Interlude: Lest Dawn Fail

“The moon rose, midnight eye
Serenaded by the owl’s cry
In Hannoven the arrows fly
 
Hold the wall, lest dawn fail
 
No southern song for your ear
No pretty lass or merry cheer
For you only night and spear
 
Hold the wall, lest dawn fail
 
Come rats and king of dead
Legions dark, and darkly led
What is a grave if not a bed?
 
Hold the wall, lest dawn fail
 
Quell the tremor in your hand
Keep to no fear of the damned
They came ere, and yet we stand
 
So we’ll hold the wall,
Lest dawn fail.”

– Lycaonese folk song, origins unknown, dated before annexation by the Principate

 

“Walk me through it,” Marshal Ranker of the Hungry Dog tribe said.

She still thought of herself by that name, though her tribe was decades dead. She’d slain it with her own two hands, conscripting every male of fighting fit and taking them up north to throw her lot with the rebels of the civil war that enthroned Malicia. The matron-attendants, women and children had been split among other tribes according to ties of kinship, the ancient records of the Hungry Dogs sent down into the dark beneath the Eyries to add to the ever-swelling chronicles of the fallen and the failures. The Black Knight flicked those eerie green eyes at her, unreadable.

“You were briefed on the plan before we followed it,” he reminded her. “You saw it unfold.”

He spoke Lower Miezan with that slight burr to his voice that was the mark of Callowans and Duni both, one of the thousand reasons Wastelands used to look down on the pale-skinned westerners.

“I know the plan as it was told us,” the old goblin said. “That is the surface. Tell me the underpinnings, how it was woven together.”

It was a guilty pleasure of hers, to tease out the inner workings of her old friend’s mind. The cold method in it was like poppy to her kind, cunning viciousness put to murderous purpose. Had he been born of her people, Ranker would have killed anyone with the slightest claim on him and made the man her consort. There were still matrons in the Eyries that whispered he was utterly wasted on humans, a species whose idea of thought was laughable at the best of times. Broad-teeth monkeys who stumbled through Creation blindly, never a moment of their lives aware of how fragile and vulnerable they were until the Gobbler swallowed them whole. Amadeus, though? Oh, he ever slept with one eye open. A frail creature surrounded by a sprawling world of hostile demigods, he was the closest that misbegotten species would ever get to whelping one of her people.

“Is there a point?” the dark-haired man mused. “Already it has ended.”

“There is always a point,” she said, and bared her yellow teeth at him. “I learn, you learn. All rise.”

His own words, these last few, thrown back into his lap. One of their very fist conversations, years before she sacrificed her reign to earn yet greater victory. The glint in his eyes turned amused. That would not have been enough to ply him, in the old days, but Captain was lost and Scribe currently set to other purpose. He would speak. The urge was there for all villains, and she was providing him a culvert that did not endanger him or his designs. The threats had passed with the coming of night, though dawn would bring them anew.

“There were three forces to reckon with, in this scheme of mine,” the Black Knight said. “The first was the heroes in the northern valley.”

Nine slayers sworn under the Heavens, leading the assault of the crusaders. The Legions had protocols to face these, but not in so great a number. Though far from invincible, they were a mighty force.

“Great power on the march,” Ranker said.

“At the time, significant only as an accumulation of strength,” the green-eyed man noted. “By gathering together without a single unifying story, they stripped themselves of Above’s protection. They made themselves fallible.”

“But remained a significant force,” she probed.

“That is so,” he agreed. “And they would have become truly dangerous if they were allowed to turn into the rear guard for the retreating army of Procer. Nine heroes, facing the horde? Most would have perished, but at the cost of thousands on our part. Therefore, they had to be dispersed.”

“Costly to achieve through force of arms,” Ranker commented.

“Ah, but this was no heroic band,” the Black Knight said. “Simply an assembly of heroes. And so, in the absence of a clearly dominant Named or a unifying threat, they developed a point of failure: lack of chain of command. Without central authority giving orders, the heroes had to rely on their personal judgement when presented with a choice. Judgement that was shaped by wildly different origins and cultures. There would be no unified response. To disperse the cluster of heroes, then, we needed only present them with a decision.”

“The Tenth,” Ranker smiled.

“O Great Destroyer,” Legate Obasi said, kneeling at his general’s feet. “The time has come to strike.”

The ancient creature known as Nekheb let out a sigh, nearly sending him tumbling down the slope. Scales like midnight and eyes of gold that stood tall as a horse, the dragon was one of the living wonders of Creation. Magic made flesh, holiest of all the children of the Gods.

“I was just getting comfortable,” General Catastrophe said, wiggling in its nest of melted stone. “It can wait until tomorrow.”

Obasi had learned to understand the mood of his draconic master and winced at the tone. In court such a visible betrayal of his thoughts would have been disgraceful, but Holy Nekheb had never bothered to learn to read the faces of men. It was beneath them, admittedly. The dark-skinned legate still panicked at the idea that his general might decide to slumber then and there. It might be for mere hours, but there was no guarantee. After the Conquest the ancient creature had slumbered for seven months on the Blessed Isles and eaten anyone trying to wake it. The Soninke’s predecessor had been stuck in the very uncomfortable position of needing to explain that to the Tower.

“The scheme of the Carrion Lord is in need or your greatness, O Peerless Ancient,” Obasi tried. “Without your grace, the might of the Empire can only fail today.”

The massive dragon clicked its teeth unhappily.

“This is true,” they conceded. “You are all idiot hatchlings.”

Legate Obasi prostrated himself, sincerely hoping no rivulet of liquid rock would make it down to him while he did.

“Your discernment is without rival, O Mighty One,” he said. “Yet have the men of Procer not defied your greatness? Only yesterday, did one of their own not attempt to slay you?”

The dragon’s nostrils flared.

“An archer,” it rumbled. “I hate archers. They’re worse than sea snakes, though not nearly as clever. You speak true, minion-thing. I name you one of my heralds for the worth of your advice.”

This made it the third instance this year the legate was granted this boon. Holy Nekheb had some difficulty telling apart humans, he had come to suspect. Or simply did not care enough to try. Obasi stayed prostrated as long as he could, though he had to hastily crawl away when the dragon rose to its feet and spread its wings. The master took flight without further deigning to engage in conversation and the legate hurried towards the rest of the officer cabal. The other necromancers looked as exhausted as he did, even though they’d inhaled one strengthening concoction after another during the night on the march. The Carrion Lord had sent the Tenth Legion into mountains that separated the valleys north and south, and only a mere bell ago had they reached their destination. Beneath the cliff they stood atop fortifications could be glimpsed, walls and towers and some peasant bastion. No living host could had taken the hard paths through ravines and harsh slopes the Tenth Legion had marched through in the dark, but theirs was not the strength of the living. Only a mere three hundred of their legion drew breath, and they’d been the ones to trail behind as the undead advanced silently. Obasi gestured for one of the corpses to bend and sat on its armoured back, catching his breath.

“The Great Master takes the field,” he said.

“They were in a mood?” Legate Kalaman asked.

“Settling down for a nap,” Obasi sighed.

They shared a grimaced.

“Well, the crusaders will know we’re here soon enough,” Kalaman said, brushing back her dark tresses. “Best we get the dead moving before they send the rear guard after us.”

The sorcerers huddled together and wove their magic, taking the reins of the army spread across the mountains.Silently, inexorably, Legion X Horribilis began to climb down the cliffs.

Towards the lightly-guarded enemy camp.

“Some would stay,” the Black Knight said. “But few. Undead and a dragon would by the lure of promised victory. The Procerans would shortly panic, realizing they had lost their camp and risked encirclement.”

Ranker sucked at her teeth, pleased at the cunning involved. That part had unfolded exactly as he said. Of the nine heroes leading the host, only four had remained when Nekheb appeared behind the crusaders and displayed his wroth. The rest had hurried back to kill the draconic general before it could slaughter the entire rear guard. The gates of the Twin had opened when they were too far to easily return, and out had poured the Legions of Terror. The sortie had run straight into the four heroes and been stopped cold as the four Named scythed through legionaries like ripe wheat. Impressive, but ultimately doomed. It took five mage lines assembled for ritual to drive them back, but back they were driven. From there, the steel wrote the song. Veteran legions under Grem’s personal command hammered through the levies at the front until they broke and fled, collapsing the lines of fantassins behind them. The actual casualties the Procerans took, by Ranker’s reckoning, were fairly light for a rout. Two, maybe three thousand. It was the enemy commander that salvaged the mess, riding down with her Neustrian cavalry to put iron in southern spines. The moment the front was stable she ordered a full retreat, the Legions in close pursuit.

The rest of the morning was spent breaking a sequence of holding actions by the Procerans as the crusaders tossed away men trying to slow the Legions. Heroes swelled those ranks more often than not, but they were offered the greatest of all insults: irrelevance. They stood proud and powerful, unbroken by the steel of the Legions. Yet the men died around them as they did, and they could not hold back an army by themselves. It was unfortunate that heroic presence meant the trade of lives involved always sharply in favour of the Procerans, but it was the trade of casualties for a tactical advantage and so had remained acceptable in Ranker’s eyes. More so because, all the while, the Tenth Legion had been forming at their back. Nekheb allowed itself to be chased away when the heroes arrived spoiling for a fight, but by then nearly three thousand undead were on the ground. The heroes engaged as reinforcements continued to climb down, preventing further advance but little else. They were still fighting when the first ranks of the Proceran retreat arrived shortly after Noon Bell.

“Winning the battle was not the objective,” Ranker said.

“Not at that juncture,” Amadeus agreed. “There was a temptation, I will not deny. With the Tenth in the camp, there was no real chance for the crusaders to man the fortifications. Which were built to face the opposite direction of our advance, regardless. If I’d taken the field myself and we’d pressed the advantage, we would have slain a great many of them.”

“You didn’t,” Ranker said.

“Because it would have been committing too early,” Black said. “The second force to reckon with had not yet been neutralized. It would have left us exposed if we’d acted without considering her.”

“The Witch of the Woods,” the old goblin said.

The tower had cracked, like wet clay left too long under the sun. Wekesa still felt dismay at the memory. It had been purely kinetic force, that much he’d ascertained, but there had been no record of such a working in the Tower’s scrolls and his study of the creational cascade had failed to divine anything useful. He’d tied the tower’s protective wards into the the flanking mountains after the first blow, but all that had achieved was the powdering of at least half a ton of stone when the Witch struck again. There’d been few legionaries left inside, by then, but those that remained were instantly pulped by the impact. Warlock had been wary enough he’d moved out of the tower towards the mountains, and it was the only reason he wasn’t dead. The Procerans had swarmed the broken tower, afterwards, but most of the legion that’d defended it had already retreated. It was all he’d promised Amadeus, and he gave it no more thought after that. That pair of spells had heralded the escalation of the duel into a higher realm of arcana, and the failure of his defence had forced him to go on the offensive.

More than an hour had passed since then, Wekesa thought, and he idly adjusted the bubble of force around him to dampen sound as the peak to his left exploded.

Illusions were allowing him to keep one step ahead. The girl had a working that allowed her to see through them – Dion’s Gaze, he recognized – but she had to abandon her offensive to find him every time she used it. She’d followed him into the mountains, and now they could fight without concern for their surroundings. A storm brewed in the sky above them, this one not of his making. He could feel it strengthening, the lightning concentrating in a killing stroke she would cast down when she found him. Her casual shattering of mountaintops was an attempt to flush him out, though an unsuccessful one so far. Wekesa had been biding his time thinning boundaries to place his own killing blow, allowing her the run of the range. There was advantage in making her act in the open, as he now intended to demonstrate. With the storm now nearing its peak, the conditions had become acceptable.

Imbricate,” he said.

Seven-hundredth and twenty-second Hell. A hellscape of unending sprawling tempests, bereft of all devils save those who crawled beneath the earth. His thoughts burned as he oversaw the alignment, blood thrumming with sorcery, until Hell and Creation snapped into place. It had been wise precaution to mute sound, Warlock decided, for the howl of wind was deafening. Lightning thundered down, hundreds of strands, and flashing lights danced across the peaks. The roar of avalanches by the dozens devoured the rest of the song and he laughed, runes shining around his wrists as he wove the lightning into spears and struck at the Witch. The murderous child took it in stride, force spinning around her and making a wheel of the power he sent at her. She released it when his strikes ebbed, released a ring of pure lightning that shattered another two peaks. As he rode the storm, so did she. Discarding any notion of digging him out of his hole, she called on the Helian Sun and parted the storm with dawn’s coming. Scorching light burned all in sight, but destruction was an old friend to Wekesa. He knew it better than her.

