Chapter 17: Contingent

“Peace is little more than the reognition that the reasons for which war was undertaken are no longer relevant.”
– Dread Emperor Benevolent the First

I came back to myself with a roiling sea of Winter at my fingertips.

Fucking Hells, Akua. The trap I’d set that ultimately brought me back had required that the Diabolist or another entity to essentially go mad with power for it to work in the first place, but this was still beyond my predictions. Even with oaths binding her and Vivienne holding a leash, what I saw beneath me was a dark reminder of the quantity of power that could be thrown around without breaking the letter of the limitations I’d imposed. Half of the lake I’d dumped over the head of the crusaders with Masego’s help had apparently been used to smash the heroes, though I saw no corpses to show for the effort. Not that one of those would necessarily mean the end of it, with the Pilgrim around. Five contingencies, and this had been the one to work. I could not help but be pissed that even after all that planning in the end it’d come down to Akua making a mistake, however baited that mistake had been. Hierophant was nowhere in sight, so he was probably incapacitated. That was one down. Thief’s secret set of oaths must not have been sufficient to call me back from that… unpleasant journey, which made two. I’d not woken up to a sword through my back, so Larat hadn’t worked out either – but then that had always been the chanciest of the five. The oath forced on the fae had been comprehensive, but with that sort of creature it was hard to make one completely water-tight. He’d failed, either on purpose or not. I’d have to get the details out of him, but regardless that made three.

As for the last trick, well, it had very specific requirements. I wasn’t surprised it hadn’t gotten me out, though I’d need to have Hierophant take a look at the overlay as soon as possible. We were pretty sure it wouldn’t kill me if it triggered by accident, but there were always risks in turning yourself into living munitions.

I held the power in check, barely, as my gaze swept the battlefield. Ten heroes, looking ragged but unbowed. The Saint had taken an arrow, which meant Indrani was up and about. A relief, that. The rest were clustered together, protecting the Pilgrim and the wizard I’d scrapped with that one time. The thousand little bundles in the back of my mind made it clear Akua had indulged in a spot of necromancy, which brought mixed feelings. For all that Masego insisted there was nothing inherently bad about that kind of sorcery, after Second Liesse I had my doubts. Maybe there were applications that weren’t inherently horrid, but no one seemed to be actually using those. On the other hand, if the undead were getting chopped up that meant fewer of my soldiers were dying. I could appreciate the results, even if the means had me more than a little uncomfortable. I’d take a closer look a those later. For now, I was juggling the difficulty of maintaining the ice beneath my feet that kept me on the surface of this eerie marsh while simultaneously trying not to blow up either myself or my surroundings with the power Diabolist had drawn. My grip was beginning to slip, so action was in order. Senses no mortal could have were in full extension, telling me of the humidity in the air and the spread of both water and ice in my surroundings.

I dumped the power into the water beneath me, flash-freezing it with a loud snap as I continued spreading and shaping the working. The glacier formed at a mind-boggling pace, water rippling around it, and I closed my eyes to focus. Getting the paddles of the waterwheel all the same size was difficult, though it grew easier the more power I shed. I could have made it larger, not that it wasn’t already massive, but just a structure of ice wasn’t what I had in mind. Fingers clenching, I severed the platform I stood on from the wheel and lashed out with my will. Slowly, the wheel began to turn. The waters churned. I continued dumping power into the movement, accelerating it, and the tide of soiled water raged towards the heroes with a roar. Fuck it, I thought, and tossed the wheel at them too. We were past subtlety at this point. Eyes flicking towards the Saint, I sighed as she carved herself a path above the current and stood atop the arc. That’d been too much to hope for, I supposed. An arrow whistled at her and I took advantage of the opening Archer had just gifted me to move further away as I riffled through the bundles in the back of my mind until I could find Zombie. Good girl that she was, she’d been waiting on the edge of the marshlands. She seemed pleased by my summons, taking flight with haste.

I wasn’t sure what Akua’s plan had been but it hardly mattered. While it looked like she might have been getting the better of the fight with the heroes, fighting them at all was a mistake as far as I was concerned. Even if I killed a few they’d still get me in the end. In the distance I heard a gargantuan crack as the ice wheel fractured into pieces merrily carried by the currents, heroes having climbed atop them. That, as it happened, was an opening I’d left on purpose. I drew on Winter, feeling it whisper lovingly in my ears, and shattered the wheel shards. That dumped the heroes back into the water, though the fucking wizard made some kind of ring of fire that evaporated a safe place for them to gather and regroup. Saint was back on the offensive, making her way to me, but I wasn’t having any of that. Zombie made a low pass and I leapt atop her saddle, fingers slipping into her mane to anchor me while I got my feet in the stirrups. We went high after that, the undead horse’s wings beating hard as we ascended. My cloak was wet, I only then noticed. Like I’d been swimming. What the fuck had Akua been up to? No, not the time. By the height of the sun it was morning still, and promising to be a warm day. Not a cloud in sight. My mount gliding slowly, I took a look at the broader situation unfolding across the field.

The undead were shambling forward into a defensive Proceran line near what must have been a shore, before most the water in the marsh was used as ammunition in the Named brawl below me. The dead were not making an impressive showing. They seemed to have some semblance of intelligence, but there was no real coordination. They went in waves and shattered on the formations of fantassins and the priests accompanying them. Still, casualties were slowly mounting. I suspected the first few waves must have been wiped almost without losses, but now the crusaders were tiring and beginning to make mistakes. There was, to my surprise, another front to the battle. The Army of Callow was out in force, though there were a lot fewer of them than I’d expected. Had Juniper left men to guard the camp? Regardless, if she was leading this engagement she was being rather conservative in her command. Mages on both sides were trading spells at a pace, but aside from a long shield wall of regulars pressing against crusader lines there was no other real fighting going on. She’s not fighting to win, I thought, frowning as I watched the Order of the Broken Bell manoeuver on the flank to draw away enemy cavalry without ever engaging. She’s delaying and tying down men while incurring as few casualties as possible.

That was unlike the Hellhound, who tended to go for the throat whenever she could. Which meant she was relying on the dead to do the heavy lifting – and by extension had relied on Akua. That was a desperate measure if I’d ever seen one. The situation must be worse than it looked on the surface. The moment the front holding back the dead collapsed the battle was good as won, barring heroic intervention, but at the current pace that might take hours. My brow tightened as I scanned the battlefield for any hint of the Wild Hunt’s presence, but they were nowhere in sight. Had the fae sat on their asses the entire time I’d been gone? Fuck. It was a solid assumption there’d been a battle while I was gone, and without the fae the Army of Callow would have been fighting Named with only Legion mages to back them up, while the enemy had wizards and priests both. It must have been a fucking slaughter. Were the men I saw below all that was left of our host? There were what, maybe thirteen or fourteen thousand there? The Procerans looked like they’d taken a beating too, lost at least another few thousand since I’d dropped the lake on them, but Malanza could afford those losses a lot more than we could. She was throwing away levies and fantassins, not professional soldiers.

While I’d been taking my look around, the heroes had gotten their shit together. A beam of radiant light – fucking Pilgrim – tore up towards me, followed by a swarm of little balls of flame that looked liquid. I led Zombie into a deep dive to shake the projectiles. Archer could take care of herself, I decided. She was probably half a mile away and picking her targets carefully, in no danger of being swarmed by the enemy. Just in case I wove a glamour into large streaks of yellow and red indicating she should disengage even as I spurred Zombie to head towards the shore battle line. I whistled loudly as my mount’s hooves swept just above the water. It was not long before I had my answer. Loyal dogs that they were, the Wild Hunt came as summoned. There was an eldritch glimmer on the surface of the water at my side before Larat came riding out in full armour, sword in hand and grinning broadly. Even as his horse kept pace with mine, the rest of the Hunt emerged in our wake.

“Your Majesty,” the one-eyed fae greeted me. “Was your journey a fruitful one?”

“We’re going to have a talk about that, you little weasel,” I darkly said. “But it’ll have to wait. I have work for the lot of you.”

“We await your will eagerly,” the raven-haired man replied.

“Ignore the heroes unless they attack you,” I ordered. “See those Proceran formations ahead?”

My sword helpfully pointed out the Proceran defensive line.

“Their fear and desperation wafts most pleasantly to my nostrils,” Larat informed me.

They did to mine as well, and Winter grew hungry for the banquet, but I forced myself to focus.

“Break them,” I said. “Killing’s not the objective, the Hunt is to concentrate on shattering their lines.”

“Tasteless meat,” the one-eye fae complained.

“That sounds like the talk of a man hungry for fingers,” I noted very mildly.

The bastard laughed.

“Your will be done, Sovereign of Moonless Nights,” he smiled.

“It better, for your sake,” I smiled back cheerfully. “Because you seem to have fucked around in my absence, and we’re going to have a nice chat about that.”

I didn’t even allow him to respond, pulling Zombie up and willing one of her wing beats to splash water in his face. Let him try to look all elegant and sinister with muck everywhere. I absently tugged on the reins to lead my mount towards the crusaders, but my mind was elsewhere. I needed to keep the heroes busy for a while, there was no telling what they’d get up to unattended. I reached for the dead, grimacing after a moment. Ordering them one by one would take too long. I thinned my will and cast it broadly, grabbing a rough thousand still roving around. Pain spiked through my forehead. Too much feedback. I grit my teeth and ordered them to assault the heroes before withdrawing my will. They weren’t going to win that fight – a band of tired and encircled heroes fighting back to back against a relentless tide of undead? It had victory written all over it – but it should keep them out of my hair for a while. I tasted the warmth of the enemy Named, trying to get a sense of their readiness, and my fingers clenched. There should be ten. There were only eight. Where had they – no, it wasn’t even worth asking. They would be at the very worst possible place for me.

Guarding Rozala Malanza.

I allowed myself a moment to contemplate the unpleasantness that was fighting people both stronger than me and certain to be where I least wanted them to be before pressing down against Zombie’s back. She neighed and angled for descent as we flew towards the back of the Proceran lines. A handful of archers loosed arrows upwards, but I was too far and too swift for them to have any real chance of hitting me. Unfortunately, mages were bullshit and evidently I was both recognizable and a favoured target. Panes of opaque yellow force formed around me in an airtight box, but they were in above their heads this time. When it came to power, pound for pound, there were only a few people in Calernia who could beat me if I put my back into it. A lance of ice and shade formed around my hand and Zombie dove down. There was a heartbeat of resistance when the tip of the lance met the sorcery, then they both shattered and we flew through as my cloak trailed behind me. With a target painted on us so blatantly, it was no surprise I had to lead Zombie into a desperate roll to avoid being incinerated by a beam of light. It caught the edge of my cloak, leaving it singed and smoking. Fucking Pilgrim. It was supposed to be resistant to magic, wasn’t it?

He was down there, as I’d suspected. Leaning on his staff, the Saint of Swords by his side and waiting patiently for me to gain enough momentum I wouldn’t be able to pull out of the dive when she struck. Malanza was behind them, and as the air whistled around me I got a glimpse of her face. Fear, yes, but much more anger. I had to respect that she remained on her horse and unmoving even as my descent quickened. Her officers were not so brave, scattering to the winds. I’d have to play this one precisely, if I wanted to avoid getting skewered in the process of landing. Fortunately, I was spending increasingly large amounts of my life either falling from things or being thrown off of them. I’d become a fair hand at it. I drew on Winter and shaped it, tossing ahead of me a spear of mist that detonated into a cloud. Throwing myself off Zombie, I ordered her to peel off even as my relationship with gravity took a sharp turn downwards. This, I mused, had seemed a better idea before I’d gone through with it. The timing held. A cut dispersed the mist, missing Zombie by a mere inch. Then the Saint struck again and I cursed.

I threw ice at the cut, saving my hide just long enough for my feet to land on wet earth. Mud sucked at my boots and both my knees snapped, but they were reforming before I even stood. The Saint of Swords was lazily advancing, the Pilgrim pointed his staff and Malanza looked like she really wanted to be pretty much anywhere else.

“Truce,” I called out. “I’m here to talk.”

“I’m not seeing a banner,” the Saint noted.

Really? She was such a godsdamned asshole. I flicked my fingers and wove one out of glamour, but she pointedly did not look at it.

“I don’t want to fight you,” I insisted.

“So don’t,” she suggested. “Angle your neck a little to the side, it’ll be a cleaner cut.”

She was closing distance, which I knew from experience would result in my getting chopped up painfully and repeatedly.

“Pilgrim,” I tried, looking behind her. “This can end right now.”

“Gods forgive me,” the old man said. “But you are right. It will.”

“The battle is lost,” I said. “Your lines by the shore are collapsing as we speak. Even if you force me to flee, none of that changes.”

“Armies are armies,” the Saint shrugged. “Named are Named. More than one way to win a war.”

One step away from striking range, now. And the moment she got there we entered the wheel of pain, where every spoke was me losing a limb and trying very hard not to scream. The bundle of instincts that were not my own was licking its chops, hungry for the fight. To crush my enemies and savour their screams. The rest insisted I make some distance, because this was about to get ugly. I unsheathed my sword. This isn’t going to work, I thought, but I had to try anyway. My fingers came loose and I dropped the blade.

“Unarmed,” I said. “Under truce banner.”

“You’re a weapon unto yourself,” the Saint of Swords snorted, and stepped forward.

From the corner of my eye I saw implacable light bloom at the tip of the Grey Pilgrim’s staff. If I got hit by that, I suspected the consequences would be much more unpleasant than a sword wound. Nothing friendly felt the way that power did.

“Stop.”

I’d been reaching for Winter, but stayed my hand. That was not the Pilgrim’s voice, and certainly not the Saint’s. Rozala Malanza took off her helmet, sweat-soaked curls falling across her face.

“You want to talk, Black Queen,” she said. “So talk.”

“You fucking yellow-bellied-” the Saint began.

“I am the ranking general of this army, Regicide,” the Princess of Aequitan coldy replied. “I take no orders from you. Slay me or stay your tongue.”

By the looks of her, the heroine was feeling inclined towards the second. The light winked out on the Pilgrim’s staff.

“Laurence,” he said. “She cannot easily retreat. If talks fail, we will strike.”

That wasn’t how fucking truce talks were supposed to work, but then I’d not exactly respected the usual etiquette either. Disinclined as I was to give them a full pass, I would at least recognize they had some wiggling room when it came interpretation. The heroes were a distraction here, I decided. The one who mattered was the princess watching me with hard eyes.

