Chapter 16: Pirouette

“When the abyss stares back, wave. Offer refreshments. Being impolite to the abyss is never a good idea.”
-Dread Emperor Malevolent I, the Unhallowed

“Oh, come on,” I complained. “I know I don’t have a lot of room to argue about healing, but that knife was tickling the back of his skull. Even I wouldn’t walk that off so easily, and my body is basically lies and mirrors.”

There was some shuffling from the opposition, either because of the reminder I’d just killed one of their crew or because grievances at how fucking ridiculous their powers were weren’t what they’d been expecting. If they’d been waiting for despair, they were out of luck. Not that I was particularly pleased my work had been literally waved away by the Pilgrim, but that the heroes would be almost absurdly hard to put down wasn’t exactly a surprise. The Heavens had already thrown their second-raters at me and I’d chewed straight through them over winter. They were done fucking around.

“You could still surrender,” the Grey Pilgrim offered.

Instead I sighed and tapped the side of my helmet. The sliver of power was enough to activate the dormant rune.

“Spell formula stable,” Masego said. “No divine interference.”

“Confirmed resurrection,” I said. “Pilgrim’s come out to play.”

Thief had warned me that last-moment rescues were his specialty so it wasn’t coming out of the blue, though after actually landing that blow I’d expected the hero to actually stay down afterwards. At least the first part was going more or less according to plan. Smacking around the greenhorns some had forced one of the real monsters to intervene before I dug a little too deep and Winter took the helm. I almost felt like shivering at the idea of facing the Grey Pilgrim when in a state of mind where monologues felt like a good idea. Akua might have been right that playing it up for Creation added some hurt to the swings, but there was a reason I was wearing her as a cloak accessory instead of the other way around.

“Noted,” Hierophant replied. “First contingency beginning.”

“Skip straight to second,” I grunted. “I think we underestimated how much trouble the old man would be.”

Which was a Hells of a thing to say, considering we’d planned for him being in the same wheelhouse as Warlock. But if I was reading this right, swinging his miracle dick around wasn’t the Pilgrim’s game. He was more a metaphorical full hand on the scales than the kind of Named that tossed around burning mountains. And that’s only eight out of twelve accounted for, I thought. Saint and at least one mage are still waiting in the wings.

“Understood,” Hierophant said. “Sunrise Final is-”

Power flared, and his words cut out. I glanced at the Grey Pilgrim, whose staff was wreathed in light.

“Rude,” I said. “You could have let him finish. Regardless, I’m reconsidering my stance on single combat. Theoretically, if I agree, do I get to pick my opponent?”

I met the stare of the man I’d stabbed and winked on the same side my knife had gone through. He flinched.

“She is temporizing while her ally prepares his strike,” the Grey Pilgrim told the other heroes. “Prepare yourselves, children. After that blow is weathered is the moment to strike.”

Gods, but I hated fighting smart opponents. Banter would have kept William and his crew busy for a few minutes, at least. It didn’t matter, in the end, because I hadn’t spent the last year busying myself sorely with the affairs of rule. While they’d been assembling their armies and heroes, I’d been training the Woe. And the one amongst them I’d spent most time on was Masego, hammering in the basics of battle that he’d once ignored in favour of simply smashing everything in sight with sorcery. The first thing I’d taught him? A well-worn adage from Theodosius the Unconquered himself. Swiftness is the lifeblood of war. Before the heroes could further prepare, Hierophant struck. Dawn rose from a sun unknown to Creation, the terrible heart of Summer shining down on the cluster of heroes. Even from where I stood, the heat was overwhelming. Wind picked up even as the Named before me winked out of sight, swallowed by scorching light. The Princess of High Noon had been one of our most vicious enemies to deal with, but we had gained much from her defeat: even this pale imitation of her power made mockery of the kind of sorcery we usually called on.

Within the blaze, a star was born. Shining atop the Grey Pilgrim’s staff as he stood unruffled, his loose robes untouched by wind or heat.

“As there was first light, there will be last,” the old man said. “Under radiant star was the first of mankind born, and it will shine long after our time is past. Transient we, yet unbowed by the passing. I refuse your verdict, usher of mysteries.”

With a thunderous clap, the blaze was parted. A corridor opened, leading straight to me, and the heroes rushed down. I rolled my shoulder. Half the knockout punch was delivered, I was my responsibility to take care of the second half. The barefoot staff-wielder was first across, blindingly fast. Behind came the usual triumvirate: greatsword, war hammer, sword and board. Not the same as before, for the latter. Apparently coming that close to dying had shaken the man, because it was now another. The sorcery came down around me, too close to a ward for comfort. I grimaced. I’d have to suffer through, at least until the time to withdraw came. Stance wide, I raised my guard and waited for the first of the hunting hounds. She thrust high, towards my throat. Batted aside, but she was better with her weapon than I was with mine – a spin was all it took for her to be smashing down at my pauldron. I took it. The steel shattered like clay, but the impact wasn’t strong enough to screw with my own blow. It carved a wound across her cheek, narrowly missing the nose. I got in close to sucker punch her belly, but she parried the blow and I was forced to step back to avoid having my ribcage caved in. Light bloomed on her cheek, the healer’s work.

It healed nothing.

Masego had fought demons at Second Liesse. One of them had been a demon of Order, what Praesi called a Beast of Hierarchy. Their essence, as I understood it, was a perversion of laws. Hierophant had learned to mimic that, to a a very limited extent. Inside my killing grounds one law had been established: Light had no effect. The barefoot woman withdrew before I could exploit her surprise, damnably well-trained, and then I had to deal with the second wave. Greatsword – what was left of that weapon, anyway – went for the left side. Hammer for the right, the fresh sword and board keeping me boxed in. I almost smiled. They’d had a limited amount of training together and it was showing: that made it the second time they were trying that tactic on me. Last time I’d gone for one of the sides, and they weren’t idiots: they were expecting as much. Instead I barrelled forward. The hero’s shield bashed forward to keep me in place for the others to hit, but they’d learned the wrong lesson from the last time. It wasn’t that I couldn’t break their formation, just that I hadn’t chosen to. My armoured fist hit the shield and it dented, the man wielding it crying in pain as it broke his fingers behind it. It was a good opening to slice his throat, but the other two were at my back so there was no time. I ran into him, the two of us falling to the ground as weapons whistled behind me.