Reflect,” he hissed.

His mind spun, sights in the thousands flooding it, until he found the realm he’d sought. The most beautiful of his tricks, the one truest to the essence of sorcery. A lie told Creation: that its lay was as that of the Hell he had sought, as if they were perfect reflection. No great toil of alignment here, only the barest of efforts as he matched the realms. The sky went crimson, great shapes forming in depths that did not exist within Creation, and hellflire began to rain. The Witch would learn today why men had named him Sovereign of Red Skies.

“The landslides cost us more than them,” Ranker said.

Amadeus conceded the point with an inclination of the head. As well he should. The last word from the Ninth was that Sacker had lost over seven hundred to an avalanche. While a mile away from the duel of the mages. Her entire rear guard swallowed by rocks, along with more than a few engines. In the northern valley, the costs had been no less steep. The mage officers of the Tenth had still been in the mountains when the two Named had begun slinging their spells, and half of them had been lost making their escape even as the battle around the Proceran camp erupted. The matron had forgot quite how terrifying Warlock could be, when let loose, but for all that terror the Witch had been every bit his match. And in their struggle, they had wrecked the Vales beyond recognition. The southern Twin was buried in stone along with most the valley before it, while a stray lance of lightning had hit the peak above the northern one, making half the mountain collapse atop it. That alone would not have cut retreat entirely for the Legions, but then Warlock had begun throwing down mountains to replace those he’d broken and it had gotten much, much worse. Half a city’s worth of brimstone had tumbled down the slope of the northern valley after being batted aside contemptuously by the Witch of the Woods, and there was no going around that.

Even now they could not be certain of how much of the Vales had been wrecked by what was already being called the Waltz of Wroth. Both passes were now closed, that much was certain, but scrying across the broken mountain range had proved impossible and so no fresh report could be had from General Sacker. Assuming she was still alive.

“Only the third force remained in play, after that,” Black noted. “It was always going to be the most difficult to predict, as its nature was bound to be reactive. In a sense, Wekesa’s enthusiasm was a boon. It created an obvious opening, and the Heavens never can resist a spectacular entrance.”

“Militarily speaking, the entire notion was absurd,” Ranker said. “If one of my staff officers suggested such a thing, I would have them demoted back to the ranks.”

“That there would be intervention was a given,” Amadeus said. “We were, at that point, winning. The Tenth weakened when we lost the officers, but Nekheb was still looming and we had them bottled up.”

The Princess of Neustria had exerted herself all morning in the prevention of a rout, but when the battle around the camps unfolded she’d plunged back into the deeps. It was a simple question of room. There were only two gates allowing entry into the fortifications where the Procerans had placed their camp, and limited space within. It’d been impossible for her to get a significant portion of her host through before the Legions under Grem hit her back, and from there the beginnings of a massacre had taken place. The crusaders had trampled each other trying to flee Legion blades, and though heroes had attempted to hold the back Nekheb had kept them on the backfoot by making the occasional pass. Squeezed by the Praesi shield wall, drowning in crossbow fire and munitions, the Procerans had died in droves.

“The Champion was holding the line,” Amadeus mused. “Ah, the pretty bait that was. If I’d gone to kill her, before the hour was done I would have died.”

The third force had been the White Knight, riding through the broken mountains with every single horseman under Prince Kaus Papenheim charge the flank of the Legions at the darkest hour.

Grem heard them long before he saw them. His people knew that sound better than any other on Creation, the thunder of hooves. The doom of horde and clan, the mounted killers from the West. That these had sworn oaths to the First Prince instead of the King of Callow made little difference. The odds of there being a usable pass after Wekesa and the Witch smashed apart the mountains were infinitesimal, he knew, but the Heavens had worked with lesser numbers. He’d been warned, that there would be a hidden knife near the end. His warlord’s instincts had not dimmed with age. The Marshal of Praes glanced at the signal mage that had been his shadow all day.

“All mage lines for the Third,” he said, “are to send fireballs and echoes in the pass, try to collapse it. And get Mok started on contingency Misfortune.”

For any cavalry not led by a hero, this would have been an imbecile’s suicide.  The source of the charge was a narrow break in the mountainside atop a rocky hill at an almost ninety degree angle, all of it leading straight into a dark upright crevasse. With the White Knight at the tip of the charge, all these damning details would mean was mild inconvenience. Sorcery flared and the opening was drowned in flame and booming sounds, but no avalanche took. It had been worth making sure. Grem One-Eye watched grimly as the flank of Mok’s legion pivoted to meet the coming enemy. Sappers ran ahead to sow the fields with caltrops as the two cohorts of trained pikemen formed in ranks. The ogre general’s men were no Ironsides, but they were a heavy infantry legion nonetheless. Regulars dragged to the fore spikes of iron or wood and hammered them in a line three deep according to the standard pattern, angling them so they would be aimed at the belly of the horses.

As a welcoming gift, a pair of sappers with munitions-loaded crossbows shot clay balls at the narrow opening and green flames took to the rock. Thin was the hope that this would stop the enemy, but all eventualities should be covered if the cost was appropriate and two spheres was cheap enough. Mages, crossbowmen and sappers formed up behind the pikemen in good order, ranks of regulars serving as shield. Ranker’s Fourth and the Twelfth had the front, so he could put his entire attention into this. The battle for the Vales would be won or lost here, and as Wekesa had so kindly deigned to drop a mountain down their only path of retreat there was no room left for mistakes. You have to let them win, Amadeus had said. The Heavens need their due, before we steal it, else another path will be taken. It might be his old friend was right, but Grem would not send men to die without doing his utmost to keep them alive.

The enemy appeared in a flash of blinding Light, evaporating the goblinfire-touched stone as the White Knight charged through. Behind him followed the mounted strength of Procer, pouring out like a stream of steel-clad death. He did not need to give orders in the matter of answer. Balls of flame bloomed across the ranks of the Third and hit the charging enemy, but Light burned and dispersed them like wisps of smoke. Crossbows fired in a perfect volley, and these drew some blood, but none touched the White Knight or the men behind him – as if the hand of some god steered away harm. The horsemen charged down the slope with unnatural grace, not a one stumbling over the harsh incline or jagged stones, and so the entered the killing field. The caltrops lasted a single heartbeat before the hero raised his blade high and a searing flame swept before him, clearing a path. The sappers fired their opening salvo, sharpers and brightsticks. It was like throwing an egg at a wall. Explosions that should have shredded men and horses instead merely singed them, the light that should have seared eyes into blindness was laughed off.

Horns sounded, deep and promising ruing. The horsemen took three volleys, before reaching Mok’s pikemen. Arrows and fire, the billowing poisonous clouds of smokers and the hard bark of sharpers killing less than thirty. This, Grem thought, was the face of the enemy. Of the Heavens putting their hand to the scale, making mockery of the strivings of men. For a single moment, as the pikemen clashed against the cavalry, it seemed like the legionaries would hold. It passed, pikes glancing off armour as the entire first rank of the cohorts were brutally trampled. In that first heartbeat, Grem One-Eye lost at least two hundred men. The relentless brutality of the carnage almost awed him. Horsemen continued to pour out of the passage and slowly the Third Legion began to bend. Like a man with a knife slid into the belly, groaning in pain. Now, Black, he thought. Now, damn you.

A roar older than even the coming of knights cowed the battlefield, and the orc grinned with all teeth bared. Orcs had never quite forgot that sound, even though the dragons that had once ruled the Steppes were long gone. Above, wreathed in the noonday sun, a madman was riding a dragon. And in the claws of that great beast was a massive chunk of stone, still dripping melted rock where it had been burned out. A silver arrow punched through the dragon’s wing, and as it screamed another buried into its flank, but still the glorious bastards flew and down went the stone. Dropped in front of the very opening from which horsemen poured, sealing it shut.

“First Legion,” Grem One-Eye roared. “Forward!”

Invicta was the cognomen bestowed upon his men by the Tower. Undefeated. They would not fail that name today.

“They managed to retreat anyway,” Ranker said.

The heroes, even after it all, had held long enough for a retreat. Only two of the nine had perished, the White Knight joining his fellows to escape. The horseman he had brought were not so lucky. Amadeus shrugged.

“There was only so much victory to be had,” he replied. “Papenheim came to us with sixty thousand men. He should now have slightly under forty.”

The Legions had bled as well, she thought. Twenty-four thousand had garrisoned the Red Flower Vales, when the Iron Prince came calling. Sixteenth thousand now camped on the western side of the passage the battle had been fought over. Sacker’s legion should still have the better part of it intact, but even so the losses had not been negligible. At least, she decided, five thousand in full. Against an army of mortals, the Vales could have been held against two hundred thousand until the end of time with the numbers they’d had. How starkly heroes turned the tide, even when checked by stratagem. Ranker shook her head, the two of them standing under a moonless night as exhausted legionaries slumbered in the distance. Too tired to even make cooking fires for what few rations they had.

“Has Warlock made contact?” she asked.

The Black Knight shook his head.

“He might be dead, Amadeus,” she said as gently as her people knew how.

The pale-skinned man shook his head again.

“I would know,” Amadeus simply said.

She left it at that, the two of them standing in silence. Grem’s tent, she saw even from so far away, was still lit. The orc did not know the meaning of rest, even in his old age.

“We have lost the Vales,” Ranker finally said.

Black laughed.

“There are no more Vales to be had,” he replied. “It will take months for the crusaders to dig through the collapse, even with sorcery. Not unless the Witch intervenes and if she does…”

“Warlock strikes,” Ranker murmured.

If he was still alive, of which there was no proof.

“If Hasenbach could so easily employ the Stairway ritual,” Black said, “she would not have stopped at a single passage through the Whitecaps. Multiple points of entry into Callow would have been a much greater strategic threat.”

That was true enough. The Black Queen’s army was strong and well-trained, but it also had limited numbers. She would have been forced to allow one of the invading armies free hand in Callow while she dealt with the other, which would have been disastrous on many levels.

“True as that might be, we’re still on the wrong side of the pass,” Ranker reminded him. “Our supply lines are cut, the full muster of Papenheim’s reunited army is less than a day away and our only paths for retreat involve months of marching through enemy territory.”

If they succeeded at giving the Iron Prince the slip, she thought, smashing the Proceran border army in the south and retreating through the lands of the League of Free Cities might be feasible. The alternative was heading for the Stairway, which was much less appealing even though the march would be much shorter. An army under Princess Rozala Malanza was retreating towards the pass, as of the last reports. The old goblin was not eager at the notion of forcing a narrow passage filled with hero-led Procerans.

“Are we?” the dark-haired man asked.

Ranker’s large eyes blinked.

“You see us as stranded, old friend,” Amadeus said. “I see us as freed. Callow is safeguarded for some time yet. No longer in need of our vigil.”

The goblin licked her lips.

“And we’re at the gate of the Principate’s heartlands,” she murmured.

“Come, Ranker,” the Black Knight grinned. “Let’s have a drink with Grem, and discuss our invasion of the Principate of Procer.”

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201 thoughts on “Interlude: Lest Dawn Fail

        1. Google is your friend. See also the Magpies vs Black Cats (NUFC vs SAFC — Tyne-Wear derby). Geordie is technically Tyneside, but it’s sort of cone to mean “the dialect spoken in the North East of England that still scans shockingly well when translating Bede’s poetry into it).

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  1. Redlaw

    This showed the great difference between black and cat. She fought to death and only obtained a bitter victory while he basically didn’t even fight and obtained a crushing victory + a chance to counter them. Still she by herself fought against a large group of heroes while he would have surely died if he fought the same way. Lol I really like how their power level make them think and act in such different way. And I am really happy to see how much she grown. At least in term of mass destruction she isn’t inferior to warlock. And that despite her not being willing to use all the power of winter

    Liked by 14 people

    1. jonnnney

      Can’t discount the importance of fortifications and having months to prepare the field of battle. They both killed about the same number of enemies and lost roughly the same number of allies. The main difference was their overarching goals. Black wanted to kill many Procerans and get a chance to strike at their nation while Catherine was trying to only kill enough to force a negotiated retreat.

      In terms of individual power I’d say Catherine has Black beaten, but Black and company beat the power, strategy, and experience of Cat and company.

