Chapter 63: Bridge

“A dilemma is no such thing if it is flammable.”
– Dread Empress Sulphurous, the ‘Technically Correct’

Liesse looked like it’d spent a few years rolling around in nightmare juice, but at least the result’s old floor plan still more or less held up. I’d taken this city once before, and though this time I’d come knocking without an army at my back I still knew my way around. The new occupants, though, were something of a problem. For one they were all dead, which was not a desired quality in the inhabitants of what had been one of the most thriving cities in Callow, and the entire place had gone to Hell. Literally. Akua’s idea of a garrison apparently involved a generous helping of devils let loose in the streets. Which, hey, not a problem if I stuck to the rooftops. But the devils with wings were, and the penumbra that hung over Liesse like a veil wasn’t quite enough on its own to hide me. The inevitable long periods spent huddled under whatever was available to hide allowed me to stew in anger that was growing sharper by the moment. It wasn’t enough that Diabolist had slaughtered everyone within these walls, the population of the second largest city in Callow and all the refugees from the south that’d been fleeing the fae. No, she had to wreck the actual city as well.

There would be no salvaging Liesse after this. Setting aside the madwoman’s little helpers currently having the run of the streets, the entire place had been turned into some fucking Praesi ritual tool. There were runes everywhere, wards I could feel buzzing when I came too close and even the lay of the streets had been fucked with. Akua or one of her minions had ordered the already messy sprawl of Liessen streets to be turned into a maze of collapsed dead-ends and barricades. This was no longer a liveable city. It might become one again eventually, but that’d take years of highly dangerous and professional work as well as what I could only qualify as a prodigious amount of money. Which, even if I did have – which I didn’t, because rebuilding a twice war-torn nation and my own ravaged demesne wasn’t exactly cheap work – I wouldn’t be able to spare. Because, once again fuck you Akua, this little murderous tantrum was the call for every godsdamned nation on Calernia that could spare an army to march for the Red Flower Vales. At best I’d be able to put wards around this wreck of a city and forbid entrance by Imperial decree.

Every speck of coin I’d be able to spare would be going to fortifying Callow and ensuring its people didn’t starve through this winter, or the seasons after that. I somehow doubted the Tenth Crusade would be over in a year. It was going to be a long and brutal slugging match between the most powerful nations on the continent, and my people were troublingly unprepared for it.

My advance was slow, but it was still an advance. The deeper I got into the city, sticking to shadows and hiding places, the thicker the patrols became. I’d half-expected Diabolist to send an army of ten thousand wights just outside the tunnel that Black and I entered the city through, but there’d been no one in sight when we did. Just a set of hidden runic arrays that my teacher promptly tore apart with his shadow before we made a run for it. That had me wary. Diabolist was of the old breed but she wasn’t stupid. I kept having to repeat that, these days, but that made it no less true. Just because we’d torn apart her vanguard outside Liesse didn’t mean she was done: if anything, that probably meant the heart of her plan was in here. What that plan actually was, I still couldn’t tell. Sure, she’d opened a Greater Breach in the worst place possible at the worst time possible for our army. She’d followed up that disaster by tossing three demons at us, which meant both Warlock and Hierophant had their hands tied with damage control. But how long did she expect that to last, really? At some point one of those two threats would give, and then the Named that was freed up would turn to cleaning up the remaining wights.

Black and I had come into the city ahead of the rest, but I fully expected that before too long we’d be followed by the Legions. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the Watch had already begun landing at the bottom of the pit. Was that her plan, then? Forcing an engagement in a narrow tunnel that couldn’t really be bypassed? Once more that might work for a while, but we had two sorcerers on par with if not outright superior to her outside and I really doubted her little get-out-of-Creation trick was impervious to the Warlock’s entire bag of tricks. Right now, I couldn’t see a way for her to get out of this alive. She’d last a while, there was no denying that. She’d even cost us a horrible butcher’s bill before it was all said and done. But tonight or in a week, even without Black and I lifting a hand, this path led to her head on a pike. Or the Hall of Screams, if the Empress was feeling vindictive. Which meant I was missing something, because Diabolist only ever planned for defeat when it got her something she wanted and she was too fucking arrogant to care for something that sprang from her death. Akua Sahelian’s cause was herself: everything else was, ultimately, expendable. It wasn’t the kind of thinking that led to a woman martyring herself for some kind of philosophical point.

Not that it would succeed, anyway. Black had already made it clear that the aftermath of Second Liesse was going to be one long thorough purge of everything and everyone even remotely associated to the Truebloods. And she has to know that, I thought. That she gave him the excuse he’d been waiting on for decades. There was a way, in Diabolist’s eyes, where today ended up with her on top and beyond reprisal. I was going to have to find what that way was and shove blades into it until it stopped twitching.

The first step towards that was getting eyes on the Ducal Palace, which was where Diabolist was bound to be holed up. Probably on an overly ornate throne, drinking expensive wine. I just knew her armour would be nicer than mine, too. Shame about all that blood that I was going get all over it. I ended up on a rooftop overlooking the outside of the palace, and grimaced when I took a closer look. I’d grilled Robber after he’d infiltrated the place a few months back then Thief after she did the same a great deal more recently, and they’d not been wrong to call it a fortress. They’d both mentioned that the area in front of the outer walls was open field, with space once occupied by shops and mansions torn down and cleared out to make it even harder to approach unnoticed. That part had changed, I saw. It was now entirely filled with tight ranks of perfectly still wights in full arms and armour. How many did that make? Thousands, at least. This was easily larger than the biggest marketplace in Laure, and it could fit that many people during festivals. Behind the walls I saw runes and stalking devils, and even clusters of mages she’d kept back.

