Chapter 36: Enchère

“I’ve found that nothing quite sets the tone for council like strangling a courtier with my bare hands just before we begin.”
– Dread Emperor Venal

I stared down at the unfurled scroll, a frown creasing my brow. When Athal had shown up along our communal breakfast with a scroll in hand I’d expected him to be bearing the Dead King’s counteroffer. Instead, what I’d gotten was a neatly-penned report about how the world had gone on without me while we journeyed to Keter. I popped a blueberry in my mouth. That it most likely came from hell did not make it taste any less sweet. Swallowing, I wiped my fingers on the tablecloth.

“How old is this?” I asked.

The dark-haired man bowed.

“If it please you, Great Majesty, the last of what is written took place eight days ago as of this morning,” he replied.

“Well,” I said, rubbing the bridge of my nose. “Fuck seems like the most appropriate reaction to that basket of stupid.”

“Catherine?” Vivienne said, from her place across the table.

I pushed the scroll across, almost toppling a pitcher of fresh milk over it before Hakram leant over to catch it. I sent him a thankful look.

“Word from Callow?” Indrani asked, half a side of pork making her cheeks bulge.

“Swallow, you godsdamned savage,” I said. “And something like that. Can someone tell me what the ‘Lanterns’ are, exactly? I think I got it from context but I’d rather be sure.”

“The Levantine equivalent to the House of Light,” Adjutant said.

Archer snorted, then finally swallowed.

“Yeah, sure,” she said. “If to become an anointed brother you had to wrestle a basilisk. They don’t have abbeys so much as warrior lodges. If they get old enough they go into the Brocelian to fight monsters until one finally beats them.”

Across the table, Vivienne flinched.

“Merciless Gods,” she said. “What was she thinking?”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “Not Hasenbach’s greatest moment.”

I glanced at Masego, who did not glance back. He turned a page, blindly groping for what he probably believed to be a cup of tea but was actually a pot of cream. Well, he’d notice after drinking. Probably.

“Are we to be kept in suspense?” Akua drily asked.

“I’ve been declared Arch-heretic of the East,” I said. “By a conclave of the House of Light in Procer, the aforementioned Lanterns and a delegation of Speakers from Ashur.”

“A worthy achievement,” Diabolist praised. “This is the first I hear of the title being granted to one who has not climbed the Tower.”

“It’s a feudal disaster is what it is,” Thief said. “It means that any oaths sworn to her are dissolved by holy writ and that any who follow her are ‘estranged from the light of the Heavens’.”

“I didn’t think the First Prince would go this far just to break my truce with the northern crusade,” I admitted. “Or that she had this much influence over the priests, to be honest.”

“She should not have,” Adjutant said. “The House is highly influential in Proceran politics, and pushes back hard when attempts are made to twist its arm. Several wars were fought over it, if I remember correctly.”

“The three Liturgical Wars,” Akua said. “One of the rare Proceran squabbles to involve even the Lycaonese. The last member of House Merovins’ bloodline was slain during… the second, perhaps? I confess my Principate histories are not as comprehensive as they could be.”

“Oh fuck,” Vivienne suddenly said.

I’d told her it was the most appropriate reaction, hadn’t I?

“Laure?” I asked.

She nodded, slumping into her seat.

“I can’t even begin to parse the implications of that,” she said.

“This is getting quite tedious,” Akua noted.

“You might remember the priests back in Salia declared me an abomination, after First Liesse,” I told the shade. “That whole resurrection affair got stuck in their throats.”

The dark-skinned monster was not slow on the uptake, for all her other glaring flaws.

“You were crowned by a representative of the House of Light, in Laure,” she said.

“I was.”

“They’ve branded heretics all involved in the matter,” Diabolist said, and it wasn’t a guess.

“If they’d just tarred my name it wouldn’t have been too bad,” I said. “They tried something similar with Henry Landless after occupying Callow, though without foreigners signing on. But they accused Callowan priesthood of heresy. They really shouldn’t have done that.”

