Interlude: Liesse IV

“Rulers must exercise restraint. Every action ripples across Creation, bringing three unintended consequences for every one anticipated.”
– Extract from the personal journals of Dread Emperor Terribilis II

“Well, I’m not getting close to that,” Archer announced.

Their arrival on the bastion had been somewhat haphazard, Hakram thought, yet the fight had managed to go sharply downhill within moments. Before they even got their bearings fully half a dozen wards had blown up and mages had begun screaming, their flesh boiling and twisting violently. The orc calmly considered the sight even as he rose to his feet, eyes moving from one roiling shape to another. This was not, he decided, sorcery. Or not just that. The effects were too varied. Some rebels were growing spores on their skin, others had bones protruding from their skin in a crown of spikes and yet more had… stranger outcomes. A woman’s silk robes turned into a carapace, her the ruby set in her thick golden necklace blinking like an eye. He had seen the likes of this before, in Marchford. When a warband of young Named had picked a fight beyond their understanding, and come so very close to annihilation for that arrogance. The rest of the dots connected themselves without effort. Diabolist had surrendered the demon she’d unleashed there as part of the terms of settlement in Liesse, and the custody of it had been granted to Masego.

Adjutant felt like shivering. It was one thing, he thought, for Catherine to fight fire with oil. Quite another for Hierophant to do the same. The consequences of Masego making a mistake would be graver in many ways. It occurred to him for the first time, then, that they had perhaps learned the recklessness of the woman they followed too well. We are no Calamities, the orc thought. The crucible of our forging was one of desperation, and we have learned both the best and the worst of that. Victory against all odds, victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, could never be gained without a cost. Habit had taught them to disregard that, because behind them more steady hands always swept away the mess. But those steady hands were dying now. If they did not learn to check this recklessness, it would bury them. Or worse, the orc thought as he watched the corruption take hold of the mages. In the distance a sound like a thousand sharpers sounded and Hierophant returned to Creation in a storm of power. The orc’s eyes flicked, and his face grew grim.

The Deoraithe had advanced where the demons once stood before Masego spirited them away, and now that the blind sorcerer had returned he’d come back among them. Tendrils of power washed over the heart of the bowmen, corruption spreading with them. They had traded three great catastrophes for two lesser ones. Hakram seized serenity, let it sink through his mind and wash away doubts and fears. Clarity took the scales from his eyes, and he assessed the situation on the bastion. Corrupted mages, more than a hundred. It was no longer spreading actively, but the taint had taken them whole. Praesi household troops were hesitating, split between the duty to clear out the two Named who’d just dropped down among them and the dim realization that the mages they sought to protect might no longer be on their side. On anyone’s. Could he and Archer take care of both forces alone? No, he assessed. Their intention here had been to disrupt, and Hierophant had achieved that without them. They must now contain instead, and the two of them were not enough. Without hesitation, he made his decision.

“Who is in command among you?” he called out to the soldiers.

“Shut your fucking mouth, greens-“

Archer had put an arrow through the roof of the woman’s mouth before she was done speaking and was already nocking a second.

“Not the answer we were looking for, my darlings,” she smiled.

“Your sorcerers are corrupted,” Hakram said. “They must be cleared out before we all die.”

Power began to feel the air, so heavy he could taste it, but it was wrong. Like stagnant water.

“Listen to me,” Adjutant barked, and his Name flared.

Like quill being dipped in an inkwell, void filled for purpose. It was not Speaking, not quite. He was not Catherine, able to bridge the gap of a Name too young and thin by sheer stubborn will. But he was the Adjutant, and they were soldiers. That mattered, in the eyes of Creation. They turned to him, and there was a glint in their eyes that spoke of orders awaited. Just a glint, but it would be enough.

“About turn,” he ordered. “Rapid advance, watch your formation. Strike before they can start rituals.”

There was heartbeat of stillness, then the world pivoted. They moved.

“Archer,” he began, turning to the other Named.

“Disrupt anything big,” she sighed. “I know how this goes. Gods, you take all the fun out of this. It could have been a real messy scrap but you’ve gone and made it all orderly.”

Adjutant hefted up his axe and joined the ranks of the men he’d been about to kill mere moments ago. Sorcery lashed forward and he bared his fangs in answer.

Wekesa had always considered the works of goblins with fond but distinct contempt. Short-lived creatures that they were, their kind always strove to leave behind a legacy of steel and chords to pull curtain over the tragic frailty of their existence. There were occasional sparks of brilliance in the dross, but in the end even the very best of engines only ever managed to match a single trick of the many a properly trained mage had in their arsenal. It was one thing for Amadeus, who had the preoccupations of an entire empire on his shoulders, to find worth in this. Sorcerers truly worth the name were few, and even fewer were willing to have anything to do with the Legions. But for him? The toys of children were rarely worth a second glance, and those that were worth more than that tended to attract… untoward attention. Warlock was confident he could survive the carnage that would follow the reception of a third Red Letter, but the same could not be said for the Empire. Still, for all that the little engines under him were proving to have some use in clearing out the devils they should not warrant anything of the sort.

