Chapter 14: Arabesque

“So spoke His Dread Majesty in the wake of battle, even as the High Lords praised him: ‘Speak not flattering untruths. Another such victory and I will rule an empire of ghosts.’”
– Extract from ‘Commentaries on the Campaigns of Dread Emperor Terribilis the Second’

It began.

When Juniper had sent our skirmishers out, we’d been able to scrape together four thousand including the Watch. Crossbowmen, human and goblins, with one thousand deadly Deoraithe longbowmen at the back – when the enemy began returning fire, these were the ones I wanted the lightest casualties for. They were too useful and too few to waste on opening exchanges. Malanza sent forward nine fucking thousand men, and we were pretty sure that wasn’t even all she could field. The opposition apparently had much the same thought as we’d had, because the first wave to come in longbow range wasn’t principality troops: it was levies. I sucked in a breath, eyes making them out perfectly regardless of distance. Men too old and too young, with hunting bows instead of the kind of weapons a battlefield required. Some even had slings, which Juniper noted out loud some Arlesite principalities were known for. The Watch nocked, drew and fired without a word. At least a hundred levies died in the first mass volley as the Proceran skirmishers advanced, closing range. Conscripted peasants taking arrows so that the personal forces of princes would not. The sight of it had me gritting my teeth.

“It’s sound tactics, no matter how much you glare,” Juniper said. “Gets the people who can properly return fire in range without losses.”

“I know,” I said, fingers clenching. “I know it is.”

But how many kids and greybeards who’d just died had actually wanted to be on this field? I couldn’t know for sure, but Principate rulers had full right of conscription as their Gods-given birth right. They didn’t even to justify it, not like nobles had in the Old Kingdom – where only foreign invasion had granted that temporary privilege to aristocrats. The sickening thing was that many of them probably did want to be there. Because priests and princes had told them this was a holy war instead of Hasenbach trying to kill two problems with one stone or Amadis and his cronies making a play for the throne. I wasn’t so much a hypocrite as to damn them for it. I was well aware that the main reason my own army fielded only enlisted was that I’d had neither the funds nor equipment to raise and keep the amount of soldiers a general conscription would have brought. My fingers remained clenched anyway. Making decisions where part of my forces were openly deemed more expendable than others hadn’t grown any more pleasant with time, that unspoken admission that some lives were worth more than others.

“More kids than I’d thought,” my Marshal said after a moment, eyeing the enemy through a scrying bowl. “That’s interesting. Either she’s sounding out whether we’ll flinch at killing those, or they came closer than we thought to scraping the bottom of the barrel.”

“Hasenbach’s problem is a surplus of fantassins, not a lack,” I said.

“These aren’t fantassins, Catherine, they’re levies,” the Hellhound said. “Those boys we’re putting holes in look like they should be working fields and trades, not fighting in a war.”

I frowned.

“You think they’re having manpower issues?” I sceptically said. “So far, between the three armies, they’re fielding about one hundred and twenty thousand men. Their population can take that. We know that for a fact, you’ve read the same reports I have.”

“On parchment, maybe,” Juniper grunted. “But looking at them now I have to wonder. The civil war hurt the south pretty bad and they didn’t even have a full decade to recover. The north was spared, but it has to keep soldiers on the walls to deal with the ratlings. We might need to consider the possibility that Hasenbach didn’t forge her Grand Alliance just to keep her borders secure. That she might have needed the troops as well, and that if she loses enough soldiers some parts of Procer will collapse.”

My reflex was to disagree, but I forced myself to stop and think. There was some sense in that. The First Prince’s issue with fantassins was that she had several armies’ worth of them floating around without a war to fight or skills to ply in peace time. I’d taken that as meaning she had manpower to toss into the flames, but that was not necessarily be true. It might not be a surplus of people so much as surplus of the wrong kind of people. If Juniper was right and killing levies meant scything through the same men and women who should be keeping Procer functioning… Well, there was a chance that down the line principalities would have bow out of the crusade because they literally could not afford more losses. Which was a mixed blessing. Parts of the Principate withdrawing would ease off the pressure on Callow, but it might also lead to internal instability in Procer itself. Which, in some ways, would be helpful. Procer, if eating at itself, wasn’t mucking around in my homeland. But it also gave Black and Malicia a much freer hand, which was almost as dangerous. And if the instability takes Hasenbach off the throne… Honestly, I wasn’t fundamentally opposed to that. The chances of the next First Prince or Princess being as dangerous as Cordelia Hasenbach were fairly slim. On the other hand, I knew Hasenbach. I’d made a study of her, we had a personal relationship. Whoever replaced her would be an unknown and that carried risks.

There were already too many of those in this war, and wind picking up a third of the way through the tightrope was bad news all around.

While I’d been wrestling with the thoughts, the skirmish had turned bloody. We had range and rate of fire on the enemy, but they outnumbered my people by more than twice over. The first half hour was a one-sided massacre. Between the Watch and the crank crossbows, we carved a red swath through the levies. But then the professional soldiers of the the enemy got in range to shoot back, and I stirred uneasily atop Zombie when I saw wooden shafts begin raining down. Goblins were a smaller target than humans and my men were spread out loosely according to Legion doctrine, while the enemy remained in tight packs. That helped some, keeping the exchange of lives at about parity even with the lopsided numbers. The hard truth, though, was that Malazanza could afford to trade her entire skirmishing contingent for mine and walk away with a strategic victory.