“We so declare the following,” Vivienne read out loud. “That all who took part in the seventy-third conclave of Salia are guilty, of: perverse service to earthly powers, false righteousness for earthly purpose and, declaration of godless sanctions.”

“That first one,” Archer decided, “will be the title of my memoirs. I feel it really captures the spirit of what I’m about.”

We decided in turn, as a family and also Akua, to pretend she had remained silent.

“All three of those are lesser heresies,” Hakram gravelled. “That’s situation’s going to get worse at a brisk pace.”

“It did,” I grimly added. “The House in Laure also retroactively declared every hero to have tread Callowan grounds to be graceless. That’s not so much protesting the verdict as setting fire to the courthouse.”

“Graceless,” Diabolist mused. “As in ‘walk without the grace of the Heavens’, I presume?”

I nodded with a grimace. That verse was from the Book of All Things, when speaking of villains who cloaked themselves in righteousness when seeing to their ‘dark purposes’. You shall know them from the true children of Above, for they walk without the grace of the Heavens. The House of Light in Laure had essentially just declared over ten heroes to be villains in disguise. And then announced as much at every street corner of the largest city of the kingdom.

“They kept their shit together in Dormer, at least,” Vivienne sighed. “They lodged a protest and want to appeal the conclave’s decisions.”

“Thief, rioters torched the House of Light in Vale when the priests refused to speak out,” I said pointedly. “This is not a situation under control. Juniper’s going to have to declare martial law, if she hasn’t already.”

“The House in Summerholm upheld Laure’s declaration,” Thief said, sounding appalled as her eyes reached the end of the scroll. “Gods. Denier’s going to fold as well, Cat, you know that. You’re popular with the merchants and the priests that far east hate it even when the crown tells that what to preach. And the only reason Marchford hasn’t declared already is that it’ll take a while for the news to reach there.”

“I have no idea what Hasenbach was thinking,” I admitted. “The northern army’s in no shape to take the passage from Kegan even if it turns around. She’s setting fire to the diplomatic options for no real gain I can see.”

“You’re assuming she is behind this,” Akua said.

“If a clever opponent makes a foolish mistake,” Hakram added, “it is either not a mistake or not that opponent’s doing.”

Grem One-Eye had written that, I recalled. In one of his treatises, when talking about how even a well-led army could blunder when the field officers were poorly trained.

“That would imply she’s lost control of the going-ons in her own capital,” Vivienne replied skeptically.

A shame that her understanding of what a crusade is was so lacking, but it is too late to leave the saddle once the lion is ridden. That was what the Dead King had said, when we’d spoken of Cordelia Hasenbach.

“They might be right,” I said.

Thief turned to me, curious.

“If this was just the House in Procer I’d agree with you, but with the Lanterns and the Speakers?” I said. “No. She can’t have that many hooks inside nations that were hostile to Procer until so recently. I think that Hasenbach might be losing her grip on parts of the Grand Alliance.”

And wasn’t that enough to have me dreading? Because Cordelia Hasenbach had, for all her brutal idealism, a pragmatic streak. The castles she wanted to built were down here, not up in the clouds. But if she was no longer leading the beast by the nose, then who was now in charge? Her refusal to offer even the slightest concession when we’d last spoken was starting to be cast in a different light. Her position was nowhere as assured as I’d believed. I clenched my fingers, then slowly unclenched them. Didn’t matter, did it?

The mess was still in my lap, I had to deal with it.

“The Empress is going to throw a banquet, when she hears,” Vivienne sighed. “Any possible bridges to the west just went up in smoke.”

“Nok did too,” I reminded her. “She’s not exactly doing great at keeping her head above the water either. Black’s wandering the countryside up to Gods know what, Warlock’s nowhere to be seen and her coasts are burning. Not a great year for either of us.”

A man cleared his throat. With a start, I realized Athal had been standing to the side this entire time. My mind whipped back, going over what we’d said with a fine comb. Had there been anything in there I’d truly hate for the Dead King to know? No, I realized after a moment. ‘Bridges to the west’ had unfortunate implications, but I doubted Neshamah was unaware I would have cut a deal with Procer instead of coming to him if I could.

