Chapter 24: Invitation (Redux)

“The enemy of my enemy is second on the list.”
– Dread Empress Vindictive III

“Is it contained?”

I didn’t bother with greetings, knowing the manners would be lost on Masego anyway. The dark-skinned mage nodded, not even noticing the abruptness of my tone.

“It did not struggle against imprisonment,” Hierophant said. “Nor has is sought to escape binding since.”

The two of us walked towards the sparse woods where the creature had been trapped inside wards without wasting time. Night had just fallen, which was a small mercy. It meant there’d be fewer witnesses. Already the scout line who’d found it approaching Harrow had been sworn to secrecy, but there was no telling if anyone else had come across it. as the exact path it’d taken to get here was still a mystery. More worryingly, the Observatory hadn’t seen it and it was meant to pick up on exactly this kind of stuff. I was not great student of sorcery, but even to me the implications were visible. Whoever had sent the thing was a mage of very great skill, and there were only a few of those around. And even fewer among those who’d lower themselves to raising the dead, much less this… particular kind.

“You’re sure it wasn’t an attack?” I asked for the third time.

Masego’s brow creased.

“Certainty of unknown intent is, by definition, impossible,” he said peevishly. “My current theory, based on initial observation, is that this was not an attack. It is not armed, and was not crafted with combat in mind – or at least no form of combat I can recognize.”

“It doesn’t need to swing blades to be dangerous, Masego,” I said. “It just needs to carry a magic plague and take a dip in the water reservoirs.”

“Don’t be obtuse, Catherine,” he sighed. “Plague-bearing was one of the first threats I assessed it for. There is no trace. It has, if anything, been stripped out of everything but the barest necessities for functionality. It does carry an enchanted object, but that object has no harmful properties.”

I frowned.

“Is that how it slipped the Observatory’s sight?” I asked.

“I do not believe so,” Hierophant said. “I’ve made preliminary studies, and found that its presence in Creation seems dimmed, somehow. Like a shadow under sorcerous sight. It was not invisible to the Observatory so much as exceedingly difficult to find if not specifically looked for.”

“We need to fix that weakness,” I flatly said. “If this could be done once, it can be done again. We’re relying on the Observatory to keep one step ahead of threats, and I’m not pleased someone already found a way to fool it. You told me it’d be years before someone found a counter.”

“I told you it would be three to five years before the Empire found a counter, barring my father’s sustained intervention,” the blind man corrected. “This is not Imperial work.”

We were going to have a longer conversation about this down the line, but I allowed silence to take hold as we finally got deep enough in the woods that the creature was in sight. Surrounded by layers on layers of translucent force with glowing runes inscribed, the undead creature was utterly still. Hakram, in full armour with his axe in hand, was keeping an eye on it. Indrani was out in the field to make sure there wasn’t another wandering the countryside, and Vivienne combing the keep for infiltration we might have missed. It wasn’t a person I was looking at, though it might once have been. The upper body and face was of a pale-skinned man’s, but that was where the normality ended. There was a pair of segment, almost insect-like arms coming out of the creature’s back, with hooks at the tip. Made for climbing, I thought. Had it crossed the Whitecaps without taking a pass? The body parts beneath the torso were harder to make out. The entire creature had been covered in a ragged cloak when the goblins first saw it, though it had fallen off the upper body since, and what I could glimpse through the cloth was eight spider-like legs of bone and necrotized flesh folded close to the torso. It was, I grimaced, the kind of abomination you’d expect to be dumped out in the Wasteland after an Emperor climbed the Tower and cleared out the basement of their predecessor’s experiments. There were no visible weapons save for the claws, not that it needed any.

“You’re sure this isn’t of your father’s making?” I said.

“I could perhaps reproduce the design in two months, he in one,” Masego noted. “The material parts of it anyway. What makes it truly fascinating work is the guiding intelligence, since there is barely any. Every ounce of metaphorical fat has been trimmed. It is, I will admit, one of the most magnificently efficient necromantic constructs I have ever seen.”

I cursed.

“All right, so either a high-tier necromancer has just come out of the woodworks,” I said. “Or we’re dealing with something much, much worse.”

The Dead King. Fucking Hells. It wasn’t like the situation had been going so well the Heavens needed to drop another dead cat in my lap. Assuming this was their work, anyway, and not a play by the Pricks Below.

“Catherine,” Hakram said suddenly, breaking me out of my thoughts before a proper rant could take hold. “It’s moving.”

My eyes flicked at the creature, which had risen on two bone appendages and was peering at me from the edge of the wards.

“Well,” I muttered. “That’s pretty lively for a dead cat.”

Masego glanced at me and opened his mouth but I silenced him with a raised hand. I felt him twitch, the mutter something under his breath about there being no feline components. The undead stared at me for a solid twenty heartbeats before opening its mouth.

“I offer greetings to the Black Queen of Callow,” the creature said. “Your renown has been heard far and wide, bringing the attention that is your due. I bear invitation from the King of the Dead, who offers safe passage to Keter. In the face of Above’s wroth, the champions of Below must either face demise alone or overturn the wheel of fate in coming striving.”

I waited just in case it had anything to add and in a manner of speaking it did. The jaws unhinged and a serpent-like black tongue came out, offering up what looked like a circular seal of pure obsidian.

“The enchanted object it was carrying,” Masego said. “It holds… instructions. A sliver of knowledge accessible through touch.”

I stared at the obsidian seal and decided it was too early in the year to start making decisions that blatantly terrible. I wasn’t getting anywhere near that until Masego had spent a few days checking it out, and even then I wasn’t touching it if it could be at all avoided.

“I hear the King of the Dead’s invitation,” I said. “But seek clarification on the nature of it.”

The tongue snapped back in. The undead began speaking again, but it was just repeating the exact same message. Masego’s glass eyes were staring at it, his head cocked to the side.

“Hierophant?” I probed.

“The trigger for the actions was your presence,” he said. “The message is not spoken consciously so much as woven into what passes for the construct’s mind. It cannot reason or reply, only repeat.”

“My presence,” I repeated slowly.

“Winter, more specifically,” he said. “I’ll need a closer look to find out the decision threshold, but I suspect Larat would not have been able to fool it into speaking.”

Hakram had come to stand at my side while we spoke, warily eyeing the undead.

“Cat,” he gravelled. “If the Dead King knew enough to bespell for that…”

“He has a much better idea of what’s going on outside his kingdom than we thought,” I finished grimly. “Shit.”

Masego cleared his throat.

“Why are we displeased?” he said. “My interest in diplomacy is inexistent, but this seems to me like an offer of alliance. Are we not under siege by the crusaders?”

“We are,” I said.

I clenched my fingers, then unclenched them.

“But there’s a saying back home about Praesi bearing gifts, and I think it might just apply here,” I said.

Hakram loomed tall at my side, baring his fangs at the creature.

“I’ll get the others,” he said. “The solar?”

I nodded and stood silently as he left, watching the creature as it began to speak the message again.

“You have an hour to study it,” I finally told Masego. “Don’t break it, we don’t know if there’d be consequences. After the hour’s done, I want you in the solar with everyone else.”

An eager smile split Hierophant’s face in two.

“Thank you, Catherine,” he murmured. “This will be most interesting.”

I walked away without a word, pretty sure I didn’t want to see what would follow.

There were six of us in Baroness Ainsley’s solar, enough that it felt full without being outright cramped. The piles of parchment that followed Adjutant like a curse had been dumped unceremoniously on the ground so that the only thing on the table was a detailed map of Calernia – along with a handful of goblets. Mine was still half-filled with aragh, but I’d refrained from downing it whole after Hakram sent me a quelling look. Fine, be that way, I thought mulishly. It’s not like I was just essentially offered an alliance by the oldest and most dangerous abomination in Calernian history. If there was ever a godsdamned reason to drink… Masego was already looking bored and we hadn’t even begun. He’d hinted his time could be better spent studying the envoy  the very moment he’d walked into the solar, and had been sulking ever since I’d told him it would have to wait. It would have been kind of cute, if he wasn’t essentially pouting because I’d told him he couldn’t go elbows-deep in dead flesh. Archer was keeping him attentive – and twitching – by idly tearing up the pages of a book I was pretty sure she’d gotten for this very purpose. Vivienne and Juniper had pointedly sat as far as each other from possible, to my irritation. I was not unaware they were less than fond of each other, but until now they’d been a lot subtler about it. Something must have happened while I was taking my lovely Winter nap, but neither of them was talking. Hakram was, as usual, an oasis of calm competence in the middle of the mess that was our lives. He’d transcribed the Dead King’s message from memory and provided it for the others to read. I cleared my throat.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s get this started. Before we get to unpacking anything else, Thief can provide a reminder of how fucked we’re looking at the moment.”

Vivienne shot me an amused look before leaning over the table.

“As most of you are aware,” she said, “there is a knife at Callow’s throat.”

She tapped the map right at the feet of the sculpted spearman figurine on the western side of the former Red Flower Vales.

“Prince Klaus Papenheim, the First Prince’s foremost general, is digging his way though the wrecked passes as we speak,” Thief said. “He has between forty and fifty thousand men under his command, and we estimate that within four months he will be reinforced by an army of thirty thousand Levantines.”

“With the way Cat’s looking like she’s sucking on a lemon that personally murdered her father, I’m guessing he’s preparing an invasion,” Indrani commented.

She sounded at best mildly interested, but I’d take what I could get.

“By the time the Levantines arrive, we believe they’ll have dug out a usable passage,” Thief said. “Which is to say, in about four months we’lle be facing an offensive of at least seventy thousand soldiers led by several heroic bands.”

“That’s bad,” Archer mused. “Zeze, doesn’t that sound bad?”

“I suppose,” Hierophant shrugged. “Can’t we make a truce with those as well?”

“I’m not opposed to the notion,” I admitted. “But we don’t have the men to force another draw, and we’re not dealing with Amadis Milenan here. Papenheim is the First Prince’s uncle and the most decorated general in Procer, he’s not going to flinch if we bloody him a bit. He’ll stick it out until only one of us is left standing, and the odds aren’t looking great for that being us.”

