Interlude: Kaleidoscope V

“The final disappointment of heroism is to find that a just war was, in the end, just a war.”
– Theodore Langman, Wizard of the West

Ink and parchment would see the day recorded as a victory, but Juniper of the Red Shields knew better. Despite her best efforts, the Army of Callow had reached the threshold where even the slightest losses began to affect combat efficiency. The loss of the crossbowmen on the first day had already crippled the host’s ability to wage open battle, but the second day’s losses had been a mere hour away from catastrophe. Twenty-two thousand soldiers had come to these plains, and now less than fifteen thousand remained fighting fit. The mage lines had nearly burned themselves out fixing minor injuries, an ugly choice to make. The Hellhound had broken Legion triage doctrine, which emphasised keeping as many legionaries alive as possible, in favour of getting as many men able to fight as possible. The deeply wounded had been allowed to die, or put out of their misery when requested. It burned her, the knowledge that the other side would have no such decision to make. Priests were a larger logistical advantage than she’d believed they would be.

The Marshal of Callow set aside the thought temporarily, though it never strayed far. There were decisions to make tonight in the dark and they would be no more pleasant than those of the day. She entered the tent without a word, the pair of legionaries guarding it saluting as she passed.

“If you’re here to cheer me up, you should have left the armour behind,” Archer drawled.

The orc did not bother to humour the Named’s coarseness with an answer, instead looking her up calmly. Lady Ranger’s pupil had done away with the woven scarf that usually covered the lower half of her face, along with the cloak and coat she insisted on wearing even now that spring had come. It bared skin, but despite the other woman’s finest attempts at a suggestive pose there was nothing seductive to be found. She was a mass of bruises and cuts, a red scar going up her cheek and across her left eye, through the eyebrow.

“She beat you like a drum,” Juniper stated.

Archer’s nose wrinkled.

“Got a few shots in myself,” she denied. “Pretty sure I broke her shoulder, near the end.”

“It will have been fixed within the hour,” the Hellhound said. “They have a healer among their Named.”

“You asked me to cover Nauk’s retreat,” the ochre-skinned woman shrugged. “Mission accomplished. Now where’s my seraglio of doe-eyed Taghreb beauties and oiled-up Soninke manservants?”

“Lodge a request with my supply tribune,” Juniper blandly replied. “I’ll have it fast-tracked.”

“We are the least decadent Evil side I’ve ever heard of,” Archer whined. “Who does a girl have to stab, to get fresh dates and a fan-waving pretty boy?”

“The Empress, one assumes,” the Hellhound grunted. “Will you be able to fight tomorrow?”

“If you’re going to use me for my body, you could at least make it enjoyable,” the Named snorted.

Engaging with this one, Juniper knew from experience, was akin to giving a stone that initial push down a hill. She let silence do the talking.

“Not confident about taking on the greybeards,” Archer admitted. “I could handle a few round with the side-pieces, but the Saint’s gotten used to my forms and the best I can manage with the Pilgrim is a shooting war.”

The orc’s lips pressed tightly, revealing dismay. That limited their options sharply. Already the loss of most of Pickler’s repeating scorpions and all of the Spitters had taken a tool out of her available arsenal, but if Archer couldn’t even be counted on to check either of the prime threats? It might still be possible to win, if she defended cleverly enough. But even if she did, the ruin inflicted on the other side would be matched by the devastation of her own host. Should the Army of Callow take even another four thousand casualties – a very conservative estimate of minimal losses considering enemy numbers and Named – then it was done for the year as anything but a second-rate defensive force. The recruiting camps in central Callow would continue providing a trickle of freshly-trained companies, but that covered only mainline infantry. Sappers, mages, knights. Neither of these could be so easily replaced, and without them it would be exceedingly difficult for the Army of Callow to handle the numerically superior forces the Tenth Crusade would inevitably send their way.

“Rest up,” Juniper finally said. “We’ll need you tomorrow.”

Archer leaned back in her seat, eyes for a single heartbeat bereft of the usual mocking indolence.

“Hellhound,” she said. “The Saint? I might have gotten a handle on her weakness.”

The orc paused, meeting the gaze of the Named.

“She never used an aspect,” Archer said. “And her cuts, it looks like she’s tossing them around carelessly but there’s always a purpose to it. Either as a deterrent, to allow her to move quickly or to put down an opponent hard before they can fight back.”

Juniper chewed over that.

“I’ve had very few reports of her using the cuts against soldiers,” the Hellhound finally said.

“She’d been fighting for over an hour when we scrapped,” Archer murmured. “And she never used any of the fancier tricks Catherine mentioned she has up her sleeve. I think she physically couldn’t.”

“She has limited amount of power, then,” Juniper deduced.

The other woman shook her head.

“I think she’d old,” Archer replied. “And that using tricks and aspects takes a toll on her body. She doesn’t fight your boys because, even if she kills a thousand, after that she’s emptied her tankard. It’s why she’s not the tip of the spear, she only comes out to remove problems.”

The Marshal of Callow inclined her head in silent thanks. It would not tip the balance of the battle, but it was great contribution nonetheless. So far, the Saint and the Pilgrim had acted as invincible forces of nature wherever they arrived, only ever checked by other Named. Juniper already suspected that the Grey Pilgrim could only intervene when others were threatened – else why only take the field when the repeating scorpions had already struck? – but now there might be a vulnerability to exploit in the other monster as well. The Hellhound offered a simple nod before leaving the tent, mind already returning to the decisions ahead. Which, to her irritation, she would have to consult another before making. The Thief was easy enough to find. It had been hours since she’d first settled in front of the camp fire she now stared into. Juniper claimed a log by her side, displeased she had to share a fire with the likes of this one.

“We need to retreat,” the Hellhound bluntly said, eschewing greetings.

“You know we cannot,” Thief replied just as bluntly. “If the Principate keeps a foothold on this side of the Whitecaps, there will be no truce to be had.”

“There’ll be no truce if the Army of Callow is wrecked either,” Juniper growled. “Which is the best outcome to be counted on if we fight tomorrow.”

“Duchess Kegan-“ the other woman began.

“Is half a month away, at the earliest,” the orc interrupted. “And not to be relied on if the tide looks like it’s turning against us. The Watch contingent in our ranks is a blade that cuts both ways.”

“The duchess will not lightly go back on her word,” Thief said.

Juniper frowned. The Named spoke as if she knew something the orc did not.

“What are the odds of Malanza following us, if we retreat to Hedges?” the Callowan asked.

“Slim to none,” the Hellhound replied. “We just torched their last supplies. They can last a little longer by butchering their horses, but by my count they’ll be starving for at least a week before they get to the fortress. They’ll know they can’t win a battle in that state. If we withdraw, I am certain they’ll fall back to Harrow and disband part of the host while sending for supplies.”

“Which leaves half of northern Callow occupied,” Thief said. “I am no student of strategy, but I can assure you that is a diplomatic and political defeat that will cripple us.”

“The moment we get Catherine back, we can link up with the Deoraithe by gate and drive them entirely out of Callow,” Juniper replied. “They’d have a few months in the region at most.”

“It is still too long,” the woman tiredly said. “Depending on the outcome at the Red Flower Vales, the Empress might backstab us during that period. And if public perception is that Catherine cannot defend Callowan borders, much of the crown’s support vanishes. Riots, at the very least. Possibly small-scale rebellion. That divides our manpower, and I assure you we will not be allowed to put back the army together after it has been split. No major player save perhaps the Carrion Lord would see our strength preserved as being in their interest.”

“If Lord Black wins-“ Juniper began.

The Thief spat into the flames.

“Then it is a certainty that the Empire will sabotage us,” she said. “From Malicia’s perspective, a Proceran foothold in the north is a leash on both the Carrion Lord and Callow. Neither can turn against the Wasteland while the kingdom is in danger of falling to the next offensive. She’ll want us strong enough we can bleed the crusade, but weak enough we have no negotiating leverage.”

