Chapter 18: Cradle

“Seven battles I won on my feet, and lost the war sitting at a table.”
– Periander Theodosian, Tyrant of Helike, after the founding of the League of Free Cities

“Six hundred and thirty-two dead,” Juniper said. “Our edge has been scraped raw, Catherine.”

I was really beginning to regret that oath to Hakram, because a bottle of aragh right now would do wonders for my peace of mind. I’d guessed it was bad, when I’d taken a look from the sky, but I hadn’t understood quite how bad it had really gotten. I leaned back into my seat and passed a hand through my mess of a hair.

“You did better than I could have hoped,” I admitted. “Considering what the other side was fielding, it’s a miracle it went this well.”

Miracle was the wrong word, I decided a moment later. It was short-changing Juniper. While I’d been traipsing about the magical wonderland of Winter, the Hellhound had been dancing on the edge against an army about twice the size led by heroes. That she’d not just lasted the day but actually inflicted a defeat was a reminder that Juniper of the Red Shields did not need a Name to be one of the sharpest knives in my arsenal.

“The casualties are trouble, but there’s worse,” the Hellhound grunted. “We’re near out of munitions, and without accord with the Tower the moment our stores run dry we lose one of our heaviest advantages.”

“Goblinfire?” I asked.

“Enough for one last blaze, but not a large one,” my Marshal replied. “We’re entirely out of demolition charges. Sappers still have a decent stock of combat munitions, but you know how fast we go through those when they’re properly used.”

Even if I hadn’t been taught the logistics of that at the College, Ratface’s constant reminders that a protracted campaign would see us run dry halfway through would have served that purpose. Once again, Malicia managed to fucks us without ever needing to do anything but say no. The Snake Eater Tribe that had settled near Marchford had made it clear it could not produce munitions, which meant the vicious old crones in the Grey Eyries had a monopoly. It was illegal under Imperial law for anyone but the Tower to possess munitions, not that it would have stopped me if I had a solid way to get them into Callow. I didn’t, and there were watchful eyes at the border just in case I felt like trying anyway.

“I heard we took a hit on siege engines,” I ventured.

Which was a polite way to say that Pickler had spent exactly three heartbeats welcoming me back before beginning to rant about the Grey Pilgrim apparently wrecking her lovelies. I’d taken that to mean the repeating scorpions, and while I did not share the slightly unsettling affection my Senior Sapper had for her creations the loss of them was still a heavy blow. They were one of our major force equalizers.

“Two repeating scorpions left, no Spitters,” Juniper said. “We’ve still got our full count of ballistas and trebuchets, but they’ve already proven they can make those irrelevant with their fences.”

As our skirmishing contingent consisted of pretty much only the Watch, that left the mages lines as our only effective long-range option. Which wasn’t saying much, considering they’d have to deal with both wizards and priests on the other side. They’d be spending most their time on defence and damage control, not going on the offensive.

“Don’t count on the mages,” the Hellhound warned. “We’ve been running them ragged for two days, fighting and healing. A lot of them are on the edge of burning out.”

I sighed, fingers drumming against the arms of the chair.

“You’re telling me we can’t have another battle,” I said.

“Not if you want to have a force capable of fighting afterwards,” Juniper bluntly said. “Four to six months of recruiting and refit, and we’ll be able to campaign again. Anything else is scrapping the host.”

“Well,” I said. “That adds a certain spice to the negotiations, doesn’t it?”

The orc grunted in amusement, and I allowed myself a moment of envy as she drank a mouthful of wine. My own cup was, sadly, water. Which I didn’t need anymore, or particularly enjoy.

“Had a good look when we engaged this morning,” Juniper said. “They’re on their last rope too. Without their officers they’ve had to rely on fantassins for frontline command, and we bloodied those repeatedly. Levies got bled bad, and the principality troops were always few. Most of their soldiers are fantassins, now, and mercenaries won’t be eager for another go.”

“They’ve got heroes, Juniper,” I reminded her. “Morale’s not ever going to be an issue for them.”

“You say that, but we know for a fact they had runners after the first gate trick,” the Hellhound said. “Kegan’s already caught a few up north, trying to flee back to the passage.”

“The meat of them will stay,” I said. “Still, worth keeping in mind at least half their host is gone. Gods, fifty thousand. I still have a hard time believe we held against that.”

“Wouldn’t have, without the gate,” the orc said. “Though that wasn’t without costs.”

I couldn’t call it luck, not with the amount of contingencies I’d had waiting, but I couldn’t deny it’d turned into a gamble in the end. I’d been so sure that if we kept the positioning aligned for only a short while… No point in whining. They had used their abilities, as I had mine. A mistake had been made, all I could do was learn from it. That particular tool wasn’t going to be put away entirely, but the restrictions on where and how it could be used had to be adjusted.

“It all rests on diplomacy, then,” I said.

“Your speciality, infamously,” Juniper said, rather drily.

I hadn’t even been back for a full day and already my underlings were ragging on me. I flipped her off, feeling the weight on my shoulders lighten the slightest bit. It just wouldn’t feel like home without the sarcasm. I groaned and rose to my feet.

“Best I get started on Masego,” I sighed. “It could take the entire night, if it gets tricky.”

“Don’t linger,” the Hellhound said. “This all falls apart if you’re not at the table. He’s not going anywhere.”

I nodded. Much as I disliked the thought of leaving my friend under any longer than I had to, as long as he was in no danger of death there were higher priorities. Having him at the table with me, even if he was blatantly bored with the proceedings, would get a point across. But uncertainty would have to do, if it took too long. I clasped Juniper’s shoulder in farewell, but paused when I felt her hand take mine. She tightened her grip, face half-hidden by her fur-like dark hair.

“Good to have you back,” Juniper got out, looking away. “It’s not the same without you.”

I embrace her, awkwardly given our respective sizes, but after that I couldn’t not.

“We’re still in it, Juniper,” I murmured. “Bloodied but on our feet.”

She shook me off, but only after a moment.

“Go away, Foundling,” she growled, sounding embarrassed. “And don’t let me catch you sleeping through a battle again. It’s horrible for our reputation.”

“Yes ma’am,” I replied amusedly.

She looked highly insulted by how sloppy my farewell salute was, and the good mood clung to me all the way back to Masego’s tent. I’d know she was there without ever taking a look. People had a warmth to them that I had learned to discern. Orcs were warmer than humans, as a rule, and goblins almost feverish to my senses. Archer burned warmer than any of them. My mantle stirred, tasting the sheer vitality in the air with relish. Indrani looked, at first glance, perfectly relaxed. She’d moved the folding chair she was was on so she could rest her bare feet on Masego’s guts and was casually chipping away at a chunk of wood with a knife. The carving looked like the beginning of a fox to me, but given her dubious artistic skills that meant very little. Her body was perfectly loose and at a rest, but the eyes gave it away. It wasn’t the restlessness of a woman who couldn’t wait to move I saw there. It was the silent frustration of someone who had a problem in front of them but no way to do anything about it. Shaving off another sliver of wood, Archer flicked it at Masego’s face to join a growing pile and offered me a wan smile.

“Cat,” she said. “Wondered when you’d come.”

Part of me wanted to simply get what I’d come here to do done as soon as possible, but instead I claimed a chair and dropped it by her side. Boots resting on the edge of the bed instead of Hierophant himself, since I was a good and loyal friend, I made myself comfortable.

“Had to talk with Juniper,” I told her. “Get the lay of the land.”

She hummed, knife deftly twisting in her grip so she could change the angle she was carving at. How someone so good with knives could be so terrible at sculpting, I had no idea.

“We’re fucked, but so is the other side, so we’re all showing teeth and pretending it’s a smile,” Indrani said. “That about it?”

I snorted.

“More or less,” I conceded.

A sliver fell to the ground. The tent was silent, save for Masego’s spell-induced breathing and the quiet whisper of steel on wood.

“He’s going to be all right,” I said quietly.

“Is he?” Archer said quietly. “Not so sure about that.”

I turned to glance at her and found her face aloof.

“You’re angry,” I said.

“Angry’s not the right word,” the other woman replied. “I get angry, I cut a throat. This is something else.”

I folded my arms around my chest, feeling defensive but not quite sure why.

“Vexed?” I said.

Her smile was thin.

“A cousin of that, I reckon,” Archer said. “I understand the Lady a little better, now. Wish I didn’t.”

“Thought you had a pretty good handle on her already,” I said.

“As much as anyone can,” Indrani shrugged. “But I did always wonder, why Refuge? Not like she enjoys running it. If it was just about the fights, she could have found those as a Calamity. They have a regular hero body count. And she still talks about your teacher like she’s in love with him, or as close to that as she can be.”

