Chapter 2: Alarm

“In conclusion, the court recognizes the desertion of the sentient tiger army raised by Dread Emperor Sorcerous as sufficient precedent to rule that tapirs can, in fact, commit treason but that lack of sentience bars them from laying claim to the Tower by right of usurpation.”
– Official transcript from the Trial of Unexpected Teeth, which resulted in the execution of the man-eating tapirs that devoured Dread Empress Atrocious

The mist had come out of the clay pot and formed a mirror-like surface in front of us without any need for visible prompting. Even as Archer loudly cussed me out and dragged herself out of the pool like a hissing wet cat, my eyes went to the images that had bloomed across solidified must. Massive was the first word that came to mind. Masego had somehow raised the perspective to high up in the sky, above the still-unfolding ritual, and only vague memories of how large that mountain range stood otherwise allowed to grasp the scale of what was being done. It was deceptively simple, at first look. Some kind of white fire was being used to carve a passage across the Whitecaps from the Principate to Callow. It was difficult to put a finger on the exact size of the passage from this perspective, but I’d gauge as broad enough for two large carriages to pass simultaneously without getting too close. Hierophant had taken the moments I spent looking at his scrying to gather himself. I could tell from the way his breath was steadying and his heartbeat calming.

“I will begin by clarifying this is a ritual and not the making of an artefact,” the blind mage said.

“Afternoon, Masego,” I said. “How are you doing? I’m doing great myself, thanks for asking.”

He cast me a dubious look.

“I would have thought that the obvious precursor to an invasion would spoil your mood,” he said.

“She’s being sarcastic, Zeze,” Archer said.

She got close enough to me before shaking off the wet that my entire left side was made dripping. She was a charmer, our Indrani.

“Ah,” Hierophant said. “Is that entirely necessary?”

I sighed, if only to prevent my sharpening worry from showing. A few months ago he would have caught that. Spending his days strapped to the Observatory’s central device looked like it might be unmaking years of progress. I needed to keep a closer eye on him, force him to talk with actual people once in a while. I knew Archer broke the wards protecting this place with chagrining regularity to come pester him, but that alone obviously wasn’t enough.

“Not an artefact, you said,” I said. “I thought those were pretty small by definition.”

“Liesse as rebuilt by Diabolist would be considered an artefact under most accepted definitions,” he noted. “It certainly served a sorcerous purpose.”

Mildly interesting, but not the kind of edification I was currently after.

“Ritual,” I repeated. “I was under the impression Procer doesn’t usually have the chops for those. You’ve been pretty dismissive about their mages whenever we discuss threat assessments.”

“Eh, the Lady says the same thing,” Archer said. “She always told us Proceran wizards are nothing to worry about unless they’re Named. Apparently their kind’s not real popular with the powers that be in the west.”

“The Principate has been consistently at least a generation behind the Empire in matters of sorcery for centuries,” Masego said, almost sneering. “No other nation has even half their number of hedge practitioners and even their ‘finest’ still ascribe to the Jaquinite theory of magic. It tells in their work here, Catherine. It is amateurish in everything but scale.”

I wrinkled my nose at the sight of the white flame burning through rock. It hadn’t moved in a while, I noted. Was something messing with our scrying?

“I was going to ask you when they’d be done, but they don’t seem to be moving,” I said.

“Performance issues,” Archer suggested. “I mean, if they’re going to wave around a big fire dick it’s only fitting.”

Oh Gods, now that she’d put the image in my head I couldn’t unsee it. Fucking Hells, Indrani.

“That is planned,” Masego said vaguely. “And the reason is… ah, there we are.”

I raised an eyebrow and it kept rising when I saw half a mountain’s worth of snow and stone collapse into the flame. Avalanche. They’ll only start moving when they’re sure the passage wont be clogged, I thought.

“It is not fire,” Hierophant suddenly said. “They are… um, the structure seems based on a miracle? Fascinating.”

I whistled sharply.

“Focus, Zeze,” I said. “We’re at war.”

“And I have another wooden duck,” Archer added cheerfully.

He seemed a lot more concerned by Indrani’s announcement than mine, but then she’d been spending a lot of time with him. I doubted it was the first time a shitty wooden carving ended up bouncing off his forehead, knowing them both as I did.

“Dispersal of matter,” Hierophant said. “That is the nature of the working employed.”

“The passage smokes after they clear it,” I pointed out.

“Because they are sloppy,” he disdainfully said. “Their spell formula is inexact, thus the dispersal causes the release of heat. Had they done it properly their army could be walking behind the front but they’re Jaquinites, Catherine. The man was a priest. I’m pleasantly surprised they didn’t just kneel down to pray the passage would happen on its own.”

“Let’s not even speak about that,” I grimaced. “With the amount of heroes they’ve assembled, I wouldn’t call that too much of a stretch to take place.”

“Praying,” Archer drawled. “By far the least interesting thing that can follow someone getting on their knees.”

I shot her a look. Indrani really needed a roll in the hay, didn’t she? My court was packed with attractive men and women around my eye these days – and Gods Below, that Talbot thought he was being subtle really was the most insulting part of that – so the fact that she hadn’t dragged anyone into her rooms yet was starting to warrant a conversation.

“They’ve mastered the basics of scrying, at least,” Masego conceded. “It’s why they’re forging a pass instead of a tunnel even if it risks avalanches.”

“Wait, I know that one,” I said. “Scrying doesn’t work underground. Or across tall obstacles.”

