Chapter 15: Bravura

“And so my reign ends as it began, with fewer allies than stab wounds.”
– Alleged last words of Dread Emperor Pernicious, the Imperiled

“Tell me about those fences,” I said.

Hierophant had gained back a few pounds, enough that his thinned frame looked full again. How he’d managed that on army rations I had no idea, but the mystery was not a fresh one: he’d gone through both the Rebellion and the Arcadian Campaign without losing weight. I’d been half-convinced that it was a self-perception anchored deep enough that his Name enforced it, until he’d wasted away in the Observatory. He’d still come a long way from the bespectacled boy I’d once known. These days he looked, well, dangerous. There might have been little muscle to his frame, but he stood tall – taller than me, but then who didn’t? – and the long trinket-woven braids going down his back leant him a certain panache. The black eye cloth covering his glass eyes matched the permanently dishevelled black robes that were the only thing he bothered to wear anymore, not that he’d even been prone to indulging in fashionable clothes. The power he now so casually wielded clung to him even when unused, half-felt wisps of sorcery never quite gone. Masego had been perhaps the most destructive of my companions even back when he’d been the Apprentice, but he’d rarely seemed anything but awkward and a little pedantic when he wasn’t casting. Now, though? He looked like the kind of sorcerer you didn’t walk away from fighting. It suited him.

“A lecture on the nature of priestly power is out of the question, I suppose,” the dark-skinned man sighed.

“Ask me again when an army isn’t marching towards us,” I said.

“That’s almost never,” he muttered under his breath. “Very well. Though weaker – diluted, according to some theories – than the Light we have seen heroes wield, the essential nature of priest miracles is the same. That is the stuff these fences were made of.”

“Can it kill soldiers?” I asked.

“No,” he shook his head. “As a reflection of oaths taken, the miracle should not be able to hurt anything living.”

Well, that was something. From the way the fences had cut straight through hooks and rope, I’d have to assume it could wreck armour and fortifications if they hit at the right angle. That was… problematic. We’d raised the palisades in the first place because we needed them as an equalizer for crusader numbers. If they could just cut them down at will, that measure was gone.

“Next time the priests try the fences, can you just hit them directly to interrupt?” I asked.

Reluctantly, the mage shook his head.

“Mass sorcery at great distance needs a scrying tangent to be aimed properly,” he said. “Unless it is fired blindly. Priests, as you well now, disrupt scrying.”

So, unless Malanza blundered by putting all her priests in our field of vision and clustered together smothering the fences in the crib wasn’t an option. This just kept getting better, didn’t it?

“Then we need to have an immediate answer ready for when they do appear,” I said flatly. “I’ll need you with me for the brawl, so the mage lines will have to handle it.”

I flicked a questioning glance at him at that, inviting him to pass judgement. I heard his left eye twist inside his skull towards me, but he did not reply. Right, subtle cues. Not his strength.

Can they handle it?” I asked.

“They can cast the Ripper without me,” Masego agreed, and elaborated when my eyebrow rose. “The red light constructs we used for the second exchange.”

“That’s…” I sighed. “I need a little more than that, Masego. Would wards work?”

“Against miracles, they are mostly useless,” Hierophant noted. “The spectrums are too different, there is little overlap. We would have a great deal more success targeting their mages.”

“Priests wouldn’t screw with that?” I frowned.

“Unlikely,” he said. “Remember the precision they formed those shields with, and at such distance. That cannot be obtained without scrying or other means of relayed direct sight. Having priests among them would make that impossible, implying the mages stand alone. I’ll add that whoever designed that strategy has a keen understanding of all forces involved, which is quite rare even among Praesi. Rather impressive.”

So either they had a very skilled wizard on the other side, or the Grey Pilgrim had contributed to Malanza’s battle plans. I hoped it was the latter, because the enemy had enough advantages already without having someone even remotely in Masego’s league to field.

“Order them to target the mages first,” I finally said. “The fences will be trouble enough on their own, we can’t afford for wizards to give them additional staying power. Inform Juniper’s staff I gave the order, too, I don’t want them in the dark.”

The blind man nodded, idly tracing a circle of silver light in the air with a fingertip and inserting a scrying spell within. I looked on in interest for a moment, since that was definitely a new trick. I’d been under the impression there needed to be a physical anchor for scrying, but apparently Hierophant had figured out a cheat. I left him to it, leaning my elbows against the top of the palisade. The two of us were on a wooden walkway, between two rising slopes where Pickler’s repeating scorpions would be pushed up when the enemy got close enough. We had thirty of those overall, a massive amount of siege weaponry even by Legion standards. It meant we were light on combat sappers, since those same soldiers had to attend the engines instead, but sharpers and charges weren’t going to win us this battle. Not against fifty thousand hero-led Procerans. And, speaking of the devils. The crusader host had lumbered forward, its three infantry waves advancing slowly as the cavalry wings retreated to cover their flanks. In front of the first wave, though, the same seven silhouettes I’d glimpsed earlier were pulling ahead. Heroes. Three sword and board, I noted. Men and woman. Another I recognized from a previous fight, the same priest who’d engaged me as backup for the Saint. No sign of Two Knives or the red-robed mage, but I knew better than to assume a vicious crippling had been enough to keep the heroine I’d mangled out of the fight.

Hopefully she’d already had all three of her aspects, because if she hadn’t she’d likely popped one out since designed to screw me over. Clearing out the heroes that had come into Callow over the winter had taught me that a hero having an undefined aspect just meant that the Heavens had the means to teach their hatchet men a trick to counter one of my own. They were rarely subtle about it, too, which was kind of insulting. It would have been polite to be less obvious in their attempts to stack the fight for their side. Of the last remaining three heroes, I recognized another. The man with the hammer I’d ignored when riding with the Hunt. The other two were unknowns: one muscly, barefooted woman with a staff that could mean she was either a sort of priest or fighter. And a boy that could not have been older than sixteen, with a greatsword propped over his shoulder that was nearly as tall as he was. And didn’t wear a helmet, because of course he fucking didn’t.