Frontal assault wasn’t looking all that feasible, but there weren’t any obvious backdoors to exploit. It’d been a little too much to hope for that there would be: it wasn’t like Diabolist lacked the manpower to cover ever nook and cranny. A distraction, maybe? Something loud enough she’d send men to quell the mess, making an opening for us to sneak through. But she’ll be expecting that, I thought. She knows we’re in the city. It might be that patience was our only real option. Waiting until the Legions made landfall and she had to shift her forces to hold them back, then going for the head of the snake. And even then, it wouldn’t be a sure thing. I did hate it when my opponents were competent, it complicated everything. I waited under cover for what must have been at least half an hour, watching patrols and unmoving sentinels, but no opening ever emerged. At this rate Black would join me and I’d have no plan to suggest.

The explosion took me by surprise.

Not because there was an explosion at all – that’d pretty much been made a certainty the moment I’d sent Robber’s cohort into the city through the path Thief had found me – but because it sounded wrong. It wasn’t the kind of detonation that came from goblin munitions. It got worse when I quietly shifted rooftops to have a look at where the noise came from: one of the wings of the Ducal Palace was half-collapsed and smoke was trailing into the sky. Shit, I thought. If that was what I thought it was…

“A good plan,” Diabolist said. “Or rather it was, the first time you used it.”

My blade was out before she finished the first word and I twisted around only to find Akua Sahelian in all her glory leaning against the edge of the rooftop, looking down at her assembly of wights. I’d been incorrect in assuming she would put on armour. Instead she had draped over her full curves a complicated robe of red and gold with snow white silk borders. The back of her neck was covered by a low-hanging veil set with patterns of precious stones, and the oblique cut of her skirt revealed legs covered by form-fitting soft leather trousers. Even her boots, I thought, looked like they cost a year’s salary. My first thought was: well, that’s twenty denarii. My second thought was really more of a response, namely forming a spear of shadow and tossing it through her throat. It made a hole in the silhouette that glowed around the edges but almost immediately closed. An illusion. Diabolist raised an eyebrow.

“How uncouth,” she chided. “As I was saying, there was some cleverness to the thought. Sending Thief after the keystone of my ritual while my eyes were on you and the Carrion Lord.”

“Some cleverness,” I replied flatly, keeping eye on the wights below. “How kind of you to concede that.”

They weren’t moving, at least not those I could see. That was little comfort, given where I was currently standing.

“Dearest Catherine,” Diabolist drawled, sounding amused. “You employed this same trick to steal the very sun of Summer. Did you truly think that would go unnoticed? Of course I prepared for the eventuality.”

“It was a trap,” I sighed.

This entire city was, I’d known that going in, but I’d thought that my little contingencies might be snuck past her.

“Just because the keystone needed to be there once does not mean it needed to remain there,” Akua languidly said. “Even if your little burglar survives my precautions, she will find nothing there to steal.”

I frowned at her.

“So is this a back-patting session, Akua?” I asked. “Because I’m kind of busy. You know, working out the logistics of killing you.”

She waved away my words airily. It really was shame I’d only be able to brutally murder her the once. I felt kind of cheated by that fact.

“I am in no hurry,” she said. “You are. After all, your army is losing the battle outside quite spectacularly.”

I went still. She could be lying, of course. Very likely she was. When I’d left two thirds of her mages on the field were dead, Masego had her demons imprisoned and the wights were collapsing on two fronts. Juniper was headed out to contain her Hellgate with the Warlock at her back, and so while I wouldn’t consider that situation under control it should at least not be outright fucking us over for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, I’d thought since the beginning that this was going too well considering the amount of time she’d had to prepare her defences. There was a chance, however slight, she wasn’t lying through her teeth.

“Istrid Knightsbane is dead,” Diabolist said. “General Orim and General Afolabi are as well. Their legions were gutted around them, then rose in my service. The remaining commanders are hanging on by a thread, and that thread is thinning with every heartbeat. Even if they manage to retreat, this cannot be called anything but a defeat.”

My fingers clenched.

“If it’s true, that’s a mess that’s going to cost us badly,” I said. “But it doesn’t really matter, does it? The moment you used your ritual you made this about Named. Even if you wipe out my whole army your side collapses the moment you die.”

“Can you?” Diabolist asked, and she sounded genuinely curious. “Put aside your pride and your hatred, for a moment. Do you truly believe that even if you came to stand before me, you would come out the victor of that confrontation?”

“I’ve killed more terrifying things than you, Akua Sahelian,” I hissed.

She laughed, and gracefully arced her arm to display our surroundings.

“No,” the Soninke smiled. “No you have not. I am not a fettered god you can trick or a petty tool hollowed out by the Heavens. I am heiress crowned by inheritance, in the fullness of her might. That I bother with these ramparts between us is a mere mark of respect – I could break you with a word, Catherine. You have risen too swiftly. It has made you fragile.”

“I think I’m supposed to pity you,” I said. “For being so far gone that you can’t even understand what a repulsive creature you are and how it’s going to get you killed. The worst part of it, Akua, is that you have all these gifts. You’re so fucking capable, and I have bad enough a need for capable people I might actually have ignored what a monster you are if you’d not proven again and again you’re poison to everything you touch. But you just had to cross those lines, the ones that mean I have to put you down whatever the cost.”

Diabolist sighed.

“Must you still bother with the pretence of righteousness, even at this late hour?” she said. “It has grown increasingly quite tedious.”

“Is this the part where you trying telling me we’re not so different?” I said. “Fuck you and the flying murder fortress you rode in on, Sahelian. I’ve done some nasty stuff, but you? You don’t have limits. It’s worse than a sickness of the mind, because you chose to be like this. You glorify it.”

She seemed amused, and in that expression I saw a lot I’d rather I hadn’t. I saw the Empress weaving plots that bound me ever tighter to her reign, I saw Black imparting a lesson that was always as brutal as it was practical. We’d both been raised in the shadows of the same monsters. It had left marks on both of us, and the knowledge of that shared brand had bitter taste in my mouth.