It was hard to grasp exactly what incurred the wrath of the gnomes, but they’d tolerated the existence of both scorpions and goblin munitions for centuries. Greater efficiency in the employment of both should pass without making any waves being made.

The Fifteenth did swift work of taking the creational side of the gate, and afterwards swept forward through the Breach in an orderly manner. The Warlock’s chariot tumbled through the air above the advancing ranks, passing a boundary that few alive would be able to sense. The Hell that awaited him on the side had amusingly mundane scenery, by the standards of such things. Endless yellow sands spread in every direction, shifting dunes and scorching winds. The sky was deep crimson and bereft of any celestial orbs – a hint in the location of this particular Hell among the lay of them. Though his people swore by Below, when they swore at all, this was broadly mistaken. The Hells were, as much as direction could apply to them, somewhat to the left of Creation. Attempting to map them was a fool’s errand, of course. Emperors and Empresses and ruined Praes dozens of times attempting to do as much, only for it to become undeniable the labyrinth of hellscapes was constantly shifting. It was a pit of writhing snakes, moving with every heartbeat. It was said that as soon as a mortal mind thought of a Hell that did not exist, it would come into being. Wekesa had never managed to conclusively prove or disprove that adage, but he had reliably established that the Hells were in constant expansion. That had forced him to reconsider some theories as to the nature of Creation.

Wekesa had long suspected that the reason for the existence of angels and devils was that the Gods could not intervene directly in Creation or any of its adjacent realms. Not, like the Book of All Things stated, because a wager forbade it – but because the Gods were Creation. That their power had been made into the world all mortals inhabited and could not be withdrawn without unravelling the entire edifice. Hence the establishment of catspaws defined as opposite, but ultimately serving the same purpose: advancing the experiment. It was beautiful work, he’d thought. Well-deserving of the word divine. Yet if the Gods were invested in the making of Creation, what power fed the expansion of the Hells? The Heavens and their Choirs, after all, did not grow. But neither did they lessen, which was perhaps a hint. Angels had been slain or made to fall in the past, but no Choir had ever been measurably weakened. His current theory was that there was fixed quantity of power behind Heavens and Hells, and that Above had chosen fixed figure where Below had preferred endless mutability – at the risk of thinning the brew. Few devils could withstand even the gaze of an angel, after all.

Ah, so much to study and yet he had to settle these irritating distractions before returning to what mattered. Wekesa traced a handful of runes and a line of darkness scythed through the first few ranks of the devils clustering before the Breach, allowing the struggling legionaries to establish a solid foothold. The chariot rose into the sky again and his gaze swept to the distance. The devils here seemed endless in number, though it was not so. Still, two dozen columns slithering along the dunes like giant snakes of soldiers were trudging forward towards the Breach. Tedious, this. Warlock could have begun the work of slaughtering them, but he could not spare such expense of power if he was to build upon the work of the Sahelian girl. Crafting a lasting effect from scratch was already stretching the limits of what he was capable of doing without burning himself out. Much as he disliked the thought, he would have to rely on the Squire’s men. His nose wrinkled in distaste even as he guided the chariot downwards. Wheels spun wildly against sand, splashing yellow hands around as he reined in the devil-horses, and Wekesa lightly leapt down to the ground.

Eyes sweeping from someone of high enough rank to be worth addressing, he found a woman with the markings of a Senior Tribune on her shoulders. It would do.

“You,” he drawled. “I’ll need a space cleared to work. A circle with a diameter of seventy feet, and add another dozen around that where your soldiery is not to step. Precision will be required.”

The woman paled.

“Sir, this may take time,” she said. “Resistance is proving stiff, even with your help, and the engines must-“

“I’ve not interest in the practicalities,” Wekesa said flatly. “See it done. Now. I’ll mark the boundaries visibly as a courtesy to your general, but do not expect any legionaries crossing it to survive the experience.”

He truly did miss working with the likes of Ranker and Istrid. Their officers knew better than to question his orders. Warlock had no taste for grovelling, but he did believe that the occasional bout of terror would do a great deal to temper these youngbloods. As promised, he began by setting a boundary: dots of red light formed around the area he claimed for his own, legionaries hastily getting out of the way before consequences could ensure. With that dealt with, the true casting could begin. First, an outer ward. Circular, diameter of seventy-three feet. Little more than a filter to prevent the elements touching his work. Wekesa snapped his wrist and three red flames formed, burning bright, and began moving. His brow created and guided them with his mind, burning the sand to glass in the form of a perfect circle. Even as they began elaborating on that initial pattern he stepped forward into the circle and knelt in the centre, every lesser rune added as he moved leading towards him. The Warlock closed his eyes and let time ebb away. The flames wove in intricate patterns across the sand, arrays and runes he bolstered by drawing foci from his treasury dimension.