“It is done,” Masego said, coming to stand by my side again.

I nodded slowly.

“You remember our training?” I asked.

“Healers die first,” he recited dutifully. “Then practitioners, then I must constrain the enemy to ease your task or prevent outside intervention.”

“It doesn’t look like they have a mage with them, but that just means they’re holding the man back in reserve,” I said. “Watch for that. And if the Saint of Swords ever tries to close distance with you…”

“Flee,” he completed. “I must never let her be closer than ninety feet.”

“And that’s the conservative estimate,” I grunted. “She didn’t even use an aspect to smack me around, Masego. She starts getting serious, don’t think in victory terms. Escape and containment, while we gather massive enough a response to force her back.”

“You sound sceptical of our ability to kill her,” Hierophant noted, sounding surprise.

My fingers clenched.

“I am,” I admitted. “We’re good, Zeze. Better than good. But her and the Pilgrim? They have decades of experience and accumulated power on us, and their Gods aren’t shy about putting a finger to the scale. Don’t think of it as us tumbling Summer again, because against Summer we had levers and rules. We’re the green heroes taking a swing at your father and Black, in this story. We get cocky for even a moment and…”

I did not elaborate.

“Heads, pikes, the usual,” Masego said. “I shall endeavour prudence.”

We stayed in comfortable silence after that, watching the enemy advance.

“I think that I dislike them,” he finally said, after a long moment. “These crusaders.”

I snorted.

“Well, they are at war with us,” I said.

The mage shrugged.

“So were Summer and Akua Sahelian, yet I never could must much antipathy,” Masego said. “Even towards the Exiled Prince and his mercenaries. They were only creatures acting as their nature demanded, and that is a blameless thing.”

“Is it really?” I murmured. “Just because something comes naturally to you doesn’t make it right.”

“A very Callowan view,” Hierophant said. “Your people seek to overlay Creation with a notion of objective morality, which always struck me as rather absurd. If the teachings of any of the Gods were fully correct, Creation would not exist at all. It is, after all, a debate.”

“The Gods can say whatever they like,” I muttered. “The truest thing Black ever said to me was that, in the end, only we are responsible for our choices. Taking marching orders from Above or Below is just abdicating the rights your own life. The Book of All Things has this lovely little verse about that, you know. Choice. But is it really that if the only two answers are already picked out for you?”

“Free will,” Masego smiled. “You always did obsess over that. I’m not certain such a thing can truly exist, Catherine, not in a world that was created.”

“You’re the one who wants to open up Creation to see how it works,” I pointed out. “When you were in a fugue, after becoming Hierophant, you said something I still remember. The godhead is a trick of perspective.”

“I believe it still,” he admitted. “Now more than ever, as I have seen what became of you. How Winter’s mantle alienated you from mortal existence. To think as a God, I suspect, is to be a God.”

“And you’ll try to get there,” I said. “Seems meaningless, if it’s not your choice.”

“Perhaps I was simply meant to attempt it,” Masego mused. “Because it is my nature to do so.”

“Does it really matter?” I asked. “Whether or not that was writ in you from the start. All we can do is act.”

“Perhaps not,” he murmured. “And so I find myself disliking these crusaders.”

“They killed a lot of my men,” I said quietly, fingers forming a fist. “And we’re only just getting started.”

“Death is death,” Masego dismissed. “But the way you carry yourself now, as if they put stones on your shoulder? This I hold against them.”

I bumped my hip against his side affectionately, then leant against his shoulder. He allowed it without comment, which was as close as he’d ever come to openly returning the affection. I’d never quite get him, would I? How in the same sentence he could display both kindness and utter apathy.

“It’s going to be a long war,” I whispered.

“And we will win it,” Hierophant said with bedrock certainty.

“And what has you so sure of that?”

He laughed quietly.

“Perhaps it is simply my nature,” he said. “Go now, Catherine. Go and follow your own.”

I moved away. Closing my eyes, I breathed in and out. Seven heroes, huh? Time to see if we could thin that herd a bit.

Opening my eyes, I unsheathed my sword and leapt down.

When fighting a group heroic Named, Black had once told me, two manners of adversaries could be found. The first was a proper heroic band. Should that be the case, coordination and weaving of skill should be expected. Against a band, either dispose of the healer first or place an instantly lethal blow against the leader figure. That would allow me to either inflict attrition or break coherence. The second kind of adversary was a mere grouping of heroes. No leader, no teamwork beyond the obvious, limited coordination. Rarer, my teacher had assessed. Mostly seen in large scale continental wars or when an overwhelmingly powerful villain emerges, like Triumphant or the Dead King. I was neither the most dreadful of empresses nor the ancient abomination that lurked within Keter, but here I was anyway. Fighting seven heroes as the host of Procer advanced behind them. They had been ordered to be be prudent, I grasped. Three advanced towards me: one sword and board, the war hammer and the greatsword. Behind them stood the barefoot staff-wielder, and further back the last two with shields were flanking the healer. This isn’t about power, I thought. Power is the crutch of Named. Clarity and skill will win ever time.

“I don’t suppose,” I said, “that we’ll have a round of introductions?”

The hammer-wielder chuckled.

“What worth are those to the dead?” he replied.

“That,” I said, “will make for a very ironic tombstone.”