“Tell me, old friend,” Akua said fondly. “What are your principles, exactly? I keep hearing of these lines and the way I cross them yet you never elaborate. I have murdered for my ambitions, this is true. But then, so have you. Is it simply the scale of the killing that is your objection?”

“Friend? Gods, when people say your kind gets drunk in power I didn’t think it was quite that literal. You’ve loosed devils on innocents, Akua,” I said coldly. “You summon demons to make use of them in war. You’re racist, backstabbing and utterly amoral. You murdered a hundred thousand of my countrymen in cold blood to make a fucking point.”

“Nearly all these acts have been committed by those you call allies as well,” Diabolist mildly said. “Your own teacher has methodically butchered Callowans for decades to cow them. Perhaps never a hundred thousand at once, this I’ll grant. But between the Conquest and the occupation? My dear, I broke a city. He broke a nation, and kept it so. I daresay the sum of corpses to his name is a few graveyards ahead of mine.”

She stretched lazily.

“You’ve yourself made pacts with entities that are hostile to Creation,” she continued. “And even now bear their mantle, a diabolist in frost instead of brimstone. You’ve consistently put Callowan lives above those of Praesi and greenskins, which indicates a certain… disregard. In matters of treachery, shall we revisit the inception of the Liesse Rebellion?”

She laughed, the sound of it rich and almost enchanting enough the urge to kill her didn’t have my hand tightening into a fist.

“As for the same moral fibre you so often chide me for lacking,” she said, and met my eyes calmly. “Catherine, when have you ever displayed it yourself? I was under the impression that to be righteous one needed to do more than merely commit lesser sins instead of great.”

“The difference,” I replied coldly, “is that killing is something I’m driven to, while it’s your starting point.”

“What difference is truly there,” Diabolist asked, “if we both come to kill? Does hemming and hawing over bloodying your blade somehow exempt you from the nature of your actions?”

“The difference is that at some point I stop, Akua,” I said. “I have an end. You don’t. It’s one massacre after another until someone puts you down. The payoff for all the ugly things done at my hands or my orders is peace. Real, lasting peace. A way out of the loop that’s fucked over both our peoples since the First Dawn. What’s your payoff, Diabolist? Progressively greater atrocities, until you finally run into someone stronger than you?”

“That,” Akua said smilingly, “sounds like a justification.”

I flinched, because it was just true enough to cut.

“Did you ever wonder why all these renowned villains displayed such immediate fondness for you?” Diabolist said. “Or did you merely assumed you were unfathomably charming? You have always been a threat to the very order they’ve spent a lifetime building, even when you set out to serve their purpose.”

“I’m aware I’m being used,” I replied flatly. “I can live with that, so long as I’m using them as well.”

The Soninke clicked her tongue against the roof her mouth disapprovingly.

“Sentiment is a blinder, Catherine,” she said. “Consider the facts. From the moment you’ve become the Squire, Callow has been graced with one bloody reaping after another. Did you ever stop to consider this was no accident but the actual intent?”

She leaned forward.

“Did you ever consider that Callow cannot rebel if it too busy burning?” she said.  “That the ashes of a kingdom are easier to subjugate in full than a resurgent nation under your hand?”

“I know exactly what they’re after,” I flatly replied.

“You ‘know’ what two of the most exquisitely manipulative villains alive have told you,” Diabolist corrected. “Is a few scraps of affection all it takes to bind you?”

“Did you think a clever speech would be all that was needed to sway me?” I said. “I know what you are, Akua. It’s what I would be, if I believed in nothing. If I thought I was the only thing that mattered on Creation.”

“You will hate me,” Diabolist said. “That is as it should be. But I know you as well, Catherine Foundling. And there is a truth you have flinched from looking in the eye, for it is distasteful to you: the Empress and the Carrion Lord, though you may be fond of them, have a plan for Callow. Me?”

She shrugged.

“Its existence is a matter of indifference to me, so long as tribute is paid,” Akua said. “And so now I ask – is there truly a bridge you will not burn, if it means better outcome for your people?”

Her smile was thin and sharp, a slice of ivory between red lips.

“Let us find out,” she said. “We will begin, I think, by severing the ties holding you back.”

She looked towards the Ducal Palace, the very picture of nonchalance.

“Do hurry, Catherine. I have the Black Knight.”

My blood ran cold, even as the illusion dispersed and the undead below began to move. A reminder, those, that no matter how convincing she could be I was still mere feet away from thousands of my people she had murdered and enslaved. There were some things that could not be painted over by eloquence. The wisps of sorcery that Diabolist had left behind spun again, and even as I prepared to forcefully disrupt them a silhouette formed and my hand was stayed. Exactly one sentence was spoken to me, and then the silhouette was gone before I could so much as open my mouth. Loudly, I swallowed. My fingers clenched and then unclenched as I watched the wights beginning the climb towards me. In the distance mages wove sorcery and devils took flight, the full muster of Diabolist’s madness finally taking the field. I closed my eyes, breathed out and stilled my mind. I opened them to sight of a corpse-like hand grasping the edge of the roof.

Fall,” I said, and darkness obeyed.

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76 thoughts on “Chapter 63: Bridge

    1. Letouriste

      He is too smart for falling to an obvious trap like that.that’s part of his plan or akua don’t have him at all.

      I expect a bluff actually

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      1. letouriste

        err let’s pretend i said nothing.we don’t even know the details of akua plan so that could be extra clever^^ still think black would not fall for any trap she could do though

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    1. werafdsaew

      On the one hand Akua has lied about such things before. On the other hand defeating another Named is all about maneuvering yourself into a narrative that favors you, and I can see Black allowing himself to be captured as part of that, especially since he has the Unspoken Plan Guarantee.

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      1. Kindly

        Relying on the Unspoken Plan Guarantee for protection is not a foolproof strategy. You never know when the author will write an interlude from your point of view and spill the beans – and of course, that will be the cue for everything to go wrong.

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  1. ALKATYN

    Akua is enough of an old style villain to monologue and speak about how they are Not So Different, but smart enough to do it from far away via an illusion. I love it.

