Interlude: Stairway

“Though official records state that the Principate fought a mere score civil wars, it should be noted that this does not include wars fought between less than five principalities. Should the definition be amended, Procer has on average fought a civil war every decade since the year of its founding. No single nation has ever spilled so much Proceran blood as the Principate itself.”
– Extract from ‘The Labyrinth Empire, or, A Short History of Procer’, by Princess Eliza of Salamans

The trouble with this war, Prince Klaus Papenheim had told his niece since the first day, wasn’t that it wasn’t going to be a war. It was going to be half a dozen of them, fought all across Calernia more or less simultaneously. That was the great danger looming within the Tenth Crusade, that once all the forces had been put in motion there was no adjusting the blows. Cordelia, bless her soul, had taken his warnings seriously. The face of warfare had changed while the Principate clawed itself bloody, and now Procer had to change with it or be left behind. He’d never asked how his niece had gotten her hands on the Praesi. It was for the best, he’d decided. The Prince of Hannoven had been raised with death as mother’s milk, but the fight against the Plague was clean in a way the games in the south weren’t. They made sport of men’s lives, down here, and he’d never had the stomach for that. Regardless, the ten Wastelanders had offered up the most precious secret of the East: the rituals of scrying, that old Praesi trick turned into a lethal tool of war by the Carrion Lord. The spells that allowed armies with entire kingdoms between them to move as one, taking apart hosts twice their size with surgical precision.

Gathering wizards to learn them had been costly, he suspected, and it must have been more so to keep the magelings in the Principate’s service after. Though in Lycaonese lands spellcasters were prized, for their sorcery was a mighty thing wielded from walls against the ratling hordes, the southerners had a more complicated relationship with spellslingers. Wizards and witches had once owned a seat on the Highest Assembly, in recognition of their great contributions in easing the alliance between Arlesites and Alamans that first founded the Principate. Yet in the centuries since they had fallen out of favour. Their great influence, often second only to the rulers of principalities, had been seen as a threat by the royals of the south. Meddling in an election had turned on them when the candidate they opposed, Louis Merovins, managed a narrow victory. The man had spent most his reign suppressing them after revoking their Assembly seat in retaliation, a struggle finally brought to an end two rulers down the line when the mage association known as L’Oeuil D’Or was forcefully disbanded.

Since then the casters had become tradesmen like any other, offering charms and potions for coin – though never healing, as the House of Light frowned upon any infringing upon their hold in that domain. Some cities in the south still had informal assemblies, he’d been told, but they were toothless things and kept that way by ancient decrees banning the collection of dues while still imposing heavy taxes. Until now. First Prince Cordelia Hasenbach of Procer had, in the wake of her speech announcing the Tenth Crusade, founded the Order of the Red Lion. An congregation of wizards and witches exempted from the old decrees, in exchange for sworn service to the crown. Hundreds of them, who might be passable war casters at best but all knew how to scry with a degree of skill. Klaus had a hard laugh, when he learned the charter binding the Grand Alliance together had specific provisions for such an order without ever naming it. His niece had been moving her pieces into place for near a decade now.

The Prince of Hannoven was pleased with the addition of the mages to his war council, though not because of their pleasant personalities. Near all of them were strutting Alamans pups, drunk on the shiny new heraldry and fresh importance. None of them seemed to understand they were not the sudden dawn of wizardly resurgence but instead a glorified pack of messengers. They had no say in where they were deployed, Klaus having decided the arrangements himself after consulting some of his own – much more trustworthy – Lycaonese mages. Dozens had been sent south to the Dominion, to keep the mustering armies of Levant pointed in the right direction, and near a hundred sent in little linked clusters his wizards called ‘relays’ to make it possible to keep the lines open to the Ashuran fleets even as they sailed. The rest had been spread with measured weighing of priorities, linking first to Salia where his niece ruled but also to the forces that Prince Amadis had schemed his way to leading. The Iserran weasel needed a close eye kept on him, and Klaus would have preferred to lead those armies himself if he could. He knew why he could not, though.

In the Red Flower Vales awaited the two men he considered to be the greatest field commanders of this era: Marshal Grem One-Eye and the Carrion Lord.

Sending the likes of Amadis against them would have been like throwing oil at a fire, and Cordelia had reluctantly told him that the man had intrigued too well to be entirely side-lined from command. The Prince of Iserre, however, had been too clever for his own good. With him were the armies of the remainder of his pack of intriguing malcontents, and every unruly fantassin his niece had been able to scrape together. Nearly fifty thousand in total, a host almost as large as the one Klaus was commanding. But it would be the Queen of Callow that Amadis tangled with, and the Prince of Hannoven had heard much about that one of late. He’d once dismissed her as a nobody, during the Liesse Rebellion, but he’d been made to eat that dismissal raw since. She’d gone from victory to victory in the last few years, and if half the rumours about what her pack of villains was doing to heroes making their way into Callow were true… Well, there was one in every generation. Klaus’ had borne the Black Knight that awaited him in the Vales, and the great monster of Cordelia’s own looked to be the murderous orphan who’d set her throne atop a sea of corpses.

Prince Amadis would win, he suspected. The shit had more than a dozen heroes at his back, and two old forces of nature among them. It’d been a pleasant surprise to find out that Laurence was still alive, old sack of piss and vinegar that she was. The Saint of Swords was an army unto herself, and the Grey Pilgrim that went with her was supposed to be some kind of legend in Levant. No, Amadis would come out ahead. But the villains would bloody him and wreck the armies of his allies – and as the commander of that host, all the blame would fall on his shoulders afterwards. There’d be no more agitating the Highest Assembly for the Prince of Iserre, after that disgrace. Klaus spat to the side in disapproval, alone in his tent with the latest correspondence. It was sinful that good, honest soldiers would die in that mess but that was the nature of war. The Veiled Lady not discern between deserving and not when she claimed the butcher’s bill. Enough of Amadis’ backers knew their way around a battlefield that a real debacle would be avoided, at least. There was noise outside the prince’s tent and he set down the latest supply census – Brabant had cut corners on what they brought, the fucking cheapskates – to rise to his feet.

“What’s the racket, men?” he called out.

“Your Grace, I have-“

The voice yelped instead of finishing, preceded by the sound of a spear’s butt hitting a foot none too gently. Klaus passed a hand through greying hair and sighed. That was one of his wizards, he was certain. The eager shits were still under the impression that military protocol did not apply to them since they served under the First Prince instead of the army itself.

“Victoria, let him in,” the Prince of Hannoven said.

“Bertrand de Guison, officer of the Order of the Red Lion,” his guard announced, her tone darkly amused as she parted the tent’s folds.

Klaus would need to have a talk with her. Her dislike for southerners was well-earned – her two sons had died on Alamans fields fighting to put Cordelia on the throne – but the magelings were too useful to be roughed up over petty offenses. The wizard entered limping, his heavy robes emblazoned with a rampant red lion on pale. He couldn’t have been more than thirty, Klaus thought, and that he believed that to be young suddenly reminded him how old he’d gotten. Even his niece was closer to thirty than twenty, now. A Papenheim hold vigil until death relieves them, his father had always told him, but the Veiled Lady had seen fit to spare Klaus longer than he’d believed possible. So few of his time were left, save for enemies.

“Your Grace,” the mage bowed. “I herald news of great import.”

He’d called out in Reitz when he was outside the tent, but now the boy was speaking Chantant. The Prince of Hannoven squinted. He’d had lessons as a child and spoke the Alamans tongue well enough, but never quite managed to shed his Lycaonese accent. It made him sound like an ignorant brute, he was well aware. Just for that, the mage got to stand throughout the conversation.

“I’m listening,” Klaus said.