“Juniper,” I said.

“Another two volleys, Foundling,” the Hellhound said.

“We’re barely denting the principality troops,” I sharply replied.

“Levies we kill now aren’t covering the first wave against our palisades,” the Marshal of Callow replied. “It’s a worthwhile trade.”

Another two volleys, like she had said, and then the horns sounded the retreat. The Watch, I saw, had not lost so much as a single man. When the enemy had advanced, they’d retreated equally and kept killing all the while without missing a beat. If Ratface’s discreet following of Deoraithe spending over the last year had not made it clear how ridiculously expensive training and arming them was, I would have been livid with envy. As it was, I was merely very jealous. The enemy skirmishers had little stomach for pursuit. They’d killed and wounded nearly a thousand of my crossbowmen, but at three times the cost – and most of those dead, not just bleeding. Juniper’s order to withdraw was coming just ahead of the point in the cold lay of arithmetic where the skirmish would become costlier than it was useful.

“Marshal,” one of her aides spoke up. “Enemy cavalry is moving.”

My eyes flicked to the side. Malanza had been traditional in the arraignment of her forces. Three thick waves of infantry in the centre, with four thousand cavalry on each side and another four thousand in reserve at the back with what looked like a few thousand principality troops. A hard-hitting reserve that she could pour into whatever breach her foot managed to make. The cavalry contingents on both sides were on the move, though. Riding ahead of the crusader host, converging on my skirmishers from the flanks. Only at a trot for now, but when they got close enough they’d charge.

“Probe?” I asked the Hellhound.

“If they don’t hurry the fuck up, our soldiers are back well within siege range before the horse gets anywhere close,” Juniper said. “That’d be… costly, for her. They might be trying to bait out the Broken Bells.”

“Talbot could hit one of the flanks hard and withdraw before her foot gets there, or even the other cavalry wing,” I noted. “This seems like…”

Trumpets sounded from the other side, and after a few moments of milling around the enemy skirmishers began to pursue.

“That’s,” I began, but closed my mouth.

What the Hells was Malanza up to? She had to know that if her archers got in killing range of our trebuchets and ballistas it’d be a godsdamned massacre. Even if her cavalry hit at the same time. We’d lose crossbowmen, sure, but a heavy formation of advancing enemies would be a sapper’s wet dream. And she’d lose twice as many  soldiers when her people broke and fled, especially if the Broken Bells sallied to hit them on the way out.

“Juniper?” I tried.

The orc did not respond. She’d gone utterly still, eyes fixed on the approaching enemy. She barely even breathed or blinked.

“Her infantry isn’t moving,” Juniper said.

“I can see that,” I replied flatly.

The meat of Princess Malanza’s infantry had yet to move, still standing in the distance.

“Her infantry isn’t moving,” the Hellhound slowly said, “because it doesn’t need to.”

Which made no sense to me. Not with the forces the enemy had set in motion. Cavalry and skirmishers, this close to our engines?

“Full retreat,” Juniper barked at the closest horn blower. “Break formation.”

The officer blinked, then sounded the calls. I did not know the orc’s reasons yet, but I did know better than to gainsay her instincts when it came to battle. The crossbowmen scattered and legged it as the Watch ceased firing and put their supernatural swiftness to full work. What was the play here? Already the Deoraithe were in siege range, and the goblins among the crossbowmen weren’t that far behind. The greenskins could scuttle quick as spiders no matter the terrain. It’s not about the forces, then, I decided. They still matter, but only as part of a larger tactic. Something was missing, and that thought was a familiar one. Juniper and I both had it before, when wondering why Rozala Malanza would try to take her army through a narrow passage my men could hold the end of. And the conclusion, I remembered as my blood ran cold, was that she’d had something up her sleeve we didn’t know about.

Three heartbeats later we learned.

From the beginning, we’d dismissed the notion that the crusaders would use their priests the same way we did mages, for sorcerous artillery and shock tactics. Brother and sisters of the House of Light were not supposed to take the lives of others. We’d theorized there would be some willing to break those vows, and that they would be a threat to deal with. But aside from this, we’d believed the priests would be a purely defensive and support asset. Our failure, Rozala Malanza taught us, had been one of imagination. Ahead of the retreating Watch, panes of light bloomed. At least forty feet tall, though thin. A fence, I realized. They are fencing them in. Pane after pane formed, boxing in our retreating skirmishers in the span of time it’d take me to light a pipe. An opening was left, at the back. Where the enemy bowmen paused and put their formation in order, as on both sides of them the Proceran cavalry began to charge.

“Tell Pickler to fire at will,” Juniper barked at the closest mage.

The message passed and the twenty heavy ballistas fired their stones. The first volley hit the fence at a high angle, and the stones broke without even visibly affecting it. The trebuchets threw their load in the moment that followed, arcing high over the fence straight at the enemy archers. They never reached the crusaders. More fences formed over their heads. Some rocks shattered, others bounced off. The broken remnants remained on the light, as if it were a physical thing. I gestured for another mage to attend me.

“Get me Hierophant,” I said.

The rectangular silver mirror in the man’s hands shivered after he got out his incantation, revealing Masego’s face. He was currently with the mage lines, and already I regretted not having him at my side.

“Hierophant,” I said. “You see the fences?”

“Miracle work,” he said. “Interesting use of priestly powers.”

“Shut them down,” I said. “Now.”