“But now you know,” I said.

“I do,” Archer agreed. “Put an arrow in that hard old biddy the Saint, this morning. Walking back to camp, after you gave the signal, I had a thought.”

I remained silent, watching her.

“Catherine, don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t really care about any of this,” Indrani sighed, waving the knife around. “It was a good laugh when you put on that crown, and the scraps keep coming. Got no complaints about that. But they’re just enemies not… my enemies, you get me?”

“It doesn’t feel like your fight,” I quietly said.

“You’re my friend,” she said. “So’re the others, even Vivienne though she’s usually a twat about it. It’s not that I mind giving a hand, and I’m pretty sure we’ve still got legendary fights ahead of us. But it doesn’t quite scratch the itch.”

“Because it’s not your story,” I murmured.

“It’s yours,” Indrani agreed. “And there’s something to being part of this. The Woe, or whatever you want to call it. I found something here I didn’t know I wanted, back in Refuge. But I get the Lady, now, and why she left. Because this isn’t something I was meant to do, just something I’m doing.”

My throat clenched.

“You were always upfront about it,” I said. “That you’d leave eventually.”

“Stop looking like I kicked your unicorn,” she sighed. “No one’s abandoning you. I’m not Ranger, Cat. I want to see it through to the end, to see what’s at the end. I don’t have that… it’s hard to put into words. She’s old, you know, in a way I don’t think we can really understand.”

“I never got a hard number on her age,” I admitted. “At least two hundred, but that’s only rumours.”

Archer’s knife stilled, tapping against the side of the possible fox.

“It’s the half-elf thing,” she said. “You go in knowing the people you meet will be dust before you even hit your prime, and there’s a part of you that doesn’t grow roots. Because you know it’s going to pass.”

I thought of the man whose name we’d avoided saying, of a quiet conversation the two of us had had long before I loved or hated him. They never understand, he’d told me, so very tiredly. Even if they love you, they never quite understand. In this, as in so many things, I was still the bearer of his legacy.

“You look sad,” Indrani said suddenly, and I found her eyes on me. “It’s been a long time, since I’ve seen you so human.”

The gentleness she’d said it with made it so much worse.

“I only ever seem to be,” I murmured, “when I’m at my worst.”

If It’d been Hakram at my side, he would have offered comfort. Masego would have given an explanation, brought reason into it. Vivienne… I still hesitated to be that open with her. The nature of our relationship had set boundaries. You could not bare your soul to the person you’d entrusted the means to kill you with, should it prove necessary. Indrani didn’t say anything, though, because unlike the others she understood that some truths simply stayed with you. Like a scar, or a limp you barely even noticed.

“You ever miss her?” I asked.

“It’s different, for us,” Archer replied hesitatingly. “She’s not my…”

Mother, I did not say. I knew a thing or two about words it cost to speak out loud.

“Isn’t she?” I gently said.

Indrani laughed, but the mockery in it was not meant for me.

“It’s deeper than that,” she said. “She didn’t tuck me in at night, Cat, she taught me a way to live. I didn’t want someone holding my hand. Or maybe I did, fuck – I was a kid and I was scared. But she gave me what I needed instead. Being able to stand on my own feet.”

“It’s not a weakness, you know,” I said. “Loving her for that.”

Archer scoffed, looking away. I left it at that.

“You ever miss him?” she asked.

My smile was a bitter one.

“I shouldn’t,” I said.

It was admission enough. My friend suddenly snorted, jolting in remembrance.

“I had a talk with him once, after Marchford,” Indrani admitted. “I was curious after hearing so many stories so I sought him out.”

“You never told me about that,” I said.

“Didn’t think it mattered,” she shrugged. “I was going to challenge him to a spar, but he had this look…”

I chuckled.

“Like before you even entered the room he’d figured out three ways to kill you,” I said.

She grinned, and it had her hazelnut eyes alight. She was most beautiful, I thought, in fleeting moments. Indrani was easy on the eyes yet not so striking it took the breath away, without the scarf, but now and then there would be a moment and it was the only thing you could think about.

“Yeah, that,” she agreed. “Couldn’t find the nerve. We had tea, we talked about Refuge a bit and then about the battle against the demon.”

She paused.

“And then after that, mild as you please, he smiled all nice and said that if I ever attacked you again he’d have me drowned,” she added.

I blinked in confusion for a moment, before I remembered the first time I’d ever met Indrani. She’d burst out of a window without warning at the manor in Marchford, then slapped me around along with Hakram and Masego. While I was still freshly wounded from a fight with devils, no less. Gods, I’d completely forgotten about that. Archer cleared her throat.

“What I mean is, I think he does,” she said. “Or did.”

Love me, she meant. In his own way.

“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “He can put it in a box when he acts. It’s not that I don’t think it’s genuine, it’s just…”

“How can it be enough, if it can fit in a box?” she said.

I nodded.

“I think I can handle caring,” I admitted. “As long as it also fits in a box.”

Because it was one thing, to have this tangle of gratitude and affection within me that refused to go away, but it was another to let it dictate my actions. There was a chance, however slight, that I could get to the end without killing him. But there was a greater chance I couldn’t, and when the time came I could not allow myself to hesitate. Not going against a man who wouldn’t.

“You ever wonder if getting older just makes us more like them?” Archer asked, looking upwards at the ceiling of the tent. “Different roads, maybe, but going to the same place.”

My boot scraped against the edge of the bed uneasily.

“I think we can learn from them without becoming them,” I replied. “Or maybe I just want to, because the alternative scares me. Not sure it can really be called faith, when I’m more afraid of being wrong than believing I’m right.”

“They wouldn’t have called a truce,” Indrani decided after a moment. “They would have found a way to kill every last one of them.”

My fingers clenched, then slowly unclenched.

“I’m not so sure they would have been wrong to do that,” I confessed.

I could feel her surprise without turning.

“Thought you are all about victory in peace, these days,” Archer noted. “Peace after a lot of killing, sure, but making nice still being the end of the road.”

“If I’d listened to Juniper and gone with Bonfire,” I said. “A third of my army wouldn’t be dead right now.”

“You just got done sleeping off your last big move,” she shrugged. “Not sure if it was the right call to pass on the Hellhound’s plan, but I can’t say for sure it was the wrong one either. Neither can you, unless you know things you’re not telling me.”

“So I keep telling myself,” I said. “But so far, all my plan’s gotten done is a lot of bleeding by people my duty is to not have bleeding. And it might fail, Indrani. That’s the thorn on the stem. I need the other side to be willing to make a deal, and I’m less certain of that being a real possibility by the day. I thought Pilgrim was someone I could work with, but after this morning… They’re not interested in both sides getting what they want, because if we get our way even a little bit they see it as a defeat.”

“So beat them,” Archer said. “Crush them so brutally they’re not thinking about winning, just surviving. They’ll take terms then.”

I laughed harshly.

“Gods, I want to,” I admitted. “It might not be easier, but it’d be simpler. If all I had to care about was coming out on top and what it takes to get there. And that’s the hypocrisy of it. Because as much as I rail against them, what I’m after is utter victory as well. It just involves make treaties instead of invading another country.”

“I’m still not hearing a reason not to step on them,” Indrani said, frowning.

“Because Triumphant took ten years to conquer all of Calernia and five years to lose it,” I said. “Just being strong isn’t enough, because if strength is all that keeps the peace then the moment you falter it’s gone. And we all falter, eventually. You can’t dance for decades without ever missing a step. I used to think Malicia lost sight of that, when she tried to get her hands on the doomsday weapon, but now I’m not so sure. After Second Liesse I told myself she’d put herself in the corner on her own. That by fanning the flames when Procer had its civil war she ensured sooner or later there’d be a reckoning, and then made it so much worse by trying to get the weapon. Now, though, I think I get where she was coming from. She thinks the only way they’ll ever negotiate with her is if the alternative is annihilation. No uncertainty, no room for a turnaround. Just…”

I snapped my fingers.

“Gone.”

“We rebuilding the fortress o’doom, then?” Archer asked. “I was under the impression we didn’t care for it.”

“Before I told Juniper to raise the army,” I said. “Before I let everyone off the leash to rebuild Callow and get it on war footing, I drew a line for myself. That’d I’d only keep fighting so long as what I led to wasn’t worse than surrendering to the crusade. Because if I can’t even believe that much, I’m the problem more than them.”

“No to the fortress o’doom, then,” Indrani snorted. “I think? It can be hard to tell with you.”

“If it takes Hellgates to make what I’m doing work, then it isn’t worth doing,” I replied. “The thing that gets me is, what I hate most about the heroes? I do it too. I’m furious that they think they should win just because they won’t compromise, but when have I ever done the same when I had the power not to?”