“The chapter of the Order assigned to the Rightful Due has contacted us,” Bertrand eagerly said. “Admiral Hadast has struck the first blow of the Tenth Crusade.”

That would be Magon Hadast’s son, Klaus noted, not the Ashuran ruler himself. The head of the Thalassocracy was too old and fragile to campaign himself. The ‘Rightful Due’ – Gods, the fucking Ashurans and their ship names – was the flagship of the Thalassocracy’s first war fleet. It’d set sail more than a month ago, and true to their reputation the Ashuran ships and their wind mages were striking with impossible haste.

“A victory, is it?” Klaus asked.

The mage nodded.

“One for the ages, Your Grace,” he said. “The Tideless Isles were seized with but a handful of Ashuran ships sunk, and ten times as many prize hulls seized from the corsairs. What few are not dead or in chains fled for the Wasteland.”

And so the first battle of the Tenth Crusade was fought hundreds of miles away from the Empire, Ashur snatching anchorage for its fleets before it began attacking Praes from the coast. It was beginning, Klaus thought. Now the Praesi would have to move troops to protect their coastal cities, denying reinforcements to the western front even as Ashur burned and looted everything within earshot of waves. Now that Hadast was in place, armies could finally begin to march.

“Contact your fellows in the Northern Army,” Klaus told the mage. “Pass this message to Prince Amadis: the seal is broken, climb the stairs.”

“By your will, Your Grace,” the man bowed elaborately.

Gods, Alamans. They turned every conversation into a bloody play.

“That aside,” Bertrand continued, “your guard-“

“I didn’t see anything,” Klaus grunted. “There’s a war on, boy. Get moving.”

The wizard looked like he’d swallowed a lemon, but learning some humility would do him good. The prince waited until the mage was gone before speaking again.

“Victoria,” he called out. “Get yourself relieved and come in to pour yourself a drink.”

Prince Klaus Papenheim frowned.

“And find the White Knight and his gaggle too, while you’re at it,” he said. “I’ll want a word with them before we march on the Vales.”

Prince Amadis Milenan’s fingers drummed the table lightly. The sound of it was soothing, and well worth the expense of having brought the furniture from his summer palace in Iserre. Amadis had ruled his principality for more than twenty years now, and steered it unfailingly through troubles and civil war largely because he had a knack for telling which way the wind was blowing. At the peak of the civil war, he’d been considered a key supporter of Princess Aenor of Aequitan while secretly corresponding with both Princess Constance of Aisne and Prince Dagobert of Lange – before the latter’s grisly demise at the hands of Hasenbach’s northern savages, anyway. No matter who triumphed he had been positioned to become one of the most influential princes in the Highest Assembly. By refraining from pressing his own claim while keeping close ties with neighbouring principalities, he’d ensured that Iserre would come out of the strife wealthy and pristine: from there, it would have been child’s play to trade marriages for concessions and arrange for his kin to rule Procer when the time came. Then the Battle of Aisne happened, and Cordelia Hasenbach broke the board.

He’d not been there himself, preferring to send one of his many cousins to command the levies he had sent to aid the coalition. But he’d heard stories. Of entire allied armies turning against princesses he’d considered among the most cunning and dangerous alive halfway through the battle. Of the brutal slaughter the Lycaonese had visited upon the flower of the south’s manhood. That defeat sounded across all of Procer, and in the wake of that sound Amadis found his careful plans lay shattered on the ground. Still, he’d come out of the disaster better than any of his former allies and set to work leveraging that sudden prominence. His ties in Orne and Cantal served him well, soon bolstered by generously termed loans to Creusens and wedding his youngest daughter to the heir to Segovia. The aging Princess Luisa has sided with Hasenbach after she broke Prince Dagobert and remained a close ally after, reaping the benefits of her early support, but her son had greater ambitions than being the loyal dog of a northerner First Prince. Princess Aenor’s successor, Princess Rozala, eventually joined his alignment as well after she found her mother’s old supporters closing their doors to her in an attempt to curry favour with Hasenbach.

Six principalities stood behind him, out of the twenty-three that formed Procer. Twenty-four, counting Salia, but as it was the seat and personal domain of whoever claimed the crown its officials avoided partisanship. It was a greater portion of the realm than it seemed. The four Lycaonese principalities to the north were ardent Hasenbach supporters, but estranged from the courts of the south and forced to spend what little coin they had seeing to their borders with the Chain of Hunger. Cleves and Hainault had turned inwards after their disastrous adventures in the civil war, fearing the Kingdom of the Dead would catch scent of their weakness and begin raiding their shores again. Over a third of the principalities still relevant to rule of Procer stood behind him. Amadis did not have the votes in the Highest Assembly to dismantle Hasenbach’s position, not unless she blundered and angered rulers keeping aloft. But he was now widely considered the second most powerful ruler in the Principate, and even the hint of his displeasure gave other princes pause.

Not that the First Prince had been idle all this time. She was, Amadis would concede, a much defter hand at the Ebb and the Flow than any Lycaonese should be. That clever bit of diplomacy with Levant had tied Orense to her with a debt of gratitude, and his own admittedly lacklustre military record meant that Salamans and Tenerife preferred looking for protection against Helike with the First Prince than his own faction. Their support had borne fruit, with twenty thousand men being sent south to guard the border even as the rest of the Principate gathered for war. Yet for all her cleverness, Hasenbach was not beloved. Her heavy-handed reforms of the bureaucracy in Salia had won her no friends among the highborn who had once enjoyed lucrative sinecures close to the heart of Procer’s power. The decrees she had passed trough the Highest Assembly to disburse funds for the upkeep of fortresses guarding the borders with the Chain of Hunger and the Dead King’s realm were similarly unpopular with the impoverished south, though she’d had the votes to force them through regardless.

Still, Amadis had never considered the woman a true threat to his rising ascendance. Watching the massive undertaking she had apparently managed to prepare under his nose without a single soul noticing, however, he was coming to reconsider that assessment.

There must have been at least five hundred mages involved, he thought as he left his tent and came to stand in the field. That meant easily thrice that number in servants and tradesmen supporting them, the sum of it making a sizeable town on its own. And there must have been soldiers, to ward off anyone curious even in this distant stretch of the Principate. The Prince of Arans must have been involved as well, for all this was taking place amidst his lands, and never had Amadis unearthed so much as a hint that the man was one of Hasenbach’s. Neither had his people in the treasury found trace of the sizeable amount of coin that must have been allocated in seeing such an undertaking through. Had the gold come through the Lycaonese principalities? Fielding their armies south in the civil war should have nearly beggared them, it should not have been possible. Unless, of course, Hasenbach had falsified the books in Salia. The Prince of Iserre hummed. He could have her censured for that. The measure was mostly symbolic, and required simple majority to pass. Would it be worth it to call in the favours? It would certainly blacken her name, but to make such a play as a crusade unfolded might do the same for his own.

Someone came to stand by his side, and a low whistle was let out.

“She plays a deeper game than we thought,” Princess Rozala of Aequitan said.

Barely twenty, Amadis thought, with all her mother’s beauty yet none of the grace. Being raised in a time of war had done nothing for her manners, a shame given the past glories of her hallowed line. Iserre and Aequitan had been foes as often as they were allies, over the centuries, a complicated dance of love and hate that saw the lines between rivalry and alliance ever blurred. No one understood better than his people that a skilled enemy could serve as better ally than a friend.

“I discern the Prince of Hannoven’s hand in this,” Amadis said. “It is too… martial a measure to be the First Prince’s own thought.”

“It certainly explains why she had us getting drunk near the border with Bayeux instead of mustering with the Iron Prince in Orne, anyway,” Princess Rozala mused. “And here I thought she merely wanted to keep you from getting your grubby paws all over her allies.”

“A mark of weakness, that she would find it needful to do so,” Amadis said with a thin smile. “Too many of her backers see the sense in what I say.”