He nodded, and after a shiver all the mirror showed was my own reflection. My fingers clenched as I watched the first volley from the Proceran bowmen hit my skirmishers, all on the left wing. They’re concentrating their volleys, I thought. Annihilation tactics. They did not intend to leave any survivors. My soldiers returned a ragged volley of their own, save for the Watch. Throwing hooks above the fences, the Deoraithe found physical purchase and began to climb. I had hope, for a moment. Until the fences above the Proceran archers angled to drop the remaining stones harmlessly in front of the crusaders and disappeared. They shortly after reappeared above the fences keeping my skirmishers boxed in, cutting cleanly through ropes and hooks. Fuck. The colder, calm part of me noted that they’d had to dismiss some fences to add them elsewhere. That implied there was a limited amount they could make. Commanded by Masego, my mage lines gave answer. Seven massive spears of lightning began to form above our fortifications, strengthening with every heartbeat.

“Pickler,” Juniper growled behind me, standing in front of a scrying bowl. “I want continuous fire on those archers. Don’t stop even if it doesn’t go through.”

On the other side of the field, sorcery flared up.

Hierophant had torn through their mages for two days before they stopped trying to scry, and it has cost them at least twenty practitioners. They had easily ten times that many left, though, and Archer had confirmed at least one of the heroes looked wizardly. If it came to a sorcerous pissing match, I would still bet on my own men. They’d been taught rituals by Hierophant, and more than a third were both Praesi and Legion-trained. Procer was a magical backwater, if it came to trading blows they should come out on the losing side. Which was, I saw as the enemy sorcery took shape, why Malanza had ordered them to do nothing of the sort. Praesi magical shields tended to be translucent and tinged blue, when not entirely transparent. The Proceran equivalent was opaque and yellow. Four layers came down in front of the fences even as the spears of lightning shot out. My mages were better, as I had thought. All four layers broke under the screaming storm of lightning. But by the time the sorcery reached the fences it had been weakened enough they merely shuddered under the impact. Layered defence, the cold part of me noted. Clever. The rest of me bit my lip until it bled, as I realized the crusaders were just going to slug it out like this again and again until all my skirmishers were dead.

“Juniper,” I called out, the orc turning to meet my gaze. “Broken Bells?”

She cursed virulently in Kharsum but nodded. The horns sent out our five thousand knights into the fray, palisades opening to let them stream out. Would it be enough? No, I already knew. It wouldn’t. But it might lower the damage of this from disaster to wound. Talbot had his knights form into a wedge the moment they had the room, galloping out to the left to hit half the enemy cavalry even as Pickler’s engines hammered the fences above the crusader archers repeatedly. They held anyways. I knew better than to get my hopes up, and my pessimism was rewarded when the forward sides of the fences keeping my skirmishers contained winked out. They reappeared in a long diagonal in front of the advancing Broken Bells and my fingers clenched once more. Not a single of the knights died, but the length of the fence was unbreakable and forced them to take the long way around. Keeping them away long enough that the enemy horse would reach my skirmishers unimpeded. With a mixture of grief and pride, I saw that my crossbowmen were in formation and returning fire. They took the losses from the enemy archers, ignoring them for a hard volley into the tip of both Proceran cavalry contingents. Horses fell and screamed, men went down. The charge continued. The remainder of the Watch split in half, heading for the edges of the fences on both sides.

Masego, I knew, would not take lightly that he had been thwarted even once. The lack of lightning spears forming in the sky to answer the yellow shields that had come down a second time heralded that he would have gotten… creative, and when my old friend unleashed his wrath he did methodically. A jagged shard of red light bloomed and struck the first shield. The yellow sorcery shattered, but the shard remained. Another shard formed, and struck the back of the first shard like a hammer on a chisel. The second shield broke. It was working, but too slow. The Watch was getting away but the Proceran cavalry hit my skirmishers and it was a massacre. They tore through the first three ranks like wet parchment before the momentum was even slightly slowed. Another shard formed and the third shield broke when it hit – and then the fourth shield as well, a heartbeat later. They were accumulating strength, I grasped. The light fence shuddered but held. In the handful of heartbeats before the fourth shard formed and hit, at least a thousand of my men died as I watched in silence. When the light finally broke it was too late for them to even run. The riders were already among them.

“Pickler,” Juniper said quietly. “All ballistas are to fire into the cavalry. Keep the trebuchets on the the archers.”

I opened my mouth, then closed it. The orc’s face was grim as she met my gaze. The siege engines, we both knew, would kill our crossbowmen as well as the cavalry. But those men had been dead the moment the Proceran horse reached them, the cold part of me assessed. This way, at least, the ranks furthest back could be salvaged. The salvo pulped soldiers and horses alike when it hit. Theirs and mine both. I felt wintry, vicious rage well up in my veins. For a moment I indulged the wind-like whispers and the poisonous comfort they brought, but then I dragged my mind back to clarity. Pickler managed another handful of hits on the enemy horse, but less than a hundred died from them. They were already retreating and cavalry was hard to hit with mostly static engines. Especially when fences bloomed to cover their retreat, as Malanza smoothly arranged. My surviving men fled back to the palisade. We had sent four thousand onto the field, Juniper and I.

A bare thousand returned, more than half of it Watch.

“We have,” Juniper spoke into the graveyard silence of the general staff, “underestimated Princess Malanza.”

In the distance, trumpets sounded again and the Proceran infantry began to advance as the forces that had engaged pulled back. In front of them, seven lone silhouettes took the lead. Good, I coldly thought.

