Chapter 26: Plunge

“If war is to be understood as the pursuit of statecraft through violence, then the Principate is a failure as a nation: the Highest Assembly has proved chronically incapable of either agreeing on or seeing through a single ambition through the undertaking of warfare.”
– Extract from ‘The Ruin of Empire, or, A Call to Reform of the Highest Assembly’ by Princess Eliza of Salamans

It would have to be Cordelia Hasenbach first. The odds were not in my favour – but when had they last been, truth be told? – yet if this could be settled without the involvement of the Pilgrim it would be infinitely preferable. Now more than ever, every interaction with the Peregrine would carry dangers beyond the obvious. A single careless conversation could see me stripped of power or afflicted with opinions just slightly to the side of my own. For all that the Gods Below were the ones with the reputation for manipulation, I’d come to suspect the reason Above wasn’t saddled with the same was just that they were better at it. Evil tended to drop the bottom of how far you were willing to compromise and allow you to dig ever deeper on your own when the consequences came calling. Even the most deluded villain, I thought, must have hade one glimmer of cold clarity when they realized they’d brought it all on themselves by crossing that one line they wouldn’t have before. Above, though? It dealt in the guise of conscience. A whisper urging you to be the person you could be, if you were just a little better. It didn’t seem so terrible a thing, until you found that first choice seamlessly leading you into the next and the next and the one after that. Pilgrim had called Evil the edge of the cliff, once, but if that was true then Good was the tired metaphor of the slippery slope. Once you started going down, you had no more control over where you were headed than a cart rolling down a hill.

The revulsion that welled in me at that notion was an old friend, and not one I was willing to part from. Black had gotten to me young enough that the thought of having my choice taken away from me brought only bone-deep disgust, even for the worst of them.

The cool darkness of my domain soothed the sharpness of the emotions as it filled the room. There would be no shade whispering advice in my ear tonight. Akua already knew too much of my plans for comfort, and though Masego assured me it was possible to learn to make her invisible to the sight of others again it would take me days to properly master the trick. Days I could not afford: an entire month would go by before my opportunity to speak with the First Prince came again. Hasenbach came out of the dark glowing with the weight of miracles in the dozens, her dark blue dress touched by long golden curls. The understated circlet of pale gold on her brow found no match on my side: I wore no regalia tonight, nothing but the worn tunic and boots of a soldier on campaign. It was a truer glimpse of who I was than jewels and gold, though it did lack the expected formality. The First Prince took a moment to gather her bearings, though it was noticeably shorter than the last time. She was getting used to it, or at least getting better at faking situational awareness. I didn’t bother with the usual duel of silence that tended to precede our conversations.

“Your Most Serene Highness,” I greeted her.

“Your Grace,” Cordelia Hasenbach replied.

I hesitated, and in that heartbeat she took the lead.

“It has been some time since we last conversed,” the First Prince said.

“I saw no need to waste either our evenings by engaging before there was resolution to the battle,” I replied. “There has been, and now here I am.”

“It would have been courteous to notify me of this intent,” Hasenbach chided me.

“War is the graveyard of courtesies,” I said in Chantant, quoting one of her predecessors.

“Julienne Merovins never truly spoke those words,” she noted in Lower Miezan, sounding somewhat amused. “It was a courtier under the reign of her successor, and the bon mot was only attributed to her fifty years after her death by a family historian.”

“It always feels snappier when it comes from someone who wore a crown,” I shrugged. “Harder to tell with Dread Emperors, though, since so many of them really were that insane.”

“Praes does tend to straddle the line between laughable and appalling,” the First Prince said. “A tragedy for us all, that these last few decades have seen it settle firmly on the latter.”

“Lots of tragedies going around, these days,” I smiled thinly. “One might argue we’re both in the business of making those.”

Cool eyes considered me in silence.

“Shall we empty the proverbial bag before speaking with purpose then, Your Grace?” Hasenbach said. “I suppose you must have recriminations to utter, if only for your personal satisfaction.”

“I left personal at the door,” I replied. “It has no place in this conversation. Looking backwards just means stepping blind. I’m here, First Prince, because I want to cut a deal. The rest is noise.”

“You have shown fondness for that measure, of late,” the blonde said mildly. “Your bargain with my subjects was a particularly vicious breed of mercy.”

I frowned.

“I spared lives,” I said. “Thousands of them. Your own people’s lives, it is worth remembering.”

“You removed from the campaign for several months a force that would have been too costly to destroy by violence,” the First Prince said. “It was cleverly done, and I can respect the achievement, but let us not pretend you meant to save men you attempted to drown mere days earlier.”

“That working would have been limited, and only inflicted enough casualties to force a retreat,” I said.

She did not quirk a brow, though I got the impression she very much wanted to.

“An easy assurance to make, after the attempt was foiled,” she said.

I forced my fingers to unclench and breathed out slowly. Temper, Catherine, temper.

“I have taken great pains, Your Highness, to display moderation in how I’ve waged this war,” I said flatly. “At no small cost of my own. There is a point where doubt becomes denial.”

“It has not gone unnoticed,” Hasenbach conceded, to my surprise. “You must understand, however, that you are a villain. Deception is the trade of your kind. There is a chance, however slight, that you are genuine in your intentions. Yet precedent remains a stone around your neck, as it has been around mine.”

“I’ve wrecked a third of my army to prove goodwill,” I said bluntly. “Against the advice of most my generals, it should be said. I have to ask, in your eyes what would actually prove I mean what I say?”

“Abdication,” the First Prince replied without hesitation.

“That,” I said flatly, “is the kind of demand you get to make if you’re winning. You are not. I’m offering a treaty, not serving you Callow on a silver platter.”

“Your ‘offer’ has made its way to Salia,” Hasenbach said. “Bringing our hosts to Ater through Arcadia, if I am not mistaken. A process that assumes you will not merely strand those armies in a realm of hostile fae.”

“I’m willing to swear oaths I won’t,” I told her.

“Which would yet leave the Tenth Crusade almost completely dependent on you for supplies, while its hosts bleed their strength against Praesi cities,” the First Prince said. “Assuming the occupation of the Empire can be successful under those circumstances, the war still ends with you in a fine position to massacre the weakened armies of Procer and Levant after you spent several years raising armies in peace.”

“A possibility that can be warded off,” I said calmly, “if I am a signatory of the Grand Alliance. You should have received the scroll by now.”

The Warden of the West studied me expressionlessly.

“A well-penned request, observing every requirement as set out by the current treaties,” Hasenbach said. “My compliments to Vivienne Dartwick.”

It’d actually been Black that sent us a horrifyingly thorough transcript, but I saw no need to disabuse her of the assumption.

“In case you were wondering, it’s genuine,” I said.

“I assumed as much,” the First Prince smiled. “It would, after all, involve suspension of all military action between members and subject any matters of conflict to neutral arbitrage.”

“And also involve a declaration of war on the Dread Empire,” I pointed out. “Which means Callow won’t be preparing to backstab you, it’ll be on the front with your own armies. I’m even willing to take the Blessed Isle from Malicia and hold it while your soldiers make their way east as a sign of goodwill.”

“You are being deliberately obtuse,” Hasenbach said. “I have already informed you that a villain ruling Callow is not an acceptable outcome for this crusade.”

“I’ve been told more than once it’s bad form in a negotiation for your starting position to be your only position,” I said. “A bargain does tend to involve actual bargaining, Your Highness.”

The other woman’s eyes went cold.

“You are a warlord, Catherine Foundling,” she said, pronunciation excruciatingly precise. “Your reign was built on catastrophe and butchery, and has been maintained by the same. You are not the Queen of Callow, or even the Queen in Callow. The only claim for rule you have is that of steel, and with every passing month that claim weakens. You believe I am being undiplomatic, evidently.”

She paused and her lips thinned.

“That I must even pretend you have the right to speak for the souls under your yoke is a concession greater than any you have right to ask of me,” the First Prince said. “Even a usurper would be more palatable: you have merely ridden from one field of corpses to another, waiting and swelling in might from the deaths of your own people until none were left to gainsay your crowning. Well, here we are now. Consider yourself gainsaid, Black Queen.”

Calm, I thought, as Winter raged. Calm. Insults don’t matter, if you get what you want.

“And is that the stance of every signatory of the Grand Alliance?” I asked with forced politeness.

“There is not a ruler among us who will tolerate your remaining on the throne,” Hasenbach coldly said.

I breathed out. Calm. Yelling is for children.

“Abdication within ten years of the signature,” I replied instead of screaming. “With the understanding that other nations will have no say in the succession, in exchange for which I will give assurance it won’t be another villain.”

I saw her visibly master her anger and that had me frowning. A diplomat that practiced, having a fit? It irked me I couldn’t read her heartbeat, because I was beginning to realize I might just have been played. The scathing rant had felt genuine, but that didn’t mean it hadn’t been used as a way to pressure me. Pressure me into giving something I’d been willing to give, sure, but what I’d intended to use as a bargaining chip for further concessions had just been put on the table just to keep negotiations going. Fuck. Horrid as the thought was, I wished I’d had Akua along for the ride.

“Abdication immediately following the end of the crusade,” Hasenbach said. “And binding oaths on both it and the matter of succession.”

“Five years, regardless of the crusade ending or not,” I countered. “I’ll need time to settle matters so the succession is stable. Agreed on the oaths.”

There was a beat of silence.

“An accommodation might be possible,” the First Prince finally said.

I kept my face blank even as relief welled up. Of thank the fucking Gods. I had not been looking forward to trying my hand with the Dead King. Ignoring an invitation from the Hidden Horror would likely have consequences, but I was an old hand at lesser evils.

“A truce until it’s reached, then,” I said. “Including your uncle ending digging operations in the Vales.”

“A passage there will be necessary to the prosecution of the war,” Hasenbach said.

“In can gate his entire army across the Vales in less than a week, if you don’t trust me to get them all the way to Praes,” I replied flatly. “Keeping him pointed at my belly can’t be considered anything but coercion.”

“You are being coerced,” the First Prince frankly replied. “That is the very reason we are having this conversation.”

I watched her, the strongly-cast face and the patience painted upon it.

“There is a very real chance,” I said slowly so she knew I wasn’t being flippant, “that agreeing to what you just said will lead to civil war in Callow. It will be seen as annexation, or at the very least effective vassalage. You badly underestimate how hated your people are in the kingdom.”

“You have asked me to consider you as the ruler of Callow,” Hasenbach said. “Rule, then. Exert your authority to prevent the unrest.”

Gods, she was serious.

“No,” I said. “I’ve made significant concessions. You want the pass open? Give me more than your word to work with. Withdraw the army, make the truce public. I’ll have Hierophant work on a ritual to clear the wreckage, to be used when the treaties have been signed. Otherwise, this is starting to look a lot like I’m baring my neck for the knife.”

“I am the First Prince of Procer, not a petty tyrant,” Hasenbach replied tightly. “I do not go back on my word once given.”

