Interlude: Kaleidoscope

“Spoken like a man I’ll have raised from the dead just to execute a second time.”
– Dread Emperor Malignant III

They’d meant to make a lake, but that was not what Juniper was looking down at. After the flow was cut the currents had slowed to a crawl, then settled, and what had once been a plain was now cold marshlands. Dotted by a handful of glaciers, for now, but eventually those would melt. Not in time for the battle to be affected, the Marshal of Callow decided. The massive chunks of ice could be relied on to block field of sight, but they should not be taken as a more than temporary cover. Not with the calibre of Named on the other side. With the sun beginning to set down, the marsh was empty save for shallow waters and corpses or not. Earlier in the day she’d sent the Watch to harass crusaders trying to fish out survivors, but she’d had to call them back when the heroes took the field again. Juniper licked her fangs behind closed lips, the ridge inside her mouth allowing easy access to clean. She’d been told by Aisha that the way it made the mouths of orcs look to human – too broad, too prominent, almost animal-like – was one of the reasons so many of them assumed her people were thoughtless brutes. It was, her old friend had said, an unconscious judgement. The Hellhound did not mind. There’d been many judgements made today, some more harmful than mere human stupidity.

She still remembered the moment she saw the gate open in the sky. The primal awe the sight had shaken her with, that reminder that she was a very small creature in a very large world. That there were entities striding amongst mortals that could flatten them with but a word or a gesture. It’d been difficult to gauge how many Procerans died the moment the water hit them. At least two thousand, she suspected. The gate had not been so high up in the air that gravity would turn it into some divine blow, but the sheer weight of the mass of liquid made that largely irrelevant. A hammer flattened an ant even if you were barely swinging it. All that power, wielded by a shifty sorcerer and barefoot woman who’d murdered a demigod. That’d always been Catherine’s walk, hadn’t it? The fine line between absurd and terrifying. A single moment and the entire lay of the battle had changed. Proceran advance had immediately collapsed, thousands fleeing the sweeping tidal wave pointlessly. The died anyway, drowning in armour. Another few thousand were still lying at the bottom of the marsh.

The crusaders had been struck with horror, but there were people on the other side who’d mastered their panic. Within two heartbeats, mage fire and white-hot heavenly flame had erupted in the centre of the cascading waters. Tons of liquid turned to scalding vapour, but the edges had kept pouring down. Slowed but not stopped. When the first glacier went through, it was split in two by the fires and further broken apart by what Juniper was fairly certain had been the Saint of Swords merely swinging her blade. It’d limited the damage caused by the massive ice structures, but then they’d been swept by the current too and began crushing everything in their way. Another two heartbeats and fences of light formed themselves across the portal to keep the water in, as the heavenly flames winked out. It hadn’t been enough. They lasted barely a heartbeat before shattering under the weight. From beginning to end, the entire affair lasted for eleven heartbeats.

Then the Grey Pilgrim struck.

It had defied easy description, and not only because anyone looking directly at it went blind in the aftermath. There’d been… a star, perhaps that was the only way to put it. Only instead of a distant radiant light it had been a knife. It carved through an edge of the portal, and the whole thing shuddered. Then it went straight through the other side and the sky blew up. A ring of power spread for miles, boiling hot rain falling across the battlefield for the better part of an hour afterwards. The fairy gate was broken, though now there was a strange circle-shaped glimmer above both armies. Juniper had not been pleased, at the time, but neither had she been furious. The gate had not been meant to be kept open for much longer anyway. Her mistake, she now realized, had been thinking in terms of mortal war. Her Warlord’s spell had taken the day away from that mould, and price had to be paid for such great power. Especially when that power was broken by a foe. There is a reason the Carrion Lord does not unleash the Warlock at the beginning of every battle, she thought. And now we learn it the hard way. The exercise of a villain’s power always left them vulnerable, and the backlash for this unmaking had been particularly brutal.

Catherine was not dead, they were fairly certain. Juniper had mages drag her out of sight and examine her the moment after she collapsed. But she was unconscious and… dreaming. The orc had been told that the queen’s body was now made of the stuff of the fae, but she had not truly grasped what that meant until she watched Catherine Foundling’s body shift around like a puzzle box. Square blocs of flesh erupted her chest, short spikes bent bone and muscle in every direction and Juniper had grown nauseous watching her commander’s face melt down to the skull and reform with an eerie keening sound. She still felt ill thinking about it. Orcs were flesh and bone, instinct and feeling. There was almost nothing of any of that left in Catherine. What had struck Hierophant had been subtler. They’d thought him fine at first, as he remained standing where he’d been. Only when he’d not replied to a question had the soldiers noticed that he was perfectly still. No longer even breathing. There was now a permanent rotation of two mages by the man’s bedsides weaving spell to mimic what his lungs had ceased doing. His heart still beat, at least. Neither of the two had woken up in the three hours since the Pilgrim had attacked them.

That left the Army of Callow very, very vulnerable.

So far there had been no attempt at a heroic assault, but there was no telling how long that would last. An issue compounded by the fact that none of Juniper’s mages could tell her when the two most powerful members of the Woe would wake, if they ever did. The army’s fortifications had withstood the waters well at least. The wards held, and the only place the palisade broke was on the left flank when a smaller glacier chunk hit the wall. Mages had been able to keep that contained with shields, enough that the entire battle line didn’t flood. It had been rebuilt since. Was this what you feared, Catherine, when you forbade Bonfire? Part of Juniper still believed that plan had been the best chance at a winnable war they’d had, but now she was being forced to admit there was more to wars with Named than tactics and strategy. It was a bitter pill to swallow to admit that she’d had a weakness in her thinking, but now that she knew of it she must fix it lest she make mistakes in the future. Juniper spat into the shallow waters filling the ditch before the palisade, then turned around. She was in overall command, now. And there were things to be done, the first of them having a conversation with a woman she despised.

For once, the Thief was easy to find. The thin woman was lounging outside the tent where the remainder of the Woe slumbered uneasily, propped up in a folding chair and sipping at a silver flask. Juniper sniffed out the scent. Brandy. Even her taste in alcohol was shit.

“Marshal,” the Thief drawled. “I had a feeling you’d be coming.”

And still she drank, Juniper sneered. Vivienne might have grown on the Warlord and the rest of the Woe, but the Hellhound had never taken to her and never would. The Thief was the worst parts of her people crammed together in a single arrogant frame. The orc had learned to set aside most the dislike of Callowans she’d been taught as a child, admitting to herself that they were no worse than the Soninke save perhaps for the occasional petty moralizing. But this one, she was a reminder of why it’d taken the orc so long to like Catherine. She was hollow in the bone. Orcs and goblins understood, without ever needing to be taught, that the heart of the world was kin and clan. The Legions had taught Juniper that kin did not necessarily mean blood, or clan her own people, and it was that shared understanding that had brought her close to Aisha – who had, herself, been forced to learn to divorce the loyalties of her childhood from those that were truly deserved. The Taghreb were perhaps the closest thing humans could come to reasonable. They understood tethers. Soninke, like Callowans, had no such loyalty in them. Instead they worshipped at some abstract altar of principle, a mortal-made god of meaninglessness. Climbing the Tower, saving the Kingdom: there was little difference save in petty details. The years had taught Juniper that though the people might be fools, individuals need not be. That the things she found so disgusting gathered mostly at the top.

But Vivienne Dartwick was the incarnation of everything she despised about Callow.

An admitted thief, one who took but did not contribute. Were she an orc, she’d have ended up in a cooking pot by now. And while she professed high ideals, unlike Catherine she didn’t even have the decency to bleed for them. The Thief was not a fighter, only a parasite. Like a tick she had nestled over new warmth when her previous host died. And had made herself useful enough since that she could not simply be carved up and eaten like she so richly deserved. Just looking at her made Juniper want to bare her fangs. The antipathy, she knew, was shared. The occasional contemptuous looks shot behind Catherine’s back made that eminently clear, though they were both professional enough that they worked together without trouble. Or had, anyway, when Catherine was awake. Without her between them the Hellhound had a feeling the knives would finally come out.

“War council is to be held,” Juniper growled. “You will attend.”

The Thief’s brow rose, almost mockingly.

“I am not a member of the Army of Callow,” she said.

“You’re a spymistress,” the orc said. “A hoarder of secrets. Now is the time to spit them out.”

“I know quite a bit that you don’t, Marshal,” the wretch agreed with an easy smile. “But little of import to the battle. Which seems, regardless, not in the process of being waged.”

Juniper’s blood ran hot, but she ground her fangs. She would not be baited so easily.

“We do not know when she will wake up,” the Hellhound said.

“Which makes most planning irrelevant,” Thief replied. “Without Catherine and Masego, we lack the teeth to go on the offensive. Plan your defence, Marshal. You do not need me standing at your table as a prop displaying your influence to do so.”