“An oversimplification on both counts,” Hierophant told me. “The Greyfang Range-“

“The Whitecaps,” I corrected him.

The glass orbs that were his eyes shifted under the cloth in what was likely the reflex of a blink without the physical ability to do one.

“That is not their name in Imperial atlases,” he said.

“The Empire doesn’t have a city next to them either,” I replied.

“That is not how atlases work, Catherine,” he plaintively said.

“I thought they were called the Parish,” Archer contributed, because never once in her life had she seen a fire without reaching for a jug of oil.

“That’s the Proceran name for them,” I grunted.  One of them, anyway. “Whitecaps. Moving on.”

“There’s mushrooms called that,” Hierophant mutinously said under his breath.

“But not capitalized,” I pointed out.

If there was one thing to love about Masego, it was that he could easily be side tracked by technicalities. I was getting fairly good at that, these days. His expression brightened and he nodded. From the corner of my eye I saw Archer looking at me amusedly.

“The Whitecaps are a too broad a range to penetrate through blindly,” Hierophant said, picking up where I’d interrupted.

“Yeah, penetrating blindly never helps,” Indrani agreed, voice choked up.

“You’re bargaining for another visit to the pond,” I whispered at her.

“I’ll be good,” Archer whispered back, hands raised and her vulpine grin immediately betraying the lie.

“They’re adjusting with scrying,” Masgeo said, blithely unaware of the background chatter. “The entire array is a backwards mess, however. They likely have to communicate adjustments by voice.”

I consciously refrained from asking what the alterative to speaking was.

“Can you tell me when the ritual will be done?” I asked, then winced. “Never mind, don’t answer that. Can you tell me when you think the ritual will be done?”

Hierophant’s mouth closed over this initial answer, then he took a moment to consider.

“Assuming there are fewer than five avalanches,” he said. “And that the pool of accumulated power they’re using does not run out… Two days. Going into three. It depends on the amount of practitioners they’ve gathered. Serving as guide for so large a working will be exhausting. If they’ve fewer than three hundred mages some will begin to die or birth derangements before nightfall.”

I worried my lip. Worst case, two days. Actually crossing the passage would take them longer. A week before the first troops were in Callow? No, shorter if they used cavalry for the vanguard. Which I would, in their place. The Order of Broken Bells had swelled, but it was still just a fraction of the horse the Principate could bring to bear. Imperial spy reports and what the Jacks had managed to compile had the host waiting in Arans around fifty thousand strong. The commanders weren’t supposed to be anything too worrying, a Prince Milenan and his allies none of who had notable military achievements under their belt from the civil war. They were the First Prince’s primary opposition within Procer, though, so I suspected she would not be shy about spending their lives to damage my position. Even if I pulled together every part of my armies in Callow – which I couldn’t, not without leaving my borders with Praes and the Free Cities dangerously bare – the invaders still outnumber me a little less than two to one. I’d have what Juniper called a qualitative edge, considering most my soldiers were professionals while a lot of theirs would be levies, but the core of that army was principality troops. Varying shades of light cavalry and professional heavy infantry. Those would be a hard nut to crack, and that was without even considering the fucking battalion of heroes reports placed in the war camp. It would take me at least two days to have the Army of Callow ready for a march, and that was just the part in the permanent camps near Laure. Taking them through Arcadia was spinning the wheel, but we’d made tests. For that kind of distance, the average was eight days. Going as low as six and high as fifteen.

“I don’t suppose you could shut down the ritual?” I asked Masego.

He shook his head.

“They are not using their own sorcery to do this, Catherine,” he elaborated. “A receptacle was forged and what must be hundreds of practitioners poured their own magic into for years to create the reservoir they are now employing. It would be like trying to put out a bonfire by spitting on it.”

“And if I gave you every mage in Laure to work on a ritual?” I pressed.

He considered it seriously.

“No,” he finally said. “If we had caught their ritual before it began in earnest, perhaps, but no longer. Considering the distance it would be insufficient to do anything but slow it a few hours. And even that would come at great cost.”

“You’re going at this wrong,” Archer said. “Let them make their hole. After they’re spent, prevent them from using it.”

I looked at her suspiciously.

“You’re not usually this helpful,” I said.

“I’m a woman of many layers,” Indrani haughtily replied.

I had a fairly scathing comment to offer involving onions and how she should perhaps bathe more often but the grass was cut under my feet.

“You mean attacking them as they pass,” Hierophant said, tone musing. “That is a possibility. Triggering further avalanches from Laure is possible, with sufficient preparations.”

“You don’t sound enthused,” I said.

“While their practitioners are a backwards lot, I do not believe them to be actual imbeciles,” Masego said. “At least one of them was clever enough to conceive of this ritual.”

I frowned.

“You think they’ll have protections,” I guessed.

“If they do not disperse the wizards they have massed to carry this out, they have the ability to resist anything I would seriously consider using against them,” Hierophant said. “Three hundred blunderers with a heavy club are dangerous even to someone of my proficiency.”

Throwing bodies at the problem, huh. Well, the Principate had no lack of those to swear into service. It wasn’t an elegant solution, but I was living proof that sometimes hitting things really hard could be enough to pull through.

“They’ll have priests, too,” Archer said. “The robed rats are everywhere in Procer.”

