Interlude: Kaleidoscope III

“The meaning of the exercise of war is the destruction of your foe’s ability to wage it. ‘Victory’ does not exist as an independent entity; it is merely the manifestation of the enemy’s defeat.”
– Extract from ‘Considerations on Warfare’ by Marshal Grem One-Eye

It would come down to steel and blood. The Thief had failed, not that Juniper held much hope for success. The woman was not as clever a liar as she believed, and the enemy was cunning. Much as she disliked the former heroine, the orc refrained from spending a quarter hour verbally ripping her to pieces. She had more important duties to see to, now that near forty thousand crusaders and their heroic hired killers were on the march. Heroes, huh. Much like knights, Juniper had never thought much of them. All a knight could claim to be was a killer on a horse. The rest was pageantry. And heroes, well, the Hellhound had never cared for the smell of hypocrisy. ‘The Heavens told me to do it’ did not qualify as a valid excuse under Legion regulations, and those were the closest thing to fair laws Creation had ever seen as far as she was concerned.

“She bought us a few hours, at least,” Aisha said.

The two of them were alone in the tent, at least until the rest of the general staff arrived. Juniper cast a look at the Taghreb, eyes lingering on soft skin of her bare wrists. Such delicate appearance, for such a dangerous woman. The urge to sink her teeth into the warm veins warred with the urge to feel the softness with her own rough hands. The orc cleared her throat.

“For all the good it’s done,” she said. “We’re in for a red day.”

The olive-skinned Staff Tribune flicked her an amused glance.

“The Fifteenth’s eternal motto,” she teased.

The orc did not allow the laughter in those bright eyes to distract her.

“We have a choice to make,” she growled. “Static or moving.”

Princess Malanza was splitting her host in half, roughly fifteen thousand on each side of the marshlands advancing in thick columns. It’d been too much to hope for the crusaders would try going through the water. It didn’t take Grem One-Eye to see that’d mean easy targets for Juniper’s engines, and Rozala Malanza had already proved she was no fool.

“Legion doctrine dictates retreat to a hardened position, when met with superior force,” Aisha said.

Their current position was as hardened as field fortifications could allow, so the traditional call would be remaining behind the palisades and preparing for a hard fight. It meant, though, surrendering the initiative to the enemy. And the Hellhound had been burned playing number games with this foe before. She was wary of a repeat.

“We could have local superiority, if we sent enough men to hit a single column,” Juniper said. “And possibly break that side before the other one gets anywhere close.”

“Without heroes on the field, it would be risky,” the Taghreb said. “With them, it nears wishful thinking.”

Her Warlord had picked a fucking bad time to take a nap, that much was undeniable. Were there even half as many heroes, Juniper would not hesitate to strike anyway. Twelve, though, was too many for her tastes. Even if all they did was prop up morale wherever they stood it might be enough to tip the balance. If the Saint of Swords or the Grey Pilgrim happened to be with either army, massacre was the word that came to mind.

“We let them march without contest, and by afternoon we’ll be surrounded and up to our neck in Named,” Juniper said. “Even if we don’t give battle, we have to slow them down.”

“We have munitions,” Aisha pointed out.

They’d both known that, but the point of this conversation was not her friend pushing for a plan. The back and forth allowed Juniper to sharpen her own thoughts, using Aisha’s words as a grindstone.

“There’s a thought,” the Hellhound mused. “Not as a weapon, but as ground denial. Plaster one flank with goblinfire and hit the other column with our full muster.”

“We’d be leaving our camp exposed,” the Staff Tribune said. “We risk a wipe if they have a way to cross the marshlands or get around the goblinfire.”

“They’re leaving their own exposed,” Juniper noted. “They’ve got at most a few thousand soldiers there that’re fighting fit. And they’re serving as Malanza’s strategic reserve. Which means this isn’t just testing our defence, she’s aiming for a full victory.”

“Assuming they know our queen is incapacitated, they might be under the impression they need to hurry before she awakens,” Aisha said.

“That has sense,” Juniper said. “And if true, it means the enemy is committed. They will not withdraw because of losses.”

“Malanza’s not been shy about trading casualties so far,” the Taghreb shrugged. “This is not fresh observation.”

Juniper shook her head.

“No,” she replied. “It is. If you’re right then static defence is not an option. They’ll not retreat with sundown no matter how many we kill, just send wave after wave against the palisades through the night. They’re in it to the death, and that means the only way we make it through this is by forcing a retreat.”

Aisha’s eyes narrowed.

“And the only thing that would make Princess Malanza call one is the risk of a defeat so major her army would not recover from it,” the Staff Tribune said.

“Which we can’t inflict by force of arms,” the Hellhound said. “Or by Named superiority.”

That meant the effect had to be obtained indirectly, through strategic means. Juniper licked her chops hungrily. It was a puzzle. One where the slightest misstep would doom her army and likely Callow with it.

Gods, she’d missed this.

Captain Pierre Dulac squinted into the sun. The Callowans were fucking crazier than he’d thought, because he was looking at a force of at least four thousand. The Brabantine had served in the army of Prince Arnaud for a decade and a half now – loyalty to the principality of one’s birth was all well and good, but the Cantalins paid better – and fought in four of the Great War’s largest pitched battles. He’d been known to make the boast that he’d killed someone from every principality in Procer, after a few drinks, and for all he knew it might even be true. He had, to put it bluntly, gotten a handle on the waging of war. No fantassin lived long enough to make it to his current rank if they didn’t, much less rise to command of a free company as he had. Which was why he was surprised the enemy had abandoned perfectly good palisades and the cover of their war machines to sally out against the column he was the vanguard of. Spitting out the ball of redleaf he’d been sucking on all morning, the captain slowed his march so his second would catch up. Pierre often led from the front when on the march, though he’d gotten old enough he left the sword-waving to younger sorts when battle started.

“Captain,” Lieutenant Francesca, better known as Belle, greeted him.

The southerner was a massive beast of a woman, built like an ox and hairy as one. Some Lycaonese fuck had taken off the tip of her nose with a blade at the Battle of Aisne, which only added to the gruesome spectacle that was her. Not a nice woman. She was quick to use the knife and cheated at dice. But the men were fucking terrified of her, and that had uses.

