Chapter 23: Recoup

“Take no comfort in that, hero. For though dawn ever comes, night ever does precede it.”
– Dread Empress Regalia II

“Well, this is a fine fucking mess,” I frowned.

The reports had been unfortunately delayed, mostly by the fact that the Red Flower Vales were apparently now the Red Flower Mountains. Only with brimstone instead of granite, because why would Warlock just make it a little bit worse when he could make thoroughly worse? If those things cracked open and devils started pouring out, I was going to be cross. That the current location of Masego’s father was still unknown did not improve the situation in the slightest, since it meant I had no idea whether he was still guarding the region or not.

“The passes are closed,” Hakram said. “Strategically, that is a victory. The only way into Callow is the northern passage, and it will be barred for at least six months.”

I flicked a glance at the tall orc, still basking in the satisfaction of having him by my side again. It never seemed quite as bad, when Adjutant was with me. He’d arrived only a few days after the peace conference, and remained with us as the Army of Callow escorted the crusaders back up north. It’d been a month since the Battle of the Camps now, since I’d snatched a peace from the butchery and put ink to what might quite possibly be my own death warrant.  I shook my head and reached for the small silver thimble at my side, knocking back the brandy in a single swallow.

“I don’t mean that,” I said. “I mean whatever the Hells he’s up to.”

I touched the bottom of the thimble to the unfolded map occupying much of the desk we were sharing. The map itself was ours, but nothing else in this room was. This was the private solar of the Baroness of Harrow, who’d insisted we use it while we stayed in her keep. The liberation of her ancestral lands had apparently put me in her good books. That, or seeing me drop a lake on an army had made her reconsider her stance on royal taxation even though the Pilgrim had knocked me the fuck out after barely ten heartbeats. The silver thimble was touching the edge of the Principality of Bayeux, where news now a fortnight old had Black and his legions sacking towns for supplies on their march west.

“Well, at a glance,” Hakram drily said, “invading Procer.”

“With fifteen thousand men?” I sceptically said. “We’re not even sure he has siege with him. Even if he somehow starts taking cities without engines he can’t hold them.”

While on the surface the Tenth Crusade had tried to enter Callow and twice found the door shut on its fingers, the situation was a lot less promising than it appeared at first glance. The map held a handful of figurines standing for armies and their last reported locations, and the picture they painted was not pleasant. The three Proceran hosts we knew well: one down south in Tenerife guarding the border with the League, one marching out of northern Callow according to truce terms and the last, unfortunately, still camped in front of the Vales. Digging through the wreckage to reopen the pass. That alone would be bad, since the Jacks told me Papenheim should have between forty to fifty thousand soldiers under his command.

What was making it much, much worse was the Dominion of Levant was joining the fray. Half a year ago, Thief had passed me a report estimating they’d send an army about thirty thousand men. She’d been right, in a way. There was an army of that size marching to reinforce Papenheim. Unfortunately, there was also a second one by the shore of Lake Louvant – the massive lake in the centre of the Procer – currently preparing to embark on barges. Its destination was, allegedly, Salia. The seat of the First Prince, the capital of the Principate. And where Black would be headed if he continued to march in a straight line. At a guess, every single garrison in central Procer would be pulled together into a ramshackle army then swelled by the Levantines before they threw all of that at Black’s fifteen thousand. The result seemed fairly obvious, veteran legions or not.

“It is an unusual gamble, by my understanding of the man,” Adjutant conceded. “If those legions are lost, the Empire is crippled.”

“That’s a pretty way to put it,” I grunted. “More honest is that without those men on the field, Praes is left so bare even we could feasibly invade it.”

Odds weren’t good for a reverse of the Conquest, I’d admit. I was pretty sure I could break Malicia’s own legions on the field and seize most the countryside, but taking Praesi cities would be impossible without breaking my army. What I could do might still be enough for her reign to collapse, though, and that made it slightly tempting. Or would have, anyway, if there wasn’t a decent chance that by the time Papenheim’s army was done digging I’d be facing a host of eighty thousand men invading my kingdom. There was, to be blunt, no way the Army of Callow could beat them if they had heroes on their side, which they most certainly would. Not after the losses we’d taken at the Battle of the Camps.

“It may be safe to assume, then, that he does not intend to lose those men,” Hakram said.

“If he’d at least gotten Papenheim to chase him I’d sleep better at night, but the man stayed,” I sighed. “I mean, Gods, I see the strategic sense in it. The damage Black can actually do is limited, and if Callow falls the crusade is half-won. It’s still a damned cold call to make, though, basically writing off the heartlands of his own country.”

“We do not have a monopoly on ruthlessness,” the orc reminded me.

“It’d be a simpler war if we did,” I said. “But we have to face the facts, I suppose. Let’s be conservative and say it takes them four months to make a passage through the wreck. By that time, the Levantines will have reinforced them. They’ll invade together.”

The orc leaned over and filled my thimble for the second time this evening – he’d quietly claimed control of the bottle, perhaps for the best – before tending to his own.

“The Army of Callow will have largely recovered by then,” he said. “And Duchess Kegan has reinforced us.”

“The Deoraithe need to hold the northern passage, otherwise there’s a decent chance our truce gets shredded and the princes turn back,” I bluntly said. “It’s one thing to trust them with a sword in hand, another if the passage is left empty. No, down south we’ll be on our own.”

Hakram raised his sliver thimble.

“Dust and misfortune,” he said in Mthethwa.

I clinked mine against his.

“Doom pass you twice,” I replied, finishing the old Soninke toast and tossing back the brandy.

The harsh burn – Gods, this was rough stuff even by my standards – went down my throat pleasurably. I set the silver down.

“We’re not winning that battle,” I admitted. “Not against those numbers.”

“Then we seek an alternative,” Adjutant serenely said.

Not a hint of doubt there to be found. It felt like spring water for my soul. I snorted, and got to my feet.

“Not tonight,” I said. “It can wait until tomorrow. Get the others, I need to spend a few hours looking at something that’s not a godsdamned report in Vivienne’s chickenscratch.”

“By your command, Your Majesty,” Hakram drily replied.

He’d mouthed off, I noted, but took the bottle without my needing to tell him. Truly a prince among men, my Adjutant.

“You’re mad,” Archer said. “I knew you’d be mad. See, Zeze, it’s just like I told you.”

Hierophant frowned, smoothing his robes.

“You did not,” he noted. “You said, to be exact: ‘Trust me, Masego, she’ll love it. This will have no consequences whatsoever.’”