“If we fight tomorrow, the army’s done for the war,” Juniper honestly said. “At most, if we force them to retreat all the way back to Procer, with the Deoraithe backing us we can hold our end of the passage. Any offensive operations became a fantasy until our next three training cycles are done, and that’s at least a year. Longer, for sappers, and we drained the pool dry for both mages and knights.”

The Thief hesitated.

“Perhaps a partial retreat?” she ventured. “Followed by a counteroffensive when they are unaware.”

“Without the gates we don’t move nearly as swiftly as before,” the orc refused, shaking her head. “I’ve already considered it. Might soften them up a bit to let them starve, but it won’t make enough of a difference with heroes in the ranks. We still bleed too much.”

The Callowan brushed back her hair, then grimaced.

“You are telling me that either path has a decent chance of taking us out of the war,” she said. “That there are no good choices to make.”

“Only bad ones,” Juniper agreed. “And among those, there’s one we haven’t discussed.”

The Named stiffened, the fire’s flickering light revealing cold fury.

“You can’t be serious,” she hissed.

“You have a way to shut her down,” the Hellhound said, and it wasn’t a question.

Thief’s eyes grew cold.

“A heavy assumption,” she replied.

“I’ve known Catherine longer than you,” Juniper said, baring her fangs. “She didn’t even trust her Name, and her mantle is a great deal more dangerous. She would have contingencies in place, and within the Woe you’re the only she considers to have a moral compass.”

“I will not allow Akua Sahelian to walk free,” the Thief hissed. “Much less to wage war.”

“Then this conversation is over,” the Marshal of Callow said unflinchingly. “I refuse to a fight a battle tomorrow in the current circumstances. We’ll take our chances with a retreat.”

“How could you possibly trust her with any kind of power?” the Callowan said.

“She’s a Praesi of the old breed,” the Hellhound said. “In front of her is the Tenth Crusade. Blood will tell. Trust has nothing to do with it.”

“If she gets loose, she’ll turn on us,” Thief said. “Without a second thought.”

“You have your leash, and we still have Archer,” Juniper calmly said. “Sahelian is a coward at heart, and she plays the game according to the old rules. That makes her predictable. She will not make a move unless she is certain she can slip the noose.”

“The Callowan half of the army would defect, if they ever knew,” the woman said.

“If they ever knew,” Juniper repeated softly.

She had won the argument and they both knew it.

Akua Sahelian wore Catherine’s body seemingly without the slightest awkwardness. Sitting with her legs crossed, stripped of anything but a loose tunic, the Diabolist opened her eyes when Vivienne entered the tent. The glow of the wards keeping her contained was the only light there was to be had, weaving strange and moving shadows over the panes of cloth.

“Vivienne,” Sahelian smiled with lips not her own. “I’d expected another bell before you came to terms with the necessity. Your perspective has broadened since I last had you studied.”

Thief dragged a seat and dropped it in front of the butcher, dropping down into it without even the pretence of elegance. Idly flipping a knife her aspect had dropped into her palm, she watched the Diabolist silently. Were she not uncertain of the effect it would have on Catherine, she would have already ordered Sahelian’s soul to be ripped apart piece by piece.

“Think you have it all figured out, do you?” Thief said.

Catherine’s body inclined its head with an understated grace its true owner had never quite managed.

“Though your hostility is understandable, it is unnecessary,” Diabolist said. “We serve the same mistress, after all.”

“Eclipse,” Vivienne said. “Rip out your left eye.”

Over a month of late evenings had been spent wording the contingency oaths. Possession by the Diabolist had not been the issue they’d expected – Catherine’s fears had been centred around Winter making her lose perspective – but the conditions were cleared by this state of affairs regardless. Thief had reason to genuinely believe Catherine’s judgement was impaired by an external factor, which allowed her to call on the first three oaths. Sahelian smiled even as her fingers dug behind her eyeball, ripping it out. Vivienne noted with satisfaction the smile had grown a little stiff during. She could still feel pain, then.

“Try to play me again and I’ll have to get inventive,” Thief said even as the eye reformed.

“Noted,” the Diabolist replied, inclining her head. “You have a use for me, or at least the power this body holds.”

“I do,” she said. “You’re going to kill crusaders.”

“A most enjoyable task,” Sahelian smiled.

“Eclipse,” Vivienne said. “Rip out your left eye.”

She waited until the eye had reformed before speaking again.

“That one,” she said, “was just because you pissed me off.”

The fucking smile never went away.

“I expect there will be heroic opposition,” the Diabolist said.

“There should be at least ten left, maybe more,” Thief replied. “Most dangerous are the Saint of Swords and the Grey Pilgrim.”

The Queen of Callow’s body hummed and cocked its head to the side. The gesture was so Catherine that Vivienne almost ordered Sahelian to rip out her eye again.

“Not unworthy opponents,” Diabolist said. “I will prevail regardless.”

“You are not to cause a massacre,” Thief said. “After inflicting no more than six thousand casualties, you are to retreat.”

Sahelian’s smile turned sharp.

“Restraint,” she drawled. “How quaint. You miss an opportunity.”

“Eclipse,” Vivienne said. “Rip out your left eye.”

The Diabolist’s breath grew ragged, in the aftermath. She continued speaking anyway.

“You need the crusaders dead,” Sahelian said. “Yet you also require Catherine’s reputation to be unsullied when negotiating a truce. Allow me, then, to bloody my hands. I will make it clear to the heroes that this her body is not currently her own.”

“You don’t know shit about the current political situation,” Thief said.

“I know you cannot fight a war against Procer while unseating the Empress,” the Diabolist said. “What follows is a mere exercise of logic.”

We can’t negotiate with the heroes if they think Catherine is a sharper than can go off at any time, Vivienne thought. Sahelian had not grown beyond the causes of her failure. She still looked at all the nations of Calernia with the belief that sooner or later she would war against them all. Peace stretching further than a temporary truce never entered her calculations.

“You will pretend to be Catherine,” Thief said. “And stick to the limits I have already outlined. In addition, you may not slay the Grey Pilgrim.”

“Even if this body is at risk of permanent destruction?” the Diabolist probed.

“Eclipse,” Vivienne said. “Rip out your left eye.”

This time she flinched, to the Callowan’s satisfaction.

“Don’t attempt to make a loophole again,” Thief said. “Not even then. Flee instead.”

Sahelian softly laughed.

“And what,” Thief asked, “has you so happy?”

Catherine’s dark eyes met her own.

“Do you believe in redemption, Vivienne Dartwick?”

The Callowan shivered.

“There’s nothing in you to redeem,” Thief said. “You are a thing pretending to be human.”

“My people,” Akua Sahelian murmured, “do not put much stock in it either. But I have pondered this matter deeply, of late. Perhaps there is some worth to be found in it.”

The moment I have a speck of leverage, I will convince Catherine to break any semblance of thought in you, Vivienne thought. You are too dangerous a loose end to allow, and you should have forever disappeared after Liesse. There is no place left in this world for you.

“How hard could it be possibly be,” the Diabolist mused. “Acting heroically, that is.”

Vivienne rose to her feet.

“You will ‘awaken’ slightly before dawn,” she said. “Prepare yourself.”

“I look forward to our fruitful alliance, then, my trusted comrade,” Sahelian grinned.

The aristocrat clenched her fingers. That wasn’t her grin. She had no right to wear it.

“Eclipse,” Vivienne said. “Rip out your left eye, seven times in a row.”

She left the tent to the sound of muffled screaming.