And I couldn’t just dismiss that. Because getting angry about them being stubborn didn’t hold, when I was just as stubborn. I could believe they were wrong, but I couldn’t just dismiss their right to disagree with me. The fury that burned whenever they cast their righteousness in my face was childish. I’d spent years telling my enemies that blame was pointless, that it didn’t change anything. That it was whining to demand the world be as you thought it should instead of how it truly was. It’d been my answer, when facing Vivienne in Laure, and I would not renounce it now. The servants of the Gods Above had powers my decisions had barred from me, but that was my own doing. I did not surrender the right to restrain and work around these powers whenever I could, but I could not honestly call it unfair. When had fair ever mattered? That I had to refrain from using powers I had gained because they were harmful of dangerous in no way meant my enemies had limit themselves the same way. If I could not win with this state of affairs, that was on my head. There could be no such thing as cheating when none of this was a game. And Gods forgive me, but I’d known it would be like this when I took up the knife.

“Winner takes all,” Archer said. “The law older than laws.”

“I could probably end the war in about a year,” I admitted. “If I hit Black’s army in the back while it’s defending against the crusaders, then help them move against Praes. There’d be a lot of death before it was over, taking Praesi cities, and probably just as much in purges afterwards. I’m not sure, though, that it won’t result in fewer corpses than my way. I genuinely can’t tell. If I threw it all away, if I rolled over for Hasenbach… Fuck, Callow wouldn’t be independent but I broke William’s neck because I believe the sign on the banner is less important than the people under it. I’m not after the same things I was when I started, not anymore. The amount of corpses on the ground at the end isn’t all that matters.”

“Never did get why you worry so much about people,” Indrani said. “Vivienne’s all about the good ol’ motherland and getting even, but she was upper crust before she learned wandering hands. She’s got a stake in that game. You? You’re an orphan, Cat. Never left Laure before Black took you in, if Hakram is to be believed. Why do you give two shits if this country burns? Not like it ever did anything for you. A chunk of it still hates your guts, and considering you sure as Hells don’t enjoy ruling it you’re going through a lot of trouble to keep doing just that.”

More than once I’d reflected that Archer had a lot in common with orcs, when it came to the way she looked at the world. I’d been wrong, though. Oh, they both liked blood on the floor and they measured most things through strength. But orcs had… loyalties. Not in the way I’d been taught to have them, but they were there. Follow the warlord, protect the clan, uphold what an orc should be. Indrani had none of that. If she was loyal to anything, it was herself. A betrayal, to her, would be forcing herself to do something she didn’t want to do. Pretending to be something else than she was. Black and I were creatures fettered to outcomes, if not means. Archer, and Ranger as well I suspected, could not conceive a world where fetters could be anything but a sin. The only thing Indrani had it in her to truly hate was being restrained.

“I thought I could fix it,” I quietly said. “I looked around me and thought that, if I had the power all those other people had, I wouldn’t make their mistakes. I’d use it the way it should be used. That it would be better.”

Archer studied me silently.

“And do you still?”

I made and broke the Liesse Rebellion, I thought. I bargained with fae as my people died around me, failed the responsibilities I had claimed so grandly a city was blotted out from Creation along with a hundred thousand souls. I am leading this land to make war on half the continent while the rest plots my demise.

“I’m not good enough a liar,” I said, “to make myself believe that.”

“So leave,” Indrani said. “Take your cloak and your sword, wake Masego and convince Vivienne. You have a way with her. We can be out of the kingdom before dawn.”

“Do you think we’re good people, Indrani?” I asked.

“Good people is what we pretend to be, when we’re more afraid of consequences than we are hungry or jealous,” Archer replied without hesitation. “When the living is soft and someone else takes the pain for you. It always, always falls away when you walk through fire – and we’ve been in too many blazes to still be wearing that face.”

“Right and wrong are less important than works or not,” I mused. “That’s what I was taught. And it fit, you know? Because mercy’s the privilege of the powerful. The House of Light can speak the pretty sentiments because by following them it wins. Black never followed his philosophy to its logical conclusion, though, because it’s not about logic for him. Not really. If the Heavens always win, why should anyone ever pick another side?”

“Gold, pretty boys, the power to fry anyone getting on your nerves,” Indrani suggested. “Angels tend to be pricks, too. You’re being all philosophical about this, but that’s just you. Most people don’t think that deep about it.”

“The Empire of the last twenty years was probably the most reasonable Evil has ever been on this continent,” I said. “It still involved exploiting an occupied country and habitual assassination. I don’t think it was worse than other current nations, not objectively. But if the best Evil can do is acceptably awful, then some things have to be reconsidered. The Pilgrim said I’m leading everyone down the cliff just by being in charge, and just because he’s trying to kill me doesn’t mean he’s wrong.”

“So stab the Empress,” Archer nonchalantly said, like it was just an afternoon’s work. “Climb the Tower and, you know, don’t do any of that.”

“That’s exactly what Diabolist is trying to get me to do,” I murmured. “But I think it’s a trap, Indrani. Because I’ll have to get worse to stay on top in Praes. Below wins, and just because I’d hang the Heavens if I could doesn’t meant I trust the opposition any. And whoever puts a knife in me, a few decades down the line, takes up the old banner with the scales having tilted their way. Pilgrim’s right about that too. There’s going to be consequences to all of this that won’t come out for decades, and if I ignore that I’m fucking over a lot more people than I’m trying to save.”

“You made part of this mess, can’t deny that,” Indrani said. “Promises too, to people you like. I won’t pretend breaking would be pleasant. But this is larger and older than us, Cat. It’s the Game of the Gods. Not playing is as close to victory as you’ll ever get.”

“If was a heroine,” I said, “I’d tell you to have a war you need two sides.”

“That ship sailed when you fucked over the Hashmallim, I’m pretty sure,” Archer said.

I laughed ruefully, shaking my head.

“The last time I felt like I had a grasp on any of this was when I killed the Lone Swordsman,” I admitted. “Ever since it’s been like swimming in the dark. I know I saw a shore on the other side, but the night is young and I’m getting tired. The longer I’m at it, the more I doubt I’ll ever get to land.”

“And what’s our shore?” Indrani asked.

“I call them,” I softly said, “the Liesse Accords.”

“They worth the swim?” Archer said, eyebrow quirking.

“They’re why I still have a crown on,” I replied. “Because for them to work, someone needs to enforce them from this side.”

“So we fight,” she said.

“So we fight,” I echoed.

Silence lingered between us, almost restful.

“I’m not sure I do,” I murmured. “Care. If I did, why would I need so many rules?”

“Same reason anyone has rules,” Indrani replied, with kindness like a knife. “Fear.”

I knew better, these days, than to argue with the truth. I rose to my feet and leaned over Masego, forcing away her feet and brushing the wooden slivers off his face.

“Wake me with dawn,” I told her.

She nodded silently, blade beginning to chip at wood again. I laid my hand on Hierophant’s head and breathed in, seizing his dream.

I never felt myself breathe out.

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165 thoughts on “Chapter 18: Cradle

  1. ruduen

    The more she learns, the more she realizes she doesn’t know. Funny how that can work out.

    Still, that much self-awareness is a lot better than what some people manage.

    Liked by 15 people

    1. I am going to be frank here, this novel is spiraling out of control.
      Cat’s adventures is basically her refusing the gods above and below, end result is obvious.
      How do you end a war between 2 superpowers that won’t make peace with each other?
      Become a 3rd superpower or Annihilate both sides (can’t have a war with no sides).
      My guess is that cat will lead the woe to be a neutral superpower; one that the ones above nor the ones below can even touch, something like the dead king’s territory but so much better that no arrogant heroes rise to fight or delusional villains trying to conquer it.

      These are my two cents. Also i would love to get a move on with cat’s name, i get that trying to come up with something so she is not reliant on Names is the best way to go but going with queen of winter is the most fun i believe considering the origin of the name is from arcadia so the gods can’t fuck with that.

      Sorry for the rant I just had to say this because i really like this novel and i would hate if it just goes to hell for one reason or another because i just lost a novel a day ago from the indecisiveness of the author, IT HAD SO MUCH POTENTIAL! T^T

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        1. Rook

          Any good serial author has the skeleton of the plot hashed out far in advance. The actual chapter writing is just fleshing it out, not actually deciding where to go with the story week by week, it’s a very common thing to do.