I eyed the dark-skinned mage with chagrin.

“And you believed her?” I asked.

“Trust is the foundation of a healthy friendship,” he told me. “I’ve acquired a book on the subject. Very informative.”

Hakram smothered a laugh by faking a coughing fit. Naturally, I elbowed him in the stomach. Questioningly. Considering how often I did that to him, he’d learned to tell apart the nuances.

“It’s actually a religious text from one of those love cults in southern Ashur,” the orc whispered, leaning towards me. “You know, the Face of Love folks? The real payoff is when he’ll get to those illustrated parts in the middle. Most lurid thing I’ve ever seen.”

“If he starts talking about sex rituals, you’ll be the one to clean up that mess,” I hissed back in a low voice. “I’ll use a royal decree if I have to.”

“It’s too far from Harrow to Baroness Ainsley’s personal property,” Vivienne considered out loud. “A household knight’s, maybe?”

“Hey, for all we know they’re already dead,” Indrani offered. “So no harm done, right?”

What had once been a lovely garden with stone benches and tasteful statues continued to burn down. A firepit with an entire stag roasting on a spit – another crime right there, I mused, we didn’t have hunting rights in the barony – had been dug in the heart of what’d previously been an elegant bed of flowers. I raised a finger, then put it down.

“All right, before I crack the whip I have to know,” I said. “I get why the pit is on fire, although Masego using hellfame seems like both horrible overkill and a good way to spoil the meat. But why are the trees on fire?”

“Zeze and I had a philosophical argument,” Indrani explained. “He’s a terribly sore loser.”

My gaze turned to Hierophant, who looked vaguely embarrassed.

“She dropped a branch on me,” he admitted. “And she’s quite good at avoiding fireballs.”

My brow rose.

“That’s seven trees, Masego,” I patiently said.

“I am the best at dodging,” Archer boasted without an ounce of shame in her body.

I closed my eyes and counted to five, then opened them.

“All right,” I said. “First, after we’re done here the two of you are going to rebuild this.”

“That’s fair,” Indrani said.

She had the look in her eyes of a woman fully prepared to lounge with a drink in hand while Masego did all the work.

“By hand,” I added. “Not a drop of magic involved.”

“Vivi, how would you like to be Queen of Callow?” Archer said without missing a beat. “I have ever been a sworn enemy of tyranny in all its forms.”

“Please,” Thief drawled. “Who’d be fool enough to want to rule this mess?”

Thank you, Vivienne, I thought, for your unflinching loyalty and support. Really warms the cockles of my heart in these trying times.

“You can’t be serious,” Masego said, glaring at me. “Manual labour?”

He spoke those words, I mused, in much the same tone other people spoke about raising the dead or your average black-hearted betrayal.

“You have hands, Zeze,” I said. “What do you think they’re for?”

“Oh, that was a mistake,” Hakram muttered.

Hierophant’s back straightened.

“According to the writings of Seljan Banu-” he began.

“According to the writings of Catherine Foundling, you’re doing it,” I interrupted flatly. “And the material costs are coming out of both your pay, split equally.”

“You don’t even pay us!” Archer protested.

I blinked in surprise.

“Of course I do,” I said. “All of you have been gathering general’s pay since Second Liesse. Indrani, you have a vault in Laure. I handed you the key myself, remember?”

“Yeah, but it was empty,” Archer said. “I thought you were just yanking my chain.”

“Fadila assures me I’ve been paid punctually,” Masego contributed hesitantly.

Indrani cast him a discrete look at the mention of his assistant.

“Mine was full, last I saw,” Hakram agreed.

Slowly, I turned to Thief. Who looked the very picture of maidenly innocence. I’ve seen you stab people, Dartwick, I thought. Pretty incompetently, but still. Try harder.

“Vivienne,” I said very mildly. “Have you been secretly robbing one of your beloved comrades for almost a year now?”

The dark-haired woman batted her eyes in lovely confusion.

“Masego’s book said that earthly possessions only distract from the holy principle of eternal love,” she said. “How could I let them burden such a dear friend?”

Archer let out a delighted cackle that would likely terrified any birds around into flight if the fire had not already done so. At first I was pleased they weren’t brawling in a garden they’d already set on fire, but then I frowned.

“Wait, Indrani, how have you been paying for your tavern crawls all this time?” I asked.

“I haven’t,” she cheerfully replied.

“They send the bills directly to the palace,” Hakram told me. “It’s under ‘sundry expenses’ in the treasury books.”

“I thought that was, like, bribes and stuff,” I faintly said.

The orc hummed.

“Well, I mean, from a certain point of view…”

I snatched the bottle out of his hands, a tithe for his perfidious treachery.

“All right, you incompetent gaggle of vandals,” I said. “Someone put out those trees. And get me a skewer of that stag, I want to find out how it tastes when you use hellfire to roast it.”

As it turned out, genuinely awful. By that time, though, we were too drunk to mind.

I found myself glaring blearily at the moon.

I’d rested my eyes for some time but never actually fallen asleep. Most the others had, though. Masego was seated on the ground, lying against a toppled stone bench. He was snoring very daintily, which brought the shadow of a smile to my face.  Indrani’s feet were on his lap, occasionally kicking his legs as she moved in her sleep. She’d made a pillow out of her cloak, indifferent to the chill of the night. Vivienne was draped in actual sheets, which appeared to be mine and from the palace to boot by the cloth of gold bordering them and the embroidered heraldry. She was utterly still in her sleep, and unlike the others I could feel she was only a sudden movement away from waking. I’d not brought cloak of my own, since the one I usually wore did have the soul of a foe inconveniently attached to it. Besides, I hardly minded the cold these days. I’d remained close to Hakram, but instead of a comfort the warmth that emanated from him had me feeling restless.

“Awake?” Adjutant said, moving slightly aside.

Ugh, he’d been a comfortable mattress even if he was way too warm. How dare he.

“Wasn’t quite asleep,” I said. “Just not thinking. Closest I get to slumber, some nights.”

“You should try anyway,” he said. “You’re always better, afterwards. More human.”

“Since when do you think so well of humans?” I snorted.

“They’ve grown on me over the years,” he gravelled.

“The opposite, for me,” I admitted, more honestly than I’d meant to.

“Not them you were glaring at,” Hakram pointed out.

I hummed.