I let them strike first. The pair with the large weapons went for the flanks as the shield-bearer slowed to box me in. Eyes on him, I let my senses bloom. No Winter, just the inherent abilities that came with my body being a fucking construct. The mantle would remain inert as long as possible, since I was pretty sure the real reason the Saint and the Pilgrim had yet to show was that they were trying to bait out a Winter trance so I wouldn’t think of retreat when they did arrive. The hammer went for my legs, and not even a heartbeat later the greatsword whistled towards my torso. Board arcs both, that they could readjust if I went forward. I did not. The thing with large weapons was that, once you’d committed to a blow, there was a heartbeat where it was very difficult to move. Where the muscles were busy dragging that large chunk of steel around. I moved towards the greatsword, adjusting to the arc and ducking under at the last moment. The boy wielding it grunted, shifted his footing and swung backward at the height of my hips. Without missing a beat I slid under, letting a hammer blow pass through the air where I’d been, and in a crouch passed behind the hero as my blade whipped out. His greaves did not cover the back of his leg. I rose smoothly from the slide as he was forced to kneel down, his tendons cleanly cut. Light bloomed inside the wound.

There was a heartbeat where I could have thrust the tip of my sword through the unprotected back of his neck, but I knew better. The sword and board man was already rushing me, shield angled up as he swung his blade. I did not parry, instead throwing myself on the shield and rolling over it, landing behind him. It threw his footing, and when the hammer-wielder tried to whack me I smoothly kicked the back of the the shield-wielder’s knee and pushed his back.  The hammer struck him in the shoulder, shattering steel like it was chalk. A curse, a scream, but I had more important matters to deal with. The first reserve was about to cut into the dance. The barefoot woman was stalking towards me, centre of mass supernaturally steady as she did. Ugh. Not a caster or a monk, then, a brawler. Wood or not, if that staff hit me I suspected I wouldn’t enjoy it. Light bloomed, and the shield-wielder’s broken shoulder snapped back into place. Without looking, I could feel all the moving parts. Hammer man was rushing my back, weapon already hoisted. Greatsword boy was going around to my left, warier now that he’d had a taste. And the one with the staff was smiling serenely as she advanced. I spat to the side.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s have another go.”

I waited until sorcery bloomed in the distance to move. A whirlwind of flame erupted around the healer and his bodyguards, though before my view was blocked I saw light flare on the shield of one of the heroes. No kill there, but it should keep them busy for a bit. Masego was only getting started anyway. Hammer-wielder struck first. I knew the angle of it without looking and half-stepped out of the arc, but the man laughed.

Broaden,” he said.

The war hammer tripled in size, and there was no avoiding all of that. My shoulder was clipped and it fucked with my footing, keeping me in place just long enough for the greatsword boy to strike.

Pierce,” a woman’s voice spoke from behind me.

Power howled. Ah, they were trying to bury me through concentrated might. Shame they’d not trained together sufficiently. It was a tricky thing, to keep myself in the way of both the thrusting staff point and the greatsword until the last moment. A handhold of ice formed just above my free hand I used it to hoist my whole body up, letting the golden-wreathed wooden staff impact the greatsword. It broke like it was made of porcelain, but I didn’t get to enjoy that for long. The hammer-wielder was still on my ass, smashing down with his oversized chunk of metal as if the weight hadn’t changed along with the size. I dropped the handhold, and the fall bought me a heartbeat as the swing followed me down. It was enough. I rolled to the side as the ground shook and chunks of wet soil went up in the air. The staff-wielder’s naked foot caught me in my armoured chin but I felt the godsdamned steel bend under the impact as it sent me rolling. Fuck. That was one was dangerous, not because she was more competent but because she was quicker and quick was what my survival depended on.

The storm of fire winked out as I got back on my feet, all four heroes in the fray rushing me. A glance told me the healer and his protectors were completely untouched, but a moment later spikes of lightning began hammering down on their position one after another and just like that we were back in business. I watched my enemies approach, their angles and their speeds. Greatsword boy, I noted with amusement, was wielding the remaining half of his weapon like some sort of oversized cleaver. He didn’t look all that happy about it. I circled slightly to the right, putting the hammer man between myself and the staff-wielder. And that meant… Ah, there you are. Sword and board feinted high and I took him up on it. Even as he flicked his blade down towards my throat, I turned my parry into a swing towards the side of his neck. His shield went up, and that killed his field of vision. Greatsword hero had to get close, now that he’d lost his reach, and it was not his specialty. I flicked to the side and caught his extended wrist, twisting his sharply so he was forced to stand in the way of sword and board’s attack.

Resist,” the boy hissed out.

Light spread across him in the blink of an eye and I dropped him before it could touch my fingers. The other hero’s blade bounced off unceremoniously. While the younger one tried to pivot so he was facing me again, I followed his movement smoothly and lunged at sword and board’s throat while he withdrew. The shield came to knock away the blade again, but that hadn’t been what he needed to watch out for. My wrist flicked, a knife dropped into my armoured palm and I rammed it through his eye from the open angle. Behind him I heard the hammer-wielder curse, since he didn’t have a clear shot at me. Even as the hero I’d knifed dropped and began twitching death throes, my ears flicked. I hastily backpedalled as the staff-wielder leapt over the fight, landing where my shoulders had been a moment before. The wood whipped out, and my hasty parry was poorly angled. It went straight through my guard, denting my plate and tossing me away for the second time. Well, at least one was down and the healer still busy. Unless he could – no, I wasn’t even going to finish that thought. I dragged myself upright and smiled at the barefoot woman.

“Round three?” I offered.

Her staff rose. I almost missed it, because it wasn’t flashy. It was just a low ripple, a murmur of power. But my senses were no longer a mortal’s, so my eyes flicked to the hero I’d killed. At his side knelt an old man in grey robes, who gently took out the knife. He then passed a hand over the bloodied face, murmuring a prayer. The hero’s eyes opened and he let out a ragged gasp. There was no longer any wound on his face. The Grey Pilgrim rose to his feet gingerly, and offered me a rueful smile.