Brothers and Sisters of the House of Light swore oaths that prevented them from taking lives, but there’d always been a lot of wiggling room left to interpret how that should be carried out. Priests were a historical staple of Callowan hosts, to shut down sorceries and heal wounded soldiers. And there were always a few to be found who were willing to make an exception about that whole no killing thing and repent afterwards. Turning miracles against an avalanche sent down by an Evil mage wouldn’t even require them to do some rhetorical footwork afterwards. And let’s not forget the House of Light in Procer is a different creature than the Callowan one. The Fairfaxes had always kept the House out of the crown’s affairs, but in Procer the priests were influential power brokers. It would be safe to assume they’d be involved, and that was the final nail in the coffin of considered magical intervention. If we couldn’t head them off at the pass, it’d have to be in the field. And odds were they’d get close to Harrow before I could get my army up north.

“Masego,” I said quietly, pitching my voice so none of the guild mages would overhear. “The Hell Egg up north, have you managed to find it?”

“I am still awaiting answer from the Tower about consulting the private histories,” the blind man replied.

My lips thinned. The Empress had been quite willing to share reports from the Eyes about the unfolding situation on Procer and beyond, but my people were being given polite brush-offs and non-answers when it came to pretty much everything else. I couldn’t tell whether that was pressure she was applying to bring me back under her thumb or that in her eyes I now only counted as something to be tossed at the crusade to blunt its advance. The former gave me room to deal, especially now that the invasion had begun. The latter would mean my situation was even more precarious than I currently believed it to be. Her people would be in touch soon enough, I reflected. Cold as the diplomatic exchanges had become, a Proceran offensive would thaw them a great deal. Especially since I doubted that the northern crusader army would be moving alone. Odds were the host in the south under Prince Papenheim was preparing for a run at the Vales. Black wouldn’t be easy meat, especially not with Scribe and Warlock at his side. But he was starkly outnumbered, and he’d be in no position to do anything but hold the valleys for months to come. At the moment, the Empress needed me.

“I thought Ratface was supposed to be some kind of bureaucratic wizard,” Archer said, eyeing me sideways.

She was sharper than Masego about these things, regardless of her vocal disinterest in matters of intrigue. I nodded discreetly and she grimaced. Yeah, I wasn’t happy either that it was quite possible instructions had come down from Malicia to make it much harder for me to locate the fucking demon that was supposed to be bound somewhere in northern Callow.

“Have you narrowed down what kind of a demon it is?” I tried.

“It cannot be Corruption,” Hierophant said. “That was my initial theory, when we last spoke of the subject in Marchford, but that particular entity has since been found and fought. It might very well be Absence, Catherine. That would be…”

“Balls,” Archer helpfully provided.

Masego frowned.

“Genitalia has nothing to-“

“Bad, it’d be bad,” I interrupted before this could turn into a full-blown squabble.

I clenched my fingers.

“I don’t like the shape of it,” I admitted. “That many Named, near a threat unaccounted for?”

It wasn’t a guarantee that a brawl with heroes would end up letting it loose, but the odds were high enough it couldn’t be discounted. But if catching the crusaders before they reached Harrow wasn’t an option, then the alternative was ceding most the barony before giving battle. I would much prefer not doing that, and not only because of the military implications of giving the enemy a fortified city to operate from. It wouldn’t look good within Callow either. People had been willing to tighten their belts if it was for rebuilding the kingdom and raising armies to defend it. If I was seen to have failed in either regard, there would be consequences. But if the choice is between that and rolling the dice with a demon… I needed to talk with Juniper. Archer and Hierophant were here with me in Laure and the last time I’d spoken with Thief she’d said she should be back within a few days, but Hakram was still in Vale trying to coax the refugees out of the tent cities and back behind stone walls. I might have to leave him behind when marching.

“Tell Fadila to keep a full roster tonight,” I told Masego. “I’ll need to speak to the baronies up north.”

And half a dozen other people, since Adjutant wasn’t there to do it for me.

“We getting ready for war, then?” Archer asked, and there was a pleased glint in her eyes.

“I’d prefer not to,” I said. “But the choice is out of my hands. Wrap up anything you have going on, Masego. When we go on the offensive you’re coming with us.”

He pouted. I blamed Indrani for teaching him that, it was surprisingly effective even now that his face had lost most of the baby fat.

“I’m not hearing anything otherwise,” I firmly told him. “Look on the bright side, Hierophant. Odds are you’ll be taking a close look at that passage soon enough.”

“There is that,” he conceded, but it was half-hearted.

I cast a look at Archer, who smiled back and wiggled her eyebrows suggestively. It was telling that I barely even noticed when she did that nowadays.

“If you run into Thief, send her my way,” I told her.

She waved in a manner that could vaguely be interpreted as agreement. About as good as I could expect. I clapped her on the shoulder, reminded Masego we were nearing supper time and made my exit. I had one last thing to do before mustering for war, after all. Tonight was the night for my little monthly chat with the enemy.

Cordelia Hasenbach had just begun her invasion of Callow, so we should have a few things to talk about.

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83 thoughts on “Chapter 2: Alarm

  1. Jonnnney

    Nice to see the act between Archer and Heirophant is still in full swing. Looks like Cat’s envoy to Procter was more of a baseline level of communication rather than a betrayal of the tower or even an offer to work together. Curious to see what happens when the demon if absence gets released, night before fun to see a thousand year old demon run roughshod over a dozen newbie heroes. It does make sense to have the tower keep the location in the dark though. Might not want to give Masengo another demon bound to a standard.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Amoonymous

      Yeah, in before the Hell Egg happens to be right in the path they’re cutting through the mountains. “Whoops, our ritual accidentally destroyed the bindings of a thousand year old demon! What a wacky happenstance!”