That the tick would so familiarly refer to people she’d once sought to kill had the orc’s fury spiking. She knew hat humans did not have the same understanding of blood feuds, but that insolent girl should be in pieces. Already once a traitor, she would turn again. It was only a matter of time.

“So instead of having some use, you’ll just sit there and get drunk,” Juniper scathingly said. “What a Named you are. I’d get as much use out of a fucking tavern girl.”

“Do you often fuck tavern girls, Marshal Juniper?” the woman asked smilingly. “My word, I had no idea. Still, this is a little bawdy for idle conversation don’t you think?”

Juniper’s fists clenched. Without ever moving, the Named had changed from a lounging wastrel to an amused aristocrat. She was making an effort to be be infuriating.

“I will remain here,” the Thief said, “and watch over them. If you do not believe there are agents of Malicia in this host, you are a bloody fool. My hours are better spent keeping an eye out for a knife than repeating numbers you already know for an audience of officers.”

There was much that Juniper wanted to reply. That having her at the council would allay fears, serve as a display of unity. That a fucking spymistress had no right to gainsay the orders of the Marshal of Callow, especially not on campaign. But there was no point, so she held her tongue. Turning around without another word, she left.

She had a battle to win, with or without help.

Rozala slumped into her seat, exhausted beyond belief. Night had only just fallen, but she knew the work would continue through the dark and unto dawn. In the first few hours, when chaos and panic had spread across the host, she’d desperately struggled to restore order. There was a very real chance the crusaders would have routed, if not for the heroes. They’d walked among the soldiers, helping and healing and soothing away fear. The Princess of Aequitan was still sure at least thousand levies would disappear overnight. After the tides stopped and the scalding rain ceased, the reports had begun coming in. Even now it was hard to tell how many had died, over less time than it took to boil a kettle of water. Early estimates were at nine thousand dead and at least half that out of the fight.

Rozala Malanza closed her eyes, and dealt with the truth that she had just commanded the most disastrous military offensive in living memory.

And the battle had begun so well. The Heavenly Fences had allowed her to trample nearly a seventh of the enemy army within the first hour, badly crippling the enemy’s ranged abilities: without the crossbowmen, the casualties involved in taking the palisades from the Army of Callow would have been greatly lowered. The siege engines would have taken their due, yes, but the Fences would have limited the damage. It would have been a rough affair, no two ways about it, but most definitely a battle she could win. And Rozala had made plans to hit hard and fast enough at least part of the enemy’s supplies could be seized before they retreated through a gate. Enough that starvation could be kept at bay at least a sliver of the way to Hedges. Now there was most a mile of frozen marshland between her army and the enemy’s, and her men were two days away from beginning to boil grass to have something to fill their stomachs. There was a very real chance she would have to order horses butchered, if it came to that, and she could already heal the other royals howling about their expensive war horses getting the axe to feed mere peasants.

The dark-haired princess shivered. Part of it was that she was still drenched and cold: after the first reports, she’d handed the reins to her officers and gone with the rank and file to drag survivors and wounded out of the water. It was the least of what she owed for today’s debacle. The other princes and princesses and followed suit, even Prince Arnaud who she doubted had ever done a hard day’s work in his life. It’d been a given they would, after word spread she’d gone out personally. They couldn’t be seen to care less about the soldiers, could they? The thought was uncharitable, but not necessarily untrue. Rozala’s mother had always taught her that command was her right, but also her responsibility. A general who spent lives frivolously was just a butcher, and the Malanzas were no such thing. Ambitious, perhaps, but their roots were that of ancient and famous generals. Her distant ancestor Lorenzo Malanza had been the one to conquer the northern half of the Dominion of Levant for First Prince Charles Merovins. His splendid victory at Tartessos was the subject of song to this day. And she had shamed that memory, she thought with a grimace. By her failure, but also the other reason her hands were trembling.

Gods, she’d been so small. And no great beauty either, with that strong nose and those razor-sharp cheekbones. She’d talked like a sloppy commoner, all insults and insinuations where the situation demanded poise. And Rozala had not been able to hold back, trading verbal blow for blow with the same nonchalant woman who had just dropped half a lake from the sky. The knowledge of how easily the Black Queen could have killed any of them had the heroes not accompanied the delegation would haunt her thoughts for years to come. What kind of a woman could do something like that, just speak a word and nigh-instantly slaughter thousands? The princess was not unfamiliar with war, but this was… something else. A titan stepping on ants. She did not blame those who would desert in the night. And now she understood the fervour in the First Prince’s eyes, when she spoke of the evils in the east. Rozala reached for the bottle of eau-de-vie she’d sent for, breaking etiquette by pouring her own cup and downing it in a single gulp. The liquor warmed her enough that she did not send a servant for a blanket. Neither did she change out of the wet clothing, though. Let her visitors remember where she had spent her hours.

The Grey Pilgrim was the first to arrive. Rozala rose to her feet, and bowed with genuine respect. The old Levantine had saved hundreds of lives after personally destroying the Black Queen’s weapon, wreathed in Light as he spread warmth and healing wherever he went. The former had been the most important of the two. How many would that have lost to the deathly cold, if not for the pulses of heat?

“Chosen,” the princess said. “I am in your debt for your toil. Any boon in my power to grant is yours to claim.”

A dangerous thing to offer Named, she knew, but looking at the exhausted old man who looked like was folding into himself Rozala did not hesitate. He had saved lives in her care, and Malanzas did not leave debts unpaid. The Pilgrim looked at her through eyes gone rheumy and clasped her hand with wrinkled fingers.

“You owe me nothing, child,” he whispered. “Would that I could have done more.”

“Through winter and summer, my word stands,” Rozala formally replied in the old Arlesite oath. “So long as the Heavens watch and Creation withstands.”

Whether he ever asked the favour of her or not was irrelevant. She would not allow kindness to go unanswered. The hero smiled sadly.

“This is not the first or last tragedy this war will bring,” he said. “Steel yourself, Rozala Malanza. The worst is yet to come.”

“A prophecy, Chosen?” Rozala asked.

“An old man’s intuition,” the Grey Pilgrim said, shaking his head. “Darkness grows. I fear greater evils than Catherine Foundling are yet to come.”

The dark-haired princess’ blood ran cold. Worse than the monster who’d faced half a dozen Chosen on her own and brought down the sky? She could think of few greater evils in existence, save for the Tower itself and the Kingdom of the Dead. Neither thought was comforting.

“I hear your guidance,” Rozala said, bowing her head in thanks.

“May I?” the hero asked.

Uncertain what he meant, the princess nodded in agreement regardless. The glimmer of light was barely visible, but warmth washed over her. Permeated every part of her body, chasing away cold and weariness and fear. Like she was sixteen again, fearless and ready to rise against Hasenbach to avenge her mother.

“It will be a long night,” the Pilgrim said, panting lightly.

She helped the elder into a seat afterwards, seeing his legs shake, and broke etiquette again to pour him a glass of liquor and press it into his hand. Chuckling ruefully, the Levantine sipped at it. He made a face.

“Eau-de-vie,” he said. “The things you Alamans drink. Ah, what I would not do for a good pear brandy. It always tastes like Alava.”

One of the great cities of the Dominion, Rozala recalled, nestled among tall hills. Famous for its orchards and its herds. It had held on a decade longer than the rest of Levant when the Principate invaded, and even after the city was besieged the inhabitants preferred to burn it and flee into the hills rather than live under Proceran rule.

“Your birthplace, Chosen?” she asked, returning to her seat.

“Levante is where I drew my first breath,” the old man replied. “But Alava is where I grew ton manhood. It is where I will die as well, if the Heavens ever allow these old bones to rest.”

“Creation will be lessened for the loss,” the princess said, and to her surprise found she meant every word.

“Creation will go on,” the Pilgrim smiled tiredly. “We are never quite so important as we like to think.”

She would have enjoyed quiet conversation with the man a while longer, but it was not to be. Prince Amadis Milenan strode into the tent, his embroidered tunic pristine and his hair perfectly coiffed. It was not enough to hide the tightness around his eyes. Behind him was a short man in a leather coat that went down to his knees, covering loose trousers and shirt of coloured silk. The Rogue Sorcerer, as he called himself. Of the Chosen, it was him Rozala knew best: they had spent long hours together planning the battle and his role in it as leader of the wizards. She had found him genteel and polite, surprisingly so for a man whose Name implied a certain uncouthness. The princess began to rise, but Amadis held out his hand.

“No need,” the Prince of Iserre said. “Not after this kind of day.”

The princess hid her surprise. She’d half-expected that after today’s debacle he would seek to undermine her position with recriminations. He still might, regardless of this unexpected olive branch, so her guard would remain up.