“There’s no great brilliance in pointing out that Callow is ripe for the taking, Amadis,” the Princess of Aequitan snorted. “Anyone with eyes can see it. It’s the division of the spoils that’s going to set tongues wagging. Assuming we can even wrest the right to dispose of them.”

“Enough of the Highest Assembly took command of their armies we can convoke a session in Callow without her,” the Prince of Iserre murmured. “With the right promises we could circumvent her entirely.”

Neither needed to say that if this took place, Hasenbach’s reign would never recover from the blow. It was one thing for a decree to be defeated in the Assembly – not even the most beloved of First Princes had avoided that indignity at least once – but for a ruling First Prince’s known intent to be defied that openly? She would barely even qualify as a figurehead, after. The disgrace might be enough for her to abdicate and flee back north with her tail between her legs. There were other ways to chance the face of the Principate’s rule than mere warfare. The two of them stood in uneasy silence afterwards, looking at the work of the mages. The ritual had begun with dawn yet was not even half-done by his reckoning. The harsh slopes of the mountains separating Procer from Callow burned away under constant sorcerous fire, leaving behind smoking steps of stone stretching ever further. Now that the Prince of Hannoven had given his leave, Amadis had been filled in on the full details of this little scheme of the First Prince’s. Though no great commander himself, the Prince of Iserre knew enough of martial endeavours to be aware that the Kingdom of Callow’s great advantage in war had always been that the only path of entry from the west was the Red Flower Vales. Narrow passes and valleys, whose fortifications had only grown more expansive since the Wastelanders had annexed Callow.

This was no longer true.

The Stairway, as Hasenbach’s lieutenant among the mages called it, was the work of years in ritual preparation and planning: an exhausting labour that would carve a way through the mountains between the principality of Arans and northern Callow at the narrowest point in the mountains. The planned point of emergence was to the north of the city of Harrow – which was, he’d been assured, essentially undefended. Amadis had been ordered to take his host through the Stairway and begin a march south, shattering every army in his path until he took the defences of the Red Flower Vales from behind while the host of Prince Klaus Papenheim assaulted them from the front. He’d also been mandated to establish negotiations with the Duchy of Daoine, though it had been made clear to him treating with Duchess Kegan would be handled by one of the First Prince’s personal envoys. In this, he was not worried. Callow was such a lawless place, these days. Envoys could meet with all sorts of accidents as they journeyed. And if they did, well, was it not his duty as a loyal subject of Procer to fill that void? A diplomatic victory with the Deoraithe would do much to solidify his position before he convoked the Highest Assembly within Callow. The higher is fortunes rose, the lower Hasenbach’s fell.

“The wizards tell me the ritual will be completed within two days,” Prince Amadis of Iserre told his accomplice. “We must swiftly steal a march afterwards.”

“Steal a march,” Princess Rozala repeated mockingly. “My, how commandingly you speak to me. One would almost believe you to be the leader of this glorious host of ours.”

Amadis smiled at her.

“How is your brother these days?” he asked. “I hear his talents as an orator have thawed even the First Prince’s disposition.”

The woman’s face turned dark, and she looked away. Rozala did need the occasional reminder of how flimsy her position in Aequitan truly was, with her younger brother currying favour at court. Hasenbach was unlikely to be so gauche as to directly intervene in a principality’s affairs of succession, but she could do a great deal to help the boy’s cause without tipping her hand.

“Let us not quarrel, Your Grace,” Amadis said. “Can you not feel it? We are going to make history, you and I.”

The Prince of Iserre’s smile broadened as he watched the Stairway grow. The world, he knew, was on the eve of great changes. And Amadis Milenan would be at the heart of them.

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145 thoughts on “Interlude: Stairway

  1. Great chapter! It is so amazing to be able to read these again.

    There’s one thing that I’ve missed the past month, not as much as actually being able to read Practical Guide, but I’ve missed the little email notifications that I get from this; specifically from when Gunslinger likes my comment.
    It seems like such a small thing, and it really is, but it normally puts a smile on my face when it happens. Beyond that Gunslinger has been pushing for Practical Guide to be voted for on Top Web Fiction, and has just generally been an amazing part of the community. Thank you, Gunslinger, for all you do.

    There is also the amazing community, reading the comments and the thoughts is what gets me through the days between chapters; thank you all for your thoughts and ideas, as they’re always fun to read through.

    And… if I’m going to be thanking a member of the community I should also thank the author; Erratic thank you so much for this world that you are sharing with us and letting us go on this amazing adventure. I’ve missed this the past month, and I’m very happy it is back. As we continue on this adventure know that I really appreciate all you do. Thank you.

    As we head into book 4… you guys are just all awesome! Thank you!

    Liked by 12 people

    1. Gunslinger

      Thanks for your kind words 😀

      Speaking of topwebfiction.com the Guide is only 20 votes or so behind Ward. Vote and you can take it to the top (tion.com/vote.php?for=a-practical-guide-to-evil)

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Hey, we’re actually at #1. It’s been so long that I forgot what it looks like to have a non-Wildbow series in first place. Thank you to everyone else who voted to help put us there, especially to Gunslinger for reminding us to vote and putting up the handy links, and thank you to EE for writing such an awesome story. I look forward to reading the last book, and anything you put out afterwards.

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    1. soonnanandnaanssoon

      Could be part of the negotiations between Cordelia & Catherine too. Cat thins out her political opponents, whom she gathers and sends to the Stairway. I suspect Cat & Black have known about this already; that’s another reason why Cat talked to Duchess Keagen at the end of Book 3. I think Daoine will be part of the army attacking the Stairway Princes. Let say 25% of them passes through, then Cat ambushes them and split the army apart. The splinter group goes ahead to Daoine thinking they’ll get reinforcements where they’ll get slaughtered. Cat then defends Callow at the Harrow, where the most of the Princes Graveyard will take place.

      Then the Dead King attacks from the North, Ranger comes in for fun with the legendary Heroes, Klaus shifts his direction from the Vales to Harrow to attack Cat from the South, Malicia betrays her and many more things go wrong for Cat because with the exception of Hakram and her Rainbow Cloak, things never really go right for our Queen of the Hunt.

      Liked by 7 people

        1. Nash Equilibrium

          I can’t find the specific chapter the line is spoken right now, but I’m pretty sure that the augur specified that the empress wouldn’t find out. So it’s possible that this is backroom dealing with Cat.

          Of course, it’s also possible that negotiations between Callow and Procer failed, so this could be exactly what it appears to be.

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      1. werafdsaew

        I doubt the Black Queen and the First Prince trust each other well enough to have agreed to anything. I think Thief’s visit was just to scope each other out and to establish diplomatic relationships for future negotiations.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. David Casort

    minor correction. “Klaus’ had borne the Black Knight that awaited him in the Vales, and the great monster of Cordelia’s own looked to be the murderous orphan who’d forged set her throne atop a sea of corpses.” I suspect you meant either “forged her throne” or “set her throne” not both. personally I prefer forged.

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  3. Darkening

    I find it rather amazing that some people are so self-important that they continue to underestimate Catherine. I mean, sure, Klaus is right that a dozen heroes is a rough time for the Woe to contest, but this Amadis fellow doesn’t seem to even have the slightest thought that anything might cause him a problem.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Matthew

      Also, I think that we as readers overestimate how much the heroes know about Black’s hero killing methodology. He’s been mostly successful so what they have to go on is survivor tales from his least effective methods.

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      1. Adra

        Especially because of the Name-lore mislead that’s inherent in him being the Black Knight: It’s part of his name to be a Hero Killer, the name is traditionally the ‘Dragon’ to the Dread Empress/Emperor. So heroes are prepared for a traditional, hero-killing villain, who’ll chase them down, overwhelm them with dark power and start monolouging. Without first hand knowledge of what Black is, it’s very easy for heroes to operate under the assumption that they’re dealing with a very powerful but traditional Black Knight.