Prince Amadis Milenan had only managed to sleep after drinking half a thimble of poppy brew, and even then he’d woken long before dawn. The trembling in his hands tempted him to indulge a second time during the darkened hours, but his father had always warned him off reliance on medicine. Many a great ruler had been unmade by growing too fond of a particular vice, when age or exhaustion weakened their resolve. He would not follow in that mistake. Instead he sent for inks and parchment, splaying them over his scribing desk and lighting a pair of oil lamps. The lines of the first illustration were botched by the shaking of his fingers, but the longer he forced himself to concentrate on the matter the steadier his hands became. It was a thorny issue to work these failures seamlessly into the greater design, but he’d had a taste for this sort of diversion since he’d been a boy and when the quill scratched the last of the blue on the parchment he found himself satisfied with the illustration. Not his finest work, but neither would he be ashamed of having it displayed before peers.

He’d sketched a view of Lake Pavin in the traditional Alamans manuscript style, that sprawling expanse of deep blue touching stony shores. He’d done so from memory, drawing on the beautiful summer he’d spent in Cleves as a young man. Having met his wife there had left him with a lingering fondness for the beautiful principality that had occasionally been politically inconvenient. Jonquille still occasionally teased him for being softer on the land of her birth than she was herself, to the amusement of their children. He rather missed her, at the moment. Her discerning judgement and sharp temper, the way she could soother him without ever saying a word. His father had been furious he’d betrothed himself to a girl from a largely insignificant branch family, but never once had Amadis regretted it. He’d paid for the sentimentality in the years that followed, even risked disinheritance in favour of his younger brother, but those were all passing things. The partnership had endured far longer than the grievances. The thought that he might never see her again was a sobering one.

He penned a missive for his wife beneath the illustration, strangely uneasy, and blew on the elegant cursive quoting the couplet by Drunken Berilion he’d botched declaiming at her on their first meeting. She’d recited it back at him properly with laughing eyes, and neither had looked back since. The prince sent for a footman to have it set with the diplomatic correspondence, a mild abuse of prerogative near every royal in the host had indulged in at least once. Even Arnaud, that old sot, liked to write to his bastard son. His worries having ebbed, the Prince of Iserre watched the sun begin to dawn as he ate his frugal breakfast. The most extravagant of his personal foodstuffs he’d had distributed to his men in a gesture of good will, though he’d kept enough there was no risk of either he or his personal household starving. He remained silent as his manservant removed the empty plate, contemplating the coming day. Twice now, his host had waged battle against the Army of Callow. Twice they had been driven back, at great cost. Prince Papenheim’s army would be facing that infamous old monster the Black Knight in the Vales, and the costs of that victory would not be slight. That thread woven with his own losses inked a picture he misliked.

The armies of the Dominion would enter the Principate soon enough, a Principate weakened by war. Prince Cordelia might put her faith in the alliances she had bargained for, but an alliance of victors was like a hearth in summer. The diminished and defeated found no friends, only hungry dogs. All of this, unfolding because a handful of children with an army refused to be defeated. No matter. Princess Rozala believed that this day’s fighting would end it all, though the price would be heavy. All could be remedied, once victory was attained. Trumpets sounded in the camp, and Amadis raised an eyebrow. It was not yet dawn, after all. Malanza was displaying unseemly haste. Then they sounded again, urgently, and his blood ran cold. This was not the call to rise.

It was the call to battle.


168 thoughts on “Interlude: Kaleidoscope V

      1. Rook

        Knowing Akua she means it from the bottom of her heart. The catch being, her idea of ‘redemption’ is probably something so twisted it makes the Woe seem like ordinary average folks.

        Liked by 8 people

          1. WuseMajor

            She reminds me a bit of Lucrecia from Girl Genius. She was also a “reformed” villain who decided to be a hero because they always win and went about it in very scary ways.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. She could be trying to throw Cat under the Angel bus: by getting Cat brainwashed into becoming Good… I mean, being redeemed. Which would be a weird form of win for Akua.

              There are major downsides to that, though. Especially if you’re currently an undead artefact possessing the redeemed.


        1. nipi

          Bottom of the hearth she no longer has. Someone ripped it out after all.

          Im thinking she is talking about the Thiefs redemption. Her newfound brutality being a redeeming feature in her eyes.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. You have a rival, who you have a long relation with, that you eventually beat in a climatic battle, and now you take them everywhere.

        Why wouldn’t she be part of Cat’s entourage now?


  1. Stormblessed

    Vivienne is absolutely ruthless here. Very very unheroic. Unless torturijg a villain counts as heroic these days. Which unfortunately it might.

    I think it’s also interesting that Akua said “we serve the same mistress.” Either she being manipulative or she sincerely believes she’s on Kat’s side now and out for her ‘best interests’. But because it’s Akua it’s probably both meanings.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Anon

      Do remember that the entire reason Thief joined up with Cat in the first place is because she’s a patriot.

      And Akua murdered like 60,000 of her kinsmen for no other reason than to further her own ambition.

      I’m still somewhat surprised she let Cat keep Akua around at all, to be honest – but I suppose that just goes back to the nature of being a protagonist versus a party member.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Novice

      Are you actually defending Akua motherfucking Sahelian? The Diabolist? The manipulative bitch? The butcher of Liesse? Murderer of a hundred thousand? Really?

      She deserves far far worse than what Thief has inflicted.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Anon

        Nah, I was giving context to Vivienne being so ‘cruel’ and/or unheroic.

        Idly, Akua has made mention before to Cat that she at least ‘somewhat’ considers herself to be Cat’s servant, due to Praesi tradition of being defeated meaning that she is now Cat’s ‘possession’.

        Whether she actually means any of it, and by association, the redemption angle she’s trying to play, is up for debate.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Novice

          I will admit that Akua’s talk of redemption has got me a little bit interested in her. But I still genuinely believe that her story is already done and she should not have this much impact in the story. I was actually looking forward to her being an exposition fairy to cat, but alas.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Dainpdf

        Torture is unheroic. It is hurting another, generally for the pleasure of seeing them suffer. There is no context (excluding *very* convoluted ones) I can think of where torture is not an evil act.


        1. Author Unknown

          I honestly don’t see it as torture. I see it as training a beast. Do you consider bopping a dog on the head with a rolled up newspaper, or spritzing water in a cat’s face torture?

          She may be a bit ruthless when jerking Akua’s chain, and that chain may lead to a choke collar. But, it’s a collar around one hell of a monster; one that needs trained quickly.


          1. crescentsickle

            There are some schools of thought where that is indeed considered torture.

            Some research regarding humans shows that nations that outlaw corporal punishment (spanking, etc.) have much lower rates of violent crime. Correlation and causation adage aside, there is a pretty strong movement in general for positive-only reinforcement or no negative reinforcement that could possibly be construed as “traumatizing”.

            Per those schools of thought, even if this is training Akua, it is torture.

            If you factor in “Good is an actual force in-universe”, I can see it going both ways, because we’ve seen a wide array of heroes. I could see William going for some variety of torture, for example.


            1. RedoneAgain

              William did torture people. It was when Cat just arrived in Summerholm with her new legion. He was carving stuff onto people’s faces while they were alive.


            2. Lucas

              Negative reinforcement is different than beating someone when they do X. That is punishment, and was proven not to work the same as reinforcement because whoever received it would not continue the behavior when the punisher is not along.
              At least that’s how I think Skinner thought about it.


            3. Cicero

              However it is not what most people have historically considered torture.

              I mean, what is the difference between assault/battery and torture then?

              Historically, torture has been considered one of three things:

              1: The inflicting of pain on a helpless person for the personal enjoyment of the person inflicting the pain.

              2: The inflicting of pain in order to compel the target to reveal information they do not wish to reveal

              3: The inflicting of pain on a helpless person in order to compel a betrayal of their current loyalties. Either in the reveal of information that harms their current side, taking affirmative action that benefits the side of the torturer, or in confession of a crime thereby justifying their punishment and/or execution.

              In modern times we tend to focus on the first one, and assume that is the motive. This form of torture is always immoral, even under moral systems that accept the justification of torture in other circumstances. Generally it’s the kind of motivation associated with demons and devils.