Amethysts taken from lifeless grounds first, clarity touched by death to prevent the bleed from cascading. Chalcedony from a riverbed, to nurture the currents of sorcery without them struggling against each other. Branches of still-living alder for precision, lead ripped straight from the earth to draw the impurities. Lesser reagents, but he did not dare bring materials with inherent properties into this ritual. Aspect sorcery was difficult enough to shape without additional variables being brought into the formula. How long the work took him, he did not know. But eventually his eyes opened and around him an intricate series of interlocking runic arrays marked the grounds of Hell. Wekesa looked for imperfections carefully, ignoring the sound of fighting ahead and to the sides. None he could see, and he forced himself to go over the calculations one last time. He’d done workings of a similar nature in the past, but never one exactly the same. It would suffice, he decided. Leave him all but burned out, but not so much he was unable to defend himself if needed.

“I do apologize,” he murmured, words meant for the Sahelian girl who would never hear them. “It is beautiful work, truly, and to meddle with it is unseemly. But you have made yourself an obstacle.”

Imbricate, his mind spoke, and the aspect shivered across this realm. Closing the Greater Breach was, of course, impossible. The ritual lit up around him, lights to blind all the world, and the Sovereign of the Red Skies turned his will on the span of the gate. Usurpation had even been the essence of sorcery. What could not be closed could be redirected. Power drained out of him at an alarming rate, but Wekesa seized that thin boundary and attached the work of his aspect to it. What had once been a Breach leading to Creation now led to another Hell, and his veins burned with the effort of weaving that addition into the heart of the Hellgate’s nature. If he did any less, he was only delaying the inevitable. Panting softly, the greatest living sorcerer of the age rose to his feet. It was done. The sound of the panicking legionaries washed over him, the buzz of flies. Wekesa looked upon them, wondering at the numbers. A few hundred, a whole thousand? There were even a few Deoraithe he could see. Without the Breach at their back, the soldiers were already being surrounded. They were stranded, after all.

He was not.

Dusting off his robes, the Warlock stepped onto his chariot and set the horses to flight. He was not inclined to linger here, and it would be a long way back to Creation.

Ranker’s people had a saying, about miracles: sudden dawns blind. It lost nearly all its nuances when translated in Lower Miezan. The usual word for dawn in goblintongue meant first-light-after-dark, but in this case the implied context was Light instead of light and raider-night for dark. Light for the the searing hatred wielded by heroes, and the meaning of strife that had been associated with the many defeats of the Legions since the subjugation of the Tribes. It was a reminder that sudden upsets always fucked goblinkind, one way or another. Like most goblin sayings, it had a completely different meaning in matrontongue. The word for sudden was narrow-vision-of-swiftness and for blind to-miss-in-wilful-ignorance. Matrons were not warned of the harsh hand of the Heavens. They were warned of seeking momentary salvation at the price of a later great cost. The old Marshal watched the Second Battle of Liesse unfold around her, and found that both meanings had grounds.

The explosion on the bastion must have been the work of the Hierophant, because that first sorcerous detonation had been followed by a shitshow of demonic corruption. There was a vicious fight going up there even as she looked, between two of the Woe and the handiwork of another. If those two hadn’t been up there… She turned to Kolo, her balding and ever-nervous Senior Mage.

“You’re sure the control array still stands?” she asked, for the third time.

The Soninke licked his lips and nodded.

“It’s not in use, the mages are no longer guiding the wights – they must be going according to the last instructions – but it still exists,” he confirmed. “They could take back control if they tried.”

Burning, bloody Hells, they were lucky that demon-juice tended to turn the affected dumb if the demon wasn’t around to guide them. But there was still potential disaster looming. If the corrupted mages spread that corruption down the sorcery that allowed them to control the undead… That was the kind of catastrophe that broke cities. Kingdoms, even, if it wasn’t checked in time. And there was no telling if one of the rebels would wise up before they were cleared out and start pissing in the proverbial pond. And that wasn’t even the worst of it.

“Scry him again,” Ranker said. “Brute force it if you have to.”

“Ma’am, we could have half our mage lines behind that ritual it would change nothing,” Kolo said. “Trying to touch the Hierophant is… He must have something of Summer inside him, because even looking too close evaporates the entire scrying bowl.”

He grimaced.

“Including the stone, ma’am,” he added. “The damned stone.”

Wekesa’s only son had emerged from whatever sorcerous madness he’d been up to right in the middle of the advancing Deoraithe bowmen. That had been bad enough – at least a hundred had died just for being in the wrong place when he returned – but the poison in the wine had been the fact he’d apparently come back in the middle of a godsdamned storm of corruption. It’d splashed all over half a dozen companies. The boy had immediately started scouring the area with flame, which was the right decision to make. But it also meant he was now torching his way through the middle of the first wave troops headed to prop up the centre, killing dozens with every heartbeat. The infantry coming behind the archers had no idea he was killing only corrupted – they thought this was treachery, and now the entire front had gone to shit. Kegan was barking up about betrayal over the scrying links, and even after being told what was truly happening she was threatening to pull back her troops entirely. Ranker had told her if she did there’d be a court-martial and execution before the day was over, but there would be no putting this fruit back on the branch. Daoine was going to holler for blood after this, take it all the way up to the court if they had to. And we lost too many men today to be able to afford a rebellion in the north. All that, and the most dangerous question had yet to be asked.

Had the Hierophant been corrupted?