“Battle’s over, Malanza,” I said. “Let’s end it before any more people die pointlessly.”

“I was assured you could not open your deathly gate again without the Hierophant,” the Proceran said flatly. “He is not here. The battle is not yet lost.”

“So maybe you wreck my army,” I said. “Even if you manage that, yours gets wrecked in the process as well. And you can be sure enough of my people survive to run that we can defend Hedges against what you have left. Logistically, you’re done. You don’t have the supplies or the men for a successful offensive into Callow.”

“If we take your supplies-”she began.

“Not happening. I gave standing orders to burn what we can’t carry, if we lose,” I interrupted brusquely.

Her eyes flicked to the Pilgrim, and reluctantly the old man nodded. The Saint’s already grim expression darkened further.

“I will not surrender to the likes of you,” the princess snarled.

My fingers clenched.

“Gods Below, what will it take?” I hissed. “Do I have to murder ever last Proceran on this field before negotiations can be had? Are you really so unwilling to consider not invading you’ll let dozens of thousands starve?”

“Your doing,” Malanza hissed back. “You steal our supplies, harass us and then claim affront at our desperation? You are the architect of this madness, Catherine Foundling.”

Winter whispered in my ear, urging me to rip apart the righteous little shit who had the gall to pretend she was the victim here while leading a fucking invasion army. My fingers dug into my palm until steel gave and flesh beneath it, blood dripping on the ground. The Saint’s stance shifted ever so slightly. Breathe in, breathe out. Pride was a liability. Anger an unhelpful bias. Be cold, I told myself. Be clear. Be a creature of logic, because logic is what gets you through this. Everything else is distracting noise. I thought of pale green eyes, and lessons I had not yet outgrown.

“Then do not surrender,” I said calmly. “Sound a withdrawal. My side will do the same. We can discuss terms for your retreat from Callow when our people aren’t dying.”

“And allow hunger to do your work for you?” the princess retorted.

“I’d be putting down an army of the dead as a gesture of good will, Malanza,” I said. “My concession is greater than yours.”

Her face remained unmoved by the statement, but she was silent for a moment.

“Supplies for the night,” she said. “Food, water and tents. Delivered after we tend to the wounded.”

I forced myself to consider the counter-offer calmly. Would those make enough of a difference I should bargain down? Vivienne still had their old foodstuffs in her metaphorical pocket, so it shouldn’t lead to logistical issues for the Army of Callow if I shelled thse out. It would still mean that the enemy, while not fresh, would at least have full bellies. They’d be closer to fighting fit. If negotiations broke down afterwards – no, wrong way to think about it. If we had a night to spare, odds were I’d be able to get Hierophant back up. My comparative advantage was greater, even with the undead tossed aside.

“They’ll be added to your bill,” I said.

The princess opened her mouth.

“Flat cost,” I added. “No surcharge.”

Her mouth closed. Grudgingly, she nodded. We both knew that if negotiations failed any talk of coin would become academic anyway.

“Truce until negotiations come at an end,” I said. “First session held at noon tomorrow.”

“Granted,” Malanza replied.

My eyes flicked to the Named at her sides.

“That includes heroes,” I said.

“I take no orders from mortal rulers,” the Saint flatly said.

I ignored her. She was irrelevant in this, unless she was willing to fight the entire Army of Callow on her own. Even if she got the rest of the heroes to back her, it wouldn’t be enough.

“You can’t seriously expect me to feed and shelter your army while we’re under attack by your allies,” I told Malanza.

The Proceran looked like she’d swallowed a lemon.

“I will formally renounce alliance with any hero resuming hostilities while we are under truce,” she said. “I can do no more.”

It’d be enough, I decided. Might even be better if the Saint attacked after that, we’d get a clean shot at her without making a diplomatic mess.

“I strike bargain under these terms,” I said.

I got my gauntlet off and offered my hand. Revulsion flickering across her face, the princess spat on the ground.

“I strike bargain under these terms,” she replied. “Get out of my sight, Black Queen.”

I supposed we were past courtesy, at this point. It’d never been my strong suit anyway. I crouched to pick up my sword and sheathed it, keeping an eye on the furious Saint as I did. She turned and walked away. The Pilgrim sought to meet my eyes, studying me a pensive frown, but I was done with him. Zombie landed moments later, a handful of arrows having sprouted in her flank since I’d last seen her. The enemy archers had been busy. It still took half an hour before the battle came entirely at an end, the last of the dead dropping into the mud like a stringless puppet, but it ended.

None of this felt like a victory, but at least it wasn’t a defeat.

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242 thoughts on “Chapter 17: Contingent

    1. TeK

      He’s the author of the one of my favorite quotes: “Morality is a force, not a law. Deviating from it has costs and benefits both – a ruler should weigh those when making a decision, and ignore the delusion of any position being inherently superior.”

      Liked by 17 people

    2. stevenneiman

      He was real. I think his thing was about understanding how to manipulate the interaction of Good and Evil in his favor. The only other quotes of his I remember were one about letting his enemies arrange their own doom, and one (which someone else already mentioned) about understanding the advantages and drawbacks of choosing Good or Evil rather than believing them to be ends in themselves.

      Like

  1. nerferf

    Ack so the battle of camps continues
    What are the odds and implications if the heroes off the nobles and take the army for themselves?
    After this i dont think any cool heads among the heroes can keep the peace in regards to the more hotheaded ones

    Would be interesting to see the heroes reaction to how aku was waving so much power about, getting humuitated like this when promised and epic battle is not going to go over well

    Like

    1. Cicero

      Pilgrim would never stand for that. As powerful as the Regicide is, the Pilgrim is clearly the boss of the heroes.

      At most… maybe the Mirror Knight and the Spear would side with the Saint over the Pilgrim. The rest will side with the Pilgrim.

      Just not happening.

      Like

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        Unless the Pilgrim snaps. Everybody is so sure Saint will do it it has a narrative weight of twist to it if Pilgrim is the one who just can’t abide it. Because of the Sunken costs. Things have already gone so bad but if he lets the “punishment” of past sins win, surely that punishment will grow all the worse, and Procer will feel it most of all. So he invokes the story of damning himself to get the job done, going against orders to finish the job. Of course, since Cat is playing the role of hero, he’s the treacherous one violating truce and suddenly far more vulnerable.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. nerferf

          Aye i can see that,
          Pilgrim is the only one willing to talk peace when the others already thought cat was full of it and was just lying

          Him noticing the changes when aku was in control seems to make him more willing to just kill cat given how he barely even tried to stop saint here

          Pilgrim seems to be in confused and lost when he tried to reach cats eyes as he doesn’t have a clue what is going on anymore and when the mentor got no clue then the other hero just to decide usually

          Liked by 3 people

        2. eh

          Has Cat really been all that villainous? Her overarching story is a rise from tragically orphaned orphan, to pit fighter, to misguided protege of a monster, to vaguely benevolent ice queen. She had a tragic and violent past, she had bad influences, she hasn’t had a kick the dog moment worse than crucifying some naughty mercenaries and turning a war criminal into a fashion statement, most of the heroes are cowardly idiots, Squire/Thief/Hunter (and maybe Hierophant/Adjutant) aren’t strictly evil Names, she’s thrice offered terms to enemies that are out for her blood in order to save lives, everyone from Akua to the Grey Pilgrim believes her story has core heroic components, and she’s literally an ice queen ready to have her heart thawed.

          She’s ideally placed for a redemption arc, and with the break from the tower and from Black she’s arguably already a budding antihero. Pilgrim will presumably notice this before he tries to murder her, and avoid a story where his side are arrogant betrayers acting from a sense of misbegotten superiority.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. yes and no. On one hand she is indeed being heroic by our standards, but in this universe good and hero both apply to followers of the gods above, not actually being good/heroic. Cat opposes the gods above, she is automatically a villain and it’s the villain’s set of tropes that apply to her.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. If the Grey Pilgram is to be believed, then yes, simply by being a Below-oriented head of state, Cat is actively spreading Evil, corrupting her people by drawing out their Evil tendencies (sort of like how the US gets Trump and suddenly America is evil and racist. Cat’s supernatural Evil influence will probably be slower and more subtle, you know, so it’s believable).

            Personally, I suspect Grey is right, but not quite in the way he thinks. I predict the spreading “corruption” will turn out to be neutral or more likely beneficial for the common people. Maybe mastering this “leader effect” was originally Black and/or Malicia’s intended endgame (pure speculation)

            Liked by 1 person

              1. David K. Storrs

                The large majority of us are not; he lost the popular vote by more than any President in history. Unfortunately, what Americans *actually* want doesn’t matter in an election, because we have the electoral college, this historical artifact that was literally created to disenfranchise the majority. If 39,000 votes in 3 swing states had gone the other way, Trump wouldn’t be our Baboon in Chief.

                Even beyond that, it seems like the majority of people who voted for him did so either because (a) they wanted a conservative Supreme Court justice and were willing to trade all the damage that Trump would do to our nation and our reputation in order to get it or (b) they bought into the smear campaign that the Republicans have been running against Clinton for 20 years.

                Yes, the racists all voted for him, but please believe that they are far from a majority here.

                Like

    2. HiggsUnbound

      Im interested too.

      I’m concerned actually, heroes tend to get more powerful every time they get beaten up and survive to walk away, that means every time Cat allows this the danger grows.

      It really has to stop.

      Like

        1. HiggsUnbound

          True. But Cat is… She’s the protagonist. The rules simply don’t work the same for her. She upsets the normal rules.

          Like

  2. LM

    Well this was definitely not the climax the story was trending towards.

    I understand the perspective of the generals calling truce, but I would think that thematically the Gods wouldn’t let this stand. This is the third confrontation, and the third draw.

    Like

    1. Misterspokes

      She woke up in the middle of a battle with winter raging through her, she’s ready to kill and actively suppressing it….

      Like

  3. thegreatfeed

    Loved this. She just went over the heroes heads to what really matters, logistics and mortal men. Of course all is gonna be fucked up by the pilgrim calling on Malaza’s oath, but good try nevertheless.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. If he does use that oath, things are going to get fucked so fast everyone will be laid up with broken spines.

      And he probably knows it too, since it pisses all over the character he has established for himself in this story so far by slamming full speed into his flaws.

      Like

    2. Jane

      If he does that… That’s going to break the story hard. Not “The Practical Guide to Evil”, to be clear, but the whole story of the Crusade – a Hero cruelly calling on a debt owed to march the Crusader army to their certain deaths, after peace had been reached? That’s a total Villain move, and the kind that ends harshly for the Villain in question.

      It doesn’t really seem in keeping with Pilgrim’s character, but it’s not out of the question. If he does it, though? That would backlash severely.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Dainpdf

        It can be a Hero move, but only for William’s sort. Not the Pilgrim. He’s a savior, not the one who sends people to glorious death in battle.

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          1. Dainpdf

            His move was actually an attempt to call down a Crusade. But hey, Praes is a softer target than the Kingdom of the Dead… We thought, until we found out about the classified protocols.

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  4. Veryconfused

    I think cat underestimated the value she was giving up in feeding the enemy.

    These negotiations, if they work, would mean either A) an end to the crusade, or B) black is dead. Procer cant lead a crusade if its hosts either surrendered or were defeated. No one else would join the cause.

    The enemy army had pretty much no food last night, and likely didnt have any food this morning. Her army is well fed. Both armies have been standing in full armor for most of the morning, but a hungry man tires faster than a full man, by the time the dead had died again, Procers army would be practically useless, even the portions that had mearly been standing opposed to cats army. And while cat might not be able to go toe-toe with 10ish heros, cats army can.

    It seems likely Juniper was pulling something simmilar to hannibal at Trebia, let the enemy army exhaust themselves/freeze/starve, while yours is still ready and capible, and on your own terms, crush them.

    The taking hours for the front to collapse is highly unlikely, especially with the fae back in the picture and their ability to jump around, get a few key positions undone, engage the maximium number of troops, and let the starvation exaughst them.

    Cat could have just jumped around with her gates and the fay + whatever little calvery she had left, hitting where the heros arent, and collapse Procer’s army.

    Heirophant is not equal to feeding the entire army.

    I am kind of unimpressed with Cat’s plan, her disregard for the incredible staff she’s built, and refusal to investigate what was presently going on.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Soifon

      Remember that Juniper didnt want to retreat because they didnt have gates without Cat. Now that they have they can leave very fast, burn everything behind them and come back with help from the Duchess

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      1. Veryconfused

        True, but like, do they even need to? their army may be decimated, but so long as they are on site, the enemy army is going to be weaker by the hour. Hungry men doing fight well, and unless gray pilgrim is even more overpowered than implied, hero cant be everywhere at once, most of the enemy army will be likely falling over from exhaustion before Juniper even initiates contact.

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          1. You guys are forgetting rule number one when facing heroes. If things look like they will go in your favor then you should retreat. Remember Black and Hano when victory was in his grasp it was the worst moment war in Calernia is not just 2D, 3D, its 4D (names tip the scale every time).

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          2. ______

            Oh, yeah, if Malanza decides not to pay, then Catherine can just retrieve the supplies eaten and have a few thousand crusaders dead/weakened instantly.

            Like

            1. Also Cat’s a fae now. They’ve got a whole thing about taking food without paying for it, to say nothing of breaking bargains.

              I get the feeling that bargaining with a fae Queen for food and then stiffing her is a quick trip to a very bad place.

              Like

        1. Morgenstern

          You’re forgetting that Juniper already mentions that the Army of Callow is at the point where every single death makes it noticably a lot less efficient and the losses are ones that will be felt for YEARS. So, if Cat wants the long-term plan, she’s doing exactly the thing she has to, just like with all the negotiations and not killing off to many of the enemy host (if based on the wrong assumption that peace CAN be had and on more or less her terms, somehow).

          Liked by 2 people

    2. Insanenoodlyguy

      Remember that Cat’s ideal victory condition is not destroying this army, but forcing it’s withdrawal. Your plan seems plausible. But it’s not what she wants.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Jane

      The enemy army had pretty much no food last night, and likely didnt have any food this morning. Her army is well fed. Both armies have been standing in full armor for most of the morning, but a hungry man tires faster than a full man, by the time the dead had died again, Procers army would be practically useless, even the portions that had mearly been standing opposed to cats army. And while cat might not be able to go toe-toe with 10ish heros, cats army can.