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Valkyria

    And so it begins. Is this the first real great battle Cat isn’t on the offense for once? Up until now she was the one moving and taking cities… let’s see where this is going!

    Like

  3. edrey

    great, it’s starting

    this is “the princes tomb” right? looking at the circumstances, the number of troops and time, i think the best is guerrilla warfare through arcadia, masego using new scrying rituals to see the enemy and usng demons as baits. but that is just my opinion
    ps. archer’s funny scenes are extra or forshadowing?

    Like

    1. letouriste

      both i think.
      Looks to me Archer is badly attracted to masego (she stopped bedding every pretty boy/girl around) so this is probably foreshadowing of a future relationship.
      her being funny is also a good way to survive the next few battles;) (given how loud she is, she get plot armor and same for masego indirectly).

      this is also a good way to boost a chapter^^

      Like

  4. Gunslinger

    Cat’s right, Archer’s currently behaving like a teen who just hit puberty. If this keeps on she’ll be going “That’s what she said wink wink” to everything.

    The doors through Arcadia seem a bit nerfed to me. I thought after letting winter lose and having Larat open them meant they could function like instantaneous portals.

    Quite excited to see the first on screen interaction between Cordelia and Cat next chapter.

    On a side note I wonder why Harrow needed to be a fortified city if it was isolated and sheltered by the mountains. It’s a good thing now, but armies that would March through the Vale would make for Laure rather than that dead end

    Like

    1. 1shot4living

      They may seem nerfed, but instead of taking 3 months to get somewhere it can now only take half a month. Still a huge advantage, just not on the level of a instantly teleporting army.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Rook

        Also depends less on the laws of physics and more on the narrative

        The actual distance or time you’re there seems to make very little actual difference. from what we’ve seen so far. Larger groups will likely take longer than a few people just because that’s how stories tend to go. Lone heroes and small bands in typical stories always travel more swiftly than the lumbering army, even if said band is physically crippled and the army is full of cavalry or elites on a forced march.

        If you set up a very standard last minute rescue story, I wouldn’t be surprised if Arcadia dropped you back into Creation literally in the nick of time, completely independent of whether you were a mile away or ten thousand miles away.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. nick012000

      > I wonder why Harrow needed to be a fortified city if it was isolated and sheltered by the mountains.

      Because sometimes you’ll get water-breathing orcs swimming up the rivers.

      Like

    3. Metrux

      The way I see it this is a very old but still maintained fortification, as in older than the kingdom, from the time where each part of Callow fought each other. In this manner it makes sense for a fortification up there, since it was some lord’s only fortification and base of power.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. In the beginning quote with the tapirs, you want ‘they lack sapience’. Animals are sentient, people are sapient.

    Though admittedly a minor thing since no one seems to remember that and common usage beats everything. =/

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Rook

    Hitting them at the pass pretty much needs to be done regardless what the deal with Cordelia is. It’s such a good way to put pressure on the big league heroes Procer is starting to bring out, force them to act and get a sense of what they can do and how they work so you don’t get blindsided. The information means as much as any damage you can actually do to the army.

    A Black sort of move would probably be to take the tactical advantage at the pass to whittle down the invaders and safely suffer a loss against the Heroes to start a pattern of three, play the long game so you have an extra card in hand when things get critical. With the right maneuvering it could be a chance to try fully forming her new Name and get the first aspect popped out.

    Not sure what Cat will do though, since she isn’t always one to operate along the same lines as her mentor.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Rook

        That’s the point, the tactical advantage of a chokepoint is that you don’t need equal numbers to defend it. A thousand men and some scorpions are sufficiently threatening when the opponent is fighting a literal uphill battle through a pass barely wide enough to fit two carts side by side

        The best way to punch through that when you can’t use your numbers is quality instead of quantity. One of the easiest ways to force their Named to act directly, without committing a massive amount of resources

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Theoretically_human

          that is versus an army withoutt heroes, they can cut through almost any defence not manned by villains. they are cheaters

          Like

    1. Shequi

      With Heroes in the mix choke points don’t necessarily mean as much. Heroes (and Villains) are all about massive personal power at a very small locality.

      Fighting in a choke point means that they can deploy all their available lethality against whatever you put in front of them. That would neutralise the Legion’s advantage in better quality regular troops. It may be better to let the enemy spread out so as to leverage the Legion’s superior quality without simply making them Hero-bait.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. JackbeThimble

    Erratic you know I love your stuff man but you’ve gotta cut down on the clutter. These last two chapters are easily twice as long as they need to be. I love your Worldbuilding and characters but adding this level of unnecessary detail and cluttered dialogue doesn’t just clog up the plot it’s actually starting to detract from the texture a bit, character moments that could be better expressed by a single line of dialogue get restated 3 or 4 times and while I get the impression that Callowan monetary policy is going to be relevant to the plot somehow it didn’t need to be restated 3 or 4 times in one week. This is half of what made so much of book 3 so hard to get through, it really improved in the last arc but it’s showing up again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think this was perfect for a book introduction. This is exactly how you want to start off an epic book, slow and steady, with plenty of extraneous detail and reminders to let people get resituated and find their feet again.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Metrux

      I think this is less a flaw and more a flavour, as in there are plenty of great books, but it’s very rare for cultured people to agree on which they are. It’s very much like flavours of food, there is good food and bad food, and then there is food you like and food you don’t like, and not everything you dislike is bad, it’s just a flavour you don’t appreciate. Me and the guys who wrote before do appreciate this flavour of the story, while you don’t. Not trully a problem, just remember that different people likes different things ;3

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Snowfire1224

    I greatly enjoy the fact that even though the story has gotten more serious over time, there’s still great bits of humor in there.