“Round three,” he agreed.

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123 thoughts on “Chapter 15: Bravura

  1. Highwayman

    Cat is like the boss of a raid that doesn’t stay inside inside the boss chamber but instead comes out swinging at the raid party early.

    Reminds me of how my party got wiped attempting Illidian, somehow.

    Liked by 16 people

    1. Joe Jms

      I’m sorry but something’s been bothering me for a few chapters.The goblins had the opportunity to find a scorpion with a different claw pay have a mage modify it and they misset the chance to name him Hakram Catspaw

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Look, both Ratface and Aisha had to have exacted revenge for that at some point. And while for the goblins that was probably just good fun, imagine what kind of vengeance they could expect from the Deadhand. The Fifteenth’s goblins “don’t fuck with them” list is probably very short, but I’d expect to find Hakram’s name on it.

            Liked by 2 people

  2. Cap'n Smurfy

    I love how we get the description from Catherine’s perspective, yet I can just imagine how it musr look to the heroes as she weaves through them, making them beat each other up for her.

    Liked by 9 people

  3. Antoninjohn

    Resurrection, really throwing subtly out the window here. You known the Gray Pilgrim follows the Choir of Mercy and is going to try and kill Cat no matter what for earthly gains while Cat is planning to give him Mercy in order to prevent more bloodshed/pain when she does that’s going to be the ultimate insult to him and the heavens

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Dainpdf

        He’s made rescuing young heroes a part of his Role. That makes him a terrible piece for Cat to have against her in this war. At least he blew this pseudo aspect early on.

        Like

  4. JackbeThimble

    ‘And Then the Pilgrim was Garroted by his own shadow just as a portal to hell opened up above the other three heroes heads and half a ton of molten rock smashed down upon them.’

    ‘Round 4’ growled the hero with the great sword as he turned and cut sword-and-board’s head off.

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    1. sheer_falacy

      We already knew that heroes had resurrection available – it was very important to Cat in First Liesse, actually. There are presumably limits on it, but the Grey Pilgrim is very high end.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Orçun Sevinç

        But considering how he suddenly appeared beside a dying hero, I bet that is Name-enforced and exploitable. Shank another hero at the other side of the battlefield and I’ll bet good money he will be away from where it counts.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Dainpdf

          He probably can’t do it more than once – that wouldn’t make for good narrative. Or every time he does it, it gets less effective.

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            1. Metrux

              Maybe not the results, but the means/costs? He gets more tired, takes longer, that kind of thing… Until he can’t do it anymore.

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            2. Dainpdf

              They may come back seriously wounded. Or it takes longer. Or the healing (because the guy may have been still alive) is less powerful. Or his timing is worse, exposing him or others to risk.

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    2. stevenneiman

      I don’t think that was resurrection. He was mortally wounded in a way that would have been quickly lethal, but I don’t think he was quite dead yet. Pretty sure that it was just very quick, very effective, very timely healing.

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  5. Anon

    Well, I suppose it was to be expected that ‘trainer of young heroes’ would, on some level, include resurrection for a priest-type mentor hero.

    Now, how many times he can do it is the question of the day – or at least, will he and the other heroes be able to box Cat in to draw on Winter and thus use Saint to tear her connection to the Mantle to shreds.

    Like….unless Cat (and Masego) can continue to 2v7 AND somehow keep the Pilgrim from healing, things aren’t looking so hot – granted, that’s playing into the narrative of forcing Cat into a corner, but even that may not be enough.

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    1. haihappen

      Do not forget that two members of the Woe are unaccounted for, and the heroes therefore need to be cautious. Thief may not be a brawler, but did exhibit the possibility to yoink powers, or the manifestation thereof, away.

      And Archer just screams battlefield assassination to the first hero that gets into the position to kill Cat. Dramatic reveal and all that.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Metrux

          The battle is not started yet, at this exact moment the only ones fighting are the Named, since the host was BEHIND the Heroes and Cat went forward to meet them. I don’t think Archer will get a kill shot, but she or deadhand will for sure appear to help Cat… Unless they are doing something else of a secret plan we readers had no access to. But yeah, even with all five fo them fighting Saint alone would be subpar, fighting her with several Heroes and Pilgrim… Suicide doesn’t even being. She wasn’t wrong she said to Masego that with Saint there victory is not to be aimed. But I think Masego wasn’t wrong when he said they would win in the end…

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  6. I really wish I knew the names of the new heroes so I can add them to the wiki page. If we never find out I hope erraticerrata tells us in the future as I am begging to know the individual heroic names.

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    1. Rook

      The barely introduced hammer guy said it pretty well. What use are introductions to the dead?

      Some of them will probably get fleshed out, but with so many of Heroes and the Pilgrim/Saint taking so much of the limelight as primary antagonists… Cat might pulp a few of them too quickly to learn their Names

      Honestly I would say their odds of survival in the near future are proportional to the amount of screentime they get. I’d say the monk and sword+board have the best chances so far, what with monk being paid some special attention, and knife eye being the first rez

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      1. I believe that the names help reader understand the universe or country from which they came from, they represent the best or worst that culture has to offer thus far all we have had presented from this “good” nation are a sword slayer, hero trainer, and a soothsayer. Not really much of a representation in comparison to Praes which has iconic names such as Black Knight(military), Warlock(Magic), and the Empress( maniacal plans), Chancelor (Diplomacy). Each serves a purpose whereas we really have gotten no indication about what these good nation stands for. Levant though has had a few representations of there warrior nation though, still that is a small piece of the puzzle.