“A truce in the Vales might lead to the political collapse of the Tenth Crusade,” Hakram said. “And likely the end of his niece’s reign with it. Negotiation is not a plausible option as things stand.”

“I could kill the First Prince,” Indrani suggested.

“The Tower’s been trying to do that for over twenty years,” I told her. “She has a future-telling Named, the Augur, watching for attempts. If Black is to be believed the Augur protects Papenheim as well, so removing him isn’t on the table either.”

“Ugh, seers,” Archer complained. “They take all the fun out of it.”

Juniper growled, cutting through the whining.

“Tactics won’t get us out of this,” she said. “We need strategic leverage. Either reinforcements that make holding the Vales feasible, or someone to put pressure on the Principate so it can’t afford to leave those seventy thousand men at the border.”

The orc marshal drummed her thick fingers against the map.

“The Army of Callow will be, barely, in fighting fit if our timeline for the invasion holds,” she said. “But another major battle will take us right back out of the war, won or lost, and this time for much longer. We’re bleeding veterans and irreplaceables. To be blunt, if we want fight again then we need a force to split casualties with. Much better would be not fighting at all.”

“So, now we take a hard look at our options,” I said. “The name of the game tonight being: is there literally any other option that the Dead King?”

“I could go to Refuge,” Archer offered. “Most pupils will be gone, especially the heroes – last I heard Silver signed up with the White Knight – but there’s bound to be one or two left I can beat into joining. Lady Ranger probably won’t care enough to get involved.”

I worried my lip with my teeth.

“Even by gate, it’d take most entire preparation time to get there and back,” I finally said. “I wouldn’t sneer at more Named, but I doubt they’ll be enough to turn the tide unless some real powerhouses have been keeping quiet.”

“They probably wouldn’t be frontline material,” Indrani admitted. “Beastmaster might qualify with the right mount, but he’s not a pushover I can bully and he doesn’t really give a shit about anything going on outside the Waning Woods. Also tends to disappear for months at a time, so he might not be there at all. Concocter’s the only one I can be sure will be there, but her thing is potions and she uses ingredients from the woods for most her brews.”

“We’ll table that for now, then,” I said. “Anyone else?”

“Mercenaries,” Juniper said. “Diabolist hired men through Mercantis twice. I know the treasury’s tight but better some debt than the kingdom lost.”

“That well’s run dry,” Vivienne said, shaking her head. “All the larger companies are already under contract in the League, and even if we snap up all the smaller ones that’d be at most two or three thousand soldiers. Extremely unreliable ones. All the reputable mercenaries are already in someone’s pay.”

“Speaking of the League,” I said, raising an eyebrow at Thief.

“The Hierarch’s still not willing to sit at the table,” Vivienne replied. “The only saving grace is that Procer is also apparently full of wicked foreign oligarchs so they’re equally out of luck there. The Tyrant of Helike is willing in theory, but he also says he loves Hierarch ‘like the father he had and then murdered’ so he won’t cut a deal behind his leader’s back. Not sure we should even if he agrees, to be honest. Aside from how astonishingly prone to backstabbing the man is, poaching a member of the League might get the rest of it coming after us in retaliation.”

Masego cleared his throat, and I glanced at him in surprise. I’d not actually expected him to contribute to this part of the council.

“Is there a reason we cannot simply contact Uncle Amadeus?” he asked. “He has legions with him, as I understand it, and we could spirit them away through gates.”

I felt Juniper’s eyes on me. She agreed with the notion, I knew. She’d already made that very clear in private.

“I’m not willing to do that until I know what game he’s playing, and he hasn’t been forthcoming,” I said. “For all I know the moment we come to pick him up we’ll be heading into a pitched battle with half of Procer. I won’t consider him an enemy right now – Hells, he pretty much scrapped a legion’s worth of men to defend my borders – but it’s a long walk from that to trusting him.”

Masego’s glass eyes turned to gaze at me, the power of Summer within burning.

“We will come to his aid if he is cornered,” Hierophant said, and it wasn’t a question. “I do not ask you to fight a battle for his sake, but he at least should be rescued.”

I clenched my fingers under the table.

“If he’s in danger of death,” I said. “I didn’t force him to take his army in the heartlands of Procer, Masego. And I doubt he would have done it without a plan, which we know nothing about.”

There was a tense moment, then the Soninke nodded.

“He rarely does anything without one,” Hierophant conceded.

Indrani tore another page from the book on her lap and he twitched in irritation. Smiling broadly, Archer looked at me.

“The Empress’ supposed to be in charge, right?” she said. “Seems like we could drop this whole mess into her lap.”

“We can’t,” Vivienne and I simultaneously said.

I snorted, then gesture for her to continue.

“It would break the terms of our truce with the northern crusaders to do so,” Thief said. “Praes is already under siege by the Thalassocracy, regardless. It has no legions to spare.”

“Deoraithe aren’t our solution either, before anyone mentions them,” I added. “Kegan’s army will be holding the passage. Even if we had another way to keep that closed, she’s been pretty blunt in telling me she’s not taking her army into a meat grinder down in the Vales. She’s willing to help, but there’s limits.”

There was a long moment of silence around the table, the stares of most going to the map and the last few forces unaccounted for.

“The Chain of Hunger,” Juniper said, enumerating them. “The Kingdom of the Dead. The Everdark.”

Well, at least they were taking this seriously enough no one had brought the elves. Not that there were even in Creation at the moment. There were still tucked away in some inaccessible corner of Arcadia according to the few Imperial reports Malicia still sent our way.

“The Grey Pilgrim is highly influential in Levant,” Vivienne said. “There might be an angle there as well.”

“Pilgrim’s running his own game,” I quietly replied. “Nothing we have to offer is better than the irons he already has in the fire.”

She fixed me with a long searching look before nodding. We were, I suspected, going to have a conversation about that.

“The ratlings do not seem like a promising avenue,” Hakram said. “Imperial chronicles imply they have no understanding of diplomacy.”

He’d been rather quiet so far, but then he tended to be in councils like these. He’d always preferred to let others do the talking, to work behind the stage so things got done after decisions had emerged.

“It has been theorized only the youngest among them and a very small number of the truly old,” Masego noted. “It is, at least, a matter of record that even after Triumphant slaughtered over nine tenths of their population they offered no surrender. She withdrew after burning everything down and salting the ashes, as I recall.”

Only Hakram and Juniper pressed their knuckle to their forehead at the mention of the name, I noticed, though they both managed not to speak the words.

“Shame,” Indrani said. “The Lady says their Ancient Ones are just large brutes, but the Horned Lords are supposed to be hard fuckers. We could use a few of those.”

“If we assault Lycaonese territories and lay waste to border defences, it might be possible to bait an attack from the Chain even without prior negotiation,” Vivienne said. “They send warbands south every spring, there should already be many on the march.”

“At least half the armies of Rhenia and Hannoven are still up there manning the walls,” Juniper said. “It won’t be a milk run, I can promise you that. Lycaonese die hard. Losses are guaranteed, and I’m not hearing any certainty they’ll have to deal with worse than a few warbands after.”

“We need as stronger foundation going forward,” Hakram calmly agreed. “That plan would rely on too many unknowns.”

“The drow?” Vivienne said, sounding less than enthusiastic.

“We don’t know a lot about them,” I said. “Archer?”

“Lady Ranger tried to hunt the Priestess of Night, a century back I think? They messed with the tunnels so she couldn’t find a way to their cities,” Indrani shrugged. “Haven’t got much else on them.”

“We know they have no unified central rule,” Adjutant said. “That would make them difficult to treat with, much less mobilize. And there are records sixty years old that speak of a drow raiding party wielding weapons of iron instead of steel.”

“I don’t care if they’re using bones,” I grunted. “As long as there’s enough of them to worry Hasenbach.”

“Even assuming they can be assembled and gated within a sennight of your arrival, the Vales would be too far to return in time,” Juniper said. “That means an offensive in Procer, then, and we’d need of a functional army for that to have any degree of success. Nothing we’ve heard leads me to believe they have one.”

“Might be one of the few places susceptible to the Foundling charm though,” Archer said.

I raised an eyebrow.

“The Foundling charm?” I warily asked.

The ochre-skinned woman grinned.

“You know, killing the people in charge until someone willing to listen gets promoted,” she said. “The Tenets of Night are all about stabbing to get on top, you’d blend right in.”

It was an effort not to sigh.

“Might take a lot of killing to get anywhere, though,” Archer mused. “Better to take me to Refuge instead.”

I grimaced and passed a hand through my tangled hair.

“Well,” I said. “I suppose we’re going to have to talk about the Dead King, then.”

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190 thoughts on “Chapter 24: Invitation (Redux)

      1. RoflCat

        And a lot of factions are seeing Cat As Trophy to aim for.

        Good want her dead for being basically the symbol of the new Evil.
        Evil want her rolled into their side proper because she’s been very successful with her schticks.

        And Ranger is yandere for Black so I’m sure somewhere inside she want to stab Cat very much.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Spinner335

      Well maybe the Good alliance, but hey, this looks like the start of The Alliance of Evil Nations, making Evil one big murderous family just like The First Prince fears.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. That only had a chance if she could be a big enough threat to block their armies from walking in and annexing Callow for Procor. And with 80,000 soldiers, it would be about a pimp-slap of effort for them.

      Like

    3. Rook

      Do note that her wording was to *seek* signatory status, not commit to receiving it.

      She can apply for signatory status on behalf of Callow, abdicate in a show of ‘goodwill’, have the pilgrim help push it along afterwards to flip Callow back to good, and escape the narrative tether of that promise by fulfilling it as a representative of Callow rather than as the individual Catherine Foundling.

      Then she can screw off to meet the dead king and figure out if that glow orb from triumphant lighting up was actually about her, or if she’s about to walk into another safe, fun-filled Foundling Adventure.