“I still feel like destroying the moon, whenever I look at it too long,” I said. “I know it’s irrational, but it’s like having as stone in my boot. The boot in this terrible metaphor being my soul, probably? Let’s be honest, it’s not the worse thing that tattered old mess has been compared to.”

“Who knows?” he said. “It might be for the best if you do. There’s an old Praesi story about Dread Emperor Sorcerous having bound his soul to it, that he’s still scheming his final escape from death.”

“There’s a distressing amount of Tyrants with stories like that,” I noted. “We’re going to have to get around to cleaning up all those loose ends some day.”

“Probably just a story,” Hakram shrugged. “He was one of the better ones, anyway. Made a place for the shamans at his court, treated them with respect.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Didn’t he also try the sentient tiger army?”

“The Tower’s tried worse over the centuries,” he mused. “If he’d gotten the tigers to pay taxes afterwards, it might even have counted as a gain.”

That surprised a laugh out of me.

“Imagine having all that power,” I said. “And using it for a godsdamned tiger army. The more Praesi histories I read the less I understand the Empire.”

“Funny thing, power,” Adjutant gravelled. “Never quite as straightforward as you’d think.”

“Preaching to the choir there,” I said. “Used to think that if I could blow up a fortress with a snap of my fingers it would all be so much simpler. Now I can, and so very few of my problems can be solved by that.”

The orc shuffled against the bench.

“The Clans have few written histories,” he said. “Oral tradition is how we pass it all down.”

“Miezans did a number on your people, yeah,” I said. “I remember. They had that nasty habit when conquering places.”

“There was a great repository of scrolls in the lands of the Broken Antlers Horde, or so I was taught as a child,” Hakram murmured. “They put it to the torch. I suppose they had reason to, from where they stood.”

“The reasons of conquerors tend to be acceptable only to them,” I said.

In this, I spoke as Callowan.

“Not that,” Hakram said. “The scrolls, most of them were parchment. Human skin.”

I blinked in surprise.

“Your ancestors were certainly a charming bunch,” I said.

“They were what they were,” Adjutant said. “The tragedy, I think, is that we only remember the worst of them. The excesses. We were more, in the dawn of days. And when they ripped out the heart of us they made it so that we could never be that again.”

“It’s getting better, though, isn’t it?” I said. “I remember when I first joined the College. Seeing orcs read and write and talk, like…”

I hesitated.

“Like we were a people whole, and not the hissing shade of our heyday,” Hakram finished gently. “There is something taking shape, Catherine, that is true enough. But it is not what we once were. No more than Callow under your rule is the Callow of the old Alban kings.”

“That’s an old refrain, Hakram,” I said. “The same the Trueblood sang, and the rebels in Liesse. We only remember the golden parts of the good old days. They had their failings too. You can’t look at our own failures and match them to barely remembered victories. The comparison is false.”

“Oh, we were a terrible enough people in those days,” the orc murmured. “Glorious too, at times, but terrible always. But I was speaking of old stories. There is one I remember, that the old raiders past their prime would tell us when the snows kept us in our tents. It is a conversation, between the Warlord Gazog and her son. One of many, though few are remembered. We call it the Riddle of Power, learned from an ancient stele.”

I closed my eyes, leaning back against the stone.

“Tell me,” I said.

He remained silent for a moment, gathering his memories, and when he spoke it was in Kharsum cadenced.

“After her spear had broken and she had grown fat and grey from the tributes of mankind’s kings, Old Gazog took her young son to the great gathering of the thaw, where many clans assembled to trade and prepare the making of war,” he said. “With cups of blood-brew they sat beneath their banner in silence until the sun had passed. Under the dark sky, Old Gazog spoke this: my son, you have witnessed the multitude of our people before you. Young and old, warrior and chieftain, lorekeeper and bronzesmith. I ask you now, where lies power among them?”

Hakram’s voice lightened, as if he were a young boy of his kind.

“Honoured Mother, her son said. This is no riddle, for the answers has always been thus: it lies with chieftain and warlord, for their power is command over all. Old Gazog laughed, her teeth grown soft from many victories. Foolish son, she said. If their power comes from command, then how can their command come from power? How mighty is a chieftain, without obedience given?”

Adjutant clicked his fangs, and his were not soft at all.

“Old Gazog’s son pondered this, and saw her wisdom. In this he was enlightened, and so answered once more. Honoured Mother, he said, power then lies with the lorekeepers. For they hold much wisdom and learning, cunning and law, and in teaching it does their power manifest. Foolish son, she said. What is wisdom, without hand to carry it? Was it a word, without ear to hear it? But wind, and wind is no mother of glory.”

The orc’s voice grew rough.

“Honoured Mother you speak true, her son said,” Hakram said. “The birth of empire is bronze, and so power lies with the bronzesmiths for they alone know the secrets of fire and forge. They hold in their palm the source of war, and only in war can glory be found. Foolish son, said Old Gazog. You learn nothing. The whelping of fire is as wisdom, worthless without hand to wield it. Would a hoard of a thousand axe-blades bear the name of empire?”

He paused and I heard him lick his lips.

“Old Gazog’s son grew wroth, for he did not know of his foolishness. Hateful Mother, he said. You speak many words, yet deny all save the hand. Is this your wisdom, that an empire is naught but swing of blade? All the peoples of the world know this, and there can be no further learning of it. Foolish son, she said. Be silent if you cannot be wise. There is terrible truth beneath the riddle of power, and it I will reveal it to you now.”

Hakram went silent. I did not open my eyes.

“And?” I asked. “What did she say?”

The orc laughed harshly.

“No one knows,” he told me. “You see, the Miezans broke the stele.”

I heard him look up at the sky.

“Sometimes,” Hakram Deadhand said softly, “I think that a truer answer than what was written.”

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133 thoughts on “Chapter 23: Recoup

    1. Raved Thrad

      Unfortunately, it looks like “crush your enemies, see them fly before you, and hear the lamentation of their women” doesn’t seem to cut it for Catherine. Nauk, though, would probably nod his head and go, “Yes, that is what is good in life.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Rook

        I think it’s supposed to be ‘see them driven before you’. Seeing them fly before you might be less Conan the barbarian and more Conan the cat scaring a flock of birds

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          1. Unorginal

            Forget the movie, that’s a quote from Genghis Khan, Conan’s got nothing on the man who carved out the largest continuous land empire in history and waged wars with death counts that (together) matched the world wars in an age before industrialized warfare.