Instinct led me to throw myself to the side instead of wrestling on the ground. It saved my life. Summer’s dawn had not only been broken by the Pilgrim, it had been wielded: he shaped it into a beam and threw it at me. His aim was perfectly angled, enough that it didn’t touch sword and board when he stayed on the ground. Behind me, earth exploded in desiccated chunks. Time was running out: I couldn’t engage four heroes and the old man simultaneously, that’d just get me killed. I’d have to get aggressive then.

“They damaged the Light,” the barefoot woman said in heavily accented Lower Miezan. “Careful.”

It was the right move, telling her comrades healing mistakes was no longer an option. It was also the wrong one, because for a heartbeat they were surprised. I shot back towards the boy with the wrecked greatsword, ducking under a swing and catching the wrist. Hammer-wielder would have smacked me away, aiming for my hips, but a flex of the legs had me putting my feet on the boy’s chest while the hammer passed under me. For a heartbeat I was vulnerable, and that had the staff-wielder on my ass. Not quick enough, for once, I thought. My thighs tightened, and using the boy’s own chest as a counterweight I ripped his arm off. There was a spray of blood and an anguished scream as I fell into a roll, the staff smashing down where I’d been a heartbeat before. Left with a bleeding arm wielding the remains of a greatsword in my free hand, I threw it in the hammer-wielder’s face before he could aim another strike. He was horrified enough to take a hand off the hammer to push it aside, and that was a mistake. I landed the roll on my feet, angled my stance and smoothly rose. My blade thrust in an upwards diagonal into his throat. He opened his mouth, trying to gurgle out a word – aspect, probably – but I smacked the pommel and the sword went straight through his spine. It was an uglier death than a clean decapitation.

Enough,” the Grey Pilgrim said.

He pointed his staff at me and a star came to life. The beam hit a pane of force three heartbeats before it would have incinerated me, both of them exploding deafeningly. Gods bless Hierophant. Sword and board was getting back on his feet, greatsword boy still screaming about his missing arm – seriously, what a wimp, I lost limbs all the time and you didn’t hear me yelling about it – and staff-wielder was… back on me. Godsdamnit. I threw myself to the side, swiped at her feet and got treated to a kick in the face for it. While I was rocking back she flowed into a thrust at my throat. Ah, experience. She’d gone for that too often, I’d expected it this time. I caught the tip of the staff with my hand, feeling the steel give and the palm bones break, but I kept my grip on it while I slashed at her throat and she tried to withdraw for a parry. Blood spilled on the ground. Two down, though it was anybody’s guess for how long.

Sever.”

Masego’s miracle vanished. So did my sword, my hand up to the wrist and the armour over it. Fuck. I backpedalled hastily as the Saint entered the fray.

“Aspect already?” I said.

My hand formed again, though much slower than it should have. And it remained ice instead of looking like flesh. That was a problem.

“Your little mage’s trick was impressive,” the Saint of Swords said. “But time to wrap this up, if we want it over before sundown.”

The lack of sword was more a problem than the severed limb, ice or not. A flick of the wrist had a knife falling into my palm, but that was rather cold comfort against this particular monster.

“Fine,” I said. “I’ve been thinking on how to beat you anyway, Saint.”

The Grey Pilgrim, apparently uninterested in banter, sent another fucking star at me. Hierophant, bless his soul, split it in four and forced it to shoot in four different directions.

“Have you?” the old woman drawled. “This ought to be interesting.”

I could not help but notice none of the heroes I’d put down were getting the resurrection treatment. Was it just comprehensive healing at the last moment, then? Too little to go on to be sure.

“One swing,” I said. “If you can take that, I’m probably out of luck.”

The heroine laughed.

“Well,” she grinned. “Give it your best shot.”

Ice formed a sword blade out of my knife as I shifted my grip. Steadying my stance, I allowed the power of Winter to gather in me. Motes of blue emanated from my frame. To my surprise, the Saint actually bothered to get into a stance of her own. Huh, she was taking me seriously. That was kind of flattering.

“Welp,” I said, and run away.

I legged it as fast as I could, which was very considering my mantle. They really must have taken me for a complete idiot, if they’d thought I’d stick around to fight a crew of heroes and the two old beasts. I heard the air howl behind me as the heroine cussed me out in Chantant, leaping onto a platform of shade to get out of the way. I tapped the side of my helmet as I leapt back down, running as fast as I could towards the relative safety of the palisade.

“Masego,” I said. “I need you to-“

Dodge,” he screamed through the spell.

I threw myself to the side, and idly reflected that the smoking wound in the ground to my left could easily have been my corpse. Lovely.

“Mage lines on her,” I continued. “Artillery too. Gods, everything we can throw.”

The sharp tang of lightning filled the air as what must have been no less than thirty feet behind me exploded in a screaming storm. I did not look back.

“She just ran through that,” Hierophant said through the spell, sounding somewhat offended by the notion.

Engaging the heroes far away from the fortifications had seemed like a good idea at the time, but I was perhaps coming to realize it might have been a tactical mistake. The air howled again and I leapt onto an angled platform, immediately leaping onto another to remain above ground. Where there was now a hole. Shit. A handful of Pickler’s engines began firing, but I wasn’t holding my breath for scorpion bolts stopping that one. I heard the screaming wind of another strike coming my way and shaped a platform, but it was immediately hit by a beam of light. Fucking Pilgrim. I had to reach for Winter and slap down half a ton of ice behind me, not that it stopped the Saint for more than a heartbeat. I gave part of my attention to the little bundle in the back of my head that was Zombie, ordering her to take flight and guiding her towards me.

“I’m not hearing her anymore,” I said through the link.