      Liked by 13 people

    2. Dainpdf

      That’s the difference in styles. As Black told Grem, he lets the Heavens have their dues, while Cat tried to subvert them. Black’s strategy let him win without fighting because not fighting *was* his strategy (well, the main component).

      Liked by 4 people

    3. Someguy

      Callow is a breadbasket. If Cat goes full power with Winter, the farmlands will be decimated and everyone starves. Her problem is having too much power and keeping it in check.

      Liked by 4 people

    4. soonnanandnaanssoon

      I think the narrative structure of the Heroes present is another factor to consider. Cat was fighting a band of heroes, whose Narrative was tied together under the unifying figures of the Grey Pilgrim and the Saint of Swords. Black was fighting a general assembly of heroes with lack of ties and hence no unified Narrative. Arguably, this made the Narrative edge of Black’s Heroes weaker as a pivot as compared to Cat’s. With her goals in mind (not slaughtering or conquering the enemy), the military and tactical options available and how the Heavens had stacked the deck against her, I think Cat did pretty damn good here.

      Also, consider the Narrative implications of Black’s true aim of conquering Procer. Today’s chapter showed that instead of ‘Defensive, Protecting Ruler’, Black was aiming for and is currently playing the Role of a ‘Conquering Evil Warlord’, which not only bolsters his Aspect, but is a better Narrative for Evil. Imo, this would have given him some boosts from the Gods Below a la plot armor.

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        1. stevenneiman

          I disagree. What I would say is that Evil has a hard time getting anything done without spreading ruin. Black just decimated a huge portion of his own land in exchange for a playground where he considers devastation to be a bonus, and He’s certain he did it while retaining someone who is probably in the top ten for people in Calernia able to wreak havoc if let off the leash.
          I really wonder whether his actions are going to help or hinder Cat. On the plus side, he’s the sword next to Cat’s cheap wine, and he puts a time limit on the Procerans rather than Cat, but on the minus side he’s not under her command so she might not be able to offer him standing down no matter how desperately the other side wants it. And it would complicate matters if her mentor was ravaging the Proceran countryside while she was trying to talk peace.

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          1. Matthew

            This story is good for Cat.

            She cannot make Black stand down, but she can help defeat him in Procer. This changes the victory condition for the crusaders from “Invade through Callow and topple the tower” to “Stop the Praesi invasion of Procer.”

            The Gods above can wrest out the second victory which allows Cat and Black to win their actual victory which is Callow free and trading with Praes.

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          2. Metrux

            Well, in a way, the certainty that she can’t make him stop makes an alliance with her even better an offer, especially if given in a time limited fashion. For you see, if they don’t give up war with her, suddenly they have two fronts to fight, two in which they already lost once. Doesn’t sound like a good situation, now does it?

            Liked by 1 person

          3. JackbeThimble

            Destroying the Vales doesn’t really count as devastating Land. RFV is basically the equivalent of the Korean DMZ, it isn’t economically productive it’s essentially a massive armed camp. It arguably serves it protective function better now than it did before.

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          4. Quite Possibly A Cat

            This is good for bitcoin! I mean good for Cat. Right now the crusaders need to withdraw from Callow and stomp all over Black’s forces. That’s good for Cat. Then the crusaders need to somehow march on the Empire which funny story, would much, much easier if they could bring supplies through Callow and buy supplies from Callow.

            So the Crusaders are leaving and then Cat gets a really, really nice bargaining position with them.

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    5. stevenneiman

      Remember, their objectives were radically different. Amadeus sees everything he can as a battlefield, so his goal was to stymie the enemy advance and then go for a gut-punch that would force them to break off the offensive. The only peace he seeks is the kind where all his enemies are defeated beyond any hope of recovery. Cat, on the other hand, wants to push through the Liesse Accords, whatever they are, so she needs to have an enemy frustrated and trapped enough that they can’t refuse diplomacy but also not so utterly alienated that they would fight to the last when facing destruction. As a result, Cat couldn’t go for the kind of tactics Black so gleefully uses. Heck, I suspect that Operation Bonfire was a much more elegant and fancy version of exactly what Black is about to do the old fashioned way.

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      1. Matthew

        Black has a good idea of Cat’s objectives and probably shares them.

        If he does Bonfire, which he is doing now, then Cat gains more strategic advantage while not having to actually kill any Procerans.

        Before she was trying to do a “Good cop, Bad cop” thing but as one person with one army. Now, Black is fully the bad cop.

        He is doing this on purpose.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Metrux

        The main diference is exactly the way in which it is done, the most important part in any story. If you think of a fallen hero story, but you end the tale before the fall… Isn’t he just another hero? Now, think of the battle we just glimpsed: If the deaths of procerans had come before they started winning, how do you think this would’ve ended? The same applies to his invasion and Bonfire, the way Bonfire was to be done would’ve left a mark on Cat and made destiny itself act against, so the results should differ alot. Though, in a sense, he is much more bulnerable in a common invasion, since there isn’t as much mobility involved.

        Like

  2. Allafterme

    And just like that, the Carrion Lord removes Red Flower Vales as a geographical entity & turns a holy assault into an invasion of the Principate. I feel ashamed for doubting Black…

    Liked by 13 people

      1. Oshi

        There is also the Free Cities to consider. Black on the offensive means Hasnbach will have to continue the Crusade while pulling her people from it’s borders to hunt down Blacks army. Can anyone else say Opening for an invasion?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Dainpdf

          They’ll probably have to split the crusader army and/or use the detachment retreating from Callow. Cordelia would never unman the borders. She’s lycaonese, and the lycaonese hold the wall.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. ______

          I’m kind of surprised that the Tyrant hasn’t attached yet.The deterring force of twenty thousand in Tenerife is the only thing holding him back now: everyone else is either committed, too far away or both. If he waits too long, he’ll have to deal with the armies of Levant marching to the Vales.

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          1. Metrux

            For one, he couldn’t care less. The Tyrant of Hellike is exactly the old kind of villains that can destroy an army by himself, and he acts the part, so if there is ten man or ten thousand is not something he considers. In second place, he is not a military leader, to begin with. Ruler? Yes. Warrior? Yes. Mage? Yes. General? No. So, coupled with the first reason, it’s possible that he wouldn’t even consider it… Of course, it’s a different matter for the rest of the free cities, but who will tell him he is wrong and when to attack?

            Like

    1. It’s not over yet. The Crusaders do still have forty five thousand troops in Black’s way, outnumbering Black’s forces by more than two to one. Papenheim is more than capable of mounting a solid defense with that along with his hero backup.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. stevenneiman

        You forgot something. Black is now on terrain belonging to his enemies. Before it was a carefully calculated decision to make a mess in one limited battlefield. Now he can let Warlock off the leash on any size area for any reason, so long as enough of his own troops survive to remain an effective force, and even that much could be sacrificed if he’s within reach of something worth sacrificing his threat for.

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        1. Oshi

          Assuming Warlock survives. He has however succesfully neutered the Crusades overwhlming attempt to invade Praes. Now there are in effect three fronts. The coastline with the Thallacrossy, Cat’s gambit and his presence in Procur. A fourth will likely open when the Free Cities strike. It is a complex game to say the least and if the speculation about the Dead King is right there will be a 5th front.

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      2. Someguy

        Papenheim is on the other side of the mountains. While Black is in Procer. He now has a choice, charge into Praes through a desert filled with “things” to assault the Tower without a supply line or march back to Procer through Callow and down the Stairway before Black burns it to the ground.

        I hope he chooses to march back through Callow so Cat can charge his army tolls to fill up her coffers.

        Like

  3. SpeckofStardust

    Ya, that went about as well as I expected it to, that being said he’s only going to ravage 2 cities before the narrative stops him.
    Hope he chooses well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Someguy

      Cities…peh! Cities are just useless phallic symbols.

      The critical targets would be the scorching farmlands (after foraging to resupply the legions) & the mines (after looting to pay off the dragon). Destroying the lifeblood of the Proceran economy.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I’m pretty sure the dragon is actually an officer of the army. Yeah, might have to work around it’s draconic existence, but it’s actually the head of its own Legion, IIRC. Think about the nightmare that would be from his second in command (that is effectively the one to get him and his legion fighting correctly).

        Liked by 3 people

        1. stevenneiman

          We already saw how unpleasant it is. I get the sense that when General Catastrophe gets in a mood it’s not a guarantee that her handler can get her out of it without being eaten or incinerated.

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        2. Yotz

          The fine and upstanding officer he may be, it seems he sees his Legion as his first, and Legion – as distant n-teenth, if not n-tieth; if he is regularly reminded of the “Legion” part, that is. And spoils of mines and treasuries in question would be wrote out as officer’s salary for the good General. With his second in command left to explain the excessive amount of said “salary” to Marshal Grem and Imperial tax collectors…

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            1. Do *you* want to ask the dragon to take a pay cut? No? Yeah that’s what I thought. How about you keep the gold coming and I don’t mention to my boss the dragon that we had this conversation?

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    1. jonnnney

      The 10th crusade won’t have a path to even enter Callow for several months. While they break through the rock slide formerly known as the Vales they will have to contend with two professional armies sacking their cities, each of which is led by a Villain.

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      1. Dylan Tullos

        jonnnney:

        The Tenth Crusade isn’t going to sit around a pile of rocks while Black burns Procer. They’re going to surround Black, overwhelm his Legions, and kill him.

        For some reason, people seem to think that “Crusade” means “we can’t stop going forward for any reason”. It does not work that way.

        “Free Callow from Evil” is one of the Crusade’s main objectives. “Kill Black” is another main objective. Black has made it temporarily impossible to get to Callow, and very easy to get to Black. So they’ll take a rain check on Callow and kill Black.

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        1. Matthew

          What Black is probably trying to do is change the victory condition for crusade to “Kill Black and stop the invasion of Procer.”

          The Heavens can give this victory to the Crusaders and it will keep Callow and Praes protected.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Oshi

          A couple of things. Black will expect this and has at every tturn made it his business never to give a fight when he doesn’t have to. What do you want to bet they will spend months chasing him while he does nothing but runs around making people scared. Every month they waste on a chase for Black is a month that Malicia blunts he Thallocrosy and Cat has to recover/make her gambit. We’ve also been told multiple times that one fo the biggest strategies for Black is to sow a as much chaos as possible. By doing so he can shape the narrative to force it into paths that help him instead. This is a brilliant bit of self immolation on Blacks part.

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      2. Metrux

        Why does people keep saying there is no path to invade Callow? The Stairway still exist. Sure, Cat has a plan, it’s not a surprise anymore, and they got kind of a treaty… But that has nothing to do with the paths to enter Callow. Also, Procer is not the only one in this Crusade, I’m pretty sure more fronts will be opened as the war deepends, and the sea is a good bet of where more troops and heroes could come from.

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        1. Argentorum

          The stairway is no longer protected Narratively, however. Which means that it is an incredibly vulnerable choke point. Even leaving aside the possibly of dropping a mountain or (yet another) lake on it during the crossing, Cat can have an army there before the first foot steps onto Callowan soil. And then you’re just feeding more men into a meat grinder.

          Invading through the free cities is also out, due to Hierarch and Tyrant. If a sea invasion was feasible and sustainable, I expect the Baalites would have already launched it. Remember that they’re on the other side of the continent, so without a land army to keep the legions tied up in Callow, the Empire can just slaughter the sailors as the come ashore.

          Like

  4. Jane

    So, the Black Knight is attempting a poor person’s Bonfire, eh? I don’t know… Hearing about a raiding army striking behind enemy lines like this sounds like it’s just begging for the White Knight to intervene when it becomes most inconvenient. Not to mention that he can replenish food and arms as he takes a couple of cities, but he has no way of replenishing the munitions that are so important to Legionary doctrine.

    Well, if he can give the enemy the slip after a couple of high-profile targets, it should still inflict heavy damage to the First Prince’s political base, and compel the recall of a Proceran army to oppose him, but… The army sent to Callow is already on the way back, and the army sent through the Vales is already stuck as a result of the Waltz of Wrath, so I’m uncertain as to the tactical advantage there.

    Shutting down the Vales as a viable pass is of great strategic value, and doing something while Procer is lightly guarded is certainly better than just slinking away, of course; I’m just not really seeing how this is a great opportunity for them unless they’re, like, planning on taking the capital and compelling Procer to withdraw from the Crusade at swordpoint, or something like that. If they’re not able to hold ground, and it doesn’t sound like they’re in a position to do so, it seems to me like any advantage they can secure while in Procer will be limited, while putting themselves at great risk.

