Chapter 11: Ballon

“You might say that they’ll never see me coming.”
-Dread Empress Malevolent II, announcing the raising of her invisible army

Your Majesty?” the Deoraithe mage stuttered out.

I leaned down and gently touched his forehead with an armoured finger.

“Don’t resist,” I said. “It’ll be uncomfortable, but not painful.”

Unless he tried to fight me, but in this case the fear that trailed me as much as my cape saw to the matter. The man went rigid as a board. I breathed out mist and Winter crept through my veins. His soul wriggled under the tight grip of my will, as I rifled through vague memories. He had, I thought, a well-organized mind. Shame about the panic tinging it. I found what I needed anyway, the locations of the officer tent’s he’d found as he’d been told.

“You were thorough,” I said, withdrawing my finger. “Well done.”

The fifty riders of the Hunt were too many for so small a tent, and one of the fae casually blew it away with a flick of the wrist before it could tangle the banners. Midnight was no bar to my sight, and what I saw around us was the Watch responding to our sudden arrival with flawless professionalism. Ah, the things I could do with an army’s worth of these. It was almost tempting to hollow out Kegan’s soul, tie puppet strings to the remnants and take them all for my own. I bit my lip until it bled, the flare of pain helping me focus. I reached for my saddlebag, taking out the seal of House Iarsmai I’d asked Kegan to send me months ago. I tossed it into the mage’s hands.

“Validate this,” I ordered.

The man shivered, though I was unsure why. I’d been very polite so far. Murmuring in the mage tongue he traced the tall dead oak on the seal with his fingers, gasping when it glimmered green.

“It’s real,” he said.

Unsheathing my sword, I flicked the blade behind me after gauging the surroundings. Creation folded unto itself, the fairy gate opening thirty feet wide and just as tall. I tied off the threads, giving it a finite lifespan. One of the newer Winter tricks in my arsenal.

“By the authority granted to me by Duchess Kegan Iarsmai, I order the Watch to immediately withdraw,” I called out. “And quick about it, I don’t have the time to hold your hand. You have half an hour before the gate closes.”

Zombie was chomping at the bit, which admittedly was better than chomping at grass I’d probably need to have a goblin dig out of her later. I took a moment to calm myself, then dug into the memories I’d glimpsed. Reorienting myself was the hardest part of figuring it all out, since none of the unconscious markers the mage had used were markers I was familiar with. Masego and I had figured out a way around that through the Observatory with the card I’d been keeping up my – heavily armoured – sleeve, but I was without the benefit of Hierophant tonight. My mind struggled with the discrepancies, until I let through another sliver of Winter and there was a sensation like a spike through my forehead. No pain, though, only terrifyingly clear understanding.

“Riders of the Hunt,” I called out.

All fifty of them turned to me as one with unnatural smoothness.

“Follow,” I laughed. “Tonight we ride.”

Finally,” Larat hissed, blade in hand. “Sound the horns. Let them hear us coming.”

Banners were raised, not of silk or cloth but crow’s feathers and shadow. Shining coldly like a raven’s eye. A fae with hair like spun gold touched the horn to her lips, and doom screamed across the night. I spurred on Zombie, and felt her devour the distance easily as I guided us by memories not my own. The Watch parted for us, already preparing to retreat, and we fell unto the unprepared camp of the crusaders like hungry wolves. Men shouted out in Chantant, known to me regardless of sight. The heat of them could be felt on the tip of my tongue, the fear that set their hearts aflutter thundering in my ears. It pleased me. It was slaughter, wherever we rode. Men half-dressed and half-awake were torn apart by sword and spear and darker things: hounds of air and darkness, called forth by the horns. I wielded the monster like a knife as my thoughts cooled. The Alamans army closest to us had kept the tents of their officers together and I made them pay for that mistake. Before the hounds even reached them the soldiers I raised my hand and choked them with rings of ice and shade, a dozen dead in a heartbeat. Smiling, I leaned forward.

“Up,” I ordered. “Kill.”

Corpses with broken necks and ugly marks around their throats rose up as the Hunt passed through. Screams followed in our wake. We would begin, I decided, with the outer ring. Princess Malanza’s own host was closer to the centre, but I would let her people feel it coming. Know what was prowling the night for them. We carved our way out of the Alamans army camp, scything through the company of fantassins that tried to form up in our way. Men and women were trampled by horses, terror blooming again in the wake of death as the corpses rose and chaos spread.

“You will go no further,” a man’s voice announced calmly.

I cocked my head to the side. No fear in this one. And such power. Young but scarred, his voice had echoed of faraway Levant. A large man with a war hammer hoisted over his shoulder, burdened with heavy plate. I neither slowed nor ceased, Zombie galloping straight at him. The hero hefted his war hammer and struck with impossible swiftness, aiming to shatter the legs of my mount. With a cold laugh I guided my horse and her wings unfolded, leaping tall above the man as the Hunt streamed around him seamlessly. We rode even as the man screamed of our cowardice, ever onwards. I had not come here to be waylaid by petty sidekicks. The camps had come alive and our prey was moving. It became slower work, picking off officers who’d joined their companies. Frustratingly slow. The riders slaked their blood on those that could be found instead. No surrender was offered and no mercy granted.