I was in a killing mood.

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107 thoughts on “Chapter 14: Arabesque

  1. danh3107

    I think would’ve been more correct to say you underestimated the crap priests can get away with apparently. What they did directly led to loss of life, what are vows if you only adhere to the letter and not the spirit?

    pah

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Quite Possibly A Cat

      Its not much different from healing. They’re allowed to heal soldiers just fine, even though the soldiers are obviously gonna go back and kill people.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. Anon

      I mean, as far as things go, the priest are relatively okay, from a spiritual perspective.

      They’re preventing an ‘evil’ force from escaping to kill more ‘good’ guys – and they’re not harming anyone (arguably, at least, considering the walls re-orienting to cut off escape routes probably had a few possibilities for death when they cut through the ropes)

      They’re not harming anyone directly, which, unless their oath is complete and total pacificism (which it likely isn’t) they’re fine.

      And honestly, if the priests were really as hobbled as Cat apparently had thought, there wouldn’t be that much of a reason to bring that many of them with the main army in the first place.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. nick012000

        >if they were really as hobbled as Cat believed, there wouldn’t have been much reason to bring them along in the first place
        The vast majority of the deaths during pre-modern warfare didn’t come from wounds in battles, but from diseases, both as a result of wound infection, and as a result of poor hygiene in their camps in general.

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    3. Raved Thrad

      Didn’t Malanza leave off on discussing terms for prisoner exchanges? I’m betting Cat will now prioritize murdering those priests.

      Like

    4. You could argue that healing people that fight in a war afterwards equally leads to a loss of life, and that is obviously fine. I don’t think that the spirit of the vow is “don’t do anything that could impact a war”.

      Like

    1. Skraeling

      I didn’t kill him. The bullet did. And I didn’t fire the bullet, it was fired when a firing pin hit it. all I did was pull on a small piece of metal.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. TeK

        I didn’t kill the man. He died himself, when his brain shut down, because he didn’t had enough blood, after it had flown through the knife-shaped wound in area of his neck. Which’d appeared accidently, a chunk of metal in form of the knife tearing his skin and flesh, because due to electromagnetic forces, some particles had repulsed others. I was just moving my hand. Honestly, I’m the real victim here. My white priestly robes are all draimed in blood because of this knife. Curse you, blacksmiths!

        Liked by 11 people

  2. Type

    Wow… this is going to be a battle to remember. If this is the opening move of the Crusade’s army, however revealing one of their trump cards so early in the battle seems unwise. Although the damage they did is considerable as Catherine has already lost a little less than a seventh of her army all told, including a large chunk of the watch and the majority of her crossbows.

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    1. If they had managed to completely destroy Catherine’s mundane ranged contingent before the battle, when Procer already has such a massive advantage in that area, that might have been the entire battle right there.

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  3. burdi

    if cat win by logic strategy it will not her
    she always win by following her instinct
    what make her dangerous is not because she has the winter power or because she was named

    but because she is catherine foundling, thats what she said in book 2..i cant remember in what chapter but thats when she was about to fight demon with limp feet and spoke to archer

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  4. See, this is why stuff like Bonfire makes sense. There’s no reasoning with Good. So best be the very best monster you can be and render Good’s people willing to rise in rebellion rather than go to war Vs. Evil. Being Soft Evil got Catherine every Hero in six countries after her head anyways. What, another sixty woulda popped up if she got brutal?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Orçun Sevinç

      Isn’t that how Triumphant (may she never return) get shafted? People could only take so much terror before they consider themselves dead anyway and there is no putting the gene back to lamb after that

      Like

    2. TeK

      If I remember correctly, if you push Good to far, you got 300 000 angel-hardened contrite battle zombies forming the core of the host, around which every other Good nation and every Hero on Calernia unite. Or you got a continent-wide rebellion, backed up by over seas empires, one of which is even partially led by a Villain. World needs balance.

      Liked by 4 people

    3. stevenneiman

      What you need to to is make it safe to be anything but your enemy. Don’t go on the offensive, don’t kill civilians, but make sure that any host that enters your kingdom leaves in expensive tatters with nothing to show for it. It works for the gnomes and it can work for you. Just so long as you’re damned sure not to piss off the gnomes, that is.
      The biggest mistake anyone can be is to become the force that must be resisted, because it always will be. Whether it’s gnomish WMDs, Praesi demons, or Proceran angels, you won’t like the results.

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  5. Pipieman

    Anyone have a thought as to what would happen in Cat gave a hero a title of Winter? We’ve already seen that even the Heavens have to obey the story when the were forced to bring Cat back to life, so if a story could be arranged to “name” a hero, I feel like it would have to go through.

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    1. the verbiage ecstatic

      I’m guessing it would work, but that it’s substantially harder than just killing them.

      Generally in literature, when someone bestows a title, the recipient has a choice to accept or reject it. The only “titled against their will” stories I can think of involve hereditary destiny: tough luck, Arthur, you pulled the sword from the stone, confirming you as the long-lost son of Uther, so you are the king, like it or not.

      So Cat would have to either somehow set up a story like that, or set up a story where the hero willingly accepts the title / acknowledges it as just.

      Hard to use that as a battlefield tactic. Might work to pick off an especially dangerous hero… Cat arguably laid the groundwork for flipping the Saint by playing the “you’re a cold-blooded killer who just happens to wear a white hat” card, but I imagine following that through to a successful conversion would be quite a challenge, and them odds are good the Saint would just run Cat through anyway as kill #1 on her murderous rampage.