          In this case IMO it’s exceedingly clear EE already knows what he wants to write and the only likely improvisations we’ll see are subplots/minor details, not critical plot points.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Dainpdf

        Calm down. The plot is going places, characters are developing, and much awesome is being had. Cat doesn’t need a new Name right now; in fact, giving her one would have been a disservice since this was where we actually got to see Fae Cat in action.
        Erraticetera has not let me down yet, and I am willing to trust them to live up to expectations. Heck, these last few chapters have been really great in terms of exposing the opposition in the side of Good and having Cat struggle with it.
        She chose Evil, but at what cost? Do the ends really justify the means? At what point is she just running on Sunken Cost fallacy? These questions are central to the thesis of this novel. Just giving Cat enough power to kick everyone around wouldn’t just be a cop out. It would actively work against everything that has been put forward this far.

        Like

        1. You do make sense, sorry if my comment came out as if I don’t appreciate the novel and angry or wtv but i actually REALLY like this novel it is like top 5 for me.

          I was of the same opinion about Cat name, as if she gets a name she is playing the same game the gods want meanwhile while she is drawing on fae power it counts as a nice f*ck you to any plot the gods wanna go for.

          I would like to thank the author and everyone who contributed to bringing forth this amazing novel, i apologize again if i came off as aggressive or unappreciative of the novel.

          Like

          1. Dainpdf

            It came off like you got way too caught up in what you wanted to happen in the novel and were demanding it happen, and quickly. I’m glad it wasn’t that.

            Liked by 1 person

      2. Miles

        If the gods above grant Good Names, and the gods below grant Evil Names, who grants the Neutral Names? The gods on Creation? It seems Masego’s goal is to meet or be one. His Name isn’t explicitly Evil either, iirc.

        But I doubt Cat has to overpower both Good and Evil with her new side. Creation is guided by stories, and neutral sides have a tendency to be forgotten by both sides as soon as they can make themselves irrelevant to their story.

        Like

        1. RanVor

          With every other country, it would indeed be the case, but Callow is too vital to both Praes and Procer to be left alone just like that.

          As for Neutral Names, they don’t exist. The alignment of the so-called “Neutral Names” is dependent on which side is granting them. Once bestowed upon an individual, they stop being neutral. Us not knowing their alignment doesn’t make them unaligned.

          Like

          1. And yet for a while Cat the Squire existed with both Evil and Good powers. If you look at her names under her banner, none of them really qualify as _evil_. Archer, Thief are given, but Adjutant and Hierophant do not evoke Evil. And even the last dregs of Cat’s name, Squire, was explained to be able to become the Black or the White Knight.

            So even though Cat came from Evil (and really functions like it), she does terrible, terrible heroics.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. RanVor

              No one ever said they *have to* play their part. None of the Woe decides (or is allowed by Cat) to *act* conventionally Evil, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t if the situation was calling for it.

              This chapter, in particular, convinced me that Indrani is indeed a villain. What’s more, she’s the closest to D&D Chaotic Evil alignment of all the Woe, being interested only in her own gratification. While not particularly malevolent, she’s still incredibly dangerous and difficult to contain.

              The Names themselves are not binding – the Roles are. And those can be Good or Evil, and nothing in between. The Name of the Squire can be given to an individual with a Heroic or Villainous Role, but that only means the Heroic Squire will develop into the White Knight, while the Villainous Squire will develop into the Black Knight. They don’t get to choose – it’s determined by their Role.

              Seems like I’d use a reminder on the topic of Good powers being used by Cat. I don’t remember anything of the sort.

              Like

              1. The regeneration “Rise” that she got from The Lone Swordsman when the Angelic Choir tried to convince her to be the ‘Good’ Queen Catherine when she tricked/forced them to resurrect her because she _was_ the hero, saving the normal people from both Evil and Good.

                Like

                1. RanVor

                  But being a Hero in this world isn’t about saving anyone. It’s about serving the Heavens, and she was doing precisely the opposite in the scene you mentioned. And Rise was the power she stole using her Evil powers. It doesn’t count.

                  Like

                  1. Yet the Roles they have are (somewhat) based on normal heroics, in other words saving people (from Evil) and ‘defeating’ said Evil. That was why the Lone Swordsman’s actions were not heroic and why Cat was _able_ to take up the Role of hero (and got her Resurrection and Rise power).

                    Good wanted her to fully take up the Role, but because they were the cause of the not-heroic actions, she refused.

                    Good is actually forgetting what good actions are at times as long as they get their pawns to fight Evil.

                    I wonder if that is the true test of creation?

                    Like

  2. taovkool

    Philosophy with Archer. Some talk about Liesse Accord, whatever the hells it was. And it seems like Cat went off to some Winter Wonderland Adventure when she’s asleep? Eh, whatever. Anyway, good to see more character development on Cat’s part. All in all, it’s a nice filler chapter to lead up for the next.

    I’m still wondering how all of this leads to the so called Prince’s Graves.

    Like

    1. esryok

      My guess it that will happen whenever the Kingdom of the Dead makes a move. Either a location in the Kingdom where previous crusades have died (along with commanding Princes) or the undead will kill a bunch of Proceran royals during the battle itself.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Fern

        God, that’d be fucking horrible. Could you imagine? All this blood and sacrifice to get to a point where Cat can sign the Liesse accord; All of that is presupposed on the idea that people like Hasenbach will be in power in Procer, not people like Amadis. If the Dead King rolls in he’ll kill all the royals and pacify Procer, sure, but it also means there’s no counterweight to Praes. The Liesse accords might work because people who know better are in power, and if Hasenbach gets Dead King’d that hope is smothered in the motherfucking cradle. That’s awful.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dainpdf

          One would hope the Kingdom would provide the impulse necessary for everyone else to become friends. Or at least stop trying to stab each other and maybe make some concessions.

          Like

    2. burdi

      Maybe its the result
      fifty thousand army, lead by experience general, 2 old heroes, dozen other heroes yet they failed
      proceran reputation must be dead, like graveyard

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dainpdf

        Yeah. This is a very powerful moment for Cat. A culmination of her growth in the “versus good guys” arc. I mean, it’s still ongoing, but this is a major point.

        Like

  3. Richard Ngo

    Such character development! Much bonding! Very shipping!

    Also, now that she mentioned it, I’m starting to think bonfire would have been a good idea. The crusaders massively outnumbered them in soldiers and named; I hadn’t realised until now how cocky it was for Cat to think she could not only win, but win without significant losses. But the rules of the game she’s playing are so constraining, perhaps there simply isn’t any winning move.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Matthew

      Bonfire wouldn’t have worked.

      The advantage they had would be temporary. Remember, Hero aspects adapt to the challenge evil presents.

      So Bonfire would work for two months and then the Obscure Enchanter would get an aspect called “Follow” which would allow him to pop out armies wherever Cat’s went. They’d get a “Divert” which would allow them to drop the portals into the ocean.

      Bonfire only works because it relies on Fae/name powers working dependably and predictably. Which they won’t do if it allows Evil to win.

      Liked by 13 people

      1. Yotz

        If I may:
        “Forget being a hero. Heroes don’t get to have fun. A supervillain gets to punch cars whenever they want, and make them explode and then walk through the flames and glare at people. … At first, I was thinking about it just to make my dad mad, but supervillains get to enjoy our powers. We can knock down buildings, escape jails, claw our way back up after getting burned in half by red hot rivets…” She trailed off into faint giggles.”

        Arguably, the Evil wins by not winning. Or, rather, by continuing fighting. The only way Evil will ever truly lose, is if they allow Good to end this all. The core principle behind ‘iron sharpens iron’ primate, that is. Sure, individual villains _will_ be brought down by the Good – but that’s the point. Only through hacking out the old wood the new, stronger, better generation of villains will come to be. After all, if you got bested by someone, that means they are _better_ than you, even if all they better at is being one hell of a luck sunuvas.
        Of course, that means that Good will always prevail in battle, but I argue that the Evil already has won the war, for the Game of Gods was rigged from the beginning.
        After all, it’s a very Evil thing to do…

        Like

          1. Yotz

            Not necessarily. He wants to end struggle and establish the new status quo, which ultimately deprives Good from the possibility of winning, and makes – from the Below viewpoint – the difference between the Good’s ultimate victory and his brave new polychromatic world insignificant.

            In essentiality, he wants to break the game board.

            Like

            1. Dainpdf

              I thought what he wanted was a permanent win for Evil, just to show that it can be done. An incontrovertible, demonstrable win.

              Like

                1. Dainpdf

                  It has. Still it’s what Black wanted. Perhaps he specifically wanted a victory for Praes? Or maybe he felt the KotD was a flawed victory in some way.

                  Like

              1. Yotz

                In his mind – yes. it wouldn’t be a win for Evil, though, and this is a thing he is unable to understand due to his upbringing. He wants to break the pattern where Good always wins in the end, but he remembers what happens when you just conquer the continent.