    I’m curious as to what Cat and Hasenbach talk about. Guess we’ll see in the next chapter.

    Like

  9. burdi

    cat is more queenly i think, she is thinking more than just force her way out or that just because she is not in position of power
    her body is a construct not a body, made not born, so i think her body cant be hurt but can be damage. not healing but repair, since her body is made so i think she can change it. like when stalwart paladin smite her, she just repair her body and lalala, new body.
    so cat like almost immortal, whatever damage her body received it can be repair as long as she have the energy
    when stalwart paladin cutting deep in her leg, her leg still fuction normaly
    i really wonder how much damage cat’s body can received before it can’t be repaired

    Like

    1. burdi

      i mean her body is a construct, i think it is made according to cat’s image about her own body, if she can change the image about her body in her mind, maybe she can alter her body permanently and that’s i think how she repair her body when fighting starwart paladin…by manipulating her body image in her mind and recreated her body

      Like

  10. blari

    So The Principate is attacking Callow with a large amount of expendable troops lead by corrupt and treacherous nobles, powerful named all enabled due the the use of a huge magical ritual. When is the last time that sort of thing actually worked? I wonder if anyone on the good side has thought though the narrative implications of this attack?

    Like

    1. Well I mean, this could be a very well thought out (and cold-blooded) political maneuver to get rid of some of Hasenbach’s political enemies while simultaneously weakening Callow to make it less of a threat.

      Like

    2. Metrux

      The heroes are actually not enabled by the ritual, they came from far and wide to help in the crusade. The ritual bit is just the making of the stairway, though the rest is pretty accurate and probably means they will loose, heroes or no heroes xD

      Like

  11. bobthebuilder

    with a set up like this a fight at the mouth of the new pass has to happen. really jacked men wearing next to nothing (cus what is armor??) fighting the enemy in slow motion is required. someone must scream a variation of “This is Spartaaaa”

    Like

  12. Wolfkit

    I’m most of the way through a reread, and I found an interesting line about Archer’s father in the Fletched bonus chapter:
    >Her father had been sold in Ashur and died in a mine collapse as a ‘free’ member of its lowest citizenship tier. The questor told her that was a committee’s fault, higher tier citizens debating for a week on whether it was worth digging out the people in the collapsed shaft or not.

    Now compare that to Prosecution I

    Erratic, are Archer and White Knight half siblings?

    Like

  13. Dylan Tullos

    Now might be a good time to simply make terms.

    Cordelia Hassenbach is a reasonable woman. Procer can’t accept a Villain as ruler of Callow, but Baroness Kendall isn’t Named. Appoint her as Catherine’s heir, abdicate in Kendall’s favor, and offer the Crusading armies safe passage through Callow.

    No cities have to burn. No Callowans have to die. Simply backstab the Praesi, open the Vales, and watch the Crusaders fight it out with Malicia and Black.

    Catherine has already lost Liesse, and the south of Callow is one big refugee camp. The best way to save the rest of the country is to ensure that the Crusade is fought somewhere else. If the war takes place in Callow, the difference between “winning” and “losing” won’t matter much to the common people who pay the price.

    Like

    1. Gunslinger

      Procer only wants a crusade cause she can get all the unpleasant elements to kill themselves while she stabilizes her home again. The problem is one can only get to Praes through Callow. And Praes is the only legitimate target, nobody’s dumb enough to fight all the way to Keter. Which is why things are going to get tricky when the Dead King finally rises again

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Dylan Tullos

        Gunslinger:

        If Catherine lets the Crusade march through Callow unimpeded, there’s no reason why they can’t go straight into Praes and settle things there. At this stage there’s no way to avoid the Crusade; the main issue for Callowans is whether their country is going to be the battlefield.

        Callow has a fairly large and well-trained army, and a proper backstab would bring Proceran troops south too fast for Praes to stop them short of the border. The first battles of the Crusade could be fought on Praesi territory, allowing Callow to avoid the worst of the fighting.

        The alternative is for Catherine to run around fighting multiple armies, while the forces she isn’t able to stop rob the countryside, set fire to towns, and wreck Callow for a generation. Since Ashur is a major naval power, she has absolutely no way of stopping the Crusaders from burning every Callowan port and fishing village. A best-case scenario would be similar to the “Good” option in the Fourfold Crossing, where Callow is reduced to a graveyard with an army, and Foundling stands as queen of the ashes. That’s not what Catherine wants.

        Catherine worked with the Dread Empire to spare Callow from destruction. That approach has failed. Practical Evil couldn’t stop Diabolist from destroying Liesse, and they can’t stop the Crusade from wrecking Callow. It’s time to seek a new partner, one that can help Callow escape from being caught in the middle of a major war.

        The point of Catherine’s actions hasn’t been to stand up to the Heavens. It’s about protecting Callowans. Black can’t do that, but maybe Cordelia can.

        Like

        1. > If Catherine lets the Crusade march through Callow unimpeded, there’s no reason why they can’t go straight into Praes and settle things there. The first battles of the Crusade could be fought on Praesi territory, allowing Callow to avoid the worst of the fighting.
          Not going to work. Unless she takes them through Arcadia, marching through Callow will take months of tension with the locals, spy interference and plummeting morale of the legionaries. Aside from having to work with untrustworthy jerks like Amadis, she’d be heading straight towards Larat calling in his debt, Malicia cutting off any kind of supply for her army and Black unleashing whatever he thinks would stop the crusaders.