    What she said reminds me of the parallel a lot of people have made between Cat and Taylor in worm. There’s only so long you can do bad things and work with bad people while saying that its different if you do it. Much as she like to quote about justifications only mattering too the just Cat still needs to believe she is in the right at a deep level.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And just like Taylor I think both of them are kinda wrong. When it comes right down to it Cat ISNT much better than Diabolist, not really. They both murder tons of people are consort with alien entities for the sake of saving their culture. The fact that we are more similar to Cat’s culture than Akua’s doesn’t make one superior to the other in any real objective sense.

      Which is good, I think. There’s a reason this story isn’t called “A Practical Guide to Being An Asshole Who’s Actually Good Deep Down”

      Liked by 3 people

      1. > The fact that we are more similar to Cat’s culture than Akua’s doesn’t make one superior to the other in any real objective sense.

        Doesn’t it, though? I’d argue Cat’s culture is still better than Akua’s in some objective sense. The justice of your cause doesn’t make you a better person by itself, but caring about being a better person at heart is something that Cat seems to going to grow out of. Justifications only matter to the just, all that.

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      2. nipi

        Id argue that Callowan culture is objectively superior because when shit hits the fan they arent still backstabbing each other like the wastelanders

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  2. All right, the silhouette in the last paragraph sounds like someone giving Catherine a signal that Akua wouldn’t notice while departing. Given that the sentence wasn’t told to us, it looks like a last second addition to the plan.

    What other possibilities are there for it? Akua showing her the captured Black Knight as a proof, and him saying some cryptic reference to help Cat?

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    1. Morgenstern

      Sounded like Thief coming out of hiding for just a moment, to me. I kinda hate that asspull-trick of not telling the reader a sentence has been said, but not showing the sentence, though, what with POV of the one effing HEARING that very sentence being applied here. It’s kinda more fine if you have a 3rd person perspective or the POV of someone who canNOT hear that sentence either, only SAW that something short was said. But the POV of the very person who HEARS that sentence? Ass-pull and a big fat tongue stuck out at the reader. Meh. (Yeah, I get it’s for suspense reasons, but really, it just feels like there are better/nicer ways to do it.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Akua brings up an interesting point. Why is Cat better than her, or the Empress, or Black? Her ‘phrase’, “justifications only matter to the just” is pretty damning in itself, and she’s committed atrocities herself. She’s spent her men like copper, gambled them and lost heavily. Though she came out on top, Callow is arguably worse off than it was before she came. The lands are burning, demons are corrupting the cities, the Fae attacked Marchford, and the coin purses are running dry. So, why is Cat better? Is it because she’s the main character? Is the point of the story that you *can’t* be Practically Evil?

    I don’t think so.

    Fantasy characters are defined by their goals. Frodo has to deliver the Ring to Mordor. Harry Potter has to defeat Voldemort. The Pevensie kids have to put the lion on his rightful throne.

    Cat’s goal is to be better. Her goal is to be better than the villains that exist. Her goal is to crush any and all opposition in order to rebuild her home better than it was. And that’s what makes her better. In the same way that William was bound to fighting Cat, Cat is bound to fighting for Callow. No matter the price, no matter the pain, she will fight for what she believes is good for Callow.

    Because, at the end of the day, what the fantasy genre ignores, the people are the most important part. That’s what I believe the story is all about. The world after the battles are over is the important part. What’s the point of saving the world if you can’t keep it that way?

    So, why’s Cat better than Akua? Because Akua intends to break the world. Why is Cat better than the heroes? Because, if the heroes win, there will always be another villain.

    There’s the old adage, about asking if the means justify the ends. In this story, Cat couldn’t give a fuck about the means justifying the ends, all that matters is the end. And her end is the best for the people. Because fantasy worlds suck for everyone else.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And Cat will definitely end up fighting the Empress and Black, if they don’t die, because nothing else can happen. The Story won’t allow it. So long as Callow answers to someone who isn’t Cat, she will fight for it to be hers.

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      1. Keyen

        I believe the discussion between Archer and Apprentice back in their scouting mission is pretty much revealing of that:
        “Foundling wouldn’t want all the people inside butchered right?”

        “I think not,” Apprentice said. “She gets irritated about people killing Callowans unless it’s her doing it.”

        Liked by 5 people

    2. werafdsaew

      > Callow is arguably worse off than it was before she came
      Is it though? In the counterfactual timeline where Catherine never took the mantle of the Squire, or died in her first fight against Williams, would Callow really be better off? The rebellion was going to happen sooner or later, Akua was going to be Akua, and the Winter King was going to be the Winter King. Catherine isn’t really responsible for anything except moving the schedule up. And considering that Black and Malicia had 20 years to plan for the Crusade, it’s not like a few more years is going to make a big difference in the grand scheme of things.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Catherine caused the first Liesse rebellion, which Akua used for her first schemes at Marchford and Liesse. Then she literally handed control of Liesse to Akua. Sure, Akua was always going to do *something*, but that something would have been a lot less dangerous without Catherine providing opportunities. Or at the very least, she could have done it somewhere in the Wasteland rather than in the middle of Callow.

        Moving the schedule up for the Crusade probably didn’t make too much difference, but making all the events happen *at the same time* probably did. They planned for a Crusade, sure, but I don’t think they planned for a crusade and a rebellion and a civil war and a Fae incursion and a Greater Breach, one after another with no time to replenish the legions.

        (This is also why I think Akua is wrong about this being a plan to keep Callow too busy to rebel – no rebellion would have caused as much damage as the current situation is.)

        Liked by 2 people

    3. Reveen

      Because, at the end of the day, what the fantasy genre ignores, the people are the most important part. That’s what I believe the story is all about. The world after the battles are over is the important part. What’s the point of saving the world if you can’t keep it that way?