      While I do agree, it was a necessary concession; Malanza knows how precarious a position her lack of supplies puts her in, and wouldn’t risk Cat just drawing things out until the army is dead of starvation.

      That said, the Crusaders have lacked food for several days – they’re still going to be pretty weakened if they only get a single meal out of this. And if Cat wants to play hardball, she can give them a half-rations worth of food each, to fulfill the terms of their bargain while still keeping the army on the brink. If she was especially unscrupulous (and she won’t be, because it would blow up the negotiations, drugs don’t actually work this way, and they don’t have the right supplies regardless), she’d dose the food with a light sedative so that they’d still be groggy and weakened if it can to blows.

      What I would do, if I was her, though? Be sure to give them a generous amount of wine as part of the supplies. The Crusaders are going to need some heavy drinking after the last two days, and truce talks encourage soldiers to rash celebration. It’d look like kindness, but it’d be a good edge if talks broke down.

      I am kind of unimpressed with Cat’s plan, her disregard for the incredible staff she’s built, and refusal to investigate what was presently going on.

      Yeah, it was the right call, but… Mostly because Cat has good instincts. It was pretty weak evidence to base her decision on, and I don’t know that it would have taken much to have had a quick talk with Juniper before doing anything – her Pegasus is pretty fast, and nigh-unstoppable.

      Still, forcing her way to Malanza’s tent may well have been a then-or-never moment; who knows how long the other heroes would have stayed put, after Cat quit the fight.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What I would do, if I was her, though? Be sure to give them a generous amount of wine as part of the supplies.

        Uh. That *is* deviously clever. (Malanza could just not distribute the wine, though)

        Like

        1. Dainpdf

          That would be terrible for morale if word got out. Unless some pretty great PR work was done (say, convincing people it is poisoned).

          Like

      2. Dainpdf

        She needed to seize the momentum, and finish this battle while her army is still in salvageable condition.
        Yes, she could win this battle, but the gains for her are negligible or actually negative when compared to them retreating, and the costs might be prohibitive – they can’t afford any more losses, and every second this war goes on is a chance some Hero will get lucky and take her down.

        Like

      3. HiggsUnbound

        That’s a devious and effective plot, “giving the wine”.

        However, pretty sure clerics and especially Pilgrim with his waves of light can mass-detox people.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah but then they’ve burnt healing power on a mass detox right before you hit them with all you’ve got (and we’ve seen very well how ugly that can get, with the Ashen Priestess).

          Like

      4. Author Unknown

        What I would do is give them a lot of rich food. The hope being that they would eat too much too fast, get sick, and vomit it back up. Then Cat will have fulfilled her part of the deal, but most of the Procer army wouldn’t actually receive much nutrition. Plus Cat gets points for being generous.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Jane

    Hm… Things might have been much better for Cat if Akua had waited five more minutes to call her back… No doubt Akua could have dealt with a few of the younger heroes, who are certainly going to be obnoxious even if this truce holds. Killing them in clean battle would no doubt be demoralizing for the Crusade, without causing the sort of diplomatic issues that Cat fears – while they are potent war assets, they are not, in the end, Proceran, for the most part. And those that are, aren’t nobility.

    But, eh, that’s how Juniper would look at the field, not Cat. Peace is the goal, not breaking the Crusade’s war potential.

    Also a pity that she has no idea as to what happened while she was “gone”, not that she had any reason to. I doubt she’s going to trust Akua’s description of what happened in the fight, and there was no one else close enough to corroborate her story – Archer might have great vision, but too much of the fight took place in ways that obscured her vision.

    I wonder, though… If Akua had held control for the entire day, how would the battle have gone? The plan seemed fairly sound, from what we saw. Could the Army of Callow have forced a military victory without losing too many soldiers? A single unstoppable villain against a party of heroes also sounds like a recipe for a loss, but could Akua playing the “hero” have given her the narrative weight to pull it off? She didn’t have to win after all, just keep the heroes occupied until the dead army did their job – a single champion holding against impossible odds is a powerful story in its own right, especially in the hands of Callow.

    Of course, from a diplomatic perspective, staying her hand in her moment of victory probably gives her more credibility than annihilating the enemy army, but… Well, breaking the army past repair here probably offers her more security. A neighbor as devastated as Callow is is an neighbor that can’t find a pretext to wage war on her for a decade, assuming the rest of the Crusader army is still strong enough to weaken Black and Malicia.

    Though… Hm… While it wasn’t a bad call, I wonder if it was really a good idea to make a decision this important without having talked to anyone who knows the current condition of the relative armies? I mean, she didn’t really have much idea as to whether they were on the brink of complete victory or utter defeat. Though she does have good instincts, and correctly read the implications of the field.

    As a final observation… I get the feeling that Cat forcing the Saint to put down her sword by order of Malanza probably earned them both her eternal hatred in a way that even having party wiped the Heroes (sans Pilgrim) wouldn’t have. Being forced to compromise with Evil seems like the one thing she absolutely won’t forgive.

    /end first impressions.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dainpdf

      I agree on the “not talking” point, though things were somewhat rushed at that point, and she read the situation fairly well.
      As for killing more heroes… The “lone champion holding the line” story tends to end badly for the champion themselves, plus there’s the inverse ninja principle. Not to mention the Saint barely tolerated negotiations as is, and who knows how far the Pilgrim can be pushed before he stops being the voice of reason.

      Like

      1. Metrux

        Actually we already got glimpses that the Pilgrim is NOT as he seems in personality, this is kind of a facade, making him more credible to others, and Saint is in the knows. So, he stopping being the voice of reason could be pretty easy, after all.

        About the lone champion you’re right, the story, for heroes, is usually that they defeat everyone, but end up dead together, as a last sacrifice.

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        1. Dainpdf

          What? Where did we get that?
          We got the Saint actually displaying a form of hero worship for him, and threatening people if they disappointed him because she knows he’d do nothing of the sort.

          Like

  6. Cicero

    Hmmm… well since it’s clear that Cat has no memory or knowledge of what has been happening while she was out (not even recognizing that Auka was loyal and did not fall into her trap) this does make perfect sense for her. Get a truce so she can determine what is happening, reconsolidate her power, and prepare for the next conflict. Either a negotiated peace (unlikely) or a renewal of battle on more favorable terms.

    Although… the existing tide of battle probably favored the Army of Callow. If Cat had kept the heroes busy – but obviously Cat doesn’t have the right fighting style to handle the Saint and Pilgrim. So maybe this was the best choice after all.

    And here I was taking odds on which heroes would survive the battle with Cat.

    Not what I expected.

    Like

      1. Metrux

        Maybe not necessarily? Imagine that he ends up leaving and respecting Cat, despite she being a Villain. Then, years later, at the end of the last book, they meet again, and he asks if she is ready. She just sighs or smiles and says it’s been enough. He kills her after she completed what was needed, and the story ends.

        It’s not a bad ending, and he could even be the one to keep around to make sure Callow stays free.

        Like

        1. Dainpdf

          A non Callowan hero? Surely not. Also, he was introduced way too late for us to have that sort of ending, without a whole lot of development time spent on him.
          It’s possible, but I doubt it.

          Like

  7. Ein

    Akua was doing the whole epic battle thing and looking a proper badass. All she managed to do was to tire out some heroes.

    Cath wakes up, and within a few minutes has the enemy in surrender talks, with Pilgrim and Crazy Sword Lady completely shut down and the other heroes made irrelevant. All without raising her blade.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. RoflCat

      To be fair, Akua could’ve gone further and probably might even win (her story here is of the ruler waking up in time of crisis and facing off the invaders, a heroic one), but then she realized the path to bringing Cat back and chose that instead.

      Which make me a little sad that Cat wakes up without any knowledge of that, I’d love to hear her reaction once she learned that Akua didn’t go nuts and trigger the Winter Trap, she knew the trap was there and chose to trigger it as a sign of her loyalty.

      Liked by 5 people

        1. Jane

          I think she can compel honesty from Akua, though? Akua can give a weasel answer, but if she forthrightly says she realized how to bring Cat back, and chose to do so, Cat will know it’s the truth.

          That doesn’t mean she’ll accept that truth, choosing instead to believe it’s in furtherance of some scheme, or that she just doesn’t see how the truth is being twisted, and it’s entirely possible she’ll never ask a relevant question to begin with, but if she does ask, she’ll most likely at least trust the broad outline of what actually happened.

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          1. RanVor

            Well, it *was* in furtherance of a scheme. That doesn’t mean Akua doesn’t intend to serve Cat loyally, at least until she gets put in a position of power again, which might as well be never.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Metrux

              You forget about another part of the Praes way. If you can’t have the power, you set things up so your descendants can. She has none now, but who says she can’t have some later? Lack of a body, what’s that? Is it tasty?

              Like

    2. HiggsUnbound

      At the same time, it’s difficult to dispute that Akua clearly is the more skilled bearer of Winters Mantle. She made those heroes, even saint, look like chumps.

      Cat is far below her potential, if she could master winter as Akua did… Damn, I’d place her equal to the Calamities. A few of them anyway.

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      1. Metrux

        The problem is not her prowess or power. Remember that since the beggining we’ve been told that the Calamities are actually weak for Villains. Villains tend to have the upper hand in raw power against Heroes. But they still loose. Every. Single. Time. And Akua is just like those loosing Villains, using full incredible power, that still leads to their end…

        Like

  8. Antoninjohn

    Heroes don’t compromise and they have brainwashing powers, Cat needs to rebuild Callow and break it’s story of been invaded, she’s immortal so she can grow stronger and take over Calerina in a century or two instead of with a rebuilding nation, through she might have to end up casting a mighty spell to place Callow in the lands of Arcadia more a century then come into creation 10 minutes later

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    1. Dainpdf

      All villains are sort of immortal. Thing is, eventually a hero gets all of them. I don’t think planning on the premise of living forever is sound.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Dylan Tullos

          RanVor:

          Triumphant did fight the entire continent and win.

          Then she ended up fighting two foreign empires while Calernia rose in rebellion. That didn’t go so well.

          The problem with grand plans of conquest is that you just end up stretching your forces thinner and thinner while making more powerful enemies. Triumphant conquered Calernia, but she fell within twenty years, and she destroyed Praes for a generation. There’s a reason the Praesi say “may she never return”.

          Like

      1. Antoninjohn

        Callow was taken over, and kept and the idea was she tricks the Heroes into breaking a ritual to prevent beings in the Hells into calling back Dread Empress Triumphant turning the story from Good and Evil to Cat being the lesser evil, sacrifice all the people who will die from Triumphant in order to keep Calriena under control

        Like

  9. Forrest

    Now, see, I would love to see the heroes reactions after all this. They just got toyed with in battle, and they then get humiliated by truce. I would love to see their take on things after that. But- We just had six interlude chapters. Six of them. Honestly, that probably had more than a little bit to do with how many of us were frustrated about Akua showing back up as a major piece again.

    Either which way, glad to see Cat is back and being rational about her approach. Too bad she can’t seem to remember what she did in combat when Akua was running things. Alas.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Rook

    It’s the right decision, she’s fighting the right battle.

    If she finishes the fight against Procer then she wins the battle and loses the war. As far as Callow is concerned, minimizing casualties is what’s important right now, not bleeding yourself for the satisfaction of cleaving into the crusade’s forces. As far as the Gods Above and Below are concerned? you’re already playing into their hand if the conflict is ongoing, and they’re half the problem in the first place.

    If they wanted to just kill the leadership, they could’ve used absolute positioning to open a faerie gate two inches above Malanza’s head and poured a cup of goblinfire through it. Or hell, pop up a bigger one above the gathering of non-named commanders and just have Archer shoot them all before anyone can even figure out what’s happening. Named interference could be neutralized as easily as waiting for them to take the field in the frontlines and striking while the Pilgrim is temporarily anchored after showing himself to save a baby Hero.

    The point was never to kill them in the first place, the point was to avoid killing each other. It’s a very intentional choice, and it’s honestly the better one at the moment.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Gotta scry the general for that, and that’s not happening with all the priests running around. Plus the Pilgrim would probably pull something out of his… sleeves and save her.

      Like

        1. Dainpdf

          But they actually mentioned it was a problem a couple chapters ago. It’s why Cat had to rely on the maneuver with the Watch scrying home to invade the enemy camp. Because she couldn’t scry into their camp and therefore couldn’t open gates in there normally.

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      1. Metrux

        You really think she worries about those orders right now? She’s more predisposed to rip Malicia apart than hear her out. She will only keep to it as much as it favours her own plans.

        Like

  11. WuseMajor

    Ok, I get that there are times when you need to make a stand against the darkness, but when the Evil Queen has offered peace talks a bunch of times and worked really, really hard on getting the first version of the local equivalent of the Geneva Convention installed before your fight, it seems like it might be worth considering that you might not be on the correct side here.

    Ok, sure it might be a trick to, ya know, ambush the opposing military commanders or poison everyone, but it’s still worth considering that you might be a self-righteous ass instead of a decent human being.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Rook

        Correct. A soldier’s duty is to follow orders, not question if they make sense. If your commanding officer tells you to mop up the rain, you stand in the rain and mop it up

        In this sense the Heroes are doing an outstanding job of what the Gods above recruited them for. Same goes for Villains and the Gods Below. It’s not a coincidence that the overwhelming majority of Names and Aspects on both sides of the fence are innately combat-oriented.

        The fundamental misconception that Catherine has – one which Akua understands perfectly, ironically enough – is that she thinks the Heroes are ‘Saints’ when they’re actually ‘Swords’. She’s got the emphasis on the wrong part.

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    1. Dainpdf

      From what I got from the Pilgrim, a villain like Cat is somewhat akin to a Demon, though on a lesser scale. Even if she just sits there, doing absolutely nothing, her mere presence (especially in a position of power) is enough to spread the influence of the Gods Below. And honestly? While I can’t really recommend the Good nations we’ve seen (Procer and Ashur chief amongst them), Praes and Helike, let alone the Kingdom of the Dead, are not places you want anywhere to turn into.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Dainpdf

        Essentially, from their point of view, they’re waging a war to get to a lot of radioactive waste that is all over the place. Yes, war is terrible, but the waste will cause more damage long term. At least that’s what they believe.