    Of course, given that they have a couple of the finest military minds of their generation with them, I quite imagine that they’ll find something important to accomplish while in Procer.

    Incidentally, it rather sounds like both Cat and Black’s armies have been quite thoroughly thrashed at this point; how many Legions were left with Malicia? If they don’t get a bit of time to rebuild (which they likely just accomplished here, admittedly), the Empire may have been pushed near the breaking point after losses this severe. Well, there’s a reason that they were desperate to avoid a Crusade… It’s not exactly easy to fight an international coalition while you have no allies. Having bought a year’s breathing room from any attack from the South is a pretty big win.

    I wonder who benefits most from a delay, though…. Just from a general strategic perspective, not a Narrative perspective. On the one hand, nations only loosely committed to the Crusade are more likely to drop out if progress stalls and focus on more local issues, especially since logistics are such a huge pain in a pre-industrial society… But on the other hand, those nations that do stay not only get more time to attract and arm recruits, but also improve their coordination with other nations involved in the Crusade, something that they were generally miserable at. Of course, Malicia is quite adept at the espionage and diplomacy games, and I imagine giving her a year to work on the tensions inherent to the Crusades could cause the whole thing to fall apart just from her efforts alone – or at least winnow off a couple of the most important nations.

    I guess it’s rather moot, since there’s no way that anyone involved is actually going to get a year of relative downtime in this novel, but it’s interesting to think of how this could have played out if it wasn’t being guided by both Narrative and narrative.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Dainpdf

      The thing is Black is already in Cordelia’s territory, which he can sack, burn, pillage etc, while she’s still in Callow.
      The White Knight could certainly double back to try to foil Black, but the latter would probably just weave around him and the Crusade would be that much weaker for it.
      Going by how this went, there was no holding that pass. The best they could do was blunt the invaders’ power and light a fire in their pants.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jane

        Yeah, like I said, it’s better than doing nothing against Procer when the opportunity is handed to them on a silver platter like this, and I don’t know that there was any other way of handling the Vales (if for no other reason than there’s no realistic way to get the Witch and their Warlock to fight elsewhere, and they both seem to love collateral damage).

        It’s just that the Black Knight seems to see this as a great opportunity, and… Well, I don’t, until they reveal some more significant underlying objective or a way of receiving supplies and reinforcements. It gives them some nice targets of opportunity before heading back, but if they commit too much to raiding Procer, that puts them in a horrible Narrative.

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        1. Dainpdf

          Do remember Procer is projected to have a hard harvest this year, and they still have to deal with the Chain of Hunger and the Kingdom of the Dead (which *we* know is stirring, so Black might know, too).
          Burning their fields may make keeping up the war effort untenable, especially with those forty thousand dead, a portion of whom we’re peasant levies.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Jane

            True, but… “The Hero Stops the Pillaging Bandits” is a super classic story, and strong enough that it can allow even a farm boy to defeat seasoned warriors. If he’s just aiming for general pillaging, not only is that not really an “invasion” of any sort, it raises so many death flags for him. I don’t know that he could actually accomplish enough damage before he’d be caught.

            Generally speaking, aiming for extensive destruction, even in a military context, firmly sets the Narrative against a Villain.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Dainpdf

              But can Hanno get into that story when he’s already committed to the Crusade narrative? Plus, as Black had stated (and done), there are ways to get around turning the destruction of a place into a narrative about the destruction of said place.

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              1. Jane

                It wouldn’t surprise me… I don’t know if subplots are a “thing” in the Narrative of the setting, but rescuing peasants from marauders is a common element in a larger story. Even if they aren’t, though, we know a lot of the heroes associated with the Crusade aren’t really properly tuned in to the story of the Crusade, and could adopt the role. Or an entirely new hero could spring up to confront him – it’s a really common origin story. Even if I doubt a freshly minted hero could kill him, they could slow his army down enough for the White Knight’s army to catch up.

                As for turning it into a story about destruction… I just don’t think Procer’s farmland has enough narrative weight to make that work. I would think it would need to be a decently sized city for that to work, or some sort of landmark – like a famous cathedral, or the building the Assembly meets in. I guess maybe razing some prized vineyards for a famous wine, but… That would be stretching it, and also wouldn’t really help with the rest of the farmland they’d need to wreck.

                Well, the Warlock could probably make it all spectacular enough to work, despite the lack of narrative weight, but he’s needed to ensure that mages can’t clear the pass.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Dainpdf

                  I meant he can destroy the countryside without falling into a story about him destroying the countryside and which would allow a hero to get him. If he sidesteps the story, no heroic intervention… Which is how he has operated all these decades.

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                  1. Jane

                    Ah, my mistake. I don’t know, though… It’d be difficult enough to raze the countryside while pursued by multiple armies in their home territory. To do so while tricking the Narrative on top of that… It sounds difficult, to me.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Dainpdf

                      Well, I don’t think the levantines will go too far out of their way to solve Procer’s problems, and I’ve argued the main Crusader army can’t turn back without repercussions. So he’d mostly be chased by the low morale, still-crossing Malanza army, plus maybe some detachments from Papenheim

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                    2. Dylan Tullos

                      Dainpdf:

                      Will you stop saying that the Levantines are just going to look away while Black burns Procer? They joined the Crusade, and the Grey Pilgrim obviously wants them to fight Evil. Black is Evil, he’s in Procer, and they’re going to do their job.

                      I don’t know where you got the idea that Levant needs to love Procer to hate Evil, or that there’s some kind of rule in Crusades that you have to go straight to the Tower without pausing to, say, fight the Evil army directly in your path.

                      Euodiachloris:

                      It may not be banditry, but it’s still an Evil army robbing farmers after invading a Good nation. This is not a Narrative that ends well for Villains.

                      Liked by 1 person

                2. Can you really call banditary when it is a military action in an official, ongoing war and performed by known enemy battalions who have been cut off from an obvious route back to base (purely as a result of collateral battle damage, guv), though? Nor is it kicking the locals specifically to nick their stuff with a for-profit motive.

                  Getting back Home may give plenty of excuses to get from A to a port that will allow them to get to H without getting accidentally dead along the way.

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          2. Dylan Tullos

            Dainpdf:

            Pappenheim’s army is right next to Black, and the armies of the Levant are moving into southern Procer.

            Even if Black manages to get around Pappenheim, he’ll be caught between the Prince’s forces and the Levantines. With Rozala’s forces returning through the Stairway, the Crusaders will have him completely outnumbered and surrounded.

            When invading another country, it helps to have an advantage in numbers or mobility. The Legions are notoriously weak on cavalry, so they can’t simply race through Procer and burn everything in their path. They’re already outnumbered by Pappenheim, and he can expect reinforcements, while the Praesi just wrecked the only possible path of retreat.

            I can’t see any way for this to work out well. “Taking the fight to the enemy” sounds good until you realize that Black was abandoning a strong defensive position to fight in the open field against an enemy that vastly outnumbers him and has more and better cavalry. That’s just a bad idea, no matter how you try to explain it.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Bookworm

              As Cat and company discussed, the armies of Procer are SLOW. They will have to use their cavalry to harry the legions, because the Procer infantry would never be able to keep up if the Praesi are allowed to march at will. Black is going to evade the armies, bait the heroes, and generally lay waste to the countryside.

              While this would be detrimental to him and his army as he will eventually be cornered, it plays right into supporting (1) Cat by making her seem more reasonable and (2) Black’s ultimate goal of twisting the Story (which again goes back to (1) and supporting Cat). Don’t forget that he views himself as just another tool; while he would probably like to preserve himself for utility’s sake, he would not be above sacrificing everyone including himself if it helped him achieve his goal.

              Of course, there is still the possibility of finding a way for him and his army to survive as long as his part in the story remains relevant. However, I have this feeling that he is going to use himself and his colleagues to clear the way for his protege.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Dainpdf

              Pappenheim can’t really pursue Black without giving up on having the Crusade at all, which would be a PR nightmare for Cordelia. No, they’re committed there.
              They could send detachments, but turning around and just going after Black on a merry chase would already be defeat.
              As for the “strong defensive position, it’s been replaced by an impassable pile of rocks. In a way, it’s Creation’s way of telling Cordelia she can’t have two entries into Callow. Open another and the first gets closed.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Dylan Tullos

                Dainpdf:

                Black IS the Crusade. They’re not fighting over rocks or fields; the objective of the Tenth Crusade is to cast down the Dread Empire. Killing Black is infinitely more central to that goal than taking a mountain pass or a few fields in the north of Callow.

                Everyone seems to be obsessed with the idea that the Crusade can’t possibly “retreat”, but they’re not retreating. Black is invading the Principate, and they’re going after him. In what world is pursuing your greatest enemy a “retreat”?

                The Levantine Crusaders are already in southern Procer, so they can move south to attack Black while Pappenheim approaches from behind.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Dainpdf

                  They’re going after the Empire because Malicia surprised them with a doomsday weapon (both Still Water and the hellgate thing), to ensure that it is destroyed and others of its kind won’t be deployed. Killing Black doesn’t accomplish much in that regard; hell, the Warlock is a higher priority target in this regard.
                  Turning back now would betray what actually brought the coalition together. Levante doesn’t care that much about Black invading Procer; they care about undetectable alchemical zombification, insta hellgates on their capital, and whatever else is in the dark skies protocols.

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                  1. Dylan Tullos

                    Dainpdf:

                    Killing Black isn’t vital because he’s the one making superweapons; killing Black is essential because he’s the one guarding the people who make superweapons.

                    Trying to rush at the squishy wizards doesn’t do you any good if there’s a big man in plate mail who keeps getting in your way. Sometimes you have to kill the tanks before you can take out the casters. Black has been very successful at keeping the Crusaders out of the Dread Empire; at some point, it’s more effective to kill him and then invade rather than constantly letting him thwart your invasions.

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                    1. Dainpdf

                      He got in their way *once*, and now he’s not in the way anymore. You talk like they’ve been beaten back again and again and again.
                      By the way, “go for the wizards” is exactly what you do when you can. The tanks are built to take it and the wizards will rain fire (or worse) on you if not taken out.
                      Also, once again, I’m pretty sure Levante is not down with having lakes dropped in their people to chase down the tank.

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                    2. Dylan Tullos

                      Dainpdf:

                      There’s a giant pile of rocks in their way now. They could sit around the rocks while Black burns Procer, or they could hunt him down and kill his army.

                      I agree that targeting the wizards directly is a better approach. As long as the Legions are in the way, it isn’t possible. Kill the Legions, and it becomes possible to actually get at the Tower.

                      Black and the Calamities are the hero-killers who kept Callow from rising. Black build the Legions that conquered Callow, and he held the Vales against the Crusade. By killing him, they take away the Dread Empire’s warlord, their great military reformer, and the leader of a legendary band of hero killers. He is the most dangerous Villain in Praes, and his death will seriously wound the Dread Empire.

                      Every Levantine we’ve seen views the Grey Pilgrim with reverence and adoration. He’s telling them that they need to fight this Crusade, and that Evil will triumph if they do nothing. If he tells the Levantine armies to fight through hellfire, they’ll do it.

                      Like

            3. Metrux

              Well, when you come back to it, he is now a dragon rider and one of his Aspects is Conquer… Yes, I can very much see it going better than the defence, since any story about a dragon, or his rider, defeated, is when they are attacked. There is no story about a dragon rider defeated while attacking. Yes, the common sense says “Fuck, Black is gonna die” but even his allies see this as an opportunity, not a bane… Don’t you think they got something in their minds? 😉

              Liked by 1 person

        2. A Crusade that keeps having to change its goals on the fly while crossing it’s fingers behind its back is a Crusade that will get very dark jokes made about it by historians, thanks to its abysmal failure to meet any of them by any measure whatsoever. *points at the Fourth Crusade as the preeminent example of a decidedly unholy, political mess on badly grilled toast*

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          1. Dylan Tullos

            Euodiachloris:

            The Crusade’s goals haven’t changed. Their military plans are changing.

            This is common sense. The leaders of the Crusade are not forced to advance in a straight line, ignoring the giant pile of rocks in their way. Black has come out to fight them in Procer, so they’ll fight him in Procer. What kind of general doesn’t amend their strategy when their enemy does something unexpected?

            The Fourth Crusade was a disaster because of Proceran backstabbing. So far, Procer has been utterly dedicated to the Crusade and loyal to their allies. They’ve taken the lion’s share of the casualties, and everyone else knows it.