        So all the heroes who come for him are prepped for the completely wrong type of engagement, and that’s even before Black’s actual plans come into play.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. The heroes who come for him are the ones at the Vales with Papenheim, the White Knight and his band, and they fought him to more or less a stalemate twice. They’ll know what to expect, especially with Hanno’s ability to google with his brain, and with Raphaella being a monster killer set against a legion of undead with a dragon at its head.

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  4. Highwayman

    The Stairway… if training in CQB has taught me anything, its that stairwells are a horrible death trap. Might not be as bad here as in a real stairwell, but if there’s any time to hit them, it’ll be when they’re marching half-way through it.

    Liked by 7 people

            1. 1shot4living

              “You’re telling me that an entire army, 12 heroes and an assortment of princes just vanished once the Black Queen dropped the standard and just walked away without looking back?”

              “I believe her exact words were ‘Oops, it slipped.’ ”

              Liked by 4 people

            2. If you read the link, HIerophant actually think it’s a demon of corruption, “Given that we remember why we need to have this conversation.” I’m betting that the army finds the wards, figures it’s Squire or someone hiding to have wards that strong, tears them down, gets corrupted, and then Squire has a corrupted army coming up her backside, spreading corruption wherever they go.

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        1. If you read the link, HIerophant actually think it’s a demon of corruption, “Given that we remember why we need to have this conversation.” I’m betting that the army finds the wards, figures it’s Squire or someone hiding to have wards that strong, tears them down, gets corrupted, and then Squire has a corrupted army coming up her backside, spreading corruption wherever they go.

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    1. Alternatively, if anyone does catch the wind of the ongoing ritual, Cat can call on the mandated host of no less than ten thousand soldiers from Daoine. Maybe even take some of the Watch’s garrisons in it, to harass the invaders and scout for heroes while she’s gating north.

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  5. SpeckofStardust

    They will take the city and enter the Callow heartlands, preventing Cat from doing anything else without first beating that army.

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  6. Decius

    How much thought and strategic planning went into considering that the stairway is also going to be a way to invade Procer? If it isn’t useful as a way to invade Procer, it’s a great place for a couple of active volcanoes to appear when the army is mostly through.

    How effective was the information security intended to keep the Eyes from knowing about a large and labor-intensive ritual?

    And is it even remotely possible that the scrying rituals and scrying mages are secure against interception and spoofing?

    If Black hasn’t already won at least ten percent of the war, he hasn’t been doing his job correctly.

    Liked by 3 people

        1. The wasteland mages were for Cordelia’s scrying network, not for this. The Stairway was mentioned to have been years in the making, which means they started planning it before Catherine was in charge of anything.

          Liked by 2 people

    1. TeK

      The funny thing is, countries borders have to goalong natural geographicaly defended position. The Empire had sea and Hwaerte, the Callow had the Hwaerte to the east, Vales to west,elves to the north (practically a wasteland to any invading army), and to the south dat lake, as well as fae-ridden Refuge. Now, with part of mountains protecting borders between Praes and Procer gone, it is a strategic imperative to hold as big buffer zone between said mountain pass and actual borders of country. As an example take the Wall between Daoine (which is much more like a march, but anyway) and Nortern steppes. Because there were no obstacles along the borders (aside from marches, I suppose), it was a point of constant raids and fighting. The same is here. Procer just ensured constant wars between itself and whoever behind those mountains.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Rook

      Killing the Saint of Blades seems like a good way to make the old Queen of Blades a proper Name, especially with the previous precedent already set

      .. which would still catch Ranger’s attention, but that conflict seems more or less inevitable anyway, more of a when question than an if question

      Liked by 1 person

  7. BaggyOz

    I smell multiple traps. What’s the bet that Hierophant notices a massive days long ritual powerful enough to melt mountains? And then there’s the scrying, no way that secret got loose unintentionally. Either it was deliberately leaked by the Empire or part of any deal between Cat and the Prince. There’s no way a back door or flaw was left in the ritual to make sure that communications are insecure.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Typo thread:

    > wasn’t that it wasn’t going to be a war
    was that it wasn’t going to be a war

    > An congregation of wizards and witches
    A congregation of wizards and witches

    > who’d forged set her throne atop a sea of corpses
    Maybe “who’d set her throne atop a sea of corpses”?

    > There were other ways to chance the face of the Principate’s rule than mere warfare.
    There were other ways to change the face of the Principate’s rule than mere warfare.

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    1. Some more typos 🙂

      The Veiled Lady not discern between deserving and not when she claimed the butcher’s bill.
      Add “did” after “Lady”

      The aging Princess Luisa has sided with Hasenbach after
      Change has to had

      not unless she blundered and angered rulers keeping aloft
      Add “her” after “rulers”

      The higher is fortunes rose
      Change is to his

      Like

  9. I don’t think we are heading into the graveyard of princes right away, because there seem to only be two of them taking the stairway, but the life expectancy of this prince seem really low. His point of view doesn’t even consider Catherine once =)

    Like

    1. Amadis mentioned that there were enough princes available to convene a Highest Assembly once they arrive in Callow. Even if they aren’t all there now, who wants to bet that Catherine hits them as they’re convening their little coup?

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Mr. Nobody

    Wow, the time skip was longer than I thought. Well, Catherine must have increased the numbers of the Army of Callow quite a lot.
    Something tells me that the downfall of the Principate will be its fragile alliance and constant infighting. Look, this Amadis guy is so focused on Cordelia that he can’t even concentrate on the fight to come.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. grzecho2222

      Funny thing is that they are more Praes than Praes at the moment. Let’s see: giant ritual that can easly backfire, attacking Callow with hordes of soldiers, nobles already backstabbing each other and paraphrasing Akua “No one understood better than his people that a skilled enemy could serve as better ally than a friend”. Did Black Knight switched their paternswhenno one was looking? He talked about transcending them.

      Liked by 9 people

  11. Antonin

    Catherine does have one big advantage however, the aspect TAKE can work the Dread Empress’s mind control of the Legion of Terror if she knows about it and it just so happens she was checking for mind control when dealing with the Diabolist.

    Like

      1. You have it backwards. Take was the first NEW aspect she got upon regaining her name. The other two new ones are Fall and Break.

        The aspects she lost were Seek (removed because of demon corruption), Learn, and Struggle.

        Like

        1. Chapter 68: Coda

          Even my Name was stripped bare, its power dimmed and dull. I had no aspect left but one, and that one was gone far beyond what an aspect should be. Squire, I thought, but the name rang hollow. Tied to me only by the barest thread. Transition loomed ahead, patiently awaiting the right fulcrum.

          Cat lost 2 of her 3 aspects when she broke the scaffold around her title as Duchess, retaining only Fall.

          Also from Coda:

          “Call,” Akua Sahelian said.

          A bundle of power inside her unfolded under my patient eye and I flicked my wrist. Ice spread through it, cracks spreading as she flinched. Ah, I thought. Devoured but not gone. The corpse of her aspect I took for my own, let the winds and the snow bury it. It would await my purposes there.

          Cat ate Call. She didn’t Take it.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. JackbeThimble

          I think Mr. Nobody is referring to the second time she lost her name after Second Liesse. We don’t really know what her name is now but I think it was stated that she isn’t the Squire no more and her actual capital N Name probably isn’t The Black Queen either, it’s currently not clear whether she still has her old aspects.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Nairne .01

            She still has “Take”. Though it evolved into something a little different when she broke her name and became the incarnation of winter. It might not be an actual aspect but she still can “Take”.
            I think “Take” was very compatible with Winter on a conceptual level.