“And I am Callowan,” I snapped. “We have more than few songs about the worth of Proceran promises. You’re asking me to extend a lot of trust. Do the same damned thing.”

“You are overestimating the strength of your bargaining position,” she warned me.

“So are you,” I barked. “You sent two armies after me, and they both got whipped out of Callow. You have Black in your heartlands with four legions and you’d rather argue with me about not putting a knife at my throat than deal with it?”

“I have near every hero on the continent and thrice his number containing him,” Hasenbach said. “His survival is a matter of months, if not weeks.”

“So this is what it looks like,” I said quietly. “An intelligent woman making a very grave mistake.”

“Oh, spare me the heaps of praise for the murderer,” she said. “He is a skilled general and an effective killer. He is not invincible.”

“You are about to get mauled,” I said, appalled. “I don’t even know what he’s up to, but I know that. Sure as day. Gods Below, what about how this crusade has been unfolding could possibly make you this arrogant?”

“Posturing will yield nothing,” the First Prince said.

“I know what you’re trying to do, Cordelia,” I said. “You think than in a month we’ll be speaking again and I’ll have to bend my neck a little lower. Brinksmanship. I need you to believe me, because I’m begging here, that it’s not what’s going to happen. I cannot gamble this entire kingdom’s fate, start a civil war, on grounds so thin. I’m already cornered. This is as low as I go.”

“Six months ago,” she said softly, “you might have said the same. And yet here we are.”

I closed my eyes. Should I? Give her even that small assurance I was holding out for? It’d be seen as a capitulation because, to be honest, it was. There’d be riots, and at least half the Army of Callow would desert. Thief might actually kill me. She trusted Procer even less than me. Hells, she might be right to if it came to that. There were good reasons I had those contingencies in place. I opened my eyes.

“One last time,” I said. “Don’t do this. We could avoid so much death – beyond the politics and the interests and the schemes, that has to count for something.”

“Appeals to emotion,” she said, not unkindly, “are the last resort of one without argument.”

I stared at her for a long time.

“I think,” I said quietly, “that this conversation is going to haunt the both of us, in years to come.”

She hesitated for a moment.

“I am not without sympathy,” she said. “But there is more at stake than you know.”

It wasn’t an opening. Gods, I wished it was, but there was no invitation to negotiate again in the way she was looking at me.

“Woe to us both, then, Cordelia Hasenbach,” I said.

I ripped away the darkness and rose to my feet. One last try, before I went into the devil’s lair.

There were guards around the Pilgrim’s tent, a full line. I dismissed them as gently as my mood allowed, which by the way the Taghreb lieutenant paled wasn’t very. A few months ago, I thought, I would probably have been frosting everything around me. The old man was awake, even this late at night, and seated at a writing desk with a mage lamp atop it. He was penning something, I saw, on a scroll. That had me curious, however reluctantly. He wasn’t allowed letters even as an observer, so what was he writing?

“Pilgrim,” I said, lingering at the entrance of the tent. “May I?”

“Catherine,” he replied with a kindly smile. “By all means.”

I strode into the tent and moved a folding chair from his bedside to face him across the writing desk. He saw my glance at the scroll and chuckled.

“Your Marshal asked me to provide my recollections of the Battle of the Camps,” he said. “As much as can be revealed in my position. I believe she may be penning a history of the last few years.”

Juniper’s ‘Commentaries’, inspired by the second Terribilis’. I’d known about that, and that Aisha apparently kept memoirs of her own though she was very noncommittal about ever showing them to me. I supposed someone should be keeping records, since I sure as Hells wasn’t.

“I’m surprised you’re willing to contribute,” I admitted.

“I have always thought it a great disservice to all, that histories are so often written by the victors,” the hero said. “Much could be avoided by having a broader perspective. If an old man’s recollections can be of any help I am glad to provide it.”

That was the trouble with the Pilgrim, I thought. He would say those wise, beautiful things and seem to genuinely believe them. But then I’d find him on the battlefield, wielding miracles like a knife for a cause that was as empty as it got. There might be a good man, somewhere in there. I wanted to believe that. But that man answered to the Heavens before anything else. And if I could hold it against Black that he could love me but still set it aside, then I could hold it against this stranger that his pretty ideals only mattered as long as the Heavens agreed they were convenient. They weren’t really principles if they were always discarded at the first frown from Above, were they?

“You seem in a pensive mood, tonight,” the Pilgrim said.

I weighed the risks, for a moment, then took the plunge.

“I’ve just had a very exhausting conversation with the First Prince,” I said. “So I’d like to be blunt, if you don’t mind, because I don’t have a lot of coyness left in me.”

He didn’t seem surprised by the revelation that I had a way to talk directly with Hasenbach, but that meant less than nothing. The Peregrine wasn’t someone I’d want to play cards against.

“You attempted to make peace,” he said.

I smiled thinly.

“I very nearly did,” I said. “But then she pushed just a little further than I can go. And I know, Gods I know, that maybe she wasn’t out to screw me and everyone in this kingdom. That the other choices I can make are so much worse they’re indefensible.”

I met his eyes.

“I’m willing to take leaps of faith with people, Pilgrim,” I said honestly. “I have before, and I will again. But not with the Heavens. Because you don’t negotiate with Above, you obey. And I don’t think Cordelia Hasenbach holds the reins of what she unleashed nearly as tightly as she thought she would.”

“And so now you come to me,” the old man said. “With a request.”

“Do something,” I asked quietly. “Intervene. Offer to arbitrate. Thief tells me you could be king of Levant with a snap of your fingers, if you felt like it. You have influence to wield.”

“Seljun,” he said calmly. “We do not have kings, in Levant. And there is a reason I do not sit the Tattered Throne, Catherine. Your Good Kings have done well by Callow, but the Dominion… It is a different land. It would end the honour duels, the forays into the wilds, but it would be a call. To the kind of war best left in the past.”

“I’m not saying usurp your ruler,” I said. “But Gods, you’re not nobody. If you make a truce with me Levant will fall in line. That’ll force Hasenbach to reconsider.”

“It would break the Tenth Crusade,” he gently said.

“So do it behind closed doors,” I said, frustration mounting. “You’re trying to shove redemption down my throat, and don’t bother denying it. Fine. I’ll fucking lean in, even if it’ll probably get me killed. Just act. I’ll kiss the hem, quote the Book. All you need to speak up and thousands don’t have to die.”

“It would smother in the crib,” the Grey Pilgrim said sadly, “what is perhaps the last chance for peace in our time.”

“I’m offering peace,” I hissed.

“Peace on your terms would unseat the First Prince,” he said. “She has spent years forging an alliance with Levant, fighting her Assembly tooth and nail every step of the way. For that same ally to twist her arm into making a pact with one of the most famous villains alive would see her removed within the month. And everything she seeks to accomplish vanish with her.”

A long moment passed and the only sound in the tent was his steady heartbeat.

“You can’t be serious,” I said. “If you’d said the Heavens were using their veto, I would have been furious. I won’t pretend otherwise. But at least I wouldn’t be disappointed.”

He opened his mouth but Winter flared like half a world howling for blood and he closed it.

“No, disappointed is too mild a word,” I said, voice barren of any speck of warmth. “This, Pilgrim, is worthy of contempt.”

“The treaties she has made and would deepen will end wars in the west,” the old man said. “Callow restored and Praes humbled will allow Calernia to finally turn towards the true face of the Enemy. The King of the Dead. The Chain of Hunger.”

“It’s funny,” I said, smiling mirthlessly. “How it’s never the lot of you that have to make the sacrifices. Us, this entire fucking kingdom since the dawn of time? Well, that’s just how things have to be. Someone needs to take care of Praes so the rest of the continent can kill itself in peace. But then someone else has to do the bleeding, for once, and suddenly there’s all these considerations.”

“This is not fair,” the old man said. “Nor it is just. I will not pretend otherwise, child. But I will not offer you succour at the price of Cordelia Hasenbach’s dream. It is too great a good to be slain in this manner.”

“So we burn again, for the greater good of everyone else,” I laughed harshly.

I rose to my feet.

“You know, when I make decisions like that, they call me a monster,” I said, meeting his eyes without smothering a single ember of the fury I felt. “So why do you get a pass?”

“I will suffer the price of this, in time,” the Grey Pilgrim said. “Service is no absolution.”

He looked old and tired and sad. But so did a lot of people, and they didn’t sign death warrants for dozens of thousands. I was out of sympathy to offer for the likes of him. I had no pithy comment to offer, no cutting parting remark. I left the tent before I could talk myself into murdering him in cold blood. I needed to talk to Hierophant.

We were, after all, going to Keter.

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192 thoughts on “Chapter 26: Plunge

    1. Jane

      I thought the entire point of this conversation with Hasenbach was that Callow wouldn’t be declaring independence for another six months 🙂 ?

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  1. SpeckofStardust

    “It’d actually been Black that sent us a horrifyingly thorough transcript, but I saw no need to disabuse her of the assumption.”
    Well interesting.

    ““The treaties she has made and would deepen will end wars in the west,” the old man said. “Callow restored and Praes humbled will allow Calernia to finally turn towards the true face of Enemy. The King of the Dead. ”
    . No they will be facing the king of dead now all because they want total victory.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Jane

      Actually… I think that the First Prince refused because anything but a clear-cut victory would destroy her political position, and the Grand Alliance with it.

      It doesn’t look like it from our perspective, but we’ve seen that Procer has been digging more deeply into their reserves than first expected (such as fielding levies, and not just disposing of spare fantassin); similarly, while we’ve seen desperate defenses that accomplish little but delay inevitable destruction, Procer’s princes have seen a string of humiliating failures with unclear gains.

      We already know that the First Prince has had to make some unpopular calls, and that Amadis thought that a thorough enough victory on his part could unseat her; perhaps things have gone badly enough in the eyes of the Assembly that anything less than an obvious victory over Callow on her part might be the final straw?

      I might be misreading things, of course – but the final condition that she refused seems a small enough thing that it seems like the appearance of victory is more important to her than the victory itself, something that doesn’t make sense unless there are political considerations. Unless she really was planning to betray her agreement with Cat, of course.

      Liked by 19 people

      1. SpeckofStardust

        And Procer is about to burn because of it, as the quote above has already stated the “Principate is a failure as a nation” If the first prince needed everything to go perfectly in order to pull off this crusade then she should have not done the crusade at all. A plan that “cannot possibly go wrong” is a plan that will never work in a universe ran by narrative.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Rook

          The First Prince didn’t need the crusade to go perfectly, she just needed a Crusade, period. Her goal is not as simple as trampling over Evil, as obtuse as she may *act* during negotiations. You have to keep in mind that this is a schemer that can already dance with Malicia.

          She’s not an idiot, she’s the total opposite – she’s an absolutely horrifying monster of an intellect. The same kind of prodigy of intrigue that the Hellhound is of warfare.