“Tell me my leaves didn’t go bad, Belle,” he said. “I’m not hallucinating that army, am I?

“I see them,” the lieutenant grunted.

“Fuck,” Pierre feelingly said. “I was hoping they’d stay holed up and we could trick another company into leading the first wave.”

“Callowans,” the woman shrugged. “Hicks one and all. You want to send a messenger to the prince to ask for orders?”

The captain grimaced. He’d rather not if he could avoid it. Their column was following the western bank of that creepy magic swamp, from a bird’s eye view, and unlike the other army they had no cavalry backing them. Princess Malanza had gone to command the host with horse, like a good little Arlesite trying to win wars one charge at a time, and that left Prince Arnaud and Princess Adeline sharing command over this column. Pierre didn’t know shit about the Princess of Orne, but everyone and their sister knew Prince Arnaud was a proper twat. He was a twat who paid well and on time, so Pierre’s company remained in his service, but the fantassin wasn’t eager at the notion of following the military wisdom of the Prince of Cantal. Like all princes, he wasn’t known to send his retinue into the breach when there were spare fantassins lying around. Better to take a look on their own terms, the captain figured, without any ‘inspired’ instructions about when they could retreat.

“Rustle up the last ten men who pissed you off, Belle,” Pierre Dulac said. “We’re going to have a closer look at whatever they’re cooking up.”

Tribune Abigail of Summerholm should have known someone was out to fuck her when she got offered the promotion after Akua’s Folly. Sure the pay increase was nice, and word had got around she’d been in the frontlines during both the Arcadian Campaign and Second Liesse – which made it really easy to trick strapping young lads from home into her bed, if they were as dumb as they were pretty. Plenty of those floating around, it was the type that made shit life choices just like her and enrolled in the Army of Callow. On the other hand, she’d been transferred from the command of General Hune to that of General Nauk. The godsdamned Princekiller himself. The orc looked like a torch had eaten half his face, and acted like he was going to eat half Creation to even that out. Of course they’d put her under the command of the one man in the Army of Callow who was guaranteed to be sent over and over again into the worst possible messes. Abigail had bought a sack of leeches in Laure and paid someone to drop them in Tribune Ashan’s bedding when no one was looking.

That fucker was the one who’d recommended her for promotion.

Worst of all, her cohort was green as grass. Oh, sure, the Hellhounds had drilled them to collapse and taken everyone through a brutal gauntlet of field manoeuvres and war games. But they’d not looked death in the eye properly until yesterday and this was already beginning to shape into a worst fucking mess than Akua’s Folly, which was really saying something. Three thousand dead legionaries within the first hour, because the priests on the other side had found some loophole in the Book of All Things. See if I ever give alms to the godsdamned House of Light again, the tribune grimly thought. Could have been her down there, if the Hellhound had decided on different tactics. The Black Queen had seen their priestly fuckery and raised them mass slaughter, which had been good for morale. Until rumours she’d been wounded by the spell began circulating, anyway. Another rumour had immediately started going around that it was a trick and she was baiting the crusaders, but Abigail could recognize the work of the Jacks when she heard it. The Queen of Callow was having her beauty sleep while the enemy marched. Rank hath its privileges.

“Tribune,” someone spoke from behind her.

Abigail spat and turned to look at Captain Krolem. The orc was standing stiffly, broad arms visibly itching to salute. It’d taken her a while to wean him off that. Fresh meat from the Steppes, this one, passed through a recruiting camp in the Fields and now a proper loyal subject of the crown of Callow. Now that the Tower had forbidden recruitment in Praes, his sort was rarer addition.

“I’m listening,” she said. “But if it’s the fucking sappers again-”

“It isn’t, ma’am,” the orc assured her. “Our outer line reports enemy movement.”

“So they have eyes,” Abigail noted. “Definitely picked the right people for the watch.”

“Aside from the column,” the orc clarified. “A single tenth of Procerans. Scouts, we believe.”

Ah, shit. Her cohort was far ahead of where the sappers were plotting whatever Marshal Juniper had sent them here to do, but she had instructions from the Princekiller to stomp hard on any crusaders coming to have a look. General Nauk had made it clear his forces would not be retreating until the sappers were ready, and someone out to kill Abigail had decided it was a great idea for her cohort to be out on the front lines. At least she wasn’t the poor bastard whose cohort was stuck next to the creepy murder swamp full of dead people to anchor the flank. Hells of a silver lining.

“Send out a line,” she told the captain. “And since I’m in such a giving mood, they can eat whoever they kill.”

“Kind of you, ma’am,” Krolem replied, sounding absolutely serious.

Of course he was. Tribune Abigail worried her lip and stared at the column in the distance. An hour, maybe, before the enemy was in engagement range. They’d been waiting out here for two. Maybe the Heavens would smile on her for once, and the sappers would be done soon. She looked up at the sunny sky, grimacing.

“Come on, you assholes,” she said. “I got to sermons thrice a year, that’s gotta count for something.”

“Only four thousand, Your Graces,” Pierre said, bowing again.

He wasn’t sure if etiquette required it, but with royals it was always better to be on the safe side. The Princess of Orne had turned out to be young and easy on the eyes, not that he allowed himself to look. That was a good way to end up blinded. Neither she nor Prince Arnaud had bothered to dismount from their horses to receive his report after he was ushered into the presence of greatness. He was pretty sure each horse was worth at least ten times the war chest he’d accumulated after over a decade of soldiering. They were, he grimly thought, probably better fed too. His company had bought food and kept a hidden stash since, because relying on the largesse of princes was a good way to end up starving, but even their own reserves were beginning to run out. The horses, he could not help but notice, looked perfectly healthy. Better a prince’s mount than a peasant, eh?

“And you did not approach close enough to ascertain what they were doing there,” Prince Arnaud of Cantal said, pawing at his wisps of a beard.

The disapproval was clear, as was the implied question of why he had not. Somehow the fantassin doubted that the answer of ‘the orcs they sent out looked a little too eager’ would earn him much favour here. He cleared his throat.

“As my men and I had already come close enough to see their formation, I judged it more important to return and make sure that knowledge was brought to you,” he lied.