                A win for Evil would be preserving/returning of to the Old Praes, with style over substance, playing the game just for the sake of playing the game. And Old Praes is a thing he, dare I say, hates on par with the inability of his side to have a lasting victory even once. A permanent win for Evil would be Akua (before her ””redemption””’ ark), or the Tyrant (who will do it just because he enjoys playing it – remember “I love war” speech from a certain piece of fiction?), or someone alike claiming the throne. It will all crumble to dust after their deaths, but – in Akua’s case – she wasn’t planning to die, and – in Tyrant”s case – he doesn’t care. Although, in the latter case, he is insightful enough to leave the building of foundations for the others – and even this is tinted with his usual flavour.

                Black is too pragmatic in his Pragmatic Evil ways, he is of ‘whatever works’ mindset – at least as I understand hes character. He will willingly and without hesitation will use the ways of the Good side, if the ways of the Good side will produce the needed result. He uses Evil just because it far, far more efficient way to do things – if you discard petty notion of morality. Which is completely What he refuses to understand – for it’s very illogical, you see – is that his perfect machine of the new world, where literal cutthroat politics of the Old Praes, constant prideful blood sacrifices, and use of things that permanently damage your only home; his wonderful new world, there is no place for all such things would be a victory his side, but not for the side of Evil.

                There is only choice in this world – between the way of the Above (“Evil? Not even once!”), and the way of Below (“Why choose the lesser Evil?”). Black sees this as a false dichotomy. If the rules of the game preclude one side from having a lasting, incontrovertible victory, then he will break the game by whatever means necessary. But if game was rigged by both sides from the beginning – ‘we always win at the end’ for the Above, and ‘if the game continues, we have won’ for the Below; if the game was rigged, then breaking the rules will be an anathema for both sides – and while the Good will be actively trying to discard the offending wild card (just as we was shewn), the Evil… Well, the only thing necessary for the triumph of Good is for Evil to do nothing. They will not oppose Black directly, for it would be against their philosophical basis (GP’s delusional worldview notwithstanding), but they’ll certainly limit the amount of support they provide. And if I remember correctly, Black is the weakest Black Knight of them all specifically because he willfully acts against the constraints of his role as the enforcer of Evil.

                He is a traitor to the Below because he will not kill someone just to ensure loyalty of others, if giving someone a somewhat unnecessary commendation, or monetary aid to someone’s family would be more efficient/useful in long run than just removing the source of the problem.
                He is certainly not of Good, because he completely willing to commit mass murder, torture on industrial scale, and institutionalize inhumane practices if that will provide a better result. If anything, he is the first Champion of Order in the world, where previously only the Good-Evil axis existed. At least, he is a first moderately successful one of whom we know.

                Or I can be compleately wrong. In which case – disregard that, I [DATA EXPUNGED].

                Liked by 4 people

                1. Dainpdf

                  Eh. I think the Pilgrim is on to something. He’s old enough to have an idea what he’s talking about. The idea that Evil has to be like Akua is a Praesi thing. Look at all the different evil city states.
                  You do have a point, in that Black is breaking with a lot that is classical evil, but that *is* evil. Seeing things you don’t like, and BREAKING them. No matter the cost, or the consequences. Like a description we got of Akua, that she’d blast her own side apart if it meant mangling the enemy worse.

                  Like

                  1. Yotz

                    >GP is onto something
                    That I can agree. Even in our world narratives hold power, and lesser people seek to imitate the Powers That Be, completely shifting societal paradigms in the span of the generation. And The Loom of Cat’s world works with the Fisher King dogma weaved in its foundation, it seems. Therefore, the Villain ruler will drag the land in question into the Dark Side. What Peregrin presupposes, is that the Evil inside inevitably will show itself, in one form or another, and they will have another Old Praes in the middle of continent in a the near future. Which is unacceptable, of course. I seem to remember, he was at least accepting to the offer of Cat’s abdication in favor of the Heroic ruler. But he has no sway in the ways of the Proceran ruling elite, nor he desires to get ahold of that “privilege” – and so this line of negotiations meets impasse.

                    >Black is evil
                    Well, yes, of course. The difference between him and, say, Akua lies in the willingness – or, rather, eagerness – to use ‘hit yourself to scare the enemy tactics’. And you are right about the Praesi perception of things – but if there are only evil to work with, then we will make good from evil. Black seems to be of ‘Kinslayer’ mindset – then his perfect world is ensured to be, he will sacrifice himself as a last remnant of the Things That Should Not Be. It’s the part that makes him so giddy after the Second Liesse – besides certainly-not-fatherly-pride – that Cat broke the mold of his calculations, thus making the possibility that he can yet see the dawn of the new world with his own eye quite real.

                    Liked by 2 people

                2. This is over-philosophizing Black’s entire character. His entire rationale for doing what he does is explicitly motivated by nothing more than a desire to win and a fundamental feeling of existential angst over being predestined to lose. He doesn’t care about breaking the dichotomy of good vs evil, only in helping the latter win in service to his own self-actualization.

                  His philosophy of Practical Evil only diverges from normal Evil in that it’s pragmatic, but it’s still virtually identical in it’s goals, which is the dominance of a ruthless, Named led society over a sprawling disposable underclass for the sake of Will to Power, so I doubt the Hellgods are all that miffed about it.

                  Like

                    1. I don’t remember him ever endorsing institutions in of themselves, just institutions of tools for himself and people taking after him to use. Which manifests itself in the personality cult surrounding him in the legion.

                      Which completely misses the point of institutions as a concept.

                      Like

                    2. Yotz

                      @hoyboy
                      If you are right, when his plan to be killed by Cat is complete hogwash. In fact, whole storyline of Cat is a hogwash in that case, and may be discarded as such.

                      Like

                    3. RanVor

                      To hoyboy, since I can’t reply to them normally for some reason:

                      Institutions don’t exist for their own sake. Their entire purpose is being a tool to aid governments in controlling the populace. Black intends to use them to do exactly what they are meant for – decentralizing power and creating a stable system that doesn’t fall apart when the autocrat dies.

                      Like

        1. mordered

          I agree, evil has already won. Even if good ended evil forever, evil would still win. For good has to have an opposite otherwise it isn’t good anymore, it just is. With evil there is a struggle, in which evil acts can be committed. Without evil good is nothing, so evil wins by default.

          Like

          1. Dainpdf

            That argument sort of works in reverse, too. And it makes no sense, because here Evil and Good are tangible metaphysical entities. You can exterminate Evil and still have Good. As for IRL, you can’t really exterminate evil because it is a gradation, but you can always exterminate the worst evils in order until your new normal is much better than it is right now.

            Like

        2. Dainpdf

          That sort of assumes transitivity. If Bob beats Alice, and Catherine beats Bob, that does not mean Catherine is stronger than Alice. That means she has a better match-up vs Bob.
          As for how Evil wins, two ways, really. The first is for Good to do nothing. If Good will always beat you if it tries, the best way is for it not to try.
          The second is General Tarquin’s (from Order of the Stick): Just count the blast you got to have for decades before those pesky five minutes of loss as a victory.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yotz

            >That means she has a better match-up vs Bob.
            So, a higher LUCK stat. Which make her better, arguably.

            Also, Tarquin for the win!

            Like

              1. Yotz

                Have you ever read the the “Ringworld” by one Larry Niven? If not, I highly recommend it. Also, spoilers below the line, my dear. For “Ringworld” and Pierce Anthony’s “A Spell for Chameleon” (which was not so bad for a first book of the series, I suppose; can’t recommend anything else from the Xanth in good faith, though).

                All that, strictly speaking, is more than excessive, so I will treat it as an offering to the Prince of Excess, praised be Her Dark Name.

                In short, though, someone always having a better match-up is sign of better qualities of the said someone. The key word is ‘always‘.

                ====================SPOILER LINE====================

                >>Ringworld.
                Humans is the Known Space are revealed to be selectively bred to increase their luck. Which leads to final result of the program being near invincible due to series of unfortunate – and fatal – events that befall any of the people who wish ill upon the person in question – often even before the intent itself was formulated verbally or mentally. A literal plot armour, and a special talent that – potentially – can manipulate probabilities on the level of abrahamic God without the person in question even knowing about the talent. Which leads to some disturbing thoughts on the nature of the free will.

                >>A Spell for Chameleon
                Come to think of it, there was also Anthony’s “A Spell for Chameleon” with a similar element, where it speculated inside the story, that the Talent in question directly influenced the Weave of the world, puppeteering designated villain of the story into the trap, exile, and then into the organizing the invasion only to ensure the survival of the protagonist, who was never even aware of possessing any kind of magical power, much less on that scale – the obscure results of aptitude tests notwithstanding.