            “Destroying the enemy army” is definitely a strategic goal of the Crusades. That enemy army is now coming towards them. That’s an advantage, not a problem.

            Like

            1. I don’t think the Crusade was called simply “to kick Praesi arse, drink beer and be back by dinner”, though. As I recall, it was “free Callow of the usurper Black Queen, destroy the Calamities and kill the Empress before she destroys us using a superweapon”.

              No superweapon; the Black Queen turns out to have Callowan support and is willing to join the Alliance and the Calamaties are happy playing tag in Procer and other places, while the Crusade isn’t even pointing itself at the Tower at the moment…

              Um…

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              1. Dylan Tullos

                Euodiachloris:

                “Destroy the Calamities” is one of their main objectives, and look! The leader of the Calamities just marched into Procer with an army behind him. Seems like that one should go to the top of the list.

                Your whole idea is that the Crusade is a “failure” if it can’t accomplish all of its objectives at the same time, but there’s no reason they can’t kill Black and then go after the Tower. If the Villains come out to meet you, there’s no reason not to oblige them.

                The Calamities will be less happy when the Crusade converges on Black and his army. They’ve already lost a third of the five legions they started with, and Pappeheim is right next to them.

                The problem with “playing tag” is that sooner or later, you get caught.

                Like

                1. You misread me: the goal was to defeat the Calamities in Praes as stepping stones to take the Empress down. That was the narrative.

                  But, chasing them all over the continent, gradually whittling them down? This isn’t the glorious battlefield of intent. Because anything could happen, anywhere. It’s turning into chasing the shaggy underdog on the Crusaders. In those situations, even the goal of “destroy the Calamities” is likely to change on them as the chase across Procer precedes. And, they still aren’t taking the Empress in the Tower on, let alone destroying the keys to the supposed weapon that could kill them all… if it was in one piece (which it isn’t).

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                  1. Dylan Tullos

                    Euodiachloris:

                    I agree that the original plan was to defeat the Calamities in Praes (or the Vales) on the way to the Empress.

                    But no plan survives contact with the enemy. Black changed the game, and now the Crusaders have to adapt. It isn’t neat or pretty, but they have a substantial advantage now that they aren’t fighting in a fortified mountain pass.

                    Ashur will continue to raid the Wasteland and apply political pressure to Malicia. The rest of the Crusade will have to kill Black and his Legions before they can resume the march on the Tower. Things aren’t going according to script, but wars usually don’t. Fortunately, the Crusade doesn’t depend on a perfect, inflexible plan; they rely on having more armies, more Heroes, and the Bard on their side.

                    Like

            2. esryok

              Think ‘Chloris meant the real-world Fourth Crusade, in which the crusader army went to war for Muslim-occupied Jerusalem but after… events… ended up sacking the Christian city of Constantinople instead.

              Liked by 2 people

    2. Someguy

      You forget Scribe is out on a mission. Me, I think she’s been sent to Delos to go Puppeteer Parasite on their Secretariat. Her Name and capabilities would be perfect for it.

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        1. Someguy

          Language and specific legalese is important as shown during Cat’s “negotiations” for truce.

          Even if Scribe doesn’t Kilgrave the Secretariat’s Writs in Delos, she can be sent as an Attorney for Black’s interests to Hierarch to counter Kairos’ Stupid Evil influence.

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          1. Dainpdf

            He’s more Chaotic Evil mixed with Beware the Silly Ones.
            And people have tried to influence Hierarch, if you’ve missed it.

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            1. Someguy

              If anyone is familiar with Bellerophon laws it would be Scribe. Influencing Hierarch with bribes/benefits like the other idiots is just stupid. Interacting with Hierarch like Delos ‘functioning’ on Bellerophon laws will be the closest thing to actual communication and co-operation.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Dainpdf

                If neither Malicia nor the Bard had any luck getting anything one him, I don’t see Eudokia succeeding. Who knows, though. You may be right.

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    3. burdi

      i think its because black never truly intent to invade the principate
      in the 2 chapter before he said that he act accordingly to catherine war stategy, so i think he just want to give them (crusade+army of callow) a reason to band together, as we are know that catherine aiming to join The Grand Alliance of Procer, this attack may give procer a push to accept cat’s proposal.
      of course after a story about callow join with procer to fight evil warlord has a foundation, The Black Knight will retreat, thus strengthen catherine position in The Grand Alliance
      and after cat winning againts malicia, the empire will need to stabilize its situation and what better than join callow, became one with it, after all its already a kingdom of villain, same with praes
      And who know, maybe this is The Black Knight ploy to make new empire that is not devouring its own tail

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      1. Jane

        Yeah, that’s the sort of thing that would make a more prolonged stay in Procer worth it. I don’t know that it will be that, exactly, but it’s the kind of deeper objective that I’m expecting from him.

        Like

    4. Black does have one flying asset that could carry a whole lotta weight and be used to resupply over the mountains, but I’m not sure if even Black could convince an ancient dragon to be a goblin munitions pack mule. For one, it’s beneath his dignity, and for two, carrying a huge load of very explosive goblin munitions is the sort of thing you don’t do if you’re wise enough to become ancient in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jane

        Hmm… Resupply, no, but an ancient dragon would make for a heck of a diversionary force, properly used. I’d just be terrified of accidentally wasting such a rare and valuable asset, given how vulnerable they are to heroes…

        But, well, unlike Black, I’m the sort of person who hoards her consumables and spells in video games. I imagine Black will actually be able to use the dragon without being paranoid about the likely limited danger involved. There’s no point in bringing along the Infinity +1 Sword and not using it.

        Liked by 3 people

    5. I don’t think a delay would help the Crusader military as much as Black and Catherine’s. The Crusaders mostly use levies (who aren’t professional troops being constantly accumulated and trained, they have to be released when they’re not in use) and fantassins (who generally bum around making a mess of things when they aren’t in use, which is a major pain) neither of which really grow in strength over a delay.

      In contrast the professional legion armies slowly gather strength and constantly improve the training of those bodies for however much time they’re given between campaigns.

      Like

      1. Jane

        But announcing a Crusade does give more time for the faithful to answer the call, when otherwise they simply wouldn’t have time to muster, and more time to better equip those levies – I have little doubt that many of them are poorly equipped, given how much larger a Crusade is compared to the wars they’re used to fighting. The Crusade wasn’t a hasty affair, but my understanding was that there was relatively little time between the declaration of the Crusade and sending the armies to march.

        A holy war like this would seem to be a bit of a different affair from a normal levied army, insofar as it attracts considerably more volunteers than a “normal” war – but only if the volunteers can actually reach an army before they set off, and can be given a weapon to use.

        Setting aside the other advantages that more time would give either side, of course.

        Like

        1. Argentorum

          The thing is, the Crusade will always outnumber the legions. The thing that matters is if there are enough legionaries for their superiority to outlast those numbers. Having more bodies benefits the legions more, because they are better at preventing casualties. For instance, in the battle of the Camps, tribune Fae killer (forget her name) held the line with four thousand against a vastly superior force at the cost of a few lines, simply by staging a series of orderly retreats. Given enough men, the disparity in quality becomes enough to attrite the crusades vast numerical advantage because of this.

          As for Blacks goal. Marching on the highest assembly is an end all to itself. If Hasenbach uses the Crusade to defend Procer, she loses credibility. Levant, for instance, will be quick to balk at being used for Procer’s direct gain. That’s why Papenheim had to make a play for the Vales before they could arrive. On the other hand, if Hasenbach pulls back Proceran forces, she’s not clearing the pass as quickly and this Black has slowed the invasion even longer.

          Black can’t take the Highest Assembly, and he knows it. So his goal will something that can be accomplished in the act of taking it.

          In other news, Black has been judged and his sentence has been delivered. The White Knight can’t be played.

          Like

          1. Dylan Tullos

            Argentorum:

            The whole point of the Crusade is to defend Good nations against Praes. Why would Levant object to fighting the Black Knight in Procer instead of Callow? They’re doing this because Praes poses an unacceptable threat to Good, and Black only makes that threat worse by invading the Principate.

            “Slowing the invasion” means nothing if the Crusading armies are free to converge on Black’s Legions. The Red Flower Vales were only meaningful as a means of attacking Praes, and now the Dread Empire’s armies are out in the open, where everyone can get at them easily.

            Like

            1. Argentorum

              The whole point of the Crusade is to pull the tower down. Yes, killing Black is an important step towards that goal, but the “how” matters just as much. And not only because this is narrative land. First, if Hasenbach can’t stop Black on her own, her credibility and her Right to Rule take a hit, especially given her precarious position in the Assembly. And if Hasenbach gets undercut (remember Amadis was planning on convening the Highest Assembly in Callow and effectively turn her into a figure head) the Crusade will probably sputter out into a morass of different nations looking after themselves first, and the Good not at all.

              In addition to this, remember that Levant, as a political entity, doesn’t particularly want to be in the Crusade. Hasenbach had to threaten them with an invasion backed by Ashur in order to get them to table in the first place. Yes, she can use them to fight Black, but if the Levantines step in front of the Legions and get massacred buying Papenheim time to flank(which they will, vs Black and Grem and Ranker), then the public perception is that Hasenbach is bleeding Levant for Procer’s gain. Levant will not be okay with this, and may even drop out of the Crusade, especially if Black escapes, perhaps via Fae portal?

              Finally, as for stalling. The Dread Empire has more legions. They have more legions on the *other side of the Vales*. This is not the full strength of the Empire, merely enough to be a knife pointed at Procer’s heart. In addition, buying times does matter when your men are professional soldiers and you need to get through more recruitment cycles. Furthermore, the longer this Crusade drags on, the worse it is for Hasenbach. The levies aren’t farming, and thus far the Crusade has been nothing but a string of defeats in the face of certain victory. If she doesn’t start turning the tide soon, there is a very good chance the Crusade could stall out and die (and then Cat can step in to ‘Save it’). Killing Black and his legions would be a victory, if they can do it, but that’s assuming Cat won’t come and bail them out at the 11th hour using a portal. Evil is, after all, supremely good at running away after an ignoble defeat. And if they win a battle but even half the strength of these legions (or hell, even the Command Structure) retreats intact, then it’s just another Pyrrhic Victory to get tossed on the pile.

              Tldr:
              On paper, the Levantines should be fine fighting Black wherever, but remember that this Crusade isn’t a unified front. Hasenbach had to browbeat several members into joining, and these early defeats could splinter this alliance before it has a chance to fully form. Each set back also buys the Empire more time to get its shit together after the *civil wars* it just experienced in both .

              Like

              1. Dylan Tullos

                Argentorum:

                Procer has already suffered immense casualties during the Crusade. No one is going to accuse them of slacking.

                Hassenbach threatened an invasion to get the Levantines to stop raiding one of her border princedoms. They joined the Crusade because they didn’t want to see the Dread Empire with a Hellgate.

                The Grey Pilgrim wholeheartedly supports the Crusade. All of the Levantine Heroes support the Crusade. Opposing the Crusade isn’t normal politics; it’s blasphemy against the Heavens. Levantines won’t fight and die for Procer, but they will fight in a Holy Crusade led by their Grey Pilgrim, the rightful heir to the Grey Pilgrim who founded their country.

                This isn’t just about secular politics. These are Crusading armies, and the soldiers are inspired by the presence of Heroes who bring the Blessing of the Heavens. You say that they’ve been defeated, but the truth is that they can replace their losses more easily than Black and Catherine, and a war of attrition favors the larger alliance. The only way for the Crusaders to lose is to give up and lose their unity; if they persist, then they’ll inevitably grind down the Praesi Legions.

                Like

          2. Jane

            While it is true that, person for person, a fanatic won’t match a Legionnaire, enough fanatics will still overwhelm a Legion eventually – how many Legionnaires can Praes train in a year, compared to how many fanatics will have the time to arm themselves and muster in that time? And how many does the Crusade need, before numbers can overcome equipment and discipline? Four to one? Ten to one? Twenty to one? The Crusade has a deep population base to draw from, especially if they start actively recruiting instead of relying on the nobles to provide the armies – I doubt that twenty to one would be plausible, but we know that they had twice as many people pretty much just lying around already. And greater numbers also provide them with strategic flexibility, like how Rolanza was able to detach a portion of her cavalry to threaten Black’s supply lines without leaving the rest of her force vulnerable – they could use a substantial army to pin legions in place strategically while shying away from open engagement, while simultaneously sending smaller armies to attack less well defended targets. Even if the soldiers themselves are pretty much trash, they can still take a lightly defended city with enough numbers – or just places of economic interest, like mines and granaries.