It was one thing to kill for Prince Arnaud’s silver, another to die for it. The man didn’t pay that well.

“Prudent,” the Princess of Orne said, tone neutral. “And what can you tell us about their formation?”

“They’re digging in, Your Grace,” Pierre said, bowing again. “There was no reserve, but there were troops detached on their flank to prevent easy encirclement. It looked like they were preparing to fight.”

Princess Adeline frowned.

“With four thousand?” she said. “We’ve more than thrice that number.”

The captain had not been addressed directly, and so decided not risk speaking up.

“Were there many mages, Captain?” Prince Arnaud asked him.

“Not on the front lines, Your Grace,” Pierre replied. “I cannot speak for further back.”

“It seems a rather obvious trap,” the Princess of Orne mused.

“They might be a mere sacrifice to slow us down,” Prince Arnaud said.

“Or a feint by the Callowans,” the other royal said. “Trying to give us pause without any true threat.”

“We can simply smash through,” Prince Arnaud said lightly. “Why even bother with battle order, against such feeble opposition?”

Pierre winced. Going in half-cocked against the bastard child of the Legions of Terror would get a lot of people killed before numbers won the day. The captain had never fought legionaries before, but he’d heard stories.

“Let us not blunder at this late hour, Arnaud,” the Princess of Orne coldly said. “A careful approach is needed. We give battle only when properly arrayed.”

“if you insist,” Prince Arnaud indifferently said. “Fuss, if you feel the need. The Principate will prevail regardless.”

Pierre Dulac silently wondered when they going to remember they had not dismissed him. And, perhaps, if it was time to politely inquire whether the Princess of Orne was still hiring.

Princess Rozala Malanza watched the enemy host through her mother’s old Baalite eye, the clever arrangement of lenses within the wooden tube allowing her to study in detail even at a distance. Ashurans demanded a fortune for every single one of these, but the imitations from Nicae were of much shoddier quality. That the Thalassocracy would remain so tight-fisted over a device they had not even invented themselves – it came from across the Tyrian Sea – was typical of that grasping gaggle of merchants and sailors.

“More than twelve thousand,” she said.

“They mean to give battle?” Prince Amadis frowned. “Would it not have been a superior notion to do so from atop the palisades?”

“Maybe,” the Princess of Aequitan hedged. “The Legions of Terror are known for their skill at sieges, but this is the Black Queen’s army. They made their reputation on pitched battles.”

“Then why even raise them?” the Prince of Iserre murmured.

“Something’s changed,” Rozala said. “Their general has a plan.”

“One would assume,” Amadis drily replied. “I don’t suppose you could hazard a guess as to the nature of that plan?”

The dark-haired princess frowned. The enemy should have perhaps nineteen thousand soldiers left. Assuming at least two thousand had been left to guard the baggage train, the soldiers in front of them represented around three quarters of the Army of Callow. That left a rough quarter unaccounted for, a fact that was making her uneasy. The enemy could not hope to hold back the other column with those numbers, they’d be encircled and slaughtered to the last. And, to be frank, if defeat in detail was to be attempted it was Adeline’s host that should have been the target. Rozala had stripped it of cavalry specifically to tempt such a blunder since the Saint of Swords was with that army.

“They could be attempting to delay us until sundown,” Rozala finally said. “To prevent us from encircling their camp, counting on my being reluctant to conduct war after dark.”

“You do not sound convinced,” the Prince of Iserre observed.

“It would be the first major mistake by their commander,” she said. “I was taught it is a rule of war that when a skilled enemy makes an obvious mistake it is no such thing.”

“It may no longer be the same commander,” Prince Amadis said. “Their Marshal would hold authority, in the Black Queen’s absence.”

“Juniper of the Red Shields,” Rozala muttered. “Hasenbach’s reports did not mark her a fool. She is alleged to be one of the finest graduates of their War College.”

“A skilled second does not necessarily mean a skilled first,” the man replied. “I will not question you in matters of war, but what seems like foolishness might simply be youth and desperation.”

She might be young but she’s fought just as many battles as the rest of us, the princess thought. Yet the Princess of Aequitan could not remember a single of these where the incipient Black Queen was not holding overall command. It was a plausible explanation that Amadis had offered. Yet she still felt as if she was being invited to make a mistake. It was irksome she could not quite put it into words. It was… an alignment. Rozala knew that dwindling supplies were forcing her to be aggressive. She’d only risked splitting the host in two because heroes accompanied both halves, and there should be no villains left to fight them. The Wild Hunt might strike unexpectedly, so she’d left soldiers to guard her camp and wounded, but everything else she had to field was on the march. Her armies were moving in strength, but there was a certain fragility to that strength. All of this together was bringing muted dread she could not explain.

“We wait,” she finally said. “The other column has orders to signal if they engage the enemy or find their path unobstructed. We will proceed when we receive either.”

An hour passed with two armies eyeing each other across the field until sorcery rose into the sky. Three red streams. Princess Adeline was attacking an enemy force.

The choice was out of her hands, then. She could not allow the army before her the possibility of disengaging or reinforcing the other side of the marsh.

Watching the streaks of red in the sky from her open tent, Juniper allowed the reports spoke to her to go unanswered. The enemy on the left flank was moving to engage Nauk. The enemy on the right was moving to tie up the army she’d put in front of them. She looked down at the map on the table, the figurines she had set down.

“That,” she murmured through her fangs, “was a mistake.”

The Hellhound smiled, and in her mind’s eye she loosed the arrow.

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127 thoughts on “Interlude: Kaleidoscope III

        1. Levinus

          I just finished worm.Is ward a continuaton or just an after story prolonged like those cash grabs riding on the originals success?

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          1. Fern

            It’s a direct continuation, it takes place about a couple years after the finale of Worm. I’m guessing most people aren’t too fond of it because the MC is lawful good and not chaotic good/neutral, but I’m pretty fine with it. I think it’s finally hit its stride with the newest arc.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. Levinus

              Just finsed the first chapter.A new series with Glory Hole’s perspective,ok I shouldn’t judge so soon but is the story still related with taylor or just an aftermat and rebuilding?