“Princess Malanza,” the Rogue Sorcerer greeted her, inclining his head before taking a seat.

“Chosen,” she replied, just as courteously.

Amadis let out a long breath after sitting down, a long moment passing before he spoke.

“This was,” he said, “not the way we had anticipated this battle would go.”

An understatement if there ever was one, Rozala thought. The use of we did not escape her attention. Blame was not being put solely on her shoulders.

“The failure was mine,” she said anyway.

“We’d prepared for many things, Your Grace,” the Rogue quietly said. “But the sky opening up to drop a lake was beyond our predictions. There is no fault in this, save in believing that our opponent would not be so monstrous.”

“I agree,” Amadis said calmly. “I cast no doubts on your competence, Rozala. Your initial success is proof enough of it. There will be no talk of removing you from command.”

The Princess of Aequitan inclined her head in silent thanks. Did this shake you enough you are taking this seriously Amadis? she thought. Or are you simply keeping me at the head of the host to scapegoat if the situation further worsens? No matter. For now, it was still her battle to fight.

“I must begin, then, with a delicate question,” she said. “This… gate. Should we expect another if we attempt a second offensive?”

If so, this campaign was over. Rozala would not throw away half a hundred thousand lives for pride, even if refusing to do so ruined her. They had learned the enemy’s trick, but the enemy would have learned theirs as well. There was no guarantee the Pilgrim would twice succeed in breaking the gate. The two Chosen traded glances.

“That is a complicated question,” the Rogue Sorcerer said. “Against most other villains, I would say that forceful shattering of the gate might actually kill them. The amount of power and involvement in crafting such a thing is staggering, and the break would lead to vicious backlash.”

“Yet Catherine Foundling is not merely a villain,” the Pilgrim said. “She is a titled Duchess of Winter. Perhaps the last fae of that realm, if I interpret the Augur’s words correctly. She is no longer human, in a sense. What would destroy the likes of the Warlock or the Carrion Lord might not affect her at all. Her nature has grown other.”

“We have seen neither the Black Queen nor the Hierophant since the battle,” Prince Amadis noted. “To be frank, I was expecting an Imperial offensive while we were in disarray. We might very well have lost the battle if one had followed.”

“I’ll concede that much,” Rozala said. “Yet there might have been other limitations at work. I am no scholar of sorcery, but it occurs to me that such a great blow – even if it had not been shattered – might have incapacitated the two of them for some time. The duration, however, is beyond my ability to theorize. We may very well be facing another gate come morning.”

“We’ll know it’s coming, this time,” the Rogue Sorcerer darkly said. “It’s not impossible to contain the flow until the gate itself can be broken, though I’ll admit it’ll be difficult.”

The princess put her hands in her lap, resisting the urge to brush back her hair.

“There are too many uncertainties,” she said. “I am reluctant to commit to an assault when everyone I send might be drowned. And that is without addressing the difficulties of an assault. Wading through the marshlands will be difficult, and it might be weeks before the soil drinks the water whole. That means having to march around it, and likely splitting the host in two.”

“A probing attack come morning, perhaps,” Prince Amadis suggested.

Even a probe could see a few thousand men die screaming to find out the answer to a simple question, Rozala thought. The alternative, however, was retreat. Through hostile land, while so low on supplies they were barely worth mentioning at all. The Black Queen had offered to provide food for a march back, but there was no guarantee that offer would still hold after today. And if it did not, the amount of men she’d lose to a small-scale offensive would be a pittance compared to what hunger would kill. That was without even considering the reports that the Duchess Kegan’s army was crossing the river far to the north. The numbers there were said to be over ten thousand, and the Deoraithe were infamous for their skill at la petite guerre. Harassment and ambushes, without ever giving battle.

“This is not the kind of decision that can be lightly made,” the Princess of Aequitan said. “And not without knowing all the facts. I must recommend we send an envoy to their camp to find out if the queen’s terms still hold.”

Amadis’ lips thinned in displeasure.

“Surely you’re not suggesting retreat,” he said.

“I am reluctant to even consider it,” Rozala admitted. “Yet if the Black Queen is unharmed and the terms hold, it may be that we have no other choice. We cannot dally. Time works against us more than they.”

“I would accompany your envoy, if you permit,” the Grey Pilgrim said, breaking his silence.

He looked half-asleep, even now. The princess kept her scepticism away from her face. Had the Chosen not tried to take the villain’s life but a few hours ago? Still, she did not pretend to understand the ways of Named. For their sort, attempted killing might be no great enmity. The Prince of Iserre watched everyone at the table silently, then slowly nodded.

“Envoy will be sent,” he agreed. “And to speak with only the Black Queen, so her state may be assessed. Should she prove incapacitated, however…”

Princess Rozala grimly smiled.

“Then we will settle the score in full,” she said.

Malanzas, after all, did not leave debts unpaid.

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169 thoughts on “Interlude: Kaleidoscope

  1. Joel

    Catherine, I know you’re a tired eldritch abomination, but now is not the time for a nap!

    Also, this was a good way of handling Cat’s plan. It backfired enough to take her out of action, but there’s no doubt that it devastated the enemy army.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. ALKATYN

      The backfire also explains why we don’t see these kind of things more often, and why this wouldnt result in a major backlash the way akua’s weapon did

      Liked by 2 people

    2. RoflCat

      Assuming the crusaders get their attack on, I feel this’ll just lead to Cath’s heroic last minute arrival/awakening with power up.

      After all, we’ve seen proof in Liese that being a villain doesn’t preclude you from playing a heroic role in a Story (even if the Above will be pissy about it)

      And a certain term come to mind: Apotheosis.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bookworm

        We will probably see her awaken in time to act in some fashion because that seems to be part of her Story (both in plot and meta) but she is also a Villain. That means that there is going to be a price. Only Heroes get freebies.

        Like

            1. Metrux

              Yes, warlord is out of the table, but so is Black Queen. It’s been plainly stated that, after it was broken last time, her ver nature changed. She can’t go back to that.

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              1. Dainpdf

                Yeah, but she’s lost the opportunity for a Queen name twice. Both in Liesse. Pattern of three. She gets a queen Name in Liesse.

                Like

          1. werafdsaew

            People are still going on about Cat getting the Warlord name? The WOG already denied that possibility very explicitly.

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            1. Yotz

              Kilian: You sir, should remove your pants.
              William: Indeed?
              Cat: Indeed, it’s time. We have all laid aside modesty but you.
              William: I… wear no pants.
              Kilian: (Terrified, aside to Cat.) No pants? No pants!

              Like

    1. BryceWilliam

      She’s one of the few people Cat can kill and not worry about making the crusade worse. She doesn’t read high enough in power or weight to really be Cat’s ‘enemy’ she’s more June’s, but its not June’s story. So I doubt she has the negative weight to hold any real staying power. My bet is she dies when June does some sick ass attack on the enemy commanders and wipes out a lot of leaders or she dies on a cross by Cat’s orders.

      Like

        1. Yotz

          Not so “explicitly told”, as more like “strongly suggested” – as in “I suggest you to buy that insurance option. After all, it would be tragic if something happens to your lovely shop, or your beautiful wife, who in twelve minutes will pick up your two wonderful children from the school on her usual trip to the grocery…”

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      1. Dainpdf

        No staying power doesn’t mean she dies. Only means she gets shunted to the background once her part is over.
        Pity she feels horror at Cat. She’d make a good person to turn.

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    2. HandyCapped

      I’m on the fence on that. She led a massive invading army to all but butcher and wring dry the land of her “enemy”, but still has her horse high enough to consider it a ‘debt’, when her victim(That Cat undoubtedly is, even if she is slugging back) dares to defend herself. With “monstrous slaughter of men” – to say the least. As if that wasn’t on the menu the whole time.

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    1. Morgenstern

      I vote for Thief playing Black Queen once more, she did it before… though, admittedly, not to fool the likes of a Grey Pilgrim… and probably glamoured, which could prove tricky. They DO still have “Larat” and the other fae, though, if any of those should be willing to glamour something while the Queen sleeps and thus cannot order them to… hmm…

      Like

    1. Alex

      10 bucks says Cat wakes up as the Crusaders are about to win and she raises every dead soldier for miles to fight for the good (?) guys.

      Like

  2. Okay so at least we know of one of the named the rogue sorcerer, I wish they would have said some throw away lines like:
    “Too bad about hammer guy
    Hammer guy
    Yeah you know the, The Righteous Protector, the guy with the hammer.”

    Maybe Cat learns a new aspect or transitions at this point winter was injured before now it was broken. Time for something to take it’s place. AIsha and Juniper ship sailing or ….?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Alivaril

    I wonder if — and hope that — Catherine is having some helpful dreams. She doesn’t sleep anymore due to Winter nightmares and I’m honestly starting to miss her having a Name. The sort of raw power she’s been displaying lately just isn’t as satisfying as her Aspects were — tracking which ones have been used, looking forward to Struggle or Take flipping a fight with Hero-tier BS of her own, etc.