“Put wards around her,” Masego replied stiffly. “Can’t talk, she’s cutting them as fast as-“

The spell cut out again. Fucking Pilgrim. My damnably short legs devoured the remaining yards as quickly as they could. Seriously, you’d think Winter would have the decency to give me another few inches when rebuilding my body from scratch. Fine. I’d cope. I should get there without – don’t you fucking dare blow it now, Foundling. Naturally, the Heavens rewarded my hubris by a neat little box of yellow opaque shields appearing around me. No rescue was incoming from my mage lines: the moment those had appeared, I’d felt sorcery bloom in the distance and shoot towards enemy lines. I was regretting the tactical decision of aiming my casters at the enemy’s, right about now. I opened the floodgates, let Winter course through my veins and smashed through the shield in front of me the exact samemoment the Saint of Swords scythed through the one at my back.

“Seriously, what does it take to put you down?” I called out.

More than you’ve got,” the old woman hissed.

I was on the move before I even began speaking, but not quite fast enough. I lost my left leg up to my knee before I could dodge, though by the time I came out of a roll it had formed again. Fuck, I was digging into Winter way more than I’d wanted to this early in the fight. We’d have to use our trick as soon as I got back, even if that made it less effective than it could be. I leapt up onto a platform, a beam of light hitting a pane of force that blew them both up again a heartbeat later. I decided then and there Masego was getting a raise. Which shouldn’t be hard, considering I wasn’t paying him. The Saint carved through the platform, and my other leg that still had armour on it, but I was already in motion and I landed on Zombie’s saddle. Awkwardly enough I almost fell, which would have been a very humiliating way to die, but my mount flew up and finally we made it out of the Saint’s range. For now, anyway. Already she was cutting the sky to run up that same cut.

“Masego,” I said, tapping the side of my helmet. “Get all our godsdamned mages to hit the target I’m marking.”

There was no reply, because the spell was cut – fucking Pilgrim – so I’d have to hope he heard me. Weaving glamour into a glaring red arrow pointing at the Saint even as she moved, I guided Zombie into a sharply angled descent towards the palisade. Darkness formed into an orb above the Saint, and a heartbeat later a smaller beam shot out of it to hit the location I was indicating. To my vocal disgust, she somehow parried the fucking darkness. Gods Below, what was it going to take? After scorpions reoriented to fire on her, the Saint finally withdrew. I knew better than to believe that would be for long. She’d be back with the first wave of crusaders, which shouldn’t be long. I’d been a little too busy fighting for my life to notice, but enemy archers had gotten close enough to the palisade to begin firing and the infantry wasn’t far behind them. Zombie landed at Masego’s side and I got off, slapping her rump as thanks for saving my own. She whinnied, which I definitely hadn’t told her to do, and smugly trotted away.

It was telling that, at this point in my life, even my undead horse was sassing me.

“Hey, Zeze,” I panted. “We having fun yet?”

“I’ve contained demons with the Ivory Globe,” he replied, panting as well. “Demons, Catherine. She just cut out a door and kicked it open.”

“Yeah, we’re not going to be fighting her head on any time soon,” I snorted. “Not unless we have a mountain range at hand to collapse, anyway.”

His glass eyes flicked down to my bare feet, the movement visible even through cloth.

“What happened to you boots?”

I gestured vaguely backwards.

“Oh, they’re somewhere back there,” I said. “Along with what used to be my legs.”

He snorted.

“One of those days, is it?” he said.

“Well, at least I don’t have to bluff an angel,” I mused. “So there’s that.”

We shared a smile.

“You ever see what happened to the heroes I killed?” I asked.

“They were not resurrected, last I saw,” Masego said. “I suspect what the Grey Pilgrim uses is merely a much more powerful version of priestly healing, not true resurrection. Which seems logical, as that is usually the province of purely healer Named.”

And the old man definitely wasn’t that. His little light show had carried quite the punch. I adjusted my cloak around my shoulders, which did little to hide the fact that I was barefoot in the middle of an active battlefield. The crusaders were bringing ladders to the fore, I saw. If there was ever a time it was now.

“Our turn,” I told Masego.

The blind mage smiled, and a whispered incantation had a water-filled bowl appearing in the palm of his hand. He’d not made it, of course. Materializing something even this small would likely kill him. It’d been brought out of a personal dimension, if I had to guess. Within the carved wooden bowl was dark water, the same that could be found within the pools of the Observatory.

“Let’s hope this works,” I said, glancing at the enemy army. “We’re in the shit otherwise.”

“The formula is-”he began.

I interrupted him by plunging my hand into the water. I went straight through, but did not reach the bottom of the bowl. My eyes fluttered closed as Masego whispered soothingly in the arcane tongue. Absolute positioning, he’d called this. I could feel my mind… expand. Beyond a perspective a mortal could bear, but I was hardly that anymore was I? One spike of painful clarity after another went through my forehead as I saw them whole. Calernia. Arcadia. The juxtaposition of them.

One end, Masego’s voice whispered into my ear.

I knew it well, that place. I’d fought there twice, once against the Duke of Violent Squalls and the second time against the Diabolist. The Fields of Wend. A depthless lake filled with moving glaciers, sprawling as far as my not-eyes could see.

And another, Masego reminded me.

I could see the battlefield before us, from above. The armoured multitudes advancing towards palisades, like toy soldiers on the ground. Devices of wood and metal firing bolts into men, the shining silhouettes advancing with the host. So many of them.

Align, Masego whispered.

And so I did. Gates, I called them, but that was the barest understanding of what they were. There were no words in any tongue I knew to express it, but instinct bridged the gap. In the sky above the army of crusaders, a circle a mile wide opened.

Through it poured a lake atop their heads.

183 thoughts on “Chapter 16: Pirouette

      1. Rook

        Don’t know about a nuke but they did drop a small sun on them. Pilgrim turned part of it into a laser cannon and the Saint cut the rest in half

        Although the thousands of soldiers who can’t parry darkness might have a bit of trouble with the whole not breathing thing when they’re underwater

        Liked by 3 people

        1. MagnaMalusLupus

          Actually, he turned it into a bream, a sort of fish. He would have better off with a sunfish I feel.