            Of course, it’s also questionable as to how many of these volunteers the Crusade would actually be able to arm – knives and pitchforks don’t really make for a proper army, and I doubt that they have a ton of proper weapons just lying around unused. But that becomes considerably less of an issue with more time to prepare – even if they’re just given half-decent swords, that’s enough to take them from a useless mob to a near-useless militia capable of occupying a site.

            Of course, it would be difficult to feed such a force, but… Well, Callow is pretty devastated at the moment, you know, and Praes is highly reliant on trade to avoid starvation if they can’t get their food from Callow. With the Crusade having decisive naval superiority, can Praes survive such a blockade? I don’t know how many soldiers the Crusade could realistically support, but it might well be realistic for the Crusade to simply starve Praes into a collapse without needing to engage them at all.

            As regard Black marching on the assembly… Eh… How many people really need to work on clearing a pass at any one time? I can’t imagine more than a few hundred before they start tripping over each other. It would be easy to leave a detachment behind to continue work, while the body of the force pursues black – I don’t think it would be an effective delay. Especially since I can’t imagine Black leading such a diversion for more than a couple of months before he’s maneuvered into an actual confrontation – he needs time to forage, while the White Knight does not. Finding and hitting farms still takes more time than a proper supply line, usually.

            Like

            1. Metrux

              Well, WOULD take more time, hadn’t they had in their employ a dragon and a madman (AKA Warlock). Also, Warlock can probably bring them basic food and water. But that is not the point, trully, since I disagree with you on the famine problem.

              You see, the Legions are only as big as they can be, they force no one on it and never have more soldiers than they can supply. That is not true for Procer, they MAKE their farmers take weapons and go to war, remember that in the civil war they almost starved, while in the Praes civil war food was never trully a problem. So, if they do try to starve Praes, they’ll actually be the loosing end, especially since, as you yourself pointed out, the Crusade is supposed to bring in more people than those other wars.

              Like

        2. Metrux

          I actually believe that, for Procer, the Crusade is not bigger than the wars they already face. The true difference is that it isn’t an all out with twenty diferent players, it’s a single unified front, which makes the numbers seem bigger because they aren’t counted separetely.

          Like

    6. Matthew

      Black is playing narratively.

      Heaven guarantees victory to the Crusade.

      But what does that victory mean?

      When it started, it meant “Free Callow!” and “Cast down the Dread empire!”

      His invasion of the Principate means it’s now. “Defeat Black and stop the invasion!”

      He wants Procer to cash their heavenly guaranteed victory defeating him on Proceran soil. He trusts Malicia and Cat to be able to defeat the Crusaders once the “Win a victory for free” card is played.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Quite Possibly A Cat

        They can still “free Callow”. They can free Callow from the influence of the Evil Dread Empress. Which killing Black and slaughtering his Legions would go a long way towards doing.

        Like

    7. stevenneiman

      I think his plan is less for a total military victory than to turn public opinion against the Crusade. For all that she might have figured it out, Cordelia doesn’t have enough evidence to convince people that Malicia used the Pravus Bank to strike against Proceran interests, so all they’ll see is disappointing non-victories on both fronts while Praes goes on an expensive counterattack, and the princes are going to start asking why Procer went to war with two nations which were passive and uninterested in war until then, and they’re not going to care much whether the First Prince has an answer because they’ll be looking for scapegoats rather than solutions. Also, he might or might not know it but there’s a good chance that he’ll be playing the bad cop in a way that makes the Liesse Accords a lot more palatable, especially if those accords seem like they would protect Procer from another disaster like this seems.
      It’s sort of like a man trying to pull a blackberry without tools or gloves. The man can do it without serious injury and the blackberry can’t make him unable to, but it’s going to be unpleasant, and when he feels the thorns he’s going to start caring about nebulous ideas of invasive species a whole lot less than he did at the start.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dylan Tullos

        stevenneiman:

        This isn’t about the Pravus Bank. It’s about the Hellgate that opened in Callow and the entire city that died and rose as zombies.

        Procer went to war with the Dread Empire because a faction within the empire used magical WMDs to zombify an entire city and summon legions of devils. That makes them a threat to the rest of Calernia, and the Good nations weren’t going to sit around and wait for Praes to build another Hellgate.

        Like

  5. jonnnney

    40,000 soldiers dead and all Procer has to show for it is two failed assaults, a prince held hostage, the inability to even enter callow for months, and another army behind their lines? The 10th crusade is being ground into a halt before it even really starts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Well, but the white knight got to do a really cool charge at Grem! And defeat an Ersatz villain! He’s winning so much he might get tired of winning…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. pyrohawk21

    Once again, Amadeus proves himself an absolutely magnificent, and glorious, bastard…

    He really does seem to always have at least three plans about how to deal with things. Each of those plans having separate, and often contradictory, end goals…

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Someguy

    >Crossbows fired in a perfect volley, and these drew some blood, but none touched the White Knight or the men behind him – as if the hand of some god steered away him from harm.

    Godsdamn enforced Stormtrooper Marksmanship!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Dainpdf

    I love how Black keeps handing the Heavens the wrong victories.
    You want to kill the Black Knight? Sure, have this cheap knock-off.
    You want to win a battle? Okay. Why don’t you have this one charge and force my army to retreat… Into your territory. Oh, and close the pass in the process.
    You want to have a Good League? Great. Sign my number one disciple for it while you’re at it.
    I mean, the last one wasn’t him, but that was one of the Blackest moments Cat has ever had.

    Liked by 10 people

  9. danh3107

    Now, I did like this chapter, but it’s another in a long series of hyping an event up and then cutting straight to the aftermath. It was okay the first couple of times, but as the story has progressed you’ve been relying more on it Erratic.

    Sure it was neat hearing about this stuff, but SEEING it would’ve been more interesting in my opinion.

    Like

    1. stevenneiman

      I think it was because EE wanted to get through the battle and explain why things were the way they were afterward, but he didn’t want to do a whole battle worth of interlude chapters while we’re all waiting on the Cat storyline, which is the main focus of the Guide narrative. I think the clip show was his attempt to compromise between a completely unsatisfying recap and a time-consuming blow-by-blow, and the troll battle with Hanno got a whole chapter because in some ways it was more important than the tactical side. I wasn’t super happy with the way the chapter turned out, but I don’t see how EE could have done better without spending a lot more time on what amounts to a secondary plot thread. Besides, to my mind that conclusion and the ensuing “oh shit” moment were awesome enough to forgive a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Ca$hMoney

    Frankly, it times like this where Black cares far more about making himself look clever and winning fights than about being “practical”.

    Like, he just cut off Procer from Callow entirely save for one very inconvenient entry point. He could have just done that and he’d be golden.

    Oh… oh… you want to invade Procer? You want to leave your defensive position and invade a gigantic fucking country with a limited army, a far larger army right in your face, no avenue for retreat or method of resupply, while your boss is probably very seriously considering firing you like you got caught doing meth in the bathroom?

    Like, Bonfire might have worked out because Catherine can portal anywhere she wants and minimize her casualties. You can’t. You have to fight an enemy on their home turf and very likely get whittled down by attrition, assuming you don’t just get beaten in a battle. Then your country will be out a couple legions, a couple named, and very possibly their only dragon.

    I’m sure it makes sense from the perspective of Black’s personal dick measuring contest with the Heavens. But this isn’t exactly good for Praes, you know? Malicia was right to want to drop his ass.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In any conventional analysis I absolutely agree, cutting off your own avenue of retreat is a boneheaded move.

      But remember, we’re in narrative land. What’s the inevitable story of an army whose only avenue of retreat as just been cut off and who is up against a superior invading force?

      Yeah, the Procerans won’t find this an easy fight.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ca$hMoney

        But remember, we’re in narrative land. What’s the inevitable story of an army whose only avenue of retreat as just been cut off and who is up against a superior invading force?

        That is not what this is. They’re not a desperate force grimly marching through enemy territory to survive. They’re an invading force of marauders come to burn and pillage and smugly pat eachother on the backs about how cool they are while doing it. That is not a story that ends happily for the bogans doing the invading.

        Liked by 1 person

            1. Sparsebeard

              Except that Black doesn’t need to pander to the local populace since he’s not trying to liberate proceans on the long term so he won’t distribute his supplies.

              Also, Procer hasn’t had time to institute the scorched earth policy Lohengramm did.

              And I’d be very surprised if Black splits his forces the way the FPA did.

              Finally, Procer is taken by surprise while Lohengramm PLANNED to be invaded and his troops were ready to react.

              Also, in the battle of Armistar it was the democratic “good guys” invading the space nazis’ empire…

              Liked by 1 person

    2. burdi

      But its has another story isnt, not about The Black Knight invading principate but more like he just want to retreat back but doesnt have another route.

      “Our supply lines are cut, the full muster of Papenheim’s reunited army is less than a day away and our only paths for retreat involve months of marching through enemy territory.”

      So the story maybe more about “retreat through enemy territory” than “invading the enemy”
      and a story is the lay of creation so its not full villain, just doesnt have another way to retreat, its fundamentally different with bonfire

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Jane

      Like, he just cut off Procer from Callow entirely save for one very inconvenient entry point. He could have just done that and he’d be golden.

      While I agree with the rest of your comment to a degree (it’s a terrible strategy, until he reveals some undisclosed advantage or hidden aim… But we know he must have one, because he’s not a big enough idiot to consider this elsewise), I do have to say that this would be unlikely to work.

      If they collapsed the passes early, the Gods Above would just find a way to blast through the ruins anyway, and leave them without some really strong fortifications. They cheat like that. By “disguising” it as the collateral damage of a Narratively Important battle, however, it has enough “weight” that the Gods can’t just handwave it away as easily – if the Crusade just happened to stumble upon a mage who was just coincidentally researching a new pass clearing spell, for instance, it would cheapen the earthshattering nature of the Witch/Warlock fight.

      Besides, if Procer wasn’t mustering an army strong enough to crack through the Vales, they’d send them after weaker targets – like supporting the army sent after the Stairway, or using their ally’s fleets to start landing forces on the coast of Callow. This was one of the few places that they could hope to fight such a large army, with so many Heroes, and not be annihilated for it. Even then, it really wasn’t a win – but it was enough to blunt the threat they represent, at least a little, and slow the Crusade’s momentum. Which might not sound that significant, but once Crusades start to stall, people start pulling out.

      All in all, it was a good place to make a stand, before breaking it once things started to look lost. Waste the enemy’s time and manpower where and when you can, as best you can. Even if it’s not exactly a good trade, maybe the pressure will give you an opening later.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Dylan Tullos

        Jane:

        The Crusade’s momentum hasn’t slowed. Black has invaded a Good nation with his Legions of Terror, and now the Crusaders get to fight him in the open field, rather than trying to grind their way through the Vales.

        If he’d simply wrecked the passes and retreated into Callow, their momentum would be lost, and they’d have to struggle to make a new plan. As it is, their greatest enemy has come out to fight, and their strategy has been simplified to “everyone swarm Black”.

        Like

        1. Jane

          I am, admittedly, assuming that Black does have some idea as to how to withdraw after accomplishing… Whatever it is he’s trying to accomplish here. Either way, though, the Crusade went quite quickly from “Glorious unstoppable advance” to “The advance is decisively cut off, and now we’re being raided” – that’s a pretty big stall, in my opinion, unless they capitalize on their naval advantages.

          Besides, given that they could barely stop Warlock from inadvertently crushing the Legions outright, I don’t really know that they could have ensured that they were on the right side of the destruction – especially since if they had that kind of control over how things would go, they would no doubt have preferred to split the Crusader army in two in the process, and destroy the half stuck with them.

          Like

          1. Dylan Tullos

            Jane:

            I also have no idea what Black is trying to accomplish.

            However, I do know what the Crusaders are trying to accomplish. They’re trying to kill the Dread Empire’s leaders, destroy their armies, and ensure that Praes can’t threaten to rest of Calernia.

            The whole point of advancing was to attack those leaders and armies. If Black is going to march into Procer with the Legions of Terror, then there’s no point in grinding their way through the Red Flower Vales; the Carrion Lord has chosen to fight on his enemy’s home ground, with no method of retreat, and no access to reinforcements.