          Honestly I think the long game that Hasenbach is playing – whether she ends up regretting it or not in the end – isn’t something that’s even been revealed yet.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. werafdsaew

            If there’s anything more to the First Prince, the text does not show it.

            I think it’s simple inexperience; she actually doesn’t have any experience fighting against a Villain, except against Malicia, and Malicia fought with intrigue and statecraft, which is the same area Cordelia’s strongest in.

            As a result Cordelia has a habit of underestimating martial inclined Villains. She underestimates Cat and Black by overestimating the impact of the rebellion, underestimates the Tyrant of Helike by thinking that the Good members of Free Cities would be able to keep him in line, and now she’s underestimating Black again. It’s a pattern. Heck the first time we see her in the prologue of Book 2, she underestimates Black by thinking that Malicia is the real danger.

            She would be much more wary of backing Cat into a corner if she knew that Bonfire is a thing. Cat’s ability to gate isn’t a secret, and so she should be thinking about possibilities like Cat gating an army right into the middle of Salia, but doesn’t because she thinks Cat is a dumb brute. Heck, she’s underestimating the Dead King, in a way, by not thinking about the possibility that he’ll go on the offensive while her armies are tied down by the Crusade.

            Liked by 11 people

            1. David K. Storrs

              Bonfire, as I understand it, involves Cat leading an army through Arcadia into the heart of Procer and then sacking cities, killing people, etc.

              You know what would be worse? Cat and Thief, by themselves. Two Named on a flying horse can move far faster than an army, and it seems like Thief can carry as much stuff as she wants in her pocket dimension. Fine. Load her up with every scrap of goblinfire they can lay hands on. Gate to Procer, fly over each city in turn from a height where you can’t be attacked. Drop enough goblinfire to burn everything to the ground, then gate to the next one. Tell the Crusade that this is happening and that taking Callow won’t do a damn bit of good as to stopping it. Don’t say anything about “I’ll stop if you leave”, just tell them the facts so that they don’t feel challenged. You’ll have soldiers wanting to go home to check on loved ones and help contain the fires. Given enough unrest, you could break the army’s morale and eliminate them as a functional force. (For that matter, the Woe should try some fifth-column attacks now.)

              People should REALLY stop backing Cat into a corner.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Death Knight

                Congratulations thay results in Cat being promoted to THE Villain as opposed to a Villain all but ensuring her head on a pike in three or four years. Maybe even sooner.

                Liked by 2 people

            2. Rook

              Isn’t it the exact same type of arrogance to assume there’s nothing more to Hasenbach than a petty ignorant schemer, as it is for the Crusade to assume Catherine is a simple bloody brute? She’s no Amadis, this is a character who has weight not only through heavy character exposition and foreshadowing within the story, but also by being the mastermind of the current major conflict the story arc is centered around. Note that the entire strategy of the last battle has been for the express purpose of negotiating with said big bad.

              I mean, time will tell, but I’d never, ever, underestimate any character where the story almost explicitly states that they should be taken seriously via main character reactions to them. This is the same opponent that made Cat repeatedly take Akua off the leash for just to chat together, and the one that a major player like the Pilgrim is taking seriously enough that he’d willingly walk into the storm he sees coming than risk hindering her Master Plan.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. werafdsaew

                The difference is that we, as the reader, gets to see everything that happens. The author is not a shit author who does things without proper foreshadowing, so if Cordelia has a grand plan that we don’t know about yet, it would already have been properly foreshadowed. The fact the it hasn’t yet means that it’s either a minor thing, or nothing is there at all.

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                1. Rook

                  But it has been foreshadowed. The Pilgrim straight up admitted to it in this very chapter on why he’s still refusing to intervene even though he doesn’t disagree with Cat about how unfair it is for Callow. He doesn’t attribute the possible Greater Good to his own plan or some heavenly works, but specifically to Hasenbach’s plans.

                  She’s had several perspective side-chapters alluding to said long term plans, and was frequently mentioned even in Malanza and Malicia’s POV excerpts as to the extent of her ability in that sense. If her own dedicated chapters, having mention of her schemes from every character that would plausibly have direct experience with her, and having the biggest baddest Heroic antagonist to date admit to it in no uncertain terms isn’t foreshadowing, I’m not sure what is.

                  She’s irritating without a doubt, and likability is highly debatable, but in Catherine’s own words there is a point where doubt becomes denial.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. Metrux

                    Actually people, just look closer. It’s no secret scheme, she’s been plainly stating this since her first apparition: Hasenbach wants to unite the Good nations. It’s that, plain and simple. No need to complicate the objective, the ways to get there are hard enough. And also, she may very well be the reason The Dead King is coming out, because the forces balance each other, and since Good are uniting… Evil has to aswell.

                    Liked by 1 person

              2. Azure

                Pilgrim thinks that somehow her plans are going to lead to a shit at the Dead King, and that’s why he’s going along with it. Unfortunately for him, it’s going to be a case of biting of more than he can chew with the Woe’s hand being forced. And I’m sure someone will be returning triumphantly at some stage to join the party.

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                1. Michael

                  AFAIK Pilgrim doesn’t know anything about that plan. And he might not find out, because Augur sees the future through birds. There are no birds in the Kingdom of the Dead, so she might just miss it!

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            3. lennymaster

              God damn werafdsaew!
              You just managed to put into words every thougt about Cordelia that has been coagulating at the back of my head without my being able to put my finger on it.
              Black has only on active aspect, the others are Conquer and Lead. Him stranded in Procer is like Rorschach (Watchmen) being locked up in prison.
              “I’m not locked up with you, you are locked up wit ME!”

              Like

            4. Miles

              Or her big game is to consolidate power during the crusade and is just stalling because some pieces still need to be moved before going after praes, which will require her full attention

              Like

      2. Cicero

        Yup. Basically it’s the same problem Cat has. Cat can’t make any more concessions. Her people won’t tolerate the appearance of a Procer victory over Callow.

        But Procer also can’t make a concession either, as their princes will not tolerate anything other than the appearance of victory over Callow.

        Often nowadays the thought is that diplomacy should always succeed, and that a failure always involves at least one of the parties being unreasonable. In truth however, often war is inevitable because the various interests of the nations involved make war preferable to both nations – even if that risks defeat in war.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Metrux

          Well, this has been a common theme in the Guide, no? We know for a fact that Dread Emperor’s couldn’t stop Praes from going to war with Callow, because this would result in their deaths. So it stands to reason most wars, in this scenario, HAVE to be waged, because Heavens is bullshit and can’t be argued with.

          Like

    2. Michael

      I am thinking Cat’s story will shift again. Pilgrim put her on the redemption wagon, but right now she’s acting in a way that means the redemption will be refused. She already had a shot at redemption (she was technically on that path when she spared The Lone Swordsman), but she spat in that one’s face. Refusing redemption twice makes you irredeemable and what she is about to do (ally with the Dead King) will make her irredeemable in fact and not just in story. I love it!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Death Knight

      Keter’s due is merely the most pronounced example of the second law of thermodynamics, informally stated as “You can’t break even.” We already know how it came to be, namely that the Dead King used a ritual to claim a hell and the bleed turned an entire kingdom into an undead mess.

      This is why Akua’s array in Liesse was so worthwhile. In our world its rare that we can create any kind of engine that is greater than 60‰ efficiency. That’s 40% of the energy wasted. What Akua did was design an “engine” that approached 85‰ efficiency at a conservative estimate. To put it another way, she fell 15% short of being able to create a perpetual motion machine.

      … Yes, Diabolist teaming up with Hierophant and Warlock with the Dead King at the lead would be a greater threat than Triumphant ever was.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. haihappen

        1) Akua, Demons
        2) The Dead King, UnDead
        3) Warlock, Sorcery
        4) Hierophant, “Vision”/”Architect”

        There is something missing. A source of wonder, of light, of Miracle

        5) The Pilgrim, Miracles

        Apart from being impossible, these two could probably create their own Creation.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Death Knight

          What I actually meant was that Dead King brings forth a ritual. Warlock is in charge of finding a suitable Hell to power the thing, Akua modifies the working to minimize (or directs) the bleed and Hierophant is there to look for any non-obvious weakpoints in the working.

          Those four working on a ritual is a continent shattering affair.

          Liked by 1 person

        1. Death Knight

          Could be (no hard numbers were given to my knowledge so I just guessed) which is why a sorceror of Diabolist’s calliber is such an asset whatever’s Thief’s misgivings. Too bad Diabolist overstepped. She was way more useful when nobody but Cat could see or hear her.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Personally, I love how Akua does shit like this. It’s the side-effects of her Name, amplifying the most dramatic parts of her character.

            And the thing that makes her tick? Theatrics.
            She sticks to ideals so closely I think she’s a romantic.

            Liked by 3 people

          2. Metrux

            Actually wasn’t the BIG deal that he used the leaking instead of channeling it? I mean, he was ever a necromancer, when he came back he found the dead better than the living… So his ritual made everyone die. He was considered a genius then and there, but… Didn’t he have hundreds if not thousands of years to grow, both in power, experience and knowledge? If so, I actually don’t think Akua’s skills can come to help with his workings. If she even has anything to teach him, it’s probably so far and between that it’d be easier to have her as an assistant than actually working together.

            Like

  2. RoflCat

    …Has Catherine EVER showed Liese Accords to anyone on Good?

    Yeah it’d reveal her hand, but Pilgrim is supporting Cordelia in this because he seem to have seen her final goal and agreed with it.
    I don’t think he’s seen Cath’s.

    Then again, they might just use other excuses…

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    1. Death Knight

      This chapter proved they’d still move the goalposts. The Dead King is right, these Crusader motherfuckers need to be humbled a bit. After all, one never treats from a position of weakness.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Death Knight

        Unless you’re Black and is counting on the enemy to know your plan so they may change their plans to suit your REAL Plan.

        Like

        1. Snowfire1224

          Unrelated but what you just said reminded me of this quote from Hellsing Ultimate Abridged:
          “Ahh~, Herr Doctor~, but that is the plan. Now zat zey know our plan, zey will plan around our plan, and so ve shall in turn plan around ze plan that zey are planning around our plan!”

          Liked by 2 people

    2. Rook

      I don’t think it’d do any good. As much of this is on the heads of the previous dread emperors and empresses as it is on the crusade. The same way that Procer’d history makes their word worth pig shit in callow, Praes history makes any serious villain’s words equally worthless. Tens of madmen throughout history have had a similar effect to tens of conquests disguised as a holy war.

      There is worth in the accords and in what she has to say, don’t get me wrong. But no heroic ruler in their right mind would believe Black’s conquest was a war for *food* or that Catherine is genuinely attempting decent ends through awful means, the same way no Callowan would ever believe Proceran influence on Callow would be anything more than a leech and bleeding of their people.