            Like

            1. Ashen Shugar

              I would have thought that the one aspect that remained was “Fall”. From the quote in the comment above, her remaining one was far beyond what a normal aspect should be, and Fall was her aspect that had gotten supercharged/corrupted by winter power.

              Liked by 1 person

      1. Soronel Haetir

        Malicia can embed commands directly in people she speaks to face-to-face, I’m not sure if it works through her flesh puppets or only meeting the real Malicia in person.

        And I thought Malicia and Black did know of the stairway, I thought that was the one message they managed to intercept (while the Auger steered most clear of getting caught).

        Like

      2. Mr. Nobody

        I think he misunderstood the Empress’ Speaking. It’s powerful, but it’s more like suggestion than mind control. Though I don’t remember any mention of the Empress using something like that on the Legions.
        If she had mind control, the High Lords wouldn’t have needed to die.

        Like

          1. Mr. Nobody

            Oh, that’s right. I am the one who underestimated her power.
            Hmm… Now I’m suspecting the Empress of killing Juniper’s mom and the rest of the commanders even more.

            Like

            1. Fern

              OH FUCK

              Man I never even considered the commands when Juniper’s mom died. It would have taken almost no effort for her to plant a command with a poison coated dagger on one of the other officers. Even then, I still don’t think the Empress had a clear motive to do it; she thought she could rely on Black to trust her until he blew her magic portal nuke to shit, after all. The only reason she would kill Juniper is if she thought Black would try to kill her, and well… I don’t think she did, until Black crossed that line.

              It’d be different if she assumed that Juniper would use family ties to bring her into the fold, of course, but that’s unlikely. Still, a masterstroke of a plan. Personally? I still think one of the goblins did it, either the Legion ones we know about or an Eye of the Matrons.

              Shit, but I do love this whole story. Every time i look at it there’s a new detail I didn’t notice before.

              Like

              1. I suspect it was Cordelia, honestly. We know she had agents in the Legions – their presence at the battle of Liesse and their ability to secure a Wight for study is more than enough proof of that. Ranker and Sacker seemed to be unaware of the treachery, even when we were reading from Ranker’s PoV. If Ranker had been planning or party to knifing the other Legion commanders, she wouldn’t have been getting desperate and bemoaning the damage it did to Legion morale.

                Like

  12. Rook

    I’m not sure about the whole stealthy massive sorcerous ritual thing to be honest. Aren’t the woe using blanket scrying to detect heroes and narrow down where they are? Unless Hierophant is out of commission with an experiment, you’d think one of the greatest sorcerers of the age would probably be able to spot a magical bonfire while scrying for needles in a haystack.

    Also pretty interesting that no one in the principiate – not even Cordelia’s own right hand – has any minor inkling about her being in contact with the Black Queen.

    On top of that, they suddenly got a hold of apparently secret Praesi scrying rituals just in time for the war? The same kind that would be rather useful for two rulers secretly conspiring? Also coincidentally the stairs for the principiate’s first strike happen to be hitting harrow. The essentially in defended and foreshadowed to be destitute city that would minimize damage to Callow (last chapter – with the trader calling harrow coin ‘trash’)

    Question would be, is Cat actually hard enough to do what this would imply? Set up Harrow far ahead of time as a sacrificial lamb to avoid suspicion from Praes, and narrowly ‘lose’ the first battle; shattering most of the host aiming at callow in the process but being ultimately ‘unable’ to stop them from opening the red flower Vales. Very conveniently bypasses the biggest principiate-callow conflict as the crusade marches toward heart of Praes, without giving any strong grounds for public suspicion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s mplied that proceran mages mostly couldn’t scry before at all, otherwise Klaus would describe it differently. Praesi are likely listening in on the Red Lions’ communications, and Cat used a more confidential way of delivering her messages to Cordelia (a stealthy Named messenger).

      First Prince can’t openly deal with the Black Queen, since she’s a certified abomination in the eyes of the Heavens. My bet is that Cat either is going to abuse the deal she set up with Cordelia (destroying her rival princes, with a very broad definition of “destroy”, for crusaders concentrating on the Vales) or trick her into unknowingly breaking it, starting a story about a deal with a fairy gone wrong.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Darkening

        i believe it’s probably not that they couldn’t scry at all, but that they didn’t have Warlock’s Cheap Reliable Long-Range Pebble Scrying, so it wasn’t as useful.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Fern

        Oh, it’s absolutely going that way. Making a deal with the fae is way too rich of a trope for it not to happen. I’d almost be inclined to say Cat may break their deal without even meaning to, what with how her name is starting to rule how she acts after getting all that sweet winter goo.

        Like

        1. Rook

          I wonder if her name would even let her break the deals/promises/oaths. There was the whole question about whether Cat chose to sew Akua into the cloak or if she simply couldn’t break the oath she previously made anymore. She’s not even too sure herself, by her own admission.

          If anything it would have to be something that screws them in practice while strictly adhering to the technical wording of the deal

          Liked by 1 person

  13. nerferf

    So does anyone else smell a deal was made by cat and cord? Cord arranges for all her internal enemies armies to go by this plain suicidal route and cat forces will fight them thus giving cat an excuse to not send troops to aid black or empress, keeping callow which is now again a independent kingdom out of the war and the empire’s best generals trapped in the vale while the real invasion enters from the coast into the vastly understaffed empire heartland?

    I mean cat and cord are obvious going to back-stab each other, cord using these monster heros to try to off cat, and cat can easily attack uncle klaus in the back and trapping him between her and black if she decides to destroy this army in the pass

    Like

    1. Oshi

      I suppose I see it a little differently. I think the endgame will be the Dead King. Cat will be the fulcrum that turns the Crusade against the Hunger. In the end Callow and Praes both die so that a new empire is born while the Crusade will spend itself to kill/contain the Dead King. It’s about the only way the Kingdoms in the South will survive what the Crusades are planning for the next few generations. Good gets to defeat a Greater Evil while the lesser survives and grows to challenge them later. If the pattern holds then that is how it will end.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. TeK

        I think the narrative has to change, and the change will be to something like “Practical Good and Practical evil cooperate to defeat Greater Evil, while Stupid Good and Stupid Evil die ugly death”.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. Big Brother

            Hoy, I’ve only seen your comments on the most recent chapters, and I’m already tired of your ‘goody two-shoes’ attitude. You seem like part of the Stupid Good category that only sees eliminating Evil as the proper course, never working with it.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. First off I don’t recall seeing a big sign on the top of the page saying “You must be this deep in the Protagonist bias Kool-Aid to ride” so I suppose you’ll just have to deal with it.

              Second. Evil blatantly has nothing beneficial to offer the world, even the Practical kind only gets vaguely less dystopic and murderous results on a societal level. Complaining that Good doesn’t work with Evil on more than a momentary basis is like complaining that the police don’t work with the damn mafia.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Fern

                The police did work with the mafia, though. It was a whole thing.

                I’m getting ahead of myself. I don’t buy into it too much either, but as far as choices Cat’s got shit besides Practical Evil. Further than that, it looks like the only real gold end for all these characters is if they flip the middle finger to the Gods and make their own path, which is impossible with the Gods still in the picture.

                Practical Evil isn’t as bad as you’re making it out to be, i think. The only difference between fair government because it’s right and fair government as a stable way to keep the masses in line is intent, and we’re about to get real Kantian if we stop worrying about that.

                Never go full Kant. Down that path lies darkness and semantics.