        Like

        1. Dylan Tullos

          Dainpdf:

          From that perspective, Cat’s peace deal is basically saying “Go home so I can turn Callow into a radioactive wasteland as bad as Praes.”

          Even if they didn’t care about Callow at all, that deal wouldn’t work, because Procer would be right next to a radioactive wasteland of Evil. Either they win this here and now, or they’ll end up with Praes and Callow as one big Dread Empire on their borders. If they don’t want devils and demons swarming into the Principate every time a Dread Emperor/ess decides to have some fun, the Crusaders need to break the Empire and restore Callow to the side of Good.

          Catherine refuses to understand this because she rejects any worldview that conflicts with her own.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Dainpdf

            Being Evil doesn’t mean Callow and Praes have to stay allies… But battles between Evil sides tend to involve devils, demons, and whatnot.
            What Cat is asking here is really quite a lot. She’s asking them to condemn Callow and everyone in it to Evil, on the vain hope that they’ll somehow be able to take it back some time in the future.

            Like

            1. Rook

              They ‘condemned Callow to evil’ for decades on end under Praes in the first place. They’re here now because of political convenience, not because they’re so horrified at the idea of callow being ruled by a Villain.

              What happened in the last few months that made it so much worse than Malicia and Black being the rulers for years and years? The fledgling Villain who’s so shit at being a bad guy that Akua considers her to be more of a Hero is unacceptable, but two of the most notorious Villains in recent memory – the literal boogeymen under Calernia’s bed – are no big deal?

              She really isn’t asking them for much, really. The message is ‘go back to failing to do your job like you have been for an entire generation worth of time, because I’m making it politically inconvenient for you again’

              Liked by 4 people

              1. They ‘condemned Callow to evil’ for decades on end under Praes in the first place. They’re here now because of political convenience, not because they’re so horrified at the idea of callow being ruled by a Villain.

                Ummm… Procer has been dealing with a civil war for the past thirty years, this is like blaming someone for not running into the burning house next door to save people because they’re busy trying to prevent a home invader from stabbing them.

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                1. Rook

                  Um, the named who are claiming a villainous ruler to be the just cause for the crusade aren’t proceran military officers or even proceran at all. For the non-named it’s been explicitly spelled out through Cordelia & Co POV chapters that this is just a political war to give Procer a common enemy and shore up their own strength, not one of morals.

                  It was The Pilgrim himself who admitted in no uncertain terms during the initial talks, that it was their failure to only march on Callow when it was too late, and only then out of fear.

                  So blaming them for not saving Callow earlier is like blaming a criminal for their crimes when said criminal explicitly admits to it, and hard proof exists in the form of omniscient narrative exposition.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Dylan Tullos

                    Rook:

                    What you’re saying is true, but that’s all the more reason why they should act now. They failed to protect Callow from conquest due to their own selfishness, and it’s time for them to earn some measure of redemption by crushing the Black Queen and restoring Callow to the side of Good.

                    The Good nations of Calernia are definitely guilty; the Tenth Crusade is about them admitting their guilt and trying to do better. They’re finally uniting under the banner of a holy war to fight Evil, like they should have done from the start.

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                    1. Rook

                      Except for the part where they’re insisting on breaking themselves against the Black Queen who is both planning to abdicate as well as offering safe passage through to Praes, using a shortcut that can ferry the entire army across.

                      The point of contention has been that she plans to abdicate to a Callowan Ruler and keep the nation intact, instead of having the nation carved up like a pie to be ruled by the Principiate which kills their own people more than anyone else.

                      They’re uniting under the banner to get her off the throne a few years earlier and kill tens of thousands in the process, after doing nothing for decades. Meanwhile the greatest villains of the century seated on a throne of a historically evil nation, who were directly responsible for creating both the Black Queen and the Hellgate are, uh, secondary concerns. I guess.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Dylan Tullos

                      Rook:

                      Grey Pilgrim isn’t Proceran, and the Saint is famous for killing a Prince. These are not people who care about the secular ambitions of the Principate.

                      They’re turning the deal down because leaving Catherine on the throne risks Callow becoming an Evil nation. If they go Evil, then there’s nothing to stop Praes when it inevitably rebuilds, just like it did after the First Crusade.

                      Calernia needs Callow to be the guardian of Good, to stand against the darkness. If Practical Evil reshapes Callow, then there’s no guarantee that they won’t ally with Praes next time the Dread Empire comes looking for conquests.

                      Whatever the princes think, this isn’t about carving Callow up. It’s about ensuring that Callow returns to the cause of Good, rather than becoming an Evil nation and possible ally of Praes. In the long term, an Evil Callow is more dangerous than any demon or Hellgate, because they’re the people that the rest of Calernia relies on to stop the Villains.

                      Malicia doesn’t have an active Hellgate, and Praes is already lost to Evil. The long-term goal here is to throw Praes back to their previous borders and restore Callow, and that means removing a Villainous ruler who is turning her nation Evil. Grey Pilgrim explicitly says this to Cat, but she ignores him because she wants to magically make Good and Evil go away.

                      Reality doesn’t work like that. Good and Evil are real, and Callow has to pick a side. Catherine chose…poorly.

                      Like

                    3. grzecho2222

                      Exept for the fact that Callow is turning Evil because all their allies abandoned them, they had three wars in last years and now when finally they are free and under competent ruler and want to be left alone to rebuild their country, this exact moment their Good allies attact them, want to kill their queen and take appart their lands, while acting like arrogant jerks and blabbering how Good and proper they are

                      Liked by 2 people

                  2. The people of Praes live under Evil sorcerer kings that fertilize thoer fields woth blood and love summoning Demons. The high lords kill each other constantly and routinely raise the dead.
                    Procer is worse than that.
                    Being sacrificed to feed your family is probably a lot more fun than watching your family starve to death because your rulers are renowned elitist aristocrats. Procer has had more civil wars than Praes as well.
                    You seem to be distracted by the flamboyant nature of Evil. Mundane evil is always worse than the flashy stuff and Procer is as guilty of that as anyone. Heroes don’t prevent starvation or deliver firewood during cold winters. They just kill what their told.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Dylan Tullos

                      shieldredblog:

                      You make excellent points. We’ve seen how often the Princes fight their Good neighbors or each other, and while Ashur might be less violent, their society is even more static and oppressive. These Good societies aren’t actually good, and Heroes should be opposed to tyrannical Princes as well as cackling Tyrants or scheming High Ladies.

                      I guess the only real answer is that the High Lords and Ladies do all the mundane evil stuff in addition to the demon-summoning and necromancy. There is plenty of starvation, oppression, and general awfulness in Procer as well as Praes. It’s just that only Praes has the mass sacrifices and evil rituals.

                      So if everyone is ruled by selfish, uncaring aristocrats, I think Heroes are right to prioritize the murderous elitists who warp the very fabric of reality with their unholy powers. They’re all baddies, but some baddies have access to really nasty powers.

                      Entirely in agreement that Heroes need to spend some time helping Good societies actually be good. If Heroes did more work to build a better world when they weren’t punching demons in the face, Calernia would be a much nicer place to live.

                      Like

                    2. a lot more fun than watching your family starve to death because your rulers are renowned elitist aristocrats

                      That’s not how societies work. The cornerstone of any state is being able to make sure that the populace using it’s labor to produce food and goods are themselves at the bare minimum fed enough to do labor in the first place. Even under it’s most brutal conditions feudalism still operated under this basic social contract. Starvation didn’t tend to happen just because the overlords were meanies, it happened due to environmental factors such as blights and disruptions such as wars.

                      If a society does let lots of people starve, like for instance if the labor of large swathes of the population aren’t needed, they tend to start getting their torches and pitchforks out. Quite simply, if Procer was as dire as you say it must be, then Procer wouldn’t exist. It wouldn’t have the strength to hold itself together as a federation, would be torn apart by constant rebellion, and absolutely would not have the available manpower to send tens of thousands of people into a war.

                      Meanwhile there’s nothing stopping Praes from having poverty and starvation as well, it explicitly used invading Callow as an excuse to send surplus populations to die in pointless imperialist war so they’d have less mouths to feed. That’s pretty fucking mundane evil if I do say so.

                      Like

                    3. hoyboy:
                      Except we know at least half a dozen Dread Emperors tried to avoid that exact scenario and were killed by the Narrative. (One tried to kick start a industrial revolution.)
                      The Black Knight didn’t invade Callow because he wanted his own Kingdom, he knew the Gods would replace him if he didn’t.
                      As long as Praes and Callow exist as independent countries, they have to fight. At least until the Narrative changes.

                      Liked by 1 person

              2. Dainpdf

                You may recall the Calamities have been hard at work precisely delaying the forces of Good from being able to assemble to do precisely what they’re doing. It’s not like they’ve been sitting on their thumbs for decades.
                And the Saint or the Pilgrim moving alone wouldn’t do that much – they’re not the only powerful ones around, and they’re somewhat kept in check by the powerful evil Named.

                Like

          2. RanVor

            Catherine refuses to understand this because she doesn’t give a shit about Procer. She does, however, give a major shit about Callow, which has been a victim of the Good Vs. Evil pissing contest since forever. And she’s hell-bent on changing that. And the first step to changing that is not allowing Procer to conquer it.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Also the quality of life under Praes has increased. Meanwhile Procer is one of the most repressive and elitist goverments on the entire planet. Their peasants are kept poor and uneducated and used as fodder in their endless civil wars.

              Like

              1. RanVor

                Hellgates aside, Procer isn’t that much different from Praes – a giant empire constantly terrorizing its neighbors, filled to brim with scheming, backstabbing nobles who treat their people like shit.

                Like

          3. Where the whole “clean-up” argument falls down, though is… they all sat back and let Chernobyl happen 20 years ago, and only now do they think about carting in cement.

            If Evil is like radiation, then fine: going in when everything is super-hot is a Bad Idea. But, they don’t view it that way; they think of it as the contamination getting stronger over time, rather than “boom then gradually fade”..

            Yet, 20 years. And, only now a Crusade. And treating everybody in Callow as Evil, even though most still look to the Houses of Light.

            I know the Calamities are scary, but damn, The Heavens are as much responsible for what Callow is turning into as Black is… because they piddled about raising narrative drive, while not caring about the people on the ground In any way but the most tenuous abstracts. Oh, and decided that Evil leadership meant All Callow Evil Because Standard Haphazard Insurrection Procedures Failed: Cleanse From Without.

            Liked by 1 person

  12. WuseMajor

    Incidentally, my perception of the end game this story is leading to is “Cat climbs the tower, throws Malicia off of it, and becomes the Dread Queen, Crowned in Woe, Anointed by Winter, Ruler of Praes and Callow and possibly Procer. And maybe she gets a few things done before becoming the End Boss to the Five Man Band of heroes, forged in this crucible of War.”

    My expectation of the actual end game this story will head to is either “Cat manages to beat enough people over the head with a stick, brings them to the negotiating table and forces through her Accords, then takes Archer off to go see the world,” or “Cat gets so DONE with everything she abdicates to the Pilgrim and fucks off to a beach.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      I feel like the final fight is with the Gnomes, weather she’s become the Empress or not, but probably.

      Cat is all about changing the status quo and progress. Narratively they are her ultimate enemy.

      Like

      1. Metrux

        They are ONE OF the super powers in the world. Not the only one, neither the most important one. Really, for her story the Gnomes are simply a mention far away, it’s kinda too hopefull thinking they are the end game enemies, since there are so much going on and this is still small scale for any of the big powers.

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  13. Silverking

    Dang it, Cat, you’re supposed to wake up from your Winter nap with a Name or an Aspect, not just lost time! Although, perhaps Larat’s mention of a “journey” might mean that there’s something else going on.

    As for the truce, I think it was probably the better of limited options. To paraphrase Quark from DS9, “Peace is cheapest when nobody’s got a clear advantage.” The crusaders were close to starvation, but there’s always been so many more of them. The undead helped close the gap, but Cat seemed to think that actually pulling ahead would take time that the heroes wouldn’t give them. Akua was having a ball toying with Winter’s power, but as Black knows, Villains either need to get a decisive victory fast or pull out; delaying tactics wouldn’t be narratively sustainable.

    As for what to comes next:
    -Militarily, she needs Hierophant up and running to act as the “secret weapon” that would make Malanza think twice about further combat.
    -Diplomatically, she needs the crusaders to consider her someone they can negotiate with. If oaths of righteous revenge come out, Cat loses even if she wins. In the short term, Callow can’t withstand the full might of a crusading Praes. In the long term, a peace that only lasts until she’s incapacitated or dead is not acceptable to her.
    -Narratively, she needs a Hero to do something stupid and break some term of the truce. Divorcing the Heroes from the support of the army would be helpful, losing their (shaky) moral high ground would hurt, and…I’m not up on my mythology, breaking a promise with the Fae seems to be a thing that has “consequences.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Dainpdf

      I think Cat just wants to preserve as much strength as she can, though taking out one of the more clearly brash heroes gunning for her head wouldn’t hurt.

      Like

  14. RanVor

    The Heroes must have been mighty confused when after wrecking them effortlessly the Black Queen suddenly turned her tail and run away.

    I think Cat is giving up a certain advantage for an uncertain one. After all, she doesn’t even know the state Masego is currently in. What is she going to do if she doesn’t succeed in waking him up, go to negotiate with well-fed, well-rested and still overwhelmingly massive crusader army, and then negotiations fail? Malanza might not be so eager to treat when her soldiers aren’t starving. Cat would lose every advantage she had and gain nothing in return. Well, I guess now that she has the fairy gates back, she can always run away. Not that it’d be helpful in the long run.

    I’m kinda disappointed Cat doesn’t remember how big a favor Akua has done her in the previous chapter, although maybe it’s for the better. The Diabolist has become an incredibly useful tool, and that’s exactly why relying on her now is more dangerous than ever before.

    Overall, I can’t help but feel this chapter is a bit of a letdown, but that’s mainly because of incredibly high expectations the previous chapter has left me with. It also might have something to do with distinct lack of Akua in this one… Ok, I’m joking, but after Caleidoscope VI I can’t wait for her to make an appearance again.

    Also, we lost the first place to Ward again. This is simply unacceptable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dainpdf

      Small problem with the “certain advantage”: it is narratively and logistically unfeasible.
      Cat needs her army as intact as possible, and has very little to gain from running the score on a battle from which she just wants an enemy retreat. So it’s in her interest to stop everything as soon as she can.
      As for the actual fight with the heroes, a prolonged fight against multiple heroes is a complete crapshoot. Black would scoff at the very notion.