          > The alternative is for Catherine to run around fighting multiple armies

          From where? The main advantage of Callow against Procer is that the Vales allow for a difference despite large difference in numbers (like Black was going to do with his twelve thousand soldiers against Papenheim’s fifty), and Stairway is a one-time ritual that carves an even narrower passageway for an army that would have nowhere to go but south. Add to that the fact that Amadis inevitably will fuck up the negotiations with Daoine, and it’s the kind of conflict that can end in a well-placed Princes’ Graveyard.

          > Since Ashur is a major naval power, she has absolutely no way of stopping the Crusaders from burning every Callowan port and fishing village.

          Gee, good thing then that Callow is nearly entirely landlocked! While the Free Cities are bound to make some kind of move, Ashur is the problem that Malicia will (and is equipped to) solve by herself.

          > It’s time to seek a new partner, one that can help Callow escape from being caught in the middle of a major war. The point of Catherine’s actions hasn’t been to stand up to the Heavens. It’s about protecting Callowans. Black can’t do that, but maybe Cordelia can.
          Then looking for somebody who _wants_ to do that would be a good start. Black wants a granary and a strong buffer state, so he’s digging in at the border. Cordelia’s main objective is to remove the unruly soldiers and rival princes from the Principate, hence lumping the all into one host and kicking them down the Stairway. Catherine not killing them would actually hinder her.
          Remember that Amadis was going to convoke a session of the Highest Assembly while still in Callow, and that Cordelia before meeting Thief had planned for the most of the war to be waged in Praes; in other words, he plans to pull the Crusade from under her as soon as the campaign in Callow makes any kind of headway. He doesn’t want to negotiate with Cat, he wants to divide the spoils in Callow between his allies. No way he’s going to settle for marching straight to Wasteland.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Dylan Tullos

            _____:

            Callow is “landlocked” in the sense that it isn’t next to the ocean, but it has navigable rivers. There’s nothing stopping Ashur from sailing up the Hwaerte and wrecking everything they find. In fact, that strategy makes more sense than attacking Praes, which has heavily fortified cities but a limited ability to feed its own people. If Ashur is indifferent to human suffering, they can simply sink the grain ships and burn the crops, then sit back to watch their enemies starve.

            I agree that moving a Proceran army through Callow would be a mess. However, the alternative is fighting a Proceran army in Callow, which would be considerably worse. It would be simple enough to backstab Black and let Pappenheim through the Vales, and once that happens it’s a simple matter of getting them south as fast as possible.

            Amadis is an idiot. Cordelia is going to destroy him before his stupidity ruins her Crusade; I suspect that she’s set him up to die at Catherine’s hand. His foolishness doesn’t change the fact that the Crusade controls the seas, allowing them to moves forces through Callow’s rivers freely. Malicia has no navy, so she can’t stop them.

            In the long term, Praes was always going to unite most of Calernia against them. They’ve annexed Callow, and now everyone else has to worry about who’s next. That would be troublesome enough if we were talking about a Good nation, rather than an evil Empire that just murdered an entire city so they could raise their people as zombies. That’s not good public relations.

            Catherine can fight with the big alliance against one nation, or with one nation against the rest of the continent. The Crusade has more Named, more armies, and absolute control of the sea. Which side would you like to be on in a major war?

            Like

            1. > There’s nothing stopping Ashur from sailing up the Hwaerte and wrecking everything they find.
              Save for the fact that Ashuran fleet is for sea and not for sailing rivers upstream. Seriously, while Free Cities like Atalante could be a problem, have they not been freshly sacked, Ashur isn’t going to bother Catherine any time soon.

              > It would be simple enough to backstab Black and let Pappenheim through the Vales, and once that happens it’s a simple matter of getting them south as fast as possible.
              That’s a good way to get the Empress ro switch to Dark Day protocol. I agree that fighting heroes would be hard, but Catherine has recently seen what happens when you corner Praesi. Do you seriously think she’ll just sit and pray that the Heavens send her a miracle to unmake all the devastation that would follow? All her commentary and strategical moves point otherwise so far.

              > His foolishness doesn’t change the fact that the Crusade controls the seas, allowing them to moves forces through Callow’s rivers freely.
              I’m not sure you understand the logistics of moving fifty thousand people by river.

              > Catherine can fight with the big alliance against one nation, or with one nation against the rest of the continent. The Crusade has more Named, more armies, and absolute control of the sea. Which side would you like to be on in a major war?
              The side that doesn’t want to depose me, divide my country in the fiefs for themselves and plunder it. Praesi provide soldiers, weapons and riches to Callow. What has the Principate to offer?

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Dylan Tullos

                _____:

                Your strategy is to hope that the greatest sea power in all of Calernia will be stopped by a river. The Ashuran strategy is to build ships that can sail on a river, then burn everything within sight of the water. I think their strategy has the advantage.

                If your allies are the kind of cold-blooded monsters who develop plans to murder entire cities, that sounds like a good reason to backstab them and burn their empire to the ground. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of time before someone less reasonable than Malicia takes over and unleashes the Dark Day protocols for fun.

                Ashur doesn’t need to move fifty thousand people by river. They can take five thousand marines on ships, sail up the Hwaerte, and start destroying undefended towns. Catherine has no navy, so she can’t stop them.

                What did the Praesi provide to the people of Liesse? I think you’re overlooking the fact that all of Procer’s crimes took place a long time ago, while Praesi scheming led to the death of a hundred thousand people in the very recent past.