          (I know it’s a typo, I don’t care, it’s hilarious)

          Like

        2. Dainpdf

          Well, I mean, the water will probably not form a lake there, but flow to the sides and soak into the ground. Before it does, though, the lot of them will probably inhale some, get battered by the sheer volume, and get themselves (and their gear) soaked in icy water. That and the soil is going to turn into frosty mud.
          None of that is conductive to combat.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Shequi

      I think this might be a bit more than just pouring water on them. Send was the heart of Winter. She might as well have just poured liquid nitrogen over the Proceran army.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. grzecho2222

        Cold water is deadly enough. Catching cold was bad news in dark ages with lack of proper medicine and that they are also hungry and most likely most of their firewood is wet, so they cant warm up with fire.

        Like

        1. jonnnney

          They’ve got 10 or so heroes along with several hundred priests and mages, healing the survivors won’t be too much of a problem though it will keep said individuals busy enough that Cat could pull something else off.

          Even ignoring the cold a single mass of water falling several hundred feet will hit with just as much force as an equal number of rocks. Rain drops aren’t that fast because wind resistance constantly slows them, but a lake of water isn’t going to be affected much by the air and will just have gravity pulling it down.

          I am curious where exactly the water is going to go after it kills the people. Depending on how long the gate remains open this could lead to an extension of the Silver Lake(The body of water that separates Daoine from the rest of Callow) and consequently stop the crusader army in it’s tracks even if they keep the will to fight. Plus Catherine will be able to add the, “Fundamentally alter the landscape of the continent”, feather to her cap which should lead to much more respect from the old school villains.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. grzecho2222

            Yes, but Cat’s plan seems to be “Make them so miserable withaout killing them all that they will lose” and now to them feeling beaten, hungry and irritated she added wet, cold, tired and made their Heroes seem like people who can’t pernamently stop her

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Dainpdf

            The water will soak their clothing (which probably includes gambesons or equivalent) and they might get hypothermia. They will also be heavy, perhaps have inhaled some of it… And the ground will turn muddy, which is not very good for charging palisades.

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            1. “The water will soak their clothing”

              There will also be a significant amount of damage done by that much water falling on them, presuming that the priests don’t get energy shields up in time.

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          3. stevenneiman

            https://what-if.xkcd.com/12/

            Pretty similar question was posted here, and the results Randall Munroe got certainly wouldn’t be survivable to anything like a normal human anywhere near the place it landed. He didn’t even get into the presence of the water itself much compared to the impact.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Dainpdf

              I had seen that one. It’s a drop from over 2km up, and a drop 1km in diameter falls.
              I doubt Cat’s portal is that wide, and I am pretty sure it is not that high up. That should reduce the blast by quite a bit.
              …still, you’re probably right. If no one does anything to stop this people will be thrown around like rag dolls.

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    1. Rook

      All is fair in love and war against a psycho bitch that cuts the SKY to run up the cut

      I don’t even know how that works. At least a lake-gate makes some sort of sense

      Liked by 5 people

    2. Termite

      I’m prety sure it is more finding loopholes in the terms, buuuut yes ,its blatant cheating(the best kind of cheating ).

      Like

    1. Letouriste

      Pretty sure there is some iceberg in it too:) not sure if she drop them too though, she could have an use for that later

      Like

    2. Someguy

      I think it’s a Winter version of Warlock’s claim to fame. Daddy dropped a mountain from Hell so Hirophant drops glaciers from Arcadia.

      Like

    1. Dainpdf

      I think she hopes to keep the portal open for less than forty days and forty nights, though…
      Now, there will be some Saints martyred before this is over, mind you…

      Like

  1. soonnanandnaanssoon

    “A good friend once forbade me from drowning my sorrows, but he didn’t say anything about drowning my enemies”
    – Queen of Callow, Catherine Foundling.

    Liked by 41 people

    1. stevenneiman

      The complaint wasn’t so much absurd power as the fact that the heroes never seem like they really had to earn anything. Cat lost her humanity and a lot of good friends to get the ability to earn this power through hard work, while Heroes get enough ridiculous powers to pose a real threat practically out of the gate, they have the tendency to have empty Aspect slots specifically designed to be filled at the right moment to screw with her, the Choirs keep on trying to butt in whenever it looks like she’s winning, and no matter what the she does the heroes just keep coming to die long after she’s lost the stomach for killing.

      Like

  2. Rook

    She just ripped a dude’s arm off with her bare hands, threw it at someone else as a weapon, and called him a wimp for being upset at the lost arm

    Jesus Christ, Cat. I know you’re a Villain but. Dude.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Letouriste

      Well, he IS a wimp. A frontline fighter being so affected by the loss of his arm than he can’t do anything but scream is a failure.
      If you don’t have the guts than why charge in a melee with cutting things everywhere:/
      This is the kind of place where only total batshit crazy people goes.

      Even modern soldiers can react better to a situation like that and they rarely fight close range

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      1. Author Unknown

        The guy who took a dagger to the eye is a bigger wimp. Running away just because you died? Pfft. It wasn’t even a sword ffs, and you’re fine now. But you still leave in the middle of a damn battle with the villain you supposedly invaded a sovereign nation to defeat. Yeah… You might want to consider another career ya pansy.

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      2. Even modern soldiers can react better to a situation like that and they rarely fight close range

        What in gods name are you talking about? If a soldier gets his arm blown off even with the assumption that he wouldn’t immediately be taken out by shock and quickly die of blood loss, he’s not going to be in good enough condition to get back up and keep fighting.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. PhDEevee

      Remember that Cat’s first fight with a Hero ended with her half-dead and using necromancy to puppet her body around. She systematically sacrifices parts of herself to win (this has been brought up before).

      It’s part of a broader pattern in Cat’s behaviour that she seems to have picked up – that people in positions of power shouldn’t be happy. She breaks up with Kilian not because of an irreconcilable moral difference (though that’s definitely part of it) but because she views it as a distraction from her goals. She’s extremely critical of the luxuries of Praes, because she views it as a symptom of hedonism. The luxuries she does indulge in are either normalised (alcohol) or necessary (wakeleaf for the pain).

      Her father figure is a man who viewed himself as a cog in a machine and who had been hardened by the death of his own parents.