      Liked by 5 people

        1. Rook

          She could seek it personally too but there’s nothing but disadvantages to that

          One it further pushes along the suicidal redemption story

          Two it breaks the narrative strength of the villainous background she’s built up over the years

          Three if she leaves after making Callow break pact with the Tower and leaving them in hot water, she can bind the pilgrim to Callow and pit him against Malicia, rather than her.

          He’s already admitted that procer is flawed and he’s in this for the sake of a whole nation going to ruin under a villainous ruler (see: campfire chat). If he doesn’t help the now-abandoned Callow to weather the storm, it implies he’s prioritizing killing one villain over an entire nation and going back on his word. Either it forces him to stay and draws him into a conflict with Malicia – taking both threats temporarily off her back – or he breaks word and becomes narratively crippled – at least taking one threat off her back.

          No real reason to seek signatory status as herself rather than as a rep for the nation imo

          Like

          1. A person can really seek signatory status in the alliance of. NATIONS, can it? Obviously she spoke as a rep for Callow, being countrys Queen and all…

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            1. Gibborim

              That is a weak semantic argument at best. She is the entire Winter Court, something that could easily be a signatory of such an alliance. Same for her position as the Queen of the Hunt. It wouldn’t even be unreasonable to admit her as a warlord without an official nation.

              Even if we changed her statement to “To answer your question, I give my oath to seek signatory status with the Grand Alliance within the year.”, she would not be bound by oath to seek signatory status for Callow since a major premise of the negotiations was not recognizing her as representing the nation of Callow, only herself.

              Like

      1. Yotz

        A shame he was forced to retcon “The Habits” to the, “The Maxims”, though…
        Oh well – now with added annoying alliteration appeal!

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  1. Gunslinger

    Welp he entered the picture a lot faster than I anticipated… And certainly not in this manner.

    Also I wonder how the story of a Cat willing to reform would work when she’s making deals with the bloody Dead King. That’s the sort of stuff Pilgrim would love to spill.

    Also vote for the guide on http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=a-practical-guide-to-evil

    And if you can do contribute to EE’s patreon patreon.com/user?u=3523924

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Antoninjohn

    Cat needs to kill the Auger or at least rip out her eyes, after all without the Named Procer counts on to win their battles the Dread Empress shall smash them with political chaos from her agents. The First Prince is just matching and that is knowing every action that happens before it happens a year before hand

    Like

    1. The Augur has such as great amount of weight in the story while she may not be a combat oriented hero. Her close bond with creation itself puts her in a similar role as the bard or the hierarch and her very words can cause dramatic events to take place (real helpful for the heroes). Evil has too many doomsday weapons for good to not have a few and she does not depend on her power enough for them to turn on her she only uses it for the first prince and the uncle. So she does not abuse it like the White Knight. Basically she an oracle of Delphi placed here by the gods to send there messages and therefore diplomatic immunity to all except maybe the Hierarch

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      1. Antoninjohn

        Doomsday weapons that fall apart every time you try to use them does not match knowing all your opponents move before them in intrigue battles

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        1. Rook

          The augur is a Heroic Omniscient Spyglass though. Those never ever fail barring a Great Stroke of Luck (heroic), Clever Master Plan (villainous), or Prelude to a Great Disaster (neutral) putting up a totally bullshit blind spot

          Like

    2. Jonnnney

      Personally I think Cat should just start dropping frozen lakes in people. Maybe turn the Red Flower Mountains into the Red Flowers Cliffs overlooking the great lake of Procer

      Like

    1. PotatoMan

      Except the Ratlings get more dangerous as they get older, don’t they? Which the Skaven don’t, afaik. The Ratlings are almost like some versions of demons, or the Infestation from Warframe, where they get gnarlier the older they are, and more vicious

      Like

      1. Yotz

        ‘Older is more dangerous’ is the essence of Skaven. In their “society” you are either grow exponentially more dangerous with each passing year, or you are dead. Not to mention all the boons of the Great Horned Rat you can only get with passage of time, selective – preferably – warpstone mutations, alliances of convenience you bully someone into (which takes time), and so on.

        They are completely unable to understand that “trust” thing, though – in fact, they use one word for “trust”, “stupidity”, and “suicide”, I think. The one and only nation they was in regular diplomatic relations was Naggaroth – and their “interspecial diplomacy” boiled down to a chain of neverending betrayals and backstabbings, each one more drastic and elaborate than previous. Given that both societies deem betrayal as a holiest of virtues, it was a match made in Elysium. Or in Tartarus, since that seems more appropriate.

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    1. Personally, I think she’s not thinking very clearly when it comes to him, so she hasn’t really thought about if interacting with him will affect either of their stories much. Black is her mentor and father figure.
      She’s on a ‘path to redemption’.

      Now we get Star Wars.

      Like

  3. Matthew

    The “no contact with Black” seems damn petulant right now.

    Deal with the Dead King who is capital EEEEEEEEEEEEEEvil and sure to make the story kill you?

    Or..

    Send a message to your mentor, who though you are still mad at him, just did you a strategic solid and has a devoted the past 3 decades to defeating the Story’s Kobayahi Maru tests.

    It’s called the “Rational Guide to Evil.” Not the “Cat picks up the idiot ball guide to Evil.”

    You may not trust Black… but you trust the Dead King less and you’re willing to talk to him. By her own reasoning, there is no reason not to contact Black.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I know it breaks up under the earth, but over the mountains?

        Doesn’t Cat have that secret scrying chamber that she used to contact First Prince (who had to cut through a mountain range to attack?)

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        1. Death Knight

          To be fair she never said she didn’t contact him. She merely said “he wasn’t forthcoming with his plan”. Which actually implies she did contact him but the encounter didn’t yield actionable information. But Masego having to ask the question pretty much shoots the implication in the head since I’m reasonably sure he’d be involved in any scrying attempts to high profile personnel. So yeah, at the very least hear the Knight out. Maybe he has some perspective on the situation.

          Liked by 3 people

    1. Ca$hMoney

      It’s called the “Rational Guide to Evil.” Not the “Cat picks up the idiot ball guide to Evil.”

      The title of the story has always been kind of a lie though.

      Like

    2. ______

      > “I’m not willing to do that until I know what game he’s playing, and he hasn’t been forthcoming,” I said. “For all I know the moment we come to pick him up we’ll be heading into a pitched battle with half of Procer. I won’t consider him an enemy right now – Hells, he pretty much scrapped a legion’s worth of men to defend my borders – but it’s a long walk from that to trusting him.”

      By the looks of it, Black is the one who refuses to pick up the phone right now. Does anybody know what kind of story may require for Cat to stay ignorant of his plans?

      Like

    3. JJR

      It’s called The Practical Guide to Evil, not rational guide.

      And absent any easy way to get in contact with Black, Cat does not want to stumble into a situation where she has no idea what’s going on. Black has a plan, Cat is more likely to hinder it than help going on blind.

      Liked by 6 people

    4. Metrux

      I think half the reason is actually not taking the idiot ball. Just think for a while: what is Black’s plan? And how does this plan changes if she concatcs or directly gates him? Last chapter some people thought his plan might be to give himself to the heavens as a way to destroy the Crusade’s fate bound victory. I don’t agree with them, but to do that he needs to be specifically not tied down to any of the other two sides (AKA Cat and Malicia). So if they calmly discuss what’s happening it actually destroys the chance for this plan to work. There are so many things he can actually be going after, and we, Cat included, have no clues as to what it is. So, can you really fault her for not running around to help?

      Like

      1. As far as we concerned, his plan may include her calling him. Or not. Or to think about and then call. Or call not. Given no information, no reason to conjure possibilities, and act in the way which yield the best outcome for you. And I see no reason to prefer the unknown plan of Dead King to unknown plan of Black. Aside from personal resons. Ya know, impractical ones.

        Like

      2. nimelennar

        Not only that, but, if she doesn’t know what the plan is, it stands a reasonable chance of rescuing her (assuming that’s the intent, which, with Black, isn’t too outlandish an assumption).

        As soon as she learns the plan, it hits the Unspoken Plan Guarantee, and the chance of it succeeding drops to near-zero.

        Like

    5. Ed

      The question to me is,
      Is the Dead King really that EEEEEEEEEEEEEEvil he seems to be a bit of a homebody uninterested in conquest (unlike the bloodthirsty ‘good’ side) and only raises the heroes who attack him unless I misread it. Sure you may not agree with an entire nation of the risen dead but that is just your living bias….

      Like

      1. Gunslinger

        Didn’t he at one point want Procer to hand a large number of babies over to him as protection dues?

        Dude’s as Evil as they get

        Like

      2. Dylan Tullos

        Ed:

        The Dead King’s neighbors build a giant wall and manned it with most of their fighting age population to hold back undead incursions.

        Like

      3. limlimrevolution

        I’m fairly certain that he was the source of some pretty major invasions and conquests before he went dormant. We don’t have a super clear idea of how bad people had it while he was active, but I can’t imagine that opening a permanent hellgate and creating an undead nation (in what was presumably land settled with actual living people) was a very pleasant experience to live through.

        That being said, he HAS been dormant and keeping to his borders for years (decades?) without any antagonistic actions towards any of his neighbors, so I would imagine most nations regard him as lowercase evil since they have capital Evil to worry about right now in the form of Praes. It’s easy to forget about the big bad villain that isn’t making waves and get distracted by the ones making a big mess of things. Plus, he’s successfully broken multiple crusades if I remember correctly, so the good guys aren’t exactly eager to tangle with him again.

        Like

  4. Also, why exactly Archer couldn’t’ve beat some poor weaklings into submission prior to invasion? They had like a year, which Archer, alledgedly, spent drinking and trying to get into Masego’s pants.

    Like

    1. ______

      They have no truce with Papenheim, who is four months away from a pass through the Red Flower Vales and a fresh batch of reinforcements.