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                1. Anon

                  At the risk of possibly being pedantic (and or spoilery), unless something’s changed or I missed something (only sporadically checking in on Ward), Taylor’s fate, whatever it may be, is up to the reader.

                  It’s perhaps more accurate (again, unless I missed Wildbow retconning the epilogue for like the 4th time) to say that unless something REALLY changes in Ward’s story development, Taylor won’t be featuring in Ward in any significant capacity beyond her past actions.

                  Liked by 4 people

              1. sheer_falacy

                It’s not about Taylor. It’s a new story taking place after the events of Worm, featuring both new and familiar faces.

                And no, you shouldn’t judge so soon. Victoria has changed, and everything we saw about her in Worm except her interlude was filtered through Taylor’s view.

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                1. Anon

                  I mean, I’ve given it like…..7 arcs or so, and IMO, Wildbow is struggling to write a non-‘escalation’ plot that manages to hook me….for that (and a few other reasons), since it hasn’t hooked me, I’m just kinda getting….bored.

                  However, further discussion of Ward can probably be better achieved in a more appropriate setting than a comment chain in a different author’s work – as Ward is (apparently purposefully) going for a different tone than Worm, and/or this work.

                  Liked by 1 person

                    1. Theo Promes

                      not quite sure this is the right place to discuss it, but I have to say, I disagree. I enjoy Ward immensely, and while I’d agree that it took a few chapters to hit its stride narrating the rather daunting premise of team Therapy, I feel like things have been shaping up quite nicely over the fallen arc. The main thing I personally am missing right now is villainous banter, but I’m pretty confident that comedic relief itch will get scratched soon, too.
                      It is true that wildbow is amazing at escalating to grab the reader and pull them along, but I also like this sort of post-apocalyptic connection building, politics style narrative that he is exploring currently. And I’m pretty sure the other shoe will drop at some point…

                      Liked by 1 person

      1. stevenneiman

        I honestly like Ward, but I do agree that PGTE is probably more like Worm than Ward is.I think the point of Ward is to act as a sort of counterpoint to Worm, focusing more on the dangers of being reckless and thriving on chaos. On the other hand, Guide has been moving a bit that direction as well, with the way that Cat had started having to simultaneously take the initiative and worry about the consequences of her actions.
        I feel like Cat is moving towards a compromise between caution and unpredictability, while Victoria is trying to leave her old, chaos-loving self behind entirely. Which makes sense because Victoria was personally harmed by her mistakes a lot worse, and never really had any major victories with her old methods. For all that they had unpleasant side-effects, Cat’s methods did usually get the intended results.

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  1. JD

    Oooo, interesting. Because she is Named, Cat has received all of the credit for her previous victories, even though we all know that the majority of the genius tactics were Juniper’s. That’s a major tactical advantage.

    Liked by 13 people

    1. RoflCat

      I think it’s more because in Procer (and Praes too) they’re still under beliefs of Name > all else, in that anyone who’s good enough to change the world would have a Name attached i.e. they look up at the ceiling.

      Whereas Cat (and Black to a certain degree) is trying to raise the floor, and despite their lack of screen time her non-Name companions are the ones keeping Callow in shape (Talbot, Ratface, Juniper, even the Jacks are made up of non-Names)

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Yotz

        That, and she’s an ork – which means she can’t be that dangerous and/or bright (beyond the obvious rude bestial cunning and brute force) from their point of view. Yes, there are some /in/famous of greenskin kin, but since Procerans never have heard of that particular one in terms of One-Eye or Knightsbane – well, soon they will know better…

        Liked by 5 people

      2. Porkman

        Procer is not a name believing place. I think it’s said somewhere that they are unique in that they aren’t ruled by names and they kick ass without them. They have Cordelia Hasenbach, a non named, going up against the Calamities for 15 years and she’s not dead. Procer uses names but they don’t rely on them.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. Porkman

            True, but they aren’t ruled by the names. Praes has it’s ruling structure built into its local names. Dread Emperor/Empress is a name. Chancellor is a name. By definition, it can’t be ruled without the ruler becoming that name. Same thing with the Tyrant.

            First Prince isn’t a name.

            Liked by 1 person

    2. RanVor

      It’s funny how they try to discern what the change of the Callowan command means for them, while in reality there was no such thing. It was Juniper all along.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. Theo Promes

        yeah apparently they think cat is a tactical genius, which is admittedly plausible given her unerring ascension and the various battles where her armies managed ulikely victories. That this is a team effort between cat as a blunt instrument/fulcrum and Juniper’s tactical genius is plausibly much less apparent from the outside.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Engineer

          Their mistake was not categorizing the Fifteenth’s battles into two sections: the Narrative side and the Mundane side. Catherine compared to Juniper is the less skilled General when it comes to mundane warfare tactics, however in terms of Narrative Warfare she has few equals, having beat entities several orders of magnitude greater than her through exploiting Stories.

          With Hasenbach’s reports and the wisdom and experience of the Grey Pilgrim, they have all the required prior information and tools to reach this conclusion. But their prejudice and arrogance are blinding them to this.

          The Proceran Royalty will pay dearly for this mistake.

          Liked by 6 people

  2. Matthew

    Since conservation of ninjitsu is in effect, can the saint of swords be tied up by just having a couple hundred people to hack through? Like, even though theoretically she could cut the legs off of hundreds of people in one sweep, her powers won’t allow it unless it’s against named.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Letouriste

          She is shaping to be a secondary character with some screen time;) we have seen her in three or four interludes I think (first battle against deads,talking a little to cat just before liesse,here and maybe somewhere else I forgotten)

          Liked by 3 people

    1. Saint isn’t as good as she thinks she is. Remember back to one of the interludes or extra chapters (Can’t remember which) where Ranger snuck into the Undead Kings lair? Then there was the fight between Ranger and the Summer Queen. It was in one of those stories that Ranger stated she only went after those that might be a challenge? Notice Ranger hasn’t gone after Saint? Think about that, Saint has a rep and she is good, but she relies too much on certain tricks over and over and she can be baited as shown by Cat. Then there was the point that the Saint made about Cat, that her story is in the pattern of a hero (Cat was supposed to be a hero, if you read between the lines of one of the epigraphs and why Black sought her out). If Cat is following a hero’s pattern and Saint is opposing her that forces her into the villain pattern, and what happens to Named villains that attack a smaller force led by a Named following the hero pattern…They get trumped and killed, something Black pointed out more than once.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. nick012000

        For all we know, Ranger *has* gone after the Saint of Swords, and either the Saint of Swords was strong enough to drive her back, or Ranger decided to let her live afterwards.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Engineer

          I think its the latter.