            Liked by 5 people

        1. Orc men HAVE to have small units. Think about if they didn’t for a second: Chloe would be mentioning orc junk being up in her face ALL THE TIME. And since Chloe doesn’t mention that, it means Hakim isn’t as hung as his frame would normally imply.

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  1. helpmeimscared

    Hm. Nice riddle, especially the ending.

    It’s the warriors, isn’t it? She said it right at the beginning. Guess Orcs might have been on the cusp of democracy before the Miezans came along.

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    1. Rook

      I’d say the answer didn’t change after the stele was broken. There is no deeper meaning or basis of what power is, power lies where you believe it is, or in another sense it doesn’t innately lie within anything at all.

      Between a warrior with a sword, or a scholar with a book, a rich man with a coin or a plain man with nothing with a title, who has power over the others? Simply whoever is believed to have power. It’s the exact reason why a frail and useless king can have absolute power over the strongest army to ever exist, but at the same time the greatest king that ever lived could be at the mercy of a bandit that doesn’t recognize his authority or title.

      Ironically enough, none of his answers were wrong; power can lie in every one of his guesses. At the same time, he was as wrong as he possibly could be, because power isn’t an innate quality. It simply lies where it’s placed.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. It’s not that either, according to Gazog’s son – “Is this your wisdom, that an empire is naught but swing of blade? All the peoples of the world know this.” Force of arms is an obvious form of power, but it’s not the whole story. If I were Gazog, I might say “Do the forgemasters only work when you put a knife to their throat? Do the warriors only obey their chieftain out of fear?”

      My answer would be that no single person or group is powerful. Power lies in the force that binds the nation together, the institutions and culture that make all these disparate pieces act as one.

      Since the Miezans broke the stele, perhaps the lesson is that even that has no true power – there will always be situations where your power is useless.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The greatest power in the world: enlightened self-interest. It can even find a way when beset by blind, short-termist stupidity (although idiots do do wonders as indiscriminate wrecking balls to their own and others’ survival).

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  2. Antoninjohn

    Winter joining their former enemy is not a story that works out well for the enemy, Cat is fea however and can be bound by oath so they might let her in if she promised to stand against Callow being part the country responsible for the Hell Gate and Still Water and not give them any support and to see those part of that county brought to justice ( death), the look on their faces after she swears it and revels that instead of it being a redemption story where she gives herself to the the jugement of the White Knight to bring Callow into the Grand Good Group it turns out that it was Procer all along as excuse to expand and steal more land once more from Callow

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  3. Gunslinger

    These slice of life chapters are always great fun but the introspective moments among them are the highlight. I love the riddle and the language used in it. Quite poetic.

    As for the answer not really sure but I guess it’s no one. It’s the collective story that people tell, and which arises organically, that defines who holds the power and what form that is.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Dainpdf

      That is more true of authority than of power. If you hold a lever, your power to lift things is multiplied. Power is a thing unto itself. It is more cause than caused. One might as well ask where time comes from, or thought.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Jane

    Hm. A traditional Human answer would be that power lay in the tribe as a whole (or its people, depending on how you want to parse it); that orders only matter when people listen to them, that wisdom and tools only matter when there are people to use them, and that people can only accomplish great works when they are well-lead and given the tools to carry them out. That the young can only thrive when they have the lessons of the old, and the old can only survive when there are young to carry on the next generation. It is a mistake to speak of the power of an individual, when the contributions of everyone are necessary to accomplish anything truly great; that is nothing more than empty vanity.

    But this is a very Human way of thinking of things. An Orc? They seem quite fixated on bonds of family, and so I think would likely give a similar answer, but I am no Orc; I could not say if they would think of things differently. Of course, the author isn’t either, but that’s beside the point.

    I do hope burning some nice gardens on a drunken lark doesn’t diminish Ainsely’s recent change of heart regarding her Queen. I mean, there’s about a 0% chance of that after having seen the Battle of Camps, but still – rude. At least wait a year until her unquestioned loyalty has time to settle in!

    Always nice to see the Woe get together for some quiet (?) fun together, but… Vivienne, exactly how long were you going to let this go on before revealing the punchline!? That’s kind of a long time to be drawing out a prank for! …And Indrani, I know you’re not exactly in it for the money, but, uh, did you really never think it might be nice to have a real salary?… …Or that that was really Cat’s sense of humor? My goodness, she’s almost as gullible as Masego…

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Interesting. In a way, it does make sense – power exists with the individual, on a micro level…
      I’d like to think this riddle builds up to the idea of a modern state, a la Leviathan. Power lies with the State, the sum of its people, culture, possessions, as represented, in the Orcs’ case, by the clan.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Dainpdf

    I like this chapter’s quote. It echoes the ideas Tarquin expresses in OOTS and which I brought up a few chapters ago.
    As for power… It doesn’t really come from a single source. Power is a thing in itself and it has many forms. Power is the ability to choose and impose one’s will upon reality.
    What I find more interesting is authority, power legitimized. That one is quite a paradoxical thing.

    Liked by 1 person

          1. Cicero

            Eh, I’m not a big D&D fellow but I enjoyed the humor. D&D is so influential on generic fantasy tropes that I got most of the jokes, and even the more D&D specific ones I had some insight into do to nerd knowledge osmosis.

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  6. Raved Thrad

    Looking at how chummy they’ve all become, even to passing off Vivienne robbing one of them blind as a joke, I couldn’t help but wonder if Catherine and Vivienne have braided each other’s hair yet. 😛

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Jane

        Nope, too late, we’ve been fed after midnight, and now there are ten thousand fanfics about VivAndri, VivAt, and VivAm. Just be happy we didn’t come up with strange Name-related puns for them all!

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Jane

            …I might have had a particular character on my mind, perhaps.

            Look, it was work enough mentioning that ships outside of Cat/Vivienne exist <_<;; .

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              1. Jane

                Oh, the Blind Shot has so much comedic potential, it practically writes itself 🙂 ! They have great chemistry together, too, even if neither of them really have a concept of “romance”.

                But, well, this whole thing started out by mentioning Cat and Vivienne, so my first thoughts were around those two 😛 .

                Liked by 2 people

          1. Jane

            My first thought was Thieving Cat, actually, but… Well, that’s only half a name pun 😦 . I can’t really think of a complimentary way to phrase a thieving squire or duchess, though…

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Garnet

              Add me to the Cat Thief fan club! Vivcat? Cattiene?
              Also wondering didn’t Cat take a vow to like not drink? How did she get around that in this chapter?