      So while it’s a bit lacking in empathy, and I suspect dipping into Winter has an effect on her viewpoint, I absolutely believe that Cat could call a guy whose arm she has just torn off a wimp, because she holds Named to a higher standard than that.

      Liked by 11 people

    3. stevenneiman

      In her defense, she hasn’t been that melodramatic about any of the mauling’s she’s received. Also, she’s used to heroes being infuriatingly hard to bring down and knows that feeling smug is an excuse for the heavens to turn it around on her. Acting annoyed at him being so whiny about a torn-off limb is honestly the only safe way for Cat to acknowledge the information.

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  3. Seung

    I don’t understand. Why not have the Saint fight Catherine from the start? Why even put the other weaker heroes in danger? They should have learned from the first fight at the camp.

    There was no strategic reason to risk the weaker heroes and now they gave away the Pilgrim’s healing trick and lost 2. Saint also had to use an Aspect to save the outmatched heroes. I’m trying to think what our protagonists would do if Saint + Pilgrim keep the Named controlled, and then the rest of the 10-12 heroes beat up the armies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Letouriste

      They probably thought ( with reason) she would not fight them at all if they were in the frontline instead. Also, they expected her to use more winter power and get sloppy. They created a trap where they thought they would have a decent shot to kill her here and now and that backfired a little. These two/3/4 heroes hurt/killed were not really important anyway

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    2. Sniggs

      From what I’ve gathered most Named are kinda analogous to WWII tanks when it comes to fighting in pitched battles. They’re great at breaking open enemy lines and do lots of damage, but are vulnerable to getting bogged down/surrounded and tend to run out of steam after engaging for a relatively short amount of time. They require support and have to be wary of falling into traps/getting encircled. I think this is why Pilgrim and Saint don’t just run ahead and do everything themselves, because getting hit with a barrage of spells, pin cushioned with repeating ballistae, and/or smashed with a metric ton of catapult-launched goblinfire would force them to waste aspects just staying alive.

      The weaker heroes were sent out in a group as an obvious threat that Cat would be forced to answer, otherwise they may have just used aspect nonsense to cover each other on the approach and take ground/smash Cat’s fortifications. Saint and Pilgrim were kept in reserve to counter whatever Named Cat ended up sending against the garbage-tier heroes. The Good guys know that they’ve got the numbers advantage, so probably would have been happy to trade a few of their meat shields for a single Woe kill. That’s the kind of cold strategic reasoning I could see Saint going for in a heartbeat.

      And I’m guessing Pilgrim was forced to give away his rez trick because it’s part of his story: him being able to save scrubs from certain death may be inextricably tied to him having to swoop in at the last second, at least to some degree. Recall that powerful Named are (traditionally) only powerful when they’re acting in sync with the programming the Gods saddle them with.

      As to why Saint didn’t fight Cat from the start, I’ll just echo what a few other posters have mentioned: as soon as Cat saw Saint pop up in one place she could simply track her location and engage elsewhere, ensuring any place Cat fights is a likely victory. To put it in Fate terms, Saint seems to be anti-unit oriented while Cat is heavily specced towards anti-army.

      Bottom line, Cat’s backed by a superior army and has superior mundane tech she can leverage, which hugely limits where and how the heroes can engage.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. Dainpdf

        I would add that Cat does not necessarily have the superior army; she has mentioned that she could trade one for three and still come out the loser, plus those first maneuvers saw her heavily outplayed. The power of numbers + priestly cheating.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Club

      Pilgrim didn’t go ahead because that’s not what he does. He rescues weaker heroes, then saves the day. If he’d gone in from the start, he probably wouldn’t have been as powerful. He’s designed to be a second-wave fighter, basic limitation of his power-set.

      Saint probably didn’t go in first because she’s the trump card, after Pilgrim stops things from falling apart.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Letouriste

    Water super cold and some ice on an army head is really smart:o you can’t dispel or cut this and this could be more potent than hell-flame meteors because there is nothing unholy about that these priests can fight

    Like

    1. soonnanandnaanssoon

      Considering the water temperature, mass hypothermia might be likely too. Which would either require the healers to focus on mass healing the army and reduce their force panel support as well as potentially occupy the Pilgrim, or lose the battlefield. The Procerans don’t have much ranged attacks, and tens of thousands of Proceran infantry shivering and crawling through a swampy, muddy battlefield are sitting ducks for Pickler’s ballistas & arrows.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Rook

        The water will probably kill most of the soldiers instantly by shattering all the bones in their body

        1 cubic meter of water weighs a ton

        For reference that means that a cube of water roughly 3.4 feet long on each side weighs about as much as four extremely fat men

        Now imagine if thousands of extremely fat men got dropped directly into your head from hundreds of meters in the sky. That’s basically what just happened to the proceran army

        Liked by 14 people

        1. Harrison

          So, out of curiosity I did the math assuming a perfect cylinder of water, which might be a little much but acceptable for the sake of argument.

          If the water is 2 meters deep, it would weigh 4 million tonnes.

          If the water is 10 meters deep, it would weigh 20 million tonnes.

          If the water is 50 meters deep, it would weigh 102 million tonnes.

          I think it’s safe to very few are going to walk away from this whole.

          Like

        2. Yotz

          I hereby dub this tactic “Blob From the God”.

          As opposed to more conventional “Rod From the God”, and “Leak From the God” utilized by our dear Cat at the end of this chapter to yet unknown effect, of course.

          Like

      2. Stephen M (Ethesis).

        The downdraft from a cold lake a mile wide is going to be incredible.

        Even if they only get ten seconds of water before the gate is blocked (and I’m assuming it is very high up to give them some distance protection from counterspells) take ten seconds of water falling a mile.

        It will hit at terminal velocity and the down draft will be incredible.

        The downstream flow will be powerful as well.

        The valley is going to have a flood moving down it.

        2188454490 or more than 50 thousand acre feet of water if the gate stays open three seconds.

        That is a flood a mile wide and a walk of water 100 or more feet high.

        How wide was that Valley again?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. /r/theydidthemath

          “Teton Dam, a 305-foot high earthfill dam across the Teton River in Madison County, southeast Idaho, failed completely and released the contents of its reservoir at 11:57 AM on June 5, 1976. Failure was initiated by a large leak near the right (northwest) abutment of the dam, about 130 feet below the crest.”