          Ranger hasn’t shown to be in the habit of killing her prey (that haven’t truly pissed her off); merely to beat the shit out of them. What usually happens to a Hero after they get their ass handed to them by a stronger “rival”? They get stronger, allowing the Ranger to once again hunt them which perfectly feeds into Ranger’s Role. Take note she didn’t kill the Queen of Summer.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. eso

    And it naturally occurs to nobody in the Proceran leadership that Juniper might have been calling the military shots the whole time.

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  4. Allafterme

    I do feel sorry for the poor Tribute Abigail. Nauk still kicking and twice as mean than before is just the stuff nightmares are made of 😀

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  5. Blinks

    I think she’s going for the food supplies.

    Destroy her own, destroy theirs. Everybody starves. Unless they allow Cat to take people home through her gates.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sniggs44

      This does seem like a good strategy, but IIRC the crusaders have enough food to march all the way to a major Callowans city, with or without the stuff Cat’s army has.

      If it was just a matter of taking out the crusader’s food supplies, why hasn’t that been the focus from the get go? Just drop the lake on their supply train and then portal out.

      I’m thinking (hoping) the strategy Juniper is executing isn’t just a way to burn the enemy supply train.

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      1. HiThere

        I’ll try to answer your questions.

        It was mentioned earlier that the crusaders have only 1-2 days of supplies left. Part of Rozala’s objectives was to seize the legion’s supplies, which would allow them to just barely make it to Harrow.

        Taking out the supplies was a large part of the earlier strategy; Thief was sent during the negotiation with the princes to steal their supply stores, she succeeded, and later Hune and the wild hunt were sent via gates to make sure additional supplies from Procer did not reach the crusaders.

        The “Lakehammer” used by Cat was a trump card, an army-killer. Using it too early would leave the crusaders wary and ready to counter. Better to send Thief and keep that card for when it would be really needed.

        As for Juniper’s strategy, unknown, I speculate she’s going for defeat in detail. Engaging the crusader side with the horses, the less-obvious target, while keeping the other one at bay with munitions and goblin. Local legion superiourity could carry the day, though I do not know how exactly she plans to deal with the heroes.

        Hope this was helpful 🙂

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        1. Darkening

          Minor point, Thief stole the supplies while Cat and the Wild Hunt were attacking the camp, not during the negotiations.

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      2. Blinks

        They’ve got enough food now. If Juniper takes out their food supplies and nukes her own things get far more dicey. Especially if she takes out any kind of siege weaponry that might be available.

        At which point Juniper can either set herself in for a fight to the death around Cat and hope the Queen awakens in their darkest hour or begins retreating the army herself.

        At which point the crusaders have no food, their supply lines interdicted and no cities within reach they could batter down to get needed supplies.

        Oh! Maybe she just punches the whole way. Goes through the marsh, through the Crusaders camp and starts moving north. Simply abandons her Camp entirely. They take each others camps “Battle of the Camps” as it might be known but from Junipers point of view it works out perfectly.

        Like

        1. grzecho2222

          Or Hakram with Duchess will box them around Cat, like the second Battle of Akka (1189) making this double siege (Akka was triple at one point, but maybe we will see this also)

          Like

    2. Oh jeez, there’s a thought.

      Is Larat still available to Juniper as a resource? Because if he is, a scorched earth retreat might be a valid victory tactic. Torch whatever supplies you can’t take with you, detach a substantial force to sweep your opponents few remaining supplies from behind (the assumed 2,000 soldiers guarding the baggage train have not actually been seen I’d like to point out), and then fall back in good order through a gate. Give your opponent a moving battle rather than a static defense, to keep your forces from being pinned down so they can retreat when they have to. Or perhaps just delay the start of combat by as many hours as possible and use harassing tactics which drag the battle on as long as possible.

      Procer’s so low on food already that a day’s delay (less if Juniper hits their supplies any more) might leave them too hungry and tired to successfully assault a Harrow which Juniper is defending. Stalling Procer for time and then bugging out is totally a victory condition for Juniper.

      It’d even match up with One-Eye’s opening line. Victory isn’t about any nebulous definition of ‘winning’, it’s about removing your opponent’s ability to wage war. And you can’t wage war on empty stomachs. Therefore any outcome which sees Procer still here a day from now and the Legions not here is a win for the Legions.

      And as a last detail, this seems like something that would be remarkably hard for Heroes to narrative their way out of, and not a tactic the Saint of Swords or the Gray Pilgrim seem well-suited to counter.

      Liked by 2 people

          1. On the one hand, having fun with the treason game. On the other, having heaps of fun playing very-distinctive-cat-and-rather-surprised-mouse with an entire crusade. On the gripping hand, having fun just sitting back and watching all the tangling, untangling and crashing the various narratives are going through… Decisions, decisions; what is a fun loving fey to do?

            All, probably. With a little bit of Bejewled on the side for when feeling a little bit bored.

            Like

    3. Author Unknown

      IIRC the mnemonic is 5 minutes without air, 5 days without water, 5 weeks without food.

      They are not going to fall over dead just from missing a day or two of food. They will, however, become lethargic and unable to really fight. If Juniper fled now, Procer would probably be able to make it to any nearby city, assuming it isn’t heavily defended. That might mean Procer would have to make some hard decisions, like abandoning armor and weapons or eating horses, but it is possible.
      I don’t claim to know what Juniper has planned, but I’m betting it’s a better option for ending the Procer army as a threat.

      Like

      1. CBH

        Its the rule of 3’s, not 5’s. 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food.