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  7. Dylan Tullos

    What is Pappenheim doing?

    Don’t mess around in the Vales. Follow Black as closely as possible, send your cavalry to keep track of his position and harass him constantly, and hit him from behind at the same time the Levantines attack from the front.

    Right now, the forces of the Dread Empire and Callow are spread out over a huge area. The Crusading armies are mostly concentrated in southern Procer. Pappenheim can use that concentration of force to destroy one enemy utterly, then clear the Vales and turn the entire force on Callow.

    If you have an opportunity to fight part of the enemy’s army with your entire army, you take it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dainpdf

      And give the Empress (or Cat) more time to plan and strategize? Give their allied armies more time to reconsider their commitment? Keep their levies and fantassins on the field longer, further damaging their harvest for later in the year *and* increasing the costs of mercenaries and the logistics of the army? Bad idea, especially since they want to invade Callow/Praes and Black does not look to be in a position to stop them. That, plus they have another army to catch him (which was outside my expectations – never thought Levante would defend Procer, but I guess that’s the Good guys for you).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dylan Tullos

        Dainpdf:

        There’s a limit to how much good planning and strategizing will do when you’ve just lost your biggest remaining army, your most experienced field commanders, and your greatest Named all at the same time.

        If the cost of utterly surrounding and destroying Black’s Legions is a bad harvest and a large sum of money, that’s dirt cheap compared to the possible cost of fighting Black with anything less than every possible soldier available. Instead of taking chances or trying to be clever, the Crusaders should just bring everyone they have and utterly destroy Black’s army.

        Once he and his legions are dead, invading Callow/Praes will be a great deal easier.

        You seem to have missed the part where Levante signed up for the Crusade and committed themselves to defeating the Dread Empire. Also, the Grey Pilgrim is the spiritual leader of the entire country, and he’s not going to let old national hatreds stand in the way of defeating evil. Good does not have to be Dumb.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Someguy

          I’m thinking Realpolitik and secret deals will come into play like in World War 1.

          All these armies from countries wary of Proceran ambitions in Procer or moving to Procer, the bulk of the Proceran army tied down or decimated and Named heroes in the front. Smells like opportunity.

          Like

          1. Dylan Tullos

            Someguy:

            Grey Pilgrim and his good friend the Saint of Swords would have lots of things to say to any leader who decided that their secular rivalry was more important than holy war.

            Well, Grey Pilgrim would have lots of things to say. The Saint’s nickname is “Regicide”, and she doesn’t bother using words on rulers who think they can defy the Heavens’ writ.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Someguy

              Ah but what will she do when it’s Pilgrim’s countrymen invading her homeland then and the shots already fired, blood spilled and villages razed?

              Nationalism and national interests coming to the fore to split Story momentum? I think it’s time for the heroes to find out who they are when Light shatters

              Like

              1. Dylan Tullos

                Someguy:

                None of this has happened, we have no reason to believe it would happen, and the Grey Pilgrim would personally depose any rulers who tried to backstab a Crusade for secular ambitions.

                Right now the Levante is marching in support of a Good nation against the forces of Evil. Any Levantine ruler who deviates from that script will have a talk with the Pilgrim if they’re lucky and the Saint if they’re not.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Metrux

                  You talk just like so many of those naive young Heroes. The Pilgrim can’t depose anyone, he has no secular powers and neither want any, and the Saint has never killed nobles or important people outside the principate, as much as she travelled outside. They are powerfull and wise old Named, not super powers unto themselves. Also, Good is not good and they all hate Procer, as has been shown several times before. How could they not? Procer invaded them more than any Evil nation tried.

                  Like

        2. Dainpdf

          You forget Malicia is in possession of Still Waters and worse and is confirmed to have agents in Procer. The cost would be greater than “a bad harvest”. Speaking of which, bad harvests tend to lead to famine, and with coffers dry that can lead to the collapse of the country.
          As for Levante, yes, the Pilgrim is a spiritual leader, but they still have great distrust for Procer and that they’d put it aside not just to invade Praes but also to defend Procer’s heartland does them credit.
          Also? The longer they take, the more time Cat guess to recruit, fortify etc… while chasing Black around accomplishes… nothing? He’s already out of position, as far as they know. I mean, I guess they could chase him just due to his reputation, but then how do they know that’s not his plan anyways?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Dylan Tullos

            Dainpdf:

            Chasing Black around accomplishes killing Black. If Black’s plan is to be surrounded and utterly destroyed by several enemy armies, I am happy to go along with that plan.

            The use of Still Waters would cause immense damage to Procer and utterly destroy Praes. If Malicia uses the methods of Traditional Evil, she signs up for the inevitable fate of old-school Villains.

            Like

            1. Dainpdf

              First, that won’t be any consolation if you’re… You know, Procer. Which is who Pappenheim represents.
              Second, mortals don’t generally think in terms of narrative and stories. Hell, Black showed us that overreliance on narratives is poison.
              Third, Malicia is clearly okay with using superweapons. Remember the whole Akua thing? It’s been a while, but not that long.
              And fourth, the Tyrant has shown us that traditional evil *can* be worked into a weapon. You may recall he has succeeded so far and even outwited the Bard. Plus, you know, Kingdom of the Dead. Unconquered evil.

              Like

        3. Metrux

          Okay, to start… Overcommiting can be as hazardous as undercommiting. If you need exactly twenty thousand of your soldiers to defeat one enemy with minimal casualties, and you got another front to battle, you use twenty thousand. Not more and not less. That is the true vein of comanding, even more than making strategies themselves: How much can I use? How much should I use? How much can I sacrifice?

          The army going for black has defence, Named and double the numbers, besides the narrative on their sides. Really, unless a miracle happens Black won’t win this battle. On the other hand, the pass won’t be opened easier or faster after they deal with the internal menace, so the truth is he made a choice of prices: lives and farmland over time and loyalty. Also, do you think the first of the ally armies will stop advancing on Callow just because he will be delayed? This will only make more of his allies die, because of harder fights, simply for fear of numerous advantagens not being enough.

          About making it faster, absolutely foolishness. If Black is not there, if the fullness of this armies following him, it is the same deal easier and faster to invade, no matter if he is dead or away. Just do the maths, 4-1 is 3, no matter if the one was eaten or locked away.