      Man, what are you talking about? This is a massive sweeping generalization of a genre based on only the most stock stereotypes about it. And this story and general has about as much insight and nuance on the subject as a political cartoon.

      Meanwhile Catherine’s resistance to the conventions of both her world and the genre are skin deep. She is acting in opposition to good vs evil dichotomy but falls fully into the core ideological construct of the Great Man doing Great Things. She wants to help Callow, but she’s dead set on the only way to help Callow by her hand and by her hand alone, beating the country into the shape she wants it. Using force to get her way and convinced of her right to do so by virtue of being the Protagonist of her own little story.

      It’s not a big rejection of fantasy, quite the opposite, it’s the same Great Man Theory that extolls the strength and agency of the Special people above the unwashed masses of plebs who need to be led to greatness. It’s the same ideological underpinning of both the heroes and the villains, the only difference being that Catherine thinks herself so goddamn special as to be above both of those concepts due to some vague and philosophically empty set of personal ideals that she can’t even debate with some teenage nun without tripping over herself.

      And it is not an ideology that will lead to lasting peace or a better future for her people. It’s an ideology that leads to people plowing forward convinced of their own rightness or rationality and failing to see the big picture. Catherine has just brushed off the fact that she’s a pawn several times now, because she’s wrapped up in her own ego that she thinks she’ll just be able to overcome it.

      I also think that if the time came when she came face to face with another path for a better Callow, she would reject it and fight against it because it is not hers.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. werafdsaew

        Given that the Gods are doling out Names, and Names are basically people who can shape creation to their will, I think the great man theory is 100% correct. At the very least, if your opponents have Names, and you don’t, you loose.

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  4. Joey Wheel

    Suddenly I have the feeling Cat will lose this fight. Cat’s soul will be used against her at the final moment, Black will die, and Cat will be rescued by her party at the last second, unconscious and nearly dead.

    Diabolist will go on to fight against the Crusade using her Breaches to great effect.

    Cat will gain her name as she awakens a year or two later to a ravaged and burning Callow.

    That’s just my crack prediction.

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    1. Engineer

      Which begs the question why Akua didn’t simply undo the working on Cat’s soul.

      The only probable reason I can come to is that she couldn’t use her aspects through her illusion. Because Cat is stuck in her domain a good deal far away from anyone that could conceivably apply magical first aid so this is the optimum time to exploit that weakness in her soul if I was the Diabolist.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Taichi22

      Of all the ways I can see this ending, your prediction is my favorite.
      Why? Because Cat has been actively losing her grasp upon the narrative. Both she and her close compatriots know that their way of doing things is untenable — set off bombs to prevent nukes, but never long enough to actually build anything. And they know this — I’m fairly sure that every member of the Woe has admitted this at some point.
      We also see Cat losing her grip on her ideals and what makes her right. Her moral justifications are… mediocre, at best. We see her utterly unable to debate with the nun, winning through sheer ‘Might makes right.’ arguments. And when she isn’t mightier than her foe, she is unable to debate them in terms of moral justice. ‘Justification matters only to the just’ may be one of Cat’s defining lines, but the crux of the matter is that she does believe herself to *be* just, and as such, her principles just aren’t good enough. As it stands, even if she were to get a name, it wouldn’t suit her, because her morals and her stance isn’t solidified. Who she is, isn’t solidified enough. There are too many cracks in the foundation for her to become a Black Knight, or any other kind of knight, as this chapter has revealed. She doesn’t have anything of a ‘method’ or a ‘way’, but rather is just going about as best she can to put out fires. And that’s not good enough for a full name.

      The prediction that you’ve made is a ‘reset’ upon the story. Cat’s way is burned down, Black dies the way he wants to go out, and Cat is forced to take a long, hard look at her morals, principles, and methods.

      And *then* we’d watch her get her name.

      Like

  5. Engineer

    Akua is correct in her assessment. Murder is murder, whatever your justifications and for a person that supposedly believes “Justifications matter only to the Just” Squire sure has a lot of them.

    Just kick this holier than thou bullshit you have going on Cat and embrace the truth that all your actions merely boil down to “I don’t like you, so I’ll kill you.”

    And there is NO shame in that.

    That is the essence of all Named, to see their will imposed on Creation and as a wise 11 year old Wizard once said “To impose your will on someone, you need to beat them first.”

    And she said at some point she’ll STOP? Ludicrous, there will ever be someone that opposes her will. In a species as complex and diverse as humanity you will always have an individual or group of individuals that disagree with the status quo. So you will ALWAYS be killing.

    So, short of mind controlling everyone like that Dread Emperor from yesteryear did, she will never achieve her goal of a lasting peace.

    So embrace the Way of the Blade Squire.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. LM

      Let’s split this into two arguments, morality and practicality.

      You say that there is no difference in a kill made by a soldier versus on made by a serial killer. That’s just not the case. Murder can be justified, even in civilized societies, if it’s committed in defense of the people as a whole. Killing an attempted rapist or band robber, for example. Many countries have “castle doctrine”, where reasonable actions taken to defend yourself in your home can NOT be used to prosecute you. The key word here is reasonable.

      Katherine may be repeating that dumb “Justifications may only matter to the just” quip, but her entire method of governance is to attempt to be fair and reasonable. She’s must successful when she’s fighting against those with no justification for their actions. She’s not committing mass genocide, she’s fighting those who slaughter her people. She’s not starting wars, she’s ending them. The only example of her starting a war was letting the lone swordsman escape. She nearly lost her damn mantle because of it, not in my opinion because of some white/black conflict, but because it went directly against her principles.

      Like

      1. Engineer

        Yes, however both cases still leaves you with a corpse at your feet. Your post implies that murder is alright under certain circumstances but who decides what circumstances are right or wrong? Furthermore what the hell gives them the authority to decide that?