    …It’s both a good and a bad thing that the Grey Pilgrim is going along; he’d see through any glamour intended to imitate Catherine, but he might also have come to his senses as far as the Crusade is concerned. An individual with that kind of power is one you want on your side when the Dead King comes knocking. And who’s to say the Callowan army wouldn’t burn their own supplies out of sheer spite should they start losing, or that Thief wouldn’t *Yoink* the supplies again?

    It’d honestly be better on multiple counts to play the narrative and heal them. If they continue the slaughter, they’ll ensure their inevitable demise. If they don’t, the Crusade can retreat without further losses and he can shove Cat toward redemption.

    Plus, whoever heard of a villain being killed while they were weak from some ritual? That’s something that happens to Heroes, ones who awaken in the nick of time.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I know what you mean I miss the whole name dreams that foreshadowed a new type of enemy she somehow had to interpret her teachers past actions with her present circumstances. Still Chatrine has progressed a great deal still maybe she could have some named dreams about past fae battles so she can get an understanding of her current predicament. Fae more than any other race have dealt with narrative problems and they could help her in understanding the bard who has proven to be an extremely old name.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. I am glad Grey Pilgrim might go, as well.

      Why? After that comment about dying in Alava, I am kind of hoping that was Vivienne with Chekov’s Brandy. Shared drink… shared knife…

      Like

      1. Raved Thrad

        Well, we’ve seen fights between heroes and villains; I wonder how a fight between heroes would go, and if the heavens would intervene somehow.

        Like

    3. ALazyMonster

      I know what you mean about wanting Cat to have a name I think it would be awesome if she got a name that was explicitly about giving fate itself the finger. I mean this is more or less something that she does constantly. The first thing that comes to mind with I wish for this is something like Riku from the back story of No Game No Life where he literally ended all the gods as a way to end war.

      Like

        1. ALazyMonster

          Fair point, but I like to interpret the way that roles have been explained as they are patterns and the way they work is based on what people think of the stories that go with a name. The difference in my interpretation is that fate is the will of the gods (above or below) and a role is more how mortals perceive a name. A Name that is directly opposed to fate would be one who opposes the choices of the gods and their agents. Where my original thought from (the idea of Cat getting such a Name) this came from her talk with Archer about what she wanted, since all named want something. I believe Cat said something like “I want to kill anyone who wants to drag us back into a story”

          Like

          1. Dainpdf

            Well, what Name you get doesn’t always represent what you want – just ask Hierarch – but I get your point.
            I still think “fuck fate” is more Black’s thing, and moreover more about what one does with a Name than the Name itself, but it is an intriguing idea.

            Like

          1. Dainpdf

            You would do well to note I was answering this:
            “I know what you mean about wanting Cat to have a name I think it would be awesome if she got a name that was explicitly about giving fate itself the finger.”
            I meant any affront a Name could give Fate would likely end up ironic or otherwise ineffectual.

            Like

    4. Dainpdf

      Pretty sure “willing and capable of slaughtering thousands on a whim” did not help convince the Pilgrim that this fight is futile. He knows worse is to come, but this is still necessary for the Greater Good.

      Like

      1. JackbeThimble

        A fight for your existence is not a whim. The crusaders had slaughtered thousands of her men minutes before and she gave them every possible opportunity to avoid bloodshed altogether.

        Like

        1. Dainpdf

          Yes, but she is not exactly stable (and he’s not only seen proof of that but tried to use it), and if she did have a whim she could and would kill thousands.

          Like

  4. I’m less than impressed by this outcome. It leaves things open to dragging on, damages Cat even more than before, and all before even considering what the Dead King is up to.

    Is this story turning into a slow tragedy with a crippled protagonist at the end, Taylor Herbert-style? Our main character rides off into the sunset, still breathing but functionally irrelevant? Or even worse, dies with her ‘goal’ fulfulled, the bullshit calmed down and Callow safe but no personal gain and tremendous personal loss?

    Fuck. That.

    That’s off-putting, and cliche’, and done to death these days. Stories where the protag gets the bittersweet ending, crippled and rendered meek – I tend to skip to the end, go, “That’s nice,” and lose interest in further contemplation of them. In Worm, after that ending, the epic battles all seem… lesser. They lose impact on re-reading, even if the world’s saved and all that.

    I love this story, and yet with this chapter I see a hard turn pointing towards that end. And that would be – not sad, because that implies inciting emotional impact – it would be depressing. I would feel apathetic, ultimately. And that *is* sad.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. It doesn’t have to be a *physical* crippling, though Cat’s already limping everywhere so there’s that. It could be capability-crippled; like if now opening gates is problematic, and then she can’t do it at all, then she gets her regen shredded some more – maybe then she gets a sideways power-bump, like with her ability to take Aspects and turn them into one-time consumables, but that gradually loses its performance value, and then it becomes politically untenable for Cat to *keep* her crown and stay around long enough to actually steady the boat, so the job goes to a compromise candidate, etcetera, etcetera. I can map that line of descent in my head crystal-clear I’ve seen it so many times… The first time I ever ran across it was with the Narnia series, and fucking hells I hated how that series turned out. Or Avalon and Arthurian myth, or the Mockingjay series, hell even Harry Potter has a fairly lukewarm outcome for Harry. Family man and middle-management, hooray! …Actually, the family man part is great. But seriously, after all the pure shit he could at least be a bit better off than Robin William’s version of Peter Pan. And on, and on.

        Hero or villain, the ‘whittled down into normalcy’ is terrain that is completely fucking mapped out by generations of stories. And I’ve always hated it. The only thing worse is ‘Accomplish your goals, then die!’ which is *also* fairly common.

        It’s not the crippling, it’s the meaninglessness of it all. The wheel turns, and our narrative river always empties into the comforting sea of mediocrity we all are supposed to identify with. Hey, Protagonist is one of us now! Or Dead! Yay, we can feel special in our shared lack of specialness now!

        Narnia is shut away forever now. There’s no fucking Camelot anymore. No. NO! Screw that – give me an Honor Harrington, whose badassery is not only legend, but she’s now an Admiral and busy STILL BEING SPECTACULARLY AWESOME in the background of the newer books even when she’s not the focus of them. THAT is an outcome I can get behind.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dainpdf

          Uh… So what you want is a happy ending? Or a wish fulfilling one, I guess?
          Bad news: at least as she is now, that is not what Catherine wants. She recognizes she is toxic to the country she loves, and she wants to get out as soon as she can countenance it. Whether she *can* ever do so remains to be seen.
          Black and Malicia are sort of the example she’s trying to avoid. Stay in power long enough and you become a cog in it.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. grzecho2222

            There are also bad endings, but I would admit that “normalcy” kinda became new “Happy Ever After” and been kinda overdone. What happened to endings where everyone loses or where it turnes out that whole thing was pointless or heroes win, but victory is meaningless or where heroes stay heroes or bittersweet endings? But I think that it is a little to early to be angry about ending, since it can be anything from Cat fulfilling her long dream of stabbing Fate itself to Cat pulling 180 and telling that all of this was first part of her plan (the one mentioned in summary)

            Like

        2. werafdsaew

          Like I said, not this kind of story. For one has power reduction *EVER* happened in this story even once? What doesn’t kill a Name makes them stronger, not weaker. Everything points to her waking up in the nick of time with new powers.

          Like

          1. Sanityfaerie

            Actually, yeah. She had one of her three aspects as squire destroyed by the demon thing. She spent a short while undead, without access to much of her Name power. Arguably, becoming a winterthing was a loss as well, at least over the short term. She cot a piece of winter carved off of her by the Saint. A big part of her path has been “get crippled. Adapt and overcome.”

            Of course, for just that reason, I’m pretty sure that she’ll come out of this one with some sort of power-up, or at least an interesting lateral move. I’m not real worried about her being crippled permanently

            Like

      1. There’s no edit function. That said, Worm’s been around for long enough now that it’s a bit like spoiling Iron Man 1 or 2. Though 3 might be pushing it.

        Like

      2. Letouriste

        You can’t edit comments and yeah this is pretty bad forms.
        I paused my reading of worm when only the last two books were remaining because that started to be as depressing as the first few chapters…i’m not surprised of how you say that finished.

        Like

      1. lennymaster

        Oh, come on! I barly read half of Worm and I only got so far because I held out hope that it would not end exactly that way. Anyone could see that the story would go that disgusting bittersweet semidefeat way within the first few chapters.
        Yes, I do not like spoilers, but there are spoilers and there are SPOILERS. This was the first kind and I cannot bring myself to become upset about it.
        Especially not about Worm, the DC of the webserials.