          Defeating Black is not defeating the Dread Empire, and none of those pledgings mean full commitment. They could, very well, just delay their marchs a couple of months and then clean up once Procer is broken. Would even be better for them, since they hate Procer (as has been shown in interludes books before). It is an absolutely understandable surprise for a enemy turned temporary ally to come to your help in a moment of need.

          Now, for the Pilgrim. He is not there, if you trully do not remember, I’ll just remind you he stayed behing, together with the prince oficially leading the army, because of the signed treaty. So even if he could comand the Levantines (which he neither can or would do, given what we saw so far) he is not in a position to do so. Also, just to make clear: heroes came for the Pilgrim and the Saint, armies came because of the First Prince’s machinations. It was shown to us how hard she had to fight, on several diplomatic fronts, to make a Crusade possible, even with the doom weapon. It’s not merely a fight for Good, each has their own reasons for entering the Crusade.

          Like

    2. Jason Ipswitch

      “And then forces of Good, with their numerical superiority and logistical advantages of operating in their home territory, dealt a crushing defeat to the Legions of Terror with no more casualties or property damage than might reasonably be expected, before turning around an engaging in some more diplomacy,” went no Story ever.

      I don’t know if it won’t happen because the Powers Above and Below won’t allow it, or because the forces of Good are story-savvy enough to know that plan never works, but it was never going to go that way.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dylan Tullos

        Jason Ipswitch:

        I know, I know, the Narrative insists that Heroes aren’t allowed to just assemble overwhelming force and win a simple, straightforward victory. I just become upset when obvious, sane solutions are automatically eliminated because they aren’t dramatic enough.

        Like

          1. Metrux

            And still be naive enough to think things would go smoothly if the “sane” common sense method was used. I mean, how many times have we seen people do supposedly sane and sensible things and get killed or mangled for that?

            Like

      2. JJR

        When you frame it like that sure, it can’t work. But part of being in a narrative driven world is finagling the right narrative out what you are doing,In this case it would be the ‘villain’s hubris leads to their downfall’ narrative. Even better if they can get the Waltz of Wroth considered Black’s Phase One by the world, that way his Hells mandated victory is used up just as he managed to use Hanno’s Heaven mandated one.

        Of course Black will be busy finagling the Narrative too. Which brings us to who survived the duel. I think it’s literally up in the air at this point. Traditionally such a massive magic duel with an ambiguous outcome would be a set up for the Hero spellslinger to show up at the last moment to save their friends at the last moment. But with all the narrative awareness going on, and Black’s ability to change or sidestep narratives he might trick the world into making Warlock the person who takes the role of the last second rescuer. Hell, Warlock might have decided to not contact anyone after the duel just to be able to set up such a plot in the future. In order for this to have any chance though, Black has to put himself in a position where he is outmatched and under siege, say by invading Procer despite the fact that he is massively outnumbered and cut off from retreat.

        Of course being unable to retreat is it’s own sort of story that is as old as the first dawn. As Sun Tzu puts it, “Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve.” (https://suntzusaid.com/book/11/23)

        Like

    3. Jane

      Perhaps he’s concerned that Black is attempting to lure him into another trap, and believes that the other forces won’t have to worry about such a thing?

      Alternately, maybe he’s concerned that Black would send a skirmishing force against those left to work on clearing the pass, and is unwilling to split his forces for fear of Black making use of a cunning plan.

      Or it could just be that Papenheim’s forces are in greater disarray than we were lead to believe, and simply can’t pursue without more time to reorganize – at least not without unreasonably high casualties.

      If both of the remaining two armies are large enough to defeat him and close enough to engage within a reasonable timespan, it’s not an unreasonably bad move to leave the matter to them. Not what I would choose to do, but it’s not necessarily the wrong call. Well, I mean, it will be a mistake, given what the readers know, but the logic would be sound if we hadn’t been told he was up to something.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dylan Tullos

        Jane:

        If Pappenheim is worried about a trap, he can send scouts and Heroes out to check for danger as he advances. If he’s worried about enemy skirmishers, he can leave two or three thousand soldiers to build a fortified camp at the Vales to protect his engineers.

        And if his forces are disorganized, he can send his cavalry to harass Black while he gets his army in order.

        Black is ALWAYS up to something, and he has to know the odds are against him. If he’s advancing anyway, it’s because he has a plan. The solution is not bring an army that’s “large enough”, but an army that’s so unreasonably huge that even the most cunning tactics imaginable won’t make a difference.

        There may be Story reasons not to do this, but I see no strategic reason to use forty-five thousand men to sit around a pile of rocks while mages and priests slowly clear away rubble.

        Like

        1. Jane

          On the other hand, though… Scouts didn’t help much with the traps Black has sprung so far, either being too quickly triggered to react to, or making use of premises so outlandish that nothing could be noticed; similarly, they might be concerned that too small a guard would be pointless, but too large a guard would diminish their war potential too severely.

          As for just sending the cavalry… Well, this is a pre-modern army. Procer sounds like it still operates on the old style of organization, where forces are loyal to their nobles first, and a real chain of command second. After the heavy losses they’ve sustained, and the utter confusion that being in the middle of a mountain range blowing up must bring… Something as sophisticated as “Find me Lord xyz and have him send us his knights” might just plain be beyond them for the next few days, especially when he starts getting refusals from nobles who balk at losing even more valued retainers when they “know” Lady qrs’s knights are still relatively fresh.

          Factor internal political considerations into it, since all of this will be remembered long after the Crusade is over… It probably isn’t worth the trouble, unless you expect to lose if you don’t pursue him now.

          As I said before, I do think this is a mistake on Papenheim’s part, unless he’s up to something as well… Just one that I consider a reasonable one. Sending a force of disorganized levies tired from a week of heavy fighting to pursue a brilliant leader known for unconventional strategies, relying on nothing but superior numbers and the presence of the Chosen to bolster them, sounds like a recipe for heavy casualties – waiting for fresh troops instead is what a cautious commander ought do.

          It’s just that, well, caution isn’t always the safer option, as we’ll soon find out.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Morgenstern

            Might also add in the morale of Papenheim’s troops, which has to be shockingly low after the last very few days and such heavy losses for no real gain…

            Like

        2. RanVor

          There is only one possible reason to use forty-five thousand men to sit around a pile of rocks while mages and priests slowly clear away rubble: to resume the invasion IMMEDIATELY when the passage is cleared, instead of wasting months on marching back to the Vales and leaving the way to Callow open for a counter-strike.