      The bridges have been too thoroughly burned, dissected, flayed, and disintegrated with holy light for this short timespan of interaction to end in anything else. A cooperation isn’t impossible, but it’d take years and years to build even the smallest amount of trust. Catherine doesn’t have the time or the patience, currently, and Cordelia doesn’t have the motivation to.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Oshi

        Except that is bukllshit. They have two Miracle wielding truth speaking Heros (Augur and Pilgrim) who KNOW that is why they did it. Not know in a exsentential sense but literally know thanks to heavens gits. It’s bullshit to say you can’t know evils motivations when you fucking do.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Jane

    And this is why brinksmanship is never a good idea – both sides think they have a secret edge that will let them push further than they otherwise could, and when both of those secrets are revealed, the entire continent will bleed. If they’d both just been reasonable, so much suffering (and, you know, most of the plot of this book) could have been avoided. Of course… If either of them were willing to leave coin on the table, neither would be a ruler now. Hasenbach would have sat out the battle that ruined her rivals, and Cat would never have met Black at all.

    Incidentally… It probably doesn’t speak well for her contingency’s moral compass that she has to worry more about being stabbed in her sleep if she makes a bad peace with Procer than if she treats with the Dead King.

    (Joking, mostly; it was already established that Thief wasn’t exactly happy about the Dead King plan, and that her loyalty is to Callow first and foremost.)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Someguy

      Cat was never going to get what she wants by treating with Hasenbach as a Sovereign equal. The entire point of the Invasion (lets not kid ourselves calling it a crusade here) is so that Hasenbach gets to ride political rodeo to get what she wants, the welfare of Callow never entered the picture in the first place.

      Cat can just gate to the Vale (it’s a valley bowl now right?) have her sappers dig a goblin-sized hole and flood it, setting loose those fire-breathing lizards Hirophant wanted for his original moat later. The Stairway can be used as Callow’s garbage dump to make the pollution Procer’s problem. Time to revise Bonfire to create ecological and economic disasters for Procer!

      Like

      1. Death Knight

        I agree. We need to go scorched earth on these bitches. But the problem we have is the narrative. Now lets ask ourselves what kind of narrative could we use and/or exploit that would favour the deaths of these hypocritical invaders?

        Like

        1. Someguy

          Twisted Mirror. The same thing that happened to the God Emperor in WH40K. Aim to corrupt the Alliance Member’s heirs by encouraging their vices with sycophants and let human nature do the rest.

          Like

          1. Death Knight

            Splendid idea. Corruption is already there, all it needs is a push here and there. However Malicia and Black had already tried that tactic for the last 20 or so years through the Pravus bank and that plan came back to bite them in the ass in this current Crusade. So we need to go a little further.

            Like

            1. Metrux

              Well, it’s more that they tried keeping the war ongoing… They never trully tried full on corruption. If so, the plan can still be done, you only need to disconsider short term advantages, because on the short term it will be pure costs without gains. Though, if successfull, Procer will needs several generations to plunge the leak, so to speak, if they can at all. Though, with Heavens and Narrative it’s probable a Hero will raise to occasion…

              Like

      1. Jane

        Choosing to unleash Gods-know-what on the continent by working with the Dead King, instead of surrendering Callow to an unpleasant, but within the boundaries of normal human vice, foreign occupier.

        I mean, I’d have made the same call, but let’s be honest – she doesn’t know what the Dead King wants, but knows it’s probably Capital E Evil, and that the Dead King operates on a ridiculous scale compared to everyone else. It’s a horrifyingly dangerous gamble that, in the absolute worst case scenario, ends in the (un)death of the entire continent. Is such a risk really better than surrendering to your ancestral enemy?

        Few people would have agreed to her terms, especially after Hasenbach insulted her to her face so many times. But looking at the implications of refusal… Yes, folding here still would have been more reasonable than opening Pandora’s box.

        Like

        1. It’s a game theory thing.

          If everybody knows that you will fold rather than choose Alternative X, then they will set things up so that Alternative X is the only other choice to letting them eat you alive. Nom, nom, nom.

          So, you should act in such a way as to ensure that people know Alternative X is on the table if things get extreme enough; and so your peers do the math, everybody backs away from pushing each other towards their own personal Alternative X, and nobody takes goblinfire baths via portal.

          (It is possible to have people who aren’t exploitative predators as neighbours. This is in fact the normal case; glance up from the web browser and look around you. But… Callow doesn’t seem to have any of those. Black’s been cloning the Idiot Ball again and sending Assassin to plant copies on the Good rulers of all the human nations. Tyrant giggled and added his to his collection.)

          So, “of course Cat must fold” is not a reasonable position to expect a responsible ruler of Callow to hold. Especially not when “here, we’ll join the Grand Alliance, after the victory, I will stabilise Callow and then retire to do something less painful as far out of your way as I can get” is the alternative position literally on the table, complete with hideously thorough membership application, on a scroll yet.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Jane

            The thing is, “Ally with the Dead King” shouldn’t be an alternative at all for a reasonable ruler – the dangers are such that it ought be well outside the bounds of consideration. Callow’s neighbors shouldn’t consider it a risk, because it shouldn’t be a risk.

            As an example, another deterrent that Cat could have prepared was to instruct Heirophant to design an elegant command implant spell that, when she gave the order, would cause every resident of Callow to salt their fields and then commit suicide. It would make any invasion of the country functionally worthless. But would that be a reasonable thing for Cat to have planned, or to seriously consider implementing if she was badly losing a war? I would think the obvious answer would be no – nobody loses more from it than her, and it fundamentally betrays her most deeply held motivation, that of protecting Callow.

            Similarly, unleashing the Dead King risks Callow losing everything. Even if Callow itself is spared (not a given), they risk losing all of their trading partners, cultural imports, and pretty much all the other benefits of having living neighbors. Is that really better than becoming a Callowan-flavoured piece of Procer?

            Countries should only consider the possibilities on the table, true. But what’s on the table shouldn’t do more harm to yourself than what your partners are proposing – suicide (or grievous self-harm) gambits are unreasonable unless you care more about pride than the good of your country.

            (Of course, short-term sacrifices can be reasonable in pursuit of a long-term advantage, but something on this scale risks ending the game long before the long-term comes into play.)

            Like

            1. Vortex

              Uhhh, the Dead King wants to fuck Procer and does not share a border with Callow. Literally the alternatives are between allowing Procer to murder its way back into Callow and use her countrymen as a cannon fodder to fight Praes (which was the status quo for hundreds of years) or ally with the Dead King who is nasty business but will fuck my enemies harder than he will fuck me. I would pick nasty business pretty much every time in this situation.

              Like

              1. Jane

                The Dead King wants to destroy Procer now. Will that really be the end of his ambitions, though? Or is it just the first step of an awakened Dead King? Cat has no way of knowing before she speaks to him, but Named don’t tend to dream small.

                Not to mention the presumption that the Dead King will be killing the entire population of the regions he conquers. Is it really worth the possible genocide of Procer (and other nations involved in the Crusade) to ensure the political independence of Callow? Honestly, it sounds a monstrous trade to my ears. If Procer wins, a new set of nobles rule over the peasants, and a few laws change for the worse. If the Dead King wins, millions die. How is that a reasonable response?

                Now, we know it won’t come to that unless the book takes a dramatically darker turn. But Cat believes she is taking a gamble with massive stakes, where a mistake will make her the second greatest monster in the history of the continent. And honestly, it’s also a pretty reckless one on her part; why does she think the Dead King can be put back in his bottle so readily? His earlier raids were presumably small-scale activity from his perspective, and he was hampered by his inability to be personally involved. If he’s seriously unleashed, how can she be so certain the Grand Alliance will prevail? We know that she’ll win (unless, again, the book decides it wants a dramatically darker tone), but she appears to be making this call on some pretty thin information.

                Now, in her shoes, I’d probably make the same decision. But let’s be clear; it is very much the wrong call, made for the wrong reasons. Risking millions of deaths over the independence of Callow just isn’t worth it. Heck, this alliance is worse than what most of the Dread Empresses have done.

                (Incidentally, it’s entirely possible that the Dead King isn’t actually some genocidal maniac, and his designs on the continent are no more horrid than your average warmongering dictator. But again; Cat has no way of knowing that, and thinks she’s making a deal with an appalling dangerous genocidal maniac.)

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Metrux

                  This is the call to talk to him. She isn’t such a newbie anymore that she will unleash him simply by speaking without meaning it. She can always just do the same she did right now: Talk and leave. The problem being that the talk itself can be dangerous, but hey, that is why she tried every other avenue before speaking with him.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Jane

                    The problem is, if she refuses him at this point, she has no options; she can’t go back to the First Prince and accept the previous terms anymore. They can only speak once a month, and in a month’s time, the situation will have changed enough that Cat can’t even get these terms again.

                    And even if she could… Well, the Dead King has about as much leverage over her as the First Prince. Unless he presents something outrageous like “Release me from my prison and I shall make a bonfire of this world!” and refuses to tone it down at all, what’s Cat going to do? Say “No, please don’t save Callow in our hour of need”? Especially since she’s planning on double-crossing him anyway, and thinks they can pull it off. True, the Dead King needs her in order to get out, but… Him not getting out is a death sentence for Callow.

                    And besides… Why does the Dead King have to be honest with her at all? He’s an ancient abomination who is vastly more knowledgeable and powerful than her – for all Cat knows, unless the Dead King needs her to consciously maintain a stable connection outside of Keter or something, the moment he’s out, he can say, “Thanks, sucker!” and rampage across the continent if he’s so inclined. It’s not like he has any real need that we know of to hold to any bargains they make.

                    In refusing Hasenbach’s terms, she’s already committed herself to this path – she just doesn’t know what the costs of it will be yet. It’s true that they’re unlikely to be too odious, but she has no way of knowing that – and does know that the Dead King has an appallingly horrible reputation.

                    Liked by 1 person

                2. Decius

                  Cat cares about Callowans. Cat does not care about Procerans.

                  If anyone opposing her cared about the little people at all, they would be on her side.

                  Like

                  1. Jane

                    Oh, certainly, that’s why I’m not calling her an idiot or anything 🙂 . I might feel that her choice her can be described as appalling, but it’s a choice that is well supported within her framework of beliefs – Callow above all.

                    Liked by 1 person

            2. Metrux

              Really, I get astounded by how much fear the Dead King has inspired in some readers. Yes, he is a monstrous abomination who could never be stopped before… Except on the only time he left to conquer. And we already saw he can send undeads made especially to be ignored by Masego’s new toy, so he has alot of information on outside and alot of power not shown, so… Why hasn’t he done anything with that yet? It may be that he doesn’t want to. Sure, he is a Villain, but anyone who lived for so long, and fought so much Crusades, can’t be a simple powerhouse, he needs to have some trope conscience, the same way the big heroes need to. As such, just think for a moment, what are the chances he NEEDS an ally (maybe Cat especifically) to be able to leave his lands? What are the chances he WANTS to conquer the whole continent? What are the chances that he WOULD try something like that, fully knowing that this time he would be the one defeated in the end, even if he succeeds?

