowns and one from. Seven regular princes and the First Prince. It’s already been hinted at with a previous Good King hanging seven princes and one.

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  9. Dainpdf

    Wow.
    Anaxares is such a paradoxical character. I love him! I think I love Kairos a bit too, just for bringing him into being.
    I can’t wait for this whole gambit to blow up in the Tyrant’s face. Probably as part of a Thanatos Gambit.

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  10. I agree that Cat’s soul-weakness will get resolved by the end of this book. Not before Akua uses it against her though. Diabolist’s core power is in binding/controlling entities unnatural to Creation. That’s Cat at this point, at least partly, according to Warlock.

    It’ll prolly be the crux of what Cat has to overcome when she faces Diabolist. After all, despite Black accompanying her, this conflict is as personal between Cat and Diabolist as Black’s was with the Heir.

    The historical journal notes written by LADY Aisha (who gets ennobled at some point) have no mention of Calamity influence as Cat’s campaigns turn toward Procer. That’s….worrying.

    What I find more interesting is Cat’s cloak. The cloth-swatches of all the places she’s beaten/conquered being added to it is making a Named Artifact of the thing. Diabolist’s assessment was that said artifact is still in nascent form, but probably already powerful enough to “shed sorcery like water.” From Aisha’s journal entries, we know Cat piles up quite a few more wins during the Uncivil Wars. Wonder what her cloak will be like by then?

    Anaxares is OK, but I don’t get all the mad love for him. He basically just reiterates his hyper-democrat programming whenever a stimulus is applied to him. Perhaps if he begins developing beyond that he’ll grow on me.

    Personally, I hope the Tyrant talks the league into taking a swing at Ashur. I want Cordelia to be faced with the prospect of having to take Procer alone against the Empire. It’s being weakened due to the fighting against Diabolist…I just never really dug the idea of Cordelia alliance-making her way to a badass Crusade with bloodless diplomacy. It’s not that it isn’t realistic, it is. It just….lacks weight in a story frame. The shape, as Cat would say, of that is uninteresting. However effective it might be.

    No, Cordelia should have to be faced with taking her country across the Rubicon alone, or calling off the notion of Crusade. Unlike the Dead Kingdom, there isn’t even narrative weight to the idea of Praes as an Evil Expansionist Aggressor presently. Sorry, but “Crusading preemptively” lacks narrative weight IMHO.

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    1. Minor quibble: Aisha Bishara is of noble birth to begin with. Her status as such was inherited at birth, not given later in the story for personal merit. Her being highborn comes up every now and again as it is, such as (IIRC) her being the one to advise Cat about how Diabolist’s offer of alliance was probably sincere despite all the bloodshed and strife already between the two Named by then.

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  11. Tolack

    I really don’t like how this guy keeps telling himself to say nothing to avoid influencing people’s decisions. He’s a trained diplomat! He should know that anything anyone says will influence people to varying degrees of success or failure.

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    1. Ah, but he’s a trained BELLEROPHAN diplomat. You know, the Evil-aligned direct democracy where the thought police will kill you if you think “seditious” thoughts (just being referred to in too-complimentary terms by foreigners counts) or don’t repeat Phrases Written Like This about the greatness of Bellerophon in your head enough, and who furthermore openly resolve disputes among themselves with even more murder, as a matter of course?

      Everyone who is not from Bellorophon says that the people of that city are all mad, and they’re quite right. What he knows, first and foremost, is that the inviolate Will Of The People has contradicted the inviolate laws of Bellerophon, and the only thing keeping him from offing himself to resolve the contradiction is the fact that he’s been ordered not to.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. jonnnney

      His whole process of gaining a name involved the Tyrant ignoring everything he said or did and his life prior to that point is largely being ignored at council meetings.

      Like

  12. Alivaril

    Book two, prologue two, as a statement from the Augur: “the Tyrant seeks to end Procer.” First Prince Cordelia thought that referred to Malacia, but…

    I’m genuinely impressed; that was so subtle I only caught it on a reread.

    Like

  13. Isa Lumitus

    I’ve gotta say, I find Anaxares freaking hilarious. If for no other reason than how you portray Democracy.

    I expected the chapter to end with Anaxares accidentally causing the Free Cities to ally with Callow, though. Mostly because that would cause Cat some problems.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Why do they keep calling Bellerophon a republic? From what we’ve heard, it doesn’t have elected representatives/lawmakers, just civil servants and direct democracy. It’s a textbook example of the one democratic system that ISN’T a republic!

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