        Might be important just in case you’re ever trapped in the wilderness. 😉

        Like

        1. DD

          Kinda right. People forget or are never taught certain things. The numbers are based on rough averages, so the ability to survive is actually variable, depending on the person and the local environment. Also, if you have certain types of food, it may contain all the water you need to get by. Many don’t realize that the old “8 glasses a day” is from an 1800s book and had a second part to the sentence ….”most of which can be found in food.”
          People can and have lasted a lot more than three weeks on no food, though they absolutely would be unable to fight at that point.

          Like

          1. RanVor

            Well, the point is to neutralize them as a fighting force, not to starve them to death. A week without a meal and it’s more than done.

            Like

        2. Tristan

          For those of you wondering, CBH has the correct estimate. I’ve heard the 4 & 5 numbers thrown around before but realistically, average individuals may still be alive in that ‘extra’ time they’re likely to be incapacitated. You might survive to day four with out water but you’re also likely to be incapable to saving yourself at that point.
          Would also like to point out that the mnemonic is intended to inform your priorities in an emergency. In extreme weather, shelter is far more critical than food & water.

          Like

      2. RanVor

        Even if they managed to capture a city, they might be forced to pillage to get enough supplies to survive, breaching the agreement and destroying their credibility completely.

        Like

      3. Yeah a day without food won’t kill anyone in Procer’s army. But it will *annihilate* their capacity to give battle. Let alone to siege a fortified position.

        A traveler forced to go without food for a day is miffed and a little uncomfortable. A soldier forced to go without food for a day is a corpse come battle.

        Like

  6. taovkool

    On the other hand, she’d been transferred from the command of General Hune to that of General Nauk. The godsdamned Princekiller himself. The orc looked like a torch had eaten half his face, and acted like he was going to eat half Creation to even that out. Of course they’d put her under the command of the one man in the Army of Callow who was guaranteed to be sent over and over again into the worst possible messes.

    You know, it feels strange that Nauk hasn’t made an appearance as of yet after the arc began. He’s a pretty big supporting character and they’ve all made their appearances. What the hell happened to that guy after Warlock fixed him up?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Letouriste

      I think cat is kinda avoiding him a little because of guilt. So we would not see him much until an important meeting where the complicated feelings would be plain to see or something like that…or until next interlude^^

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Nani the fuck?

    ”The urge to sink her teeth into the warm veins warred with the urge to feel the softness with her own rough hands” ???

    Like

    1. Morgenstern

      Same thought, but I don’t quite see how destroying their camp would necessarily force a retreat. Is she banking on Rozala’s honor or what? oO

      Like

      1. Morgenstern

        One way: Robber and Archer would be my first guess. They’re still out there. And Juniper just thought in terms of an archery, as tiny tidbit that might or might not be important.

        Like

      2. Morgenstern

        Hm… One thought just occurred: are the priests back in the camp…?
        And as a quick mobile force maybe we could see the Order of Broken Bells on the move again. Might send ’em around.

        Like

  8. “`She looked down at the map on the table, the figurines she had set down.

    “That,” she murmured through her fangs, “was a mistake.”

    The Hellhound smiled, and in her mind’s eye she loosed the arrow.“`

    Welp. They’re dead.

    Liked by 8 people

  9. Antoninjohn

    Cat is a goddess so she can answer prayers from her belivers/followers which is pretty much her whole army, would come in handy if the priests manage to shutdown​ the Order of Broken Bells magic resistance, I know that should not be possible but with how much the “Good” guys are cheating I can she them doing that

    Like

  10. maresther23

    There is the shape of a story there. In the middle of the Moonless Night the Black Queen raises to defend her friends and country, unleashing monstrous forces against her enemies. By dawn, the Grey Pilgrim Forgives the monster, restoring her soul and cutting her mantle. By midway, Catherine Foundling defeats her enemies once more, trough superior tactics and with a weaponized box.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Antoninjohn

    The story is a Practical Guide to Evil not a Hypocrite Guide to Heroes. Cat is not becoming a Hero and serving the Gods Above, it does not matter how much they to brainwash her she does not become a hero

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Decius

      Whether she does the will of the Gods Above depends a lot on what the will of the Gods Above is.

      It’s entirely plausible that she’s a Hero AND a Villain, in addition to neither.

      Like

      1. Engineer

        The main thing about practicality is that you don’t have any rigid boundaries. If Cat needs to play the role of a Hero to achieve her objectives she will do so, if she needs to play the Role of a Villain to achieve the same she will also do so. So her playing the role of the Hero, come to save her army in their darkest hour is entirely inline with the theme of the Guide because she is not is deluded by the “good” of the Gods Above nor the “power” the Gods Below offer. The Roles they empower are merely means to an end.

        Like

        1. grzecho2222

          Enlightened tyranny, positivism and very TTS “Who said that gods are more than mortals” seem to be running theme of Team Cat and Team Black

          Like

  12. Fern

    So, here’s what we know:

    Because Princess General is aiming for a complete victory in one go, and a single hero, let alone fourteen of them, buffs morale in attacking armies, the Principalities won’t tactically retreat, meaning Juniper is going for a strategic endgame here.

    Rozala’s camp only has 2000 guarding it, likely with all of their supplies.

    The bulk of the Callowan army is looking to plant munitions, then retreat.

    Here’s what i’m guessing: Juniper draws in the Principality host between the munitions and the palisade, and starts working their asses like a drunk stepfather. She then sends her 2000-odd force of knights under Talbot to hit their supply train and then make a fighting retreat. SInce the heroes and Amadis’ own ambitions won’t allow Rozala to retreat, this is the only winning option for Callow.

    The big hole in this plan, of course, is the heroes. But then, a Queen awakening at her kingdom’s most dire hour to lead her army and her troupe of named has a nasty shape to it.

    This is gonna be interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hyped to see if Nauk can gain name. I mean Hakram was a large part in Chat’s story and Nauk mirrors villainous traits. He was raised from a near dead state by Warlock, killed a large demon in the midst of red rage, but most of all his reputation precedes him which can foster the creation of a name. I mean if rogue sorceror and thief are names they should have orc names for berzerker’s which Nauk is becoming his undying allegiance to Chat has only focused his savage rage onto an enemy.