              No, after considering it all, the risk is really minimal. The chance that he betrays her is already lower than Hasenbach’s, and we don’t even know what he trully wants or what are his limitations, as such, dealing with him is alot more reasonable than you people seem to assume.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Jane

                My issue isn’t so much with what will happen so much as what Cat reasonably believes might happen, and her willingness to go along with it anyway. She fully believes the Dead King to be a complete monster, with enough power to be a continent-wide threat, and is willing to unleash him anyways… All over who gets to rule Callow. She believes she’s risking, essentially, multiple Liesses over a matter of crowns and flags.

                The Cat at the start of the story likely would have considered this a line too far to cross.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Forrest

                  Except she already tried multiple times to go with every other alternative. Also, the issue is not just a matter of crowns and flags- it would be dooming Callow to the continuation of it’s cannon fodder state forever more. Under the people who had also conquered it once, and refused to help free them in the twenty years of prior occupation they just got out of. (twenty-two? three? Counting the time she was working as the Squire?)

                  That’s not even bringing up how poorly Procer treats its people, or the fact that Callow citizens would likely be treated far worse by Procer than their own.

                  Cat is in this to bring some measure of peace to Callow. She’s trying to make the best of a bad situation, and she’s used to having to choose the best of many awful and terrible choices. She feels like there is at least a chance with the Dead King she is not getting with the others. My guess is? She’s going to come out of this with some measure of drive to make Creation give her better options.

                  Like

                  1. Jane

                    She’s tried every alternative but the one she knows will end the conflict – surrender. She doesn’t have to continue this fight, even if it means giving up something precious. And you know what? That would also end Callow’s status as a cannon fodder state. The Grand Alliance can handle Praes alone if Callow stands down, and there will be no more need for Callow to stand on a constant war footing.

                    It’s true that Callow’s people will likely be treated more poorly than they are now, but if she misplays this gambit, at best multiple cities will have their people slaughtered and made undead. What she’s unleashing goes far beyond a normal war – it’s a series of atrocities of a sort that make Akua’s crimes pale by comparison. Does it really make anything better that they’ll be happening to Procer’s civilians instead of her own?

                    It’s not that I don’t understand why she’s chosen the course she has, or that I wish she’d chosen differently (since that would, you know, end the story, and not in a satisfying way) – but it is not a reasonable escalation of the conflict in my eyes. It is the desperate act of a Villain who has been told she is about to lose if she doesn’t pull the lever on her doomsday device. The only mitigating factor is that she’s telling herself that it might not result in massive collateral damage because they can stop him before he does any real harm.

                    This came out rather harsher than I feel, but I do think this is an important moment for her character that we shouldn’t downplay – this wasn’t a freshly minted Villain starting a rebellion so that she could win accolades in putting it down. This was on par with unleashing demons across the entire continent to destroy her foes. If this goes even slightly wrong, it will be a black mark on her record worse than most of the Dread Empresses that precede her.

                    And I won’t judge her for that, to be clear – but I think it’s important that we recognize how grave a crime she’s willing to commit in order to get her way. This was clear Villain work on her part, not the Hero On The Wrong Side sort of thing we usually see from her.

                    Like

                    1. Agent J

                      Surrendering would end the conflict, yes. It would not, however, end Callowan suffering. Firstly, Callow would erupt in civil war. All sides bleed and all sides are Callowan.

                      Secondly, and much more importantly, what Hasenbach wants? It’s been done. Callow has been annexed by Procer. Praes was littered with Crusader states. Hell, the Dread Empire was founded on the rebellion against that.

                      And would you look at that. Here we are again. Fighting the same old war for the umpteenth time. It’s not this conflict alone Cat is trying to end, but the entire story. The one etched into reality itself and has designated her people as sacrifical lambs.

                      Hasenbach is sowing no new seeds and will reap no new crops. A Grand Alliance of Good is all well and good, but her only answer to Evil is slaughter, subjugate, and exterminate. Ignoring the fact that there are real people on both sides just trying to make it through their daily grind and in no way deserve such a fate, the more pressing matter is that, in this narrative driven world such a thing is doomed to failure. Even if it succeeds, it will be a transient victory. A new Maleficent will rise, a new Priestess of Night, a new Callowan Villain just trying to save her people from all who seek to prey on them.

                      Hasenbach is playing within the Gods paradigm and the Gods thrive on conflict, serve them and you perpetuate their engineered conflict.

                      Cat is the only player at the table trying to step outside their paradigm and put an end to all the senseless Good v. Evil bullshit. Don’t slaughter the hungry Praesi, fucking feed them and eliminate their need to piss in everyone’s Cheerios each morning. Step one in eliminating conflicts on the world stage is to address people’s concerns. Cordelia has no intention of doing that.

                      In short, surrendering to the First Prince will only perpetuate the same status quo that has already condemned Callow to endless warfare.

                      Liked by 1 person

        2. Metrux

          Well, that is exacly the thing, she DOESN’T know what the Dead King wants, but she does know that Hasenbach would make Callow bleed with civil wars, and that it would probably end with her dead anyway. Really, the slight chance that the Dead King who never invaded anyone except together with THE great invader, might turn the continent to undeath… Honestly, I don’t think this Villain even wants that. So I’d say her choice is much more reasonable, especially since, if things are too bad with the King, she can just table it until Black shows his (we all know it’ll be) winning hand, and she can negotiate with the First Prince on better terms. Sure, those better terms will make hasenbach and her dreams disappear, which will make lot’s of important people try to murder Cat, but it’s a much better outcome than this negotiation right now being accepted.

          Like

  4. papermache7

    It’s so easy to hate Good from Cath perspective, they’re so certain of their victory they’re completely blind to how they’re bringing about their own doom.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. She’s not certain of her victory. She either has this victory, or her country is fucked. That’s why she’s forcing it so hard.

      Too bad for her, Procer has always been fucked.

      Like

    1. Oshi

      She has built a concerted and likely permanent end to all the wars between the kingdoms of good. Which means that all the Kingdoms of the west are aligned and sticking with each other. Politically it eliminates the biggest internal threats letting all of them focus on external ones.

      Short answer she got every sword pointed somewhere else.

      Like

    2. Jane

      The Grand Alliance, when it’s not being used as a Crusade vehicle, has terms which forbid military conflict amongst signatories, and outlines a process for disputes to be settled diplomatically under the oversight of a neutral third party. It’s essentially a simplified fantasy UN, and would likely end most war on the continent – along with ending the remaining Evil powers, since they’re as happy to use it as a sword as they are a shield.

      Of course, that will only happen if their first venture isn’t a dismal failure, so… Either Callow gets subjugated, or the continent falls back into violent bickering. Heck of a choice, isn’t it?

      I kind of got the impression that she also has another card up her sleeve, but looking back over things, I think I was just reading too much into things.

      Liked by 8 people

    3. Yavandir

      I think that Hasenbach unleashed Dead King he is a tool for the guys below to beat good guys when they are going to make something like permanent alliance against evil thingy.

      Like

  5. Aeon

    So glorious. Pilgrim’s own actions are forcing Cat to ally with the Dead King that he claims to be the true enemy. I can’t wait to see him realize that this was the tipping point. Also, really can’t wait to see Cat put Cordelia to the sword.

    Liked by 3 people

        1. oldschoolvillain

          It seems like she can only forsee plans when they are an immediate threat to Procer, and especially only when it’s actually a PLAN, rather than just an opportunity being taken. I don’t think she can see Cat’s intention to ally with the Dead King – if Cordelia had gone into that negotiation knowing that Cat would ally with The Original Abomination if she didn’t reach peace . . . I suspect peace would have been reached.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Death Knight

            Not necessarily. If Cat was forthcoming with her intention of allying with the Dead King Cordelia would take that as all the confirmation she needs to decry Cat as a true Villain, to be stomped out like Praes. Confirmation Bias all but ensures that’s how Cordelia would perceive it since she and Pilgrim already view her as a Villain.

            “When faced with the prospect of changing their minds or proving that’s unnecessary almost everyone gets started on the proof.”

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Morgenstern

            Or it gave reason to not want a peace with this person EVER. Because someone who is willing to ally with THE DEAD KING….

            Like

        2. Yotz

          The thing with precogs – they are insultingly easy to kill, really. Well, unless they have read the script, in which case we are in Marysuetopia, with all consequences attached.
          The trick is to overwhelm them with so much possible dangers that they can not be able to react adequately. Don’t send a singular assassin – send a team of thugs, several snipers, a keg of munition-happy maniacs, several magic users of random specializations, a rabid dog, and a herd of sabertooth gerbils trained to chomp people’s toes. If precog won’t go out with aneurysm, add blanket release of malaria-carrying mosquitoes to the plan.

          Same reasoning can be applied to, say, clouding precogs ability to see long-time threats with constant buzz of more immediate ones. Like, say, invading the heartlands of precogs country with several rogue legions to create a massive pattern of imminent threats that will smother and drown any possible relatively reliable precognition results under the avalanche of impossibilities…

          Liked by 4 people

    1. Someguy

      He would realise it and rationalize it away as the Will of the Heavens with a Villain ruling Callow, the normal set up for Evil siding with Evil. After all, the price for peace in the West is the sacrifice of Callowan blood in the East , it’s not his home that’s burning.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Rook

      I don’t see why the Pilgrim is getting flak for it honestly. He’s making the exact same choice that Cat is, from the other side of the fence, and being received in the same way.

      Cat is a natural born hero, going against her personal wishes and resorting villainous means for the practicality of saving Callow. Even so, it makes little difference because her status as a Villain affords her little trust in the eyes of the Cordelia and the Crusade.

      The Pilgrim is both reasonable and even personally agrees with Cat on many points, but is going against his personal feelings and sense of right and wrong for the practicality of the Greater Good. Even so, it makes little difference because his status as a servant of the Gods Above affords him little trust in the eyes of Catherine and the Woe.

      I think, at the end of it all, the conclusion between the Pilgrim and Cat is going to be a quiet and bitter one, rather than any sort of vicious satisfaction. There’s too much similarity between them.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yotz

        There are no more bitter rivals than people striving for the nearly same goal. Especially, if said goal is idealistic in nature. Just lightly off. Like the word in ancient manuscript that can mean either “god” – if dot above certain letter is in the middle, “man” – if said dot is to the left of the letter, or “cinnamon roll” – if there is no dot, and all the kerfuffle was because of a piece of fly excrement that was mistaken for a diacritical mark by some ancient scribe.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Jane

            If I’m not mistaken, it’s from Thud!, but… I could be wrong. It’s been a very long time since I last read a Discworld book.