“Do you have further use for me, Great Majesty?” he asked.

“I don’t,” I said. “Offer my thanks to the Dead King for his gift, Athal.”

“I will do so promptly, honoured one,” and with one last bow he left.

I popped another blueberry into my mouth. There was a clatter, like someone dropped a ceramic pot on the table.

“This is cream,” Masego said, highly offended. “Why did none of you say anything?”

Well, I mused, at least the wait until my second talk with the Hidden Horror would not be absent of entertainment.

The Hall of the Dead grew no less intimidating with repeat visits. The honour guard of Revenants had the same faces as the last time at least, so it was possible that fifty dead Named was the sum of his forces. On the other hand, it was a little too neat of a number and it wasn’t like he’d have fewer than what we’d seen. I kept the thought off my face as we were welcomed into the throne room and Neshamah graciously invited us to be seated once more. No offer of a meal, this time, and it was easy to see why. Neat stacks of parchments awaited us at the table.

“Your proposal was a worthy one, Black Queen,” the Dead King said. “Yet it needed… expansion. These are the terms I would offer instead. Take however long is necessary to familiarize yourself, I will take no offence.”

I traded a subtle look with Thief. Yeah, he could have sent us those earlier. He’d meant for us to be as little prepared as possible, and to go over them in an unfamiliar place. The throne room of ancient Sepharah was not a location that invited careful reading, though ironically enough I could think of few places where paying attention to the exact wording would be more important. The Woe sat after I did, and with a nod at Neshamah I took a look at his proposal. A single paragraph of beautifully calligraphied Lower Miezan in, I was already blinking in surprise. I’d offered him the run of three principalities. Not even halfway into the first sheet of parchment, I was being asked for eight. All existing Lycaonese lands were included, and in addition to Cleves and Hainaut as I’d already put on the table he was also asking for Lyonis and Brus. Which would give him foothold on the opposite shores of the Tomb and the Grave, but also neatly encircle Lake Pavin. More worryingly, if he took all of Lyonis it meant his southern border was Salia. The capital of Procer.

Surprise only continuing to sink in, I thumbed through the other parchments. The alliance would be required to be announced publically. The invitation need be extended to him for at least one hundred years and – well, shit. He wanted me to occupy two principalities myself, Bayeux and Orne. The very principalities facing the two passes out of the Red Flower Vales. Last time that territory had been under Callowan rule was the days of the Queen of Blades, and even then they’d been tributaries more than vassals. Hakram was paying closer attention to the details, I saw, and I left him to it. I turned to the Dead King.

“Your Majesty,” I said.

“Black Queen,” the yellow-eyed thing replied lightly.

“This is a significant expansion of the terms offered,” I said. “Which surprises me, given how amenable you seemed to the initial proposal.”

“I was,” the Hidden Horror agreed. “But then I was made a better offer.”

The world slowed, and all I heard was the quickening of my pulse. A better offer. Who – no, that wasn’t even a question worth asking was it?

“Dread Empress Malicia,” I said, voice eerily calm.

“Has been an honoured guest of mine for some time,” the Dead King said. “She also has an interest in securing an alliance, though I found it unsporting to never give you such a chance. You currently look at a transcript of her latest offer, save for the addition of the occupation of Proceran territory. That is a boon I offer you myself.”

It was no such thing, I thought. He wanted me to take a bite out of Procer so their attention would be divided when the day of reckoning came. And to ensure that no deal would be possible to make with Hasenbach or her replacement, since I’d have outright occupied part of their realm. Something that would be difficult for Malicia to achieve, since she’d need to reconquer Callow before getting anywhere near the Principate – and to do all of that while at odds with her finest generals.

“A bidding war,” Akua said thoughtfully, the first time she had even spoken in this hall.

“I prefer to think of it as an auction,” the Dead King replied. “With the face of Calernia in our time as the prize.”

I let out a long breath, forced myself to smile.