        Like

        1. lennymaster

          “DC of the webserials.” meaning completly overrated, senslesly cruel towards its Heroes, badly written Villians and completly failed plotlines.
          The only decent character they ever created was the Joker, and the have been sucking on that corpse for ages now instead of making something new.
          Wow the comparsion between Worm and DC seems ever more fitting.

          Like

          1. Dainpdf

            Uuuuh… I really don’t want to discuss Worm here. Just let me note I very much disagree with you.
            About the gravity of the spoilers: there are always new people coming into the webserial scene. It’s not that large.
            Plus, the spoiler was not even of any argumentative use in that post. The comment effectively just says “please don’t write this way because I hate it. By the way I also hate this other serial because (spoilers), which is similar”.

            Liked by 2 people

        2. John Galt

          @lennymaster. Worm’s ending was predictable; you still shouldn’t drop spoilers for another work. Also, while you have a couple legitimate points, you sound like a self-important hater. Especially with the last line. Wasn’t aware that your personal opinion of a work dictated whether spoilers were ok or not. – FYI, “Sorry for the spoilers” anywhere in there and I wouldn’t have written this.

          Liked by 2 people

    1. ALazyMonster

      I have a feeling that it’s not going to end with some sort of martyrdom for Cat because early in the story Black and Cat had several talks about how that is a pathetic ending, so have some faith I doubt Cat is slowing down at all.

      Like

    2. Dainpdf

      This is not the place for discussing Worm, so I’ll limit myself to saying I believe you missed the point of that story. As much as I can say that, given that I’m also only a random reader.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. JackbeThimble

      Sorry man but I don’t think any web serial author is ever going to hear ‘This Reminds me of Worm’ as a bad thing, with good reason.

      Like

  5. Rook

    It should probably be noted that Cat isn’t the type to be so proud as to have all her contingencies ride on her being in play, and both Archer and Adjutant are still cards left to be played. They still haven’t shown up at all during the battle.

    That being said, gonna call it now. The Crusade is still going to slaughter a massive chunk of the Callowan forces – including possibly one of the Woe or similarly major character – before Cat and Hierophant wake up. That’ll be the trigger that leads to Cats new Name or whatever transformation afterwards, having something to do with loss.

    Lose her morals, lose an aspect, lose her limbs, lose her humanity, lose her mentor and father figure. it’s part of who she is. Everything she gains she bleeds for, nothing is given for free; and the only thing she has yet to lose is Callow and her companions.

    That greater Evil than Catherine Foundling that Gandalf here is sensing? It’s not going to be a Mary Sue out of nowhere, it’s going to be whatever is left after another piece of Catherine Foundling gets carved away.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Raved Thrad

      It’s not that I dislike her — I love how much nuance her character has developed — but if one of the Woe were to die I think the one whose death would have the greatest dramatic impact, short of Masego or Catherine, it would be Vivienne. Not only is she a Heroine, as the story paradigm defines her, but she Believes. She does what she does because she sees that no one else will, and she supports Catherine because Catherine is doing what no one else is willing to do: protect Callow and her people. She may not be a fighter, but I can see her, knife in hand and screaming her hatred at the heavens, fighting like a cornered rat, cursing her killer or killers for thinking that what they’re doing to support the suffering and subjugation of innocent Callowans is anything near heroic.

      And if she doesn’t immediately die, I can see her dying in Catherine’s arms. Now _that_ would be something: for the great martyr of the 10th Crusade (or maybe just the first one?), on the Callowan side, to be a heroine who died fighting invading heroes. Who knows? It might just be the turning point that has peasant levies showing up with old swords and hunting bows and wood axes to show up to turn out the invaders.

      Liked by 5 people

        1. Yotz

          …this is all your fault, you know…

          -ahem-

          Only thumps of my heart tell me that I’m alive,
          Through my half-melted eyelids I see the Dawn’s flame,
          And I see it, Gods save me, as I open my eyes –
          Great Unspeakable Horror that bears no name.
          They came as a landslide, a flood, thick and vile,
          They trampled through us as they crushed us to mud;
          Our banners and crests rest upon refuse pile,
          For they killed everything, drenching earth with our blood.

          They came as a landslide, a flood, thick and vile,
          They trampled through us as they crushed us to mud;
          Our banners and crests rest upon refuse pile,
          For they killed everything, drenching earth with our blood.
          Through the stubble yet smoking of burned wheat field
          I may sneak yet away, steal the boat and grub;
          To become sole survivor, all I need is to yield…
          But I sneer as I order myself to stand up.

          Only thumps of my heart tell me that I’m alive,
          Through my half-melted eyelids I see the Dawn’s flame,
          And I see it, Gods save me, as I open my eyes –
          Great Unspeakable Horror that bears no name.
          I see shadows, and ashes, and stones, cold and dead;
          I see nothing that left here for me to defend –
          But my sword I hold still, I’m cloaked in dread,
          And remains of my shield does not burden my hand.

          All I know now – that my land will not die when I leave;
          There is no way in Hells I will drive them away,
          But I know – from now on they have no right to live,
          They have no right to breath, to see that bright day!
          So I lift my bent warhorn, and I straighten my back,
          And I call all the soldiers, both present and gone,
          And I scream them “Stand up!”, and I scream them “Attack!”…
          If there no one ‘s alive – then the dead will march on!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. grzecho2222

            We warriors, we soldiers, we knights
            We fought under banner so bright
            We defended lands of west from evil
            Our foe was warlock, demon and devil

            In time of misery we stood alone
            Our army turned into field of bone
            In shackles we lived for twenty years
            Fate we were sourly forced to bear

            Lady with soul dark and dark as night
            Has ended with murder this sad plight
            With chaos and death she saved her kind
            Better Dark Queen we couldn’t have find

            But now Heavens have called their brats
            Who lived lives in peace and grown fat
            How loudly of Good speaks this breed
            To mask their pride, ambition and greed

            But now we march under banner of night
            They will face us turned into force of blight
            They will learn the true meaning of dread
            When they will rise to aid us while dead

            Like

            1. Raved Thrad

              (You’re a terrible influence, you know that?)

              Come, ye sons and daughters of Callow! Come
              To muddy field and shallow grave, come ye to hold the line!
              Death comes a-calling, with work for hands all wet and stained
              With the lifeblood of those who march to war!

              Rise with the dawn, to loved ones’ lamentation, and dreams of swords!

              March, ye sons and daughters of Callow! March
              To the side of Callow’s queen, of blackest night and darkest moon!
              War comes to Callow, in stamp of boot and jingle of hauberk
              In gleam of blade and glint in invader’s eye!

              Stand in your ranks, to the chattering of teeth and the blaring of horns!

              Fight, ye sons and daughters of Callow! Fight
              And die, and get up to fight again, to shed the blood of the conqueror!
              Rack and red ruin are your lot, ’till Death has made up his number
              And the land is glutted in blood once again!

              Fight, and die, to a long day’s blood-letting, and a red nightfall!

              Like

      1. lennymaster

        Wow, I can totally imagine it!
        But that is probably because I do not like her and I would love for Robber to take her place as Saboteur or something in that vein.

        Like

      2. werafdsaew

        I doubt any of the Woes will die, for the simple narrative reason that they are the next generation of the Calamities, but they haven’t exceeded or matched the Calamities yet. So until they do, they have to keep rising.

        Like

    2. Dainpdf

      I would be somewhat disappointed in that. Not in the writer – it is a perfectly valid path to take – but in Cat. She has said before she wants to stop with the carving at herself.
      If this story is about her crystallizing in that Role, and being unable to move past it, it would fit. But I don’t think it is.

      Like

  6. Nethermore

    Yeah, with 15000 taken out of the fight there had to be a price to pay. I just hope it’s not another reduction in power, because that shit is getting old. Being forced to sleep through such an important part of the battle should be punishment enough.

    Also, at first I think everyone guessed the Grey Pilgrim was just playing white, but evidently he’s tacked a bunch of high-powered healing spells onto his blue deck full of counterspells, redirects, control magic for spells, future sight and probably teleportation. As long as he isn’t distracted major magical workings are going to be punished severely.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yotz

      ‘Illusions of Grandeur’ it’s called.
      Trix was one hell of an Evil deck, with a _very_ capital ‘E’.
      Without a little charitable miracle of Donate there will be a corresponding hell of a price to pay for it, though.

      Like

    2. Nguyen Hong Hai

      Called yourself Grey but playing blue trickeries. As expected from filthy control decks. Real man go 1 color only!

      Like

    3. werafdsaew

      *Another* reduction in power? Cat’s journey is a journey of exchanging lesser power for greater power. When has this reduction ever happened in the story anywhere?