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        1. Metrux

          I think this is more a manifestation of the culture. We all remember Black talking about how Names change based on the culture that birthed them, like a culture that presides over secrecy would have secret Names. In Praes everything goes around the tower in a spiral of power, everyone and everything has a position, it is very orderly if you think about it, and thus their Named each have a specific position and role. For what we know of Callow the Names were MUCH more varied, except for two: the royal and the mage; every other Named changed from generation to generation, but they all kept to the “fucking the enemy more than they could fuck you”, which is a very Callowan thing.

          Thus, it seems a little senseless the Named we’ve seen, but we don’t know their culture, neither the place their Names have between other Named in their cultures.

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  7. soonnanandnaanssoon

    Did anyone else notice the discrepancy about Masego’s scrying? Masego scryed Juniper without a scrying bowl back in Book 3 chapter 43, so the trick isn’t exactly new. Somethings feels absent…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. haihappen

      Yeah, the demon is still unaccounted for.
      I can see a few possible cases it is used without dramatic implications: E.g., Black/Warlock drop it on the Stairway to make it disappear.

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          1. haihappen

            Error 404: Existence not found
            or
            Segmentation fault! Invalid access to reality NULL
            or
            *sky turns blue and displays:* This reality encountered a critical error! Please restart.

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    2. Metrux

      But didn’t he use a medium anyway? I think what she thinks on this chapter is that scrying always uses something as medium, while he just plainly wrote on air.

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  8. Big Brother

    And at this point, maybe during this engagement, or at least before the end of the Battle of Camps, Cat will probably get her new Name. Something new, something powerful, that let’s her stand toe-to-toe with the Saint AND Pilgrim in preparation for the coming war with the Gnomes.
    Because that’s coming, possibly at the moment the Crusade falls, because Pickler’s siege engines are probably a little too advanced for their liking. Praes has already gotten two Red Letters, and you can bet the gnomes know Callow is a Praesi Protectorate at the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. haihappen

      She will get a new Name only after the Saint has cut Winter to shreds and forcefully separates her from the remains, which most likely results in her body dying from the backlash. And then the Pilgrim revives her, because he saw the best intentions, even if tainted by dark methods.Which gets him killed, probably by the Saint. Which forces a clash between the Saint and Cat, in kind of a “you killed my mentor” pattern, but with the roles somewhat broken, but that wouldn’t be a first, would it?
      In that slash, a Name may emerge. Or after.
      The “You killed my mentor” part may come in if the crusader host breaks her army, marches towards the vales and Black gets killed in the battle by the saint. But that would rob the White Knight of a mirror on the Dark side, possibly ending his story there and ripping of any possibly present plot armor…

      Too many possibilities…

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    2. I don’t think there’s going to be a Gnome war. The gist I’ve got from earlier mentions is that when the Gnomes decide a nation gets too high tech for their liking, it’s less of a war and more of a “entire nation disappears overnight” type of situation.

      Liked by 4 people

    3. Cap'n Smurfy

      Pickler’s siege engines don’t bother the gnomes as, at the end of the day, they’re just particularly clever balistae. They’re not game-changing. All the stuff the gnomes have taken issue to are things that could kick start an agricultural or industrial revolution. Technologies that could change a civilization, not weapons and magic.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Metrux

        Actually not even that, their problem is not in advancement or any such thing, but in physics. If you advance in physics you can learn all kinds of nice things that can’t be unlearnt… So they destroyy anyone who comes close to the fountain of their power. If you create a magic tech to allow everyone born be the little bit stronger or faster, they wouldn’t care in the least.

        Also, there would be no war, even elfs and dwarfs won’t intrude with physics because they fear the Gnomes, Cat is good, Cat is great, but come the Gnomes she’ll only die without doing a thing.

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  9. A knife entering through the eye would have to pass through the bone behind it, then, if it somehow punched through the bone, it could cut through the frontal lobe if angled upwards, humans can survive this. If the knife goes deeper into the brain and hits the more wild parts of the brain that controls more primordial parts of our brain that controls functions such as breathing or one’s heartbeat, this would kill our poor hero.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If there is a single weapon that Cat can be expected to kill someone with, it is the knife. That’s her truest weapon in this story, honestly. She made her first kill with it. She’s been constantly upgrading how she uses and accesses them for maximizing their capacity for murder. The knife, even more than the sword, is Catherine’s weapon. If she stabs you in the face, you are going to die, regardless of the anatomy of the blow. I’m pretty sure that Catherine’s knife will be what kills the Wandering Bard, because there is so much narrative weight behind Catherine wielding that weapon that the only other option I can see is goblinfire.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. soonnanandnaanssoon

        Oh damn nice catch. She also ended her apprenticeship as the Squire with Black by stabbing him in the stomach, just as he did with her. I feel that adds to the narrative weight of the knife as a symbol of Cat’s growth and evolution as a character and as a story -breaker too.

        Like

        1. haihappen

          It ended as it began: By shedding blood with a knife.

          I am pretty sure she still has that knife, even it is lost or assumed to be destroyed, I dare think it is one of those items that has become a part of her, and will find its way back to her every time.

          Like

      2. I don’t think WB will die by a weapon. Her bodies are disposable. Killing her essence, or just making it stay away, will take story shenanigans. I think she ‘dies’ by being outwitted.

        Like

      3. Cynar

        How about a knife coated in goblin fire? Seems the perfect weapon to deal with a magic teleporting opponent, who seems to be fueled by high proof alcohol.

        Upclose and personal, with the goblin fire robbing her of her default retreat. Also, combining goblin fire with alcohol sounds rather spectacular. 🙂

        Like

      4. MagnaMalusLupus

        Maybe this is a bit of useless speculation, but I’m wondering if Cat won’t get a new name like The Knife; as you’ve mentioned, it seems tied to her story heavily, far more than any other symbol. That being said, it doesn’t denote leadership at all, which doesn’t match her current position. Perhaps becoming the first true Queen of Blades, as the other one was just a title rather than a Name

        Like

        1. Naeddyr

          The problem is that Names are about public perception, myths and stories and people thinking thoughts at you. WoE is that Cat wouldn’t become “Queen of Blades” because A) it’s not a name B) she’s not associated with the original Queen of Blades at all. Besides, she’s not even that good at swording, really.