                Basically, in series of altercations between two persons with similar skill levels, perks, and abilities (STR, AGI, INT, and so on), the person with higher LUCK stat consistently wins. Therefore, if new generation is better only in being inherently more lucky, they are still better than previous one. Said luck can manifest itself in having better match-ups, for example. Which train of thought led me to a comment which inflicted confusion debuff upon you {winking-with-a-tongue-sticking-out emoticon}.

                Thought of the day: weaponized memetics is a heluva scary thing.

                Like

                1. Dainpdf

                  No one said “always”.
                  The problem of “iron sharpens iron” is precisely that Bob’s only ability might be beating Alice, and Catherine’s only ability might be beating Bob. Catherine might be weaker than Alice in every single respect save “vs Bob”. And yet Alice might get killed by Bob and replaced by Catherine.

                  Like

          1. Yotz

            “Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’ve Got Henchmen” by one Richard Roberts, a YA novel. That’s the third book in the series, start with “Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain” if you so want to join in.

            Like

        1. Nairne .01

          Bonfire was supposed to be a tactic focused on attacking Proceran cities with hit and run tactics through Arcadia. I.e. Go behind enemy lines through Arcadia, lay waste to a city, when the enemy is just a little time away run go to another City through Arcadia. Rinse and Repeat until the enemy can’t afford to wage war against you.

          Like

    1. Brad

      That’s just what the heavens want her to think. She’ll be just about to decapitate the Saint of Swords and sign an advantageous peace treaty, then BAM! The Angels take away the concept of writing and it’s all-out war again

      Liked by 2 people

      1. RanVor

        “There’s no such thing as winning or losing. There is won and there is lost, there is victory and defeat. There are absolutes. Everything in between is still left to fight for. […] Until then, there is only the struggle, because tides do what tides do – they turn.”
        – Derek Landy, Skulduggery Pleasant

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Dainpdf

      That is sort of true until you remember that William was in part her doing, that the Heavens had nothing to do with Akua and the Empress (who Cat *chose* to ally with), and that under her reign we have indeed observed her people become more vicious.

      Like

      1. RanVor

        Technically true, but the only thing Catherine actually did to William was not killing him. It would have been the same if she didn’t meet him in Summerholm.

        As for Akua, I suspect she was at least partially the Hellgods’ solution to the Foundling problem. They too would be affected by her victory, after all.

        Like

        1. Dainpdf

          She knowingly started a pattern of three with him. Also, I don’t think Akua was so much a response from the Gods Below to Catherine as much as the last attempt of the old paradigm of Praes to unseat Malicia and her people; one last gasp of the Empire’s narrative, its deformation quickly surpassing its elastic limit.
          The timing doesn’t fit for Catherine – Akua was raised way before she made her pivotal choice – and Cat was always just a stepping stone for our favorite Diabolist.
          Plus, we have reason to believe the Gods Below still look favorably on what Catherine has wrought.

          Like

          1. RanVor

            But the pattern of three mattered only to Cat and William. It had didn’t affect the progress of the rebellion in any significant way.

            Akua was raised way before she ever met Cat, but it doesn’t mean the Gods Below couldn’t use her ambition to their own ends. And they might look favorably of what Catherine has wrought *now*, but what she intends is going to be as disastrous to them as to the Heavens, and I don’t believe they don’t know that.

            Like

            1. Dainpdf

              The pattern of three is where the whole rebellion thing got kickstarted. The rebellion would have been much lesser without the hero band driving it. Cat herself stated it.
              As for what he intends… I don’t know. What she intends and what she gets can be pretty disparate things.

              Like

              1. RanVor

                The rebellion was in the making since before she even knew he existed. Her only fault was allowing it to develop when she could stop it before it got out of control. Which is, admittedly, pretty damning, especially considering she did it on purpose.

                Like

                    1. Dainpdf

                      That was not the point I was arguing. It is irrelevant to the topic of whether Catherine sparing William was her causing Callow to bleed, by her own choices, not anything the Heavens pulled.

                      Like

  4. ______

    A leftover thought from the latest interlude: what if all the redemption talk from Akua is the set-up for her plan to escape her bindings?

    Diabolist seemed to genuinely consider her actions heroic, so the obvious thought is that she’s trying to make herself look like a champion for the Callowan side of the conflict, either as Catherine’s “follower” or as a narrative leverage to be unleashed at some point. What if she’s aware of the greater scope of the coming conflict, and now aims for a redemption story and a common enemy to bring her into the resulting band of five Named? Akua has no way to know about the Witch of the Forest, since she had no previous connection to White Knight’s band (or the outside world in general), and the other major practitioner Named all have their respective bands. Even if she suspects the Heavens might have propped up a mage to match Warlock at Red Flower Vales, she might have banked on them dying anyway.

    That way, if Catherine ends up maing a truce with Procer (and tries to unseat the Empress, as Akua suspects), she can either return to Praes with a conquering army, putting herself back into prominence (maybe even as a new Chancellor, given her political connections), or fight whatever new opponents emerge, making herself indisposable.

    I’m not saying that’s a good plan, but it might look feasible from Akua’s perspective. Why do you think would she make an attempt at a redemption story?

    Like

    1. Daemion

      I think at this point of the story Akua doesn’t play a role beyond being a tool or prop anymore. She’s out of the game.
      Maybe at a later point, in a different story, she might get a different ending. There are lots of stories about an adventurer finding some cursed artifact which then wreaks havoc and/or possesses them.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Yotz

        So.
        Someone finds a Mantle of Woe, takes it, and ends being possessed by the Diabolist for their troubles. The climactic grand finale is ensured, and when the Good Lads/Lasses are on the verge of winning, Akua proclaims “You fools! This isn’t even my final form!”, and draws on full power of the Winter…

        Liked by 5 people

            1. Yotz

              Well, as long as she is of Winter, Mantle of Woe exists and contains the soul of Diabolist, and Akua holds a shard of the Troll’s Mirror Winter’s Mantle, I suppose.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Dainpdf

                Depends how much of herself she manages to hold onto by then. If she can learn Akua’s techniques to suppressing influences with her will, it might work.

                Like

    2. Yotz

      I strongly suspect the in that hypothetical case the Diabolist will end not a Chancellor, but rather as a glorified doorknob, i.e. she will replace the Demon of the Tower as a doorkeeper.

      Although, the image of Akua becoming, essentially, the Tower’s AI makes me hear “Still Alive” for some reason…

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Dainpdf

        For the appreciation of the audience:

        This was a Triumph
        I’m making a note here: “HUGE SUCCESS”
        It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction
        Praesi Villains
        We do what we must because we can
        For the good of all of us, except the ones who are dead

        But there’s no sense crying over every mistake
        You just keep on trying ’til you run out of lakes
        Sacrifice an immortal
        And you make a hell portal
        For the people who are still alive

        I’m not even angry
        I’m being so sincere right now
        Even though you broke my heart
        And killed me and tore out my soul
        And sewed bound it into your cape
        As I was sealed it hurt because I was so happy for you

        Now these soldiers’ bodies make beautiful undead
        And they’re not too shoddy, we’re creating some dread
        So I’m glad I got burned
        Think of all the heights we’ve climbed
        On the people who are still alive

        Go ahead and leave me
        I think I prefer to stay inside
        Maybe you’ll find someone else to help you
        Maybe Grey Pilgrim
        That was a joke, haha, fat chance
        Anyway, Winter is great, it’s so malicious and cold

        Look at me still talking when there’s Evil to do
        When I look out there, it makes me glad I’m not you
        I’ve experiments to run
        There is research to be done
        On the people who are still alive

        And believe me I am still alive
        I’m doing evil and I’m still alive
        I feel fantastic and I’m still alive
        While you’re dying I’ll be still alive
        And when you’re dead I will be still alive
        Still alive, still alive

        Liked by 4 people

    3. Dainpdf

      I don’t think that would work. Akua is too tinged with Evil to actually become part of a band of five. She’s just taking a page out of Cat’s book and playing good parts in specific conflicts, while attempting to find a place under Cat in order to “live” again.
      Also? Show of loyalty to Cat at the end, as fickle as hers is, is unlikely to endear her to the Gods Above.

      Like

  5. Daemion

    I really enjoyed this chapter. All these relationships, thoughts, philosophies and inner thoughts give the characters more depth.

    I think it’s a good sign that Cat still has an active libido and that she can see the beauty in Indrani without Winter’s hunger and lust influencing her. So maybe her body is a construct, her soul has been mangled and her mind is a tiny bit insane… but she’s still human to some degree.