          “At the time of failure, the reservoir was almost full and contained 251,000 acre-feet of water. After the breach the main part of the reservoir emptied in about 5 hours.”

          So, about 50,000 acre-feet of water? That’s a respectable flood, but likely not going to destroy too much of the valley or the nearby farmland, which is probably what she was going for.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Jason Ipswitch

    I’m starting to think that we’re going to see The Saint’s downfall fairly soon. It’s getting pretty obvious that her mind is like the rest of her: sharp, straight, and narrow. The way to kill her is going to be a mix of the Warlock and Black’s approaches. Stick her in a situation she *must* resolve, but make cutting through it the wrong and damaging move. She’ll destroy herself pretty quickly.

    Whatever the trap is exactly, it will probably be something Pilgrim could get out of easily. So the key is to keep him busy elsewhere with something more vital than babysitting the Saint. And once the Saint is down, Pilgrim will likely withdraw from active combat in order to protect the remnants of the soon-to-be obliterated army.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Adra

      On the other hand though, we have it on good authority that the Saint is about as nasty as heroes get and deeply experienced- being compared to Ranger should be telling. It would be entirely in character for her to have either as an inherent property of her name or even an entire aspect, the ability to, when forced into a situation where cutting through it is the only and losing move, to *cut through it and win anyways*. That sort of immutable, “But you can’t do that!” seems to be in line with her domain-of-herself, soul-of-a-sword, cut-through-the-concept-of-winter aesthetic.

      To summarize: Saint of Swords is a shounen anime protagonist you heard it here first.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Cap'n Smurfy

        Finally someone says it. Saint is like a particularly stupid shounen hero who pulls off whatever they want as long as it sounds vaguely logical.
        “My enemy’s flying? I’ll just cut a path into the sky!”
        “The Ivory Globe can’t be cut? I’ll slice through it anyway!”
        “My Sword™ is the Sword™ that will cut through the Hells!”

        Liked by 4 people

  6. TheCount

    Thanks for the chapter!

    Gods bless Hierophant. – Im VERY curious how that would go haha 😀

    Its quite nice to submerge in the cool water at the middle of summer no? too bad they come to invade lol

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think the lesson Masego learned from his father is that it’s much harder for your opponents to narrative themselves out of thousands of tons of unyielding physics than it is for them to narrative a one-on-one fight in their favor.

    Liked by 7 people

  8. Lark

    Disregarding the obvious parallels to Warlock, there’s also a delightful symmetry with Thief’s boat trick. Next up, the riverbed?

    Like

  9. Talmora

    I’m half expecting a reposite or some type of gain for Cat’s army. They have been forced on the backfoot hero wise heavily. I am doubting the lake will actually do too much, as it was never said how many other mage heroes there were int he opposing army.

    This is also the second time where Cat and the Saint fought. Usually 3rd times the charm. For what, I have no idea, but I am starting to see Grey Pilgrim as the main opponent this book where Saint is more of a side character that needs to be put down to show that Cat still has something of a fighting chance.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nubs

      Definitely feels like it. Cat lost Brady the first round, and the second round definitely seemed like a tie to me. Third round Cat wins?

      Like

  10. Nguyen Hong Hai

    Man fighting Saint is like a Tom and Jerry skit here, Cat gets some cheap shots in than running like hell with Saint on her tail and mayhem all around.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Mr. Nobody

    Catherine: “I won’t let you guys invade my country dirty like that, so come here and have a little shower. Oh, and forgive me if the water is a little too cold; the heater is broken and we’re saving money at the moment.”

    Malanza: “But… We can’t pay for it…”

    Catherine: “Don’t worry! My employer(Thief) already collected the payment(supplies) in advance!”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. ParadoxicalThought

    Third major piece of evidence that the absence demon is loose. Heirophant Absolutely can conjure matter. Cat’s in trouble.

    Like

      1. soonnanandnaanssoon

        Back after Masego transitioned into Hierophant, the sorcery he used to bind Sulia consisted of conjuring a material similar to wood. Cat has seen it firsthand, and noted that Masego was then capable of conjuring matter. By implying that conjuring matter would kill him in this chapter, it’s hinted that part of her memory is gone or well, Absent. In the last chapter, she pointed out that Masego had conjured a scrying spell out of thin air and how it was a new trick; he displayed the exact same thing and she pointed out the exact same fact in Book 3.

        In the first few chapters of the Book, it was stated there were 14 heroes but when Thief came back after Cat’s attack on the camp (vs Saint of Swords + Knives + Mage + Priest), Thief noted only 12 heroes, which both assumed to have been the original number all along.

        The demon of Absence was hinted wayyyyy back in Book 2. In that chapter, it was stated that the Yan Tei disappeared for a few centuries after a demon of Absence was inflicted upon them. In the sense that no one remembered the Yan Tei during that period and centuries after. There’s also the Crusades; if one examines the mentioning of the Crusades in the past, Cat refers to the 8th Crusade and then the 10th Crusade, with no mention of the 9th. In fact, no one actually mentions the 9th like its a normal thing. Hence, it is also highly implied that the 9th Crusade has been made absent by the demon.

        Last but not least( from what I know), if we look at the updated map in the comment section or in the reddit and compare it to the previous map, we see that Liesse has been whited out because of the Fall of Liesse. Harrow (or Holden), which was where the demon was situated, has magically disappeared from the map.

        These are a few pieces and clues that the demon of Absence is on the loose.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Cap'n Smurfy

          Catherine forgetting Kasaego can conjure materials is particularly worrying considering it was one of the first things he did after becoming the Hirophant. It’s a key part of his name, not some minor detail.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. ______

          I think you’re missing something with that argument:

          1) Arcadia was noted to have a thinner border between a principle and an object. I think those columns are of similar nature with the Whistle of Woah, in the sense that they are more of a representation of power that went into creating the ward.