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      1. stevenneiman

        Pretty sure she didn’t actually plant the seeds of a conversion for Saint, just stole her self-righteous momentum. Remember, reducto ad absurdum is a battlefield tactic in Creation, just as effective as it is as a debate tool here. Now Saint isn’t the mighty and noble hero, she’s an arrogant, self-righteous bully and a kinda pathetic one at that. And, not so coincidentally, she was dumb enough to inconclusively beat Cat on their first meeting. She might have gone out to spread terror among her enemies, but I wouldn’t be surprised if fishing for a Pattern of Three wasn’t at least part of Cat’s objective.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Anon

    I’m….perhaps a little confused – could Cat not have opened a portal to Arcadia to quickly shift her troops out of the kill-zone? Or did the Priest’s wall prevent her from opening a gate inside the ‘protected’/fenced in zone?

    I guess I was under the impression Cat didn’t need physical access to the location in order to send up a gate, given that they’d earlier discussed jaunting off to Procer to wreck havoc on the undefended towns therein in order to pull the crusade back and/or force concessions from Hasenbach.

    Otherwise, I’m wondering how much power this drains from the priests in question – yeah, they likely have named support, but if what Cat’s saying about the training disparity is true, they have to be maximizing things to keep up a 4-tiered wall, PLUS the fence itself, continuously active despite it being hammered – though to be fair, the number disparity is probably playing a role therein – since the wall itself is non-lethal, it lets ALL of the priests go in, rather than ‘only’ the few that would be willing to break oaths.

    In any event, Cat and Juniper got caught with their pants down – I’m kind of surprised they hadn’t theorized how non-lethal application of magic could still be utilized in order to. It definitely feels like Melanza, at least, was taking things seriously from the get-go.

    And now Cat’s down to 9k troops, and Melanza has only lost a couple thousand (if even that) of her worst. Looking a little more desperate, and desperation doesn’t generally tend to go the villains’ way.

    In any case, time for some hero fights, though I almost want to see more of Juniper’s tactics at work….unless the Prince’s graveyard turns out to be a later encounter.

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    1. I was expecting them to at least mention the possibility of portalling through Arcadia, but I don’t think that would have made sense. Any attack like that is potentially a bait to get Larat and/or Cat in range of the two big guns. Cat can only afford deploy gates if she’s reasonably certain an ambush won’t be waiting at the exit.

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      1. Anon

        I don’t necessarily disagree, but not having the gates even come up as a possible escape (hell, even to get out, say, another thousand or what have you) was a bit odd.

        In reality, it probably would brush up against Cat’s warning regarding named villainous intervention being ‘necessary’ leading to a hero screwing it up somehow, but at the same time, she had a good chunk of time to get her army out before the cavalry fell upon them, which makes it less of a ‘necessity’ that the heroes could pounce on.

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        1. Cat was in the fortifications w/ Marshall J. Larat’s location was not disclosed, but he wasn’t with the skirmishers. Neither can make a portal that far away from themselves, that we’ve seen, Cat just learned how to “tie off” a gate she’d made, otherwise she’s gotta maintain it as long as she wants it open.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Metrux

          Besides neither she or her fae being able to open portals from a distance, this is a trump card, if you will remember. She is keeping it close, that she can use portals for small teleportation instead of just full march through impossible times.

          About they attacking Procer, you really think she wouldn’t be herself going? The whole idea was for HER to be there destroying until they couldn’t take it anymore.

          It probably didn’t come up because it’s plain impossible, so why would you think about it? It’s the same as thinking that thief could’ve put the stolen sun in the knights path, in the situation it’s virtually impossible, so why bother wasting words on it?

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    2. A number of hypothetical reasons why taking the losses is preferable/unavoidable:
      -She (or some of her high-tier and possibly traitorous minons) has to be there to open the gate.
      -Such gates aren’t perfectly precise on a micro, tactical level.
      -Making a gate might take too much time.
      Using a gate is tantamount to using an aspect. With so many heroes aligned against her that’s a bad move.
      -Catherine is the Duchess of Moonless Nights, and the time is early afternoon. It might be that manifesting a gate at this time of day simply isn’t feasible.
      -Procer has an as-of-yet unknown trump against gating.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Antoninjohn

      The priests are not using their own power it’s given to them by the Gods Above, the issue is to be a priest requires takin oaths not to kill people with that power but to heal people, the priests of the Gods Below can use power to kill people but that requires sacrifice the Good side can’t, but as you can see Good is currently cheating which will probably bit them back especially as Callowens hold deep grudges

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      1. Metrux

        Just a small thing, there is no priest of the gods bellow. Not even a church for them. It is explained in book one or two, I’m not sure now, that no one sends prayers or asks things from the gods bellow, it’s a diferent kind of religion.

        Liked by 2 people

    4. agumentic

      She explicitly can’t. It’s possible to calculate what place in Arcadia corresponds with whatever place you want to be, go there and open a gate from the other side, but it takes time, and might not actually be faster in short distances. All this happened in the span of minutes, with Hierophant busy trying to break the shields.

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    5. the verbiage ecstatic

      And on the Proceran side, why are they sending out the heroes? They just had a successful play, that Cat doesn’t have an answer to, and the longer they keep up with attrition tactics, the more their numbers help them. Heroes perform best when the tide of the battle turns against them: they should keep wearing down Cat until she finds a way to flip the dynamics, and THEN the heroes should be deployed to counter her.