Then the sky came down on our heads.

Instinct allowed me to guide Zombie away from the worst of it, but wet earth sprayed over us as a massive gouge split the ground open. Even as it began to rain mud, a woman walked out of the mess. Old, I thought. Neither tall nor short, and she wore no armour aside from a cuirass over long cloth robes. In her hand was a simple sword of oiled steel, and she was rolling her wrists to limber them.

“Saint of Swords,” I said, voice echoing with the howl of blizzards.

“Black Queen,” the old woman said, light tapping the flat of the blade against her shoulder. “Nice of you to visit.”

My will spread, weaving glamour across the sky according to borrowed memories.

“Go,” I told the Hunt. “Fulfil my purpose.”

“Stay,” the Saint grinned. “Die screaming.”

She swung again, and this time I grasped what was being wielded. Not an aspect or a spell. Nothing like the Lone Swordsman’s power or the Gallant Brigand’s. No, I’d only seen this once before: when Ranger had considered killing me seriously enough I’d felt myself die. When the Saint of Swords attacked, she did so with the sharpened intent to kill us. She had hardened her willpower so much that Creation counted no difference between her will and truth, the air howling as it cut itself apart. I drew deep and laughed, ice crashing against the blow with a gargantuan cracking sound. Shards sprayed everywhere as the Hunt obeyed, hounds and riders streaming out in every direction but that of the coming fight. I leapt off Zombie and set her aflight. Her wings made her too valuable to risk here.

“Winter, is it?” the Saint of Swords mused, strolling forward. “Never had that before. Try to make it entertaining.”

“You will make,” I said, “very useful artefacts.”

A quiet voice in the back of my mind howled, screaming that revealing any unknown capacity to the enemy was sheer stupidity. I could not seem to care. It had felt… right to chastise her that way. We closed the distance as one, swords bared. I feinted to the side but she slapped it away contemptuously, a half-step bringing her into my guard and without missing a beat she cut my throat. Red gushed out, but it was more Winter than blood – an exertion of will was all it took to heal the wound. I spat out the blood in my mouth, making distance between us.

“Regenerators,” the Saint sighed. “You never bother to learn how to fight properly, with a crutch like that. Sloppy.”

The nonchalance tasted fouler in my mouth than the blood, called for utter destruction in answer, but I breathed out and smoothed the edges growing ragged. I attacked again, low and quick. Parry, but when she closed in again I was ready: a spear of shadow formed out of my free hand and tore towards her. Snorting, the heroine raked her bare fingers down and tore through the darkness like wet parchment. In the heartbeat where I hesitated, she struck quick as a viper – aiming to cut off my head in full, this time. I ducked under by the barest of margins but she kicked me in the face, and as I rocked back she struck again. My parry was effortlessly turned, blade twisting around to carve through my wrist like it was butter. I pivoted, caught the hand still holding the blade with my other pne and forced it back on even as I avoided a thrust that would have gone through my eye if I’d been a moment slower. Winter flared and the pieces reattached, my fingers twitching as the power skittered through them.

“I can see it,” the Saint mused. “Take the crippling to avoid the killing. There’s a hint of Ranger in there, however diluted. A bastard’s bastard.”

I rolled my shoulders as she watched me indifferently.

“Again,” I said.

“Change of plans,” the old woman smiled.

The spell struck me from the side like than fist of an angry god. I felt my flesh melt off, my blood boil – until I opened the floodgates, and shot out of the fire storm as my face peeled off flake by flake. That had stung.

“Reinforcements, my dear lady,” a man’s voice drawled. “Though you seem to need them not.”

My eyes flicked to the side. Three of them. Short man with a leather coat and a casting rod must have been responsible for the flame. An olive-skinned woman with two knives and a red-painted face started walking towards me, while the last was unarmed. Priest, I decided, looking at his ornate robes. Attrition was no longer feasible if they had a healer. On the other hand, now it was four on one. My odds had just gotten a lot better.

“Well,” I grinned, my teeth grown sharp. “Now it’s a party. Have at it, heroes.”

“How uncouth,” the man in leather said, wrinkling his nose.

When the fire came again, erupting in a cone from the rod, I flicked away. Two Knives closed in from the side as the Saint was forced to go around the spell. Eyes following the arms, I let the knife-wielder commit to a cut from the left before half-stepping out of the way, hand snaking up to catch the extended wrist and snapping it. There was a scream, but I slapped her open mouth and filled with ice. She began choking until Light bloomed and melted it. It even streaked down to unsnap the wrist. No matter, I was already past her.

“Damnation,” the spellcaster cursed, seeing me close the distance in the blink of an eye.