      Like

  7. Antoninjohn

    Archer and Robber are now ready to execute the first part of her fallback plan, it starts with the remaining supplies. After these battles it’s time for Cat to take over all of Calriena

    Like

  8. Anon

    Eh……I get the progression from a narrative sense, but both Cat and Masego being insta-KO’d by backlash feels kind of…..wonky.

    The Grey Pilgrim already performed literal resurrection, stole a bunch of spells from Masego, and was utterly pushing in Cat’s offensive. Having him be able to perform offensively on an equal to, if not greater level than the Saint, just feels….cheap. Like, if the backlash from the spell burning itself out had knocked Cat out that’d be one thing, but this….unless the pilgrim’s got a literal star inside his staff similar to the duchess of the morning sun, the heavens probably showed their hand, a bit.

    Granted, I imagine the pilgrim will want to gauge Cat’s ‘reason’ for killing so many people, and worse comes to it he’ll prevent her from being assassinated by Procer forces during the visit, but….I dunno.

    Otherwise, I am curious – if the original plan was to make a lake (which would have definitely killed off most, if not ALL of the army, rather than ‘only’ kill 9000 and wound another 13,500) killing off so many of Hasenbach’s people in such a manner isn’t likely to make her capitulate – it’s more likely to have people see Cat as true evil, and demand another crusade, and another, and another.

    Melanza feels more and more like she’ll hold onto this grudge til her dying day – which makes her survivability seem less and less likely.

    But depending on what exactly Cat is dreaming of, I imagine we’ll see either the Dead King, or Triumphant (may she never return) start to make waves…..incidentally, I wonder – if Cat claimed all those souls with the use of Winter’s power, would that add to replace some of the ‘power’ that the Saint had cut away?

    (Also, I forgot about last chapter, but whatever happened to the Duchess of the Morning Sun? Last I recall, her energy was being drained and used by Cat for…..something?)

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Stephen M (Ethesis).

          Though his demands to see Cat are obviously for recon. I’d deny them for that very reason even if she was whole.

          Like

    1. BroadAxe

      You forget that the heavens do not play fair, AND you forget that the saint of blades and the grey pilgrim are in a sense named with much the same amount of success as Cat, except they are WAAAAY older. He is quite littreally “the mentor” that completly overpowered guy that shows up and saves the new heroes so they can become epic heroes, while he himself is far beyond that.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Tragedyofphilosophy

      I think the Pilgrim got a massive power boost for context, he’s always there right in time after all, this was acting in complete perfect Harmony with his purpose.

      I doubt he can pull that kind of feat off under normal circumstances.

      Like

    3. Joebobjoe

      Why indeed, Grey Pilgrim by all rights should’ve been completely backed into a corner, unable to do anything as all those men die. Pulling that last minute burst of extreme power at a cost was completely unforeseeable.

      In all seriousness though, it’s good to see an example of what happens when you do press a hero into an unwinnable situation. Gives more weight to Black’s insistence on his rather esoteric hero killing techniques.

      Liked by 2 people

    4. Dainpdf

      The Light has been shown repeatedly to be super effective vs sorcery, for one. Also, we were told just last chapter that it was *not* literal resurrection. People can and have survived metal being shoved into their head. What the Pilgrim did was “just” very powerful healing.
      As for displaying power comparable to the Saint, he disrupted one thing his power was super effective against and then almost collapsed, while the Saint cut through the demon containing bubble without missing a beat.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Morgenstern

        To be fair, “demon-containing” does sound rather specific. In that it targets DEMONS. Saint is no demon, is she…

        Like

        1. Unorginal

          It can contain demons, it’s not geared only towards demons. Note how Hierophant mentions that the ward-schemes have held against demons rather than saying they were for demons. Masego isn’t the type to settle for sub-optimal spells if I’ve read him right.

          Like

    5. Raved Thrad

      I remember all the imprisoned Summer fey being called to her side when Catherine started her parlay with the Summer Queen. Masego has a small fit when his wardings break and High Noon is released by the Queen’s call.

      Like

  9. Pilgrim basically flipped around the mini Sun Masego dropped on him and the greenhorns which made miracles impossible inside its bounds. That’s what he’s been flinging around this entire time and he essentially spent it breaking the fairy gate.

    As an aside I feel like that glimmer in the air left behind is going to be rather important later on.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Darkening

      Yeaaah, this area is already pretty close to that forest where the barrier to arcadia is thin enough for the wild hunt to come out and play regularly, and now Cat just punched a giant hole in it. I imagine that’s gonna have effects.

      Like

    2. Dainpdf

      I thought this was a Light thing. The Light has been known to repel sorcery (the runes in Callowan knight armor, the priests making scrying impossible, etc).

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Anna

    To think the war could be over by this time tomorrow. Alas, won’t happen. Poor Cat, things never go quite right enough for her.

    Like

  11. I wonder if Black’s army will leave their position and join Catherine’s army via portal. Larat can gate Black’s army, destroy Malanza’s, then the combined forces can meet the other army under Klaus. It will take many days for Klaus’ army to march to Malanza’s location and the combined villain army will have destroyed Malanza by then.

    Like

  12. Decius

    Thief, being a good spymistress, is going to make sure that the envoy sees exactly what she wants them to: A wounded but still capable Duchess of Winter.

    The Grey Pilgrim will, of course, see through the ruse. He will also be convinced that the correct choice for the Crusade is to retreat, and later to take Cat up on her offer to help assault the Tower.

    Like

    1. grzecho2222

      They do have one short part-fae girl, who was getting wierdly small screentime, whose death to assasination on negotiations would spark series of catastrophies

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Morgenstern

        Also true. Although the Pilgrim has met Cat in person several times now. He’d probably not be deluded by that, either.

        Like

  13. Burnsy

    They talk about murdering thousands of people by bow as if it’s something to be proud of, then judge Catherine as a monster because she did it with one blow.

    They know she offered repeatedly to help them if they’d just stop invading her country and they still see her as the bad guy.

    I cannot stand the hypocrisy of these people, least of all because it’s so goddamn realistic.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Anon

      Agreed on the hypocrisy note – though it does perhaps bear mentioning that Melanza was actually considering Cat’s offer of foodstuffs if they did retreat.

      She’ll likely never get over her loss of so many men though, despite being willing to lose similar, if not the same, amount of men in sieging Cat’s army.

      Like

      1. White

        Indeed, the hypocrisy is sickening. In the same breath the Princes go from talking about what a great gambit Rozala had to kill thousands of crossbow men, to calling Cat evil for having the temerity to fight back. They just used miracles to assist in slaughter and yet the idea of Faery Gates turned to the same end is somehow sickening?

        I’m disappointed in Rozala and Pilgrim. Especially Pilgrim.

        Finally, I think it’s kind of amusing that the crusade is still counting on taking supplies from Cat’s army. Between theif and goblin munitions, the only edible thing that will be left in that camp come victory will be the bodies the crusaders had to walk over. Even if Cat’s not there to pull the trigger, Juniper is too sound a strategist to allow the Crusader’s to regain supplies.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Raved Thrad

          Yeah, the arrogance and hypocrisy are irritating, but then it’s a testament to the author’s skill that they can evoke such emotional responses from us, I think. It’s starting to sound strident and annoying, though, every time the crusaders and heroes are basically complaining about how Cat and the Callowans (ooh, nice name for a band!) refuse to just lie down and die. Every time they meet, Pilgrim has basically said, in more ways than one, “You’re evil and an abomination, you know that, right? And if you don’t, well I’m telling you that so you can feel bad and want to die. Would it hurt you so much if you just stood still while I ran you through? You know, so that everyone will be happy.”

          Liked by 7 people

        2. Pilgrim the White

          You see too much from Cat’s perspective. Invaders used miracles, true but they still used soldiers to kill soldiers. That’s war, its ugly but it’s known. Cat just killed thousounds outright in seconds and they were powerless in front of it. Don’t look at it like one side killed x amount the other side also x amount so it’s equal, context matters. Think of it like Usa droppin the effin nuke. It’s evil by our standards of today, no doubt.

          Also Cat is a villain and you gettin surprised by Pilgrim referring to her as evil is just…. Not to mention he simply says ”greater evils than Cat are on the way”, that should be taken as a compliment …. Pilgrim is the most level headed and reasonable person on both sides of the story .

          Don’t let the narrative cloud your judgement.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. Slide

          Don’t you know that once you believe you’ve been sanctioned by the gods above, whatever you do in their name is instantly the ‘right thing’ and ‘right way’ (TM). And anybody who opposes you is automatically ‘evil’.
          Holy Wars have no hypocrites.
          And random aside I think it’s sweet how Thief is standing guard over Catherine. Also interesting to see how differently Juniper and her see things. And how they have no room to see each other’s viewpoints. Eerily like a mini good and evil unable to see eye to eye.