        In fact, justifications do not exist outside human societies. The universe at large does not care why or how you killed that person. It just outputs a dead body. The point I am trying to make is that justifications are only there to soothe your own conscious and are not required for you internally. They are only required to prevent you from going to prison, but this is only necessary because you as an individual is weak compared to the entire police force which exist to enforce laws that only have effect so long as society believes they do and are enforced.

        But if you were Named, capable of murdering 10 000 police officers singlehandedly without breaking a sweat like Catherine can, why the hell would you care about justifying yourself to ANYBODY including yourself? That’s what annoys me; she’s still trying to justify herself to some stupid “authority” or moral principle to believe she’s a “good” person doing “bad” things for the “right” reasons. This is an unnecessary source of mental anguish and unfitting of The Last Noble of the Fae and the future Black Queen of Callow.

        Just do what you want. If people have a problem with that destroy them.

        Remember what Black said to her on that balcony, after she had her ass handed to her by the then Heiress, “If people get in your way, step on them.”

        I end this with one fundamental truth of Calernia and ours:
        “Might makes.”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Dan

        I think the issue with Cat’s moral standpoint is that therebis no peaceful option. She is but one named among many. Luckily for her health, her plan is backed by other named.

        What critics of her methods are avoiding is that the will of the people makes the future. The Black knight knew he needed a force for change greater than a named. So he created a unified idea of one grace one sin. Now the new generation of praesi are a mix of cultures they can rid their world of the old way of thinking. As we see, though, the black knight and malicia have been unable to convert the naysayers by peaceful negotiation.

        So as we see different forces slaughter each other the only way to come to a conclusion which benefits the people as a whole is a force (the legions) defeat or assimilate their enemies. The country and region are not unified, but by gathering diverse forces under cat’s banner, she gives power to the common people.

        Ultimately, each named in history has been defeated by another named. The legacy of the named has thus been snuffed out from the top. I believe that The squire and the black knight have been the first named to keep the common people “in the loop” to some degree, regarding the grand plan.

        Whereas dread emperors/empresses have ruled from the top with personal goals, cat’s goal resonates with the people she fights with. In the beginning she had a small force, and did great things *personally* with their welfare in mind. Now she has simply grown her set of like minded followers, to the extent that she has created a new named out of her trusted advisor.

        If names are handed down (or up) then her crusade? Has been tacitly endorsed by one or more gods. So while she spends lives, she is also visibly working in the interests of the people she leads, AND their audience.

        The people fighting against the empire are selfishly pursuing what is ultimately a narrow seat of power, which they intend to usurp. Now, for the first time, the empire is being lead from the top, with support all the way from the bottom. So while there is only one way to make changes in the empire (killing) akua and the other forces are still aiming for a narrow seat of power.

        ********
        I think the true meaning of cat’s justifications only matter to the just is that to justify ones actions there must be a range of effective options.

        What Cat has learnt (the hard way, from essentially, her birth) is that for countrywide reform there is only one course of action. Demonstrate that she can lead, and survive *as one of them* fighting beside them and *for* them.

        Like

      3. Dylan Tullos

        Engineer:

        The Black Knight before Amadeus believed that he could impose his will on Creation through raw power. He subscribed to the simple school of thought that “Might makes”, and he had the strength to bring down a tower with a flick of his wrist. In his mind, that made him strong enough to do as he liked.

        The last Black Knight was far more powerful than Amadeus, but he didn’t understand how to use that strength. At Flandres, he slaughtered his way through more than a hundred men when some random soldier cut his throat. There was no dramatic duel, no final confrontation with a great enemy, just a Named who forgot that all powers have limits and paid the price.

        A Named who thinks that they can do whatever they want and step on whoever gets in their way will inevitably be killed by their own arrogance. Even if we ignore morality completely, other people are real, and they have their own goals and motives. Black understands this, so he created institutions that offered the lower ranks of Praesi society a chance to gain wealth, power, and social status by serving him.

        The Legions Amadeus created triumphed on the Field of Flandres because they fought as a team. The old Black Knight died on the Field of Flandres because he thought he was a God. Rather than seeking to use his raw power effectively, he simply bulldozed everyone in his path until he was so exhausted that a random peasant could slit his throat.

        If Catherine could kill ten thousand, she’ll face an enemy who bring ten thousand and one. If she destroys everyone who dares to question her and terrifies her underlings into obedience, she’ll be surrounded by cowardly, resentful subordinates who will betray or abandon her at a critical moment. The history of Praes is full of Villainous Named who thought that their power gave them the right to ignore “lesser” peoples; Black and Malicia’s success comes from the fact that they understand and motivate their subordinates rather than just beating them into line.

        Catherine’s team has saved her life on several occasions, but their loyalty has a price. Cat has to understand what they want, and show them that they can accomplish their goals by supporting her. She may be in charge of Callow, but she’s more likely to stay in charge if she behaves like a harsh but well-meaning ruler rather than a deranged Nietzsche-worshipping lunatic.

        Calernia, like the real world, is a place where leaders need to put time and effort into justifying themselves to their followers. No matter how powerful Named are, there are always going to be other powerful Named looking to bring them down. The best way to survive as a Named is through teamwork, strong alliances, and good people skills, not monologuing about how you will crush anyone who gets in your way.

        Like

  6. Yeah… Cat’s going to team up with Aqua, isn’t she.

    You know, the only reason Black and Dread Empress came so far is because they were equals. I’m starting to believe Cat needs one too.

    Like

    1. Letouriste

      No.just no.i can’t see that happening at all for a lot of reasons:
      -akua is doomed to lose at some point
      -akua trampled on what cat want defend
      -cat is callowan and she has a big grudge
      -there is no trust at all between them.don’t belittle the relation between black and malicia.
      -etc…

      Like

    1. lavos

      That seems to be the case yes. Perhaps that is Black’s doing since the way Akua went about things pretty much guarantees she will lose to the first half-decent hero that comes around? Or Akua is twisting things to trigger a Face Heel Turn?

      Like

  7. Gunslinger

    Fuck you and the flying murder fortress you rode in on, Sahelian.