A sphere of what looked like liquid flame formed around him, but what was fire to me? I gathered power and struck at it, ripping off a chunk of the protective sphere to get at the terrified man beneath. Instinct warned me and I listened. Leaping above the flames, I narrowly avoided being run through by the Saint – though, twisting halfway up the arcing jump, I shaped a spike of rime and sent it howling after Two Knives. The heroine flickered, as if she’d been an illusion all this time, and what should have torn through her abdomen instead put a hole in the ground twenty feet behind her. Displacement? Useful trick. Too useful to be anything but an aspect. I landed in a crouch.

“Keep away from her, kids,” the Saint ordered. “She’s a few years ahead of what you can handle.”

My eyes flicked to the sky. Of the five glamoured markers I had placed, three were left. I’d have to play with these a little longer, lest they pursue the Hunt. I grimaced. I’d drawn on Winter enough already that anything more was going to starkly affect my judgement instead of just reinforce bad instincts. Until the markers are gone, I told myself. Then retreat. I drew deep, and this time when the Saint struck at me I drowned the world in ice. Massive spinning blades tore through the air and ground, though I felt them shatter within a heartbeat. The hound had teeth. No matter. The creature with Two Knives had retreated to protect the thing that wielded Light, but the spellcaster was vulnerable. I wove around balls of flame effortlessly, parted a burning wall with a flick of my sword and found the human behind it staring back defiantly. It had gathered sorcery before it, a hundred hanging needles that burned the very air around them.

“Dodge that,” the human hissed, and they flew.

Laughing, I formed a gate that swallowed them into Arcadia and closed it just as swiftly. The human was casting again, and I could feel death coming. Light, from the side, and something more dangerous from the hound. I shaped glamour with but a thought, mine own silhouette striving for the spellacasrer as I leapt up shrouded in nothingness. The illusion was broken by a beam of Light, but the hound had caught the scent: even as I landed atop a ring of shade, she cut a wound into the air and ran atop it towards me. I broke the ring and fell as the other humans finally saw through the glamour, slow things that they were. Abandoning the spellcaster, I made for the Light-bearer and its protector. The knife-wielding thing shouted out a word in some foreign tongue that tasted of spice and blood, charging me with blinding speed. Ah, the arrogance of mortals. Gracefully, I stepped around the blow and simply left my sword in her way. It carved through her shoulder, blood spraying as the arm fell to the ground. I took a modified sharper from the satchel and shoved it into the stump, triggering the mechanism inside with a shard of ice. The detonation broke bone and tossed her away even as the Light-wielder shot another brilliant beam at me. My free hand caught it, fingers beginning to melt away, and I forced it to careen aside.

It had slowed me. The gout of flame I avoided with a mere half-step even as my fingers grew back, but the Saint struck harder. Holding the wound she had carved in the sky like a massive blade, she scythed through the side of me. I was quick enough it went through my shoulder instead of my head. In a heartbeat, arm and leg and flank were pulped. Winter hissed in fury, and they began to coalesce anew in ice.

“Not regeneration,” the Saint frowned. “Creationally fixed body. Just pour power until it remakes itself. You’ve turned yourself into proper abomination, girl. If there’s still any of you left in there.”

“Irritating,” I noted, voice echoing with the death of embers.

“Beat it, kids,” the hound ordered. “This one’s going to take a lot of killing before she goes down.”

Already the Light-wielder was fixing the creature I had mangled. The hound was an irritant, she must be dealt with before the rest was tended to. I seized threads of glamour and sent them into her mind, but they… broke. That was no soul. It was a sword, and somehow more.

“You hold dominion,” I said.

“Only over the one thing,” the Saint grinned. “But that’s usually enough.”

My eyes flicked to the sky. Another glamoured marker had vanished. Only one left now. And when it did, I would… I frowned. It was hard to remember. The hound took advantage of my distraction, striking anew. I let instinct guide me and steel rang against steel. She batted aside my guard but the spike of frost I shot at her throat forced her to turn her follow-through blow into a parry as I returned on the offensive. Cut high, swept away, but I turned with it and lunged at her back. She caught the tip between two fingers and twisted, the steel shattering. Frost filled the break as I withdrew, tasting her movements in the air. The footing gave her away. Or so I had thought: what should have been a strike at my arm was a slide forward instead, and when I tried a head-butt she met me with her own. We hit halfway through, neither hurt until she raked her fingers across my chest plate and cut through still boiling-hot steel. I let Winter loose, screaming cold winds blowing the both of us back. Some part of me insisted I look at the sky. The rest wanted to carve open that insolent hound and add her entrails to my cape. One was more pleasing than the other.

“Let us test it, then,” I smiled. “The mettle of our domains.”

Darkness fell, and came cold with it. The world fell away. Yet under an ink-black sky stood the Saint of Swords, radiant and unruffled. Unimpressed. I inhaled the scent of it, puzzled.

“Your dominion,” I said. “It is not projected. Only within.”

“Took me a decade of hard killing to get that down,” the hound replied. “But there’s always a fight to be found in Procer, if you know where to look.”