              The second is the most commonly argued about as a possible justification of torture even in modern morality. Specifically, the “ticking time bomb” scenario. In this specific circumstance the argument is that torture without malice is essentially assault. Assault is legally and morally justified when done to protect the lives and well being of others, therefore in a ticking time bomb scenario, torture to obtain information that saves others lives is a moral choice.

              However, historically, the third scenario was actually the most common usage of torture. This is sometimes blurred with the second, because obtaining information is a common shared objective. However, in actuality the difference is quite big. The whole point of this kind of torture is to change a person’s allegiance, not just to obtain information. As such it’s a direct violation of freedom of conscience. One of the most common purposes was to force someone to change their religion. In modern times it’s been used primarily by totalitarian tyrannies to compel someone to accept an ideology they don’t agree with. (Usually Communism, Socialism, or Fascism – think Mao’s Cultural Revolution). The widespread idea that individuals have an inalienable right to their own beliefs is actually quite new, being perhaps 300 years old, and born out of the religious wars of the Reformation. (Yes, some philosophers had articulated it previously, but it didn’t have much hold in the actually world.)

              The case here doesn’t really fit into any of those categories. If anything it’s closer to domestic abuse in which one person inflicts pain on another to maintain an already existing position of authority by making the weaker party afraid to betray the stronger party.

              Except of course that Viv and Auka aren’t married and Viv never promised to cherish and protect her, and Auka is currently and actively possessing the body of Viv’s friend and Queen.

              (As a side note on corporal punishment, causation probably runs the other way. Nations that already have lower crime rates are more likely to ban corporal punishment. There may even be two Nash equilibrium here, in which there is a tipping point in cultural traits at which corporal punishment does more harm then benefits, but in other nations they are at a point where corporal punishment does discourage crime more than it promotes it. Possible examples of these two extremes? Sweden and Singapore.)


          2. Dylan Tullos

            Author Unknown:

            People are not animals. The idea that Vivienne can “tame” Akua Sahelian by inflicting pain is stupid to the point of suicide.

            Every story where someone tries to torture a monster into submission ends the same way. Sooner or later, the monster breaks free from their control and takes horrible revenge. In this case, I’m betting on “sooner” rather than “later”.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Author Unknown

              Wise, no defiantly not wise. Certainly not with a hellegg nearby. Never said that. I said I don’t consider it torture, and you have hit on the reason why: I don’t consider what is left of Akua a person. I consider it a monstrous thing twisted by it’s Name and desire; something that left humanity behind a long time ago. It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be controlled. At best, it can be fenced it for a time. It should be destroyed. Perhaps that is overly Good of me, or maybe it is just practical.


              1. Dylan Tullos

                Author Unknown:

                I consider it evil to enjoy inflicting harm on someone or something, whether they are a person or a monster. If Thief needs to kill Akua, she should do it, but torturing her for revenge is actively harmful to Thief, even if Akua doesn’t count as a person. Torture leaves marks on the torturer as well as the victim, and it creates a mindset that enjoys harming others for personal satisfaction.

                You’re right to say that Akua should be destroyed. Catherine should have done it at the start. That’s not Good or good; it’s just common sense. If you keep a monster on a leash, it’s only a matter of time before it escapes, and trying to use Akua as a weapon makes summoning demons seem almost sensible.


                1. Author Unknown

                  A couple of interesting points. Is it lasting harm to Akua? I wouldn’t say so. Physically, certainly not. Psychologically, I don’t think Akua is still capable of changing her behavior that much. She has shown she left reason behind and expects reality to conform to her will. How long until she sees her current condition as a part of her master plan?
                  Also, how much of what Thief did was for Thief’s own pleasure and how much was simply because Akua defied her. You don’t take pleasure from bopping the dog with the newspaper (or you shouldn’t, if you do seek psychological help immediately) It isn’t like she can use positive reinforcement when training this particular monster.
                  The harm to Thief if she did it for her own emotional gratification is indisputable.


                2. Shift

                  Are you just arguing for the sake of arguing???? because you seem to have forgotten that Akua is possessing Catherine. Thief is not doing it because she enjoys it, it’s a necessity. Do you think she could just ask nicely and Akua would do it? I think the rules of what construes torture go completely out the window when someone is possessing someone else.


              2. Agent J

                “I said I don’t consider it torture, and you have hit on the reason why: I don’t consider what is left of Akua a person.”

                … what? That’s objectively wrong. Akua’s personhood is not something that’s up for consideration. All thinking, sapient beings are persons. From the kindest soul to the cruelest, from the wisest person to the dimmest, from the mentally stable to the most deranged psychopath. Personhood has nothing to do with morality or mental health or, in this world, species.

                Akua Sahelian is a person. A vile, twisted, and monstrous person, but a person all the same. Should she have been erased from Creation? Absolutely. Should she be tortured? That would depend on your opinions about torture. Is she a person? Obviously…


                1. Metrux

                  I don’t think this view applies on this world, actually. Devils can become sentient, but until they become thousands of years old they usually will not be considered people, and it is a whole nother argument if fae are people or not in this scenario. As such, Akua has, yes, stopped being a person. She can think by herself, but she isn’t a person in any sense, since she has no control of herself, even if let loose from her restraints.

                  Also, on the major discussion: Good is not good, I always say in those comments, it may very well be Good here, as much as it isn’t good. I dislike that Akua still exists, so any opinion I have on if Thief should be torturing her or not is biased, thus I leave this part of the discussion to others.


          3. WuseMajor

            ….Wait. If Akua is now the Chained Monster and Thief is the one holding her leash, doesn’t being mean to the monster carry a very dangerous precedent?


      1. RanVor

        There’s no “in the process”. She’s already a villain, has been for some time by now. She was explicitly referred to as such in today’s extra chapter.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Notsteve

      I agree that this is torture, and that it’s definitely unheroic by our standards. But I think one of the big themes in the story here is that heroic Named aren’t necessarily what we would call heroes. A Named torturing someone, especially torturing a villain, doesn’t mean they don’t have a heroic name.

      In this world, Good doesn’t necessarily mean nice. Heck, it doesn’t even mean anything we would think of as good. I think we’ve seen that just because a country is Good doesn’t mean it’s a better place to live.


    1. Agent J

      I might actually have to disagree. Akua is, if nothing else, a master class actress. She’s also had ample time to study Cat’s mannerisms, especially now that her soul’s been bound to her.

      Liked by 2 people

          1. Dainpdf

            Not sure whether it’s a mistake. They had two bad choices and a gamble. And Akua is certain to cause a lot of damage to the Crusade before she’s done.


            1. Dylan Tullos


              All their choices were bad. They chose the bad choice that didn’t have an immediate, obvious cost. The problem with that is that Akua Sahelian is likely to be far more expensive in the long run.

              I wouldn’t unleash Akua at all, but especially not in a world where the Narrative shapes reality. I’ve read plenty of stories where desperate people unleash a great evil to stop their enemies, and I can’t think of one where they didn’t end up regretting it.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. Dainpdf

                How can Akua be worse than “we lose the Kingdom” in the long run? I mean, if you’re Juniper and don’t particularly care about whether a few people get fates worse than death along the way.
                Unleashing great evil might have its narrative cost, but the fact it was done without Cat’s explicit approval and with tight reins it might work. And that’s all they need. If any mistake was made, it was keeping Akua in the first place. Doing that virtually guaranteed their hands would be twisted into releasing her (as they were right now).


              2. Morgenstern

                Thing is, this (unleashing Akua *now*) might actually cost them Cat’s awakening in the direst moment. Because they get rid of that direst moment. I don’t like where this seems to be going… unless the author gets in another direst moment, a personal one, for Cat… I don’t want Akua instead of Cat, man. *sigh


                1. Metrux

                  I think you’re being a little narrow, in this. She is directly limited to killing no more than 6000, it is probably just a demonstration, not a full on death toll. Their plan is to make the enemy hesitate, which is a very good thing, especially if you are biding for time. Also, they won’t kill the Pilgrim, though she can soften up the other Named, so in the end, when the man clash and things get ugly, it won’t be ugly enough to completely destroy Callow, thus leaving Cat with an edge to work.