          2) There are differences in the descriptions of the spell used in Dormer and here: the first one could have been passed off as an effect of a trinket more convenient for the user (like how her turned the water in the greater scrying bowl into steam to mare a screen mid-air), while by the time of the second Catherine is inhuman enough to pick up on the precise specifics of what he did (placing a scrying spell on an entirely immaterial basis).

          3) The headaches were noted to have come and gone, implying that the battle with the demon is over.

          4) The “updated map” in the comments is fan-made. Harrow was magically shopped out because the editor of the map missed the mention of Harrow in chapter 23 (https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2018/05/14/chapter-13-eleve/).

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Yotz

            Regarding number 3 – headaches may be a symptom of reality adaptation after the initial demonic shift. Now, after pilot wave of demonic influence had waned, constant low-level reality alteration can be considered as background noise – you really need to consciously search for one to have a chance to find it, otherwise everything would seem normal.

            But, if la fée verte is on the loose, that can open the path to possible Enemy Mine resolution.
            Or, as a bit of loosely thematic WMG – a path to a method to hide from inevitable Red Letter consequences.

            Like

    1. Quite Possibly A Cat

      There is a difference between conjuring matter from someplace else, what Heirophant did here and presumably elsewhere and materializing it by way of raw power

      Like

  13. Ifalik

    Can places hold the pattern of 3? Cause she won, lost and now should draw the 3rd fight on that lake, even if it is outside of arcadia.

    Like

  14. Sniggs

    I’m loving how Hierophant is reverse-engineering the hell out of everything he sees. He’s done it with demon stuff, miracle/priest stuff, faerie stuff, the list goes on. I hope this is foreshadowing how he’s slowly feeling out the edges of the Creation box the Gods stuffed everyone into, in anticipation of subverting the OS entirely.

    He lectured about creational laws vs. natural laws (IIRC?) not too long ago, but seems to be figuring out that those are just a bunch of arbitrary limits enforced upon the mages stuck in the petri dish by more powerful mages (“Gods”). They’re only “laws” insofar as he hasn’t yet found a way to bypass them like the Gods do all the time.

    Also, repurposing the Arcadia portal system into a weapon was brilliant. In any other situation dropping a lake’s worth of water on an army would completely ruin their ability to function, but I’m leery of the possibly that using Arcadia-sourced water will open up the possibility of some sort of heroic/magical defense. Wasn’t it established earlier that Arcadiastuff has inherent properties that disallow it to interact with Creation in the same way normal matter would?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Haihappen

      If Creation is some sort of simulation run by the Gods, then Miracles are some sort of injected code by the Gods Above (people in the research department upstairs), which implies there are places you can inject code into. And Masego, the Gods curse his soul, is not a mage at all, he is a Hacker! And he is using all those “hidden features” and “undocumented behavior” back against them. All glory to the Gods Below (IT guys in the basement running the server farms, hence the heat)

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Oshi

      Archer is with Robber and his merry band of murderers. I belive they were sent to insure the leadership dies in the right order at the right time.

      Like

      1. grzecho2222

        Not all Heroes are on the battlefield, at least three weren’t spotted, so they probably defend them from Blogger and Bowwoman

        Like

  15. Highwayman

    Cat essentially just did the equivalent of tattling to the discipline mistress after running away from a brawl in the schoolyard.

    Such pettiness…

    I love it.

    Like

  16. Rufffcolic

    Well Cat is now officially too op. Though one wonders if there are lakes of lavas or active volcanos in Summer court ^^

    Like

  17. RanVor

    Two words: FUCKING PILGRIM.

    Besides, I know everyone focuses on Cat and Masego dropping an entire lake on the crusaders, but the Saint effortlessly cutting through a magic prison strong enough to keep demons inside was pretty kickass too.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Two heroes down and the Army of Procer is about to receive a lake filled with ice on their head….this part of the Crusade is definitely not going to accomplish its objective anytime soon.

    In the best scenario for the Heavens, hundreds are going to be killed by this, whatever supplies they have left are going to be completely destroyed and the army is going to be easy meat against the Callowans. The heroes should be all able to survive though.

    In the worst scenario…thousands of dead. Receiving such a quantity of cold water over one’s head when in heavy armour is ill-advised. All the horse Procer brought to the battlefield is likely to die. The Priests are going to be slaughtered because in garb and robes, against something which is more than a force of nature than a true attack, they will have little protection to give. Plus they already gave a lot of energy in the first instants of the battle.

    Seriously, the Saint and the Pilgrim are freaking monsters. Even Warlock is not able to receive the punishment of an entire army during long seconds. It shows fairly well at least how Heavens are cheating all the way and more to achieve their victories. Apart from the Dead King, no villain has ever been granted this sort of power.

    At least Cat can feel vindicated. The point these ancient heroes never came to Callow’s help for more than twenty years is indeed beyond the pale. The Calamities, for all their powers, have less skill and powers than the Light-sided warriors. They could have inspired hope…but with Procer in civil war, they were quite content waiting and letting the second-rate heroes be massacred.

    In the end, this battlefield is the Graveyard of Princes…and it comes in the form of thousands of tons of water.

    Like

    1. magesbe

      Actually, the best case scenario (for the heroes) is that the priests put up a barrier that just deflects the water to the sides where they have (comparatively) little effect. I’m kind of worried that will happen, actually.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Quite Possibly A Cat

      “Two heroes down and the Army of Procer is about to receive a lake filled with ice on their head….this part of the Crusade is definitely not going to accomplish its objective anytime soon.”

      But the objective of this part of the crusade is to weaken Cat and eliminate foes of the First Prince.
      “In the best scenario for the Heavens,”
      Hero/Story bullshit deflects the waters onto Cat’s army.

      Like

  19. Raved Thrad

    I just love how Catherine disarms greatsword (or is that greatstump?) boy. It’s too bad she wasn’t able to follow up with a datarm and then beat him to death with both of them.