My frown deepened and the cold focused on her, but all it did was cool the blade. It had been forged of great fires, I thought. What coldness I had to offer was insufficient.

“Gods, I’m going to feel this one in the joints,” the Saint grunted.

She had no sword in hand, when she took her stance. I grit my teeth and poured all of my domain into her, but slowed was not stopped. She swung, and the light was blinding. Something… not broke, but it was wounded. Damaged. As I screamed the night fled, and I found myself kneeling over grounds rent asunder by our fight. Returned to Creation. The heroine was panting. Shit, I thought. What the fuck was that? I was feeling like myself again, but I was also feeling my heart beat. Like it actually mattered, like I was human again. The last marker was gone, I saw. And I sure as Hells wasn’t sticking around to take another of whatever in that’d been. Seizing reins gone frail, I called back the Hunt. Fewer than anticipated answered my call, but I realized with ugly surprise it was not rebellion I was dealing with. The heroes must have killed some of them. At least ten were gone, maybe more.

I legged it. No two ways about it, I made like a proper villain and fled the field. The heroine tried to follow and almost caught me around the corner behind a tent, scything straight through with another of those not-blows, but Zombie answered my call and landed just behind. We took flight even as the old woman cursed and carved another wound into the air, immediately running on it after me. Yeah, fuck that. I wasn’t picking a second fight with a Named who could shrug off my full domain.  I opened the gate in the sky even higher, seeing the Hunt take flight behind me, and went straight through into Arcadia. I didn’t even stop there, flying Zombie far from the entrance. The Saint, thank the Gods, did not follow. I learned why when another four of the Hunt disappeared from the back of my mind.

I could not help but be thankful she’d chosen to whittle away at my trump card instead of trying to go after me. It might have been possible to trap her in here, but that smelled of the Saint cutting her way back out at the worst possible moment down the line. The Hunt gathered to me, having lost a few feathers, but Headsman had been a success. Not without losses, but I wasn’t entirely opposed to the Hunt being thinned out before they inevitably stabbed me in the back. Larat was the first to address me after I landed, drenched in blood from head to toe. Someone was in a good mood.

“A victory, my queen,” he said.

I looked up at the Arcadian sky and smiled. Sure, it’d been that. But more importantly, it had been a very good distraction. After all, the very moment I’d opened the gate for the Watch someone had come through. And while we were busy being loud and visible?

Thief had been on the prowl.

“All right, saddle up,” I called out. “We need to find the Watch contingent before retreating.”

We needed to hurry. The sooner we got back to camp, the sooner I could ask Hierophant why my skin was capable of bruising again.

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123 thoughts on “Chapter 11: Ballon

    1. Allafterme

      Cat gone too deep to Blue & Orange morality this time. I don’t think she could break off the fight by herself, bloody Saint of Swords probably saved her life 😀

      Liked by 16 people

      1. stevenneiman

        I think it’s a Domain power that’s only inside her mind. But in a world with reality as malleable as Creation, “only inside your mind” doesn’t have to be much more of a limitation than “a lone hero facing impossible odds”. The result seems to be something a bit like Neo from The Matrix, from what I know of the movie. She has ridiculous powers that let her hack reality to achieve incredible things, but usually uses them to back up physical combat skills.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. N/A

      Ah. Cat has at last encountered Royalty, one who wields the terrible blade of Want. Behold that the sanctioned action is to Cut, and learn.

      Like

    1. Agent J

      The Wild Hunt was beautiful to watch. The sheer revelry with which they slaughtered their way through the camps was practically a religious experience.

      Cat being more human, however, is less than thrilling. She’s been drawing too deep from Winter’s well in general, but especially in this chapter. We’ve been promised consequences due to this sort of recklessness. For the enemy to simply snap their fingers and accidentally “fix” her would be anticlimactic.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. The sheer revelry with which they slaughtered their way through the camps was practically a religious experience.

        I mean, sure. If you’re fucked up.

        Being a normal person, ew.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yotz

          Only the aberrant deem themselves normal.

          Also, do not presume that religious experience is always one of joy – the word “awful” means “full of awe” for a reason.

          Liked by 8 people

      2. ______

        > For the enemy to simply snap their fingers and accidentally “fix” her would be anticlimactic.

        Looking back at the entirety of the endgame of the second book, I can’t decide whether that would require too much wanton stupidity and horrible moral judgement on the antagonists’ part, or it would be an awesome way to let the Fate make them trip over each other.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. TeK

        Think of it this way: there are consequences, just differnet from expected. She drew to much, and so didn’t abandon fight with Saint, instead taking her ultimate attack, which damaged Winter, but not her. I can even see why: she attacks by sharpening her intent to kill, imposing her will onto reality. It’s not far-fetched to assume she intended to attack Winter Queen, or something along these lines and in doing so, accidentially spared Catherine.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Unmaker

        “For the enemy to simply snap their fingers and accidentally “fix” her would be anticlimactic.”
        But there are so many possible sequelae that are bad for Cat that that might be what actually happened. The angels probably want less of Winter in the world and less power for a Villain, so a slice off of Winter is not unexpected. What happens to the Hunt’s already dubious loyalty when Cat is not all of Winter? Turning Winter on itself is also probably something the divine sees as a plus, and such a twist is a very Heroic and Story-like thing to do. Speaking of Roles, Cat could have avoided getting a Name indefinitely as long as she truly wielded Winter, but now I think a Name is closer, which brings the conflict back closer to a story. And we know how powerful tropes are in this world. So I don’t see it so much a ‘fix’ as a forcing of Cat back to more traditional Good/Evil fighting.