          Like

    2. RanVor

      That’s pretty much war in a nutshell. “When we kill your guys, it’s righteous and justified. When you kill our guys, it’s vile.” It’s not limited to heroes in any way.

      Liked by 5 people

    3. Dainpdf

      There are ways and ways to kill. Some would argue there is a difference between ordering people to the battlefield and deploying a weapon of mass destruction.
      For one, Malanza needs some approval from her people to raise soldiers and do what she did. Cat, as far as the Princess knows, just has to will it.
      I will concede that what Catherine’s did is, in my opinion, not *that* bad. It’s still terrifying and monstrous.

      Like

  14. BryceWilliam

    If Cat wakes up and doesn’t have a new Name I’ll cut off my pinky.

    “She’s having some weird dream”

    Every fucking time she gets Name related changes its from a fucking Named dream, she’s gonna wake up just as their about to lose horribly and be the fucking Faerie Queen or some shit.

    Like

    1. Nguyen Hong Hai

      Pretty sure next chapter will be about that, I think this is a dramatic moment enough for a Name to be awoken. My 2 cents is that it will be related to sacrifice and gaining knowledge, 2 things Cat are familiar with.

      Like

    2. Anon

      Normally I’d agree, but Cat’s already been shown to get ‘wonky’ when her Dominion is affected, and the Grey Pilgrim just carved the sun (a metaphorical aspect of Summer) straight through her gates.

      That, and ‘dreaming’ seems to be more an assumption of Jupiter and the Mages based on Cat’s body warping around, and not some mystical insight into Cat’s mind.

      Plus, if Cat were to be ‘re’-named now, IMO it would be moreso Creation trying to re-assert dominion on her to prevent Arcadia-based shenanigans from getting too out of control, than Cat getting a full-on Fairy ‘name’.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. danh3107

        I know this sounds bad, but honestly, I don’t care if it’s creation trying to re-assert control over Cat. This fae abomination thing has just gotten really old and boring, real quick.

        Like

        1. Agent J

          Boring for some, maybe. I greatly prefer this to having some random name slapped on her as a power boost. Especially if comes at the cost of her free will. When she gets reNamed, I expect there to be greater narrative weight than merely a losing battle.

          Like if the Heroes break and call on an angel to Judge her and she gains a Name to Reject their Judgement. Or if the Gods Bellow spit out Triumphant and her Hellish Legions as answer to the Gods Above and their Righteous Crusade, once again turning Callow into a battlefield for the eldritch to settle their squabbles and Cat has to gain a Name tear them all down and reassert the Laws of Men over her sovereign domain.

          The Queen of Winter should not get a name until it is narratively appropriate. And this battle doesn’t have the narrative weight for a name gain to be satisfying.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Raved Thrad

            If the heroes or crusaders (lots of priests there, who knows?) call on an angel, then they’ve just broken the terms of the fight, and all bets are off. I wonder how heroes breaking their word affects the narrative…

            Like

    3. Dainpdf

      I suspect she won’t get a Name now. We haven’t even had time to really explore her powers yet.
      If she does get a Name, I assume it’ll be Queen of some sort, and in Liesse. Because she was already offered that name there twice. Once when received an offer by the angels, and once when she was about to accept Malicia get Akua’s weapon.

      Like

      1. Agent J

        That’s a very interesting point. I just noticed that Cat has rejected or lost both the names of a Heroic Queen and a Villainous Queen. A third Queen title popping up in Liesse would likely be Neutral, keeping in line with Cat’s Fuck the Gods motto and allowing her to carve her own path outside the purview of the squabbling gods.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Unorginal

          We know Greyknight is not possible, (from a WOG) because there is no cultural inertia, no drive behind the formation of a Name there and in much the same way its more than likely that the same could be said of any neutral queenly name. We haven’t yet found an ingrained cultural drive to create the grey*whatever name.

          Unless something in the story lets her step around that… then no dice. There won’t be a grey-queen name.

          Like

  15. Burdi

    whatever template that is become of catherine’s body is broken
    thats why her body confuse how to remake her body because the file is corrupted

    cat need to make a new file for her body blueprint so it can has a form
    and the good news is that there are a chance for cat to make her height added a few inch
    so her leg can became longer so she can run faster if needed

    Like

    1. Raved Thrad

      “Instead of a Carrion Lord, you would set up a Black Queen. And I will not be terrible, but I shall be beautiful as the morning and the night! And tall! I will be tall for once, dammit!”

      Liked by 8 people

  16. Raved Thrad

    The sheer arrogance of the crusader forces never ceases to astound me. Basically, Malanza was going “How dare this monster kill so many of my soldiers! My self-image is in tatters! I’m so hurt and offended I need a safe space! It’s not like I killed an entire seventh of her army by hemming them in with priest spells and mowing them down when they couldn’t run, right?”

    Welcome to the horror of war. Go home, maybe you’ll live to tell your children of the time you tried to invade and chop up another person’s home kingdom, y’know, “for the good of everyone.”

    Except the dead. The dead don’t care.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Unorginal

      Give her a little credit, it wasn’t up until now that she believed she was doing a *good* thing by invading Callow. For her, she was confident this would merely be the avenue through which she might someday gain revenge. She had no illusions about the ‘goodness’ of her campaign.

      And it wasn’t arrogance. Catherine’s troops may be better but the problem with elite-small forces (and they don’t even qualify as truly elite.) is that they have this inability to absorb losses. The Crusader Army would have won in almost any world where Named didn’t exist. They’ve got men, officers, priests and (admittedly shitty) mages to spare while the loss of every single soldier in the army of callow is keenly felt, much less the harder to replace officers and mages of callow.

      We’ve also been spoiled by the fact that we’re readers. Maz had no idea that this could conceivably happen, she’s Proceran, they don’t do Named often and this magnificent wrecking ball of a move has for the first time in her life made her aware of just how small she is in the grand scope of things. No one deals with that well, especially someone who’s always been so confident that they are important and no reader here including myself would be dealing with the situation any better if they were to fill Maz’s shoes.

      Maybe I’m a little sympathetic because of how this sudden realization hit me in real-life too, nearly died in an industrial explosion (chemical storage facility, TJ, China.) that destroyed windows of my apartment several kilometers away and knocked me down from a standing position. If I had walked too much closer I would be dead as well, every fire-fighter on site and more than a few police officers in a nearby station were pretty much vaporized instantly when water mixed with whatever the fuck was inside the warehouse.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Unorginal

        Addition: Worst part about that entire fuck-up was that somebody had decided to bribe local officials to look the other way about the storage conditions in the warehouse and so when the fire-fighters arrived no one bothered to tell them that it was a warehouse filled with industrial chemicals.

        Like

        1. Raved Thrad

          I have no idea how I’d react to that, but I get that it affected you greatly. I have nearly died a couple of times, all because of something stupid I did (though whether or not it was ultimately justified is something I’ll leave in the air :P). To just barely escape instant, ugly death, however, without warning and due to no fault of your own, that’s something I have managed to avoid so far.

          Like

    1. Nguyen Hong Hai

      At least the lady got actual talent to back up for it and do note that while Cat got a dependable and loyal crew to rely on, Malanza got stuck with a bunch of motleys and backstabbers, also drinking the Goodness Kool-Aids for who knows how long so this is as good as vanilla human can reach.

      Like

  17. SpeckofStardust

    To be the spoil sport here, I think she’ll get up when the gray pilgrim due to here fae survival instincts (we all no she wasnt born with any)

    Like

  18. I’s amusing how much the Procerans are terrified of Catherine when they have the Grey Pilgrim able to shatter gates of this power, the Saint able to cut icebergs with a simple sword and heroes able to survive in conditions where a soldier is absolutely dead meat.
    Catherine’s price for this power is basically to turn herself in an eldrtich abomination. The heroes have just to survive and get older.

    I’m a bit surprised though the Crusaders think that if two of the Woe are out of the way, they can start a new battle and win. They have heroes, it is true. But their numerical advantage has been in great part completely annihilated by this tidal wave. Worse, you can do all the speeches and heavenly blessing you want, the fact is the troops took a monumental beating and certainly won’t be in the mood to march again the next morning.
    The army of Prince Amadis needs a lot of food, fire, sustenance and comfort right now, not aother battle. On the other side, they have an Army of Callow which has just lost its vanguard but whose main body and fortifications are intact.
    Worse, Larat is alive. In the worst case, Juniper can always order a retreat a day or two south and the supplies of Malanza will be further depleted.
    They have the Army of Daoine in their rear, either to block the Stairway or to fall on their levies fleeing from this massacre.
    The Procerans have just lost quantities of officers in the camps, and the regimental structure has just been pulverised. They are a few days away from complete starvation and even a victory may not change this situation.
    You can have the angels on your side, but now unless the next miracle is an entire supply convoy the chances of victory are next to inexistent.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. Letouriste

    Why hakram And Archer were not present? I know hakram was taking care of liesse but an army take precedent and cat could have made a gate for him (the invaders have taken their sweet time to arrive) and Archer was spying on the heroes right? So she should be around.