“An intriguing offer,” I said. “Might we be allowed to discuss it between ourselves before giving you an answer?”

“By all means,” Neshamah smiled. “Should you require light to be shed on any point, my Hosts are at your service. They were made aware of my intent.”

I rose to my feet, feeling like a dozen pounds of lead were tied to them. I bowed exactly as low as was required. Shooting a quelling look at Archer, who looked about to speak, I gestured for the others to follow me out.

We’d been had, but here was not the place to rage about it.

Vivienne slapped down her pile of parchments on the table the moment the wards went up.

“That fucker,” she snarled. “So much for ‘negotiations in good faith’, Hakram.”

I spent a moment wondering whether I was responsible for the fact that my closest companions could be so cavalier as to call the likes of the Dead King ‘that fucker’ while shuffling uneasily under the silent pressure of Masego’s sorcery. Being under that had not become any more pleasant with the passing of time. The itch was already under my skin, bringing restlessness with it. Whatever it was I had become, it was not meant to be contained. My eyes flicked to Ajutant, who had ignored Thief’s jibe to bring our finest map of Calernia to the table. He methodically set aside the parchments to spread it completely, then set down iron figurines at the borders the Dead King’s last proposal had outlined.

“A lot of land to evacuate, even with forewarning,” Archer noted, dragging a chair to the table.

The ugly scraping sound of wood against stone made me want to rip her hair out, but that was an almost daily occurrence with Indrani.

“Around a third of the Principate, in sum,” Akua noted. “Though the Lycaonese territories are the poorest and least populated by a wide margin. Archer’s warning is somewhat inaccurate, however. Keter’s advance will not be immediate or uncontested: it is not impossible for mass displacement to occur before the principalities fall.”

“It would mean several million refugees,” Hakram said calmly. “Hunger, sickness and weather will slay them by the thousands.”

“We’d get two principalities out of the deal, though,” Archer said cheerfully. “That’s nice of him. Good change of pace from the whole defence thing we’ve been on about. Would be pleasant to let them worry about us instead the other way around, for once.”

“We’re in no position to take or hold those lands, Indrani,” Vivienne said flatly. “And the moment we announced publically that we’re allying with the Kingdom of the Dead, half of Callow turns on us. Malicia has us beat there. The Wasteland might get worried if she announces that, but it won’t revolt.”

“It should not be impossible to remove that part if we compensate with other coin,” Hakram said. “Brabant, or perhaps Arans? The latter would significantly enlarge his border with the Golden Bloom. The elves might not take kindly to that.”

“It would also mean direct border with his expanded realm, if we take Bayeux ourselves,” Akua said. “Salia itself would be a superior bid. Let him lose a few hordes besieging the heart of Procer.”

“Or we could leave,” Hierophant said, voice slicing through the conversation.

They all turned to look at him. Slowly I took out my pipe and ripped a satchel to stuff it.

“I’ve already learned enough from perusing the city to study for decades,” Masego shrugged. “And there are more echoes to be harvested while we return. If the terms are not to our satisfaction, why do we not simply go?”

I caught his eye and looked down meaningfully at my pipe. With a sigh, he flicked his wrist and a flash of flame saw to it.

“We need a counterweight, Masego,” Vivienne said tiredly. “The crusade rolls through Callow otherwise. I don’t like that we’re playing his game, but we’re low on choices.”

“Must we?” Akua said.

My eyes turned to her, and she inclined her head.

“Let Malicia unleash the Hidden Horror,” she said. “She is a rival here, yet not necessarily a foe. She would desire the Dead King rampant no more than us. Giving ground here allows us to achieve our purpose – an invasion of Procer by the Kingdom of the Dead – without wounding our reputation the way making that pact ourselves would. On the other hand, a bidding war hurts both our positions. We would need to make greater and greater concessions, with the Dead King the only true victor of that strife.”

“We will not,” Hakram said calmly.

As he should. Of all of them, he knew me best. I inhaled the wakeleaf and blew it out, earning the odd sight of smoke going through Akua’s body.