                Liked by 1 person

          2. TeK

            Why? As far as I’m concerned, the only real difference between Practical Good and Evil is that former are hypocrites. I hope you are not gonna protect Stupid Good a la “let’s mindcontrol hundred thousand civilians, elders, women and children included, into a mindless army of slaughtering everything on it’s way”, but the biggest move team Practical Good has going for itself is “let’s invade a war-ridden country to distract everyone from our inner problems and kill any unstable elements that can potentially cause unrest”. Yeah, mighty Good, all of them.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Because the countries ruled by evil are frighteningly dystopic hellholes ruled by insane despots. The good nations, despite massive flaws and inequality, are not.

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              1. Oshi

                This is not an attack but lets not forget the whole constant civil war and slavery levels of serfdom in the Principate. Not to mention the caste based system that crushes people in Ashur?

                Liked by 1 person

              2. lennymaster

                It was stated several times, by several diffrent charactars, that the standard of living for the commoners (wich means pretty much 85 to 95 percent of the population, depending on the efficiency of farmingmethods in Callow) has risen substantially since Black took over.
                Society these days puts such an overinflated stock in morality, that feelings are valued higher than reason or facts, that well meant intend is praised no matter the actual outcome.

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              3. “Because the countries ruled by evil are frighteningly dystopic hellholes ruled by insane despots. The good nations, despite massive flaws and inequality, are not.”

                Callow, which has been ruled by the Practical Evil Black Knight has been as decent as any of the Good nations with their constant “civil wars” (or internal conflicts). Praes, although nominally under Empress Malicia, has been under the Truebloods (who were only recently all wiped out) and they were all Really Evil. Some of the Goodish nations, like Bellerephon, are literal 1984 dystopian hell holes with rocks implanted in your head that monitor your thoughts and blow you up if you think the wrong thing.

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              4. TeK

                Well, you do have a point, living under Traitorous, while hilarious, would be quite taxing. But the whole point is that it’s not Practical Evil. Practical Evil is more like Benevolent, you dig?

                Like

                1. Practical Evil is, “if you kill the goose that laid golden eggs, you don’t get any more eggs. So for greatest long-term personal money earning potential, you have to be a benevolent overlord and help your subjects get super rich so that they can afford to pay the higher taxes that you later want to levy on them.”

                  I.e. the Reaganomics approach. 😉

                  Like

            2. Nguyen Hong Hai

              Then by definition, Practical is just what it means, doing the most suitable thing, no need to label Good or Evil on top of it there.

              Like

              1. TeK

                I would gladly, but we’re talking about universe in which Good and Evil are very, very real. I aknowledge the reality by labeling them such. But yes, I would prefer if Practical would be more of the side, than Good or Evil. Let’s see.

                Like

    2. About a third of the Legions of Terror and at least one Marshall are still stationed in the Wastelands. With the High Lords dealt with, Malicia can absolutely send them to manage the threat from the coastline (and considering the mention of the Legions having a dragon enrolled, possibly wipe out the force on the Tideless Isles). Plus, as Cat mentioned, the Wasteland itself is “death on invaders” what with the lack of useful scrounging available and the eldritch horrors still tucked away behind the walls of their cities. Sure, Ashur can raid the coastline, but the cities are where the wealth is, and attacking one of those with anything less than a band of Heroes is going to end in some serious damage to the attackers.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. TeK

        Ashur can not just raid the cost, but land an actual army. With actual heroes, why not? To detter and counter that, at least some portion of military need to stay in Wasteland. Plus, nobility, while toothless, is not toothless enough to leave unsupervised.

        Like

  14. Trupo

    Did Malicia just feed Proceans an unsafe comms measure that Warlock and Masego can tap into at will?

    Every time someone was scrying in the past, notion of Akua being possibly able to listen was rised, safety discussed, protocols changed. And now, on eve of war, Proceans get access to ” the most precious secret of the East”, don’t seem aware of liabilities of crying and put it in hands of inexperienced mages who won’t be able to spot weak points.

    Are they going to be broadcasting their positions and plans for everyone to hear, while Cat can move the armies through Arcadia to react?

    Also, Klaus seems to thing Amadis is going to fight Cat, while Amadis thinks he’s moving to flank the Vales. With Masego tapping into Procean scrying the stairs look like a planned death trap.

    Liked by 5 people

  15. Gunslinger

    Well RIP Amadis. A clearer sacrificial pawn cannot be found and I’d consider it easy for Cat to demolish them even with the presence of the old heroes. One of the visions she had in Akua’s 4 fold crossing trap had the Bumbling Conjurer drop a mountain on Proceran armies to stop them in the Red Vales. The same thing could be easily done here.

    Also it’s interesting that the White Knight is going to be fighting Black instead of Cat. Aiming for a pattern of 3 there? Or maybe gaining practice until he’s ready for his true opponent

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Catherine is a more likely end opponent for Hanno: the Fate builds her up as an equal to him, just like it did with her and Akua:

      “Justifications only matter to the just” vs “I do not judge”.

      Googling through the dead heroes’ memories and absorbing their skills vs literally collecting undead heroes.

      Artifact that calls on otherworldly creatures to punish the evildoers vs an evildoer calling on otherworldly creatures, made part of a magical artifact as a punishment.

      Time will show whether the Fate will also equalize them in power, like it was with “deals with devils vs deals with fairies”, “unlimited Greater Breaches vs unlimited gates to Arcadia” etc.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. grzecho2222

        I think that the most important detail is that Hanno is driven by absolut of justice and Bard is the entity with the most of blood of innocents on her hands.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. werafdsaew

          But the White Knight does not judge. He has surrendered his free will to the choir of judgement, so he won’t act against the Wandering Bard until the choir judges her.

          Like

            1. Ashen Shugar

              The tricky thing about that though, is that it’s heavenly justice, not absolute justice. Going by the riddle that Hanno solved by stating the King was in the wrong for not leaving justice up to the heavens, it’s quite possible that anything that gets the Good Gods closer to winning may be seen as “justice” by the Choir. In fact, while humans may see it as Just things are what the Angels do, it may be the other way around and it’s whatever the Angels do that is Just. Even if it’s killing every single first born in the land that isn’t behind a door with splashes of blood on the frame.

              Like

              1. “Even if it’s killing every single first born in the land that isn’t behind a door with splashes of blood on the frame.”

                To be fair, things slowly ramped up. I mean, the very first plague was that an immediate drought happened and that all water turned to blood. Then frogs, lice, and either scorpions/snake or flies. And all of those animals crawling on them and in their homes wasn’t enough. And then all of their livestock was stricken with disease, and everyone had boils on their skin (or giant ingrown pimples all over). And then the worst storm happened that Egypt had ever seen — hail falling and damaging buildings while lightning started fires. Then clouds of locusts that devoured every food source that was still left, and then complete darkness for the space of three days so that nobody could even leave what was left of their buildings. And I don’t know about you, but after all that other stuff I would have been more afraid of what might have been in the darkness than I would have been of anything else.

                And all of that still wasn’t enough. So it became personal. We’ve seen similar things happen in this story — things slowly get ramped up because the smaller measures sometimes just aren’t enough to change people’s minds.

                The way the Koran describes it, things also got really really bad and it still wasn’t enough. So it became personal.

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  16. Wow, Cordelia First Prince of Procer has been very busy the last decade. Armies, mages, the Stairway…it is a very rational and well-executed plan. Too bad those rarely survives contact with the enemy.

    The first problem I see with this plan is that at no way she’s ready to fight the Dead King now. She has mustered around 120 000 soldiers of Procer, and none can be deployed north to Cleves and Hainault in time if the Kingdom of the Dead invades this way. Should the undead abomination attacks as the first phase is unfolding, her nothern army will be on the other side of the mountains, the Vale army of Hannoven will be locked in a death struggle against the Black Knight and the southern one has to fight against the Tyrant of Helike. Sure, Cordelia must have planned for reserves, but when the Dead King attacks, Procer is going to be hurt…

    The second problem being of course that apparently they have no idea Catherine can use portals at will now, and transport the armies of Callow in time to stop this offensive.