Ranker had seen him emerge in a godsdamned whirlpool of demon essence. That wasn’t something she could just ignore. A Named that obviously powerful with a demon whispering in his ears was not something the Empire could afford. Or Calernia, for that fucking matter. There was a very real chance the boy would need to be put down, and now. But she didn’t have the means to carry out that decision if she made it, and what would come of it was… Warlock would kill them all, even if they were right. Not even Black would be able to stay his hand, not when it came to family. And Foundling had made Hierophant one of her little band of roving disasters. The goblin had it on good authority the girl had lost her shit over one of her legates getting torched by the Summer Court so badly it had broken half of Old Dormer. What kind of a tantrum would she throw over losing a Named?

The only saving grace in this entire blunder of a battle was that Wekesa had come through and the Hellgate was closed. Or something like that, anyway. Her mage lines couldn’t give her a straight answer, but they agreed that the way the gate had become see-through meant nothing would come out of it anymore. The troops that had gone through had yet to come back, though, and Ranker suspected they would never. She’d ordered for the Fifteenth to prop up the centre anyway and they were on the move – the sight of those legionaries marching towards her people had gone a long way in making Kegan shut up. With the wights rudderless, for now, the flanks were holding steady. This battle, the Marshal thought, could still be turned around. If they were careful and lucky and there were no great upsets. The old goblin’s eyes turned to the Hierophant standing alone in a storm of flame, surrounded by charred corpses, and she whet her lips. Her Senior Mage stayed at her side in silence, knowing better than to speak.

There was a decision to be made, and Marshal Ranker made it.

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77 thoughts on “Interlude: Liesse IV

  1. Shequi

    I expected Wekesa to abandon the Legionaires inside the opened Hell. I didn’t quite expect how he’d manage to neutralise the gate, though. The unattached gate outside Liesse is going to be a nightmare to deal with though; a gate like that is bound to be easier to reopen at a critical juncture.

    What Ranker’s decision to do with Masego is is a much more critical matter. Masego may make the point moot, one way or another.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Big Brother

      I’m gonna say, judging by the fact that Masego has had a good long while to examine the Beast of Corruption as well as the drop of Corruption in himself, he’s able to use his Name to neutralize the effect it has on himself, but not others yet. He is, after all, the Heirophant, Revealer of Secrets. And what greater secret than Immunity to Demonic Influence at the moment?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. werafdsaew

        There’s a simple narrative reason why Hierophant is not corrupted: he is part of the Woes, and the Woes are the chosen successor to the Calamities, the same way that the Squire is the chosen successor to the Black Knight. So until the succession happens, and the Calamities are replaced by the Woes, they have plot armor and cannot be weakened.

        Like

    2. warriormonk19

      Wekesa did abandon the Legionaires inside the opened Hell. I agree with you though that the unattached gate may still play a role in the unfolding story. Perhaps Warlock, Hierophant, or even Catherine could make use of it to more easily rip portals to Arcadia or other planes? It’ll be interesting to see the aftermath of this battle.

      Like

      1. warriormonk19

        On the second read, I realize that you do indeed know that Warlock abandoned the Legionaires. My bad. Damn, Masego is kind of clueless, but Warlock is straight up vicious.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. edrey

      ranker decision should be something like scrying someone close of masego to tell him that he should take the control of the undeads and give it to her tribune, it’s a gamble but if she doesn’t the corrupted mages would do it and all goes downhill , and moreover she doesn’t have the means to kill masego even if she wants to.

      Like

  2. JC

    It seems there’s still some sort of saving grace in the methods of the Calamities, after all. Poor 15th though. Getting trapped in a Hell like that.

    I was worried that the story would prop up the Woe’s methods as a bastion of reason for far too long, but here we see some of those consequences made clear. I do hope Masego makes it out ok.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Gunslinger

    Holy shit that ending is ominous. Hopefully it’s something like trust Masego.

    Also fascinating character that he may be I’ve grown to truly despise Warlock. Such an arrogant prick.

    Lastly three chapters a week can’t be easy for the author. If you have the capacity any support on the authors patreon would go a long way to assist them patreon.com/user?u=3523924

    Liked by 2 people

    1. oldschoolvillain

      Ranker can’t afford not to trust masego – it’d be an easy matter to have a goblin slip a knife between his ribs or have a Watch snipe him from two hundred yards, but the consequence would be absolute obliteration from Warlock and Catherine. And Ranker kind of needs to be alive and have an army to deal with Procer.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. lennymaster

        I very much doubt that anyone but Archer could snipe Masego from any distance. And not just because of a Name, Names do not die to one-shot attacks, even from other Named. The combination of Archer and her inherently magical arrows might do it, though I doubt it would be more than a crippling wound, not an outright deadly one.
        And no Named worth their salt would ever allow a Goblin within stabbing distance without being aware of their presence.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. B

        @lennymaster

        > Names do not die to one-shot attacks, even from other Named.

        Not true. The Exiled Prince got himself good and dead from a single crossbow bolt from an unnamed. It’s unusual for sure, but it can definitely happen.