    I enjoyed all the puns I noticed in this chapter: aside from the disarm, there’s the fact that Catherine keeps stressing how short-changed she feels about being diminutive, and just how cutting the exchanges, both verbal and physical, are between her and the Saint. And at the end, Catherine decides to use an entire lake to bog down the enemy army. I could be fishing at how the typo about how the Pilgrim sent a bream at her counts as a pun, but that might water down the entire thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. ______

    Erraticerrata, does this chapter’s matching of Calernia with Arcadia count as a confirmation that they are either matched, or there’s separate parts of Arcadia for other continents with different Fate patterns? It’s just that it seemed to me that Arcadia, as it’s shown to us, is too deeply tied into Calernian pattern, and it’s a little bit underwhelming for stuff like Black’s desire to break the game and Cat’s need to match Diabolist’s power level to affect seemingly global phenomena like King of Winter’s plans or the merging of the Courts.

    Like

  21. Panic

    Giant hole in the sky.

    Immediate impact?
    -Thousands of dead due to the falling water crushing anyone it catches.
    -Most likely the entire army falling over due to the water sweeping them over.

    Secondary effects?
    -The ground already marched over by 50 000 boots and horses will turn into the sluggiest mush of mud known to man. Making it all but impossible to get through in any decent time.
    -All other ground will be affected should they walk on it in any greater numbers.
    -Soldiers are now wet. Soon they will be cold as well and that will sap their ability to fight along with wet clothing weighting them down.

    In conclussion. They need to pull a god damned miracle to save their army or they will be butchered at this Point. Hmmmmmm. I wonder which kind of individual or individuals would be capable ot pulling a miracle in a time of great need as the great villian has just pulled her trumpcard that will doom them all if not stopped?

    Panic

    Like

  22. A solid chapter, but it felt to me that the last section interferes with the pacing or momentum? As in it might have been better to do the reveal in the next chapter, though I’m not sure that would work perfectly either.

    Like

          1. Mr. Nobody

            When did she show *Steal*?
            I don’t remember it ever mentioning her third Aspect, could you tell me what part or which chapter it’s mentioned?

            Like

            1. Shoddi

              A hand lightly touched the globe, Thief’s scorched face grim as she leaning against Adjutant. “Steal,” she coldly said, and the shield disappeared.

              Book 3, Chapter 44: Drop

              Like

  23. Forrest

    Okay, I cannot wait for Saint to die, or at least be taken out of the fight. Yes, the heavens cheat, but this is just ridiculous.

    Like

    1. Raved Thrad

      Saint is a pest, but I want to see the priests die more. Not only did they try to kill Cat, but they killed over three thousand of her men, indirectly. I want to see the crucifixions that arise from that.

      Like

      1. Panic

        Does the Heavens even care if they follow the letter of their rules as opposed to the spirit of it when fighting the Woe? I mean it’s not like the angels have high morals to begin with.

        Like

        1. Yotz

          Having morals implies a freedom of choice. The Hashmallim are perfect slaves, they have no freedom of choice, never had it, and will violently reject any attempt to give them freedom. What mortals see as moral, is a limited set of instructions implemented by the Creator of the Choir on choir-to-choir basis. Angels can’t deviate from it. They can not commit a sinful or amoral act by definition, for they can not comprehend neither possibility, nor need of doing so. Every their action, therefore, is absolutely moral and good. And from Above’s point of view – if you have problems with discerning/accepting that, the Above have problem with you, dirty sinner.

          Teal deer: welcome to wonderful world of abrahamic worldview, enjoy your new bed. Was made by one Procrustes – a miracle of rare device, really…

          Like

          1. They cannot, or it is not in their nature to choose to do so much as it wasn’t in Martin Luther King’s nature to choose to grab a machine gun and start mowing people down?

            Without being able to talk to more angels, we can’t really say. But I think we can give them the benefit of the doubt at this time.

            Like

            1. Yotz

              But they can not. The only one who was able to do so was the greatest of them all, an equal to his Father in all aspects bar one – he was emphatically _not_ the Father of his. And you know how it ended. Lesser beings like your average Messengers are _very_ limited things, to point of not being sapient at all.

              As for greater players – like Choir kapellmeisters, if such exist – here I’ll consider your point, although will not agree to it. They can be infinitely more complex automatons than your rank-and-file Hashmallim, to the point where one can mistake their actions for a product of free will. It is not, but from our point of view one would be virtually indistinguishable from another, therefore nullifying any reason for the discussion that particular aspect. If you don’t strive for something scholastic, of course – but that point would be equally moot.

              Like

      1. Shequi

        She offered him the Chance to put his name into the Story, and thereby cease being an NPC, and he deliberately spurned that opportunity. He was too stupid to live. Narrative Causality demanded that he die.

        Like

  24. MaximilianShade

    Great stuff! It succeeds at continuing to make the Pilgrim and Saint seem like old monsters of the heroes, and it also succeeds at being a grand enough gesture on our part with the Lake to feel like lots of preparation were made. Please continue writing!

    Like

    1. grzecho2222

      Angels: Rejoice mortals for we have cammmmphhhh….”Get pushed back into cloud with stick”
      Pilgrim: Shhh, you are ruining everything.”Spots Cat and starts whistling badly”

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Ultimate_Procrastinator

    “Ice formed a sword blade out of my knife as I shifted my grip. Steadying my stance, I allowed the power of Winter to gather in me. Motes of blue emanated from my frame. To my surprise, the Saint actually bothered to get into a stance of her own. Huh, she was taking me seriously. That was kind of flattering.

    “Welp,” I said, and run away.”

    I see Cat is a fan of Joseph Joestar’s Final Plan 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  26. superkeaton

    Classic wizard trick, portal at the bottom of the ocean, position output at enemies.

    Pilgrim is a much more active fighter than I expected. Deckard Cain never shot lasers…

    Like

  27. Shoddi

    “Even I wouldn’t walk that off so easily, and my body is basically lies and mirrors.”

    Don’t you mean “Lies and Violence”?

    Also, no fair!! Saint said you’d lose your hand for comparing her to Ranger. Losing both legs wasn’t part of the deal. Booooo, Saint.

    Like

  28. By the by, water’s density is about a third that of rock. And at high speed water basically treats impacts as if it’s a solid. So whatever volume of water Cat just dropped out of the sky? Imagine she dropped a third that much rock.

    *Now* imagine what’s going to happen to the Proceran soldiers beneath that portal.

    Liked by 1 person

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