                  Yes, this WILL backfire, but will probably still be a better outcome than any of the other two choices.


    2. RoflCat

      Based on her words, she won’t.

      She’ll make it clear, that she’s Akua Sahelian, taken over the body BECAUSE the Pilgrim did what he did.

      And she’ll show them, what Catherine Foundling could’ve done, if she wasn’t such a NICE person.

      Basically she’s going to Bad Cop the shit out of them, and I’m going to enjoy it.

      Still hoping she’ll get to join the Woe somehow, because I think it’ll be entertaining to watch, even if the chance is practically 0 because of Thief.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Daemion

        Vivienne threw that out of the window. If Akua reveals herself to the world, then people would consider Catherine unstable, a ticking bomb. This would undermine everything and she’d never get Procer to negotiate peace.
        Akua might believe that simply killing all of the invaders would solve that issue… but it doesn’t.

        I also doubt Akua will do any better against the Saint and Pilgrim duo than Cat did.


          1. Metrux

            In the end this doesn’t matter, she is very limited, she will act as Cat and kill no more than 6000, while not killing the Pilgrim. This is what they’ll make her do, so unless the author plans on a drama instead of an adventure, this is what we should expect from Akua.


    3. Jane

      I’m not certain that matters, actually… If Akua “behaves”, it demonstrates that Cat still has control of her, even when she’s not herself. And there’s a chance that neither Pilgrim nor the Saint tells the commanders what they know; if they retreat, this portion of the Crusade is over, and they have no particular loyalty to Procer.

      Besides, they already know that Cat acts irrationally when in the depths of Winter – they might well mistake the changes in her behavior for Winter influence, or some aftereffect of the backlash of the gates.


  2. Dylan Tullos

    Well, there’s no way this could possibly backfire.

    Asking whether Akua Sahelian can make things worse is like asking whether Robber thinks fire is pretty.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Juniper is banking on her “FOAR TEH EVULZ” nature making her target mainly the Crusade, and that she’ll make things worse enough for them that the balance will actually end up preventing damage to the Army of Callow.
      Quite a gamble, really.


      1. Dylan Tullos


        This is AKUA we’re talking about. She could follow orders to the letter, defeat the Crusade, save the Army of Callow, and still wind up making things worse.

        Classic Evil is the unquestioned champion of short-term victories that end in disaster. Breaking them out because you need an immediate win…well, I understand the situation is desperate, but they’re not thinking ahead.

        I’m fairly sure Catherine wouldn’t want to unleash Akua for any reason, and if any other Callowans find out about it, they’ll murder every Praesi in the army and defect to the Tenth Crusade. Unleashing the Butcher of Liesse is not the kind of decision you can justify to Callowans.


        1. Dainpdf

          Yes, but even 70% chance of disaster is better than a certain one.
          There’s no other real option, and Akua herself knows it. She’d probably not have tipped her hand like this if she didn’t.
          Again, the hope is the damage she prevents the enemy from dealing to Callow outweighs the damage done to her own side.
          I wouldn’t give it good odds, but there is a chance.


            1. Dainpdf

              Do you mean Juniper used Akua because the Crusade passes the threshold (I agree it does – there is apparently no other option than “lose everything” without using her) or that the Crusaders might amp up their efforts because Akua might pass the threshold (something akin to what Thief cautioned about)?


  3. Cicero

    Maybe the Thief can make up some sort of semi-plausible lie as a backup lie. Since Auka will inevitably fail.

    Something like: “I Stole Cathrine’s body and was puppeting her – but had great difficulty controlling Winter. I was only able to do it because of the unique state the Grey Pilgrim’s attack left Catherine in.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Byzantine

      She could also just say “Winter did it, as it finally had the opening to take complete control. We’ve taken precautions against it, but to end the war we were willing to unleash it, for a time.” It’s got the benefit of not even being untrue – Akua can only do this because Catherine’s body is made of Winter.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Decius

      Better not to lie at all.

      “Akua’s soul survived the death of her body and is now controlling the Queen’s body and a good portion of her power. If you can sever Akua’s soul and restore our Queen, she will assist the Crusade in marching against the Tower.”


      1. Metrux

        Except she won’t? At the most she would let them pass unmolested, and after all of this even this much is not guaranteed.

        Think about all we have seen, Cat will not become Hero neither fight for the Crusade, as much as some would want her to.


  4. Antoninjohn

    Akua could be a willing comrade of Cat seeking redemption after all she tried her old villainy vs Cats practical and lost so she might switch to the Cat’s/winning side or instead she tries to backstab the Woe and suffers greatly. I wonder which she picks.


  5. Anon

    Hmm…I legitimately think this line with Akua is a narrative misstep, in terms of the current book.

    Others may disagree, but Akua (or the shade of her) is never going to fly past the Grey Pilgrim – whom, if he is left alive, will be able to read Cat’s emotions/tells, and know that Catherine isn’t in the driver’s seat. And from a ‘redemption’ standpoint, Akua has also shown zero semblance of even coming close to wanting to redeem herself for the murder of all of the inhabitants of Liesse, in any of the conversations she has had with Cat.

    From a meta-contextual standpoint, we’re now at 5 chapters in a row with Cat being KO’d, and now to have her to-date most hated enemy take up in her place, after we just had an entire book devoted to her – and all the meanwhile, there are MUCH bigger fish to worry about.

    I think I’m going to bow out until Cat wakes up, Akua is utterly uninteresting (and IMO makes this part of the story more boring/worse because of it), because nothing in the conversations she’s had with Cat (that the audience has seen) will indicate she has any assumption of not trying to pull off another backstab the second she feels she can get away with it.

    The only small (almost miniscule) hope is that this is Cat is either pretending to be Akua/controlling Akua’s shade to puppet her for…..some narrative reason that I can’t even hope to fathom, in order for her to ‘justify’ going against Malicia’s edicts (in that Akua did it, not Cat)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laken

      They don’t know that Pilgrim can see the truth of a person. Not letting her take to the fields due to that would be a narrative misstep since they lack that info.

      Oh nvm, you mean Akua is boring. Why the hate against Stacies, Anon. Tell you what, ill give you 10 good boy points for each chapter of Akua you read.


      1. Anon

        Thief already that Pilgrim was able to ‘read’ her to the extent of knowing her saying ‘okay’ to healing meant Catherine was out – whether that’s emotion sense or not, it means he has good enough stock in a person to bluff a dedicated non-combatant Named.

        Cat making a ‘miraculous’ recovery may play into the fears he discussed with Saint regarding the story supporting her, but that only lasts until he comes into contact with the monster wearing Cat’s face. And Juniper’s quote gives him the perfect leverage to break Callow’s armies.

        As for Akua, I’m not saying she’s boring (well, I am, but not solely in that context) – moreso that her being able to take control of Cat’s body like this is unearned.

        Yes, EE has pulled this kind of ‘pull back the curtain after the fact’ secrecy before, but IMO the setup for it isn’t right here at all – Akua’s ‘story’ in this book hasn’t felt anywhere near the gravitas of taking control of Cat’s body, and absolutely nothing in the interactions she’s had since her defeat lends any sort of credence to the type of ‘negotiating’ Cat did with Black and jabbing a dagger in his side,

        I’m also full-up on ‘good boy points’, but thanks for the condescension.


        1. Laken

          They think he has an ability that lets him discern the truth at the moment. What he has is so much more.

          A common theme in the story is people paying the price of their own folly such as Cat not killing the Lone swordsman and by proxy damning his countryman. Cat not killing Akua’s soul and binding it to her mantle was just too stupid to not backfire disastrously, the setup has been here all along.