    Still, it is delicious to see even the side of Good is dealing with its betrayals, plots and nasty politics as much as the Evil Side does. The Tenth Crusade is on its way, and the Uncivil Wars are going to be a terrifying bloodbath…

    Liked by 1 person

  17. My oh my. This is already shaping up to be a massive clusterfuck. I’ll just go from the top on what I noticed:

    The ten Wastelanders with scrying. Where this even came from is going to be a mystery for some time. Immediate guesses is that this is a play from Cat or Malicia or potentially defectors from Diabolist. However, we already know that Heirophant can send Corruption along demonic control links from another fucking dimension, so sending bad juju along all those convenient scrying links may also be in his bailiwick.

    Klaus Papenheim’s disregard for the south, his provincialism. It is a hole in his mind, a lack of trust which makes things shaky.

    Brabant being cheap skates is probably going to bite them as a Chekov Oops later.

    Sending that many heroes through the Stairway to Cat will make Harrow and the Stairway a pivot, by the very Laws of Creation. Whoever wins there, makes truly massive gains in the Tenth Crusade. Cat is good at harnessing pivots, and so is Black. And Prince Amadis is too caught in his own plays to be any kind of good thing for the army. A story of an army led by a foolish conniving prince through a pivot? He will die ignominiously. Conservation of Narrative also indicates that all of these heroes will through some means not be as effective as they should be I’d wager.

    The way Ashur is stretching Praes. That isn’t going to end well for someone.

    Cat and Cordelia’s deal, whatever that is. That’s going to come out in the worst way, for somebody. Like someone commented, Cat’s nature makes it so that any bargain she makes, if broken will *wreck* the other side. There are far too many stories of bargains with the Fey going sideways for something wacky not to happen. And no one knows she’s Fey natured yet, or doesn’t understand it yet.

    Prince Amadis’ casual disregard for the Chain of Hunger and Dead King.

    The strangeness with the finances, where did that come from? Cat? Or did something else happen? Then there is the convoking of the Highest Assembly planned. The *arrogance* in there means its all going to go to shit, in this narratively driven universe. Put together, something is going to blow up for someone.

    Does anyone remember which Hell it is that Demons start showing up in? The Twenty Sixth? For a second I thought Procer had the same number of provinces as the start of the Demon Hells. *shrug*

    Harrow also has a Demon of Absence and devil Doom Standard in it(can’t remember what they are actually called). That’s going to be an unfun surprise for someone.

    Black’s recent philosophical conundrum is changing what is happening with him, and may well be confirming that he will die as the evil, but in some way redeemed Mentor Figure. Name business is going on there basically.

    There are so *many* holes and plots and just *stuff* going on in the background. My God it’s glorious. I have no idea who *will* win, but I’d guess it will be Cat.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. grzecho2222

      I think it was hell number 23, 24 being first with devils also
      “No,” I agreed. “But Ratface’s staff now has a representative from the Guild of Assassins attached. Those mages will be heading back to Praes through cities I control.”

      Like

    2. My pet theory is that, as a state forged in the wake of Triumphant’s defeat, Principate’s pattern is to stay at 23 principalities. Each time they try to add another one, the Fate turns against them.

      Like

      1. TeK

        On the contrary, I think when formed, Procer included some of Free Cities, as well as some of Levant. They just slowly lost those territories, otherwise those wouldn’t be known as “former Proceran principalities”.

        Liked by 1 person

            1. No, it was from the chapter where Catherine was first introduced to the Imperial Court. The one where Akua trapped her in the wager on the Grand Melee for command of the 15th Legion. She made the thought when she heard that official court sessions are held on the 24th floor.

              Like

              1. TeK

                Well, dunno about that, I copied it from the chapter 25 of book 2, in which they plan defence of matchford, I was mistaken earlier, drew it from the memory. If you look up the chapter you suggesting, you’ll se that there wasn’t outright mentioned, exactly why 24 is an important number, other than that it has something to do with demons.

                Liked by 1 person

  18. Th3saint

    The fact that cat armies can ignore space and have easy logistics due to Cats Arcadia Highways is a complete unkown to the Crusaders, that in the hands of Hellhound is a force multiplier in the order of a couple of Names at least.

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  19. TeK

    One thing irking me, is the fact, that all those princes are no better then most imperial governors, yet they get to fight for the good guys, cause they crawled up on the right side of the mountains. And yes, the worst of them going to die, but it wouldn’t change the same tendency. Exactly why many Heroes for generations ignore the unjust feudal system, which spares peasant blood like sand is beyond me.

    Like

    1. Darkening

      Well, it probably doesn’t help that the only example of democracy seen in setting is the madness that is bellerophon. Might sour people a bit to the idea to the point where they just figure, “Well, putting someone actually good on the throne will fix everything!” instead of actually trying to change the system.

      Like

      1. TeK

        Technically, Ashur has some form of democracy, Free Cities are essentially a confederacy, HRE, oops, Procer even has a parlament, and as far as I’m concerned, the only authocratic state in Free League is Helike and maybe Penthes. The Atalante is most likely some take on theocracy, perhaps bishopic, or like a Papal state. Everything else? Some degree of democracy. So it is not like democracy is not existing or misrepresented. The root of the problem lies probably with the whole Named system, and for lesser part, stagnating technological progress. The only ones who can change the system are Named, and they tend to be arrogant and consider themselves better then plebs, or at least more important and suited for ruling. If they see the problem, they don’t tend to think, that the problem is with the system, so they take reign, fix the problem, and then everything slowly regresses back.

        Still, this is not an excuse for outright ignoring countless victims of everlasting squabbles between Heroes and Villains. No matter who wins, Good or Evil, the ones who pay the corpse price and suffer are simple, Nameless people on both sides. Like seriously, if you are so righteous, don’t drag other people in your phylosophical debates on what kind of metaphysical bullshit tastes better. Part of the reason why Anaxares is my favorite character after best girl is that he, finally, represents those who don’t have a name.

        P.S. It’s not that I root for democracy as the best form of goverment, period, but it pisses me off when thousand die on background, sometimes without any mention. It’s even worse than what Black said: “One half of world, turn into a prop for the glory of the other half”. It’s the whole world, turned into a background to glorify butchers and murderers. I mean, let us be fair, did anyone even heard of the names like Architector, Compositor, Artist, Statesman, Farmer, Philosopher, Blacksmith, Woodcutter, Lumberjack? Inherently peacefull Names, I mean? Even Bards and Scribes are turned into the weapons and fighters. It’s like the world propagates that the only way to live is to war.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. grzecho2222

      It’s like in real life, everybody is right from their perspective. But if it will go as it went in reality then fact that absolute monarchy (Black) and positivims (Cat) are making waves than feudal nobles don’t have much time left.

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      1. TeK

        Well, what dissappoints is the fact that most of those views are heavilly underrepresented. Black’s absolutism is derailed curtesy of Malicia, and I think Cat doesn’t have enough administrating capability and savviness to implement such reforms. Scrying will tilt the balance if only a little, but unless some really big threat comes and stays, everything will return as it were. Anyway, I’d wager Callow and Praes turned into centralised administrative monarchy not unlike european goverments after Renaissance, Procer uniting in face of this and Dead King threat going up to eleven, as well is at loss of most of the princes, with some principalities adding to Free Cities, which turns more united and centralized, Switzerland style. Don’t know what to expect from Levant, certainly not an Inquisition.

        The biggest problem is timeframe. The meanigful changes implemented and the Crusade fought needs to be done over the course of last two books, which gives us from two to five years of action, and this is practically nothing in the bigger picture. Moreover, the seafaring, warfare and agriculture, as far as I can tell, really lacking for any meaningfull govermental changes. And Names are a wild card too. Still, it’s fun to debate politics in a made up fantasyverse.