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  7. Anon

    As an addedum….come to think of it, the re-angling walls are a pretty good trick – assuming the wards can re-orient at will and are easily adjusted in a short time-frame (which they did here, at least), that’s battlefield control on a similar (And roughly equally effective) scale to Cat’s gates, only inverted.

    It probably won’t work as well now that Juniper can account for it. but it did what it needed to do – which was nigh-disable cat’s mobile ranged component. I’m kind of curious as to what Juniper and Cat DID think the priests could do, given how flat-footed this caught them.

    At this point, all that’s needed to be done is to pick off the siege engines and/or maneuver aroud them, and Malanza can just throw bodies at Cat’s army until Cat’s army is decimated. Masego and the Mages may be able to work some magic and outmuscle the priests’ defenses (as evidenced here), but the priests have numbers, and can heal anything that’s not an instant kill-wave.

    Now I’m really curious as to how the tide can be turned – Cat’s got worse odds now, which (on some level) may help given her story so far, but at the same time, unless she can avoid the Sword Saint long enough to kill off the rest of the heroes and a ton of mundane soldiers (of which she’s already promised to not break out the truly nasty stuff), this was a savage blow.

    Also interesting, in a detached sense, that this attests to Malanza’s ‘meh’ to the prisoner exchange.

    Like

    1. Dylan Tullos

      Anon:

      Cat can’t afford a “win” that leaves her army broken. This is only one Crusading host, and the First Prince has plenty of reserves.

      She has to win decisively, preserving her forces, while Malanza is quite happy to suffer heavy casualties as long as she wins. Now we’ve seen that the Princess knows what she’s doing, that just got much harder.

      Malanza has no reason to agree to a prisoner exchange. She has the bigger army, so trading one for one could only be a disadvantage for her.

      Princess Malanza is fighting like Black. She has superior forces, so she’s fighting methodically, picking apart Cat’s army one piece at a time rather than launching an all-out assault. Attrition works in her favor, which means that Cat has to gamble and try to make a decisive attack.

      Like

    2. Metrux

      Previously there was plenty of priests at war, it’s just they never directly participated, unless to counter big ass evil rituals, all the other time they stayed around and healed people.

      Like

  8. Rook

    Strong opening move by the crusade, but maybe not the smartest. It might actually end up beneficial in the grand scheme of things for Callow.

    The reason being that it’s a tactical loss but a strongly favorable narrative. Malanza just put their backs to a *literal* wall and struck with overwhelming force. Usually a good move, but maybe not so much when the narrative pattern of your opponent revolves around baring her fangs when up against the wall and disemboweling said overwhelming force.

    Fighting for the name of Squire, the training exercises at the academy, marchford, liesse, the arcadian war, second liesse – every single story Cat has been a part of has started with backs to the wall and an opponent with bigger guns, and has ended in the underdog sacrificing an arm to unceremoniously tear out the opponent’s throat.

    The first strike looks good on paper yeah, but it also just railroaded the story into a setup where the next move will almost certainly be Cat hitting back twice as hard. Very similar to Black signing Captain’s death warrant with a series of tactical victories but a narrative defeat, except in this case it seems like Malanza accidentally set up and stepped into the trap of her own volition rather than any clever play by either party.

    Only question is it’s not entirely clear whether Cat herself will actually realize this and capitalize on it. Winter flaring up her temper might actually work to her advantage in this case.

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    1. Anon

      I don’t know if Cat’s connection to her name is strong enough to empower such a narrative at this point in time, though.

      Winter might be, since it also has been a part of Cat’s journey through several such encounters, but the Saint has already been shown to match and out-cut Winter once already – and relying on any one aspect as a villain is a surefire way to have a hero find a way around it.

      Remember too that Cat has artificially hobbled her arsenal in order to make nice with Hasenbach at the end of this all – at least, that’s the plan so far.

      Like

      1. Rook

        The good part of this is that it has nothing to do with Winter, it’s been a part of her story since she was the Powerless Orphan. This kind of narrative advantage is relevant in all cases, but especially in the case of battles between named – the mantle is just icing on the cake. Remember the Lone Idiot ended up being a fairly powerful opponent on the back of nothing but the rule of three, and Captain of the Calamities died at the hand of a barely relevant middling Hero by force of story alone.

        Which is actually very convenient that they chose this very moment to send out seven of their Named. It’s a perfect opportunity to take a hold of the flow of the story to erase a few of them as her own opening salvo, and firmly turn the tide back in her own favor.

        Like

        1. Which would be spending that advantage, and probably setting up a counter counter narrative. But it’s so early in that not doing so is probably letting that advantage dissipate.

          Like

  9. Saragh

    Does anyone else look at this and think this is a classic story in Callow?

    A horde of poorly trained conscripts supported by noble elites pouring across the border aided by powerful rituals and magic. Facing them is an outnumbered army lead by Callow royalty and with the knights of the kingdom behind their queen.