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      1. RanVor

        What I’m asking about is what she’s going to do if her plan fails (which is likely, considering it hinges on negotiating with fanatics). As it stands, the Crusaders are going to crush her completely unless she succeeds in rebooting Masego *and* talking some sense into the Heroes, and both of these objectives are rather hard to achieve within the limits she has. And she just got rid of everything that might have helped her in case of failure.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dainpdf

          The people she’d be negotiating with (the nobles) aren’t that fanatic about the cause. The Princess, in particular, has shown much concern about her troops.
          As for what to do should negotiations break down, she seems pretty sure she could wake Masego up, and keeping up this fight would not actually help too much. Either she keeps distracting the heroes (at mounting risk of death) or they go turn the tides of the battle. And even should she somehow succeed on the former without the Saint turning her into sashimi, every soldier who dies now is a great loss for the Army of Callow. One it may not be able to afford.

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          1. RanVor

            How can she be sure she’ll be able to wake Masego? She only knows he’s incapacitated because she figured it out from the battle. She hasn’t seen him since the Pilgrim broke her gate. She doesn’t even know for sure he’s still alive.

            I’m not saying she made a mistake. I’m not smart enough to predict every eventuality. I just think she’s risking too much too lightly.

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            1. Dylan Tullos

              RanVor:

              You’re right.

              Catherine is taking big risks because she can’t survive a Terriblic victory. Even if she wipes out the entire Crusading host at the cost of no more than three or four thousand of her own men, she can’t afford that.

              If Catherine is going to survive, she has to have enough of her army left to defeat the next wave of invaders. Unfortunately for her, that means she has to risk her entire force to avoid unacceptable losses, chancing a defeat to gain a less destructive victory.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Dainpdf

              Masego probably walked her through the possible consequences of the working. It’s part of why she was reluctant to use it.
              So they probably planned for what to do in case it happened, and outlined the procedures for that situation.
              I don’t bet Cat would know how to wake Masego, but I bet he would have known and would have told her. That’s the one explanation I have for her confidence.

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                    1. Dainpdf

                      Right. That sounded more like a thing she could do to Kegan right then, though, no? Place some sort of working on her that would give her terrible nightmares.

                      Like

  15. Cat is definitely over Pilgrim. She’s genuinely attempting to make peace and end the war in good faith and he’s still gunning for her, making him no better nor more useful than Saint.

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    1. Dainpdf

      Might have something to do with her showing she’s a pretty big threat, plus the repeated murder of his charges. But hey, he helped hold the Saint back.

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        1. Dainpdf

          Well, yes. It is a given that two sides at war will attempt to harm one another, and thus create ever more reasons to prolong the conflict. The cycle of hatred is a powerful thing.

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    2. Dylan Tullos

      superkeaton:

      She’s trying to end the war in a way that leaves Evil in power in Callow. Her “peace” gives her more time to rebuild Callow, raise a larger army, and prepare to fight Good on more even terms.

      Given the constant conflict between Good and Evil, why would it make any sense to make a peace now only to fight a stronger enemy later? An Evil Callow is a threat to all of its neighbors, and needs to be put down hard.

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      1. RanVor

        Except we know that’s not what she wants. She plans to rebuild Callow and abdicate, leaving the crown to someone who has enough sense not to get into another stupid war.

        And if you stop thinking in Good/Evil terms, you’ll see Procer is a much greater threat to its neighbors than Callow.

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        1. Dylan Tullos

          RanVor:

          Anyone Catherine abdicated to would be either Evil themselves, or willing to work with the Evil people who command Callow’s army. Ending their current war so that they can fight a bigger, harder war twenty years later…that’s not a good plan.

          Procer’s Princes are terrible people. Evil creates Hellgates that summon armies of devils, and they’re not scared of calling demons that maim the fabric of reality. Letting people like that live on your border is an invitation to having entire cities wiped out, like Liesse, whenever they decide to unleash their unholy sorceries.

          Procer is a mundane threat that can be handled through mundane armies. Praes and Callow can access Calernia’s equivalent of nuclear and biological weapons, while Procer has a bunch of people with pointy metal sticks. No matter how bad a neighbor Procer is, there won’t ever be any Proceran Hellgates, while Akua Sahelian just showed everyone what Evil is capable of if they’re left unchecked.

          Like

            1. Dylan Tullos

              RanVor:

              Until Liesse, I would have agreed with you. But Practical Evil just lost hard, and the rest of the Continent is finally getting their act together.

              I don’t think the story’s ending will be exactly what I want, but I’m still rooting for Cordelia, rather than the people who think that making deals with the Dread Empire is the way to go. That kind of plan cost Callow its second-largest city and more than two hundred thousand people.

              Also, Akua is so much fun. I loved her attempt to think like Catherine.

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              1. RanVor

                Well, for me it looks like you just declared that you hate all the main characters and want them to die. You know it’s not going to happen, so there’s no point in going on, in my opinion.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Dylan Tullos

                  RanVor:

                  Are you so sure that the author won’t kill off any main characters? I’m fairly sure at least some of them will die before they end.

                  Anyway, I don’t dislike Hierophant, Adjutant, or Archer. I dislike Cat and (to a lesser extent) Thief for the absurd idea that the best way to do good is to join a foreign empire of ruthless militarists with a proud cultural heritage of demon-summoning and evil cackling. This is a bad plan, as they learned at Liesse.

                  Collaboration is a dumb choice. It’s quite possible to free Callow and defeat Praes, and Callow was a lot better off fighting the Dread Empire than surrendering to their Evil overlords. Catherine’s attempts to rationalize her actions as protecting Callow have failed, and she’s turned the southern third of her country into a refugee camp while she’s at war with most of the continent.

                  Wasn’t being a collaborator supposed to spare Callow from being invaded? That plan was a disaster, like most of Cat’s plans, because she’s really not a great strategist. Black’s “Rage against the Heavens” strategy makes sense, but Catherine’s whole idea of shielding Callow was obviously flawed from the outset. They’re going to be a battlefield; the only question is which side they were on.

                  She picked the wrong team, and now Callow is paying for it.

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                  1. RanVor

                    In your mind, you have already condemned Callow for an eternity of suffering at the hands of cruel tyrants and no less cruel liberators. I didn’t. I believe in Cat and her quest to tell all the gods to fuck off and leave her people (and possibly all people) alone.

                    She picked the wrong team because:
                    a) it was the only team available,
                    b) not being a part of the team wasn’t an option, and
                    c) the other team is actively acting against her goal of removing Callow from the conflict forever.
                    So she didn’t really have that much choice in that matter. It’s far too late to change sides now, and even if it wasn’t, she’d have to forgo her goal for a vague promise of not getting fucked over too much. She’s doing what she can with what she has, and she isn’t actually that bad at it.

                    Also, she quite possibly prevented Akua from becoming a Dread Empress. That’s gotta count for something.

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                    1. Dylan Tullos

                      RanVor:

                      Callow did pretty well when it was a Good nation. Yes, the Praesi invaded every generation, but Callow usually threw them back without too many losses, and most of the country wasn’t touched by war.

                      That’s not “an eternity of suffering”, that’s an unfortunate consequence of having a terrible neighbor. Catherine’s alternative is to surrender to that terrible neighbor and then to inevitably be caught up in their frequent and ugly civil wars. The people of Liesse would have something to say about that decision if any of them were still alive.

                      I don’t blame Catherine for picking the wrong team; as you say, she had limited options. I blame her for remaining on Team Practical Evil after Liesse, when she had clearly seen that they couldn’t protect Callow.

                      It’s not too late to change sides even now. I would have done it much earlier; at the start of the campaign, Cat should have opened a gate to Arcadia, bring Malanza’s army into Callow, and smash Black. He’d be surrounded, cut off from supplies, and vastly outnumbered in both regular soldiers and Named. Cat would renounce her evil mentor, and rise with a Heroic or Neutral name to strike down the Black Knight and restore a free Callow.

                      If Cat was Good or Neutral, there would be no excuse for deposing her. Callow could resume its ancient role as a bulwark against Evil, Praes would be broken for at least a generation, and the Good Queen could create a Legion-trained army that would stand up to the worst Praes could throw at them.

                      Cat’s problem is the sunk cost fallacy. She keeps trying to find a way to fix her mistakes when she should just defect to Team Practical Good, join up with Cordelia, and wipe out Team Practical Evil.

                      Stopping Akua does count for something. It would count for more if Akua’s rise hadn’t been aided by Malicia, who was deliberately trying to get her to make a superweapon. What’s the point of Practical Evil if they can’t stop Diabolist before she kills an entire city?

                      Like

                    2. RanVor

                      There’s no Team Practical Good. All the business Procerans have in Callow is to force people of Callow to martyr themselves so they don’t have to. There’s nothing noble about it. The closest thing we’ve had to the Practical Good so far is the Bard, who made it clear that the Heavens prefer mass murderer Akua to rational, not-attacking-unless-provoked Catherine.

                      It is far too late to change sides. If you didn’t notice, the first demand of the crusaders after entering Callow was for Catherine to die, and it remains their main condition to this moment.

                      As for stopping Akua, I meant that scene towards the end of the third book in which Catherine experienced alternate timelines as the Hero, the Tolltaker and the officer in the Legions. In all of them, Akua has successfully overthrown Malicia and became Dread Empress Magnificent. As we know, it didn’t happen in the real timeline.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. Dylan Tullos

                      RanVor:

                      Callowans can be martyred fighting evil, or they can die because their Collaborator-in-Chief decided that making Akua Sahelian governor of Liesse would have any disastrous consequences. Maybe it would be better to go out fighting rather than dying in an Evil Civil War.

                      Cordelia is Practical Good. She wants all the Good nations to make peace with each other and work together to stop Evil. If Catherine was willing to abandon her Praesi buddies and stop making Callow evil, they could make a deal. Instead, Catherine has gotten half of her army killed, and she’s at war with most of Calernia.

                      Catherine could renounce Evil and take up a Good or Neutral Name. Once she did that, she wouldn’t be a Villain anymore, and the Heroes would be glad to team up with her. The “redeemed Villain” story is old and well-established, and there would be no problem with a repentant Villain on the throne of Callow.

                      We don’t know how much of that vision was “real”, and I sincerely doubt that things would have gone that smoothly for Akua even if Cat wasn’t around. Black is still there, after all, and he and the Calamities are probably more than a match for Diabolist.

                      Despite Catherine’s belief to the contrary, there’s nothing that awful about serving as a bulwark against Evil. Callow has only been conquered twice in centuries of resisting invasion, and the only thing stopping them from returning to their proud traditions is Catherine Foundling, who insists that the only “practical” approach is to team up with the most hated nation in Calernia.

                      As a result, the southern third of her country is in ruins, and the northern third is being invaded. If Catherine had joined the Crusade, they would probably be casting down the Tower by now, and Callow could enjoy a few decades of peace and quiet. Instead, they’ve committed to ongoing war against Procer, Ashur, the Dominion, and every Heroic Named in Calernia. How’s that working out for them?

                      Like

                    4. RanVor

                      Or they can break free of the cycle and make others take their pissing match somewhere else.

                      As you probably well remember (and consciously choose to ignore this fact), Catherine was oath-bound to recommend Akua to the post of the governor of Liesse, still did everything in her power to make sure the Diabolist didn’t actually get the post, was rightly horrified when it happened, and it only happened because Malicia already knew what Akua was up to and Catherine’s input didn’t matter in the end.

                      Another fact you keep ignoring is that Malicia’s main goal is ruling Praes forever. Therefore she’s not going to jeopardize it by invading people she doesn’t have to invade, for the reasons you masterfully summarized in the different comment chain. She’s Practical Evil after all. She’s more intent to preserve what she already has achieved than getting in over her head knowing she’s going to get fucked over at some point. Invading Callow was necessary, because without it, Praes would starve. Invading Procer is pointless from Malicia’s point of view.

                      Eliminating Praes as a threat forever is not feasible. Destroying the Tower won’t be enough; it’s been done twice and it didn’t work. Only complete extermination of the entire Praes population would put an end to the Dread Empire. Without it, people of Callow would be forever forced to bleed in pointless wars that could be averted, but didn’t because Heavens want it that way, and it’s more convenient for Procer.

                      By Catherine’s “Praesi buddies” you mean Juniper, Aisha, Hakram, Ratface, Masego and others, right? Juniper and Hakram would surely die first, because the’re monsters and cannot be allowed to live. Masego would be killed on account of being a villain and son of a Calamity. Catherine would probably be forced to slaughter them herself, to “prove her redemption”. Aisha, Ratface, Kilian and others might at best be cast out, then re-inducted into the Legions and killed by Callowan soldiers. All in the name of the GREATER GOOD, of course.

                      Like

                    5. Dylan Tullos

                      RanVor:

                      Catherine had reasons for agreeing to appoint Akua to be governor of Liesse, but it was still her decision and her responsibility. She acknowledges this. Catherine underestimated how much harm Akua could cause, and she was distracted by other problems, but her entire job is to stop this from happening, and she didn’t.

                      I agree that Malicia isn’t going to cackle and decide to invade Procer. But no matter what she thinks, Malicia won’t be in charge forever. As Malicia rightly pointed out, Praes is a nation full of people who want things, and one of the things they want is to conquer and loot their neighbors. Now that Callow is part of the Dread Empire, their closest neighbor is Procer. Oh, and they have a poison that lets them kill an entire city and raise the corpses as zombies.

                      You are also right to say that Praes can’t be eliminated forever. The most that the Crusade will do is break their power for a generation or two. In that time, though, Callow can build Legions of its own, form stronger alliances with other Good nations, and prepare to fight the Dread Empire. Or they can surrender to the culture that produced Akua and fight the rest of Calernia right now. One of these sounds like a better plan than the other.

                      Bleeding in wars against Praes is better than being sacrificed for ritual fodder or used as cannon fodder against other Good nations. If Callow has to fight someone, better Praes than the rest of Calernia.

                      All of Catherine’s friends are combatants, and their lives are less important than the lives of innocent civilians. All of them have plenty of blood on their own hands, and morality isn’t about sparing the people whose names you know. If they have to die so that Callow is spared, Catherine should do it.