                Procer has occupied Callow once. The Dread Empire invaded Callow once every generation. Which group is really more untrustworthy?

                Like

                1. Ashur can’t enter League territorial waters without starting a war with the League, which the crusaders would much prefer avoiding – and could, if it happens, feasibly become a reason for the political collapse of the crusade. Particularly if that decision is made with Proceran and Levantine backing. Aside from that, your assessment of Ashuran sea power is pretty accurate. The only power even remotely in their wheelhouse when it comes to war fleets is Nicae, and it’s lost all four wars it fought against the Thalassocracy.

                  Like

            2. Metrux

              Just to remember what happened last time a Proceran army passed through Callow in a Crusade: they tried to annex it. That’s what Procer do. They are in a crusade, besides, which means no Villain will be left standing in their way. Cordelia is practical, her allies are not, if she simply let’s Cat be the rest of the Crusade will not only go to kill Cat, but to at the very least depose Cordelia as well. Besides what has been said already, you seem to think war is fought with numbers, but that is REALLY not the truth of it, especially when you are defending. If you don’t have a good numerical advantage you simply CAN’T take a fortified position, unless heroes, of course, but heroes are here to fight villains, and there are plenty of villains to divide the heroes, both the Woe and the Calamities, Malicia and our twitchy friend on the free cities, also soon enough the Dead King. If you actually account for the other villainous sides, treachery amongst the Good side and the benefits of defense, she is in a BETTER position than Procer. Now, you’re asking her to leave an enemy army in her recently bloodied lands, while betraying her only allies, for the chance to be maybe left alone? Even if her position was terrible, this would be a worse idea.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Dylan Tullos

                Metrux:

                Catherine should abdicate and make Baroness Kendall Queen in her place. Kendall will have a large, powerful army to convince the Crusaders that Callow is not ripe for annexation. Cordelia will accept the deal because it means that her Crusade gets free passage through Callow, giving her an enormous military advantage. Without a Villain in charge of Callow, there is no righteous justification for a coup, and there will be plenty of Callowan soldiers around to convince ambitious princes that they should keep going south.

                Numbers mean that you can suffer a serious defeat and come back for another try. If Catherine loses a battle, she can’t replenish her losses as easily as the Crusaders can. Since the Crusade has command of the sea, Callow’s defensive advantage won’t stop them from raiding up and down the Hwaerte.

                Malicia stopped being an ally when she let Diabolist build a superweapon in the middle of Liesse. Black stopped being an ally when he ignored Catherine and destroyed the superweapon they could have used to deter an invasion. Catherine stabbed him in the stomach to let him know that their trusting relationship was over. There are no “allies” among Villains, only interests, and Malicia and Black have both shown that they don’t have Callow’s best interests at heart.

                Cordelia is not interested in conquering Callow. Black and Malicia can’t stop Villains from murdering Callowans. When Malicia let Liesse happen, and Black failed to stop it, they broke their part of the contract. Why should Catherine feel bound to allies who are unwilling or unable to hold up their end of the deal?

                Like

                1. lennymaster

                  Little problem there. Cat does not believe that Kendal is actually COMPETENT enough to properly lead Callow. That is why she is a Named, because she is inherently convinced that Creation is not as it should be and if nobody is willing and or capable to change that fact, than Cat will do it.
                  Cat is convinced that she is the only one with the intrest, power AND the necessary ruthlesness to get the job done. Abdicating and letting someone else take her place would, rightfully so, be seen by the Heroes as a way to put a puppet in place, for Cat would never accept anyone taking her place without proving that they are more capable.

                  Like

        2. savadrin

          you seem to forget how much callow proper absolutely adores Catherine. because at the end of the day, they know with absolute certainty that she’s got their back. remember way back in the story… “yesterday, i saw a little girl give an orc a necklace of flowers”

          for as far back as callow can remember, their lands have been the battlegrounds for crusade after invasion after crusade after invasion, and they likely would not settle for letting Procer, the nation that has invaded them just as often as praes, just tromp through their lands

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Dylan Tullos

            Savadrin:

            Callow’s love for Catherine may have taken a hit when she failed to prevent everyone in Liesse from being murdered by Praesi.

            Procer has not invaded Callow just as often as the Praesi. The Praesi invade every generation, while Procer is often distracted by its own internal squabbles or problems. Procer and Callow are not friends, but it’s not the Procerans sending flying fortresses or “sentient tiger armies” to attack their cities every twenty or thirty years.

            Like

            1. Shequi

              But then she did the absolutely most Callowan thing of turning Akua’s soul into an ornament on her cloak in Revenge. If there’s a Callowan trait that villains embody and Callow will respond to, it’s Revenge.

              Liked by 1 person

    1. Dylan Tullos

      Antoninjohn:

      If Catherine has an intact army, the Procerans are a lot less likely to backstab her. If the Proceran army is weakened from fighting Black’s Legions, while her own forces are intact, treachery becomes impractical.

      Foundling’s abdication would leave Procer without any excuse to annex Callow, and the rest of the Crusaders aren’t going to support a land grab by the Principate when they’re supposed to be fighting the Dread Empire. Since Cordelia doesn’t want to occupy Callow anyway, it would only be a matter of defeating an overambitious group of princes. That’s a lot more manageable than fighting the entire Crusade.

      It’s also worth noting that Catherine’s Praesi allies have already backstabbed her; Malicia let Diabolist go forward with her plan, and that ended up killing everyone in Liesse. However untrustworthy they are, the Principate are still a lot nicer than the Dread Empire.