    Like

  20. Storyaddict

    First I thought why another interlude? It just got interesting. Now i see it as a great way to showcase the aftermath of the gate. Superbly done!

    Truly satisfying was the fact, that despite all their cheats, the so called „good“ side was beaten back by solid tactics, like cutting the supplies, affecting morales with a terrifying gate and the sheer surprise of it. It came to pass at a cost but still.

    To all those crying for cat to get a name please reconsider, for any name comes with drawback when the Named is not acting in the spirit of the name. Black queen is squeamish about bonfire? Power loss. Offering retreat after invading her country? Power loss. That is not a villain in the eyes of creation. Her being part fae allows for more power, as the backlash of the portal interruption would have killed even Black, AND she can act outside of the typical villain vs hero circus in creation.

    Has cat only used the power of a duchesse and not a queen? Because nighfall said, a queen needs a court.

    Please stick with the winter stuff and the eldritch abomination. Its way more intresting. Go queen of winter!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Well, Black is not particularly powerful. He’s particularly cunning. But yeah, apparently the backlash would have killed the Warlock, and it almost killed Mas ego (gotta remember it was split two ways).
      On the topic of binding, I’d say being fae binds her tighter than any Name could.

      Like

  21. Raved Thrad

    On second reading, a couple of things stand out to me: first is the quality of Rozala Malanza. I cannot say whether or not she is a _good_ person, but it is clear she is an honorable one. Of all the scheming Proceran nobles tied up in this game of thrones (or game of houses, depending on which fantasy series reference you prefer), she strikes me as someone to follow and die for. She reminds me of the Atreides from Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. The very fact that she’s not willing to just order her soldiers to their deaths, and that she actually got her hands dirty trying to rescue and help people after after Catherine and Masego’s Summon Icy Lake spell hit. Her inner monologue indicates that she felt she had to shame the other nobles into doing so; that right there indicates that she has a clear idea of what kind of leader she wants to be.

    Second is the oath between Malanza and the Pilgrim. While they can’t seem to get over their “we’re here to kill and enslave you, it’s for your own good” attitude towards Catherine and the rest of Callow, I’m hoping this gives her and the Pilgrim an out. While I don’t see the Pilgrim being able to personally abandon his personal quest to root out the evil that he sees in Catherine, Malanza’s willingness to suffer personal and political ruin to uphold her oath opens the possibility to Cat convincing the Pilgrim to tell her, and by extension her army, to go home.

    As for Malanza swearing undying enmity towards Catherine, well, that would make for a wonderful story of two people caught up in conflict due to their heroic flaws and natures: Catherine’s is that she does what she does, up to and including the most monstrous of deeds, because she’s trying to stop the suffering of her people, while Malanza, from what we’ve seen here, is driven both by her personal honor and what she sees as personal debts. Honor and obligation, the Japanese concept of giri. Greater tales of honor, personal triumph, and tragedy have been written with less.

    Liked by 4 people

  22. Phantom

    I felt that there’s a few discrepancies in this chapter that maybe akin to plot hole unless someone can help to explain or clarify it.

    First, is that I find it quite illogical for the heroes to still even be able to do anything when the lake water was pumping out. People around the mages, priests and heroes are drowning and yet the priests were still able to cast spells while in water? While drowning or swimming? Can they even do that? That applies to the heroes too, slashing glaciers and shooting beams, while they are maybe doing it while probably standing on water? Last I read, the lake’s ice waters were able to reach all way to the army’s fortifications, the ones in the direction that the heroes heading towards. Which under the water rush that still had enough force that make some parts of the palisade broke.
    If I read it this way, it just make sense how the heroes and soldiers were not flushed to the front of the fortification already or crushed under the water volume pressure.
    What’s more the chapter didn’t even explain how the hero could even do what they did but just stating that they did it….

    Second, shouldn’t the gate Cat opened under the lake be just like any other typical portals she had opened before? Maybe slightly larger, but she opened gates big enough for armies to pass through and this time, it only allowing ice water to pass through.
    If that’s the case, there’s been a lot times where she had opened gates near heroes or allowed them the chance to do so. Shouldn’t the heroes just be able to knocked her out before is they just disrupt her opening gates?

    Like

    1. ______

      Priests weren’t anywhere in sight when the army started advancing, so they’re likely to have been in the back of the host. As for the gates, there must be a difference in investment into a smaller gate to a random unossupied part of Arcadia and a mile-wide hole in the sky opened with a dimension-scrying ritual away from the caster.

      Like

      1. Phantom

        That may possibly apply for the priests, but I doubt it would still be possible for the heroes who were almost directly under the water drop though

        Like

  23. grzecho2222

    Battlefirld turned into cold swamp full of corpses, first Name dream happened to include cold swamp full of undead, what are chances that something happens to dead or worse (for Good) that something will use this similarity to escape from Cats dream?

    Like

  24. narcoduck

    I’m betting on a Name dream (the symbolic soul-searching quest), but not what we’ve been used to. As others have pointed out, Cat’s trial to become the Squire involved a swamp full of the undead because she has “this belief that nothing worth having can be had easily” (Book1:Chapter5 role).

    But Cat isn’t human anymore. She is a Dreaming Fae; “A madman [who] thinks the world other than what it is, and in a mortal that is a harmless thing. Not so in one who molds Creation to their will, as all Named do.”
    —King Edmund of Callow, the Inkhand

    I think we’re about to see the Enemy Without (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/EnemyWithout); Good Cat and Evil Cat are about to come out to play, and we’ll see whatever happened to Cat’s Beast of a Name after Winter’s coronation in her soul.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Typo thread:

    The orc had learned to set aside most the dislike of Callowans
    Add of after most

    She knew hat humans did not have the same
    Change hat to that

    The Princess of Aequitan was still sure at least thousand levies
    Add a after at

    and she could already heal the other royals howling
    Change heal to hear

    but looking at the exhausted old man who looked like was folding into himself
    Add he after like

    Come on, people, just make a typo thread first thing each time. :p

    Like

  26. Aze

    Y’know there is a missing member of the Woe : maybe we will see Hakram pull out a ‘Ride of the Rohirrim’ while Masego and Cat sleep, he has a few thousands soldiers if I am not mistaken

    And I really hope that the Wild Hunt will not start their expected betrayal now that their Queen isn’t there to stop them

    Like

  27. thegreatfeed

    I just loved that subtle tipping of the scales by heaven. A moral destroying attack results on the crusader front becoming United. And that arrogant mazela willing to take the retreat deal but still thinking of vengeance.

    Like

  28. Archaic

    While I don’t think Cat is necessarily going to get her new name straight away, I can’t help but see some parallels to a certain myth that might indicate where a new name could come from. So… stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

    Orphaned at a young age, they are taken in by a person they quickly start to see as a father figure. This mentor doesn’t just try to teach them the way of the sword, but also to instill in them certain values which will be invaluable to them once they take their place as a leader of the country of their birth. In particular, attitudes to war which can almost be boiled down to using war as a tool to achieve a final lasting peace (specifically, under one’s own rule). They do not suggest that might makes right so much as they imply that one must harness (destructive) might to enforce/implement the cause of the right.

    Put up against a number of threats to their homeland, one of their most prominent and foes is a strong and assertive magic wielding woman who comes from a background of nobility. Through their actions, this foe plunges the protagonists homeland into virtual civil war. This individual had a kind of special tie to our protagonist, and is strongly associated with the fae.

    Establishing their credentials to rule over their homeland, our orphan pulls a special sword from a stone. But this particular sword was special to them only in this context. It was not the weapon that our protagonist would eventually be best known for (and notably, their acquisition of that involves a large body of water…).

    The orphan eventually discovers their “real father”, and inherits their birthright. By the time they’ve established their rule over their country of birth, the orphan has surrounded themselves with a group of followers, including several renowned warriors whose mere name strikes fear into the hearts of their enemies.

    Due to their possession of a certain thing with fae origins, our protagonist essentially has the ability to recover from any wound, with time. They don’t even truly bleed. But when this is suddenly and unexpectedly taken away from them, they’re able to be grievously wounded. Being taken away to the lands of the fae, they return in the hour of their country’s greatest need, acting to defend it against invaders.

    Or to put it more bluntly….it sounds to me like Catherine is the Once and Future Queen.

    Like

  29. Jack

    “We’d prepared for many things, Your Grace,” the Rogue quietly said. “But the sky opening up to drop a lake was beyond our predictions. There is no fault in this, save in believing that our opponent would not be so monstrous.”

    Man, these guys have no idea how many plans she vetoed before coming onto one as ‘nice’ as this, do they?

    Like

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