                      “Breaking the cycle” sounds like a great idea until you realize that Bard has been slaughtering Black’s plans like they were a rookie hero facing the Calamities. The only change in the Story is that, instead of Praes fighting Callow, Callow and Praes are fighting everyone else.

                      As the bulwark against Evil, Callow usually crushed Praes’s armies in the south, leaving most of the country intact. As an ally of Evil, their country has been wrecked, and they’re fighting one Proceran army to a very bloody stalemate. A traditional story that has them winning decisively could be better than a new story that has them getting stomped by the Tenth Crusade.

                      Like

                    6. RanVor

                      So you’re basically saying Cat should just forget about her dream, acknowledge the futility of her efforts and die? Preferably after murdering people who trusted her with their lives? Is that what you’re saying?

                      Because that’s what I see when I read your comments.

                      Ok, as for actual response:

                      Catherine didn’t actually have a say when it came to appointing Akua the governor of Liesse. This entire farce was mainly for public eyes.

                      Of course Malicia isn’t going to rule forever, despite her best efforts. But one would think that having a stable, relatively sane ruler in charge of a dangerous neighboring country is a good thing and it should be kept that way for as long as possible. Apparently it works differently in Calernia.

                      I’m sure people of Callow would prefer one bloody war with Procer to a thousand bloody wars with Praes. You speak of the invasions as if they were nothing. They weren’t. Callow people of Callow suffered and bled, and lost their homes and families – every few years. The sad part is that the invasions weren’t the product of just megalomania, but also necessity – without Callow’s food, Praes just wouldn’t survive. Of course i’m not saying sending hordes of devils and greenskins against Callowans was justified – but I totally understand why this pattern has gone on for so long. It was disastrous for both sides, but it was necessary. But it doesn’t have to. If Callow and Praes form a relationship where, say, Callow exports wheat to Praes in exchange for safety of the borders, the entire pattern collapses like a house of cards. I think that is the true goal of the crusade – to ensure this doesn’t happen and Callow and Praes stay in the state of permanent conflict forever. War between Good and Evil is, after all, the gods’ main source of entertainment.

                      The Bard is an incredibly dangerous enemy. I personally see her as an “anti-Black”, someone who’s willing to sacrifice everything and anything to ensure the state of perpetual strife is prolonged forever. But that’s all the more reason to defy her.

                      Like

                    7. Dylan Tullos

                      RanVor:

                      Cat’s dream is to keep Callow prosperous and safe. Her goals hasn’t changed, but her methods haven’t produced good results. Instead of committing to doing the same things that haven’t worked, but harder, maybe it’s time to adopt a different approach.

                      If sacrificing some of her closest Praesi friends will save thousands or tens of thousands of Callowans, then it’s her duty as a ruler to choose her people over her friends. You insist that there’s something sacred about Catherine’s friends and her current methods, but her main priority is the welfare of Callowans; if she can safeguard the country, her alliance with the Dread Empire and her Praesi companions are expendable.

                      I agree that Catherine was forced to appoint Akua. Having done so, she had to duty of stopping her by any means necessary. Catherine was in command, and command takes responsibility. She chose to side with the Dread Empire, and she chose to make a deal with Akua, and those choices made Liesse possible. Catherine admitted as much in her conversation with the First Prince.

                      Malicia funded Procer’s civil war, sent Black to help the Tyrant of Helike, and allowed Diabolist to make a Hellgate. That’s not my idea of how a good neighbor behaves.

                      Sometimes stable, reasonable people can be far more dangerous than raving madmen. Malicia is intelligent and capable, but she uses her abilities to invade and destabilize neighboring countries and help an old school Villain construct a Hellgate. Praesi stability simply means that they can export death and destruction to the surrounding area. Thankfully, their neighbors are done putting up with them.

                      The invasions were bloody, horrible affairs, even though Callow won practically all of them. Besides invading Callow, though, the Dread Empire’s favorite pasttime is civil war. By joining them, Callow has just guaranteed that they’ll serve as a battlefield in future succession fights, as well as any future conflicts between Procer and the Dread Empire. I’m sure that, now that they have Callow, future Emperors and Empresses will happily abandon their long history of invading their neighbors and make peace with everyone.

                      No, wait, that’s the opposite of what’s likely to happen. Malicia’s successor will look at her success as a conqueror and decide to go invade Procer or the Free Cities, and Callow will be dragged along for the ride. Or they’ll be a huge civil war after she dies, like there so often is, and Callow will get dragged in. Joining a giant, dysfunctional evil empire to avoid war doesn’t seem like the most rational choice.

                      The Bard is terrifying, and she needs to be defeated. Unfortunately, Catherine doesn’t have the knowledge or the cunning to do so. Even Black, for all his undeniable brilliance, has been completely outplayed by the Bard.

                      Like

                    8. RanVor

                      You’re missing the most important point – the alliance with Praes isn’t meant to last forever. Once Callow is strong enough to survive on it’s own, Catherine is going to proclaim sovereignty. After that, if Praes wants something from Callow, it’ll have to agree for Catherine’s (or her successor’s) terms.

                      You’re also missing all the reasons Malicia did all the horrible things she did.

                      Actually, I see the Heavens’ knee-jerk reaction to Catherine’s rule as a proof that her dream is much more achievable than it seems, and than you try to make it look.

                      Even if Catherine somehow came to the conclusion that she has to do the unthinkable and betray all the people who trusted her up until now to join up with the bunch of jackasses who want to throw her country back into Forever War, I doubt it would improve her standing with Procer. An ally who changes sides whenever the wind starts blowing in different direction is unreliable, and an unreliable ally is worse than a reliable enemy.

                      You admit it yourself – the Bard is terrifying and she needs to be defeated. And yet you’re urging Catherine to give up and join forces with her. Who’s going to stand up to her then?

                      Like

                    9. RanVor

                      Another fact you seem to be constantly forgetting about is that Callowans hate Procer almost as much as Praes, and for a good reason.

                      Let me outline what would likely happen if Catherine, in a sudden fit of stupidity, decided to abandon her cause and join up with Procer right now (as opposed to what you apparently think would happen).

                      1. THE SITUATION
                      The Army of Callow is severely weakened from fighting much more numerous crusader host during the Battle of the Camps. Malanza’s army is also on the brink due to lack of supplies. Klaus Papenheim’s army is stuck fighting Black and Warlock, and isn’t going to move for some time. The rest of the Legions are stationed beyond the borders of Callow, waiting.

                      2. THE ASSUMPTION
                      Let’s say Catherine decides joining the crusade is a wise move that will indeed help Callow (spoiler: it won’t). During negotiations with Malanza, she offers full cooperation of the Army of Callow during the invasion and somehow manages to avoid being beheaded on the spot. The truce is made.

                      3. THE PREDICTION
                      The large part of the Army of Callow, including almost entire command staff, is immediately executed on account of being Praesi. The Army of Callow is finished as a fighting force. The Callowans declare Catherine a traitor for selling them out to the Procerans after promising them freedom. The remains of the Army of Callow are inducted into the crusader host, and promptly begin sabotaging it, stalling it’s advance and giving Callowans time to rise into rebellion. Already decimated from fighting Catherine and ill-prepared to fight the guerrillas, the crusader host retreats to regroup. Malicia seizes the opportunity and the Legions enter Callow as liberators, offering the guerrilla forces assistance in casting the invaders out of their land, while simultaneously reinstating Praesi rule in Callow. Hasenbach concludes that Callow is now forever lost to Evil and the next wave of the crusaders annex what they can and raze the rest of the country to the ground on their way to the Tower, to deny Praes the resources.

                      4. THE CONCLUSION
                      Callow is in ruins with no hope of ever being rebuilt. Catherine, seeing how utterly she failed her people, commits suicide. In Praes, the power vacuum created after Malicia’s fall is quickly filled by another madman who immediately begins plotting the downfall of Procer. The idea of Practical Evil is lost forever, as is the only chance to break the cycle of perpetual strife. The Bard grins devilishly and disappears, her mission accomplished.

                      THE END.

                      Like

                    10. Dylan Tullos

                      RanVor:

                      The proper term for a province of an empire “proclaiming sovereignty” is actually “rebellion”. If Catherine, or any future Callowan ruler, decides to go against the Tower’s commands, then Callow will be in rebellion, and we’ll be right back in the Forever War, with Praes grasping and Callow resisting. The idea that future Emperor or Empresses will be cool with Callow just doing its own thing is hilarious.

                      Malicia had lots of reasons for doing horrible things. None of her neighbors care about those reasons. They’re not sympathetic to her sad backstory or her desperate desire for control; they see that she’s a dangerous tyrant who likes invading her neighbors and destabilizing rival countries, and they’ve decided to put her down.

                      Redemption stories are a big deal in the Narrative. Villainous Cat is a dangerous, unreliable traitor; Heroic or Neutral Cat would be welcomed as a comrade. Grey Pilgrim is in charge of the Heroic Named in Callow, and he’d be overjoyed to see Catherine come to the side of the Heavens.

                      Catherine isn’t standing up to the Bard. She’s not a player, because she doesn’t even know what the game is. All she’s doing is running around trying to put out fires while the Bard neatly moves her pieces into position and prepares for the endgame.

                      The underlying flaw with all of your assumptions is that Callow hates Procer more than Praes. But Procer hasn’t murdered any cities and raised their people as undead, and Praes has. Quite recently, in fact.

                      Grandmaster Talbot and his fellow knights would be overjoyed to turn their swords against vile Praesi. The bulk of the army’s infantry are Callowan, and their loyalty is to their own queen, not the Tower or foreign officers. Your entire projection is based on the idea that Callowans would rather support the Dread Empire than Catherine, and that idea is wrong.

                      Here’s what actually happens:

                      Catherine defects. The Grey Pilgrim uses his truth sense, and tells them she means it. Saint is unhappy, but she goes along.

                      Catherine executes her own command staff and a large part of her army. She’s still got her knights, though, and most of her infantry. They join up with the Crusading host and march south.

                      Black can’t move because Pappenheim will invade the moment he moves away from the Vales. Legions from the Wasteland start to move north into Callow, but Catherine uses her gates to move the united army to the Blessed Isle, halting the invasion attempt.

                      Catherine then takes the Grey Pilgrim to the armies of the Dominion and gates them into Callow. With a vast army and a force of Heroic Named, they attack Black from behind while Pappenheim attacks from the front. For all of his strategic genius, Black has no chance.

                      The Crusading Host gates to Ater and casts down the Tower. The Dread Empire descends into civil war.

                      Catherine abdicates in favor of Anne Kendall, but hangs around to remind ambitious Princes that Callow is not their playtoy. The armies of the Levant back her up, since they don’t want Procer to gain any more territory.

                      Everyone celebrates! Well, except the Praesi, but they’re awful people, and they really had it coming.

                      Like

                    11. RanVor

                      Ok, I changed my mind.

                      You obviously never met a man who holds grudges. Like, *really* holds grudges. Callowans still remember Proceran occupation, and it really wasn’t any better than Praesi one. Not to mention the recent offenses of Procer, like funding the rebellion that ended in a disaster. Or, I dunno, funding a certain Diabolist’s little experiment in Liesse, although I’m not sure they know about that. Furthermore, the Praesi have been very cooperative since that incident (being thrown out of the country probably helped), while Procerans just invaded with a big army and began killing. This wouldn’t sit well with anyone, but especially Callowans. Meanwhile, Catherine managed to wrest from the Empress a ridiculous amount of autonomy for Callow. It’s not a province anymore – it’s a vassal state, with its own ruler, its own currency and its own army. And the crusade comes to take it all away. So I’d risk saying people of Callow do, in fact, hate Procer a little more than Praes at the moment.

                      When the demon was unleashed on Marchford, who saved them? The Legions. When they burned in the fires of Summer, who saved them? The Legions. When the Diabolist turned Liesse into a flying, greater breach-shitting fortress, who saved them? The Legions. When did Procer save them? Never. The Procerans have no right to demand anything from them, and they know it.

                      The assumption that the Callowans would be happy to serve under (not side by side with, because they wouldn’t have officers anymore and therefore wouldn’t be able to wage war on their own) people who tried to kill them just a couple of hours ago is preposterous. I have no idea how you managed to come to this conclusion.

                      As for the vile Praesi, I’d like to remind you the scene in which young Hanno’s mother was lynched before his eyes just for being born in Praes. Nevermind that she fled from there, didn’t do anything bad and only prayed to the Gods Below because she was afraid of what would happen if she stopped. She was Praesi, therefore Evil and unworthy to live. This is the kind of people the crusaders are going to slaughter in large quantities. Not the villains. Not the nobles. Regular people, whose only crimes are being born and raised in Praes. They might not be the paragons of virtue, but let’s face it – the Procerans aren’t either. Not all Praesi are monsters. But that’s not going to stop the crusaders from treating them as if they were. The Book of All Things speaks of the choice, but it’s a lie. Not many people actually have it. For most, their allegiance is determined from the moment they are born, for better or for worse. This is ridiculously unfair and I refuse to stand by it. And to add insult to injury, the actual monsters will most likely survive, holed up in their strongholds no sane man would venture into willingly.

                      Of course Catherine is a player. If she wasn’t, there wouldn’t be a crusade. The real reason for this farce is that the gods look at Catherine and feel threatened. That’s why the crusade is concentrating on Callow. As you probably well remember (and once again choose to ignore it) Catherine offered the Pilgrim free passage to Praes through Arcadia, and even helping in the assault on the Tower, during their first conversation. He refused. Why? Because the crusades’s actual objective is to destroy the Black Queen. That’s why every Hero on the continent suddenly took interest in the reborn Kingdom. Praes is only a pretext. Malicia and Black together aren’t as dangerous to the Heavens as Catherine. She’s just thinking on a too small scale. This isn’t about Callow anymore. Scratch that, I just re-read her conversation with Pilgrim – she’s well aware of the actual stakes.

                      As for your preferred ending, everyone indeed celebrates, and the Bard most of all, because she just won.

                      Ok, it’s the end of the line. I’m not going to comment on this one anymore, for real this time. One more thing I wanted to say is that your arguments are so ruthlessly pragmatic, it’s admirable and scary at the same time. Are you sure you’re not a sociopath?

                      Like

                    12. Dylan Tullos

                      RanVor:

                      That’s your call.

                      The real nonsense here is the idea that Practical Evil is somehow the best approach for Callow when it has “Evil” in its name!