          And i gotta say i really want to see what the author makes of Akua. She is obviously a psychopath but will she truly try to redeem herself? Will she backstab them the first chance she gets? Can she be redeemed despite everything?

          What kind of Anon doesn’t want GBP?


          1. Metrux

            I very much dislike Akua’s continued existence, but my take is that Akua don’t see redeeming as we, or even as the other characters.


        1. Laken

          @Novice ill let you know that GBP is a premium currency to Anons for acquiring valuable resources such as tendies. 10 GBP per chapter was me being very generous. (its a running gag don’t take it seriously mate 🙂 )


    2. Andy

      I think Akua works great as someone to drive character development for the Woe, especially Thief as we’re seeing some very evil behavior from her this chapter. Also the story is called A practical guide to evil, not Cat butcheres people every chapter, I think its necesarry to show off all types of evil and killing Akua off only to bring in another follower of the old type could backfire spectaculary since people could just see the new villain as “Discount Sahelian”.


      1. Metrux

        You do know there ARE better villains of the old type than her, right? As in, the Dead King, the Tyrant of Helike, some people from out of the continent… We already HAVE villains with the odl mentality and diferent ways than Akua, and she has been completely exausted in the last book. There is neither the need to keep her own brand of villainy, neither to introduce another villain to give those different perceptions, so we can only assume EE has something different in store for her.

        Otherwise, she is my only critique to the whole series, so far. Not her in general, her in this book.


  6. soonnanandnaanssoon

    “I have a very different understanding regarding the phrase ‘Let it rip'”
    – Thief Vivienne Dartwick after the Battle of the Camps

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Anon

    Actually….wait a second – how does Akua know Thief’s true name? I don’t recall Cat ever speaking it in front of her, and thief seemed to guard it really closely.

    Also, Jupiter saying ‘if they ever find out’ is like a reverse chekhov’s gun for the grey pilgrim doing just that – in which case, Callow basically collapses.


  8. Alivaril

    I swear, if Akua breaks the rules of engagement laid out with Pilgrim or otherwise screws The Woe, I’m going to be… let’s go with “disappointed.” I still believe she’s a character dragging herself into conflicts long past her prime.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Dainpdf

      I do agree Akua as an antagonist is done. Bringing her back as that would feel like regression. But I have faith erraticetera will make this Catakua thing interesting.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. nipi

      I dont think she can break the orders Thief just gave her. Fae and oaths you know. So demons and devils are off the table for the used-to-be-Diabolist too. But she will be able to do stuff that wasnt talked about here or before. Undead?


  9. Dainpdf

    The call to get slaughtered by the Diabolist. She’s precisely the type of villain that does horrific amounts of damage before being taken down – we can only hope the collateral damage is not excessive and that Cat doesn’t end up paying too heavy a price. Because we all know the Saint and Pilgrim would eventually take Akua down *hard*.


  10. Harry

    I get that this is supposed to be a big mystery, but why would Thief either not make mention of having asked Akua about knowing where Catherine is, or use the oaths to force Akua to give an explanation, and/or a timeline of what happened to Cat, and how they could get her back?

    Like, if we’re meant to be in the dark fine, just have Akua say she doesn’t know, but Thief making zero mention of trying to figure out what the fuck happened feels like it’s placing an idiot ball on her in order to keep the readers in the dark.

    (Juniper saying ‘the moment we get her back’ doesn’t really do enough justice on that front, as its utterly devoid of any actual intelligence)

    And on that note, I’m still a little uncertain of just how much ‘power’ Akua would actually have – from what I understand, the mantle of Winter belongs to Cat – and as such, her body is reshaped accordingly.

    Yes, the body has access to Winter’s power but the strength of that connection comes from Catherine being the Duchess of Winter first and foremost, not the other way around (especially because the body is essentially just a construct) – Akua being able to access anywhere near it’s full power doesn’t make sense to me, as the connection should be minimal, if present at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Metrux

      She IS still the Diabolist, so she probably has access to her own powers, besides the physical qualities of this body. Also, who says she didn’t ask or do something to know? We got a little time skip, but more than enough for her to have tried questioning Akua, especially since Akua is in a different situation from where we left her, and the fae is nowhere to be seen.

      Also also, it would be pretty idiotic to ask Akua about that. Akua is the biggest pain in the ass to deal with, and will usually manipulate and backstab anyone in close proximity.


  11. Rook

    The only silver lining is that the Crusade will be the first ones to experience the unbelievable pain-in-the-ass that is Akua Sahelian this time around. We’ll get that satisfaction at least, before shit hits the fan again.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Burnsy

    You know, the twisted thing about this is that I genuinely think that Akua thinks of herself as Cats ally now. Any ally that will stab in her in the back the very first chance she gets, but so long as Cat keeps foreseeing and dodging those knives, Akua will keep going.

    Liked by 5 people

  13. Iron sharpens iron.

    It’s not *impossible* that the Diabolist has finally eaten enough pain from poor life choices to start making less bad ones, such as “be a faithful servant of the Black Queen and you get to stand in the ashes of Ater, after helping to burn it.”

    Still not the most likely possibility, but I’d like to see it happen.


  14. Highwayman

    While I hated Akua during her arc, I cannot deny that she is a delightfully evil bitch that certainly lives up to expectations regularly. Kinda like Joffery, no? (Might be mistaken here as I never watched pass S2 of GOT)

    And Thief torturing Akua was a delightful thing to read, both because I dislike Akua personally and because it is a tell that Thief is firmly in the grey zone. She now has the same vibe as when Batman decided that nah, leaving villians alive ain’t worth it.

    Great stuff as usual, EE.


    1. letouriste

      joffrey* and the guy kept getting worse each episode^^.
      Thief is already a villain in this universe. a fallen heroine. nothing grey about her anymore,


          1. Metrux

            The doubt doesn’t make her a Villain, and not all Names are purely Good or Evil, as evicenced by Cat being able to change allegiances before, and no one knowing if Ranger is a Hero or Villain.


            1. RanVor

              I meant to say she started doubting she ever was a Hero.

              Names themselves are not purely Good and Evil, but the individuals bearing them are. That we don’t know if Ranger is a Hero or a Villain doesn’t mean no one knows it in-universe. And Cat never changed allegiances, she just manipulated the story into a pattern where she takes place of a Hero.


  15. burdi

    just wondering
    where is catherine actually, there is no way akua can control cat with CLAIM and BIND since battle in the liesse prove that winter was to big for her power to hold
    and this “Sitting with her legs crossed, stripped of anything but a loose tunic, the Diabolist opened her eyes when Vivienne entered the tent” show us that the fucking Diabolist not in the Cloak of the Woe anymore.

    the is only one power that can take Diabolist out of her prison to cat body, the Winter itself backed by Creation.

    confrontation between cat and saint prove that winter can repair itself, the backlash from absolute positioning maybe very well broke cat’s soul and mind. but Winter needed a mind to exist (my own theory) and Creation needed story to continue, so It took Diabolist soul to mend cat’s broken soul (i dont know whether to excited or terrified)

    the saint already said that cat’s story in this moment is not like villain and the pilgrim already said too that there is a big possibility cat will return to give help in the darkest hour. so since its already in darkest hour for The Army of Callow, with defeat looming in their is needed and The Black Queen has to wake up

    just dont know, is it possible to meld two soul became one
    as we can see through many chapter that cat’s soul and mind not strong enough to hold Winter mighty influence. if it continue there is no other end in her journey except to became creature of winter wearing her own face

    of course that just my theory, maybe cat in the journey in arcadia, meeting former king of winter to get her queen of winter title official


    1. Metrux

      Well, I see it VERY differently from you. To start with, the souls were already connected, and she probably can’t completely control Cat, only her body, so Diabolist powers can be the culprit, no need for winter and reality to mess around.