        Like

      1. Isn’t cat already in a pattern with the White Knight tho? Something about neither Black nor the Mad Boy (whom i can’t remember the Name for right now) not getting the Pattern of Three with White

        Like

    1. d_o_l

      Unclear, but probably not. It was a victory for the Saint in the context of their duel, but it was a victory for Cat in a wider strategic sense. I think the story needs to be a little more clear-cut to initiate a pattern of three.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Yotz

      Probably, but why? They’ll outgrow their usefulness eventually, and less of them left in the moment of their sudden but inevitable betrayal – the better.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. nipi

      I kind of expected fae to reset when their seasons turn came around again. Not sure how that would work with Cat. She use Calernias seasons?

      Like

  1. Vote for the guide!
    http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=a-practical-guide-to-evil

    Also what the literal storms? That was not what I was expecting and how much of Winter was lost? She obviously can still open gates so we know she has Winter still, but what all happened there?
    And I feel like this battle was destined to be a loss, with Saint having forged her soul; Winter took Cat’s, and, if Cat wants to get back on the same level as Saint I think our good friend the Beast will be coming back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ruduen

      I’m not sure if this is a loss or a tie, given the mutual loss of resources on both sides. Of course, given how experienced this particular hero is, I think that there’s more to it than just setting up a rule of three.

      Rather, I wonder if this leans more towards the Saint of Swords setting up a different type of story. If this becomes more of a story with Catherine dealing with an inner conflict between parts of herself (human, winter, etc.) or hits the stride of a redemption story with her losing the ‘dark’ parts of her name… Even if that’s not what she wants, it leads to more points that the heroes can use and abuse during the fight.

      Of course, with a redemption story, there’s also the risk of a villain falling during the middle of it.

      Liked by 4 people

    1. taovkool

      Probably by accident. Like cutting out the source of her Winter power. Same thing Akua did back when she stole the Squire aspect with that goblin I forgot the name of.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Quie Possibly A Cat

      Cat’s not entirely cut off from Winter. She opened a gate out remember?

      Nor is it really a favor. I mean, its probably good for Cat to not being going full Fae, since that has about a 100% chance of blowing up in her face, but she also is almost certainly weaker on the power scale now too.

      Like

  2. Raved Thrad

    I wonder if any of the baby Heroes died. It’d be a shame if that many huntsmen bought it without taking at least a couple of the gooders with them.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. taovkool

    Ballon (French pronunciation: ​[balɔ̃]) is the appearance of being lightweight and light-footed while jumping. It is a desirable aesthetic in ballet and other dance genres, making it seem as though a dancer effortlessly becomes airborne, floats in the air, and lands softly. The name is widely thought to be derived from the French word ballon (meaning “balloon”), though it has been dubiously claimed that the name was inspired by French ballet danseur Claude Balon, who was known for performing exceptionally light leaps.

    Another dancing references. This time about mesmerizing light steps and leaps.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. burdi

    the super light beam seems like the hound’s strongest attack, she was panting after the the attack. so, her strongest attack incapable to kill cat and only wounded the winter. well, maybe cat will got a new Name when winter grip on her a little lose

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  5. Anon

    Hmmm…well, I’d say Cat needs to get rid of the Winter-mind-affectation RIGHT NOW, but it appears the Saint may have already done that – either permanently, or just temporarily, with the giant beam of light implying damaged, not completely severed.

    Which…has the potential for good and bad – good in that Cat may be human again, and as such, may now be able to (re)-transition back into a proper name….but bad in that Winter was power she desperately needed to throw above her weight class with.

    Not to mention her being able to draw upon Winter’s power being kind of key to her being the duchess of moonless nights and Queen of the non-unionized Fae…. and a powerless queen draws no loyalty from the hunt.

    Though technically, come to think of it, since swords are made from iron, the Saint’s ‘dominion’ may be a natural counter to any fae powers.

    I also feel Thief puttering around in the camp is going to end up badly, but we’ll have to wait and see on that front, as Vivienne has survived before….and that could either lend her story strength to continued survival, or place her ripe for a ‘betrayal’ back to the side of Good.

    Also, if Cat couldn’t even kill any of the baby heroes with just a priest puttering around…that doesn’t necessarily bode well for the Woe’s odds – obviously there’s an extenuating factor in the Saint, but….I dunno.