          Same goes for the Knife. Tell a random Callowan their new monarch has that Name and they’d go all “but why?”.

          Honestly I am actually still expecting Black Queen to lurk somewhere out in the ether waiting for an opportunity to pounce. Other variants such as Dread Queen or Dark Queen or Grim Queen or Winter Queen probably went home with a black eye or sprained ankle.

          Like

          1. Metrux

            My own take is that she won’t have a regency Name, because she WILL resign. It’s already too entranched in herself to let it pass. Thus she will have a name NOT suited to ruling, giving even more weight when she leaves the nation so it becomes better.

            Like

    2. Oshi

      Yes but the considering Cats physical strength this is very possible. It’s likely he wasn’t dead but close to it and that’s why the Pilgrim was there.

      Like

    3. JackbeThimble

      The average dagger is longer than the average human skull. Much longer. If you get through the orbit you’re going to pass through everything until you come out the back of the occipital lobe, at which point the person is going to collapse in massive shock shortly before dying.

      Like

    4. Metrux

      I think you don’t know much about anathomy… Humans can survive a full spear through your cranium, but most would die of shock right there. Also, there is no bone behind the eyes, it’s exactly why it is such a weak spot. You see, people want to cripple vision, sure, but wouldn’t the nose and ears also be crippling and easier to hit? People aim at the eyes because, diferently form the others, it is unprotected in the vitality, if it goes through the eyes, it hits directly at the brain.

      But, none of this matters, we are talking about Named, people who can survive a granade on the face, while still dying to an arrow through the neck. This is much more about the tale than the true damage dealt, a punch or kick can be deadlier than a blade, so if the story says it was a killing blow… It is. Otherwise, expect them to go right through any damage dealt.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. 1queenofblades1

    Is it just me or are the chapters shorter than they used to be than the first few chapters of this book and compared to the previous book especially. Because I just finished reading the entire series again, and it seems like it to me.

    I miss those long chapters 😦

    Like

    1. Mike E.

      Keep in mind we have steadily been getting 3 updates a week for quite awhile, so overall volume of prose is probably up even though each update may be slightly smaller.

      Like

      1. esryok

        EE’s word count has gone through the roof since Patreon hit its targets. For the curious…

        Average chapter lengths per book | words per week:
        – Book I: 5,141 | 5,325
        – Book II: 4,227 | 4,642
        – Book III: 3,889 | 7,709
        – Book IV: 3,804 | 13,657

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Pilgrim the White

    Grey will slowly warm up to Cat. Towards the end of the book he will resurrect Cat (as a human?) after Saint finally kills her.

    Like

    1. Letouriste

      I expect to FORCE HIM to resurect him:)
      The only problem with that would be her story can’t easily allow a second resurection

      Like

  12. Yotz

    …And so, I the pitch of battle so demonstrably and unequivocally stacked, I finally felt it – the call of oblivion, the tattering brink of madness… and the promise of power. Well then. I will not gaze into the Abyss only to feel it returning gaze – I’ll pluck her eyes and make them my own.
    My lips trembled, then moved as of their own will, forming meaningless syllables of ancient blasphemy.

    “Eye d’ee d’ee k’yu d’ee.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. stevenneiman

      “yet I never could [must->muster] much antipathy”
      “Taking marching orders from Above or Below is just abdicating the rights {to} your own life”
      “Clarity and skill will win [ever->every] time.” or, possible though less likely, “over time”
      “[Board->Broad] arcs both, that they could readjust if I went forward.”

      Like

    1. You do not? Like, presumably this is the question generations of villains have been throwing up their hands at. Dude’s rep is that when he throws down with villains while his pupils get away he never loses. That’s a serious rep for an old man to have.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. stevenneiman

        Honestly, the scary thing about him is surviving this long as a mentor figure. They tend to have about the same survival rate as kamikaze pilots with terminal cancer, so for one to survive that well he needs to have both storycrafting skills and power.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. burdi

    Grey Pilgrim had to live so cat can get her peace with another country
    but its not her first plan which isnt feasible anymore

    after several dead heroes revived by Pilgrim, it is not impossible cat will “fuck it, better all of them dead than my own”, so she will kill pilgrim first because she has no other choice and said “fuck with them all, let them come..i will burn them all, whether its god or all the army in the calernia, villains and heroes..they want to fucking with callow i will kill them every single one of them”

    Like

    1. Metrux

      I don’t think she CAN kill the Pilgrim. Not as she is now, anyway. Masego in a special occasion? Hakram while fighting for her? Yeah, but she herself is in no position for that.

      Like

  14. Heroes at this point:

    1 Gray Pilgrim
    2 Saint of Swords
    3 Hammer Guy
    4 Sword and Board who rushed Cat
    5 Staff Lady
    6 Greatsword
    7 Healer’s first guard
    8 Healer’s second guard
    9 Healer
    10 Mage ?
    11 Two Knives
    12 ?

    Dunno how right that is, just a first stab at hero identifying.

    Like

      1. esryok

        From context it seems like “red-robed mage” is meant to refer to the pyromancer Cat tangled with during Operation Headsman, though at the time he was described as a “short man with a leather coat and casting rod”.

        Pretty sure there’s still one hero we haven’t seen.

        Like

  15. Kinda want to call BS on that GP save:
    You put a combat blade through the eye socket, and you’ve hit white matter in the brain. Even if magic can whoosh all that trauma away, there are distinct bio-electric patterns in there that are really, really important. Things that would be disrupted by that kinda of trauma.