        Like

    2. Valkyria

      Warlock really is a prick. He doesn’t care for people at all, they are just things for him… sending thousands of them to death.
      I mean, maybe it was necessary… but he does not care. As if being a Named would alter him to non-human. I mean, he’s calling Cat an abomination, so he somewhere is considering himself human, right? And yet it’s like he is not connected to the species more than to a distant relative.
      He might be an interesting charakter and adds to the story very well, but I can’t really get myself to like him. Unlike Hierophant who is similar to his father, but yet has some traits that just make him funny and likable. The more screentime Warlock gets, the more irritating I come find him.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mike E.

        And it also seems like he has grabbed the attention of the gnomes twice, if that is what the Red Letters refer too, so his experiments have crossed the border of being something gnomes would eradicate from human knowledge at any cost. (He infers he could survive the wrath of the gnomes if he crossed the line again, but the collateral damage to the rest of the world would be insane).

        Like

      2. oldschoolvillain

        To Mike E. – Warlock wasn’t the one receiving the Red Letters, the Empire was. One for some farming machine a few emperors back, one recently for messing with ‘powders’ if I recall correctly. Warlock is just comfortably certain that he can ride out the cataclysm that comes with angering the Gnomes by hopping away to a pocket dimension with Masego and Tikoloshe. Probably right, too, considering his aspects.

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  4. Engineer

    Just focus on destroying the control array. That’s the main point of contention at the moment if Masego doesn’t do it during his “rampage”. But don’t move on a Named, especially one who has a “whirlpool of corruption” at his behest. There’s no way that does not end in catastrophic failure for all parties involved.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Mr. Nobody

    Looks like our dear Ranker will be the next general to be killed. Maybe an arrow through her neck by Archer. She won’t even survive to actually manage to kill Masego, let alone see the reaction of Warlock or Catherine for that matter.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hahahha

    Hah! Warlock just signed his death warrant, hahahaha … ha… haha …ha. He always was the closest of the calamities to the old breed of idiot praesi villains and this move really illustrates it.

    Speaking of warlock, has anyone else found him singularly unimpressive as a “great mage” so far?

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    1. Engineer

      Not me.

      Though the impact was probably lost in the text I got the distinct impression that redirecting a permanent portal into Creation from one of the Hells, a portal keyed on a fundamental level to the magical signature of a NAMED Diabolist, is a feat worthy of a capital S Sorcerer.

      I agree though that The Warlock will not see the end of the Second Battle of Liesse, the way things are going now. For one he and Cat share no love for one another and he did just screw over a sizable portion of Cat’s legion. There’s no way Squire’s Name and Mantle can let that slight go unanswered and remember it was Warlock who backed down during their standoff in the tent.

      If the Warlock does not meet his end here, he and Cat are destined to clash. And only one those two have a power greater than any Name: Plot Armour.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. TeK

        I for once do not think< that they will clash. First of all, judging by how the story goes, Cat will have much bigger problems to deal with after Liesse. Second, it will take some time to fly from hells to creation, and noone really knows, how the gates were closed, and, honestly, thousand casulties ain't that big of a price for that. Just containing an open portal would cost much more, not to mention that the whole battle could be lost beacuse of it. So in conclusion, Cat will be to busy, to ask, what had happened in Hell, and Warlock will not see fit to tell her first.

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    2. IDKWhoitis

      Warlock isn’t impressive in the amount of absolute power he can unleash. For example, we see that his predecessor had a much higher output. However, to gain power, there are costs, some short term (a soul or bargaining chip) some long term (having too many pacts or modifications to the Soul can’t be good for your health).

      Warlock is impressive in the sense that he is able to do huge things without the large power reserves of those who came before him. He understands magic and knows the in and outs of a wide breath of magic schools. Few non-Named mages could hope to understand a single school of magic, or be able to glance at a runic array and derive it’s use and failure points. Hell, even the Hedge Wizard had trouble truly deciphering what Warlock was doing while he was murdering her one spell of at a time.

      Warlock is in a league of his own due to the wide and deep scale of knowledge he holds, and the ability to pull all of those tricks off without some blood sacrifices or expending himself completely.

      Also, I don’t think he’s dead, he is just “MIA” for the foreseeable future.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Reveen

      One of the best ways to end up remembered as a great general, scientist, sorcerer is to become famous for one thing no one else is doing, steal credit for whatever you can, and make sure there’s no one around to say otherwise.

      Also, buying into your own hype helps.

      Like

  7. 'Ladi Williams

    “they were stranded afterall.
    He wasn’t”
    I can’t bliv he left then behind… But then I guess it’s in character for him to not give a shit about mere legionaries. Squire is going to have his heart for dinner when she’s done with Diabolist.
    Masego had better not die or ranker (tho I care very much less about her).
    Can’t wait for the next interlude tho I know the writer is going to keep us hanging and switch to cat and black. 😐

    Like

    1. Shoddi

      Triumphant: Oh, how lovely! Company come to call. Quickly, my minions, and fetch them. It’s been so long since I’ve heard news from outside.