      Like

      1. Metrux

        Actually the principate has been seen by Callowans through the generations as just as bad as Praes, hated just as much. And before you were talking about how they couldn’t stop Diabolist, now you’re saying they didn’t, so which of those points is wrong?

        The principate is KNOWN to backstab and land grab on every opportunity, the reason why it was so hard for Cordelia to get a Crusade going in the first place, and they don’t even need to have an excuse, it’s a land under the thumb of a villain, what more reason would a crusade need to attack Cat? If she simply let they enter, they will ignore civillians, sure, but it’ll just be making it harder for Cat to defend.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dylan Tullos

          The Dread Empire invades Callow every generation. However little Callowans like the Principate, they’re still better than the people who are attacking them constantly.

          Also, the Principate has never murdered the entire population of a Callowan city and raised them as zombies. That’s a big difference.

          Black couldn’t stop Diabolist. Malicia didn’t try to stop her because she wanted Akua to finish her superweapon. Don’t you remember the conversation at the end of the last book where Black revealed that Malicia knew about her plans?

          The deal was for Catherine to keep Callow in line, while Black and Malicia prevented the Wasteland’s Traditional Evil from getting loose in Callow. Catherine upheld her end of the bargain; Black and Malicia failed to keep theirs. What’s the point of having allies who can’t do what they promised?

          The entire point for Catherine has been defending Callowan citizens. If letting the Procerans in means that Callowan fields won’t burn and Callowan cities won’t be sacked, then having to abdicate and flee the country is a very small price to pay. Put Baroness Kendall in charge, tell Cordelia that the Crusade gets free passage as long as they don’t try any land grabs, and rely on Callow’s substantial army and Cordelia’s good sense to keep the Crusaders moving south to the Dread Empire.

          Like

          1. Ashen Shugar

            One point that seems to have been missed, is that there’s a *story* rut in reality about Callow being invaded and Praes being an invader. Black pointed it out as what they were trying to get out of in their practical ruling of Callow instead of just looting it for all the food they could carry.
            Cat abdicating *might* make it a little bit harder for Procer to justify invading but only a little, and it just drops them right back in the rut of Callow being invaded regularly. If Praes isn’t in a condition to do it, then Procer will.
            My guess for the best way out of that story, is for Cat to eventually take over rule of Praes as a queen of Callow because that turns the story right over on its head. If Callow is in charge, then it’s not going to invade itself. As long as Praes are technically top dog, there’s still the chance for that story to start up again the moment a Hero pops up in Callow, feels the call of the heavens and isn’t squashed back down quickly enough.

            Like

            1. Dylan Tullos

              Ashen Shugar:

              You make good points. I had forgotten about the story rut.

              A Callowan ruler of the Dread Empire would decisively break the current Story, which focuses on Praes invading and Callow being invaded. I’m not sure how the Story would adapt, but it would have to be something different.

              Like

              1. Dylan Tullos

                Shequi:

                The Princes make bad neighbors, but they spend too much time being bad neighbors to each other to invade Callow constantly. Also, the only invasion route Procer used to have was through the Red Flower Vales, where a relatively small army can stop a much larger force of invaders.

                A Proceran Prince can’t easily invade Callow, so he’s more likely to fight his neighbors or attack the Free Cities. The Dread Empire has a land border with Callow, but not any other countries, so the Kingdom is going to be on the receiving end of practically every Praesi invasion.

                Like

  14. RanVor

    Archer really needs to get laid.

    I have a question to you, Erratic: reading the fruit of your tireless labors, I got the impression that you’re reading the comments under every chapter as they are posted, and whenever an issue is raised, you address it immediately in the next chapter. Is that what you do? Also, you’re amazing and I want to throw money at you, but unfortunately I don’t have much to donate right now.

    Cheers to everyone from the first-time commenter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do read the comments, but the interval varies for when. I’m usually around for an hour or two after posting a chapter.

      I don’t usually address what you’re calling issues, no. Mostly because I already know what I want to write and I’m not interested in changing what that is, in part because it would be impossible to please everyone who comments (not to mention significantly lower the quality of the books).

      Liked by 4 people

      1. letouriste

        pretty sure this is the most healthy way to go for a writer;)
        so many stories lose their edge because the autor listen too much to the fanbase:/ glad you are mature enough for taking care of that.

        Like

  15. letouriste

    hum…i was concerned about cat mental state after her transformation but she seem to be the same:)
    the fact she still smoke and drink is pretty telling her winter modified feelings are not permanent and probably only felt when she use her Name actively

    Like

  16. Author Unknown

    “tapirs can, in fact, commit treason but that lack of sentience bars them from laying claim to the Tower by right of usurpation”

    All hail Dread Emperor Meow!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. “we’d made tests. For that kind of distance, the average was eight days. Going as low as six and high as fifteen.”

    That’s an extremely strange distribution. How many trials did they do? Technically four is enough: (6+6+6+15) ÷ 4 = 8.25, but obviously that isn’t what happened. There would reasonably need to be twice that many at least, and probably a lot more. Obviously Cat can’t afford to waste weeks at a time playing little Arcadia games like that. Can she create a portal and send a squadron on through by themselves and trust they’ll find the exit, then also return the long, slow way? She must have had dozens of squads/scouts/whatevers going at any given time. How much of her forces are spread out all over the place still?

    Like

  18. Komploding

    Is it just me or has Archer stopped sending signals to Masego and is now literally hitting on him? I don’t think she’s can get much clearer than that

    Like

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