          I’m not saying it’s strategically sound, but it’s an explanation.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. Metrux

          Who says the mages and priests will be the only ones working? They can’t work 24/7, and even small excavations on their down times will grow with time. You seem to think the bigger weapon always win, and dozens of both real and fantasy tales can be shown to say that is not true. There has never been an army undefeated by sheer numbers, and there will never be. If, for nothing else, because logistics get’s harder and loyalty lesser the bigger the host. You know, it’s onw of the reason why there is so much hierarchy in the military…

          Like

    4. Bad guys have a slave who can teleport armies. If you chase Black’s host you will be weeks out of position when Cat or Larat swoops down and scoops him into Arcadia.

      Like

    1. Jane

      “Those crazy kids”?

      I can’t help but think of how similar it seems to the shenanigans we’ve seen from the other Hero parties we followed. Well, except the Lone Swordsman’s. He was kind of too grim and gritty for fun – no doubt part of the reason Cat could swipe Thief after the fact.

      Like

      1. Raved Thrad

        Well, it’s always possible that Vivienne was all “That’s such a pretty black cloak, I wonder what it would be like to take it off her.”

        And then we’d see Vivienne blushing and insisting to herself “To steal it! I’d take it off her to steal it!”

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Jane

          Hey, hey, I was making a serious point, not adding shipping fuel 😛 !

          I just meant that the Lone Swordsman’s party never really came together in the way we saw the White Knight’s or that one paladin guy from the prologue. As such, it was a heck of a lot easier for Thief to work with their killers after the fact, whereas if the converse were to happen… Well, it’s a lot harder to forgive the death of a friend than that of (essentially) a coworker.

          Like

          1. Raved Thrad

            Well, if I remember right, it was Thief herself who pointed our that he was the _Lone_ Swordsman, which is why he sucked at being in a group and, consequently, his group sucked at being one, too.

            Liked by 1 person

  8. Un-Metaphorical Grapevine

    The Woe: Haha! Fix the house! Haha! I shall use you as a footstool! besties for life!

    Black: “RAPE THE CITIES AND BURN THE WOMEN!” *Uncharacteristically Evil Cackling*

    Liked by 3 people

        1. Raved Thrad

          If you think about it, raping cities is a great way to beef up the Legions of Terror. Rape a couple of cities, and in a few years baby cities will spring up, allowing you to temper your new, green recruits in battle against the cities’ guardians. Once all opposition is dead, rape the city, and the cycle continues.

          Liked by 2 people

            1. You need to train them up from when they’re still villages. It takes a while, and some of the poor, little things just don’t make it due to geographical limitations and/or fading syndrome leading to them never forming a proper, self-sustaining CBD with solid trade links. It’s quite sad, really.

              Like

  9. Situation is not looking good seen from the grand point of view. I knew the Crusade was virtually all the good nations of Calernia save the Gigantes, but damn that’s a huge amount of men…

    It’s true I really don’t see now how Cat can triumph against nine heroes (including the White Knight) and over 80 000 soldiers. The same is true for Black. Oh, the Princes of Bayeux and Aisne are going to scream bloody murder because Papenheim has abandoned their lands to Praes, but the Legions of Terror are so hideously outnumbered…

    There are too many heroes for the villains to survive as the situation stands. The Army of the Stairwell began with fourteen and the Army of the Vales with eleven. Now they have respectively ten and nine, but we don’t how many are waiting in the wings. It’s sad to say, but Callow really need the Dead King, the Tyrant and/or Triumphant to intervene before four months because else the Crusade is going to enter Callow and crush all opposition.

    I liked very much the bantering between the Woe, they’re becoming more like the Calamities in every way…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Someguy

      Seven Heroes. Two died after the Dragon dropped burning rock on them and Grem had his men mop them up:-

      >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.

      Like

    2. The armies aren’t relevant. Cat can drop mountains on them anytime she feels like it.

      The lesser heroes aren’t relevant. Cat kicked the crap out of a squad of them with the Saint helping out.

      Hanno would be the person in that army that mattered, if Cat ended up fighting Pappenheim’s army.

      My biggest question is whether Cat’s alliance field will work on Pilgrim. If he joins the Woe she can probably dictate the Accords directly.

      Like

      1. Metrux

        Commonly, you would be right. But with those numbers they can just ignore her and take her land, while she is occupied by lesser heroes and her armies die all around. Also, her power is not endless, as great as it is. You must remember Black’s techings, like when he spoke of his more powerfull precedents, like his directly one, who died to a common soldier. With those numbers, they can take her down, simply by never stopping the attacks and giving no time to rest.

        Like

    3. One of the earlier chapter quotes was about how, if you’ve got too many heroes after the same villain(s), “certain doom” becomes “mere doom,” as the heroic stories dilute each other by proximity. Even for non-Named, it’s well-established that overwhelming, obvious numerical superiority just makes stories which save the underdogs more likely to pop up.

      Of course, a numerical advantage is still really helpful in battle, it’s just that being an underdog is REALLY HELPFUL in battle.

      Like

  10. nick012000

    So, Sorcerous’s soul is in the moon? Hey, Cat, I have an idea on how to get rid of the moon. I call it Plan: Fuck The World.

    Step 1: Seize the Tower.
    Step 2: Perform a giant magical ritual that sacrifices every person in Ater other than the magicians performing it, using their blood and souls to fuel the spell. Don’t worry about the Due, everyone in Creation is going to die if you succeed anyway.
    Step 3: Use a connection between the Tower and the soul of one of the Dread Emperors who ruled it to drag the moon out of orbit onto the Tower.
    Step 4: Flee into Arcadia before the moon hits Creation and everyone there dies.

    Like

    1. Forrest

      I mean, unless dragging the moon down becomes one of those scales of which no one can screw with, I’m pretty sure heroic intervention would occur. Granted, we already know both Ranger and the Dead King fit on that scale, so the moon being brought down a la a certain mask like game would seem to fit… but then it would likely have to be Cat doing it, not the mages around her if she wanted it to be considered on that scale. Even then…

      Like

    2. JJR

      Did someone say, “massive sacrificial ritual to drag the moon out of the sky?”

      (Ok, it was more to drag a God out of the sky though the moon, but the principle should be similar enough.)