            Victory isn’t measured purely in terms of ground taken or lost. A third of Black’s army is already dead, Pappenheim is right next to him, and the armies of the Levant are available to reinforce the Principate. By coming out into the open, Black has gambled everything, and the Crusaders aren’t going to give up and go home when they finally see a chance to destroy the Carrion Lord and his Legions of Terror.

            Like

            1. Jane

              As I’ve said elsewhere in this comment section, I consider Black’s proposal, as presented, patently foolish – I just think that means that we’re not being shown the full picture, and that Black has something up his sleeve that the readers aren’t being shown yet. For things to be otherwise would contradict Black’s portrayal as a brilliant leader in a way that the readers would find implausible without proper foreshadowing.

              I mean, even if he wasn’t a high-profile target, he’s in no position to invade anything.

              Like

              1. > As I’ve said elsewhere in this comment section, I consider Black’s proposal, as presented, patently foolish – I just think that means that we’re not being shown the full picture, and that Black has something up his sleeve that the readers aren’t being shown yet. For things to be otherwise would contradict Black’s portrayal as a brilliant leader in a way that the readers would find implausible without proper foreshadowing.

                > I mean, even if he wasn’t a high-profile target, he’s in no position to invade anything.

                I suppose it’s possible there isn’t a sufficiently clever card up Black’s sleeve and what’s going on here from the author is a narrative maneuver to get Black out of the way so that Cat is on her own.

                Like

                1. Jane

                  Eh, in that case, I’d expect a grim-faced Black talking about how their strategic position is untenable after they ended up on the wrong side of the destroyed pass, and discussing how they can do as much damage as possible to the Crusade on their way out.

                  It’d accomplish the same result without making Black look like an idiot.

                  Like

              2. Procer has its own breadbaskets… and, even if Black doesn’t have Warlock, he has a dragon.

                In a way, this is actually The War of the Breadbaskets, and always has been. For him, at least. Making Procer panic over the vulnerable state of its own renewable resources, for once, <em<is a valuable goal for him.

                Making Callow too damned hard to fight over, yet too important to ruin to the bedrock means the power of the politics has a chance to shift the narrative from the age old tug of war between Good and Evil Empires to something else that can ultimately benefit not just Callow, Procer and Praes, but the whole region.

                At a cost.

                Like

            2. Matthew

              Black doesn’t mind if they kill him.

              What he wants is for Callow to survive as a trading partner with Praes, and for Praes under Malicia to survive.

              He is more than willing to trade his own death to protect these two institutions.

              This is what he’s doing.

              He is dragging the Crusader narrative away from attacking Callow and Praes to “defeat the Black Knight.”

              That’s his objective. He wants the Crusaders to burn their heavenly victory card defeating him on Proceran soil.

              Remember Praes isn’t a threat to the rest of Calernia, even the Liesse thing was a fundamentally defensive gambit by Malicia.

              Like

              1. You might be right that this is another sacrifice play by Black. The problem is that Black is supposed to think rationally, and he’s too valuable a card to Praes for him to accept sacrificing himself unless there’s no other option with any hope of success.

                Like

                1. Matthew

                  I don’t think he sees his own death as a necessity.

                  He could be “foiled” and live and this would count as a crusader victory.

                  I just think he sees this attack not strategically but narratively.

                  The problem for Praes is that they’ve been winning too long so they always knew that a Crusade was going to have a lot of narrative weight behind it.

                  Black wants to bleed the Crusade of its narrative force. Part of that is allowing it victories, but Black is trying to give them meaningful narrative victories that preserve his strategic goals.

                  He doesn’t care if Callow breaks free under the Liesse accords as long as it still feeds Praes. He doesn’t care if Malicia survives as long the Praes of Institutions does.

                  Like

            3. Metrux

              You seem to put contradictory words to your own ideas. You yourself says that victory isn’t measured in terms of ground taken or lost, but fail to notice Black is NOT one of main targets. Oh, surely he is A target, but the only reason he is a target, differenty from, let’s say, the Tyrant of Hellike or the Dead King, is because he is defendind Callow and Praes. It may be a very strategically win to defeat him now, while he fights inside Procer, but this is not a strong narrative win, since the true targets are Cat, Malicia and the Tower itself, because they must stop them from raising and any other super weapons they may have or come to possess.

              As I mentioned in other comments before, I don’t think Procer will be able to trully win against Black anyway, but even a win wouldn’t be that good for them, since this is a loss of time, dealing with a non-liked countries internal problems instead of going after their targets, just after two major losses that will already stall the advances. So, yes, this is considered stalling even if one minor objective is to kill Black.

              Liked by 2 people

        2. Forrest

          and “everyone swarm Black!” is a terrible idea in this Narrative driven world. As Ranker said, their only escape has been cut off, their only way back is to fight their way through Procer, and try for one of really only two ways out. One of which is likely taking a bit of a large scale sail, which is unlikely to happen in a subtle fashion. The other is to go to Stairway, which will be a long trek fraught with lots of resistance and potentially a returning army to greet them on the way out.

          Then Black pointed out they were “Free.” Free how? He says from defending Callow, but what else? Free from under Malicia’s thumb for a little while? Remember, he didn’t want this, and she brought it on their heads, and has been extremely antagonistic towards him and Cat ever since it came to light what she had done. Being Free from that, and being stuck in a hostile land while out numbered and out powered… What sort of Story does that form? Sounds like some new and fresh opportunities are opening up for someone who was once stuck in a static and rigid role before to me.

          Narrative holds too much importance to write it off so casually.

          Liked by 1 person

    4. stevenneiman

      He’s not trying to win. He’s trying to make the Princes throw a tantrum and demand that Cordelia sue for peace no matter how large her tactical advantage really is. Sure, her badass uncle might understand that these setbacks are temporary, but all the Assembly sees is that not only are the not getting the quick, easy victory they expected , but one of those non-victories is turning into something that’s trashing their precious cities that they aren’t used to seeing trashed, and probably doing it with goblinfire because Black does not mess around. This after decades of peace aside from one thing Cordelia knows but cannot prove was a Praesi attempt to mess with them. It doesn’t matter how overwhelming the Proceran tactical advantage is if Cordelia’s support base backs out because they see nothing but her kicking the hornet nest and them getting stung. And considering Black’s usual “disaster drumbeat” technique, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s set up to give at least one more painful sting even when his forces are boxed in and hopeless, and make it look like he can keep going.

      Liked by 1 person

    5. Metrux

      1. Black didn’t originally plan to have the pass blocked, it may seem like this because of his wording (exactly what he wants, to seem like it was all according to plan), but he is actually making the best of a difficult situation, and may very well be a better option than trying to retreat through to pass or making another way back, which would give the Crusade another way in.
      2. Malicia didn’t try to “drop his ass”, he dropped her because she did something entirely stupid and STARTED THIS CRUSADE. I really can’t see why you can side with her in this. I mean, both of them were wrong, but she was clearly the worst of the two.
      3. He is not a Hero, a Villain doesn’t get to defend his lands and get the last laugh. But, we do see many stories that begin with “And thus this land X was conquered by the Villain Y, making life hell for Z generations, until our hero was born”. As such it’s completely comprehensible why he has a Conquer Aspect, no?

      Now, for last and most important than any of the other points: Please trust the writer. You’re already judging something that didn’t even happen, from a writer that continuously breaks our suspicions in inventive and delightfull ways. Have some trust and simply enjoy the story, please :3

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thing is, Black kind of is defending his land. And, always has been. Amadeus (farmboy of the Green Folds) is trying to ease the over-farming (even with blood sacrifices, there’s a limit) while giving breadbaskets of the whole region enough power and independence to sell to those with both the coin and need over those who simply place boot to throat in the gods’ game of checkers.

        Even the farmers in Procer’s breadbaskets would benefit…… in the longer term.

        Like

  11. John Laing

    If the Legions of Terror are no longer occupying the Red Flower Vales (or what’s left of them), Catherine might be able rebuild some fortifications at her end and thereby claim that key defensive choke point is now part of “the territory under the rule of the Queen in Callow” and thus covered by the truce deal.

    Like

  12. Alegio

    Black you magnificent bastard!
    The attack on procer wil either work only for a little while or work only when Cat needs him the most, wathever is most important for the plot at the moment.

    Hope you get better Errati! Lots of liquids and some chicken soup work best in my experience. 😀

    Like

  13. HardcoreHeathen

    I’m glad you’re feeling well enough to update!

    However, I can’t help but notice that this chapter feels like part of a trend. More and more, lately, I’ve noticed that battles and other dramatic events are told to the readers, instead of shown. Getting the dramatic event as an after-the-fact conversation robs it of drama – I already know Black lives, I already know he wins, because if he hadn’t, then the conversation wouldn’t be going the way it did.

    Like

    1. Metrux

      It’s because those are not THE important bits, I think. The books are only growing bigger, and, as an author, he has to take into consideration how much effort he can put into each part of the story. Sure, he could transform this into ten books instead of five… But would it trully be better, because we can see very single part of it? No, it would probably get tiring, because the plot can’t move forward. Actually, there already is people claiming the plot is moving too slowly. I don’t mind, and by your reply, you don’t aswell, but this is not a story writen for the two of us, is it? :3

      So, while he shows us all of Cat’s confrontations, most of what happens on the side needs to be curtly shown, if shown at all.

      Like

      1. HardcoreHeathen

        I agree with the comment about pacing. However, my point is this: you shouldn’t hype up an event and then not show the event. We spent just as many words *talking* about what happened here as would have been spent *showing* what happened. And while there was some effort to do a “flashback perspective,” like with the Legate bowing and scraping to the dragon, doing that is inherently not as interesting as showing the event “live.”

        Like

  14. Dylan Tullos

    This is actually the worst idea I’ve ever heard of.

    Pappenheim’s army is still waiting for Black, and they outnumber the Legions under his command two to one. The armies of the Levant are moving through southern Procer, so they’re in position to attack Black as he advances. The Crusaders will be operating in friendly territory, with full access to reinforcements and supplies, while Black will be fighting on hostile ground that his opponents know better than he does. If the Crusaders lose, they’re free to retreat and regroup; if Black loses, the Crusader cavalry will run down and slaughter his entire army.

    Black is supposed to be a genius, but this is incredibly, unbelievably dumb.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ca$hMoney

      Black is supposed to be a genius, but this is incredibly, unbelievably dumb.

      Black is supposed to be a genius, especially to Black and everyone around him. Even people who are legitimately smart can succumb to groupthink and the Dunning-Kruger effect and just blindly bumblefuck their way into disaster based on their self-assurance that they’ll work everything out somehow.

      I mean, just look at how Black is acting, him Grem and Ranker just putting eachother on the backs and smirking over how clever they are like this is just some zany scheme. I imagine the people who organized Fire Festival had this same sort of brazen, booze soaked arrogance to them.

      I think this is a good time to point out that I don’t recall if we’ve ever seen Black in a situation where he hasn’t had a significant advantage over his opponent on a tactical or strategic level, or has had superior brute force or some “You’re already dead” trick up his sleeve . Aside from the narrative being a pain in his ass, he’s always been the one with the power.

      I can see why someone like that might think this is a good idea. He’s gotten so used to beating people that the fact that he’s putting himself at an enormous disadvantage on every level occurs to him.

      Like

      1. Alegio

        Now in any other world that would be true but being copletely outnumbered by a force thats trying to conquer your country and have it attack you when you are at your worst is just the kind of thing that gives an easy win here.

        Remember that Black is the one that teached Cat about how to use a story for your advantage.

        Like

        1. Ca$hMoney

          I don’t recall him teaching her to be so monomaniacally obsessed with the story on every level that you completely ignore the actual material reality of your situation. Relying entirely on gaming the system instead of succeeding on your actual merit and competence is the exact opposite of practical.

          Something has to give, the story can’t be the one single all important factor that literally everything in the story hinges on. Armies and logistics and strategy need to come into play at some point. Or else all of those things are completely pointless anyway.

          Like

          1. Someguy

            Actually, Black didn’t teach Cat anything regarding the Narrative. He just threw her into the deep end and have her find her own way to minimise intellectual blindspots. Gaming the system is what Cat learned on her own against Lone Swordsman and Contrition. She then built her tactics based on that.

            Like

      2. Metrux

        I think you’re misunderstanding? Black is only recently a trully strong force, for most of his life he was actually the underdog. He is weak in his personal powers, he had less troops and support during the Praes civil war, and had several disadvantages when invading Callow. That is, actually, WHY he is considered a genius. Not because he has clever ideas or he is the better commander (he himself admits Grem is smarter), but because he can win even through fire and flames, he trods through rough bettlefields and pays the cost for all victories. That is also a way in which Cat is his student, even though she pays herself, he pays in man and resources.