                      Protagonist bias aside, Catherine is a collaborator who has miserably failed to protect Callow, and she’s currently getting her army killed fighting the Crusaders while Malicia plans to backstab her and reduce Callow to a conquered province again.

                      However bad her alternatives are, they’re better than teaming up with a cold-blooded monster like Black and a treacherous tyrant who secretly helped Akua make a Hellgate.

                      Like

                    13. grzecho2222

                      Cat is representant of something called positivim and I would say that Cordelia is very similar to Bismarck. And when you know what his not very evil ideas spawned in the end you could say that Praes at it worst is better choice

                      Like

                    14. Dylan Tullos

                      RanVor:

                      I seem to have missed the part where the Procerans killed an entire city and raised its population as undead.

                      Oh, wait, that was the Praesi.

                      Who unleashed the demon at Marchford? A Praesi. Who caused Summer to attack Callow? A Praesi. At their best, all the Praesi have been doing is cleaning up their own mess, a mess that wouldn’t have even existed if they hadn’t invaded Callow.

                      The Praesi basically had an entire civil war right in the middle of Callow, and it was mostly Callowans dying in it. So much for the peace and good government of Practical Evil!

                      Right now, Catherine is running a largely independent Callow, but Malicia is already planning on backstabbing her and turning Callow into a weak, dependent puppet state. She’s also stuck as an ally, fighting with Praes against the rest of Calernia. So Callow gets to fight all of the enemies the Praesi make, and they get to suffer whenever a Praesi succession dispute turns into a civil war, which is depressingly common. This deal is sounding worse and worse all the time.

                      You seem to have forgotten about what the conquest of Callow actually involved. First the Praesi invaded and killed anyone who resisted. Then they killed anyone who rebelled. Then they killed the families of rebels. They murdered a huge number of Callowans to conquer Callow and keep it.

                      Every Callowan soldier in the army has been serving under people who murdered Callowans. The only difference is that the Procerans have only been killing Callowan soldiers, while the Legions were quite happy to hang entire families for the rebellion of one member.

                      Plenty of soldiers find themselves fighting alongside, or even under, people they used to be fighting against. War makes for strange bedfellows. If Callowans can stand to fight alongside people of the nation they call “the Enemy”, they can stand Procerans.

                      You are right to say that the Crusade is going to kill a huge number of innocent people for the crime of being born in the wrong country. What is the alternative? Wait for Praes to construct another Hellgate? Allow Malicia to foment civil war in Procer? Innocent peasanst suffer in war, and Crusades are no exception. The only defense is that more people are going to die if Evil gets to entrench itself in Callow.

                      A Villain on the throne of Callow will turn Callow Evil. This isn’t even about keeping Callow out of the Dread Empire; it’s about keeping the country on the side of Good. We’ve seen what Evil looks like; Good, however flawed, is much better than the Dread Empire. If Catherine turns Callow into Praes, all of Calernia will pay the price. Better a war now than a much bigger, uglier war later.

                      If Catherine is playing chess against Bard, Bard is the world champion of all time, and Catherine is still trying to figure out how the horsy pieces move. Betting Callow’s future on her ability to outscheme an ancient monster that defeated Black does not strike me as a great decision.

                      I am not a sociopath, but I try to think outside the box and consider the general welfare. Cat tends to get invested in the individuals whose names she knows, but Black just showed her that he views her as a tool, and the rest of her Praesi friends simply aren’t as important as the huge numbers of innocent Callowans who will die if she stays on Team Practical Evil. Defecting would be ruthless and treacherous, but Black’s lessons weren’t wrong; she has to keep her on the prize, which is protecting Callow, not helping Black or saving her friends.

                      Like

                    15. RanVor

                      Why didn’t you tell me that from the start? We wouldn’t have this conversation at all. I have no interest in arguing with people who believe in genocide for the greater good.

                      Like

                  2. Metrux

                    Just to remind you, at the end of it all, that Procer conquered Callow more times than Praes did. For her, and most Callowans, it doesn’t matter that Procer is good, they are the enemy. And honestly, they have more civil wars AND outside wars than Praes, so unless you think Demons are inherently worse than brainwashing angels, there is no reason to see Procer as better than Praes. Sure, Callow seemed to be better, but they were starving and bankrupt, always fending off both Praes and Procer. It’s not about being on the right side, it’s about breaking the sides altogether and maing sometthing better, except no one wants to even let her try.

                    Like

                2. Dylan Tullos

                  RanVor:

                  The proper term for a province of an empire “proclaiming sovereignty” is actually “rebellion”. If Catherine, or any future Callowan ruler, decides to go against the Tower’s commands, then Callow will be in rebellion, and we’ll be right back in the Forever War, with Praes grasping and Callow resisting. The idea that future Emperor or Empresses will be cool with Callow just doing its own thing is hilarious.

                  Malicia had lots of reasons for doing horrible things. None of her neighbors care about those reasons. They’re not sympathetic to her sad backstory or her desperate desire for control; they see that she’s a dangerous tyrant who likes invading her neighbors and destabilizing rival countries, and they’ve decided to put her down.

                  Redemption stories are a big deal in the Narrative. Villainous Cat is a dangerous, unreliable traitor; Heroic or Neutral Cat would be welcomed as a comrade. Grey Pilgrim is in charge of the Heroic Named in Callow, and he’d be overjoyed to see Catherine come to the side of the Heavens.

                  Catherine isn’t standing up to the Bard. She’s not a player, because she doesn’t even know what the game is. All she’s doing is running around trying to put out fires while the Bard neatly moves her pieces into position and prepares for the endgame.

                  The underlying flaw with all of your assumptions is that Callow hates Procer more than Praes. But Procer hasn’t murdered any cities and raised their people as undead, and Praes has. Quite recently, in fact.

                  Grandmaster Talbot and his fellow knights would be overjoyed to turn their swords against vile Praesi. The bulk of the army’s infantry are Callowan, and their loyalty is to their own queen, not the Tower or foreign officers. Your entire projection is based on the idea that Callowans would rather support the Dread Empire than Catherine, and that idea is wrong.

                  Here’s what actually happens:

                  Catherine defects. The Grey Pilgrim uses his truth sense, and tells them she means it. Saint is unhappy, but she goes along.

                  Catherine executes her own command staff and a large part of her army. She’s still got her knights, though, and most of her infantry. They join up with the Crusading host and march south.

                  Black can’t move because Pappenheim will invade the moment he moves away from the Vales. Legions from the Wasteland start to move north into Callow, but Catherine uses her gates to move the united army to the Blessed Isle, halting the invasion attempt.

                  Catherine then takes the Grey Pilgrim to the armies of the Dominion and gates them into Callow. With a vast army and a force of Heroic Named, they attack Black from behind while Pappenheim attacks from the front. For all of his strategic genius, Black has no chance.

                  The Crusading Host gates to Ater and casts down the Tower. The Dread Empire descends into civil war.

                  Catherine abdicates in favor of Anne Kendall, but hangs around to remind ambitious Princes that Callow is not their playtoy. The armies of the Levant back her up, since they don’t want Procer to gain any more territory.

                  Everyone celebrates! Well, except the Praesi, but they’re awful people, and they really had it coming.

                  Like

  16. Jonnnnz

    A few points:

    Is this a second beat of a pattern of three between the Saint and Cat? First time Cat soundly lost, this was a draw… Third time coming up later?

    Akua brought the heart of the matter up: this is an invading force. They can complain all they want, but a general that moves an army to where they cannot retreat is the one that sentenced them to die. What exactly can they offer but surrender?

    Last point: Cat is keeping with Malicia’s directives. It is probably the smart thing. But at the very least she needs to make the lesson of “invading Callow is bad” stick… Which might require one of the two people that Malicia’s orders were to leave untouched to be harmed.

    Like

    1. Dainpdf

      Multiple dead heroes plus a decimated, hungry army bringing stories of sudden frost lakes and legions of undead against whom the Light doesn’t work like it should will probably do the work.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Let’s face it, stories increase in the telling. And, the story of “Don’t Play War Games With the Black Queen After She Has Offered to Let You Go With Terms You Don’t Like — Because She’ll Freeze Your Undercarriage Off and Then Make You Go Away With Worse Terms” has plenty of actual gory detail without any of the inflation.

        Imagine what it’ll look like with the helpful input of tavern singers?

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Cicero

      Actually Cat had two previous conflicts with the Saint.

      First was the raid to kill enemy officer. Cat definitely lost. Had Winter cut, etc.

      Second was the fight just before Cat opened the gate. Cat didn’t even try to fight but immediately fled. Was this a loss? Or was it a draw since Cat never intended to fight and fleeing was her plan in the first place? She did manage to escape losing nothing more than bits of her armor.

      Does the fight between Saint and Akua count was the third conflict? Akua was winning.

      Or does this really mean that there is a third conflict yet to come between Cat and Saint, but Saint thinks it will be their fourth conflict, thus she won’t be wary of the rule of three?

      Or perhaps the rule of three doesn’t hold as much power in large scale crusades?

      Like

  17. Do the edges of Cat’s gateways cut? I wonder what the result of Cat’s absolutely positioned gateway would have been if opened at about chest level, rather than up in the sky.

    Either the crusaders would have been bisected by the opening, or they would have been standing with their feet in Creation and their head in Arcadia.

    …and then Cat could close the gate.

    If Hierophant ever comes online again, we might get to find out.

    Like

  18. This may not feel like a victory, but it is one anyway. Even though they were outnumbered two to one in troops and three to one in Named, the Army of Callow fought the invaders to a standstill and forced them to withdraw. More importantly, Malanza KNOWS this is a defeat, knows that she had no way to win so the best that she could do at this point was survive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. RanVor

      Actually, it’s probably the only option that (presumably) doesn’t lead to mutual annihilation. In every other scenario, the winning army would be terminally crippled and unable to continue the campaign. But with so much damage already done, there’s not much difference between victory and defeat anyway.

      Like

    1. stevenneiman

      I think that the mantle is filled with enough of Cat’s personality that she would always be there, but it’s mostly still Winter. When Akua drew heavily on Winter, it heavily influenced her personality towards Winter and left Cat to inherit that influence, but it also brought back just enough of Cat’s own personality that she was able to claw her way back on top.

      Like

  19. magesbe

    To be blunt, I was kind of hoping that the invaders would be finished with here, diplomatically if not militarily, but I think it’s very likely they’ll be able to regroup themselves later on.

    I also cannot get over how they heroes keep whining about her murdering thousands as if she was supposed to roll over and let them invade, or try to stop them without killing them, which is stupid an ineffective. Like, this one attitude makes me way less sympathetic to them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. RanVor

      I agree. It’s their “how dare you to resist when we try to kill you and destroy your homeland” attitude that makes me loathe them much more than the (objectively worse) villains.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Letouriste

        That’s because they are sure they are in the right, because the Gods they believe in are right. Religion is often a poison:/

        Like

      1. thegreatfeed

        The fun thing is. They are not the enemie, they are just tools and pawns. The truck enemy this time around is Hachenbach.

        Like

  20. Trupo

    Cat is moving narrative from heroes and villains duking it out while throwing mortals into grinder, towards diplomacy and leaders discussing the realities. Pushing the Creation away from being gladiator arena for gods amusement, and towards being a place to live in.

    I think the Pilgrim is moving towards realisation he can do more good by becoming Cats peacetime advisor / mentor / good influence on Callow than by warfare, too, and will end up “better world” side of things

    Like

    1. Letouriste

      Wrong, Pilgrim was totally on the mood to end her here and now and now can guess Akua still exist and can control cat in the future…any talk with callow are gone if he find out that

      Like

  21. Letouriste

    I don’t get it….why would cat think akua made a mistake? She should know better.
    And that whole day of battle is ending without any benefits for cat,she is losing…I don’t understand at all what is in her mind,I expected her to go talking with juniper for information.
    The only benefit she could get from that day is psychological ( Saint of sword got rekt and tired and the two mortal leaders got reality smashed in their face) but i’m sure the Pilgrim know something about her now and could guess he was facing akua…only bad outcomes are coming to my mind because a potential Akua coming back is enough for reinforcing the danger cat pose to these foreigners and to break all her long term plans.

    Like

  22. HiggsUnbound

    I mean, I loved it. It was amazing, the few moments we saw, managed to grind everything and everyone to a halt, instantly.

    It was pretty damned cool.

    However, don’t heroes kinda level up every time they take. Thrashing and walk away alive? This is the third conflict, she needs to be careful, they’re going to keep getting tougher the longer this draws out.

    Also, clearly Cat is far below her potential in using Winters Mantle, Akua made Cats uses look novice.

    And finally, a benevolent dread emperor?

    Cat still doesn’t have a name, and we have no idea if she ever will, but that, that sounds like something that could happen.

    Like

  23. Well, at least the Heavens cheated once more and in a ridiculous manner. Seriously, what does it take to defeat heroes? Akua literally dropped tons of ice on them and exploded their lungs, and yet she didn’t manage to kill a single one. And the moment Catherine takes her winged horse across the battlefield, they are somehow teleported to Malanza’s side.
    At this point considering none of them have ever murdered particularly strong opponents, stolen mantles or any legendary feat, the point of view espoused by Black is utterly understandable. like the Mirror Shield, heroes are granted power way over their head in exchange of a lobotomy.
    And to make it better, they’re so full of hypocrisy it’s painful to read.
    Cat sadly was right to act as she did. She could have broken the Procer army, but she can’t kill all the heroes before one manage to permanently end her.
    The Woe are good, but they can’t be good enough to fight this kind of threat who alter reality when and where they want.

    I really hope now the Dead King is on its way to ravage the heartlands of Procer. It would definitely be the ultimate irony to see the visages of the Crusade leadership as they’re forced to force-march to the other side of the mountains in catastrophe as a legion of undead is on its way to Salia. Claim of fighting for the Heavens are well and good, but if you can’t defend your frontiers against the Great Enemy…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dylan Tullos

      Antony444:

      Catherine can open magical gates and used that power to drop a lake on her enemies. She doesn’t get to complain about other people being overpowered.

      Also, there is no cheating in war.

      Like

      1. RanVor

        Catherine worked her ass off and sacrificed everything she had, up to and including her humanity, to get those powers. The Heroes didn’t sacrifice anything and likely didn’t even lift a finger to get theirs.