      Then we get to the point this is NOT the darkest hour, the darkkest hour is, by definition, the point where things can’t get worse, and by people desperation things can very much become worse, so not hte time yet.

      Lastly, I don’t think she will keep Winter as her main power. Simply makes no sense, she very much fits a Named in reality yet. So maybe her new Name will help tame Winter, or she will get rid of it for her new Name. That’s by two bits, anyway.


  16. No way in hell can the crusaders get even remotely ready for an assault via Gate. They were so sure that Catherine’s out of the picture or at until her army is at the edge of defeat, that they, Named or otherwise, never assumed that the Callowan army would be the one on the offensive. This has got to be the Battle of the Camps. The one where Catherine and the Wild Hunt attacked was only a diversion to steal the Crusader’s supplies. This has got to be it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cat sent Larat to attack supply lines, letting the Crusaders know that they have two people including herself capable of making gates.

      They may have defenses prepared for gates, just in case.


  17. 1queenofblades1

    >>Catherine’s dark eyes met her own.

    “Do you believe in redemption, Vivienne Dartwick?”

    “My people,” Akua Sahelian murmured, “do not put much stock in it either. But I have pondered this matter deeply, of late. Perhaps there is some worth to be found in it.”<>“When historians try to pin down Foundling’s methods they point to the Battle of the Camps or the Princes’ Graveyard, but those came later. After she’d learned her trade. If you want to understand how she operated, look to the Battle of Four Armies and One – from the beginning to the end, she was playing an entirely different game from every other commander on the field.”
    – Extract from “A Commentary on the Uncivil Wars”, by Juniper of the Red Shields.<<

    I suspect Cat's playing a trick on the narrative or the heroes. I can't think of a reason, but I strongly suspect she's up to something. Like everyone said, there's no reason for Akua to be plot relevant….unless Cat is twisting the narrative about her being the heroic side in the war further by using a villain to anti-hero redemption arc via Akua. I suspect the Proceran army is about to be crushed.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. 1queenofblades1

      For some reason WordPress cut out half my post.

      I think it’s Catherine that asked Thief of she believes in redemption. She’s playing a con, on either the narrative, or the heroes. Which is why even the Woe can’t be in on it. And plus, for all we know, she just improvised it while unconscious and dreaming.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. burdi

        holy shit, i think your theory has possibility in it
        this will be epic
        i still thinking that somehow part of akua soul got absorb in catherine soul in order to repair it


      2. grzecho2222

        I think that Akua is doing “Former Enemy attacks hostile army to buy some time, so the Protagonist can appear with new forces and drive them back only to discaver that the Former Enemy is dead/dieing and admits that they will miss them” kinda gambit with intention of gaining something from it. Hard to tell if Cat is on it or not, but it seem that she will come back in critical moment to do some Oddfathers- style neutral necromancy – “Hear me People of Callow, hear me People of Praes, I ask You to rise in defence of your land, your families once more. Come and drive away the prideful invaders and their greedy masters. Come and fight again!” – and dead legion will rise.


  18. Well this battle promises to be interesting at the very least…we are about to see what Winter can really do when most of the moral constraints are out of the way.
    Juniper was great as always. I think new strategies are going to be thrown since this time Akua must obey the pre-battle plans.

    But it was Prince Amadis of Iserre who was perhaps the most interesting. First, because it presented him as a human for the first time, far from the opportunist jackass of the first appearances.
    Second, because he thought about many good points.
    Cordelia Hasenbach manipulated the ‘Good’ nations of Calernia to join her great Tenth Crusade. But has the First Prince truly considered what can happen if they fail?
    Her opponents being crippled may be a very bad thing in the weeks to come.
    If Amadis and Malanza lose the next battle (and there are good odds they will at least finish the battle with half their forces dead), then it’s 50 000 men gone.
    Then our good friend The Tyrant attacks by surprise the 20 000 men stationed in the south and proceeds to set the Principalties aflame.
    Black manages to defend the Vale and inflict losses which makes Papenheim stop his offensive.
    The Levant troops are diverted from their original course to protect Procer, hardly the heroic and redemption show they had been promised.
    The Ashuran Navy is unable to do more than a few skirmishes and annoying the Tower.
    Then the Dead king strikes.
    In her haste to get rid of the villains, Cordelia could lose as many as 120 000 men (which has to be a very significant number even for them) and have her home country fought as the battleground…making the Tenth Crusade a monumental failure from the start.


    1. 1queenofblades1

      I’ve noticed comments along with this story (on the surface at least) to be falling to same preconceptions that medieval nations couldn’t field large armies. Even in Roman times, whether you were Athens or Rome itself, only a tiny fraction of your men were in an army at any time. Rome was different in that the Senate could conscript you at will and many spent their youth training in preparation for being conscripted, so even though during the Punic wars when Rome was much smaller and several consular armies were destroyed consisting of tens of thousands of men, replacing them was pretty easy meaning Rome was punching well above its weight for its size. Even the Seleucids at their height, their all-out mobilization was a 110,000 men with a total population of several million. Even if the entire army was annihilated, it’s hardly that big a drag on the demographics. Yes there may be several thousand less farmers, but it’s honestly not that big a loss especially considering they’re from all across the empire and spread out across various towns and cities, and armies tended to also make use of mercenaries. The state will have a few years of economic pain, then will recover. Procer has a population of millions simply because anything less couldn’t support an army of 100,000 with such technology, as well as the already massive losses taken during the Civil War. 100,000 people hell 200,000 people dying will be a drop in the bucket in the long run to Procer. Cordelia will probably be thrown out of power but Cordelia is the government, not the state. Even if the government changes 10 times, Procer is Procer and it wouldn’t be such a big loss to it.

      The peasants will breed themselves back – Every aristocrat ever.


      1. On the medium term, perhaps.
        But on the short term, it would be disastrous. Procer has been described many times as weakened by the long war between princes, and is barely starting to recover thanks to Hasenbach. The principalities keeping in check the Dead King and the ratlings cannot affords weakening anymore, and their society is already militarized in all its aspects to resist their invasions.
        If the crusade fail and Procer lose its armies, it may recover militarily if given some time (and economically after a decade or two), but the Dead King is already on the move, and even if he wasn’t, it would be the perfect time to strike. The newly raised armies would be comparable to untrained levies even if they could muster their new army fast enough. Even if they where individuals that had trained (which is unlikely, a farmer’s life is harsh enough already without adding training to it), it would be an army of warrior instead of soldiers, and we saw with the battles between Summer and Winter how these go.
        And you have to take into account that merely assembling them would take months at the earliest. It’s not for nothing that the Arcadia gates are such a logistical advantage in this medieval setting.


  19. SMHF

    Akua talking about redemption gives me a bad feeling… For her, this is like a once in an afterlife time opportunity… so that whole redemption talk, is probably her attempt at a story to set herself free!
    Which I really really really hope doesn’t happen!
    Back in the lamp with you, Akua!

    Liked by 3 people

  20. Darkadaption

    Akua leading the army while pretending to be Cat reaps the benefits of a strong story.

    – Villains who have been out of the picture always create a big impact when they return (and this applies both for Akua making her possession play and, “Cat,” awakening to lead the army on the third day).

    – The deception will then be inevitably discovered leading to a reversal. Where the story backlash for the ploy goes is interesting, my bet is Thief as a Callowan patriot making deals with the Butcher of Liesse. However Akua herself may suffer as both the possessor and Casus Belli for the crusade.

    – Nevertheless the reversal will create a desperate enough situation to bring Cat back to save her friends/army.

    The overall story when she wakes is going to be:
    Cat returns by throwing off possession by her oldest enemy/awakening in her friends’ hour of need/in order to turn the tide of a losing battle/that she needs to win in order to defend her homeland against invaders.

    That’s about 4 separate Named power boosts in the context of the story.