      Like

  11. Yotz

    Speaking of >cleaning up all those loose ends some day.
    It suddenly dawned on me recently (yeah, second thought in less than six months; yeah, I don’t believe it either), that the Liesse Machine is still mostly functional – bar the control circuits and the power source. Which can be substituted by Zeze and Winter respectively, probably with small tweakings here and there which would allow to replicate Absolute Positioning trick on the industrial scale. Or – I don’t know – open an Arcadia portal inside the Greater Breach just for the hell of it…

    Like

    1. SpeckofStardust

      Considering that the power source went critical in the rest of the it. I think your underestimating how much of it is still there. That said the creator of it is still alive so it could just be rebuilt.

      Like

  12. Yotz

    Also, since the Riddle of Stele encouraged the quoteminig, it seems – here’s another pointless one of dubious origin.

    “The distance between civilization and savagery is cake.” – Princess Celestia (apocryphal)

    It may sound absurd at first, but if the reader will bear out the line of reasoning, he or she will see beneath the frosting to a fundamental underpinning of Equestrian society.

    To construct a proper cake, or indeed most any kind of frosted pastry, a civilization must be capable of milling flour, collecting eggs, harvesting and refining sugar, acquiring and storing milk, churning butter, and writing down recipes. A cake-producing civilization must also have the infrastructure necessary to bring these ingredients into one place, and an oven in which to combine and bake them. To do all this requires a certain level of agricultural capacity, livestock management skills, technological advancement, education, skilled labor, and social cohesion that hunter-gatherers and wandering monster packs lack, no matter how smart or articulate the individuals may be.

    The similar approach may be applied to the concept of power, as it was many times already noted in this chapter’s comment section. I mean, you don’t just rip one chip from the board and call it “the root of all”…

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Raved Thrad

          Poor kid. Dad is trying to unravel reality so he can hack the source code, mom is a murderous amoral adrenaline junkie, one grandfather is a murderous, insanely powerful wizard, and the other grandfather is a demon. Oh, and grandma-by-courtesy is a murderous adrenaline junkie who hunts gods for sport.

          Can you say pressure to perform?

          Liked by 5 people

            1. Raved Thrad

              Indrani: “Our daughter has a Name.”
              Masego: “Yes.”
              Indrani: “And her Name is Unicorn Priestess.”
              Masego: “Yes.”
              Indrani: “I can’t live down this… this horror!”
              Masego: “Don’t worry, it’s a transitional Name.”
              Indrani: “What other name can she possibly transition to?”
              Masego: “Unicorn Priestess of DEATH!!”
              Indrani: “You hacked her Name?”
              Masego: “I hacked her Name.”

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Raved Thrad

                On reconsideration, especially considering who the kid’s grandfathers are, it’s probably more likely to play out like this:

                Indrani: “Our son has a Name.”
                Masego: “Yes.”
                Indrani: “And his Name is Unicorn Priestess.”
                Masego: “Yes.”
                Indrani: “I can’t live down this… this horror!”
                Masego: “Don’t worry, it’s a transitional Name.”
                Indrani: “What other Name can he possibly transition to?”
                Masego: “Unicorn Priestess of DEATH!!”
                Indrani: “You hacked her Name?”
                Masego: “I hacked her Name.”
                Indrani: “Well, at least there’s some death in there.”
                Masego: “Not death. DEATH!! Capitalization and punctuation are important.”

                Liked by 2 people

  13. Skycom

    As much as I like watching the woe family shenanigans, I think I would preferred the interlude to be longer and watched black kicks some more ass, instead of that partial summary we got in part three.

    Like

    1. Alivaril

      Eeh. I’m not too bothered by how that interlude turned out, especially since EE was sick; I’d rather have this sort of thing. Battles are OK, but chapters such as this one are what gives the story life and makes it worth reading.

      Like

  14. Everything Narrator, Penning Gentle Lies

    Focault said that power is everywhere because power comes from everywhere. The true strength of one man is merely the reach of his blade, but when a whole people thinks one man should be king, he becomes one.

    Like

  15. ______

    Typo:

    > “Barika assures me I’ve been paid punctually,” Masego contributed hesitantly.

    Should be Fadila, Barika was killed and buried in sanctified grounds back in Book II.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Joshua Sills

    What an interesting comparison to the Riddle of Fault the White Knight was given and answered before his major power boost. Pretty sure Cat coming up with an answer will be the transition to her new name for symmetry sake.

    Like

    1. Metrux

      That… Oh well, it might very well be true o.o How perceptive, of you. I hope it isn’t, but the symmetry is there, and still no bindings between Black and White…

      Like

  17. Metalshop

    How is it that every chapter that focuses on Hakram is the best out of any of the other chapters? That math shouldn’t work out, but it does.

    The interplay between his absolute loyalty/ trust and Cat’s doubt/uncertainty is fantastic, as good a character interaction as I’ve ever read, including traditionally published fiction.

    I just wanted to take a moment to tell you that directly, because that’s no small thing you’ve managed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Metalshop

      Since I can’t edit: I just realized that this last chunk of the story, which has focused so much on Cat feeling uncertain, is the longest chunk we’ve seen of her operating without Hakram nearby. I’m real keen to see how his arrival changes the whole dynamic.

      Further thought: Seeing the way the Woe are behaving here and recalling the sections where the Heroes comment on how Catherine is following a heroic narrative arc rather than a traditional villainous one, I have a wild-ass theory. Cat (and her followers) are an attempt by the gods Below to treat a villain a bit more like how the Heavens treat heroes. Not in the sense that their behavior is steered (since Evil is all about Free Will to Power) but in the sense of direct intervention to let a villain benefit a bit from the evil version of divine providence.

      Like

      1. Metrux

        Well, is there a Evil version to divine power? For all we know all Gods are equal, save for the point of view, which is why Good and Evil started existing after the Creation, not before.

        Like

  18. Pilgrim the White

    Dunno if this has been discussed before, why didn’t the bird obsessed oracle warn the invaders of Blacks intent to invade them or his trap with the mountains etc.

    Why didn’t she warn them about Cat intending to drop a lake on em.

    Why didn’t she warn anyone that Cat was gonna raid the camp and intended to steal their supplies.

    I think i don’t like oracles if they work deus ex machina style though i might be missing something here.

    Like

    1. Mindsword

      I think it has to do with intent. They got some information past her because it was a spur of the moment thing. In this case, if Black wasn’t planning on invading and is merely adapting, then she would have had no warning. As for Cat… these are Coredella’s political rivals. Let them suffer.

      Like

      1. Pilgrim the White

        Because Black is such a spur of the moment guy amirite?
        Yea it was the plan all along for the army invading Cat to lose but i dunno, seems too farfetched.

        Like

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