    Ignore the names for a second and look at the story. Now consider the idea of seven villains attacking five heroes in front of massed armies.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Jonnnney

    Gotta say I’m disappointed in Catherine. They had a day and I prepare and they didn’t have a single trick to play? I wanted to see if goblin fire could burn through a miracle instead they put up a fence and Cat decided to ask Masego to try and break the fence and three thousand of her people died. I understand it’s just the opening volley but I seems kinda meh. I may have missed it but did the Mages didn’t any fire nor did our named kill anyone

    Like

    1. Daltos

      They still needed to retreat through there, goblin fire would’ve just blocked them off even more so since they would’ve had to wait for it to burn out since magic just gets eaten up buy it, and that’s ignoring the fact that they probably would’ve had to go through a good amount of their stock to do so since that had to be a long fence to pen up a couple thousand people.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Metrux

      Unless I am terribly equivocated, she agreed to not use anything of the complete destruction sort. Goblin fire is sure to be included.The thing here is how fast it happened, when she finally understood her people were already being killed, so they couldn’t prepare anything in time. For using the day before? Now you must ask yourself this: if priests were always in wars against Praes but never did anything like this, what do you think they did? The answer is surprisingly easy, give it was said plent of times before: the protected from or dispelled massive rituals. So she neither could have a ritual prepared, goblin fire used or time to do something else. All in all she got out of it better than most people would’ve.

      Like

  11. Author Unknown

    Priest are scary. I wonder if their no killing rule applies to animals. If not, given the way those shields cut, they could just create one a foot or so above the ground in the middle of Broken Bells and take out Cat’s entire cavalry contingent.

    It may not have been wise to unleash the priest so soon. Not unless they have a whole lot more tricks up their sleeves. They hurt Masego where it count: his pride. And you can bet he is going to be spending a considerable amount of time developing a counter. Unless Malanza thinks she can win the entire war here, she may have overplayed her hand.

    It hurt to see Cat loose so many. Not just the people; crossbows are expensive y’know.

    Like

    1. Metrux

      You know, this made me think something rather interesting. Priests were used by the old kingdom to disable Praesi use of massive rituals, but Hierophant is especially a breaker and controller of miracles… Maybe those priests will see something they wholeheartedly did not expect >;)

      Like

  12. Typo ish comment: this sentence required rereading for me.
    “But it might lower the damage of this from disaster to wound.” It might help it was written as “a disaster to a wound”

    Like

    1. stevenneiman

      “They didn’t even {have} to justify it”
      “but that was not necessarily [be] true” alternatively, “might not necessarily be true”
      “Malanza had been traditional in the [arraignment->arrangement] of her forces.”
      “when my old friend unleashed his wrath he did {so} methodically.”

      Like

  13. Quite Possibly A Cat

    Wait, does the no killing rule apply to Miracles? Because that would be the Gods killing people, not the priests killing anyone.

    Like

    1. esryok

      On multiple occasions Ashen Priestess erased people from existence or reduced them to ash. In particular, when she erased those Stygian magisters it was described as a miracle. Seems like killing is permitted at least some of the time.

      Like

  14. Luis

    This has painted a target on the back of priests now that will never wash off. think about it. There is a difference between medical personnel and combat personnel.
    Priests most likely had a protected status as only healers and people who could kill undead. Classically evil armies would probably not care, but any formation with priests would automatically be suspect. Now they will be factored into troop formations and tactics. Any commander not wanting to walk into the trap Catherine did would make a point of trying to avoid it and there is no guarantee that the priests in the enemy army would not operate like this moving forward so…..taking out their capacity to do so would be a military priority, like trying to shut down ballistas, and mage lines. so targeting priests would be smart, just like targeting mages is now.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Also it has some interesting implications for the overarching story. If the Crusade uses miracles against soldiers, its reinforcing Callow as justified being on the side of Evil. Making the citizens of Callow, who already grew up under the thumb of tolerable Evil rulers, see the Heavens as against them.
      Even if the Crusade wins, instead of Heroes rising to free Callow, the narrative could change enough that rebel Villains rise up to free Callow instead.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Dylan Tullos

      Luis:

      You make very good points about the distinction between soldiers and medics.

      However, only a Crusading host is likely to have a battalion of priests to work military miracles. In wars between Good nations, the House of Light remains neutral, and priests serve in their traditional role as healers. This military innovation is only likely to apply to wars between Good and Evil powers.

      As you say, Classic Evil doesn’t care about the rules of war, so this won’t change anything for them. It’s only Practical Evil that will change its behavior towards priests, and I think that it will work out as you predict. Practical Evil commanders will treat priests as military assets from here on out.

      Maybe there will be a future distinction between “fighting” priests and pure healers. The healers could wear a distinctive uniform that sets them apart, and armies would avoid tricks or face the reasonable consequence of having Practical Evil target all priests without distinction. If they have separate units of priestly medics, clearly distinguished from the soldier-priests, then there’s no reason why we couldn’t have priests as combat personnel without losing the traditional immunity of healers.

      shieldredblog:

      Everyone in Liesse is dead because of a “tolerable” Evil ruler. Malicia decided that their lives were less important than getting her hands on a superweapon, and she sacrificed them without hesitation.

      Practical Evil is still small-e evil. It’s just smarter about it.

      Like

      1. I’m not saying it justifies anything to us, the readers.
        The on the ground citizen of Callow is a different story though. All their going to see is Callowen soldiers run down because of weaponized miracles.
        Miracles serving Proceran interests at the expense of Callow.

        Like

  15. TeK

    That got me thinking. First of all, Callow has it’s own House of Light, which is heretical by the views of Procer (more militaristically inclined, as it is), second, those panes of light, they can CUT PHYSICAL THINGS. What if those panes appeared not vertically, but horizontally in the midst of army? I mean, it’s the same effect, ultimately. You can even create them not in the midst of the host, but, say in front of charging cavalry. I mean, you don’t kill people that way, they kill themselves! Totally not murder!