        Now, it may be true that real smart people do things like that, but this is not reality. It’s very far from reality, actually. Since this is a narrative word, the more is said a person is smart, the better his plans will go, even when they don’t make sense, because the narrative is on his side. Besides the simple point that in any story something clearly mental and unenthusiastic such as this would be boring. So, I’m prety sure they aren’t having this kind of problem.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Matthew

      Black wants to be defeated.

      He is forcing the Crusaders to employ their heavenly victory card defeating him on Proceran soil.

      This keeps callow and Praes proper safe.

      His end goal is something like Praes being the Kingdom of the dead. Exists, acknowledged as evil, but no one tries to invade it anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Lampshade

      Black has two aspects that can be turned to strategic purpose, now that he is on the invading side. Even 100k against 16, he could run circles around them, without factoring that he might know about the Tyrant’s troops and about whatever Malicia is cooking up with the Dead King or how she will play the fallout of stairway in the assembly.

      Finally, I would be careful about pulling the superior mobility card against a dragon, even if he didn’t just murder most of their horse.

      Like

    1. Jane

      Eh… The relationship between them is rather… Strained, though. I mean, she did stab him the last time she saw him.

      I mean, she’d totally rescue him if it came to that? But I don’t think Black would count on it, nor Cat consider it a given.

      Like

      1. To be fair, he stabbed her, too. Just as literally — and, she also gained for it, just as he has. They have that kind of father-daughter reciprocal relationship: no pain, no gain.

        When either truly needs the other, you can practically bet on them helping out. Regardless of the cost.

        Like

  15. Someguy

    One thing no one has mentioned is poor Legate Obasi and the rest of the 10th Legion. Who the fuck did they piss off to be stuck on dragon wrangling duty?

    Like

    1. stevenneiman

      I’ve said this in a couple of other places, but I’m pretty sure that what Black is doing is trying to scare the Highest Assembly into demanding peace. If they do, Cordelia won’t be able to force them into line without recalling her armies, so either way Procer is out of the war if he can convince them the war is going worse than it is, and I’m pretty sure that every other force is only there because Procer promised to do the heavy lifting, so if Procer surrenders the whole Crusade should fall apart.
      Which is to say, I’m pretty sure this is closer to Bonfire than a counter-invasion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Rook

        What puts me on edge is that Black claimed no villain could survive the kind of heroic focus a plan like bonfire would bring. No exceptions made or ifs made there, not even for himself or monsters like Ranger.

        The trouble with Black isn’t that he isn’t capable of indefinitely surviving, it’s that it’s not his highest priority. He treats everyone including himself like a piece on the board in his pissing contest against the Heavens, and if sacrificing his own piece let’s him put out one of Heaven’s eyes? He’ll likely walk into certain death without hesitation.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Argentorum

          This isn’t Bonfire though. Bonfire was an “Evil Invasion of Ultimate Evilness and killing the poor defenseless farmers and avoiding Just Retribution how Evil!” level plan. What Black is doing here instead seems more like it’s going to be Sherman’s March to the Sea. That is, a clear attack that can be met with conventional forces that the Gods Above already have on hand. Bonfire is dangerous to Cat because it’s using a trump card right from the start, and there are no tools on hand to address it, meaning that the Gods Above will make tool to end the threat of Bonfire specifically, and in doing so deprive Cat of several advantages she would need to win the fight, because they are also necessary to do Bonfire in the first place.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. stevenneiman

          I meant that it’s like Bonfire in terms of causing damage enough to intimidate the Highest Assembly. The reason why the actual Bonfire plan wouldn’t have worked is because it relies on a villainous keystone in the form of Cat creating the fairy gates. Here black gets the benefit of leading, conquering and destroying but he isn’t personally indispensable and therefore isn’t as profoundly vulnerable as Cat would be in a similar case.

          Like

  16. Raved Thrad

    I loved watching Black play chess with the Heavens (the Procerans are just proxies) and get them so riled up they basically tried to flip the board. And when the preceding move was played out, suddenly we see Black checking the king or, rather, in this case, the Prince.

    Seeing as how Black’s three Aspects are Lead, Conquer, and Destroy, and we’ve seen him lead and conquer here, what is his Name driving him to destroy? If not Procer itself (I doubt he has the numbers), then I can think of only two targets that make this all worthwhile: Hasenbach herself, or the one hero we _know_ stayed behind in Procer: the Augur.

    It may seem contrived, but Black might consider blinding the Proceran side, by removing the Augur, well worth whatever casualties might be inflicted on his pet Legions.

    As I was reading the descriptions of the destruction of the Vales, though, I couldn’t help but feel for Cat. Where’s her Vale Summer wine going to come from now? The price of the stuff is going to skyrocket.

    Then again, if she has enough of a stockpile, she could sell the stuff off and make a killing. That is, if she’s willing to deny herself her biggest remaining vice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevenneiman

      Now that you mention the Augur I’m wondering what Hasenbach is doing here. She has the Augur so I don’t think the way this side of the battle would play out could actually be a surprise to her, and yet I can’t imagine it not being a disaster for her politically when word gets out that not only was the Proceran army held back for months by a force half its size, the remains of that force are now free to pillage the Proceran countryside and scare her allies.

      Like

      1. Raved Thrad

        Ok, thanks to that comment, now I want to see Catherine and Wekesa duke it out over their tastes in wine. Who would you get to referee it, though? According to Wekesa, Black is similarly pedestrian in his tastes.

        Like

      1. Raved Thrad

        Blargh. You have now sussed out that I am geographically challenged. Fact: I once got lost on the way to the toilet while staying over at a friend’s house.

        Like

  17. Duke

    “Ranker shook her head, the two of them standing under a *moonless night* as…”

    At least somebody is watching out for them!

    Like

  18. ALazyMonster

    Anyone else want the next interlude to be from the Tyrant of Helike’s perspective and be how he is setting the southern half of Procer on fire (maybe?). I just want to see each of the fronts of the war really. The insane little shit is one of my favorite minor characters.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Metrux

      I agree, though it seems he didn’t enter the war yet, I very much want to see him in battle, with all his crazy and classic villainy xD

      Like

    2. stevenneiman

      I don’t think we should have it from his perspective, as it would somewhat ruin the fun of trying to guess what by all the Hells is actually going on in his head. I quite like the way EE’s been doing it so far, with chapters from Anaxares’ perspective, trying desperately to return to something he understands when the only order he respects is that he’s not allowed to be what he thinks of himself as. I like how Anaxares’ chapters have that strange blend of the surreality of his own perspective coupled with being just as baffled as us readers at what Kairos is doing.

      Like

      1. ALazyMonster

        He was reported walking through the forest that refuge is in which supposedly means it’s likely that he is heading for Procer.

        Like

  19. Oh dear, the Crusade is really going to enter a new phase now…and still no sign of the Bard, thus the worst remains to be seen…

    The Heavens have really a way to screw the odds and shatter reality, aren’t they? But this time, they played with someone who really, really like to cheat.
    Overall, it is a major defeat for the Tenth Crusade. It is now an open question which action will take more time: getting rid of these mountains who got shattered by the magical duel or the cease-fire Catherine negotiated.

    It also raises a question which makes me shiver: how much powerful exactly was Dread Empress Triumphant?
    The Witch of the Woods is half-trained and no Gigantes. The Dread Empress (may she never returns) went to war against their whole nation and their Named. Warlock didn’t manage to get rid of the Witch for now, and he went really at full power.
    Triumphant must really have been something else compared to the other Masters of the Tower…

    Overall, there are going to be screams at the Highest Assembly. Two more heroes and 8 000+ dead in a single day, the Vales utterly wrecked and no enemy General killed is really not something you can sell to your public as a victory. Especially when the largest Prasi raiding force is coming your way….

    Hanno tried his great cavalry ride into the sunset. He failed and he caused the deaths of many, many men, even with all the Heaven advantages he was granted. The White Knight is definitely inferior to the Black Knight in every way which matters.

    Now the Empire has stopped playing on the defensive. It is well-known, after the first turn…
    the Empire strikes back!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. me.me.here

      We know exactly where the Bard is going to show up next, actually. She’s going to appear at her trial. It’s a foreshadowed event in the Free Cities, and is likely to be the catalyst for what the Free Cities are going to do under Hierarch. We know that the previous interaction between Anaxares and Bard was something that prompted some form of character development on his part, so the next step is to show us what that development is. The trial is a good stage for that, as well as an opportunity for Bard to start talking and promoting her viewpoint to the populace at large, which is what the Heavens’ best move is now that they’ve been sucked into the Free Cities/Bellerophon narrative of doing as the people will.

      Like

  20. 1queenofblades1

    Everyone talking about how Black going behind enemy lines is a mistake, no one talking about how Cat has the Observatory and can come riding in with the Hunt and Knights to the rescue when he needs it most.

    Like

  21. I don’t see how Black can go on the offensive here. He has 16,000 troops to Papenheim’s 40,000, less than a day’s march away. You can *defend* against superior numbers, but taking the offensive is suicidal. He might be able to raid around for a while, but the moment Papenheim forces him to give battle, he’s done for.

    Like

    1. Argentorum

      Remember, the first step always works. If Black has a “Plan”, then the first step only has to be “Steal a March on Papenheim” which fits neatly with the composition of his forces (professional soldiers vs levies and mercenaries). On top of this, Hanno road a great deal of Klaus’s cavalry to death in his “victorious” counter attack.

      So, he’ll avoid battle long enough to make one move, maybe two. The important part is making sure the execution of those moves gives him what he needs.

      Like

  22. edrey

    let me see this for a second, one host in callow months away of procer, levant host is in the south with a lake between them and procer heartlands, the final and closest host just its cavaldry and they levies are slow as cat had noted
    the legions will invade procer and there is not true defender to stop them , on the other hand cat will have a talk with cordelia and make contact with the prince of cantal
    the only thing missing is the third country defeat,

    Like

  23. RanVor

    Ok, that’s what I would do if I was Black:

    An army of sixteen thousand in the middle of enemy territory without a route to retreat has an average life expectancy of a fly. But this is true only if the army is a coherent fighting force fit to fight an all-out battle. Therefore I would split the Legions into a large number of marauding parties strong enough to overwhelm patrol forces and village defences, but small enough to avoid large enemy forces, and order them to disperse over a large area.

    Marauding parties are much quicker and more mobile than armies, so they’d be able to escape the initial pursuit quite easily. I’d make sure that every party has at least one mage, to ensure that coordination is maintained by the means of scrying, and a few goblins for scouting purposes. I’d order them to take as much of the supplies they come across as they can and raze everything else to the ground, and task a few larger groups with harassing the supply lines, just to troll Papenheim with scorched earth tactics on his own home turf. The army the size of Iron Prince’s is a powerful but incredibly unwieldy tool. Before he gets his forces organized into effective hunting detachments, half of the Principate is going to be on fire, and when that happens, I’d use my superior coordination through scrying to consolidate all the parties in the region into an interception force to cripple the hunting detachment, and then disperse again.

    I would continue with this plan until one of two things happens:
    1. The Assembly tears Hasenbach a new one for instigating this epic fail called the Tenth Crusade, or
    2. Papenheim’s forces get too effective in hunting my own,
    at which point I’d order the full retreat of all the parties and try to sneak away through the border with Helike while concentrating all the efforts on not getting caught.

    I’m not a great strategist like Black or Grem, but I think those two would come up with a way for this to work.

    Like

    1. Dylan Tullos

      RanVor:

      Cavalry would kill everyone.

      Infantry can stand up to cavalry charges in large, tightly packed groups. By definition, marauding parties are small, and they’re scattered too widely to support each other. Cavalry is faster than infantry, and they’re operating in friendly territory.

      What would actually happen is option #3:

      Black splits his army into raiding companies. Pappenheim splits his cavalry into companies. Procer’s cavalry slaughters the scattered legionaries.

      Pappenheim’s forces would be instantly effective if Black split his army into tiny pieces that the cavalry could murder piecemeal. A raiding strategy depends on superior mobility, and that belongs to the side with superior cavalry.

      Like

  24. edrey

    you forgot the augur, a attack no fast enough would fail and the heroes would tear any plan down so the best is burn down salia and scape to arcadia

    Like

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