    It’s a pet peeve of mine in the fantasy genre when “clerical” magic heals brain trauma, yet the healed experiences no memory loss, personality change, or other side effects. Simply whisking all the damage away isn’t enough to make that person mentally whole again. If the healer in question is capable of restoring stuff that intricate, then resurrection of anyone, no matter how thoroughly dead so long as a body remains should be trivial.

    I find myself thinking about this a lot, because arrows in the eye are INCREDIBLY common in the fantasy genre. Followed right behind by knives, thrown mainly, then wielded. I grit my teeth whenever I read a healer hand-wave that away.

    Like

    1. JackbeThimble

      Dude. The main protagonist of this story doesn’t even have a brain-she just uses fae magic to fake it well enough that the world acts as if she does. This isn’t that kind of story.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. MagnaMalusLupus

      The difference is that in this story, there is the notion of a distinct soul that contains all of who one is and completely separate from the body itself. So long as they are connected, healing the body would be pretty straightforward for a sufficiently powerful divine individual. Plus, the Gods Above cheat.

      Like

    3. TeK

      What if his condition is just reversed back in time? No lasting damage to brain, no traumatic memories, he’s all up and healthy again. Thought of that? And yes, resurrection can work on people who were dead for a lo-oh-ong time. Your problem, is one of a failure of imagination.

      Like

    4. Mlissa

      I now have, in mind, a scene where someone appears in the middle of the fight, right after the Grey Pilgrim healed the unnamed Named, to rant about how bullshit that was and why it shouldn’t work using knowledge of modern biology. Everybody stops fighting from the sheer absurdness of it all. The Grey Pilgrim and the new guy get into a peaceful yet heated debate about medicine and History of miracles that ends up as a debate between science and dogmatism. All that while Cat, amused, sits on her folding chair and smokes her pipe.

      Liked by 1 person

    5. Yotz

      My two bits to the pot – we are talking about the world where [i]souls[/i] exist. Memory and cognitive functions therefore are delegated to spiritual realm purely, and any memory I II II I_ and/or cognitive disorders would be a product of defective vessel for a subject’s soul, thus making the removing them a simple process of repairing the vessel, id est – body.

      And no – inborn defects, nor mental illnesses a-la schizophrenia do not fall under this case, cause being underdeveloped soul for the former, and damaged soul for the latter.

      The point of arguing the miracle cure of severe steel poisoning in such world would be akin to standing on the high tower near Cori Celesti during thunderstorm wearing naught but a pure copper armour set, and proclaiming loudly that gods, in fact, do not exist and all religions are based on lies. I mean, you can get away with this if you are made of clay or something – but otherwise…

      Now, if we are to discard the concept of soul altogether and accept that each and every human being is nothing more but a biomechanical turing machine, albeit a very complex one – you, monsieur Panzegraf, would be compleately on the money with general course of your statements. Otherwise – not so much.

      PS: Regarding ASoIaF and consimilar – people who got themselves resurrected tend to accumulate certain… [i]quirks[/i], that’s true, yes. But. Said curious fancies on their part are direct result of their souls being damaged by the aftereffects of death, or something from the other side impersonating the diseased, and doing it poorly. In the case of truly Divine Intervention first would be easely mended, and second would either out of options, or being done be design of Deity in question.

      Like

    6. I’m pretty sure Grey Pilgrim invoked the power of literal, actual capital-G Gods to make this happen, and if anything had complete and perfect enough knowledge of the universe’s past to effect this kind of healing, it would be Gods.

      Also you do have a point, and that point is probably why actual resurrection happens so rarely. Because it’s *not* just healing. It’s way, way more than that on a mechanical level.

      Like

  16. Brian Heward

    Maybe it’s still coming, but I’d expect using gates to deploy siege weaponry in the middle of the enemy’s mage or priest lines would be a good counter to the fence problem. (Cat isn’t the only one in her army who can use gates this would take 1 fae + a bunch of goblins, leaving the mages free to decimate troops elsewhere instead of the goblins and mages both firing into fences.)

    The goblins have proven the effectiveness of this before. Open a gate, fire a few shots, if you start to get overrun close the gate, finish off the enemy in arcadia, reset to open the gate again in a new location.

    It’s really hard to defend against someone who can be behind you at any time when they weren’t there a second ago and can ignore any walls, shield lines, or even troops surrounding your high value targets.

    Even if the priests are fucking with scrying I’d expect opening gates blindly in the general area of the enemy’s army would still work wonders. (Although from what I understood the priests can only defend themselves from scrying, not the mages.)

    Like

  17. Maybe I’m crazy but I find it odd that the Grey Pilgrim appeared from nowhere and essentially undid a fatal wound right after a off camera fight with an Absence Demon.
    I always thought that his Choir of Mercy was strangely weak to Absence, as he’s stated that he’d do anything to prevent suffering. What if he could Undo suffering?
    That 500 year old demon is out there somewhere and we know that it’s age will make it cleverer than most. No way is it going to die off camera.
    Also Heirophant being around is another small clue. If the Demon has somehow corrupted the Hero, than he’d be needed.

    Like

    1. Metrux

      I don’t think Masego would be here simply because the Demon is around, they wouldn’t know it is, and this young mage is no hero, he wouldn’t be at the right place at the right time to fight a demon. But, more than that, he is needed FOR THE VILLAINS to fight a demon, heroes can kill demons while villains cannot. We saw a bunch of inexperienced Named without coordination killing a demon of corruption as old as this one, so why couldn’t the rest of the Heroes take it doen, with or without the Pilgrim?

      Also, for all their power, demons are limitless and limited. The power of heavens and of the bellow stay always the same, but there is always more demons and devils being born… Don’t you think the same numbers are dying? In the grand scheme of things demons are a pretty small thing, even if compared to their angelic counter parts, I can totally see demons abound dying off screen.