    Like

    1. grzecho2222

      New version of Warlord (highly unlikely) or something complitly new like Wojewoda (chosen leader of warriors or one of armies)

      Like

      1. Notsteve

        I hear there’s an opening for the name of Captain. Maybe for a character that’s big and strong and has a curse that powers them up but makes them go berserk…

        Like

  14. Anon

    Hmm….Juniper seems to be operating under the assumption that priestly fuckery won’t be going on any more – if they could create walls, they could equally feasibly create something else non-lethal but that could still mess with the Callowan Army’s plans.

    And that’s to say nothing of the 12 named, two of them high-tier, who can say ‘screw you, not happening’ to various elements, if need be.

    I know Juniper’s been played up as decently tricksy, but there’s a lot of elements that can still mess things up for her to seemingly be so confident.

    Like

    1. TeK

      Remember how in the battle of marchford she went for sleep in the middle of the battle, placing contingencies not only for demon being like really tricky, but for Aqua suddenly appearing to slaughter the rest of Fifteenth? And she has only upped her game since.

      Like

  15. TeK

    Ok. Let’s review teh pieces. Deoraithe are going in force, obviously to reinforce Cat. Adjutant is with them and some detached forces as well. And we know that Larat can make gates, and it’s at least hinted he is not with the Army of Callow (having a band of murderous demigods up close, when you’ve suddenly lost the leash is not something you just ignore), it’s possible reinforcements are coming. But somehow I wouldn’t bet on this. Procerans have three major detachments, fifteen thousands on each side of the march and approximately five in reserve, protecting camp. Priests are most likely equally spread, so much less boxes, and their mage lines are butchered. Callow has something around nineteen thousands total, putting around twelve on one side, and four on the other. And some people staying in reserve, two thousands by Malanzas estimates. Brave General Two Face and his four thousands are behaving as proper minions, continuing time honored Callowan tradition of burning all your problems in goblinfire. Against them stands Fool-that-cuts-nothing, and no cavalry, as well as some heroes. Lead by not exactly brigthest commanders overall, fifteen thousand infantry strong. Not mobile, so that’s a plus. On the other side, twelve thousands and change are standing against fifteen thousands total, with full force of cavalry both. Also, despite what everyone on the Proceran side thinks, Callow still has Garcher and Thief. And the Demon of Absence, as well as two heroes are unaccounted for. Cat’s and Mazego incapacitated for a time being, and yet, in her memuars, Juniper attributes Battle of the Camps to Cat, which seems rather counter-intuitive to me. Either author forgot he wrote this (like when Juniper is both of Red Moons and Red Shields), or the basic outlay of battle was already preplanned.

    The problem is, as epigraph hints and Juniper thinks, the only way to win this battle is to force a retreat by strategic means. Already is clear that this is an eponimous Battle of Camps, so the point of fulcrum would be said camps. The Juniper said so herself, they need to put Crusaders into position where they have to retreat, or face annihilaton. What Procerans need right now more than crushing down opposing army are supplies, supplies which are currently in Callow’s Camp. Denying them any supplies, harassing theirs and then retreating in good order, leaving Crusaders for a guerilla tactics of Deoraithe seems optimal to me. What will really happen? Frankly, I don’t want to think about, it’ll spoil the surprise.

    But on the side note, given that Thief can apparently snitch entire army supplies, why Juniper’s yet to use her as a mobile supply train? Or maybe she does, and her camp is already empty of anything to plunder?

    Like

    1. Naeddyr

      It might be perfectly possible that Thief’s Aspect doesn’t allow for storing things that she doesn’t technically steal. A fleet of enemy ships and accompanying water? Sure. A grain of rice that her allies want her to take? Well, she could technically put it in her pocket…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. TeK

        She is a Villain and a Thief, and if a former knife problem in Fifteenth is any indication, she is cleptomanic too. Some people justify stealing as to “relieve person of pressure caused by money”, I don’t see why she can’t steal supplies so that “it will be a little easier to move”. She’ll return it later, promise.

        Like

    2. Darkening

      Well, for one thing, putting all your supplies in an extradimensional space that could be lost to you if a hero happened to put an arrow between Thief’s eyes has a bad shape to it? But yeah, makes a nice backup and helps with moving quickly if she can just grab all your supply wagons and hightail it out of there.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. TeK

        She does not engage in combat that much, and has an Aspect involving stealth. And who’s to say that after her death, everything she stole is gone? It just may materialise near her in the moment of death. Btw, it would’ve been awesome to see her appropriate a shitton of goblin munition, and bring it back later in some kind of grand Last Stand, going kaboom with enemy.

        Like

        1. Raved Thrad

          Damn, you beat me to it. Not that I think Thief is the kind to go kamikaze, but it certainly is an idea, especially if her yoinkhole stores items in stasis so goblin munitions aren’t in danger of exploding until she takes them out, or she dies and they suddenly appear.

          Like

    3. Yotz

      All my thoughts at this point spin around different kinds of wunderwaffe (like zombies with pressurized necroice core), but that would 1) require Cat to dream about it, and 2) too much ex machina for my tastes. Beyond that, I always was shite at strategizing.
      Said that, here’s two cents on the matter: Nauk’s flank was given order to prevent enemy from discovering whatever the sappers do here, then – I presume – retreat when munitions would be put into place, and lure procerans on the mindfield; other side of engagement was placed to tie up corresponding enemy group – and enemy must engage on their own will to prevent cavalry from slipping out, which they would if you just attack first – procerans must be committed. Now, when sides are locked and can’t maneuver freely, Nauk begins to crawl back, ‘retreating’ under the enemy pressure, and using mines to force the Saint show herself. GP is considered to be absent (not Absent) due to report/analysis of his condition by the Thief As soon as Cutter’s position is known, Talbot steamrolls the other flank, while the ‘retreat’ on the Sainted front becomes ‘full-fledged panic’ with complimentary running back to the palisade. In the middle of all this, clearly seen greenish fire begin to light up the sky over the place where all the supplies in the Callow camp are held, and – since proceran cavalry currently is tied up/being crushed by Talbot – there’s nothing they can do about burning supplies. To add insult to injury – from the general direction of the proceran camp sounds of explosions and plumes of fire can be seen, courtesy of certain Special Tribune and – ahem – the Garcher…
      Proceran leadership understands that force attacking their camp can’t be that large, but fears it can be large enough to successfully destroy remaining supplies, and callowan supplies are clearly gone – no way they can crush the Army fast enough to loot the burning camp. So they try to pull soldiers from the lines fast enough to prevent destruction of their camp, and carefully enough to prevent incoming massacre of retreating courtesy of the Army of Callow.