“We will not,” I agreed. “We don’t know what terms Malicia would end up giving, but I am quite certain they won’t involve anything aimed at limiting casualties.”

“She’s right about part of it, Cat,” Thief said, sounding pained at the admission. “We can’t keep escalating our offers. We’ll end up selling out half the continent and it won’t even come in sight of the Empire’s bottom line.”

“Go a step deeper, Vivienne,” I said. “Look at how Malicia has been behaving since the crusade began. How has she been acting?”

“She hasn’t,” Hakram said, eyes sharpening.

Akua softly laughed.

“Poisoning the river when owning a well,” she mused in Mtethwa. “She does play an exquisite game, doesn’t she?”

“She let Callow bleed against the crusaders, but not to weaken the crusade like we thought,” I said. “She was weakening us. The same way she let Black bleed his loyalist legions. The point was never to deal with the Tenth Crusade, it was to cripple her internal threats enough she can handle them herself. Because it didn’t really matter to her, whether the passage or the Vales fell. It was never going to be the front she fought this war on.”

“The Dead King,” Thief said quietly. “The Dead King is her army.”

“We could bargain for a year and she’d still go deeper,” I said. “Because this is her play. This is the force she needs on the field.”

“That might be true,” Vivienne said. “But it is no solution.”

“Our offer doesn’t change,” I said calmly. “And like so many troubled young souls before us, we will let scripture guide our hands.”

“There’s stuff in the Book of All Things about this?” Archer said, leaning forward. “Damn. Maybe I should read it.”

“It’s a Wasteland foe we face,” I said. “So it’s that most sacred of Wasteland traditions we’ll turn to.”

I spat out a mouthful of smoke, let it wreath my face as I smiled.

“I speak, of course, of regicide.”

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254 thoughts on “Chapter 36: Enchère

              1. Jane

                Oh, it was a reference to an old joke. I guess it must be a bit obscure by this point… Here’s a version I borrowed from elsewhere.

                On October 14, 1964, after being deposed by his rivals at a Central Committee meeting, primarily for being an “international embarassment,” Nikita Khrushchev, who until only moments earlier was the First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, sat down in his office and wrote two letters.

                Later, his successor, Leonid Brezhnev, upon taking office found the two letters and a note Khrushchev had attached:

                “To my successor: When you find yourself in a hopeless situation which you cannot escape, open the first letter, and it will save you. Later, when you again find yourself in a hopeless situation from which you cannot escape, open the second letter.”

                And soon enough, Brezhnev found himself in a situation which he couldn’t get himself out of, and in desperation he tore open the first letter. It said simply, “Blame it all on me.” This Brezhnev did, blaming Khrushchev for the latest problems, and it worked like a miracle, saving him and extending his career. However, in due time Brezhnev found himself in another disaster from which he could not extricate himself. Without despairing he eagerly searched his office and found the second letter, which he tore open desperate for its words of salvation. It read thus:

                “Sit down, and write two letters.”

                Liked by 13 people

    1. Decius

      There’s the regicide of killing the Empress. But there’s another one that is closer and has the added benefit of confusing the pants off of the crusaders and Good guys.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. eatenbypie

      Pretty sure it’s just the pretty face that matters, she was oogling Vivian fairly recently, and she isn’t particularly endowed.

      Like

  1. Byzantine

    I suspect the Dead King will happily do absolutely nothing while this takes place. He will likely find it amusing, more than anything else. He’s already stated he doesn’t actually care about current events, so why not see what this will bring?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Draconic

      I suspect this is exactly his plan. After all, if he just wanted free rein, he would never have invited Catherine. He should know her well enough to know that she is trying to limit casualties. So she would never go into a bidding war with Malicia. By inviting Catherine he signaled that who he makes a deal with is more important than what he gets.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Drd

        We already know the Dead King is interested in Cat for her ability to break the story, and her connection to the Fae.
        It’s not a big leap to think his plan is not a bidding war at all, but to aim Cat at Malicia as the “true” threat, and in doing so making Dread Empress Cat (first of her name).
        But the real question is why..?