      Like

  8. Letouriste

    Warlock that shitbag grrr.
    He could at least allow a large part of the legionaries to go back through the gate before activating the ritual:/

    masego is totally badass in this chapter^^
    I really hope ranker don’t screw up and follow her fears here.the empire can’t have a marshal dying now,that would be disastrous.her concerns are sane but this is a matter better left to a Named to judge…or at least she could wait for him to do something damning.i know that would be too late but she can’t kill him easily anyway

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  9. Draeysine

    Man what a read. Ranker may just have to take that L where Masego is concerned, his death above all others would unite Warlock AND Cat for wanton destruction.

    As for Warlocks actions…. justified, though not showing any hint of remorse makes it look worse than it is. I actually like Warlock a lot even if he is prickish I think he is doing what he can with the cards dealt with. Legionaries to him are replaceable, and sacrificing a few like that might have ensured the time it took to make his spell. It be no different in his eyes than that many legionaries dying to hold a position until reinforcements arrived.

    I doubt he did it out of malice it was pure calculation.

    And also Hakram definitely suspects or knows Masego is corrupted (albeit slightly) now. Good on him for realizing the pros and cons to the Woes standard “fuck it all up no regrets “ policy.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thrillho

    What an absolute clusterfuck of a battle. I mean, the campaign against Summer was bad. Dealing with a well-aged demon of Corruption was probably nightmare fuel.

    But this is on a whole ‘nother scale. Multiple, /multiple/ seasoned veteran generals and commanders getting torn to shreds, both Black /and/ Warlock pushed to their limits, severe fallout from dealing with /multiple/ demons of various types resulting in heavy friendly fire. A permanent rift in Creation, the likes of which only the Calernian version of the Lich King could open previously.

    New siege engines being developed, the face of military politics being seriously altered, I don’t even want to think of the butchers bill on this one.

    The Second Battle of Liesse is absolutely insane, and I’m on the edge of my seat to see how it ends. It’s going to take a /long/ time for our protags to recover from this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Letouriste

    WAIT A SEC! Pickler was in the hell side of the gate no? Her engines should have been there:o
    Is there any named character exept Jwahir left there?
    Maybe the hellhound sensed something and made some officers coming back?
    Anyway,that should have been nauk job by juniper admission…I can’t believe i’m glad he has been burned:o

    We don’t know much about jwahir.is she the woman kicking nauk in the first battle of the rat company? probably not given she was probably not even sergeant.

    Like

    1. oldschoolvillain

      No, Warlock was studying Pickler’s engines before he crossed the boundary. The scorpions and seeders were meant to open the path, not breach the gate itself.

      Like

  12. oldschoolvillain

    There’s a lot of discussion about how this chapter ended Warlock as a likeable character, but just gotta remind people – the soldiers who went into that hell gate knew it was a one-way trip. They were the sacrifice to save the battle and the several legions still fighting. Could Warlock have saved them? Frankly, no, he couldn’t have. The time it would have taken for almost a thousand troops to retreat back through the hell gate would have obliterated Warlocks carefully set ritual, thus ending any chance of redirecting the hell gate and rendering the entire thing moot. In sacrificing a thousand he immediately saved thousands more and, in the long term, probably millions, because now there’s no longer a hell gate feeding straight into Callow. Which, frankly, is hella impressive, because Warlock just took the ritual that Diabolist spent years preparing for and fuelled with millions of souls and pretty much turned it inside out in, what, an hour? Less? Screw the Red Skies – this wasn’t flashy blow-it-all-up magic, but this was the most impressive magical feat we’ve seen in the story, to me, perhaps short of Diabolist actually creating the Hellgate

    Like

    1. letouriste

      well everyone already known that guy was horrible.this chapter just reinforced the idea^^
      this is not the action he did which is revolting,more like the way he did that.

      Like

      1. oldschoolvillain

        *shrug* One thing that everyone might have been forgetting about the Sovereign of Red Skies, then, is that he’s a Villain. I’d pin him as either Lawful Evil or Neutral Evil, but he’s still Evil. And has always been, I think, the closest of the Calamities to what exactly that actually means. He is powerful, and holds the accompanying responsibility, but ultimately his only motivation is progressing his own agenda. No morals are required and, in some cases – such as this one – could cause a hesitation at a crucial moment and ruin everything the 15th spent their lives buying. For that reason, I actually really like Warlock.

        Like

  13. Decius

    There’s really only a couple ways this can go.

    Black orders Heirophant destroyed for being corrupted. Warlock kills Black. Scribe kills Warlock. The half-gateway in creation is connected to the fae realms.
    Diabloist tries to surrender/ to the new Black Knight, but Kat blames her for the loyalty cascade and Killian uses her in a blood sacrifice to purge the corruption from Heirophant. If that kills Wekasa, Killian becomes Thaumaturge.doe

    Kat fails to get the personal loyalty of the Legions of Terror as a whole, and cannot use them to purge the wasteland nobility. She instead uses their institutional loyalty to ready them against Procer, and the wasteland nobility takes advantage of their absence to depose Empress. While they are fighting over succession, Procer invades Callow, does a lot of damage, and is barely driven back.