      Like

  5. Draconius Sinister

    Alright, hear me out.
    Marriage alliance.
    Cat has shown more than aptitude for necromancy, she has an instinctive grasp of it, grown from her days as Squire to now, Duchess of Moonless Nights/(Queen? Leader?) Of Winter. She can raise thousands at a time by herself, and they begin to develop intelligence and personalities after a while. Someone like that must be interesting to someone whose whole world is Necromancy. To have a functioning society with individuals again, rather than mindless automatons must be pretty great, and that’s likely what the Dead King sees in Cat.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Rook

        Maybe the plot twist will be that she’s Triumphant’s soul reborn

        Followed by her turning into the most brutally vicious runaway bride ever to exist

        Like

    1. I don’t think so.

      I think the Dead King is canonically obsessed with Triumphant, right? It doesn’t seem like he’d be willing to pursue another.

      My real reason, though, is that the Arcadia -> Calernia mirroring would point to Cat marrying someone who embodied Summer, and that’s pretty much the opposite of the Dead King.

      Like

      1. Death Knight

        I think that reflection is larger than Cat. Marrying Winter and Summer would imply that Good and Evil could conceivably reconcile their differences (or forcibly unite) if the right kind of pressure could be applied.

        Now I wonder though if the red orb that glowed was not because Malica contacted the Dead King, but because Catherine was crowned. Since Catherine is an orphan what are the odds she’s a direct descendent of Triumphant herself?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. RanVor

          It has already been proven to be possible. There is an empire overseas ruled by a duo of a Hero and a Villain. And it works.

          Why can’t it be done in Calernia? Why?

          Fuck you, that’s why.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Metrux

            Because Calernia is a backwash place full of people way behind in several areas that can never seem to do anything right, if compared to the Big places :V

            Liked by 1 person

  6. SpeckofStardust

    If the Dead king went to Cat first out of everyone, well I like he waited until after the first stage of the Crusade was dealt with, shows that he only works with people who he respects.

    We almost know nothing about him after all.

    Like

    1. ______

      We know that Malicia may have contacted him before the mobilization for the Crusade started, and that he may or may not be bound to his hell unless summoned.

      Like

    2. Argentorum

      Did he go to cat first though? In the epilogue of the last book we saw him getting a message from *someone*. The identity of that person remains unknown, but odds are Triumphant or Malecia already touched base, so to speak.

      On top of that, has anyone commented on how saying “Dread Empress Triumphant, may she never return” every time anyone so much as obliquely mentions her name is all but guaranteeing her return? Like, I get it, she’s the memetic greatest evil that ever lived, but, do you really have to send her an engraved invitation?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Metrux

        Well, she’s the greatest IN CALERNIA… Also, not really an invitation. It rises her “legend”, but doesn’t give her power, neither a narrative that makes she returns. If that was the case she would be bound to come back exactly a thousand years after her first death, by the Hero that will put her down without a chance of return.

        Like

  7. Dylan Tullos

    This is insane.

    The Dead King is, in Black’s words, “the original abomination”. He murdered his entire nation to ascend to godhood.

    The worst the Crusaders can do is conquer Callow; if the Dead King gets loose, he could murder every Callowan and raise them as part of his undead army. Cat tries to choose the “lesser evil”, and the Dead King is the greatest evil on the face of Calernia.

    Considering his offer is a mistake. Not killing his emissary on sight was a mistake. Catherine should send a message to the First Prince immediately, letting her know that the Dead King is trying to make alliances with Evil rulers. The living need to stand against the dead, regardless of their political or religious conflicts.

    The Tenth Crusade is not an existential threat to every living Callowan. The Dead King is. It would be better to surrender now than to even consider alliance with an evil that could wipe out life on the continent.

    Like

    1. Antoninjohn

      Actually the Dead King still has living subjects inside his hell with farms and everything he just doesn’t have on his kingdom in creation as Good killed the ones that stayed and then destroyed the land so no life could grow

      Like

        1. Yotz

          They still need to be healthy, happy, well fed, and well bred. If only because quality materiel for your constructs is hard to come by. And happy slaves are complacent slaves, who can self-regulate themselves by some representative form of government where all the members of society are eligible for ruling. It’s just that with age comes aptitude, and in truly meritocratic society overwhelming majority of the key positions would be held by the high-functioning living dead, while most of the menial work would be done by the y’m-bhi. Which leaves most of the living to life of “do whatever you want” with only debt to society being “Be fertile and have increase”.

          Like

      1. Dylan Tullos

        Antoninjohn:

        It was the Dead King who poisoned Keter’s air so that nothing could live there.

        Also, the Dead King murdered everyone in his kingdom to fuel the ritual that made him a god. He’s essentially Akua Sahelian’s role model.

        Like

    2. ______

      The lich is known to keep to his borders though. The most advance he made past them was raiding the shores of Cleves and Hainaut.
      I agree that they need a way to keep him in check, just by the virtue of him being a staggeringly old villain. Maybe they can use Diabolist for that, she was planning to rule all of Calernia, she may know more about him than anyone except the Tower, and his armies notably include devils and demons (not to mention he may be barred from entering Creation on his own).

      Like

        1. ______

          How? He can just hole up in his hell and spam demons. He’s inventive enough that no crusade actually reached his portal, and the only person who ever did is, to our knowledge, Ranger, who is out of pretty much anyone’s league and also made him shore up the weaknesses she abused. “Leave him be” is the only strategy that ever worked against the Dead King so far, which means it’s the one that Cat’s gonna use as a default one.

          Like

          1. Ca$hMoney

            Throw the entire continent at him until he dies.

            Yes yes yes. That’s an extreme measure that would cost countless lives. But the entire reason why he’s such a threat in the first place is because of people whining that it’s too hard and dangerous. The thing is that the longer you leave a threat to fester the worse it will be to deal with down the line, and if the Dead King gets his way then that is very likely it for any life on the entire continent. It’s better for the people of Calernia in the long run if they get rid of him as soon as they can no matter the cost. Every time you choose to make things easier for people in the present you risk making things harder for people in the future. The Dead King is essentially a big metaphor for climate change in this regard.

            Or alternatively, have everyone put all their thinking caps on and figure out an actual way they can get the better of him. That’s the entire conceit of this entire work of fiction right?

            And leaving him alone isn’t the strategy they chose because it’s the only one that works, they do it because it’s the easiest to accept and most obvious path to take. Which is right up Cat’s alley I guess.

            Like

            1. RanVor

              The problem is, his armies are literally infinite. Throwing the entire continent at him would result in the entire continent dead.

              Like

              1. Death Knight

                Not just dead. Every living soldier that dies comes back as one of the dead. Remember, he also has dead heroic champions in his service, two of which the Ranger herself deemed worthy to hunt. Now if the Ranger considers you worthy to be hunted you’re immediately promoted to badass second class. Defeating the Dead King through conventional means is a fools errand.

                Liked by 3 people

              1. Yotz

                I used HTML tags. blockquote works, q – so-so; i, b, u, s, a – works. Haven’t tried img, afair it needs tinkering with wordpress to work properly – but someone here already embedded a clip, so…

                Or you can just italicize text

                and denote it with an empty line to emphasize a quote, if nothing other.

                Like

    3. But.

      If they said to Pilgrim, “the choices are an alliance with the Crusaders or an alliance with the Dead King, because you won’t leave Callow in peace as a neutral”, he would instantly and with no hesitation seek out every prospect of Callow to be a neutral or an ally, and stab those prospects to death with every weapon he can reach.

      The crusaders, all of them, literally cannot conceive of a world where stabbing the Black Queen is not the best and only course of action. If she abdicates, they pause briefly to burn, rape, loot and partition Callow, and then return to their obsession with stabbing Catherine Foundling.

      The Callowan living are good with standing together against the dead, sure. At this point I’m not even sure Augur directly telling the First Prince to stand down the crusade because worse is incoming would get the Crusaders on board.

      Like

      1. Ca$hMoney

        The crusaders, all of them, literally cannot conceive of a world where stabbing the Black Queen is not the best and only course of action

        Probably because she’s given them no actual reasons why they shouldn’t stab her, aside from her own rhetoric that is constantly undermined by the over the top violence of her actions.

        If she goes ahead with this alliance… we’ll they’ll have every rational reason to want to go “You know what? Fuck Callow too!” and turn the country into the worlds first extra chunky blood bank.

        Like

      2. I dunno why you think the Crusaders are unwilling to deal with Cat. I mean, they just did that two chapters ago, right? Like, there was a whole scene where everyone got together and negotiated, and they have since stuck by the treaty that got signed.

        Like

        1. JJR

          They had to be forced to the negotiating table through overwhelming force. This does not speak to an inherent willingness to negotiate. And given that the force under Papenheim is going to have the advantage in power, it’s unlikely that Cat and Woe can force negotiations again.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Ca$hMoney

            They had to be forced to the negotiating table through overwhelming force.

            Noooo they didn’t. The moment they caved was when Cat was bumbling around avoiding getting her ass kicked by the heroes as her army was slowly but inevitably losing. Rozala decided to cut things off because she realized that to keep fighting was to both hurt her position and kill too many people to be worth it and be a mistake in the long run.

            Like

            1. JJR

              When I said overwhelming force I was thinking about the first day when Cat dropped a lake on them. Without the casualties and change in landscape that caused it’s unlikely that The Army of Callow could have gone on to force a draw.

              As for who was winning. That would be The Army of Callow.

              “The moment the front holding back the dead collapsed the battle was good as won, barring heroic intervention, but at the current pace that might take hours.”

              Naturally heroic intervention at the most desperate hour would be a given, and Juniper wouldn’t have anything to stop them from swinging the outcome back to victory. But then Cat sicked the Wild Hunt on the Procean lines with specific instructions to make them collapse. And we then get a nice exchange between Cat and Saint.

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

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

              That and the crusaders were done, logistically, even if they managed to beat the army of Callow in front of them the lack of food was forcing them to the negotiating table.

              Liked by 2 people

      3. Dylan Tullos

        ahd:

        Anyone who would even consider an alliance with the Dead King is an enemy of life and deserves to be utterly destroyed.

        If Catherine allies with the Dead King, she will have proven that everything the Crusaders say is right.

        Like

          1. Dylan Tullos

            ahd:

            You must be one of the Damned.

            “If I die, I’m taking everyone with me!”

            Malevolent narcissism is not a desirable trait in leaders. If the Crusaders win, Callow will still be alive. It the Dead King wins…well, we saw what he did to his own people.