            Like

      2. Oshi

        Except from Cats view it is ALWAYS Callow that sacrifices. She is right that the continent in general has no intention of ever granting Callow peace. It exists in their minds a the whipping boy so they never have to deal with sacrificing their own. It’s just another in a long line of someone has to pay its best that if its Callow and not us. He literally admitted that the Crusade and Callows fall is the fault of the West but still they do it again sacrificing Callow for their own peace. He has the gall to quote the greater good when it has systemically failed to produce anything but suffering in hundreds of years. It is always a possible peace in the west means more Callowan deaths. This is Cat’s perspective in any case. It is not wrong.

        Liked by 8 people

  6. IDKWhoitis

    Someone correct me if Im wrong, but is there a distinct possibility that Cat will be able to pick up Black on her way to Keter? Because bringing Black along for the ride, while a good idea for practical reasons, will be absolutely hilarious.

    Or alternatively she can pick up on the way back, but that way lies less Dead King / Black conversations.

    Like

    1. Jane

      I don’t think Cat is likely to go anywhere near Black without knowing what he’s up to. After all, for all she knows, doing so could blow up his plans and get him killed.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Amoonymous

        Definitely agree with this. She’s certain that Black knows what he’s doing and is going to fuck Procer’s shit up, so she’ll stay away to minimize introducing unforeseen variables.

        And honestly I agree with her. Black is almost certainly going to take Cordelia’s complacency and find some way to absolutely fuck Procer over.

        Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a ton of time and needs something to help her defend before whatever Black is up to pays out.

        Like

        1. Fella

          I think I actually have an idea about what Black’s doing. He makes his plans based off of a narrative set of mind.
          Scene: The hero’s friend and confidante is brutally killed, as a result of an evil empire meddling where they have no business. What’s the hero’s response?
          Generally, the hero goes into a full revenge arc, against all the odds in the world, to slaughter the rulers of the evil kingdom and topple its influence.

          Black’s flipping that to the Evil side. Captain was murdered because of direct involvement by Procer. Upon them then attempting to invadewith overwhelming numbers, Black is fighting against all odds to topple the bastards who killed his friend.

          How do these arcs end?
          Generally, the protagonist wins with serious consequences in terms of morals/remaining friends, or wins but dies in the last brutal struggle. To Black, this is an insanely good set up to, in his mind, clear out the Old Guard for Catherine, while also butchering Procer as a a nation. And the best part in his mind is probably that he’ll get to kill the intended antagonist for Cat—The White Knight—right before he completes his finishing stroke on Cordelia, bleeding out all the while. He’s planning to go out in a burst of fire large enough to burn the entire Heroic army and nation to ash, because the second best part about these schemes is that the worse the odds get, the better the chance he’ll actually have of completing his objective. Because a thousand to one odds is statistical improbability, but a million to one odds just might work. And there so happens to be an entire Crusade of heroes behind him.

          Like

  7. superkeaton

    Oh Cat, it must be frustrating to so desperately try to avoid making the Wrong Choice while everyone else does the same and seems so happy to do so.

    Cordelia disappoints me, I was hoping for more from her. Pilgrim being a dead end was a given, the man’s too old and tired and he’s placed too much of his faith in Cordelia and her works to gainsay them.

    Time to treat with a Monster, Black Queen.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Death Knight

      If Malicia had the narrative weight to bestow the Name of Black Queen onto Cat then the Dead King most certainly has the same should he offer marriage to Cat.

      Like

      1. Someguy

        Nah. Black Queen isn’t a Name, it’s just what she’s called like how Warlock is called “Sovereign of Red Skies”. Her Name was stripped when Black used his Aspect on Lisse.

        Her current Winter powers is a Fey Mantle based on the former Winter King’s fudgery titling her Duchess of Moonless Nights (Fey Title, King still has her mortal heart). Being technically the last Noble of the Winter Court it got her title upgraded to Winter Queen.

        I suspect her not being Fey or Fey-blooded is what currently keeps her Mantle a mantle, if it turns from mantle to Crown of Winter (from tapping on too much Winter power) Callow will be fucked into a frozen wasteland since Cat is Queen of both Callow & Winter and Winter Kings/Queens are Fisher Kings.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Yotz

          But that possibility can also lead to citizens of Callow becoming new Winter fae, that would be able to live more or less comfortably in that frozen wasteland.

          Like

        2. Death Knight

          True Black Queen isn’t a Name at this juncture but was very near to becoming one had Black not destroyed the Gestalt. Cat says this herself in her monologue prior to riding with the wildhunt and when she was looking at the ruins of Liesse in the aftermath of Akua’s folly.

          That why I said that should she allign with the Dead King and he weds her, Cat being of royal fey “blood”, she would transition into that Name. But story wise I don’t think that’s going to happen. Allying with the Dead King is one thing, marrying him is another though people in that era did have the tendency to cement alliances with marriage so who knows?

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Metrux

            Well, I think it’s more that she CAN’T have a name like that anymore. She was, at that time, transitioning from a warlike Name to a Ruler one, both in fact and in the Narrative: she was dealing with the state and learning alot, making herself her own political power. Now, though? She has gone past the Ruler, and she herself said she felt like this Name can never be hers again. So, yes, it will go to another direction, but I think even she herself couldn’t force a Black Queen Name.

            Like

  8. Dainpdf

    Do tempting to lay all the blame for this at the Good side’s feet, but the Pilgrim makes a good point. Hasenbach *can’t* lay down arms, not without losing everything she has achieved and more.
    The game is rigged, after all.

    Like

    1. werafdsaew

      What Pilgrim said is that he cannot move against Cordelia without collapsing the entire alliance. Cordelia’s political opponents lost their portion of the Crusade, so if she wants political cover for dealing with Cat she can just discuss the proposal openly with the other 2 members of the alliance. They’re likely to agree since they’re not the ones who’s going to carve up Callow.

      Like

      1. Dainpdf

        The whole alliance rests on the Crusade. She does this and her dream dies. That’s part of why Cordelia won’t treat with Cat. Plus, those two are not her only opponents inside Procer.

        Like

  9. PotatoMan

    So between Adjutant, Archer, Hierophant, and Akua, we have four out of the five of the band that Cat would have faced if she hadn’t stolen Akua’s spot. Who would have been the fifth member? Surely not Thief?

    Like

    1. Darkening

      I rather doubt Adjutant would have ever formed a name with Akua, she has too much disdain for greenskins to ever rely on one enough for him to acquire that much weight. Archer maybe, she’d obviously be attracted to Akua and would be interested in seeing what happened. Heirophant she could probably sway, he wouldn’t fight his father, but I’m not sure how Warlock would react to the Empress getting murdered and replaced by Akua. Probably poorly since she seems to be one of the few people he likes, but then, he’s not exactly fond of Cat either, so who knows if Masego would still be willing to run with her.

      Like

      1. Death Knight

        Hakram maybe not but one of Akua’s retainers definitely. The reason Hakram became Named was because at that point in the story, Cat was living out the succession of Black and the Calamities’ story and since Cat was slated to become the Black Knight at that juncture, the story needed someone to be “The Captain” in the anlogue since Masego was slated to be “The Warlock” and Archer “The Ranger” and lastly, Thief the “Assassin”.

        If Akua was to be the successor of Black the story would have her recruit her own analogues to the Calamities. Might not necessarily be the Adjutant but definitely a similar Name to” The Captain”.

        Like

    2. Jonnnney

      Akua wouldn’t have a band of 5 at most she would have a chancelor and a knight. Evil don’t normally combine to a group of 5. It’s generally 5 heroes vs 1 madman. Their ability to work together is what gives so much strength to the calamities and the woe.

      Like

  10. WuseMajor

    I honestly want to see this chapter from Cordelia’s point of view very, very badly. Knowing why she got so angry and why she rejected everything would explain much, especially given Kat’s track record for metaphorically lopping off her own arm and using it to club her opponent to death.

    I have to wonder if Auger has given her any advice on whether or not to agree to any of Kat’s proposals or any warnings about what Kat might unleash. I also wonder if Auger’s visions are provided directly by the Heavens or is they’re just powered by divine energy, because, if it’s the first one, then Auger might be telling Cordy that treating with Kat will cause great Woe, when there will be plenty of Woe to go around if she doesn’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Death Knight

      I think it was mentioned that the Augur can only forsee precommitted actions. Anything less than that likely merely manifests as a feeling of unease. I don’t think Cat has precommitted to the alliance with the Dead King yet, she’s just hearing him out at this moment so its unlikely that the Augur has forseen that precisely.

      This weakness however is the reason I believe Black is the right person to kill the Augur. Sure she can forsee his intent to kill her, what she can’t forsee likely is which of the myriad of methods he has at his disposal (and he definitely will have at least 60) he will use to do the job.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Gunslinger

      It’s said in the chapter that Cordelia’s chapter was a diplomatic ruse. A way to apply pressure on Cat to get her to fold.

      Like

    3. Thea

      Augur did tell Cordelia “fortune may come unexpected” or so just before Thief showed up in her study, carrying Cat’s a Winter-domain-amulet-thing they use to communicate now.
      In other words, Augur told Cordelia treating with Cat can/will be good for her. I wonder if Cordelia forgot that, or why she discarded that… warning, really.

      Liked by 6 people

  11. Darkening

    Honestly, while I expect there to be some kind of tragedy on the way with this path, I reeeeally look forward to Cat going, “Welp, I tried to give these fuckers a chance, time to let loose everything Winter can really do,” And breaking out the artifacts and things she’s made from all the dead heroes. Hey, maybe the Dead King would be willing to gift her a couple to make some more out of as part of their agreement! Can’t wait to see what the conditions of him leaving hell are, I fully expect WB to show up the moment he’s in play since she’s his counter, and as much as I loathe her she’s hilarious to read about.

    Like

      1. And I fear you’re right. She will get one look at the script and promptly teleport to the greatest concentration of heroes to inform them they’re going to experience first-hand what war is when you go against people on the level of Dread Empress Triumphant….

        Als o have a new name for Catherine: Betrayer.

        Like

        1. Or… the Betraying Betrayed. Catherine could have been the Hero Classic, but so much omnidirectional backstabbing occured before she was born, during her formation and after she got Named that it’s a minor miracle she isn’t shaped like a buckler-and-foil.

          Nobody is allowed to be surprised: she is what all active parties in Calerna formed her to be. And, on their own heads be it.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. https://www.patreon.com/user/posts?u=3523924

    Go support Erratica on Patreon if you can! He does so much amazing work for us and he absolutely deserves to make *at least* a living wage off of his work on this story.

    Seriously, if you’d pay $20 for one of Erratica’s books, then you can chip in at least two bucks a month. He gives a book a year already, that’s a fine exchange. (Holy crap you give us a book of this a year how the fuck do you manage that?)

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Ilphros

    I think… that Fate/Providence may have the rule, “The side that is right is more likely to win” – because the world was made by the Gods, supposedly, in order to settle a question of who was right. And they built a world capable of helping them answer that question – more than one world, perhaps, given Arcadia.