    Kat then uses the Callowan army, blooded on two wars, to kill everyone in the Wasteland trying to claim the tower, and finally institutes some moderate reforms that prevent imperial governors from having the Stupid Greedy alignment, like she was trying to do at the beginning.

    Like

    1. Reveen

      Or her purge of the wasteland escalates into mass genocide and a multi-year quagmire, Callow gets sick of the constant war and starts rebelling again, and the hellgate slowly unravels everything around.

      I fully expect this story to end with Cat climbing the tower to sit on the throne to rule over a nation sized graveyard.

      Like

    2. letouriste

      nobody will die beside maybe ranker.i doubt hierophant would die like that.black has a sure way to kill warlock (said in the second book when cat and masego talked about the bomb in his hair).
      the rest is impossible,that doesn’t fit to their personality and the narrative so far

      Liked by 1 person

      1. satoshikyu

        It’s like he started off with the chapter we just read and then threw random ideas at the wall to see what might stick. Nothing beyond the first sentence has even the slightest basis in the story we’re reading. Not one reasonable thing in the whole comment. That’s almost impressive.

        Like

      2. Decius

        Black has a way to kill Warlock.
        Warlock has a way to kill Black.

        Somehow I don’t think that even Black would consider that Heirophant might be corrupted and instantly implement his plan to kill Warlock. But I can believe that Warlock would see the corruption, know that Black isn’t going to let his son live, and implement his plan.

        Scribe kills whoever kills Black- that’s obvious. What happens to her afterwards is as unclear as her current location.

        The Legions are already as a whole not loyal to Cat. Without Black giving orders the nobles would be able to convince them that the purges are treasonous and that being loyal to the Empress is better, and the Empress thinks she can manage the nobles well enough and can’t order summary executions of them without losing political power.

        Procer is already established as being ready to invade Callow.

        There are other ways it could turn out, but the biggest way is that either Heirophant isn’t corrupted , or Black never suspects that he is.

        Like

      3. Letouriste

        No you don’t understand: black had a SURE way to kill warlock.they devised that together in case he get too destructive and crazy.you can’t kill a Named as experienced as black easily but the reverse is possible because of their agrement.
        The contingency against black is in the hands of Assassin(said in the end of arc 2 too).

        The rest is just conjectures. Scribe lack the raw power to kill Warlock anyway.i don’t think she can.
        Also,these two guys are really really close,i think black is more important than masego to Warlock eyes…not by much probably and i can be wrong

        Like

  14. nipi

    I was expecting the gate to be shifted to another plane. Meh! Close enough.

    And Im guessing the gnomes arent all that concerned with military applications of technology. Sure youre a bit better at killing people but the amount of killers you can field stays about the same both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of your population. Make something to increase productiveness on the other hand and… And the greater concern might be that it allows you to have more researchers too.

    Like

    1. Alex Walters

      Save that if you grind far enough up the military tree you can casually smush people who didn’t grind up the tree even if they have say 100000x the troop numbers.

      The Gnomes have apparently LITERALLY wiped nations off the map from above without anyone being able to so much as target the attacker.

      That sounds an awful lot like high altitude bombers with nuke expies.

      Like

  15. nipi

    Im guessing there wasnt enough time to position the siege engines to bombard Hell from the other side of the gate. Now when will Cat get her chance to make Hell freeze over?

    Like

  16. Cicero

    looks like gamble of the empress failed in the worst possible, multiple of the legions have received heavy losses, at least 2 of her generals are dead and the super weapon she aimed to gain will very likely be useless

    Like

    1. letouriste

      yep,i don’t see how she could gain from all that mess.still,this is probably worth the death of the trueblood and her rival.a war with procer will be hard,a war with procer with strong enemies in her side is doomed.

      Like

      1. oldschoolvillain

        Wekesa did mention that he can mostly replicate the effects, given six or so months. And the purpose of Magicka enabling Heiress’ weapon was Terror. Procer doesn’t know that the ritual can only be used by a Diabolist, so the intent behind it works perfectly for Marluxia until Wekesa can get a Hellgate gun of their own working.

        Like

    2. oldschoolvillain

      First, please see my comment to Legitimate above. And second, remember that this is only, four legions? This is still only a fraction of the army that Malicia could call up in case of a proceran invasion. There are about ten others sitting elsewhere that can’t be here for various reasons, mostly distance, I suspect.

      Like

      1. lennymaster

        Remember that you also have to keep some troops back. She can not put all her available troops at the border and leave the Preasi and Callowan coast and heartland undefended. Raiding armies, shipfleets, other empires, like the Titanomachy, Levant and the Free Cities still exist, and an empire distracted by war makes for a great raiding target, even when, often especially when far away. And in this world there are portals, disidents with magic that could disrupt or directly attack for a variety of reasons piece and order in the country.
        All that means, is that she will have to keep several legions each for Callow and Preasi back to ensure her citizens safety (yes, even Evil empires have to do that for arms, food and troop production purpuses) as well as secure pease, order and last but not least supply lines.
        So say three to four Legions just to be able to respond to several incidents at the same time for Preasi and Callow each out of sixteen as the last I heared makes eight to ten of wich three maybe four, depending on the fifteenths losses are gutted leaves four to five intact legions.
        Five thousend men each leaves twenty, twentyfive thousend men to secure an entire border, on wich the enimy as the attacker can focus all of their not to defense comitted army at one point.
        Add in that it has been stated several times that Procer has a significantly larger population then Preas AND Callow and thus a, while less well trained and equiped but far larger army, makes for a bleak result.