            Like

            1. Rook

              I don’t see where you’re getting ‘I’m taking everyone down with me’ from the character that just spent the entire arc trying to take as few people down as possible including the invading army trying to kill her.

              She still won’t even touch the little entrance invitation he sent her and is considering having a chat with him out of desperation, she’s not rushing there to swear fealty and extend his domains to the end of the earth. Lets not be dramatic here.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. If the Crusaders win, Callow will be used up.

              Basically the only thing holding Cat on that throne (instead of abdicating and wandering off with the Woe to do something more fun and less risky for Callow) is the certainty that the Crusade will trample straight over the top of the looted, burnt, and *used* remains of Callow because that feels good and yields profit to the princes of Procer.

              It didn’t have to be that way, but Pilgrim and his crew like it that way. They *want* it that way, and as soon as they find an excuse that doesn’t gut their narrative strengths, they’ll try for it again. They could have gone around Callow; taken the offer of a portal and gone straight for the throat of the Dread Empress, who apparently is liking these ideas of allying with things like the Dead King and building floating fortresses full of superweapons powered by stolen souls and a cityful of blood.

              They. Didn’t. Accept. This. Offer.

              They. Wanted. Stabbing. Cat. More. Than. Winning. The. Crusade. Promptly.

              That. Is. On. Them.

              You are right, malevolent narcissism is a bad thing to have in your leadership.

              Apart from mouthing “Evil!” a lot, you’re not really making a case for *Cat* being the narcissist.

              I *could* provide chapter citations for every statement I made above, but: I’m not seeing you listening to anything other than the voices inside your head. That’s as much time as I want to waste on you.

              Go read something that doesn’t require so much nuanced thought from you, will you? You’ll be happier and so will everyone else here.

              Like

    4. SpeckofStardust

      On the other side of the coin if she could get the dead king to agree with the accords….
      Well that would be interesting.
      After all when was the last time the Dead king did something outside of his starting nation? Cause if he hasn’t he might not want to. And thus could be reasonable to deal with. After all that we don’t know of anything he did other then his ascension to godhood other then wiping out everyone that has tried to remove him (and that in one of his negotiations he asked for little kids every year).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Dylan Tullos

        SpeckofStardust:

        The Dead King constantly seeks to invade the northern principalities of Procer. They built a giant wall to keep out undead incursions.

        He killed everyone in his country to make himself a god, and he demands children as tribute. These are not the actions of a ruler who is going to be interested in the Accords, especially since he ascended using a ritual that the Accords would specifically forbid.

        Like

        1. JJR

          What would he care for the fact that the accords would forbid the ritual he used to ascend? He already did it, promising to not do it again is no great sacrifice. And preventing another from usurping his place as Calernia’s undead God King would probably be a plus.

          Like

      1. Yotz

        Clearly an irrational prejudice of some sort or other. What happened to “venerate your elders”?! Younglings thouse days… Truly, a grim and dismal times are upon us.

        Liked by 2 people

    5. SHARKS

      I don’t think the Dead King is as simple as his reputation leads us to believe. He became an undead god, claimed a level of hell for himself and then…nothing. He just sat there, waiting. Cat’s actions have opened up the chance for *something* that he seems to have been waiting a long, long time for.

      Right now, my bet is that he’s another villain that intends to fuck with the whole “Good vs Evil” narrative, like Cat and Black.

      Think about it. He became something as, or more powerful than any dread emperor, but then immediately turned around, attacked another evil faction and put himself out of reach of Good Heroes. Unless there’s a personal vendetta involved, it’s *really* hard to put together a storyline of a hero defeating a mostly passive undead king in hell. Doubly so considering the other, more aggressive threats around on the continent will take priority.

      Now, Cat shows up. She manipulates, defies, and eventually breaks her own Name. The Woe, though they have been fighting heroes all this time, act *nothing* like stereotypical villains. Thief switched sides, but she’s still basically acting the same as when she was a hero. Masego is a pure academic who wants to break out of the “cage” of the world. Deadhand is an administrator and a beacon of hope to his downtrodden people as their first Named. Archer, like her mentor, is straight up a neutral-aligned ass kicker.

      And then there’s Cat. She’s busted onto the stage as a “villain” that managed to end a war as old as time between the fae, distanced herself from the Tower, and acted in the interest of her oppressed people. And now, at her most powerful point to date, she *doesn’t have a name*. Even her fae powers, which are supposed to be give her even stronger ties to a predefined narrative are doing *nothing*. And those powers are *bound to her damn soul*.

      All of her party go against traditional narratives and upset the whole good vs evil thing in ways the Calamities never did. If his goal is to break or sidestep the good/evil thing, Cat and the Woe are something truly unique, and would explain why the Dead King chose now of all times to make a move.

      Liked by 1 person

    6. Disintegrating his business card/ invite if an accredited monster unheard would also be a Very Bad Move. Nothing says “politically tone deaf and unstable young pup” more clearly.

      That cat was a minimalist construct for reasons beyond getting under various scrying radars. Which do you take seriously: the embossed, colourful and busily designed leaflet of a resume with the “unique” font… or the single sheet of A4 which has all the pertinent info you’re looking for on it with only hints of more being available upon request at the interview, in a clearly laid out and highly legible format with, perhaps, a dab of colour in the corner?

      I also know which kind of letter format is the biggest implicit threat, too… They come in simple, brown envelopes that don’t look like much unless you’re aware of the importance of windowed little brown envelopes. Red ink need not necessarily apply, but certainly increases the heart rate beyond “standard brown bad news”.

      Like

    7. Metrux

      You seem to forget the Dead King never invaded another country. NEVER. He came from one of the hells, which he conquered, and used his power to kill and raise the whole of a country. Then he sat tight and only did his own things, making better undeads, getting invaded by Crusades and Ranger, studying magic… Some even think he is Dread Emperor Sorcerous from Praes, and yet he never came back for the Tower…

      Yes, he is an abomination and a great Evil and evil, but he is not that much of a threat, since he never treathens anyone. Besides, he’s the only known guy to have defeated a Crusade, so… Isn’t he the expert she needs?

      Like

      1. Dylan Tullos

        Metrux:

        That is incorrect. There are entire principalities dedicated to holding back incursions from the Kingdom of the Dead, as he constantly seeks to break out of his island and invade his neighbors.

        Like

    8. Agent J

      Killing the emissaries of a great and powerful ruler did not go particulalrly well for the Kwarezm. If you think allying with the oldest evil in Calernia is a mistake, fine. It’s not like you’re wrong. But do be wise and don’t bait the man into war with you either. That will not be pleasant.

      Also, running off to go tell Mama Cordelia about the big bag man with the scary van wouldn’t be an enjoyable story to read.

      Liked by 1 person

    9. warriormonk19

      I thought the Kingdom of the Dead was an accident. The Dead King, a great mage while he was living, failed to predict the Keter’s Price for opening the hellgate. His people and kingdom paid the price for his mistake.

      Like

    10. Thaumaturge

      I’m almost certain Cat isn’t shooting for the ‘lesser’ evil at this point.

      She’s trying to break the perpetual cycle of Callow’s misuse and exploitation, eventual reclamation, and then retaking and exploitation once more. She seems to be willing to do just about everything to ensure that Callow is detached from that cycle by the time she’s dead and (potentially) rotting in the dirt.

      Like

  8. I wonder if the other villains like Malicia or Tyrant received a similar message? If the invitation is for Cat alone, then that is ridiculously impressive that she and she alone out of all the great villains in Calernia was invited by the Dead King.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oshi

      More like horrifically terrifying….One of the great ld evils of Calernia decided Cat is worth his time. He wants something and it ain’t gonna be pretty.

      Like

    2. Metrux

      Think of the wording in his message, he basically says that Evil must stand together. I’m pretty sure he spoke to others, though I also think Praes was not invited…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Say, Black is going more or less to Salia now, ain’t he? Can Cat come to Salia as well, ya know, to officially seek signatory status? And bring a little entourage with her, say an Army of Callow? Oh and look, totally a coincidence, but isn’t Black besieging the same exact province? Who would’ve thought! Of course, should her plea be declined, it can be said, that she was pushed to side with dastardly Dlack Knight out of pure desperation. Oh my!

    Oh and you can also drop a hint that Necromancer666 send you a friend invite. It will also go with the letter and spirit of Cat’s diplomacy: drink this cheap wine, or get stabbed with the goblet.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Death Knight

    Huh, why would the Dead King approach Catherine now, when she’s at her weakest if he had planned for an Alliance? Why not a couple of months prior to her scuffle with Malanza? The Dead King likely knows that she’s not militarliy strong at the moment so recruiting her for her army wouldn’t be the main reason. Is it merely a moment of opportunity? Offer Alliance when he knows Cat has few other options?

    Could be. He could conceivably bolster Cat’s forces with rank and file undead. Maybe even gift a couple of dead heroes. But thematically its doomed to fail. Such an alliance would undoubtedly be the catalyst for the forming of the ultimate 5 that the Pilgrim alluded to. The failure to grasp this point is probably a good indicator of the Dead King’s unchanging nature and might be the reason why he’s so powerful. He probably can’t do anything other than what his Role demands which strengthens him greatly power wise but all but ensures his doom Story wise.

    …what are you gonna do, Cat?

    Like

    1. SpeckofStardust

      Well a Reason why he would approach now would be if he was waiting to see if Cat was worth allying with.
      After all Black lovingly pointed out Cat did amazingly well in a tight spot against the crusader army.

      He’s and old and powerful enough evil that he could legit be doing this for shits and giggles and that Cat has proven to be ‘worthy’ of his interest, after all the last time he apparently showed interest in the outside world was when Triumphant was kicking around.

      Or he sent this message at the start of the war and it took this long to reach her.

      Like

      1. Mr. Nobody

        Cat said it’s already one month since the Battle of the Camps and the undead don’t tire, nor do they need rest. I guess the Dead King saw the first “wave” of the Crusade against Catherine as a test for her to prove her worth in the alliance.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if even the Tyrant of Helike was invited too. Just imagine how amusing it would be a gathering of the “Big Bad Villains”.