    And the Gods Above have spent a long, long time trying to present themselves as Good and Right. But their presenting it is finally falling apart – they have built up too much arrogance, left Catherine too much ammunition for when she declares that they are *not* right.

    Like

  14. Berder

    Consider Hasenbach’s comment about “there is more at stake than you know,” and the Pilgrim’s decision to back Hasenbach instead of peace, and the Pilgrim’s mention of finally fighting the true threat, the dead king, after the crusade is done and Praes is humbled.

    My guess is, Augur has predicted a massive attack from the Dead King, but Procer misread the timing of it; they think there will be time after the crusade to fight him, and Hasenbach has a plan to do so. Ironic if this prediction leads them to refuse peace with Callow, which itself causes the Dead King’s attack.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. So, one thing Cordelia fails to understand is that Catherine is a Queen.
    Not Queen in Callow, not Queen of Callow.

    She’s the Queen of Winter. She usurped a god.
    I have no idea why Cordelia is treating her as if she had a diplomatic Name, like she was the Hierach or the Dread Empress. Pretty fucking dumb when you think about it. It’s not as if dropping a lake was her only trick.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Metrux

      Cordelia is, in a sense, in a BIG disadvantage here. Her side (not the Crusade, HER) has only a single Named, who don’t understand much but can see the future. Her side has poor magical theories and small amount of magic wielders. Her side never dealed with Fae, the way Callow has. Thus, as much as it is painfully clear for us, and for alot of people inside the story, that Cat has a special connection never seen before with Winter, it is not something visible to Hasenbach. She has not the means to see it, which means she’s blinded without even realizing it.

      Like

  16. Well, the Pilgrim main argument is that the true enemies they will face once Praes and Callow are dealt with are the Chain of Hunger, the Everdark and the Dead King. I suppose it’s somewhat fitting to unleash the dead legions. Let them prove them this reputation is grounded into reality…

    For all their talk about being the shield of civilisation, Procer has mostly held all their existence against the rats and the Dead King was unable to enter the fray. Now everything is going to turn around…

    Congratulations, Cordelia Hasenbach. You’re going to see Calernia burn. I wonder how the future generations are going to see your reign…

    Seriously, Black first part of the plan is already working as we speak. He told it when he was in the Free Cities. He’s ravaging the heartlands of Procer, incinerating farms and everything edible while requisitioning (by force) the rest.
    Amadeus is ruining the logistics of the Tenth Crusade. In several months, Procer will have gigantic armies to feed in the middle of winter and Praes armies destroyed or not, you will have to feed these soldiers. And underestimating the guy who engineered your entire civil war with Malicia is sheer folly. It’s far better to overestimate him and realise all the preparing was not necessary than what she’s doing…

    Cordelia conditions were a mix of the Mouth of Sauron combined with Good rhetoric. She has nothing on the ground right now to justify such harsh conditions, she doesn’t realise or don’t care how her people are hated on the other side of the mountains and she is an hypocrite.
    Seriously, her rise to power followed the same conditions…and the only reason she didn’t kill her opposition was because she couldn’t. It was said clearly in the extra chapters the armies of the North had to return quickly to guard their walls before the ratlings took advantage of their southern campaign.

    With so many of the big villains still in the game and the first part of the Crusade already a fiasco, I would like to say I would have been a bit prudent. Either the First Prince is not a good politician, or Catherine is right: the Crusade is already escaping her hands to become its own force, subjected only to the will of the Heavens…

    Oh well. It’s time for the Big Bad to appear on the battlefield…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. werafdsaew

      I think Cordelia is an excellent politician, but a shitty general, and has a habit of underestimating martial inclined Villains, due not having any experience in fighting against Villains other than Malicia. Her tendency to underestimate Villains stretches back to the first time she came on screen in the prologue of Book 2 and continues to this chapter by underestimating Black.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. “We have him outnumbered and he has no supplies, we’re going to beat him in a few months, tops.”

        Yeah, looks like she hasn’t been paying too much attention to recent history, has she?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Matthew

          The Gods above must be so pissed she said that.

          Before,. “If she’s afraid of the Black Knight, we can give Procer a plucky underdog tag and defeat him with a half formed peasant army.”

          Now, “Black Knight was already near invincible when he was working against the narrative. Now, it’s in his favor? Fuuuuuuuuck.”

          Liked by 2 people

  17. Have to quote Edward Alban here: “Kingdoms don’t die on battlefields. They die in dark, quiet rooms where deals are made between those who should know better.”

    Two women just signed death warrant for hundreds thousands people. Why? Arrogance, fear, mutual distrust and ignorance, no less mutual, to name a few.

    Cat won’t trust Cordelia because she’s Proceran, and Procer is known to be prone to warmongering. Despite the fact that Cordelia been mending bridges and genually averting Proceran ambitions for the sake of peace.

    Cordelia won’t trust Cat because she’s (alledgedly) a Villain, and Villains are known to be prone to backstabing and lies. Despite the fact that Cat’s been trying to mend the same bridges and genually shooting herself in the foot for the sake of peace.

    Both want peace, both want to talk, but both don’t trust each other one bit, while expecting the other one to trust you unconditionally. Here’s the fucking idea for ya: don’t. Be so stupid that is. Both women are (alledgedly) smart, yet incapable of putting themselves in each others shoes.

    You can invite trust (if you want it fast, any way) only one way, by making a leap of faith. Taking the first step, and doing, instead of talking. One may argue that Cat done a lot, but what of it is actually known to Prince? All she saw was that: a Villain slaughtered thousands of Crusaders and driven them off by the threat of starvation. Is this not how any other Villain would do? Gods, if you want to be treated differently, then act differently. Cat’s staying her hand looks the same as here being simply to weak to actually wipe out the whole army.

    What can she do then? Aside from abdication and all that jazz? Well, crazy thought – talk. Just tell Cordelia about, oh I don’t know, a Dead King inviting you to talk, presumably about an alliance? A Liesse Accords, just a hint if you really can’t do more? Tell her about Bonfire, about so many more Dark Day protocols hidden in the Tower. Remind her that a story about hubris and stubborness bringing ruin is a story too. Explain your position, make her understand that you are cornered and desperate, that one more push and you will start making literal deals with devils.

    Can it backfire? Sure. Spectacularly. But you can’t make a huge gain without taking a huge risks, and mending a trust, broken from the days immemorial is a huge gain. At least that way there won’t be no “conversation haunting them for years to come”.

    But what would I know?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eh, you summed it up quite well.

      Sadly, neither of them think they can actually afford to be stabbed in the back.
      Well, they’re not wrong, but how they’re doing this is a definite path to doom.

      Like

    2. werafdsaew

      I agree that the lack of trust is the issue, but it’s not really the lack of trust between Cat and Cordelia that is the problem, as that can be solved by an oath, since Cat is a fae. The problem is that the people of Callow don’t trust Procer, and the rest of Calernia don’t trust Praes, and thus by extension its nominal ally Cat.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nah, even with an oath, Cordelia would barely try and take the risk of trusting Cat. Who takes a deal that’s too good to be true?

        Also, how many times has Cat fucked Akua over because of loopholes in oaths?

        Like

    3. Forrest

      I would argue Cat was not being that distrusting, and that she came into this making concessions. The First Prince, also, has not been shown to be story savvy. Literally considering how much she relies on the Augur to save her and her plans/allies. Despite being such a ‘master’ negotiator, she seems to fail to do just that time and again, let alone being able to read the situation and say ‘This person seems to genuinely think I’m putting myself into a bad position, huh. Why would that be?’

      Meanwhile, Cat was not only offering to shorten her time to abdication but clear the pass, help in the war with Praes, spirit the Crusade to the seat of Malicia, and was willing to give way more ground than Cordellia. Let’s be honest, Cordellia here was being stiff. This story has already discussed the nature of those rigid versus those more fluid in the narrative. The chapter had Cat realize that Cordellia’s anger was a front to get her to concede, but that is the only bit of negotiating the other side did other than bargain her down to five years.

      Cat even went to the Pilgrim and offered to let herself die for the sake of letting her country find peace. In other words, she offered him her life. And he turned her down because he didn’t want to see Cordellia’s position take such a huge hit, and he felt that good ending the wars with themselves was somehow better than ending the constant Good v Evil narratives that claims countless lives throughout time.

      And that is exactly what was being offered, and he somehow did not realize that ending Good v Evil, at least here, in this place, should be far more important to him. You might say ‘well, if she’s being redeemed she wouldn’t be a villain anymore.’ Except it was the villain making this offer, knowing of the redemption story, for the sake of their country and people.

      And honestly, the pilgrim should have been at least a little more hesitant to turn the offer of her life for peace down. You know, since he is supposed to be story savvy enough to realize what picture that’s painting for her, and that it does not end well for his side.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Forrest

        Also, forgot to mention that telling Cordellia of the Dead King would have been a dumb move, and caused all negotiation to break down. Wasn’t even negotiating in bad faith, as that was a measure she was desperately trying to avoid at all costs. The Liesse Accords would have been an issue as well as those are the agreement to get everything to work smoothly for the future, pushing them through now would cause significant problems.

        Liked by 2 people

    4. The problem here is that Callow *is* going to be fucked over if she agrees with Cordelia. Civil wars would plague the country, it’s already been established that the country is I’m dire needs of eldermen (eg. Schoolars and learned people) to run the country AND there is no assurance of help from Cordelia’s side – mainly because Callow, as a country, won’t trust her.

      Also, as someone said before; if Cat explains all the things she could have done, especially the deal from the Dead King, Cordelia’s confirmation bias would lead her to a faulty conclusion

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thea

        Agreed, if Cordelia’s internal position is so weak she can’t make peace with Cat… She can’t stop her princes from screwing Callow over in the aftermath, once the crusade is over Cat out of the picture. Letting them do it would take political pressure off her, so she can push more “worthwhile” endeavours.

        Liked by 2 people

    5. Jason Ipswitch

      But Cat isn’t doing what any other narrative tied Villain would do. “Here’s a tough but fair deal, now go home,” is NOT supremely villainous. The traditional Evil moves would have been to laugh while they starve, and either harry their retreat turning it into an epic bloodbath, or to crush them utterly. The attempt to crush them utterly would lead either to an Evil victory (sending the Princes heads back in baskets), or an Evil loss, as the forces of Good triumph against impossible odds.

      Cordelia does seem out of her depth here, on the Good vs. Evil battlefield of narrative. I don’t think she, or even Pilgrim, really grasp Black’s whole approach of carefully subverting the narrative. Hasenbach is practically blind to story, and the Pilgrim can see the patterns and work with them, and within them, but I don’t think he has any deep grasp of how Cat has been reframing her own story ever since Book I.

      Liked by 2 people

  18. Fern

    ugh, this really is terrible. Maybe Hasenbach really does just want to make sure the framework she’s trying to build will last, but she’s still overplaying her hand out of some belief that Cat is a small fish.