    I wonder if Indrani sees Masego as friend or as potentially more. She seems to be possessive of him anyway. Somehow I want to see that courtship. It probably involves a lot of clear orders and maybe a manual written by Hakram. Possibly the equivalent to a PowerPoint presentation, just so Masego understands what is expected of him. 😉

    Liked by 6 people

  6. Highwayman

    Winner takes all, the law above all laws…
    Non-morality seems to be more and more reasonable the more one bleeds, doesn’t it? And the thing is that its a very slippery slope too.

    My heart aches somewhat after reading the discussion between Cat and Archer.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. TheCount

    Thanks for the chapter!

    Well, damn. I hope Cat dont get lost on her way, i donnt want to know how that would play out.

    ….If masego isnt waking up because he found something interesting…. well, archer should have a new training partner:D

    Like

  8. Panic

    Good as this chapter was I feel like the last two chapters where excedingly anti climactic in terms of resolution and events considering Cats coma and inner struggle. The Akua chapter was great and removed any ill feeling about the possibility of Akua becoming a focus again as a villain. Then Cat came back from her long time in Winter Wonderland and the expectation was that she would finally get her new Name. But instead we return to the adventures of Cat the Lesser and it really takes your breath away in complete Disappointment.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. burdi

      me too, disappoint that cat like never get a new Name
      maybe that because she confused, doesnt know where to stand like when she let william go in summerhold

      Like

      1. At this point I think the idea is that she won’t get one this book. And I am completely fine with that one and happy since its making the point she doesn’t need a Name at all. Just her Mantle and the wit to kick ass.

        Aside from that, I think part of the disappointment might be coming from the sharp difference between murder happy bouncy Akua and the surly sour Cat. Bound to lower the mood a bit.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think it’s one of the things giving the Grey Pligrim a bit of a headache. He can’t see any solid evidence of her Name, and this is a guy who is very good at looking. And, he doesn’t know what to make of it.

        As… if she doesn’t have a Name bestowed on her by the Gods Below…. how capital E Evil is she? What is her actual status? And, if she is only flinging fae powers around, yet keeping up with Named of all kinds without one, what does that tell you about Names and Roles?

        Cat is a battered existential crisis, sprinkled with salt and vinegar, all served wrapped in a vulgar newspaper. Free chips with the shoulders; offering mushy peace. 😉

        Like

      1. Panic

        Edward of Woodstock, The Black Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall and Aquitaine, Heir to the throne of England, Winner of the Battles of Crécy, Poitiers and Nájera. Capturer of King John the second of France. Father to King Richard the Second of England.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Seabornia

    Do you think it will be Saint of the sword killing all the princes and creating Princes Graveyard? It seems fitting for Regicide. It will make Larat go traitorous, as well as fuck up peace treaty.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I’m pretty sure EE is fucking with our previous expectations set up by all the various Have Dream Get Name shenanigans of older books when he has no intention of giving one to her right now.

      Like

    2. Heretic Queen: Deny, Swear, Bestow, so Named for rejecting the gods Above and Below alike.

      (Swear as in oaths, but with the obvious and obligatory snide commentary from the Named peanut gallery about Cat’s language).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Alex

        The Dead King opens a Hellgate and invades Liesse, giving him power to create permanent portals out of his own hell to attack wherever he sees fit. The final confrontation happens there.

        Like

        1. Dainpdf

          Uh, why would he? He already has a greater breach; plus, Akua’s hellgate-on-demand spell was broken, and its power source removed.

          Like

          1. Alex

            Oops, I didn’t think it through. Completely forgot about the power source. Just thought it was plausible.

            Thought process went: He essentially founded Praesi magical theory and thus could probably coopt the system, the place is practically consecrated to the hellgods with how much death occurred there, and hellgate-on-demand seemed up his alley (i.e. permanent fast-travel portals to anywhere so he’s not stuck in Keter).

            That story would allow Cat her third run at a Queen name too now that she rejected it once (the “heroic queen” name) and Black ruined it for her once (the “Black Queen” name).

            Plus, well, bad guy and flying fortress seem to go together.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Dainpdf

              The Miezans practically founded Praesi magical theory; he precedes that, I believe. What he did do was perform the greatest single known act of diabolism to date (perhaps save for our girl Akua).
              But yeah, I can see the Dead King making some move that essentially forces Cat into taking the Name.

              Like

    1. Nairne .01

      Actually, the fact that she is fighting despite not knowing if she is right is pretty heroic.
      Sure the main driver may be fear of admitting she is not right, but both that and the belief that she is right, have something in common.
      She refuses to admit that she is wrong, that what she seeks is wrong.
      So she struggles and that’s not something anyone can keep doing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. RanVor

        What she seeks is not wrong. The Liesse Accords might be the only thing actually worth fighting for in this world if they are what I think they are. The question is: is it achievable? If it’s not, the price of trying is going to be horrific.

        The Big Grey himself admitted that her goal is noble, but it’s not going to work, because everyone else is too scared and/or arrogant to compromise.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Dainpdf

          He also said he thinks she is tainted and so anything she accomplishes also will be. Whether he is right remains to be seen.

          Like

    2. Dainpdf

      That was what it looked like, but she has found she has an answer. The Accords. She’s not as certain as she once was of her path, but that’s growing up. She’s still got something she believes in, and she’ll fight for it.

      Like

  10. Well, that promises fun negotiations with the Crusaders. Both sides completely exhausted, one in danger of starvation and with the Army of Daoine on its rear. I can already see the sparks from here…

    The long dialogue between Cat and Indrani was beautiful. Shows deeply why some villains abandon the concept of restrain and humanity bit by bit. You realise the world is far more complex than you had any idea…and you don’t have the weapons to deal with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Odds of the crusaders keeping the truce terms, now that they know that killing the Woe is the only way to not lose?

      Juniper could just quietly pack up the army and withdraw in good order through a portal, and then the Hunt can enjoy themselves with Rozala’s last desperate attempts at foraging or resupply parties. Archer snipes the remaining heroic party’s horses and baggage train, with the Hierophant waiting if the Saint tries to close for melee. By the time the heroes have finished walking to Hedges, Pickler has rebuilt enough of the new model siege train and the Watch are manning the walls. Priests who have starved mostly to death are mostly no longer a factor.

      That’s the Callowan BATNA.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I feel like Cat gets *this* close to understanding, then zooms off in another direction.

    Like:
    1: I told William that the flags don’t matter, it’s all about the people living happily
    2: If I surrendered and joined the crusaders we could defeat Malicia/Black with far less bloodshed and far more certainty of victory

    And she gets this incoherence, she calls it out! So whatever her motive is, it isn’t the people of Callow anymore. If she cared about them she’d have joined up with Cordelia, regardless of whether that ends up with Proceran princes in charge. They can scarcely be worse for Callow than her own reign, after all.

    But, like, she isn’t pot committed re: the flags either. Like if she admits to herself that she doesn’t know or care about the callowan farmers that Akua’s impression of her was caring about, then why isn’t she working much more closely with Malicia/Black?

    She is holding back an awful lot, with the notion that it is gonna get sane people to bargain with her, but she threw that aside when she lined roads with crucified prisoners.

    I guess I just don’t get what her objective is. If she isn’t after the people’s safety, because she isn’t joining the Crusaders, and she isn’t after evil’s victory, because she won’t work with Black/Malicia and she knows nobody will deal with her, because she is a fiend who constantly does murders…what’s the goal here?

    Like

    1. RanVor

      The lasting peace. The situation where nobody is fucking anybody over. Forcing everyone to reconsider their position and stop constantly trying to genocide each other for kicks or ideals.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I can’t really believe that when Robber is on the staff, right? Like, the people Cat has spoken to in recent memory are, I wanna say, Akua, Juniper and Larat? None of whom has any interest whatsoever in peace?

        Liked by 1 person

    2. She isn’t going to be able to change until she starts questioning her own will to power and whether she, a violent teenager, should be unilaterally deciding the course of an entire nation.

      Alas, questioning that would basically be questioning both her own notions of wanting greatness in her youth and the ideology drilled into her by her parental unit emulator.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Dylan Tullos

        hoyboy:

        There’s a lot of sunk costs fallacy involved, too. If she changes course, then she has to admit that she was wrong earlier, and that all of the lives she sacrificed were lost to no purpose. That’s hard for anyone to acknowledge.

        Like

    3. Dainpdf

      You forget that, much like Praes wants Callow as a buffer nation vs Procer, Procer wants them as a buffer nation vs Praes. Procer is not all fun and roses. Cat is struggling in the hopes that she can make this work, not just for the sake of people right now, but for the future. Is conceding to Procer really an acceptable choice, looking forty years down the line? Look at what happened to the Pilgrim’s homeland.