    That line is pure gold.
    I suppose Cat’s the first one to use an aspect between the two, she’ll win eventually but it doesn’t bode well in the interim. Black seems to be the most likely candidate for the silhouette but it really could be anyone. Even the scribe

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Adra

      If this ends up being the fight where Cat levels up, she’s playing with >3 aspects. Having her start one down on Akua, only to gain the aspects of her new name is a good way to upset that audience assumption that first to use an aspect is going to lose.

      Like

  8. Un-Metaphorical Grapevine

    Mhm, I hope Akua wins and takes her revenge. The Black Knight dies, the woe scattered because Catherine held them together,

    mhmmhmMm. Then Cat will re-revenge? Something has to be gained from a loss like that to advance the story.

    Like

    1. Letouriste

      Lol no way.black can’t die here narratively…i’m pretty sure of that.
      The woe would not scatter:/ how do you expect that to even be possible? you would need cat to die

      Like

      1. letouriste

        then they would unit in searching for her etc…or dealing with her job in her stead(hakram would and thief too,masego and archer would just temporary go back home but that’s nothing narratively)

        Like

  9. Ashen Shugar

    So Akua thinks Thief got blown up trying to steal the keystone. But since it seems like it might actually have been Robber’s job to do, then Thief is probably still around to steal Black back from Akua as part of a cascade of errors she’s made starting from assuming that it was just Thief lurking out the town.

    Maybe.

    Like

    1. Letouriste

      Hum…now you said that…yep that’s likely because she clearly only care about Named.she would not consider robber as something other than an annoying pawn

      Like

  10. TheCount

    “There was a way, in Diabolist’s eyes, where today ended up with her on top and beyond reprisal. I was going to have to find what that way was and shove blades into it until it stopped twitching.”

    SUICIDE IS NOT THE ANSWER!!!

    i mean, if cat would know that Aqua’s goal is her…would she stabb herself?:o

    That aside… im…. suprised.
    not about the any of the plans, but me liking aqua…
    Sure, she is immoral and all that murder and schemming…. but… she is honest to herself… that, is something i value a lot…. not to mention the wards and other tools she crafted, even despite what (or who) she used to make them……..

    Like

  11. lupus7

    old-blood are hypocrite, they winner war again callow, when was black’s legion, they racist and liar to other and them self, they call then self villains, only see poor crazy nihilist. sorry for my English i am speaker Spanish.

    Like

  12. narcoduck

    I don’t think the last image was Thief at all. I think it was Malicia, co-opting (and hiding in) Akua’s fading illusion spell to give Cat a nudge in the right direction. After all, she knew what Akua was planning this entire time. No reason why she wouldn’t have a personal touch in the outcome.

    Like

  13. I’m looking forward to Cat’s realisation that she kinda isn’t any better then Akua and i think it’s a that point that we’ll truly see her true character because it’s the point at which she’d no longer lying to herself. By no longer lying to herself, i think it’ll enable her to push herself further then she ever has which will help and prepare her for the war that is about to happen after this.

    Like

  14. Alex Walters

    Akua has lied about having your friend/mentor/whatever before, when she said some generic ghoul was Killian at the climax of book 2.

    Also, I must say that while Callow is worse off than before Cat got going, it would be much worse if she hadn’t. Only the Lone Swordsman’s stuff can be even arguably traced to her, and it would have happened eventually anyway. Cat’s been running damage control on the rest.

    I do agree that “Justifications only matter to the just” is a stupid phrase that Cat doesn’t really believe, at least in the modern sense of justification. In the archaic sense that “x action is righteous”, yes. But Cat very clearly cares a lot about whether she’s doing the correct thing by her own standards, and thus does justification in the modern sense. It’s just that her own standards are a proto-utilitarianism 99% of the time and thus completely outside the bounds of conventional Good/Evil.

    I cannot see Cat teaming up with Akua for any scenario, because most of the threats that Cat might deem bad enough that she’d call a truce with Akua to stop are ones Akua would want to harness and Cat would want gone.

    Like

    1. werafdsaew

      Without Cat triggering the rebellion early, it would have happened at the same time as the Crusade, and then the Empire definitely would have lost. And on their way out, the Empire would burn Callow to the ground, according to Cat’s estimations. Of course this is better for an eventual free and independent Callow, but it wouldn’t be good for the people actually living in it, and Cat has always cared about the latter while not caring about the former.

      Like

      1. RandomFan

        Don’t forget, Cat may describe the other emperors as jokes, but they were dangerous. we might blame all this conflict on the empire, it might even be true- but Callow has had to war with their neighbors before, and to war with the empire as well. They might have remained free, but there’s a long walk between free and good.

        Even that’s assuming that the throne actually was good for the people. If not, as long as pragmatic villiany persists, it’s better for callow under the thumb of evil than under the thumb of good. Plus, if Cat carves a large enough hole, she’ll make Callow part of the empire, which could make it a better place in general, especially after the Nobility has a large portion cut to ribbons.

        Like

      2. Reveen

        The idea that Callow would be a better place to live under the Empire only works under the assumption that the Empire isn’t a nightmare dystopia, which it is. Even under “Practical” Evil it’s not going to stop being a dystopia, just a more ordered one. And that dystopianess is going to bleed into Callow over time, especially if the country ends up torn to pieces by the end of things.

        Like

  15. letouriste

    hey,i just realised nobody commented on the possible death of robber.seems like nobody even want think about that or believe that is a possibility.
    robber is dealing with a Named and trap made for Named…he could really die in this battle (even if i don’t think he will)

    he is crazy funny and lucky but what make him a great character is his rebel side.narratively his future growth could be really interresting and go in a lot of ways but he could also be used for reinforcing cat character at some point…like by dying in battle:(

    Like

  16. Nethermore

    First of all, I agree with Masego that in Creation the most righteous cause is to seek to escape the cage. I find the divine experiment beyond disgusting, the worst exposures we’ve seen having been angel mass brainwashing and the Praesi not being allowed to try and survive on the foos they can grow. Somehow I wouldn’t we surprised if agricultural science was sabotaged. The gnomes are almost certainly divinely influenced to keep the rest of Calernia from ever outgrowing the cage.