        Like

        1. First, not really. Just as much Catherine has has basically been handed to her as she actually earned.

          Second, that doesn’t matter. This is war, you use what you have. Just because you didn’t “work” for your advantages doesn’t make you bad for using them. That’s childish reasoning.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Dylan Tullos

          RanVor:

          Catherine has no idea what the Heroes have done or sacrificed for their powers.

          hoyboy said it best. A child might think that it’s not “fair” to use powers the other side doesn’t have, but there is no “fair” in war. Her resentment is pointless and foolish, and amounts to nothing more than “They have powers I don’t, they cheated, those big meanies.”

          Like

          1. Byzantine

            It seems like it’s the gods she resents.

            …and she has something of a point there, given they are the assholes that set this entire system up.

            Like

            1. Dylan Tullos

              Byzantine:

              Agreed. Resenting the gods is always valid, since they could have set things up so that Praes wasn’t starving. Also, they created ratlings, which was not a nice decision.

              Like

        3. stevenneiman

          War isn’t fair, especially proxy wars like every conflict between Good and Evil mortals and Named is. Besides, I don’t think anyone who’s been part of an asymmetrical war has ever not grumbled about it being unfair, whether they were on the side which is ultimately more powerful or not. I occasionally feel the temptation to get angry about the design of X-Wing miniatures, and not only is that a lot better balanced than the real world, I have no stakes beyond wounded pride.

          Like

          1. Dylan Tullos

            stevenneiman:

            You are entirely correct. People will gripe regardless of whether it is rational to do so.

            I don’t object to Cat complaining from time to time, but I find it annoying that she always insists that her opponents are OP while never considering her own advantages. Would it hurt to take a second to be thankful for the best artillery, mages, knights, and infantry in Calernia?

            Liked by 1 person

  24. Draeysine

    Ok to the people who think the Pilgrim will figure it all out:

    How much does he really know about Akua? I mean sure he’s heard the stories but if his first reaction to meeting Cat is anything to stand by it’s that he doesn’t know everything. Man has flaws, and Akua did a damn good job of playing Cat.

    Let’s say he does think something is up and pieces it together(even though he barely had enough pieces from his perspective), Akua didn’t do anything drastic with the opportunity she had. Raising a few undead ain’t nothing special, and it wasn’t long before Cat came back. Obviously contingencies were made and several of them.

    So arguably even if Pilgrim pointed this out to the Procerans, Cat simply needs to point out how it didn’t make much a difference, not would it ever.

    Like

    1. Dylan Tullos

      Draeysine:

      Pilgrim would point it out to the Callowans, who would respond by lynching their own Queen, joining the Crusade, and slaughtering Black’s army.

      If Callow finds out that Catherine kept the Butcher of Liesse around, they’re not going to listen to her explanations. They’re just going to kill her.

      Like

      1. Draeysine

        He would have to know The Callowans perspective on this, and he doesn’t.

        He would also be trying to win a PR campaign as a foreign invader trying to slander the name of the only Callowan ruler the nation has had in a couple generations who is also the person that fought tooth and and nail against all many of creatures for Callow.

        Point being Pilgrim doesn’t have that sway with Callow , nor the insight of the citizens perspective, or all the information to make any of it happen.

        Like

        1. Dylan Tullos

          Draeysine:

          It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Akua isn’t going to be popular with Callowans after murdering a city and raising the people as undead.

          I agree that Pilgrim couldn’t just instantly convince Callowans. The main risk is that the rumor will get out, and that Callowans close to Cat will be able to notice little details that suggest Akua is still around.

          As Akua said, useful tools aren’t allowed to sit idle. Catherine is going to need Akua in the battles to come, and the more she draws on her skills and powers, the more clues she will leave for people who know what to look for.

          Like

          1. Byzantine

            I think “I bound that bitch’s soul to my cloak for eternity as punishment for all the horrors she unleashed” would go over pretty well with the Callowans.

            Like

            1. Dylan Tullos

              Byzantine:

              Callowans would love to hear that Akua’s screaming soul was trapped it Cat’s cloak for eternity. Unless they found out that Akua escaped and took over Catherine’s body. That would be less happy news.

              Like

            2. RoflCat

              That’s the story going around though? Remember the coronation chapter from Talbot’s POV? About how some can still hear the scream of Akua from the mantle from time to time.

              Like

  25. Anna

    I really look forward to that conversation with Larat. Both to chew him out for not helping while Cat was asleep, and to hopefully find out more about the “journey”. Also I like Larat, so :3

    That finger eating reference tho 😀

    Like

  26. 1queenofblades1

    I assume next chapter is the failed peace conference and after that the conclusion of the Battle of the Camps, or this was the conclusion and that chapter will be the start of the Princes’ Graveyard.

    Like

  27. Author Unknown

    If Cat can wake up Masego in time, she should bring Archer to the negotiations. For the sole purpose of provoking the Saint of Swords into attacking. (If anyone can do it Archer can.) If the Saint breaks the truce and attacks alone, Cat will have a excellent chance to end Saint with all the narrative weight in Cat’s favor.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Draconius Sinister

    Ugh. I’m sick of the Saint and the Pilgrim. Both of them are tropes at this point, and worse, twisted tropes that show only the worst parts of that ‘character’ while also ignoring that trope when needed to show them as having the moral low ground vs. Cat. Saint was always annoying, but Pilgrim is rapidly reaching her levels, being an abomination of kindly mentor character and Stupid Good.
    Won’t stop me from reading because the villains are so damn compelling, especially since I know if the story were from the heroes’ POV we’d have a much larger appreciation for their side of the war.
    Anyways, good chapter, aside from my character gripes. Malanza is getting cooler all the time, and always cool to see Cat wield Phenomenal Cosmic Power.

    Like

    1. Oshi

      Except not so much. If you read the the prior Interlude with Pilgrim perspective you’ll see he is playing a part. He is thinking clearly and is very much someone who has a clear vision of all the players. His assessment of all Proceran leaders as well as his obvious maneuvering to gain their trust was telling. He’s just fulfilling his role by acting within it while likely planning ahead for something more. The Pilgrim is NOT a fool.

      Liked by 1 person

  29. stevenneiman

    I just thought of something interesting about the Grey Pilgrim. Power, especially the kind of power that comes from being the person Fate has decided is going to win, is envigorating. The Grey Pilgrim’s power is at its height when lesser forces of Good are in danger. He might claim that he regrets the suffering and danger of everything he has been involved in, and he might even believe it, but what if on some level he’s just addicted to his own power and he knows that the only way to really tap into it? It would cast his encouragement of his teammates in a much darker light, especially considering that he kept pressing on even after he found out that there was a meaningful risk of defeat.

    Like

  30. Cicero

    Reread, and was thinking about what the outstanding plot threads are outside of the current focus on the battle and repulsion of the northern invasion.

    1: The Hells Egg. Did the heroes clear it out? What happened with that?

    2: The Goblin Matrons. An important plot line, but probably part of the future conflict with Praes not relevant to what is currently happening.

    3: How are things going with Black and the Warlock? Apparently this Witch of the Wilds is a big stick, big enough to take on the Warlock.

    4: Where is the Adjunct, and what is he doing?

    Anything else that people can remember as open plot threads?

    Like

    1. Oshi

      What is the Augur/First Prince up to?

      What is the Hierarch/Crazy Mc-Backstabby up to?

      What is the Bard planning next?

      The Kingdom of Dead is doing what now?

      Malicia has plans….

      Where is the Red Vales contingent of the Crusade (Hanno/First Princes Uncle)?

      Endgame for Akua now that we know some of what she is capable of and that she is still a player.

      What is Winters Plan for it’s new Queen?

      What the hell happened to the rest of the Fae with their new one court?

      Triumphant? (Speculation there)

      Like

    2. The heroes presumably engaged the Hell Egg, since they were previously talking about there being 14 heroes with the crusaders, then shortly after Cat passed info on the egg to the Grey Pilgrim, everyone thought there had only ever been 12. What exactly happened in the engagement is unknown.

      As for Hakram, he was on the border of Deorathe territory trying to make their “deal” with Amadis look convincing by raising a fuss. Now he’s heading south with a Deorathe army.

      Like

      1. Cicero

        Ah!! That makes so much sense now.

        At first I was thinking there was just a mistake made, but the Hell’s Egg killing the extra heroes, and everyone forgetting they ever existed because it was a Demon of Absence just makes perfect sense.

        Interesting.

        Like

      2. Cicero

        Yes, but why was the Adjunct available to do that in the first place?

        I refuse to believe that Cat sent him off to just be prepared in case she needed a little evidence. Evidence that most likely will never even be known by the heroes.

        It sounds more like Cat has him doing something else, and that something else just happened to mean he was also available to handle the Deorathe business.

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  31. Jane

    Say… It occurs to me… If these truce talks are successful, the Crusaders have to go back through the pass, right? …The pass near where they woke up a Demon of Absence, and forgot about it?

    It would really suck for Cat if, after having beaten the Crusaders on the field, and then come to a carefully negotiated peace to prove that she’s not a monster… All of it just ends up forgotten because the Crusaders wandered into something they shouldn’t on the way back. It’s probably not in the pass itself, since they still remember there’s a new way to get to Procer from Callow, but it’s probably close enough to be a hazard.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Yotz

    >Be cold… Be clear. Be a creature of logic, because logic is what gets you through this. Everything else is distracting noise.

    All hail Catherine Foundling, daughter* of Sarek!

    *may or may not be adopted

    Like

  33. CrysJaL

    So I’m going to call it now seeing as I don’t think anyone remembers this detail. The Grey Pilgrim and The Saint of Swords’ conversation in Interlude III regarding the greater evil approaching really set the stage for how this is going to end.
    The Saint is arrogant and thinks that she is going to win the war by killing Catherine. After all she can’t die here as she has a part to play in this fight against the coming darkness. She can only win against Cat as this battle is merely a precursor to things to come.
    Cat still has her whistle which contains the aspect of Take. Capable of taking away another Named’s aspect and remember what saint’s third aspect is? Her sword which is said to be a domain in it’s own right. Cat is going to Take the sword with the single use overpowered whistle and thereby own two separate domains. The Sword touched by the heavens and the domain created by the mantle of winter. She will be the fifth Named who takes part in the fight against the coming darkness. With the sword Cat will be deemed “sufficiently of the light” to be able to fight alongside the heroes and the Pilgrim, who will have his own redemption to atone to Cat regarding whatever happens next.

    I’m also going to throw it out there now that I think The Black Knight will collectively make mincemeat of all the White Knight’s group save for The White Knight himself, leaving at least one place left open for the future battle which will be The Hierophant, who is actually competent and powerful enough to be of serious use as opposed to the other Named woman. The woman who wasn’t a match for The Warlock and who didn’t even bring out the big guns to handle her in their first engagement.

    Like

    1. interesting possibility, but there are a few problems with your conclusions.
      1) that procer is not simply serving the will of the heavens and the commanders here fucking hates Catherine’s guts. Catherine will not support the heroes unless she gets security for callow, and while the grey pilgram/heavens might be willing to accept Catherine, Procer can, has, and likely will tell the heroes to go fuck themselves so that they can annex callow and destroy Cat

      2) Black won’t make micemeat of all but the white knight, at minimum the bard will survive until the final showdown.

      3) the warlock is restricted from using his big guns under the red skies policy, he wasn’t allowed to do so on what was just the first fight.

      Like

      1. 1. You’re assuming Cat isn’t capable of compromises. She’d be able to work with anyone if it stopped for example, an army of the dead smothering the entire continent. Her motivation is protecting Callow. A universal threat eill no doubt garner some attention.

        2 and 3. I honestly forgot about the bard but I don’t count her as really “part” of a band considering whatever she is. I actually forgot to edit it properly before posting. I believe black and co will kill all but the white knight over their next confrontation but he will also die in the attempt. This will create tension between Cat and him later when they encounter each other.

        My first point about the whistle is the thing I feel most confident about though. The whistle is the super mcguffin that the hero pulls out at the darkest point which will be saint being the supposedly unbeatable villain in the story that the crusade has become. I imagine Cat will be thrilled to be on the other side of things for once.

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  34. Cicero

    Thinking about it… I feel that narrative wise there just is not room for a peace agreement without at least one more battle.

    So what are the survival chances of the various heroes/crusaders?

    Prince Amadis – 1 in 5 chance of survival.
    Princess Rozala – 3 in 5 chance of survival.

    The most likely way for the truce to fail to resolve into a peace agreement is that Prince Amadis refuses to accept terms that Cat will agree to. Princess Rozala seems much more aware of the limitation and the vulnerability of the Proceran position. So once Prince Amadis dies, peace terms are then accepted. Also, an arrogant ambitious jerk writing a letter to his beloved wife because he has a bad feeling about the upcoming battle… yeah that’s a death flag right there.

    Grey Pilgrim – 99% survival chance
    Saint of Swords – 2 out of 5 chance of survival

    Grey Pilgrim is not going to die. He’s got a wise old man mentor thing going on with Cat now and that is just too big a narrative to end now. Saint though… while there are things arguing for her survival, I think there actually is a chance of her death. It would be a major blow to the heroes, an unexpected loss for those Above, and would fit with the theme of three and the strong hostility developing between Cat and Saint.

    Forsworn Healer – 2 out of 5 chance of survival
    Silent Guardian – 1 out of 2 chance of survival

    Healer has a target on her back. Especially since Masego will likely be awake for this again and she is the priority target. Silent Guardian is her usual guard so she is in danger too.

    Rogue Sorcerer – 3 out of 10 chance of survival
    Myrmidon – 1 out of 2 chance of survival

    The Sorcerer is the other priority target. Plus, with Witch of the Woods being out there as the stronger caster, there isn’t a need for him in the future. Makes sense of him to die here. Myrmidon is his usual guard because they share a language.

    Mirror Knight – 1 out of 5 chance of survival
    Blade of Mercy – 3 out of 10 chance of survival
    Vagrant Spear – 1 out of 5 chance of survival
    Painted Knife – 4 out of 5 chance of survival

    Mirror Knight has Dawn, marking him as someone to die early. Additionally, his extra characterization seems pitched towards his death. In contrast the extra characterization given the Painted Knife suggests that she will survive. Meanwhile the Vagrant Spear is far too reckless and aggressive – plus Cat killed her once before. Blade of MErcy also leans slight towards death I think.

    Thoughts by others?

    Like

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