    Like

  16. I dunno if I agree with Cat’s suspicions re: the levees. These guys are out of Procer already, and whether they survive or not will be gone for years. I don’t think killing them can make Procer collapse. They wouldn’t have been permitted to leave their farms/homes if they’d been crucial.

    Like

    1. Considering the Dead King is about to throw his hat in the ring, it probably does actually.
      Not that they know that.

      I think there’s a good chance that the Pretty Prancing Princes of Procer simply don’t value mere peasants enough to understand the damage they’re doing in the long run.

      Like

    2. Metrux

      The thing here is that what a nation needs while in war is not the same as when in peace, they can be necessary but still taken because while war raged you need less of them. So when peace comes you need some more, but if you lost too much… Then you can’t provide for all the people who came back from said war.

      Like

      1. Metrux

        I think the white mark rather nicely personificating what happened. It has a breaking contrast that reminds us of why it is how it is in the map ;3

        Like

    1. nick012000

      And once again I’m reminded of how implausible the geography of that map is, with a river running between two oceans. The only way I can see it being even remotely possible is if some giant spell cast near Wolof made the water start flowing uphill for a while, creating the division in the river there, before it started flowing downhill again towards the south.

      Like

      1. TeK

        It can be technically plausible. You got big lake, where mercantis at, and it’s possible that sometime after river goes out of it, it splits and goes in the direction of Praes and Free cities respectively.Or maybe even, in the point of splitting, there’s some water-generating magical phenomen. Plus, you know, it’s magical world. As we all know, gravity does not work when presented with a classical element of void. So yeah, a wizard did it.

        Like

          1. TeK

            What? Had you actually looked at Calernia’s map? Here it is: https://ibb.co/b9DLMF. Or you can just look at the “Art and Maps” button at the top.

            So going back to question in hand, if Mercantis sits in ocean, than Caspian Sea is an ocean too. And it’s not even a sea!

            Like

          1. JJR

            Can I give it a try?

            Time was there was a river that began in the mountains south of Hospes and flowed north all the way to the Tyrian Sea. This annoyed the Praesi; as it had a tendency to get in the way of their favorite pastime, invading Callow. Sure, they could always force the initial crossing well enough (phase 1 always works) but inevitably some Heroes showed up to wreck the bridges, or tunnels, or logistical trebuchets and forced the Legions of Terror to surrender or face starvation. One invasion the Warlock decided to get clever, he would create a ritual that would make the river flow south instead of north. If there’s no river it can’t get in their way after all. Alas his ritual worked too well; and the entire river was compelled to flow south. not just the water coming from the source. To this day a river flows out of the Tyrian Sea to the north and uphill as it travels southward until it reachs where the ritual was enacted and splits. On branch drains into the bay around Mercantis actually flowing downhill for a bit. The other flows through the valley between the mountains, with only a small amount of regard for going downhill.

            Like

          2. TeK

            One thing about geography I would like to know the answer too, is why the apparently unbreachable Red Snake Wall can’t be just circled around through the forest. Or why there is no river connecting lake on the border of Keter and Procer, and nearby ocean shore.

            Like

            1. JJR

              Depends on which forest you mean. If they try to go through the golden bloom elves will kill them (they kill anyone who isn’t a Hero). Going through the Greywood would be more doable, but that would mean crossing a river twice. A river that seems broad enough to act as a better barrier than the wall.

              Like

    2. Shoddi

      @nobodi12 – I was just about to ask you if leaving Harrow out was accidental or intentional. Then I put the “new” map side-by-side with the one on the Arts/Maps/Other page, and flipped between the two repeatedly.

      I see what you did there. Well played, nobodi12.

      Like

  17. SpeckofStardust

    So everyone else notice that if the troops were withdrawn when Cat first suggested it they would have been pulled out in time?

    Like

  18. Draconius Sinister

    Oi, so this question is kind of out of nowhere, but is it possible that Aspects are less abilities corresponding to how the Named operates or fights or whatever, but more a command from the Gods Above or Below as to what they will do in a given story: for example, the White Knight is meant to Ride into battle, the Black Knight is meant to Lead his troops and Conquer the enemy? This doesn’t seem especially groundbreaking at first I’m sure, but it implies that Black and Cat have broken stories rather than beaten them or used them to their advantage. William was meant to Triumph over Cat. Funnily enough, this would mean that Hanno unintentionally broke his own story by learning how so many different heroes fought, rather than becoming his own sort of warrior and becoming the hero that Rides into battle at the last second and turn the tide. He is no longer the man with a last resort trump card, as Black examined, he’s hamstrung himself by breaking his own story.
    I have no real evidence for this save for that names evidently come from the Gods, and so do Aspects, and that all of the Aspects are imperative commands, evidently given to the heroes and villains BY the Gods.

    Like

    1. SpeckofStardust

      On the other hand if you look at when Black used Break on the doomsday weapon, It was noted that ““Destroy,” Amadeus of the Green Stretch said, and his Name pulsed.” meaning that ultimately he was acting under his own decision and outside the story so far, as further evidence that his action ended Cat’s Named transition. The Name’s might be power granted and heavily influenced by the God’s but they are able to be broken (and kinda tamed) to the person using them.
      As shown by Black and a few other people.

      Like

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