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    1. Not necessarily. Killing the Dread Empress doesn’t mean you have to climb the Tower yourself. Heroes don’t go that way, certainly. That leaves the title open to someone else to claim, but the Wasteland fighting itself in a contest for the throne might suit Cat’s purposes just fine.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Spinner335

        Or she could burn down the tower with goblin fire and build in it’s place something far less phallic and much more useful like a legion training school (all those giant spiders under the city make for good practice). Why climb the tower at all when she has a perfectly good castle back in Callow?

        Liked by 3 people

      1. And hard enough that I’m forced to wonder if it was Bard doing her own thing, be it unaware or uncaring of Grey Pilgrim’s angle, or something the Tyrant of Helike pulled for some reason.
        I suppose it could have been Malicia trying to box Cat in, though.

        Certainly burns a lot of bridges in Callow for the Crusade, though.

        Liked by 5 people

          1. Jonnnney

            I’m guessing a choir or two made their opinions about Catherine known to their faithful crusaders. We already know most hero’s opinion on political maneuvering it is a fair bet that their backers are of a similar mindset and aren’t too happy about a crusade bring used as a tool to solidify the power of the first prince. Crusades don’t end with peace talks they end when the enemy is dead or the crusaders are.

            Liked by 1 person

        1. Dainpdf

          I don’t think Malicia or the Tyrant have that much influence over the House of Light. To be honest, I suspect it’s the Heavens themselves, or the narrative influence of the Crusade not letting it end in compromise.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Yotz

            This could be not a direct influence per se – but, say, an anonymous tip from a “loyal parishioner of House in Laure” that the Tyrant of Callow is secretly parleying with Hidden Horror…

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            1. Dainpdf

              I don’t remember seeing her called that. As for such tips, if Hasenbach planting such a thing is unlikely then Malicia or the Tyrant are unlikely to have succeeded at it as well.

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                  1. Yotz

                    >Tyrant of Callow
                    A verbal key hinting at the originator of the “anonymous” tip.

                    As for possibilities – just for sake of an option – Malicia’s agents most probably sniffed out attempts of Procer to contact possible dissidents on the Callowan side; given their declared prowess at all things “tradecraft”, I wouldn’t put it beside them to sniff out several more plants that Jacks and their mistress either managed to miss, or left be for further use. One of such plants can then be contacted by anonymous associate of one of the POI procerans have pinged before, a concerned patriot of Callow and virtuous follower of Gods Above, who – being of best intentions, of course – managed to stumble upon some pretty… disturbing pieces of information.

                    Analogous action can be undertaken by a burner plant in the Procer proper, who left an unsigned piece of parchment on the stairs of local House of Light – or, maybe, one of the Lanterners managed to kill a monstrous Villain who – by mere chance, of course – was carrying implicating evidences against the Black Queen… there are dozens of ways to push that through. One have no need to directly puppet the priesthood itself – give them even a partial lead, and they’ll dig their way Below with all just zeal of the true believer.

                    They even can verify truthfulness of said tip by consulting with partially omniscient moral paragons – and undertake actions based on the factual truth regardless of the source of the knowledge.

                    As for was it, or was it not – so far it’s not relevant, and – surely – if it becomes relevant, we will know of it from future chapters.

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                    1. My money is against the 73rd conclave in Salia acting at the behest of beings Above (be it Gods or Choirs) for the very simple reason that Grey Pilgrim had set Cat up for a Redemption Arc – and those usually end in the death of the Redeemed (per Cat).
                      Cat was already set up to get screwed over, return Callow to Good/Above, and had expressed her intentions to bring Callow onboard as a signatory to the Grand Alliance executing the Crusade. Declaring her Arch-Heretic of the East, and then going and slapping charges of heresy against anyone/everyone that supported her nukes Grey Pilgrim’s planned Redemption Arc for Cat.
                      Similarly, I don’t think it was a narrative obligation, because while, sure, Crusades aren’t supposed to end in truces, if somebody flips sides and joins the Crusade in a redemption arc (or even just an Evil against Evil betrayal move), that’s just fine, narratively speaking.