    Cat’s the underdog in this story, and while that’s not an instant win it’s going to give her a big push. The Procerans won’t know what hit em

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Cordalia seems to be aiming for nothing short of perfection, she set it up so that she needs a perfect win to meet her goals and build a stable Calernia.
    The ways in which that is stupid are too many too count. But il try a few.
    1) Dwarves: Thee most powerful Calernian nation are probably not cool with a united surface world. It would take little effort on their part to break the Grand Alliance.
    2) Conquering Callow does not magically revert it back to a Good country. After the Crusade, the citizen’s of Callow might not be so inclined towards the House of Light. We’ve seen it from multiple perspectives now that they don’t have the moral authority they used too. I imagine Heavenly Human slaughter Pens didn’t help that.
    3) What is even up with unified Arcadia? I doubt they are going to just chill in Arcadia forever.
    4) Malicia has not even done anything yet. She may be a diplomat Villain but no Empress is going out with a whimper. In fact her Diplomatic focus just means a huge diplomatic loss for Procer is coming.
    5) Where the Villains at? Like forty heroes showed up for the Crusade. Did their villainous counterparts all go on vacation? New local Villains should still be appearing and running around unopposed. That can’t be great for political stability.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oshi

      The only one of these I had never considered i the one with Villians. Where are they? It does seem odd that there aren’t more.

      Like

      1. Forrest

        It’s likely that the ones that are already there are the ones that are getting pulled into the story. Especially since all the ‘old monsters’ of Good are here, well now the ‘old abomination’ of Evil is getting involved. Also, I’d point out that this reactionary nature is much more in line with a heroic story than a villainous one. I mean, how often does a story go: ‘And once the heroes came a pillaging, the great and terrible evil overlord rose up to commit foul deeds upon their faces. But lo! They did strike down the villain for impeding their path!’

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Even if not part of the Crusade story, easily a few dozen Villains going unopposed across Calernia should be worth mentioning.
          Usurpers, Bandit Lords, Cultists, Mad Sorcerers and the like should be burning Crusader Nations from the inside. Both their heroes and their armies are gone.

          Like

        2. Metrux

          Well, this brings a question about the diference of this universe and our own. In our universe, who is villain and who is hero is, most of the time, dependent on where you start and finish the story. Let us take a very simple exemple: There is this people living here, and they expand their cities through territories already claimed as their own. Suddenly, this other people start attacking them, and they retaliate, after a long war, they won the right for their own lands. Now, let’s see the other side: We lived in those lands for uncountable generations, and now people from outside have taken to living here. They come and expand, pushing us farther and farther away… But now we won’t stand for it, we fight, for our lands, for our way of being.

          Now, this is how a part of the conflict between americans and indians went down, a very small part of it. One started after, and ended after. The other started before and ended before. Both show what could be seen as heroic stories… But neither trully are. In the world of the Guide people are CLEARLY Heroes and Villains, so there must be a diference here, no?

          Like

          1. Forrest

            Although I would point out not many people consider what happened to the native americans in a very positive light, and some even condemn those early americans for what they did. Regardless, while the world does work quite differently than real life in that people are labeled as heroes and villains before they even really get started, it does work similarly in other areas. Not including, of course, the magic and the hell portals and the fey, but all of that goes without saying.

            Like

    2. The thing about villains… think of it as the Heaven’s are using zerg tactics.

      And hey, classic villain lesson number 1. If a plan must succeed at every step, it is doomed to fail.
      Wait, that’s a life lesson in general.

      Liked by 3 people

    3. Jane

      2) Conquering Callow does not magically revert it back to a Good country. After the Crusade, the citizen’s of Callow might not be so inclined towards the House of Light. We’ve seen it from multiple perspectives now that they don’t have the moral authority they used too. I imagine Heavenly Human slaughter Pens didn’t help that.

      As an idle thought… I wonder what Cat’s reaction would be if she were to hear that worship of the Gods Below was becoming more common in Callow? Would she thin her lips, thinking of how things were changing, or would she not care – it’s not as though she’s cared much about theology in the past? Would she idly think of how this might complicate her domestic political situation, or would she brood about how her being a Villain Queen is twisting Callow?

      There hasn’t been much reason for Callow to change its traditions up until this point, but, as you note… I imagine those soldiers aren’t going to be as inclined to offer praise to the Gods Above in the future, after the Gods tried to kill them. And once the stories spread, I imagine their families will share in the sentiment. And if you need to ask someone for a little luck in a pinch… Well, the Gods Below are next in line, aren’t they? And they actually answer their prayers, for the right price.

      This Crusade was called in part because Callow was at a tipping point in its alignment, but I have to imagine a failed Crusade will hasten things along… Whether Cat abdicates or not. It’ll take a generation’s worth of work to make Callow Good again, most likely, instead of its current darkening grey.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It would be a major impact if that happened. Callow is basically the knight kingdom of the continent. It’s basically fantasy medieval fantasy Britain, with King Arthur and shit.

        Like

  20. Two epiphanies just now:

    Augur has told the First Prince that staying on this path means defeat for the Dead King.

    erraticerrata has the Name of Author.

    Three questions:

    What are his aspects?

    Is this a transitional Name or has he asssumed his final form?

    Hero, Villain, or Ranger?

    Like

    1. IDKWhoitis

      Augar might not understand, care, or get the full picture about what “defeat” entails. I think this might be a similar “End” to the Dead King like there was an “End” to Summer and Winter. Cat may catalyze a change in the Dead King, or push through the Liesse Accords that will “End” the threat of the Dead King.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Alivaril

    I think Cat might be underestimating the Dead King. Undead-infested gate to in the middle of Procer, anyone? I can’t see the Dead King just overlooking that possibility.

    Actually, for that matter, she also overestimates her own gates. IIRC, her agreement with Arcadia Unified was for safe passage for herself and those under her command, not her allies. She might’ve ended up “betraying” the crusade by complete accident had they accepted.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jane

      An easy enough loophole to abuse. “You’re under my command so long as we’re gating through Arcadia”.

      The Fae are legalistic enough to accept that – though I wouldn’t be surprised if that also gave her more control of “her” army than would normally be expected of such a ruse. Arcadia seems like the kind of place that would enforce that sort of thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. N/A

    I am reminded of Cat’s negotiations with Pilgrim back in Ch.8. What was it she said about summoning demons? “We can’t prevent escalation if your bargaining position is that we fold but you don’t.”

    Can’t say she didn’t warn them…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. N/A

      … Actually, come to think, given that she has Pilgrim forbidden letters, one wonders if telling him wouldn’t be a solution. “Right now, my last resort is to go to the table with the Dead Fucking King. I really, really, really, REALLY don’t want to do that, but I am *running out of alternatives.*”

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  23. What are the chances that Black uses his aspects of Conquer and Lead to start a uprising in Procer? Get a city to join him.
    Murder the prancing princes and ask the peasants how they feel about being pawns in Cordelia’s games. it’s not like anyone likes the rulers of Procer. For decades now, they have been treated like replaceable animals by their rulers, forced to kill each other and now spent on foreign soil for political convenience.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. stevenneiman

      Shit, I hadn’t thought of that. It would be pretty crazy, but I can see the supporting narratives.

      The First Prince is a madwoman, convinced that everything wrong with her dystopian homeland is caused by the Empress’ schemes (which is partly true, but whatever). She didn’t so much earn the right to rule as conquer her own homeland, and now she is forcing them to take part in an unprovoked war of aggression, coupled with a smear campaign where she claims that Cat is the one who rules by force.
      Queen Catherine holds off the invading Proceran hordes through both the courage of her soldiers and clever diplomatic action while the Black Knight blocks the other assault before making a desperate attempt to liberate the Proceran homeland from First Prince Hasenbach’s cruel reign.
      Of course, the problem is that it will conflict with Cat’s own crafted narrative of the ultimate feat of statecraft. Cat’s desired story is of a bargain between two of the three most powerful women in Calernia to bring peace and end the constant stream of disasters which has marked the interaction of Good and Evil since the end of the Miezan occupation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Termite

        The bargain never needed to be with Hasenbach rather she just needs the first prince to cooperate, if a new and more reasonable first prince is chosen due to the actions of someone she can’t control, fine.

        Like

  24. Sanityfaerie

    So… one thing that just happened… Pilgrim’s attempt to turn Cat just crashed and burned *hard*. Also, he’s stuck as the retainer to a hostage, which means he’s not going to be at any battlefields between now and the time the truce breaks down. That’s… potentially a big deal. For a guy who leans into the narrative so hard, it seems almost *odd* that he’d be willing to say “yes, I’m willing to set your little country on fire for that other person’s political ambitions/The Greater Good”. That’s especially after he schemed this hard to put himself into a position to play kindly advisor. Did he not see this coming?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. stevenneiman

      I’m not seeing it. He’s a mentor to heroes and potential heroes, and he’s telling a particularly troubled semi-redeemed villain not to return to the temptations of Evil. She’ll do something drastic rather than listen to his wise advice, and he’ll be there to help her control the damage when it goes wrong and help her understand her mistake. Basically, he’s going to try and turn summoning the Dead King into the animated mops scene from Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
      It’s all total bullshit of course, but it’s what I expect that Fate will think is going on. I’m not seeing any mistakes on his point, and in fact it works out tidily enough that I’m not even sure he’s completely ignorant of the Dead King’s involvement.

      Like

      1. He’s telling a particularly troubled semi-villain who is willing to turn away from her ambitions to save her country and her people: no, I don’t want you redeemed, I want you to die and your country vivisected so the First Prince can look good and self-actualise.

        “This is not fair. Nor is it just.”

        Like

  25. stevenneiman

    The behavior of Procer reminds me of Thor from the Iron Druid Chonicles. They recognize that they have a vital duty that everyone depends on them for (holding off the ratlings and defeating Loki respectively), and their response to that knowledge is to act like assholes to everyone, believing they can get awa with it.

    Like

  26. Jessica Day

    I expected Hasenbach to be this arrogant, she’s a blue blood through and through. A self righteous royal with holy cause and considered one of the most cunning rulers around. So she makes a lot of poor assumptions here which will lead her to woe in the end…

    But I didn’t expect the Grey Pilgrim to be that arrogant. He actually thinks that he and Cordelia are about to succeed in a crusade, already off to a bad start, where all others have failed in the past? He really thinks that the Gods Above, with his help, will win a war between deities which has been fought since literally forever? A chance to accomplish great good, save lives, redeem a villain, all on a silver platter, and he turns it down because he thinks he can do better than any hero who has gone before?

    I think I see the shape of his and the First Prince’s story now: Tragedy. And hubris is their tragic flaw. Just look at their antagonist, someone fighting for a noble ideal greater than herself- defense of her Homeland. Someone who continuously humbles herself, offers to GIVE UP A THRONE, offers up her very life… I can’t wait for the graveyard of princes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oshi

      Nope but he certainly thinks that even if they fail peace will survive in the West so what is there to lose? A few hundred thousand people and Callow?

      Like

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