        Like

        1. If it was really the gathering of BBV, then you’d also need Malicia, Black, Hierarch. They group up to play some Dragon Poker, but Dead King starts hitting on Malicia, and then Triumphant returns from her vacation, and starts beating Dead King with a broom, while everyone laughs and Seinfeld theme plays on background.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Metrux

            Except Black is only seem as a lapdog by the big bad, and Malicia is not seen as trustworthy to anyone. Not even to Black, anymore. For Hierarch, he is not a Villain. Cue in Bard appearing to him and trying to get him to move, which means he’s neutral or maybe even a Hero. So maybe we’ll see somethng like free Villains and a Drow Named appearing at the meeting, but certainly not those three…

            Like

            1. She wanted him to take a side, not be a Hero. Black is as much a lapdog to Malicia as Tyrant is to Hierarch. And trustworthiness of a Villain is an everpressing concern.

              But yeah, balls to seeing them here, albeit due to different reasons.

              Like

    2. Metrux

      You might want to reconsider. The Dead King already killed two Crusades into his territory, and according to Ranger’s interlude his army has only grown in power since then. Also, especially because of this high power, mundane armies mean nothing to him. It’s more probable that he saw in her something interesting or that he likes in some fashion, and thus made her enough to be called. We can also see by the wording that he isn’t calling her only, so this could potentially be the first time in the story of Calernia that his army marches out of his country. If you may remember, it’s been noted that people gave up on attacking him, especially because he and his undead never leave the nation. Now, then, things seem to be changing, after hundreds of years…

      Like

  11. HorrorPls!

    I’d really like to see him be a real horror. Even the parts about what Akua did weren’t graphic enough to really instill the horror movie levels of creepiness the actions deservered. WHether before a deal is struck with the King of the Dead or when he’s fighting with Kat I’d like to see him inflict true graphic Evil. Same thing with Warlock and his experiments, or even Black in his quest for victory through civilian heartlands. Torturing civilians for shock value to force Papenheim to turn his way for example. Basically these r all of Kat’s allies, who are nominally evil. We keep being told that they are monsters, but it is never shown, they’re evil actions are told in a sterile macro manner, disregarding the micro effects it has on the small people that get trampled underfoot.

    Like

    1. JJR

      The problem with that is that such gratuitous evil tends to make Heroes crawl out of the woodwork. He needs to avoid that, now more than ever.

      Like

  12. Cicero

    I don’t get this Cat.

    Dead King is a bad choice period.

    Black is a better ally, hands down.

    Also a better alternative, apply for alliance with the Crusade, ride that redemption story as far as you need to before jumping off. Avoiding the Dead King seems to me like a pretty good reason to try to push that option further.

    I just don’t get it.

    Like

    1. JJR

      Then again, maybe if she gets a treaty with the Dead King and then petitions to join the Grand Alliance she can foist the Redemption narrative off on the lich. Like a game of hot potato but with more fatal consequences.

      Probably not though, the undead have been said to be less able to change. The accumulated years behind his evil undead lich act would be hard to overcome. Redeeming all of Praes (with promises of grain for good behavior) might be an easier challenge.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. ______

      Black doesn’t have enough soldiers and isn’t replying to calls, so that’s way up in the air. Also, one does not simply jump off a redemption story, a refusal do become a better person is death, one way or another.

      Like

      1. Cicero

        First of all, Cat already successfully jumped off one redemption story already.

        Second, of course she can survive jumping off a redemption story. As long as she times it right. Like say, right after the big bad enemy (The Tower) is assured of defeat, but before she has to compromise her own position.

        And then she takes the slot of that dubiously immoral some-time ally of good who engages in small bouts of villainy, but can be called upon by the forces of good to unite against the greater evils (like the Dead King).

        You know, basically the same position the Thief had back when she was a heroine.

        There are quite a few stories like that. Especially if the villain/anti-hero is female.

        Basically, Cat should try to become Catwoman to the Heroes Batman.

        Like

  13. JJR

    One thing Cat needs to be very aware of in regards to the Dead Kong’s diplomatic envoy.

    “I bear invitation from the King of the Dead, who offers safe passage to Keter.”

    She is only offered safe passage TO Keter, not TO AND FROM Keter. A very important distinction, one that means if she does respond to it she might have to chew through her tounge again to avoid getting on the Dead King’s bad side. That or fight her way out of an entire nation of undead.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Dantalian

      Kinda obvious seeing who she’s going to negotiate with. ^^

      You don’t go to an evil nation like the Kingdom the Dead expecting to disagree with their ruler and coming back unscathed.

      It should also be noted that the way it was phrased the invitation placed Keter in quite a vulnerable position if the Dead King is also including himself when saying “In the face of Above’s wroth, the champions of Below must either face demise alone or overturn the wheel of fate in coming striving”. It shows he’s at least a little desperate, saying that doom is certain and all that stuff.

      Like

    2. Metrux

      Well, shouldn’t this only be expected when visiting another Villain? I mean, think of Praes poison wine, and of the Tyrant dealing with the Calamities… You must always wait for a try on your life 😛

      Like

  14. 1queenofblades1

    I have a theory. This is an extract from the very first quote of the Guide, in the Prologue, said to be from the first page of the Book of All Things:
    “In their infinite wisdom they brought into existence Creation, but with Creation came discord. The Gods disagreed on the nature of things: some believed their children should be guided to greater things, while others believed that they must rule over the creatures they had made.

    So, we are told, were born Good and Evil.”

    Now I’m sure most people will believe that the ones that think their children should be guided to greater things are the Gods Above.

    But while re-reading my favorite parts of the Guide, I came to realize that it’s the Gods Above that demand absolute obedience. The Choirs are all based around stripping mortals of their free will. They set down rules and demand absolute obedience and blind faith and give nothing in return. (Realized this in Cat’s conversation with the sister in the House of Light). Meanwhile, the Gods Below are never seen, and while they do help, they’re very hands-off and provide the tools but not the means to win, unlike the Gods Above which results in Good always winning in the long term. So, what if, what the story thinks of as ‘Good’ actually represent the Gods that believe they must rule over the creatures they made in Creation, while Gods Below are the ones that think their children must be guided to greater things? I don’t know how this would tie in with Cat’s role in the story if true, but it’s an intriguing theory and I haven’t seen anyone else put it forward in the comments.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. I don’t mean no disrespect, but maybe you didn’t see this theory cause it was already on everyones mind and so nobody thought to put it forward? It was my understanding as far as book 2, that the whole dispute between Above and Below, was pretty much “give fish” vs “teach how to fish”, also, the idea of teaching how to fish to Gods Below includes dropping you in the middle of the ocean, and then throwing at you, in that exact order, a net, a spear, and a boat.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Metrux

      I actually have… Since the last book, though I thought of it since the beggining of the second one… I wouldn’t remember in what chapter I put it down, but if you would look for a while you can probably find it. It tends to have lot’s of comments each chapter, so… Maybe use ctrl+f? Also, yes, the theory is very sound, nothing seems to be against it.

      Like

  15. Fern

    Oh jeez, I was not expecting this one

    I think I’m going to really love the next few chapters. The Dead King and the Elves have been the two important unknowns so far in the story. The Elves are irrelevant, now that we know that whatever coming story will be too strong to handle. That it’s about to involve the Dead King means that it must be big enough to threaten his position (which is fucking /fascinating/, by the way. That’s canon confirmation that what we’re building up to is going to be a Triumphant-scale shitshow as far as The Story is concerned).

    The Dead King is noooooot a good ally to have though. An alliance would mean a bonfire level of attention being put on Cat, though she might be powerful enough at that point to whether it. It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that said situation is definitely just going to lead to a big counterattack by the heavens, and they definitely won’t be pulling punches. Breaking the game means allying with Good polities, not eliminating them in the short term.

    Like

    1. Metrux

      Actually, do they have more to throw her way? I mean, whatever they didn’t throw with the Crusade already is probably tied down somewhere else or not really going to do a difference… She already has a Crusade, and allying with him won’t paint a heavenly target for fate to destroy her, in the same way Bonfire would’ve, so from the narrative it’s not bad. I absolutely think the Dead King will try to betray her at some point, but that is only to be expected from Villains.

      Like

    2. Someguy

      I don’t think the heroes will treat her as an A-level threat if she allies with the Dead King, they’d probably downgrade her threat level due to expecting a set up for “Evil turns on Evil”. Dealing with potential fallout would be Hasenbach’s problem while they pile on useless platitudes.

      Like

  16. RanVor

    The alliance with the Dead King would fundamentally fuck up everything Cat strives to achieve, but the time is running short and there aren’t any other real options present (save for Black, but he has a plan and Cat knows better than to fuck it up). Well played, Pricks Below.

    Although I’d be highly amused if he turned out to be into the Accords.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Well the big bad is finally coming out of the shadows…that promises to be interesting, all right.

    Even saving Black and his entire army wouldn’t solve anything given the ugly situation right now. If the Legions of Terror join forces with the Army of Callow after being reinforced, they should have 40 000 soldiers. Papenheim will be able to throw the double of that, the Vales defensive position are gone and he will still have an army or two of 30 000+ to throw at them. Plus the Army of the Stairwell is still withdrawing.

    It is abhorrent yes, but the Dead King is the last option left right now IF his conditions are somewhat acceptable. It is the only villain after all to routinely defeat heroes and Crusades. The air above Keter kingdom is so poisoned no non-Named can attack it with any chance of victory.

    The question is who else has been ‘invited’. There are not many villains in Calernia deserving the ‘honour’:
    Dread Empress Malicia
    the Black Knight Amadeus
    The Tyrant of Helike
    Cat
    maybe the Priestess of the Night?

    When you think the Heavens have launched over twenty heroes at their throats and had also the power to send ‘adventurers’ in Callow, they are quite massively outnumbered…
    The ‘Grand Alliance of Evil’ imagined by Hasenbach may come (or not) into existence in the enxt chapters…

    Like

    1. 1. The Legions of Terror proved to be able to pull a win over thrice their number. 40k is nothing to sneer at.