                      As such, I conclude that whomever set up the conclave didn’t know about Pilgrim’s plan, didn’t care about trashing it, or wanted it to fail.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    2. Yotz

                      @Javvies
                      >nuking the Redemption Arc

                      Not necessarily. This could be considered as a “step outside of boundaries”, descent to the Abyss and facing the final Temptation, when all world – friends and foes alike – are seemingly against you, and allure of the Other Side is more powerful than ever; the lowest point of Hero’s Journey, meeting with the Dark Mentor, and looking into the Obsidian Mirror: the point where you teetering on the edge of the bottomless pit, and ready to take a step forward not because of fear or despair, but to be able to feel the joy of flight.

                      If the Hero are ready to reject this Temptation, break the fetters of ossified dogmas of the World, finally accept the Boon in full and be ready to pay a Price and accept the consequences, that also will be the point where True Apotheosis starts, solidifying the path to Redemption not only for Hero, but for the World.

                      Of course, excommunication makes Cat’s potential R-journey much harder, but that also makes her potential Hero Reborn stance greater – greater the pain, greater the gain, after all. And experienced Player like the Pilgrim would be able to utilize that situation at least to some extent.

                      What interesting, is the possibility of DK using that scheme to facilitate Cat’s ascension, working in tandem with Peregrin to his own ends. More specifically – to speed up the the Phoenician Apotheosis Project to replace Above and Below with New Gods Pantheon. So far we have a God of Death, a Goddess of War, and – potentially – will soon have a Goddess of Getting The Shit Done…

                      PS: Disregard that, et cetera, et cetera.

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  2. Stormblessed

    I was reading slowly and carefully in order to actually understand all the negotiation positions, but I feel like I need to reread this after that final word. Bravo, bravo, what an excellent chapter.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Cicero

    I’m with Masgeo here.

    Time to walk away.

    Give warning to Procer that Malicia is making a deal with the Dead King to invite him out of Hell and invade Procer. Give her the current offer as the current draft of the deal that your spies have discovered.

    The get Black the heck out of Procer and shore up Callow forces to attack Malicia while Procer and the Crusade deals with the Dead King. The Crusade is not going to attack Callow (even if it is ruled by a terrible villain) when the Dead King is attacking their supply line and Callow is busy fighting the Dead King’s ally.

    Sure they may attack Callow later after it is all over, but surely not during…

    Unless the Heaven are truly so heartless that they think Cat is the greater threat to the Heavens and so must be dealt with first…

    But even so it’s still better to walk away, because if that is the case, cutting a deal with the Dead King won’t improve the situation any.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. IDKWhoitis

      Hasenbach is now irrelevant as a negotiator, she has lost control of the 10th Crusade. The crusades forces are nearly impossible to control in any meaningful manner, which was what Dead King was hinting at.

      Also, she technically is walking away. To kill Malica, then walk back and renegotiate. With Malica being a prop. The true Praes way of negotiations.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. IDKWhoitis

          When dealing with the Dead King, its safe to assume you are outmatched in the Arcane fields. Also, they have a special artifact (Think red phone in presidential office type deal) to contact each other, one that is so well kept, They would have to kill Malica first to use.

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          1. Rook

            Not to mention trying to assassinate the dead king to deal with Malicia is like jumping into a volcano because the sun is getting too hot

            Polite, gentlemanly Neshamah here is arguably one of if not THE only living Villain on Calernia that actually outclasses the Calamities.

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      1. Micke

        Not to mention Catherine is on a diplomatic mission to discuss an alliance; murdering her host under those circumstances as a Fae sovereign isn’t the very best idea, if at all possible.

        Like

        1. Agent J

          Yes, she did.

          “It’s a Wasteland foe we face,” I said. “So it’s that most sacred of Wasteland traditions we’ll turn to.”

          Also, I feel we’re being too nitpicky. She’s Soninke, the finest exemplar of Wasteland culture if not ideology, and she’s spent most of her life living in – then ruling – the Tower at the heart of the Wasteland. She’s a Wastelander, exact geographical location of birth notwithstanding.