        Like

    1. oldschoolvillain

      . . . Uh, what? You realize that the Empire is the closest thing we currently have to good guys in this story, right? Given the protagonist, at least? Things going to shit for the Empire means things going to shit for Cat.

      Like

      1. Reveen

        Hehe yeah.

        Let me put it this way, the concept of good guys bad guys is basically moot in this story. The conflict as it is now is just a pissing match between different forms of awful, and I don’t see the appeal of choosing sides.

        I don’t care who wins the football game, I just want to see the riot that will inevitably happen either way.

        Like

      2. Decius

        The Empire is pretty clearly Evil. The protagonist has been Evil at least since the time that she raised herself as a mostly undead puppet and told a hero to start a war.

        The story is just about Evil protagonists.

        Like

      3. oldschoolvillain

        Oh, absolutely. It’s just that in the crap sack world we’re seeing, Good and Evil aren’t always equal to Nice and Horrible. The ‘Good’ nations are equally willing to engage in murder and duplicity as the Dread Empress Malicia, Long May She Reign, they just desperately cling to a veneer of ‘goodness’ to justify their actions.

        Like

      4. Reveen

        The Good nations don’t actually need to cling to a veneer of goodness. Because while, barring magic nonsense, they are no worse than real world pre-modern nations, maybe even a little better, Praes in it’s entirety is self-evidently worse. We have in one corner a bunch of crazy, magic spewing lunatics, on the other the “practical” side of a proto-fascist, monomaniacal war machine based on personality cult that exists for no other reason than endless grinding war. Both of them are pretty much identical in their nihilism and naked power worship, and the world would be better off if they wiped eachother out.

        So Good doesn’t even need to be really good, it can be as unfair and hierarchical as it wants, it just needs to point to whats happening to Callow and say “Doesn’t that look like the lesser evil to you?”

        Like

  17. Alivaril

    With the gargantuan casualties resulting from this unholy mess, I’m no longer willing to give Dread Empress Malicia the benefit of the doubt. As far as I can tell, her plan with the hellgate superweapon involves the promise of mutually assured destruction and/or devastation should Procer invade. Toward this end, she spent assets on cultivating an enemy, allowed that enemy to grow in power, and is currently undergoing heavy casualties in the battle to claim said weapon.

    Certainly, she’s devastating many of the remaining Truebloods/Nobles in the process, but the Legions are also experiencing horrifying losses. The Calamities may very well cease to be a viable group, Cat is going to be pissed to no end if a previous offscreen conversation didn’t give her excellent justifications, diplomatic relations are poor, diplomatic relations will turn into open rebellion if the Watch-Mass continues to be used as a power source, Masego may have been corrupted, and Cat’s transition into what appears to be a ruling name may very well undo Malicia’s Rule-assisted control over every member of the Legions of Terror. Admittedly, Cat’s transition may have been part of the plan; I can definitely see Malicia assigning agents to spread the nickname “The Black Queen” with appropriately associated stories.

    All that may be relatively fine if blood, steel, and magic were the only variables. Malicia intends to rule forever and a weapon capable of (theoretically) indefinitely preventing invasion is invaluable with that in mind. But although it’s rationalized literally to Hell and back, this is not the sort of plan that Creation respects, historically speaking. This is asking, practically begging, for the Heroes to show up, godmode their way through all attackers, and destroy the weapon in the nick of time. In fact, even a sneaky hero like Thief could gum up the whole works, no godmode required. WMG: And that’s assuming one of the portals doesn’t open up to whatever Hell Dread Empress Triumphant (May She Never Return) may have conquered. Those sorts of unintended consequences seem like something Creation would love to force.

    This may pay off in the end, but I’m leaning heavily against that being a likely possibility anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Kel the Seer

    So, are we taking bets on whether Triumphant or the Dead King will be the one as the using that redirected Hellgate as a staging point at a highly inopportune moment in the future?
    While Triumphant would resonate better with the foreshadowing, I’d say the Dead King would love a bypass around Procer. If it didn’t open to a realm he already controls he will definitely want to find it once he hears of its existence. Beck, that possibility alone may end up being Procer’s cassus belli.

    Like

    1. Draconius Sinister

      Why not both? I’m sure we’d love a three way war cropping up right in the middle of Procer’s invasion. Gives us a reason to root for Cordelia instead of against her, and opens up Cat’s options for crowns to give to the Fae Prince.

      Like

  19. Draco

    This story is so good I finally figured out what an rss feed is so I could get updates. Gods below, I can’t wait to find out what Cat and Black are up to

    Like

    1. Keyen

      Man, it’s quite easy to remember, it’s only the Monday/wednesday/friday, everytime. I don’t think he missed a chapter in quite a long time. You don’t need RSS to remember that^^

      Like

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