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      2. Black is not an absolute monarch, nor is Cat a… positivist, whatever the hell that means. The ideology they represent is pretty blatantly militant proto-fascism.

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        1. grzecho2222

          Political positivism is at it simplest the idea that when one want to change country for better they should start down and not give a heck about whinning of elites

          Like

  20. Ryan DD Durnell

    Yeah…I get that most Good can’t actually be “good” because that would create a world of absolutes that’s essentially unlivable. Still, these jackasses are really pushing the limits. I patiently await severe karmic backlash.

    Also, welcome back! Get published, dawg, I’ll push some dollars into your pockets!

    Like

  21. Letouriste

    Making history he say 😀
    Pretty sure his defeat will be so total he will really be in history^^
    I expect these praesis to be given by cat and that whole « surprise » attack to have been in the negocation.
    Cat win will boost moral and defeat several heroes in the process and hasenbach get the removal of an annoying party trying to hurt her.
    So funny to read the POV of a fodder in a story so out of his capacities to deal with

    Like

  22. Letouriste

    What are the odds these scrying spells are actually a huge trap mean to kill the mages involved and removing all communication between armies at critical timing?

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  23. I get the feeling that the Stairway is the backstab to the deal between Cat and Cordelia. Too bad that an invasion route one way can easily turn into one the other way when the incompetent Prince gets his army wiped out. Got 10 Quataloos that he doesn’t listen to the Hero’s with him.

    Like

  24. Ryan DD Durnell

    I actually hope Amadis DOESN’T fold like a cheap deck of cards. It would be refreshing to see someone neither Named nor non-human exercise some relevance and present a serious challenge.

    The discussion about democracy, the little people, etc is not new to fiction. It’s why there are people who say “the Jedi are as bad as the Sith.” When really thought over, the average person in almost any system can get by, maybe even prosper and enjoy life, regardless of whether or not they have a vote (and most people don’t vote anyway).

    That cannot be said for Praes (evil) with its nightmarish idiocy or Procer (good) with its institutionalized backbiting. So they both suck and should die in a fire.

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    1. TeK

      It’s not really about the equality of power, rather an equality of opportunity. The changes of world are reserved solely for Named, which is, given that Named are heavilly influenced by their names, turns to chronically stagnating world. Same stories repeat, over and over, just new people die in them. And nothing really changes. Same borders, same Names, same technology, crap, same demographic situation.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Cordelia isn’t named, and she’s been going round for round against Malicia in a shadow war across the continent since before the story began. She’s also been the driving force behind three threats – that we know of – those being this Crusade, William/The Liesse Rebellion, and Tasia Sahelian. And she’s had her hands in the war for the Free Cities in which the Hierarch was elected, as well. AND the Epilogue of Book Three revealed that she has agents in the Legions of Terror. She has been involved in literally every major conflict so far, and she doesn’t have a Name at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Adra

    Looks like, at least from a stylistic standpoint, Queen of Blades is out of the running for Cat. Wouldn’t make sense from an aesthetic standpoint to line Queen of Blades up vs. Saint of Blades, doesn’t sound good on paper, er, screen.

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    1. d_o_l

      I noticed in chapter 37 of book 3, the name is called “Saint of Swords” instead. Seems like a minor continuity error. Also, Queen of Blades vs Saint of Swords would be a fucking awesome match up.

      Like

  26. Few things *I* noticed,
    If the timeskip is truly as large as it appears, that goblin tribe Cat allowed to settle near Marchford is ENORMOUS by now. The factors we’ve been told contribute to goblin mortality are nearly ALL absent outside the Gray Eyries. (Competition for resources. Schemes of Matron Vs. Matron. Breaking into Dwarven tunnels accidentally etc.) Any species whose members possess lifespans as short as goblins undoubtedly breed like cockroaches. If twenty is pretty much unreachable without blood magic, FIVE might be sexual maturity!

    Heroes don’t get the cool no-aging-until-killed that villains do. Meaning if this Saint of Blades and Grey Pilgrim are really all that old, skilled and badass, they are also likely reasonable frail and vulnerable when not actively wielding Named power. They may well be simply on the north side of middle-aged…but I suspect they possess some significant, if fairly well-hidden, weakness rooted in their biology. (I’m still irked by Ranger’s half-elven heritage. It makes deciding whether she’s a metaphysical Villain or Heroine impossible to confirm. I lean towards the latter, but that’s just me. I would not at all put it past her to lie about the fact, and have found a convincing way to lie about it to all Creation)

    Cordelia’s Crusade is riddled with metaphysical problems. For one, she’s called it for reasons I doubt the Heavens would even approve of. She cares more about creating a Good super-state than actually defeating the targeted Evil. Nearly all her internal musings center on building the groundwork for what will become her envisioned super-state generations from now. Quite covetous of her. Not to mention deceitful and treacherous (As she’s essentially plotting the dissolution of all the ruling mechanisms of all her allies, to be carried out at a time convenient for her descendants.) For another, she lacks WEIGHT in the way Akua declares Malicia and Black do. She connives, she deceives…she’s basically a 2nd-rate Malicia without a Name, who deludes herself into believing she’s good. All while considering her own commoners “animals to be exploited.” Disposing of “unruly Fantassins?” How Stalinist of you, Cordelia.

    Lastly, this Crusade has too many moving parts for even the Providence-heavy Hand of the Heavens to protect from Murphy’s Law. There is a REASON Black uses such extreme security measures when utilizing scrying while abroad. Remember him burning out mage-relays? Remember his rule about one message to a given location inside a LARGE area? Remember his unwillingness to even consider using a line of scrying he’d previously utilized? All speak to the fact that hacking a scrying channel is probably actually easier than maintaining a legit scrying channel in the first place.

    In fact, I’m almost CERTAIN of that fact. Remember, one of the most fundamental elements of magic in this universe is, according to Warlock “Sorcery is Usurpation.” Kinda implies that usurping a scrying attempt is easier than scrying, eh? Would also explain why Black was so rabid about time limits, and circumstances under which he’d utilize it.

    Like

    1. Forrest

      To be fair about the crusade… since when does the Good of the Heavens actually seem ‘good’? The heavens are all for brainwashing normal everyday people into being cannon fodder against evil. Not to mention, a Good empire being created in the long term would probably be all up in that greater good bs.

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      1. Metrux

        This reminds me of a theory I’ve had since the second book, now. You see, there is a saying that, in the beggining, the Gods disagreed on what to do about creation: some wanted to set it free, some wanted to control it, and thus Good and Evil were made. They are NOT the supreme good or evil, they are facets of reality embodied, through the vision of those Gods. And my theory is that the one who wanted to control is not the Evil, but the Good side, while the Evil is all about leaving them for themselves. Surely none of the sides are good for us, but even though some parts of this theory make alot of sense, it’s hard to imagine that the Evil side is guiding people, which is whate is stated to be the side of Good… Though it could also be that we don’t understand how it is guiding or that it was a plain lie, since the books tell that Good is about guiding and Evil about controling…

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        1. The whole distinction is supposed to be ambiguous. However, given that the Angels are basically “Yoho! Your brain is mine nao!” in every incarnation of them we’ve seen, or otherwise basically brainwash you into doing what they want and even more damningly don’t try to improve mortal’s lots it seems like the “Good” side described in the books is all about control and absolute order.

          Like

  27. JackbeThimble

    ‘Lord Papenheim- Magon Hadast writes to report that his fleet has descended on Praes like, quote ‘A wolf on the Fold’ endquote. He requests resupply of purple paint for his newly raised cohorts.’
    ‘Excellent Bertrand, send word to the wives of Ashur that they have nothing to worry about and their menfolk should be home by christmas.’

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