      Like

      1. This demon has a backstory though and if it was dead I feel like it would have been mentioned and made very clear.
        Also I meant ERRATICERRATA wrote Masego into the scene because the Demon was around, not that Masego knew the Demon was around.

        Like

  18. Ugh,
    When you start making “This story’s sub-genre permits X” arguments, you’re basically just tossing any semblance of realism out the window. While the Guide’s story-universe allows for a lot of patently unreal stuff, the fantasy elements that go against realism are generally well understood/definitively delineated from a Reader PoV. Magic has strengths and weaknesses, Aspects work along several threads of Commonality, etc etc.

    In other words, it’s realistic until it isn’t. That doesn’t mean it should be taken for granted that a would which would generally be instantly fatal can be hand-waved away without consequence. (I read the people survive penetrating wounds like this post. To retort: No, people really don’t survive having made-for-war weapons driven through their eye sockets with sufficient supernatural strength to go clean through, rather than crunch through, the bone behind the eye. The force of such a blow would do brain damage, before you even GET to the stabbing.)

    Heroes healing the non-fatal with bursts of Light is fine. It’s what Guide Heroes DO. It’s almost a commonality they all seem to share. Shaving this close to the death-line is an ugly precedent IMHO. Good already has enough mechanical advantage over Evil. Requiring Evil to Decapitate At Minimum to be sure of a kill is a bit too far for me.

    That’s just my humble opinion. Won’t stop reading over it or anything.

    Like

    1. oldschoolvillain

      It was mentioned way back that villains live until they’re killed, while heroes have options for resurrection. And the Grey Pilgrim has already been hinted at having a direct line to his choir, high power white magic could absolutely undo a fatal blow so soon after it had been struck.

      Like

    2. TeK

      Heroes can literally go back from the dead, but Villains can go back AS dead. Dread Emperor Revenant as a shining example, Dead King is, probably the other, not to mention those angry undead Praesi High Lords who thought that death should not remove them from the line of succession. And Aqua and her baby-soul failsafe measure.

      I don’t understand what is impossible with resurrection if you got a universe where people can turn themselves into undead abominations AFTER decapitation, and then go on and STOP being undead abomination, returning to being alive. Did that went well withh you? Or is it fine, cause she’s a protagonist?

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Unmaker

    Cat knows for a fact that the Gray Pilgrim is the type to show up at the last minute and save any hero that he previously mentored. I hope that she is truly Black’s pupil and her killing the kid was to deliberately draw the Gray Pilgrim out for some planned nastiness.

    Like

  20. Phantom

    This chapter made me wonder how the heck does the villains in the past even managed to defeat the heroes or conquer the world when the heroes are so overpowered with abilities and skills in the first place.

    Like

  21. Not getting what I’m saying,
    I don’t have any beef with magical resurrection. It’s a staple of the fantasy genre. Particularly among the “forces of Light.” I started talking about a) That it bugs me that brain-healing via magic never seems to come with any consequences given you’re talking about the seat of consciousness being meddled with, and b) That there’s a difference between the healing of a life-threatening and/or mortal wound, and resurrection itself.

    In other words, if the GP resurrected him, fine. He’s a high-end mentor type Hero. That’s in his expected power range. What I was mainly saying is it’s a bit much for me if a dagger to the brain gets called “simple” wound-healing. Beyond that, I was only talking about how there never seems to be any complications with brain trauma in the fantasy genre in general, and that simply mending the biological damage isn’t the same thing as making that person the same as they were before said injury.

    Given we don’t even know what the GP did to mend the sword-and-boarder, it’s a moot point anyways. I kinda took the junior Hero gasping as he was fixed to mean he was resuscitated, which implies he was resurrected, but that’s a subjective interpretation.

    It was commentary about a sort of sequence of events often seen in the fantasy genre at large I was talking about. Not ranting about the Guide as some glaring offender of the principal anyways.

    Oh, and for those saying there isn’t bone behind the eye…what those of us talking about penetrating bone behind the eye mean is the channel of the socket behind the eye narrows considerably once you’re past the actual eyeball. For something to go through the eye and penetrate any distance, it would have to push through bone to either side of the penetrating object. Unless you’re talking about the narrowest of stilettos, most things people pierce the eye of a combatant with (including daggers, and DEFINITELY arrowheads) are wider than the channel of narrowing bone. It’s not a matter of an actual barrier behind the eyeball, it’s the bone to the rear-right/left of the eyeball that has to get a furrow scraped through it to do the deep penetration. Make sense?

    Like

  22. aran

    “Broaden,” he said.

    The war hammer tripled in size, and there was no avoiding all of that.

    … not denying that it was useful right then, but seriously? An entire *aspect* just for enlarging your weapon?

    Like

    1. JJR

      This is what he used it for at that moment, this does not mean the aspect is restricted to weapon enlargement. Another use might be to increase the size of defensive armaments. Using it regularly means you could get away with carrying a 1/3 sized shield and pump it up to full size only when needed. More offensive applications might be to target flaws or holes in enemies armor/defensive fortifications and rip them open.

      A more abstract one, suppose he needs to learn how to do a new thing fairly quickly. Maybe he could Broaden his Horizons.

      Like

    2. Apparently it was similar to bleach where the weapon weighed the same for the hero even though others would feel a heavier force. Defies physics a bit but whatevs its an aspect and maybe it can also be used for other things such as shield or for bladed weapons enlarging a small weapon wound while still inside a villain. Gin Ichimura(bleach) showed that it wasn’t the size of the weapon that mattered but the speed at which enlargement took place that made it dangerous.

      I don’t know if you were looking for an explanation but here’s one.

      Like

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