    In any case, Cat’s gonna need to find some way of creating a story about an inability to be cut/severed if she wants to not insta-die to the Saint, now.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. grzecho2222

      Cat already been “healed” of being “not exactly human” once and Creation dislikes repeating itself.
      Also blade won’t cut Cat if she cat(ches) it be clapping her hands on it or with her teeth (and I think she did something like that back in Book II(?) and it’s very old trick

      Like

      1. Naeddyr

        I don’t get where people in the comments have got “Creation dislikes repeating itself”. That is antithetical to the whole setting, where everything is just repetition and iteration of Names and Roles.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. grzecho2222

          Creation dislikes repeating itself within boundries of one story would more correct, also
          Akua in Epilogue of Book II:
          “Creation did not embrace such tedious repetitions.”
          Same reason Tyrant always makes new plans and act so random, Stories repeat, but each part of one Story is diffrent from other

          Liked by 5 people

    2. burdi

      i agree with you
      Cat’s soul getting erode, slowly she will became a creature that wear her face but not really catherine foundling, the sign already there (she forgot her own plan to go away after 5 mark gone, in the middle of fighting, unbelievable. and in the chapter 10 “I had been tired, and there’d been a few days a while back where I’d had vicious headaches”)

      after cat ripped off masego work, winter flow like great flood and cat or masego can’t do nothing, it broke her body and made new one, her soul in winter absolute grip and its slowly erode her soul.

      but now, the hound had wound the winter, she got her change finallly (for worse or better)

      Like

    3. Darkening

      Even the weakest named can take a beating before dying, look at what Cat did when she was a newborn squire, picking herself up off the floor with her torso cleaved open. She blew one of the heroes arms off, and would have easily killed all 3 if the saint hadn’t kept interfering. With the priest around, possibly a hero priest and not just a regular one, you’d need to instantly kill someone via decapitation or exploding their heart or something, and given how cheaty the heavens can be, I wouldn’t be surprised if resurrections got handed out before this is all over.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. burdi

    i wonder, what will thief doing in the camp
    1. kidnap malanza (that will surely make the army impotent)
    2. poisoning food and water (seems like a recipe to get captured somehow)
    3. steal something that cannot be stealed (seems like very possible)
    4. to get information from the inside (she maybe success, so cat can stay a head)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. haihappen

      “Steal” their commander? Sounds like something the Thief would be good at.
      What else of (strategic) interest is there? Maps, Horses, Supplies? Influential nobles that can be used as bargain chips?

      Like

    2. Yotz

      5. To put in the camp something of her own. Or her certain close friend’s own. Something like a dormant targeting beacon for Observatory, passive listening device, or onsite scrying tap.

      Like

      1. grzecho2222

        Pilgrim: Ladies and Gentleman I suspect there is a Callowan spy among us
        One guy standing next to only pale skinned person in room: Nonsense!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. ______

          Grey Pilgrim: “Tell me… did anyone happen to kill a Thief on the way here? No? Then we still have a problem.”

          …I know the spot is more or less occupied by the Assassin, but now I want to see Thief transition into a Spy Name. Would even fit her current Role.

          Like

  7. grzecho2222

    This whole war seems weird like the pseudo-crusade of 1109 with two armies invading, hit-and-run tactics, defenders avoiding battle, invaders trying to take over city and failing but not being destroyed and monarch of defenders trying to win by tiring enemy and diplomatic pressure

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ohhhhhhhhhhhh. Well…

    So, Procer might have just got a bit of a boost. What the hork am I talking about you ask? Well remember how the Alamans Prince was a dumb commander? The Alamans officers just got *Wrecked* because they were all grouped up when Cat came rampaging through and that leaves it ripe for a competent replacement to appear from the woodwork, mortal or Named.

    Oops?

    Also the Saint is TERRIFYING. Thinking about it, the Pilgrim should also have something similar, and in theory Cat should be able to learn how to do it like they do given that the Saint has mentioned a hint of a hint of similarity to Ranger in Cat’s behavior.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. letouriste

      i dont think cat allowed the hunt to kill the people malicia want alive.she also want the less competents people in charge so i guess amadis is still alive along with some of his most stupid allies (like that alaman noble)

      Like

  9. Well this can’t be considered anything else than a defeat for the forces of Good. They have lost a lot of their irreplacable officers for about fifteen Fey of the Wild Hunt. They didn’t take down the enemy leader, they didn’t kill Larat. They have the confirmation their accord with Daoine was worth absolutely nothing. Hundreds of common soldiers have died. Their camp is in chaos.

    The only good things the Procerans should be able to see is that:
    A) they didn’t lose a hero in this fight (so far as we know)
    B) the Saint of Swords has proven she can beat the Black Queen decisively

    But even these affirmations unknowingly are lies. The Heroes were after all not the targets. The intervention of the Saint of Swords may have restored completely Catherine’s sanity and crippled the insane winter-influence transforming her into a creature of pure evil.

    And above all, Thief is in the camp and the heroes were certainly drawn out of position from whatever object/artefact/person she wanted to steal.