      2. While defenses of Vales are gone, it still leaves a narrow passage of Stairway (which they will fortify, and which protected by Deoraithe anyway) and whatever pass Papenheim would manage to dig up. Which won’t be exactly enough to pour the whole host at once and use their advantage in numbers.

      3. And whether he will manage to dig up anything is up to debate, because some Amadeus fellow is of opinion that some Wekesa fellow wouldn’t let them.

      4. While Crusaders dig themselves a pass, a Marchford tribe and sappers (Sacker is on the Callow side of Vales, ‘member?) can fortify it pretty decently.

      5. Cat can drop a lake on to the Vales.

      6. Vales are not the only fortification Callow has.

      Like

      1. Metrux

        You really don’t know war, do you? They needed BOTH the narrow valley and the fortifications to pull what they did, while divind the enemy in two and not fighting the whole of the army. And with all of that, they had similar losses to the enemy, with a narrative win. So no, without the advantages of before, facing bigger numbers they can’t win.

        1. Already explained above.

        2. They won’t use the stairway, and they don’t need to, since the “small pass” you seem to think they’ll make is not someplace Cat can just camp her army and wait to defend. It’s the end of the mountains, alot more open and easier to traverse than the high pass at the Valley, so if she stays close, it’s actually a open terrain battle, the worst againt bigger numbers.

        3. It was explicitly noted that he shouldn’t let THE WITCH help with that, he won’t interfere with mortal diggers.

        4. No they can’t, it’s not a place with natural resources already being exploited, neither places with enough resources nearby, much less something they can build in two months. Because until the materials start trickling by and the necessary people get there, a lot of time would’ve passed. And we don’t even know if it would really be a defensible place, since it’s the end of the mountains, and not the high pass, as stated above.

        5. She’s been stopped by heroes while doing that before, and this time they’ll have even more heroes. Not a viable plan in any measure or way.

        6. Yes, they’re not. And this point goes against everything else you said, except for 1 in part, so it’s actually strange you pointing that out. But, we must also remember, half those fortifications have been destroyed and never rebuilt, while the others are mostly not enough to stop a true army, with the exception of the border with Praes and the Duchess that is already defending the stairway. None of those defences will make much of a diference to a true army with war engines and Named.

        Like

    2. Dylan Tullos

      Antony444:

      The Dead King is not an option at all.

      Catherine would be better off following the Redeemed Villain story, dying, and restoring the status quo that existed before Black conquered Callow. She would be better off fighting Pappenheim, dying, and having Callow overrun by Crusaders. Anything would be preferable to working with the “original abomination”.

      The Dead King defeated a Crusade by turning Keter’s air into poison gas. Even if he sincerely intends to ally with Cat, which I don’t believe for a second, he would “help” by turning Callow into a barren wasteland filled with the living dead.

      A “Grand Alliance of Evil” would include Tyrant, who is absurdly enthusiastic about Classic Evil backstabbing, the Chain of Hunger, who just want to eat everyone, and the drow, who are an entire society of people who behave like Classic Villains all the time.

      If they actually got together in one place, the Crusade wouldn’t be necessary, because they would wipe each other out.

      Like

  18. >“You know, killing the people in charge until someone willing to listen gets promoted,” she said. “The Tenets of Night are all about stabbing to get on top, you’d blend right in.”

    The fact that Cat only sighed to that is worrying me. Because, you know, it might be true.

    Like

  19. mavant

    Ask the Hierarch for help setting up Callowan instances of the institutions required for democracy. Commit to holding elections for your replacement as soon as possible, and no later than $X years. He’d be all over it, and it meshes well with the general “build institutions that don’t rely on personal charisma of their leaders” thing that Black and Malicia have been pushing for so long, as well as giving Callow a chance to pull out of the constant battle between above and below.

    Also, Cat’s ability to make credible precommitments – and maybe to extract them? – as the bearer of a fae mantle seems underutilized. Much of diplomacy could be radically simplified by making promises unbreakable.

    Like

    1. Jane

      Um. Have you seen Ballerephon’s institutions before?… I don’t think anyone else generally considers them a good idea…

      Also, I don’t think they can reasonably scale up to a country-sized government. If nothing else, there are too many lots to draw, and the psychic police will have a devil of a time keeping an eye on all the scattered farmers.

      Liked by 2 people

  20. Thanks for the chapter!

    I am surprised that no one has commented about the possibility of the Dead King being interested in Akua. Even if she is only a soul, it would not be a problem for her to come back if freed, much less with the help of the Dead King.
    Her superweapon is basically an improvement of his work with the greater breach, and even Warlock was marveling at it. It would not surprise me that the Dead King would want her or be at least interested in her.
    And he probably didn’t approach Cat before because he knew she would not want to treat with him unless totally desperate.
    Of course, I doubt he only approached for that reason, there is probably more, but it’s still interesting to know, because what better chances Akua will ever have to escape Cat control?

    Like

    1. limlimrevolution

      I think that the Akua angle is definitely something to consider. Mass necromancy on that scale is not exactly common and impressing Warlock definitely shows that this is something worth Akua putting on her resume. Maybe the Dead King is hiring.

      He also probably realizes that Cat has every incentive to ignore his invitation and would only do so if she had no other choice. This is really perfect timing for this overture.

      Like

  21. Jane

    You know who this invitation really messes over? Amadis. Now on top of being broken and humiliated on the field, it makes it seem as though they were tricked into withdrawing on top of it all. “We lost a terrible number of soldiers for no good reason, but… At least we got Callow to seek admission to the Grand Alliance! …Wait, what do you mean she announced a formal treaty with Keter yesterday? …Wait, since when does Keter do alliances!?”. In a different sort of story, this sort of accidental casual abuse leads to a previously minor figure becoming the mastermind behind some grand plan to seek revenge on the main character…

    Incidentally, this also means that the only real prayer Amadis has of retaining any face is to quietly sabotage the Crusade. If it fails decisively, then his own failure was just to be expected, instead of making him look like a massive fool – it was all the First Prince’s fault for putting them in a hopeless situation. Of course, if the Dead King is involved, then he can’t sabotage the Crusade without, you know. Potentially dooming all life on the continent, worst case scenario. Aren’t you glad you’re not Amadis right now?

    On a different note… I wonder what Cat’s stance on expansion will be? She’s never really fought for anything but the independence (quasi or otherwise) of Callow before, but now that she has it (more or less)… Well, let’s say that Procer are huge jerks about this; not only do they continue the Crusade against her after this new threat is tossed in, but they view her as the weak link and throw everything they have (plus anything they can scrounge up in desperation) at her so that they can take her out of the war as quickly as possible. Miraculously, she wins, Procer lies broken, and the Crusade disbands with a bit of an embarrassed scent around it all.

    Does Cat demand anything but peace (and maybe reparations) at the negotiating table? Procer will have demonstrated itself as an implacable enemy who will surely start a new war in a few years or decades, and this would be a golden opportunity to break their power once and for all – and the people of Callow certainly wouldn’t mind reversing their positions for once. After a hard-fought war, they might even grumble if Cat didn’t demand territorial concessions.

    Of course, occupations are a headache. It would take a lot of Legions to keep the peace, periodic Hero pruning, and a heck of a lot of organization – all things that Callow are still dealing with themselves. All to trade one ancient enemy (plus, you know, all the material gains) for a set of new enemies; even if most of the rest of the world were to turn a blind eye to an Evil kingdom taking Procer (not a given), at the very least she’d have to worry about the new countries on her border. Of course, complete annexation isn’t the only possibility either; she could just take a few juicy Principalities that she thinks she has the resources to manage, and trust that leaves the rest of the country weakened enough that they’ll be less of a danger.

    And, of course, it’s not as though she’ll only be the only country at the table. What, if anything, would the Dead King (and any other allies he adds) demand? Surely they’re not doing this out of the goodness of their heart; does their possible demands change anything in her eyes?

    Throughout the course of the Guide, Cat’s always been enough of an underdog that just surviving the trials before her has been an unexpected victory. Sure, she’s gotten a perk or two along the way, but simple survival has generally been the aim. If she has the Dead King’s backing in this war, however, that gives her the option of demanding more; does that hold any appeal for her?

    Apropos of nothing, I wonder what Vivienne’s opinion on working with the Dead King will be. Normally, I’d think this a “I’m breaking up with you if you even think about doing this” type of thing, given her possession of a moral compass, but she seems surprisingly calm about the topic so far, despite the conversation obviously going in a “We don’t have any other options” direction.

    I’d also wonder if the proposal might be worth calling on Akua’s insight, but, well. I don’t think her presence at a council meeting would be appreciated…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dylan Tullos

      Jane:

      Expansion is impossible. Procer couldn’t occupy Callow, and it’s much bigger than Callow. Why would Callow have any more luck occupying a larger country?

      As you point out, the Dead King is a threat to all life on the continent. If Catherine breaks Procer completely, the Kingdom of the Dead and the Chain of Hunger will be able to escape. The consequences will be apocalyptic.

      Like

      1. RanVor

        The Dead King has always had the resources and manpower to effortlessly steamroll the entire continent, and yet he never tried. I doubt leaving him unchecked for a time being would be as disastrous as you believe. The Chain of Hunger would be a problem, though.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Dylan Tullos

          RanVor:

          I agree that something weird is going on with the Dead King, something that prevents him from just overrunning everyone. But there’s a reason his neighbors built a giant wall and turned their nations into an armed camp; even if he’s somehow prevented from bringing all of his resources, he’s definitely a threat.

          The only limit to the Chain of Hunger’s growth appears to be food. As long as they’re stuck in the far north, with little access to resources, they’ll eat each other and made poorly organized attacks on heavily fortified principalities.

          If they get out into rich, undefended lands, they’ll finally have the food they need to increase their numbers. That would get bad fast, and it would be next to impossible to get rid of them once they get out of their current trap.

          Like

          1. RanVor

            Has anyone ever wondered if the reason the ratlings are so barbaric and aggressive is that they are forced to turn to cannibalism just to survive?