      All that kitten calamity goes sideways due to one or another Heroic Interventions, then completely south when Saint goes on rampage. All seems lost for the side of Ebil, which triggers “The Darkest Hour” protocol. The Black Queen has awoken…

      Like

      1. Yotz

        Meh, while I was typing all this, Fern already supplied that much. Oh, well – in any case we will see the resolution soon.

        Like

    4. ALazyMonster

      You mentioned this being the battle of the camps, wouldn’t that just have been the raid on the Proceran camp that let Thief steal the supplies? This seems like this would be more like the prince’s graveyard to me as this is a series of battles and there really is no camp involved in this fight other than Procer’s reserve.

      Like

  16. Metalshop

    Ok, now I’m /very/ eager to see Nauk onscreen. There’s been enough teasing and delaying of his appearance that I think something odd is going to be up with him when he does show. Maybe there’s some Summer fire left behind in him or something…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Letouriste

      Same for me:) but I think the reason is some awkwardness between him ( his injury is shameful to orcs) and cat( guilt). EE seems to build something with that or just feel like putting nauk in the background. Normally such action would be a death flag but there is a badly needed talk between them two we didn’t see so I guess he is pretty safe right now

      Like

      1. TeK

        Actually, he might just die off exactly because there is so much needed talk between them. What’s more, I think him getting in dire straights or outright dying would be a catalyst for Cat to awake.

        Like

  17. “The urge to sink her teeth into the warm veins warred with the urge to feel the softness with her own rough hands.”

    … is it bad that I interpreted both of these as sexual, not just the latter?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Letouriste

      Juniper is probably in the known for what they are doing so I guess they are not with the army,yeah. In the first place, Archer is not suited to fight with armies. she is more of an hunter kind of fighter.

      Like

  18. Blinks

    Aright, this is how i think it might kind of go.

    Munitions for ground denial in both engagements of the battle. The tactical situation is fairly hopeless. The enemy has too many soldiers and too many named. Which makes it a game of keep away until Cat wakes up again.

    By hook or crook get across the marsh but Juniper destroys the supplies before she does. They’ve been noted a lot and made such a part of the story i think they’re doomed to die.

    Take their camp, pull the forces in. Crusaders take Junipers, maybe in the night just to make sure they don’t know all of what’s going on. Essentially swapping positions except for Junipers the only one with supplies now and she is literally sitting on the Crusader supply route. Assuming anything was getting past the Watch anyway who can now reinforce easily.

    Battle of the Camps indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. aran

    “We have munitions,” Aisha pointed out.

    So, uh, random point of interest. Probably nothing.

    If those munitions really are made out of the essence of devils (and even demons, in the case of goblinfire), then are they covered by the agreement Catherine made with the Pilgrim? Meaning their use would break the truce, and allow the Crusaders to start calling on angels?

    (If that is the case, then I’m completely sure the Pilgrim knew exactly what he was doing by insisting on those rules of engagement.)

    Like

    1. Yotz

      This topic was discussed previously, afair. The point of mild contention was as such: Procerans use miracles in warfire; priestly healing, protective blessings – not to mention the Fences – are by nature of the Above, and so fall under the terms of treaty as “angelic intervention”. If Procerans so chose to enforce ban on the goblin munitions, they’ll break terms of the treaty retroactively, since between the point of the agreement and the point of the supposed munition ban they were using miracles freely.
      The treaty, as I understand it, counts only direct use of Demons and Devils from one side, and direct interventions of Hashmallim from the other. That includes direct summoning, and accepting the offers from the Other side – but! – not the use of, say, angelic feathers as swords, or devils’ teeth as flechettes. Although, bilethrowers filled with demonic vomit are, probably, out of question due to inherently existencidical nature of said materiel.

      That, and I still think that demonic trace is a red herring – munitions are made with the essence of dragonfire, not Infernis. Well, if Dragons of this world are not of Infernal origin – in which case they’ll fall under situation described above.

      Like

    1. warlock agreed to help him. He was in a near death state after being burned by summer fire. He is now something less. It was revealed in the first chapter how priest can heal wound easily with miracles simply calling on the heavens, whereas mages must put everything mechanically back in place meaning more room for error.

      If a hero such as sword and board is deeply affected by resurrection of the pilgrim who has a natural affinity for healing with miracle abilities, then the warlock which specializes in affliction and pain was less kind to Nauk.

      He is now something less than what he was before. based on what the tribune stated he is twice as pissed as he was before. He probably only has the rage as well as his allegiance to Chathrine keeping him sane. That and the near countless number of enemies she puts in front of him.

      So to make a long story short yes he is alive but the psychological and physical pain he must experience must be immense not to mention his soul must have been modified, ripped, scarred, or worse something was used as a substitute.

      Like

  20. Detton

    The comment that Cat’s situation does not feel like a villain’s story had me thinking. I dont think she will become a hero – I dont think the Gods Above like her enough to give her that willingly.

    However, Black and the Calamaties have been changing the game for 40 years; redefining what it was to be evil by defying and recognizing the tropes that cause their downfall.

    What if Cat and her situation (not having a Name currently, all the stuff shes been through), have finally broken the board? That we are now seeing this world’s narrative-focusef reality finally split down the seam?

    Just a thought. Excited for the coming chapter(s)!

    Like

  21. Trebar

    The talk about munitions is a red herring. All that talk about ground control and tying up one column while dealing with the other was before the revelation that Procer needs a complete victory and all that talk about strategic defeat. It’s also never mentioned what the sappers are doing; just that they need time to do the work.

    What are some things sappers can do other than munitions? Well, we know they can dig but that hasn’t been utilized often as it is often less effective that munitions outside of siege situations. But this time there’s this random lake just begging for an outlet…

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Everybody

    Hey just noticed the Summary page still says “Updates Monday and Wednesday” , should probably update with the good news 🙂

    Like

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