    I’m pretty sure that Cat engineered this situation (possession and all) to give herself a near unbeatable amount of narrative weight.


  21. Albatross

    On Wednesday I was pretty down about this whole ‘lets bring back Akua thing’. But if the redemption thing holds true I actually kinda like it? Idk the fact she went straight for ‘hold Hierophant hostage’ on waking up doesn’t seem like a good sign


  22. Gunslinger

    While I despise Akua and hate how her presence means Cat’s not going to wake up till Wednesday at the least, I’m quite curious to see how she handles the winter mantle.

    Also RIP Saint

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Someguy

    Thief is going to upgrade into [Thief of Time] to steal away Saint’s lifespan? Too bad Archer could not use Unli.ited Blade Works.

    Jokes aside. Cathrine should have aimed for the decimation of the Invaders like how Black put down the rebellion. Granted, she has less tools and resources to work with but forcing a “truce” with crowd brainwashers and an enemy pulling a Genghis Gambit due to realpolitik is a bad idea.


  24. Naeddyr

    My prediction:

    Akua is going to act as a soul-shield. Not just a meat-shield, a soul-shield. The Saint is going to cut the fuck out of her, possibly even kill her, and that’s when Cat returns.

    Liked by 5 people

  25. Vhostym

    I love how all of the Akua hate here has left it so that there are no comments questioning how… fortuitous… it is that she appears now, at the brink of Callow’s defeat. Almost as if a hand from below is tipping the scales.

    I mean, I get the hate, Akua was always that after the last moment villain that jerks reader’s expectations, and we loathe that. In book 1 she was a pretty standard villain who only really started antagonizing Cat after William showed up and took the spotlight. In Book 2 she was a problem on the side after Marchford and until Liesse, and unlike William we missed seeing her get her comeuppance. In Book 3 she was almost forgotten, or at least once again the lesser problem, until after Summer’s defeat, and at that point many of us readers were hoping the book would end. That said, this is a pretty cool time for her to show up, even if we all know she’s going to betray The Woe and fight them again.

    For now though I’m more interested in the parallels between what has happened here and Angelic intervention on the crusader’s side. I’m sure that if the Crusade had been pushed to this point, without the Grey Pilgrim’s oath, Angels would have intervened to turn the tides. Instead Heaven seems to have been playing its hand more conservatively but consistently throughout the entire battle, with relatively little overt countering from Below. So it’s quite interesting to see Akua show up now, considering all of the potential power that Below could levy, it implies a lot about her potential impact here. The one thing that we know is that with Akua, we can expect the heroes to start taking actual casualties (it’s been two days now, so both dead heroes have probably been rezzed) like they were supposed to all along.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Metrux

      Excuse me? Are you trying to imply the third book was about fae? The book was wholly about Akua, even the fae coming was because of her, and she was more than overexposed there, honestly, I feel like there is nothing more to know about Akua, and this is not good for a character, especially a Villain, since this is the time when you defeat her/him and say goodbye.


  26. Sen

    A mistake, Thief. I suspect that ‘Flee” was an inappropriately vague instruction. If Akua seeks out our pilgrim friend, she has permission and imperative to leave the battlefield and seek our her own ends.


    1. Anon

      Technically no – I believe flee only applies insofar as escaping from the grey pilgrim.

      Unless He follows Akua forever, her next order would eventually be to return to the camp/Thief.


  27. RanVor

    A Terribilic victory indeed.

    Like almost everyone here, I’m tired of Ubua, but her comment on redemption got me thinking, and I came to the conclusion that she still has the potential to be entertaining for a few chapters. Until she inevitably backstabs everyone again, that is.

    Also, between this and Court II, I can’t believe people still claim the Thief is a Hero.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I mean, Akua is basically Hitler. If you decide to inflict serious pain on a leashed Hitler to try to dissuade him from breaking his leash that’s not, like, pure in the way that would pass muster for a paladin. But it’s also not capital E evil. Heck it’s barely a pragmatic lesser evil. Maybe it rates as a sensible but mildly disconcerting measure. Even if you take a vindictive pleasure in it that barely tips the scales at all. Especially if you’re part of the group that genocide was committed against.

      Thief was barely a Hero in the first place. She never had any kind of selfless motives, just an urge to make the Empire pay for the insult and injury piled on top of her mother’s death. She only got to be a Hero by dint of being on a rebellious Callow’s side of the narrative. Where she is now? Being a bit casual with the “torture Hitler” button? There’s not much moral distance you have to travel from where she was to where she is, if any. Fuck knows William would have done way *waaaaaaay* worse than Thief did to Akua, and he still classified as a Hero. So yeah, I get how people are still calling Thief a Hero. This really doesn’t represent any great moral shift in her character, let alone something beyond the limits of what the Heavens are okay with.


      1. RanVor

        I’m inclined to disagree. Torturing any person for any reason is a capital E Evil, no matter how horrible their deeds. Them being the tormentors is not an excuse for us becoming the tormentors too.

        Although I must admit the scene in question was immensely satisfying.


        1. I mean I do generally agree that torture is always a bad thing (as it doesn’t actually produce any kind of reliable information or actually change behavior).

          But for someone like Thief who believes that torture might actually influence Akua’s behavior? Who thinks it has even the slightest chance of reducing her likelihood of slipping the leash? Even if Thief’s wrong, I’m not inclined to penalize her too heavily for making the decision.


          1. Metrux

            Besides what the other discussion already spoke of all that, in this same chapter, I’d just like to point out Hitler is not nearly close to being the one behind the biggest genocide. Just when spain came to the americas they killed more indias, pacific ones who were trading with them. So, you know, Hitler is horrible and no one will disagree, but people just put him into a reversed pedestal, there are actually much worse than him.


            1. Oh yeah, the point in using Hitler as an example isn’t “this is actually the worst person in history”, but rather “this is the worst person in history that both you and I are likely to know the most about, have a mutual understanding on their awfulness, and be familiar with the consequences of their actions”. There’s not much point bringing someone up as a “person X is like person Y” example when the person you’re talking to might not know much about person Y.


  28. Ah, Akua seems to be so tightly bound by Cat’s contingency plans that this may actually work if Thief is careful enough. I wouldn’t mind having Akua around as another treacherous lieutenant other than Larat. It’ll keep Cat on her toes, but also a lot of firepower. I don’t know how she would explain the butcher of Liesse to the rest of the government or Callow though.

    Also, I am really, really happy that we’ll get to see the powers of Winter fully unleashed, at least until Akua kills 6000 soldiers. 6000! I mean like, holy shit! Can’t wait to see how that goes on Monday 🙂


  29. Akua can’t kill Grey Pilgrim, but if Thief is out of command range then I bet anything that among those six thousand are the Princes and Princesses of the Crusader host.


  30. Kallikrates

    A tiny detail I don’t think we’ve seen for a while. They are referring to Akua, by her Name. Does that mean she still has the Name? Is the Mantle of Woe also the container/prison of a Named Villain???


    1. Metrux

      Yes, she still has her Name. It isn’t much clear, but I think Villains don’t loose their Name on death. Maybe Heroes neither, since they can be ressurected?


  31. Lucas

    So, as the saint said, waking up at the last moment to save your people is not a villain story. Having your pet monster do it is.


  32. Edrey

    akua using undeads to attack sumoning devils using the crusaders, breaking the deal with the pilgrim and having angelic intervention is the kind of thing i expect here
    only with cat awakening and tricking the angel to his death


  33. I’m getting a nasty feeling that Akua has a play involving the Absence demon up her sleeve. That thing was brought up too many times to be completely dealt with offscreen.


  34. JJR

    You know, if there were one piece of advise I would have given in regards to Akua, well other than get rid of her, it would be DO NOT MISTREAT HER. Thief is risking turning the Narrative in Akua’s favor faster than she can say, “What about the city she murdered?” Well, hopefully Cat can pick up the pieces when she get’s back in her bodies helm.


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