            Like

      2. Jane

        Callow occupying Procer would normally be impossible, but if Procer is devastated following the war, while Callow only suffers limited losses… Well, I still wouldn’t give them good odds, but it wouldn’t be impossible. It’s not hard to keep rebels down, so long as you can stop them from arming and organizing – if Thief’s spies are good enough, then all Catherine needs to do is maintain enough of a Legion presence to be visible, and keep domestic affairs in the “we want to rebuild after these horrors, and we’re not being too oppressed” range until she can properly rebuild the military. Procer would need to be fairly well broken for it to even be conceivable, though, I agree; the sheer population disparity is a huge problem, and historically speaking, tends to end strangely at best, terribly at worst.

        That said, claiming several principalities or partitioning the country between herself and another of Procer’s neighbors is another matter; integrating a couple of juicy principalities wouldn’t represent nearly as much of a strain on Callow’s resources, and if it can tilt the balance of power in Callow’s favor, there’s a good strategic argument to be made that the added short-term difficulty would end a long-term threat to Callow’s independence – as well as end their dependence on the Tower for their security.

        That said, I’m less interested in the viability of such a scenario than what Catherine’s response would be. Let’s say a wizard gave her a magic wand that made occupation effortless; would she take the opportunity, be it for Callow or herself, or would she decide that anything past Callow’s traditional borders is none of her concern? I could see arguments either way.

        Like

      3. Jane

        Ah, and as regards the dangers that Procer keeps in check… The Chain of Hunger, certainly, though it sounds like it’s mostly one principality keeping them in check – surely something could be done until a long-term solution could be put in place. It doesn’t sound like they’re much of a danger until an opening let’s them start snowballing.

        The Kingdom of the Dead, on the other hand… Honestly, it doesn’t sound like they’re doing anything to keep them in check at all. It’s pretty much the Dead King slouching upon his throne, and waiting for something to happen. It’s not that Procer’s some terrible barrier to him, so much as he’s not actually trying to do anything – yet.

        Besides, if this alliance goes through, nobody betrays anyone, and Catherine doesn’t manipulate the situation to destroy both… The Kingdom of the Dead is free anyway. Catherine’s occupation policy doesn’t matter in any scenario where Procer’s army is broken enough for her to claim territory. If anything, being an “ally” of the Kingdom of the Dead might make any place taken under her protection safer.

        Like

        1. Agent J

          If Cat goes a-conquering, I’d much rather see her take the Golden Bloom. Cuz fuck racist elves and I love Kegan. The Deoarithe would be ecstatic about getting their stolen home back and Cat would have a vassal with unshakeable loyalty. The forest itself doesn’t like the elves which is why their likely low fertility rate was shot to zero when they stole it. It would be far less likely that any of the other Good nations would march out to defend the elves unlike Procer. That it’s stolen land to begin with, and from Callowans no less (though they weren’t Callowan when it was taken) would keep the narrative weight from stacking too heavily in Good’s favour. It would be far easier to hold (and populate) the Golden Bloom than Procer.

          Besides, it is also easier for Praes to hold Callow than for Callow to hold Procer, yet even still Black and Malicia had a hard time of it. Constantly keeping watch not just for heroes but for circumstances in which heroes arise, funding the continuation of a massive civil war in a neighbouring country so that said country doesn’t rally to the conquered’s aid (thereby created their most dangerous and difficult opponent to date). It was actually Cat that made holding Callow long term feasible. She who warred with her Good counterpart for the soul of her nation and won (much to Pilgrim’s chagrin). It’s the reason why the only heroes trying to kill her are foreigners instead of Callowan born. She would have to do much the same things Black did but by an order of magnitude just to hold Procer half as long, and then miraculously find a Proceran Cat to take under her wing so her gains actually stick in a world divinely ordained to maintain the status quo.

          Yea… it’s a monumental task under the best of circumstances. Better to solidify her gains, properly integrate both Callow and Praes into a unified neutral nation, and if the mood to conquer strikes then strike northward rather than west.

          Like

  22. jonnnney

    Wroth means angry or wrathful, it is an adjective not a noun. “The Above’s wroth.” is a sentence that makes zero sense. You can possess anger or wrath, you can’t possess angry or wrathful.

    Like

  23. CaptainSemantics

    I’ve been thinking about the long term effects of Callow being ruled by the embodiment of Fae Winter. Specifically, I remembered how in Arcadia the entire population is essentially bound to narratives. I wonder if something similar could happen to Callow due to Cat ruling and shaping it.

    Of course it wouldn’t be exactly like Arcadia. It’s still part of Creation obviously. Moreover, we’ve seen how Cat and Winter are integrating. Cat’s becoming more Winter, but Winter is potentially also being influenced by Cat. At any rate, I imagine that this could lead to a Callow in which there’s a broad increase in the power of Narrative, but that the people of Callow also learn how to USE the Narrative to their own advantage. So in a generation or two we get a wave of Callowan Names who revolutionize how that game is played.

    (Of course all that is assuming a world in which Cat is somehow able and willing to remain in charge of Callow indefinitely.)

    Like

  24. Agent J

    If Cat goes a-conquering, I’d much rather see her take the Golden Bloom. Cuz fuck racist elves and I love Kegan. The Deoarithe would be ecstatic about getting their stolen home back and Cat would have a vassal with unshakeable loyalty. The forest itself doesn’t like the elves which is why their likely low fertility rate was shot to zero when they stole it. It would be far less likely that any of the other Good nations would march out to defend the elves unlike Procer. That it’s stolen land to begin with, and from Callowans no less (though they weren’t Callowan when it was taken) would keep the narrative weight from stacking too heavily in Good’s favour. It would be far easier to hold (and populate) the Golden Bloom than Procer.

    Besides, it is also easier for Praes to hold Callow than for Callow to hold Procer, yet even still Black and Malicia had a hard time of it. Constantly keeping watch not just for heroes but for circumstances in which heroes arise, funding the continuation of a massive civil war in a neighbouring country so that said country doesn’t rally to the conquered’s aid (thereby created their most dangerous and difficult opponent to date). It was actually Cat that made holding Callow long term feasible. She who warred with her Good counterpart for the soul of her nation and won (much to Pilgrim’s chagrin). It’s the reason why the only heroes trying to kill her are foreigners instead of Callowan born. She would have to do much the same things Black did but by an order of magnitude just to hold Procer half as long, and then miraculously find a Proceran Cat to take under her wing so her gains actually stick in a world divinely ordained to maintain the status quo.

    Yea… it’s a monumental task under the best of circumstances. Better to solidify her gains, properly integrate both Callow and Praes into a unified neutral nation, and if the mood to conquer strikes then strike northward rather than west.

    Like

  25. https://www.patreon.com/user/overview?u=3523924

    Hey if you can you should go support errata on Patreon. He writes a *ton* for us, and the Guide is just an amazing story, but he doesn’t make all that much on Patreon for all the work he does. Voting to help get the story more exposure is a nice gesture, but seriously, if you can, go donate. The Guide is an amazing, amazing story and the least we can do is help take care of errata for gifting it to us.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. CaptainSemantics

    Hmm just had a thought. Since Cat is currently in Name-limbo, I wonder if she could potentially snatch up the Name of Dead Queen. After all, she’s always been found of her necromantic tricks, and she’s arguably not particularly alive anymore herself…

    Like

  27. CaptainSemantics

    Darn I keep thinking of more things to comment on. Anyway, it took me a while to realize that the chapter title is a reference to Chapter 2: Invitation, all the way back in Book 1. In which Black explains some of the complexities of ruling a conquered territory, and then invites Cat to come along to Mazus’ banquet. Where she ends up on the path to becoming Squire.

    I wonder if there are parallels to be drawn beyond the title. Is the Dead King acting like Black here, as a terrifying mentor figure ushering Cat into new levels of villainy/a new Role? Or is he going to end up like Mazus, the party’s host that ended up summarily killed?

    Come to think of it, the Arcadia story arc back in Book 3 is actually quite similar. It was all a machination on the part of the Winter King to entice Cat into Arcadia and go to that party where she had to chaplenge the Fae Duke to a duel and kill him. So that the King could in turn make Cat part of his Court, setting her on a new path as a Villain, transitioning away from being Squire and towards being Black Queen and embodiment pf Winter.

    Tldr: parties are how important to Cat’s character shifts

    Like

  28. Cthulhu

    I am in the camp that thinks Cat is insane not to hook up with Black and go on the offensive.

    She has six months of cover before her homeland can get invaded. SIX MONTHS. She can use her Arcadia connection and launch attacks on her enemy and bleed the enemy white while suffering no losses.

    Begin by seizing something dear to the enemy and then he will be amenable to your will. Cat wants to forestall the invasion? Strike at the enemy’s heartland and use this to stop the invasion.

    Like

    1. Forrest

      That also sounds much like Bonfire, which has already been established to be a terrible idea. Gating in and attacking key strategic locations and gating out before they can retaliate repeatedly, in this setting, draws in heroes heaven designed to kill you.

      Like

  29. Aehriman

    I’m still rather interested in the Lance of Light. Apparently, you can get, or make your own famed nickname, a Name posthumously. That’s very interesting. Both because people can become so famous as to create a new Name for themselves which is passed on, and because Queen of Blades may not be entirely off the table.

    Known Callowan Names:
    * The Good King/Queen- (well, that ain’t Cat)
    * The Wizard of the West
    * The Rebel Princess- Callow has been occupied and reclaimed by a hidden heir before, Black killed off the latest version.
    * The Lance of Light- a knight par excellence.

    I suspect Thief and Lone Swordsman are too generic to be Callowan-specific. But these names do give a little more glimpse into the history of Callow, their old champions and the stories they told about themselves.

    Like

  30. I absolutely love this web serial, Erraticerrata, and I’ve been voting for it every week, along with pimping it to my circle of friends. Can I suggest that you put the previous/next chapter links at the top of the story as well as the bottom? I mostly read it on mobile, and that would help me navigatr through chapters much faster when I’m trying to find my place.

    Like

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