    Akua has basically drunk all of the Evil rats’ kool-aid and wants nothing more than to scratch and bite all the other rats until they’re so crippled they can’t resist her making a bed of them. Catherine originally just wanted a better lot in the struggle for her extended rat family and believed the best or only way to achieve it was to join the Evil rats, but when she was shown the cage and told of how some of the Evil rats wanted to bite the hand of their jailer (who also kept sneaking the Good rats treat, and magic swords), she was sympathetic and has become more so after seeing the story-driven patterns of Creation at work.

    Also, Akua’s “join me” speech was pretty weak, but then we already know her plan is to break Cat before turning her so I guess this was just a primer. Literally the only argument in favor of joining her
    Akua managed to bring forth was that she doesn’t have specific designs on Callow. Pretty shoddy considering that she’s a untrustworthy, sees 0 value in anything but her personal power, appearance, and father, clearly wants to war against the whole world until she croaks which is way more dangerous for all her “allies” than Praes just trying to keep hold of Callow, has Triumphant’s “if I can’t have it, then Creation is better off burned” attitude, …

    Meanwhile Cat has friends on the Empire’s side, knows that the Empress’s and Black’s plan for the Empire and Callow is less dangerous than aggressive world war, has actually worked to shut otherworldly creatures (Fae) OUT of Callow when they forced her to deal with them, …

    Like

  17. TeK

    Well, this sure spawned a plethora of comments, so let me put my two cents.

    TL;DR: She is not so different from Aqua. In fact, the only difference between them is that Aqua is honest with herself, while Catherine is not.

    I’m so sick and tired of Cat’s bullshit. She is a hypocrit and a coward, and either too blind or too stupid to understand this. She needs to utterly divorce the idea that she can do “wrong” things for “right” reasons, and that having “right” reasons gives her a moral highground and makes her better. She whines about justifications, but the fact is, she can’t fucking function without seeking justifications and “right” reasons for her actions. Yes, I’m commiting atrocities, but at least it’s for idea. Yes, I’m striking deals with devils, but at least it’s for Callow. Yes, I’m killing people, but at least it’s not Callowans. Fuck her and fuck her reasons. She is a hypocrit and a coward, and here’s why.

    First, let’s start with sweet-sweet hypocrisy, the true mortar of the Tower. She considers her better because she has lines she do not cross, and because she not doing things for herself but for Callow. Let me break it down to ya. Her having “lines she wouldn’t cross” is shaky, because it’s a made up sentiment. Aqua too has those lines, though they are different. She will not do something that does not bring her any short or long term benefit, she would not do something that is not in her interests, and not caring for her survival is too unspeakable measure for her. Saying that there are things you would not do, therefore you are better is like saying that you breath, therefore you are better. Everyone has things they will never do, it’s just the matter of where your goals lie. For Aqua it’s her benefit and profit, for Cat it’s to have reasons to believe that she is not “too bad”, so her lines are set up accordingly. Everyone have equal right to judge right from wrong, which, depending on your opinion, either means that noone has that right, or everyone. Or only you, because of course you do.

    Statement that she is not working for herself but for Callow (which is to what most of her rebuttals come to) is a nationalism. I struggle so hard to not bring Nazis into this, but they are “obvious” villains and showcase my point. People identify themself as a part of they nation and or country, and in turn, identify nation or country as part of themselves. Working for a nation is ultimately working for yourself, it’s just as selfish as is Aquas strife for power. She is dividing all people into to categories “my tribe” and “others”. And others are expandable when it comes to her tribe. She’s using the made up things that do not exist outside her mind to divide humanity on good and bad guys, which is just like racism, sexism, religious conflicts, class wars, and all other bullshit that keeps humanity occupied throught it’s existence. She cares for Callow and Callowans, cause she was born in Callow as a fucking Callowan. Just as Aqua was born in Praes as a goddamn Praesi nobility, so she naturally protects “their way”, which is “kill everyone who is a threat to you and use everyone else”, so she does not care that much about Praesi, but point still stands. Everyone doing things for their benefit, and their only, fight me.

    Now, let’s look at cowardness, and since my post already too goddamn long, I would try to be short. Cat stubornly refuses to face and admit the truth, even when it’s fucking rubbed in her face. She runs away and hides behind platitudes, instead of accepting the reality. She is a goddamn coward and need to grow up.

    P.S.

    Everything I wrote equally applies to me, yada-yada-yada.

    Like

  18. JackbeThimble

    Has Cat ever killed someone that wasn’t either an Enemy, a Criminal or some kind of immediate threat (like the demon-corrupted soldiers)? She’s sacrificed her troops but that was always against enemies that were clearly worth the sacrifice. The only case I can think of where she voluntarily killed allies or innocents purely for her own benefit or to advance her own goals was letting the Lone Swordsman go.

    Like

  19. Isa Lumitus

    You know, it occurs to me that Cat might have a way to SERIOUSLY delay the upcoming war with Procer. All she needs is the tool Akua made: Liesse.

    Liesse isn’t a mere floating castle. It’s an entire godsdamned city, the second biggest in Callow. That is a whole lot of earth and stone, attached to an enchantment to move it wherever needed. So if they can get it into the air again, why not land it in the middle of a choke-point in Red Flower Vale to plug Procer’s only real entry point?

    Even if there are ways around the landed city, Akua worked really hard to turn that into a giant fortress. Why not invest it with a garrison? I also doubt that Cat’s team is going to kill all 100K wights. If she can seize the control spells, they could help defend the pass.

    Procer might find a way to invade eventually, such as by conquering the Free Cities and entering from the South. I bet that would take several years, though.

    Like

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