    It makes me wonder where the Wandering Bard is, because it’s absolutely not with the Army of Prince Amadis. There were too many opportunities in that fight for Catherine to die or to become something utterly inhuman. It’s not usual for the great manipulator of stories to miss this opportunity…

    The Battle of the Camps is already over it seems…and the ugly consequences of it are about to start.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. grzecho2222

      Cat should decide what she is, because this is the n-th time she is going through some kind of transformation:
      normal mortal – normal villain – redemption hero (aborted) – mastermind villain – villain with good publicity – undead normal – undead villain – redemption hero/mass murderer (aborted) – practical villain – pseudohero (fight with Rider) – roleplayer – fairytale tragic villain/pseudo noble fairy – Black Knight/Dead King combo – four Cats – monster – Evil fairy queen – Practical Evil monarch with iron fist – leader of Wild Hunt – Tragic Villain

      Liked by 6 people

      1. grzecho2222

        This is not Protagonist Jurney from Someone to diffrent Someone, this is Lost in the Woods and We Already Walked Past That Tree level of inability to stay one thing

        Liked by 2 people

    2. letouriste

      “person she wanted to steal”
      oh right, she can steal people now she think as a villain…probably.
      would be really funny to see:) (and badass)

      Like

  10. Antoninjohn

    We are shown that sealed documents can be verified at the start with the Watch so I think the Thief is going to steal the documents of Princes dividing Callow amung themselves then Cat is going to use that as evidence along with her own sworn Oath of truthfulness that Hellgate was built on Procer silver as an excuse to take Callow to force the other countries in the crusade to back off

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Draconius Sinister

    Cool chapter. Don’t know why some are so amazed by the Wild Hunt’s ride when we saw so little of that, with such little description, but what we see of it is pretty cool. I’m more down with the Saint of Swords fight, (though still unsure of her characterization) as that was a flipping fun fight scene, and we got maybe our best look at the pros and cons of Winter, and more importantly, how it affects Cat’s mind.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Metrux

        I don’t think so, Cat can dothat because this is common for Fae, and her power is manipulation of an element, while the Saint just straight up cuts reality to do something she shouldn’t be able to. It’s the diference between having a ranged attack and attacking so strongly that your shockwaves are a true attack.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Author Unknown

    I really hope we get to see Procers reaction to this from their PoV, or maybe from Thief’s PoV as she watches them from the shadows. If for no other reason than to see how many princes need to change their underwear.

    @ All of the people complaining about Cat being ‘cured’ of Winter: She wouldn’t have been able to open the gate to escape if she wasn’t still in Winter’s grasp.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. grzecho2222

      Funny thing is that we don’t know what in Winter got Sworded. It could be the leashes and now Cat will merge with Winter or even funnier it could be the part that was supposed to Winterize Cat and now Cat is instead Foundlinging Winter Granny Weatherwax style

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Blue

        Her body is no longer a construct. That’s what got damaged. She’s possibly human again, which means Winter is probably not going to be able to heal those chopped off limbs anymore. Plus side is she likely won’t be as lost to Winter’s influence on her mind.

        Like

  13. I really enjoyed the subtle shift in writing-style as Cat became more fae throughout the chapter. You could really see her transformation by the steady increase in melodrama and typical villain remarks that she was putting out, not at all like the normal her

    Great job!

    Liked by 6 people

  14. Neuromute

    Pretty good showing Saint, but still only a middling practitioner of the art of cutting, a far cry from Mathangi Ten Meti Murder the Gods and Topple Their Thrones.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And yet even the Sword if Maybe pales in comparison to Meti herself, powerful though she is. The mere fact that the Saint still needs a sword to Cut shows her lack of mastery of the Art of Cutting.

      Like

  15. SMHF

    Great chaper! It’s nice to see The Saint living up to her name!
    The thing is though, you don’t get this powerful by doing push ups… unless you’re Saitama I guess! And while Good side is generally OP, The Saint must have paid a price for this kind of power.
    So like Cat’s aversion to wards, she probably has a weakness of her own.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Raved Thrad

    It just occurred to me that this chapter is the very epitome of the 15th living up to their motto. With phase 1 being the slaughter of the enemy and phase 2 being Thief doing what she does best, Catherine’s side just literally applied “kill them and take their stuff” as a principle of warfare.

    Liked by 7 people

      1. Stephen M (Ethesis).

        I keep wondering not only about Robber’s possible promotion to the winter court but of Cat’s erstwhile girlfriend.

        Like

        1. grzecho2222

          Robber still needs his musical battle with Bard, given that he is an artist that creates new songs and comedies all the time, while Bard plays truely once? And most of time she only recreates old ideas

          Liked by 1 person

  17. letouriste

    “she cut a wound into the air and ran atop it towards me.
    Holding the wound she had carved in the sky like a massive blade, she scythed through the side of me”
    omg:o

    btw,looks like she will be free of Winter influence for the rest of this war.this is good for strategy but bad if the heroes go straight for her. for her mind though, this is a nice respite:)
    and she could even get a Name in this state

    Like

  18. Jessica Day

    So the crusaders are being forced to split forces and stretch supply lines and they maintain orders via scrying… And they now know scrying might pull down the wild hunt.