      Like

      1. RanVor

        If the Accords fail, surrendering to the crusade is indeed the least horrible of all the awful options left to Catherine. It just doesn’t solve anything but the most immediate problems. There’s still going to be a war with Praes a few years down the line. And then another, and another. The Callow is still going to bleed, and the next chance to change the status quo is not going to appear in her lifetime, if ever. Assuming she doesn’t get executed on the spot, which is almost certain.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Nairne .01

          Is it? I mean look at it. The crusade will not destroy Praes. The alchemy induced undeath released in Liesse was not the only thing the Tower has that’s marked as a Red Protocol (correct me if I put the wrong name here). They’d be put under the grinding wheel again because when she’d surrender, they’d start conscripting in Callow (pilgrim or no pilgrim at the table), and when the tower retaliates it will be Callowans who die first.

          Like

          1. RanVor

            Sure, it’s very bad. But surrendering to Praes might be even worse in the long run. Unless Black gets his way, but that’s one helluva gamble.

            Basically, if the Accords fail, Callow is fucked forever, no matter what.

            Like

  12. RedoneAgain

    I have to wonder, do the gods above and below really correlate properly to good and evil? The elves are firmly on the side of good but, I can’t imagine them worshipping the gods above. Also there was an overseas empire that had both a villain and a hero ruler. It doesn’t sound to me like they worship the gods above.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. RanVor

      The fact that their servants are each other’s sworn enemies doesn’t mean they have to be. The entire Good Vs Evil war started because they had a philosophical dispute, after all. I imagine them sitting around the table and playing the situation like a game, with Below getting pissed when Above try to cheat. Then Cat enters the stage and scares the shit out of them all with her revolutionary ideas. They start to panic and unleash everything they have at their disposal to bring her down, plunging the Creation into chaos in the process.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nairne .01

        I’d think Gods wouldn’t panic like that. Creation was around way too long for them to not experience all kinds of things in their dispute and they act accordingly.

        Like

    2. That’s one of the core questions of the story. In the initial description you can’t actually tell which side is which. Plus good and evil as described IRL are kinda terrible descriptions to apply to the Guide. They break down below the surface level.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Dylan Tullos

          RanVor:

          There’s a whole lot of small “e” evil in Calernia, and a real shortage of small “g” good.

          The Wandering Bard has a better claim to be “practical evil” than Black in some ways; her plans are practical, but she’s definitely evil. The main difference between her and the raving madmen who want to remake all of Calernia according to their grand plan is that she’s actually succeeding.

          The Gods Below seem to be utterly indifferent to human welfare, but they’re honest. You pay, and they deliver. Look at Hanno’s mom; she gave her life, and they gave her revenge and ensured that her husband would be buried. In an awful way, their deals are fair, but you don’t want to be in a place where you have to make a pact with them.

          The Heavens seem to be nice when things are going their way, and horrible when they aren’t. In peacetime, they have pacifist healers from the House of Light helping people and trying to build a better society. As soon as things go off the rails, though, they send Bard to restore the status quo by any means necessary.

          The Gods Below are a merchant will sell you anything from heroin to nuclear weapons if you’re willing to pay the price. The Gods Above are relatively benevolent rulers who will provide you with medicine for free, but they’ll do anything to make sure that their narrative isn’t disrupted.

          Like

          1. RanVor

            You do have a few good points here, Mr. Genocide. I didn’t want to speak with you, but I’ll make an exception and tell you this: the Bard is doing the same thing as all the Heroes, just with less pretending and more efficiency.

            Like

            1. Dainpdf

              The “whatever methods to win” thing seems to be a thing of Evil, however. Which is at the heart of her paradoxical nature.

              Like

              1. RanVor

                Remember that the side of Good never faced the Practical Evil before. They always won easily with their usual methods, unless facing the enemy with an overwhelming advantage, like the Dead King. But the Evil has changed and the usual methods don’t work anymore. That’s why the Heavens have sent their special agent, the Bard, to do the dirty work that needs to be done if they are to stay on top.

                Like

                1. Dainpdf

                  I’m pretty sure the Bard has been around since ancient times. Black speculated the only things Team Evil got that could be the counterbalance for her would be the Kingdom of the Dead or Empress Triumphant.

                  Like

  13. Jecherio

    I think Cat will get a neutral name. If you guys remember in chapter she talked abour “regulating” things. I think the Liesse Acords will be a game changer in how the battle good vers. evil will continue. I very much looking forward to how it will play out

    Liked by 1 person

      1. RanVor

        The Hierarch seems to be the Bard’s Spanner in the Works. I wonder if it’s a part of the Tyrant’s plan. I don’t know if he’s a Hero or a Villain, but I don’t think it matters. He probably considers all the gods Foreign Despots.

        He is, in a sense, very similar to Cat.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dylan Tullos

          RanVor:

          Well, they are both Foreign Despots whose existence is an affront to the People. And they’re both playing a different game than the traditional Good v.s. Evil.

          I love the moment when Anaxares declares that if the People have decreed that he is a Person of Value, then the “people are wrong, and in need of purging.”

          He gets even better when he turns to the Wandering Bard and tells her that the Gods “drew no lots and hold no appointments.” His particular brand of crazy might be terrible in its own right, but he’s definitely not going to be a puppet of Upstairs or Downstairs.

          Like

  14. I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Procer to realize, “Oh no, we just spent a whole bunch of money and manpower on a crusade, that we lost, and that we pointed in the wrong direction because here comes the kingdom of the dead behind us.

    Like

  15. DD

    Cat is constantly beating herself up, which is fine for character development, but I feel like we’re rehashing at this point. This gives us some insight into Archer but I don’t feel like it advances Cat in any way.

    The whole deal seems anticlimactic in a way I can’t verbalize.

    The feeling may be childish, like a kid wanting a clear winner or loser. Again, it’s hard for me to verbalize, making me doubt my own intelligence. Maybe I’m just impatient after the many non-Cat threads.

    Like

    1. Dainpdf

      Well, the pacing has been haywire. We had a battle, then a stop when the lake formed, a long interlude with lots of cliffhangers (each promising an unfulfilled return to action). Then we get battles, Akua takes to the field, culminating in Cat waking up… And bam, slam the brakes again. It’s quite jarring.

      Like

  16. Dainpdf

    I really liked the chapter in concept. This conversation with Archer puts a cap on all the development Cat has had so far.
    We get to see her rebuttal to the Pilgrim’s “evil is toxic” position, way back before the war really started, and to Archer’s “the only winning move is not to play”.
    It feels like she’s finally ready to move on to the end of this particular arc.
    On the other hand, the pacing on these last few chapters has been all over the place. It’s been stop-start, and this chapter is another sudden stop from a hundred. It feels jarring and out of place when we had just started revving up with Akua taking to the battlefield, then Cat waking up.
    Also, the delivery here was confusing, and some points were quite difficult to unravel, not due to complexity but because of awkward phrasing or framing.
    Still, overall a great chapter. Thanks!

    Like

  17. RanVor

    Irrelevant to the chapter, but I wonder how much of the Praesi villainy is actually a product of them having nothing to lose.

    Praes is a nation of no hope. They are taught from the moment they are born that they are doomed to fail no matter what they do. The gods have forsaken them, everyone hates their guts, and their dreams and ambitions are all meaningless. In an environment like that, it’s very easy to decide that if everyone thinks you’re a monster anyway, you might as well be one.

    So they go on a mad rampage against the world, looking for vengeance on those who look down on them, but only managing to justify the prejudice against them. Trapped in a vicious cycle, they cultivate their hatred and wounded pride, passing it down to the next generations.

    They are probably too far gone to change that, but it’s kind of sad when viewed this way.

    Like

    1. Dylan Tullos

      RanVor:

      Common Praesi do live in a hopeless society. They can only wait for the next famine, or an invasion that will see them conscripted as cannon fodder. I can see how easy it would be to decide that if everyone treated you like a monster, you might as well be one.

      Highborn Praesi are different. They seem to enjoy their Role as the villains of Creation, rejoicing in their mass sacrifices and backstabbing. “Iron sharpens iron” is the creed of a culture that rejoices in treachery and evil, seeing Evil as a means of self-improvement.

      Both mindsets are born out of the same circumstances, but the common people chose to endure their Role while the rulers chose to embrace it.

      Like

      1. Nairne .01

        But you have to consider how the mindset started for the Highborn Praesi.
        Was it the first sacrifices to make the fields fertile when they decided they are above the masses?
        Was it something else?

        I’m curious.

        Liked by 1 person

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