    A terrifying position to be in vs an army that teleports.

    Like

  19. grzecho2222

    I have a bad feeling Vivienne will get caught and will have unfortune meeting Prince Arnaud what will be the catalist that will make this The Uncivil War. It is almost certain that one of the non-Heroic leaders will heck something up so badly that it will cost them their weight in Story and so far he the best (or maybe the worst) candidate for that with Amadis being “just” overly power hungry, Rozalia being too militaristic, Adeline being too normal and I don’t remember other 3 even appearing

    Like

  20. Forrest

    Honestly, while everyone is talking about how they don’t want Cat to get off free from the grasp of winter… I more so don’t want to see her get nerfed again. We’ve already been at the point where she was far less capable than just about anyone else she was around. I might even point out that this is book 4, out of 5. Yes, power in this setting tends to come at a price, but she already paid that price. Just seeing her flounder again would be pretty off putting in my opinion.

    Also, I don’t know how ms blade saint was completely unaware that Cat was being a diversion from the wild hunt wrecking the army structure. She could have advised the other heroes to go stop the rest of the wild hunt while she was dealing with Cat. Though it is nice that it worked, despite apparently being more of a diversion for Thief to come in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thea

      If she could have killed Cat, there wouldn’t have been a need to stop the Hunt. Now, consider what we’ve seen of the Saint’s personality so far…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. the verbiage ecstatic

        Yep. The Saint is definitely canny, but I think she prefers the straightforward approach to problem solving. Why bother being strategic when you are really, really good at killing things?

        If the Pilgrim had been on the scene, this probably would have gone differently for Cat, and not in a good way.

        Liked by 2 people

  21. My guess as far as what Thief was here to steal is ‘all their supplies’. We know Cat wanted to cut off their resupply, if Thief yoinks their existing provisions they would be hosed.

    Liked by 5 people

  22. >Zombie was chomping at the bit, which admittedly was better than chomping at grass

    The expression is “champing at the bit,” which kind of ruins the second half of the sentence.

    Amazing story, just caught up, too many thoughts to leave in this review though, I’ll probably take them to Reddit.

    Like

    1. Agent J

      The difference is negligible and, outside this idiom, “champing” as it’s used here is pretty much obsolete in modern English. Many professional writers, be they novelists or reporters, can be caught using chomping instead. To the layman, ‘chomping at the bit’ brings forth a similar image in much greater clarity.

      And I say that to say this; language is fluid not static. What matters most is effectively conveying the idea. Like with the whole ‘literally=figuratively’ debate, I believe chomping on the bit is an acceptable substitute.

      Like

  23. Azqa

    I am extremely curious to see what artefacts Cat & Co. have made from the heroes they’ve killed, given her slip to the Saint.

    Like

  24. Unmaker

    I don’t see anyone else mentioning this: The SoS said that it took her time to contain her domain to her body only. That implies it is a _higher_ power than just letting your domain spill out. Since Cat can’t help but let Winter loose sometimes, that makes Sword win the clash of Winter versus Sword because the SoS has better control of her domain. Which is something that Cat should have picked up on immediately, but Cat’s brain was a little too Winterized to figure that out.

    Like

    1. Raved Thrad

      Interestingly enough, “kensei,” Japanese for “sword saint,” was one of the names (or is it Name?) people called Miyamoto Musashi, the author of The Book of Five Rings. In his chapter The Book of Water, he writes:

      “…once you take a sword in your hands, you must be prepared to cut apart the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, catch, strike or block the enemy’s attacking sword, you must know the opportunities to cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of catching, blocking, striking or tying up the enemy, you will not be able to actually kill him. More than anything, you must be thinking of carrying your every movement through to the kill.”

      Or, as one translation I remember goes (paraphrase): “Always remember that your ultimate goal is to get the enemy to die.”

      That sounds like a pretty good description of what Saint of Swords is doing with her Satsui-no-Hadou, or “Surge of Murderous Intent.”

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Engineer

    So, if your willpower is strong enough you can actually alter Creation? Was this why Triumphant was so powerful? She purely thought about destroying anything and everything in her path with no doubts at all and this insane believe coupled with being a Named allowed her to beat the shit out of a continent and caused the immortal elves to run away?

    If so then then Cat has the potential to become the most powerful entity in Creation. All she needs to do is strengthen her willpower (maybe read Napoleon Hill), reawaken her Name and fuse it with Winter so that it becomes truly a part of her (no detrimental personality effects sans the psychotically insane belief that she will destroy any every and all dumbasses who stand in her way be they Gods, Devils or all the Armies in Creation)

    If Named like Ranger, the Saint and Elves can achieve this effect, Named who don’t have access to Fae abilities, it stands to reason that Cat can achieve this too. Boosted with her Fae power and she should be able to outclass both of them.

    Like

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