          Like

    1. Rook

      Cat’s still a barbarian that fights with a sword and wears unadorned full platemail as her main fashion statement, I feel like Akua would be offended if anyone tried to imply they were the same

      Like

      1. Jonnnney

        The time of thirteen tyrants and one suggests other paths to succession. You become the Dread Empress when you declare yourself as such and no one dares to disagree with you.

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        1. Novice

          Um what? That war ended with One eliminating the other Thirteen. The succession for the Tower is always based on murder. Not a single one of the Dread Emperors were succeeded without killing the previous Tyrant.

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            1. Novice

              Ah I see where all the contradictions are. I was emphasizing that all Emperors go out via violent means. I shouldn’t have used exaggeration.

              Except for that one Emperor that turned himself into a spider monster, but he’s a special snowflake so he doesn’t count.

              Liked by 2 people

      2. Soronel Haetir

        I was thinking legitimacy in terms of Callow, not Preas.

        Sure Malicia is the rightful Dread Empress, that doesn’t say anything about her control over Callow.

        Like

  4. Jane

    Ten silver fidi say that it was the Gods Above that declared the Callowan priesthoods heretics, and Foundling Arch-Heretic. This wasn’t any sort of political play at all, but rather the Gods Above saying, “Yes, Catherine Foundling really is your real enemy here, not just a speedbump on the way to Praes”.

    This does pretty much break Callow off from the Gods Above rather permanently, though, if the Crusade doesn’t work. What subject of Callow who puts country above faith would willingly embrace gods who told them their devotion was forbidden? What subject of Callow who puts faith above country would listen to priests who had been declared heretics? And of the priests themselves, well, I imagine they’re either preparing to leave the country or find a new trade. Maybe take up a clerkship with the government, since they’re looking for literate, trustworthy individuals.

    This is a recipe for an immediate desertion of the Church of Light by most of Callow, a slow wandering away of the rest, and the loss of all of their most significant agents on the ground. A bad plan, all things considered.

    As for the Heroes… I can’t even begin to imagine how they’d react to this. They kind of know they’re angelically empowered, after all. Maybe the first Hero troupe to actually take Cat up on her offer to go around helping people so long as they don’t try to take her head until everything’s calmed down?

    I wonder how sincere the Dead King’s entertaining of Malicia’s proposal is… While he’s no doubt willing to go along with her plan, as Malicia knew from the start she could reach out to him, would he really take Malicia’s deal over Catherine’s? He says he views Catherine as a fellow immortal; surely a few principalities invaded are worth some early goodwill. It may well be that he just wants to see how she’ll react; in which case, a flat refusal might actually be as effective as murdering Malicia. Going along with the bidding war, on the other hand, would probably make her look foolish and ineffectual in his eyes, lowering her value as a future ally.

    That said, I wager he’ll still press for better terms in compensation for the offer she’s taking off the table, regardless of how she goes about things. He’s still Evil, after all.

    I can just imagine Akua’s eyes twinkling at Cat’s declaration of intent to kill Malicia, though. Cat isn’t going to become Empress like this, but you just know that’s what Akua’s hearing, until her mind catches up with her heart.

    Incidentally, though, she should totally take Bayeux and Orne. Always come out of a war stronger than when you went into it! And those principalities are totally cores of Callow, by ancient precedents set by the Queen of Blades!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Jane

      Ah, wait, rereading things, I think I misunderstood a point… The “ten Heroes who have tread upon Callowan soil” meant the Heroes who had marched with Rolanza, doesn’t it? Not “Heroes born in Callow”, as I had originally assumed?

      Wow, that is an impressive level of dickishness, then, to declare them non-heroes just because they wouldn’t launch a doomed attack as soon as the Princes decided to strike a temporary truce rather than die. I wonder how they’re going to take that.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Jane

        Oh, damn it, rereading it a second time… That was Priests in Callow denouncing the Heroes, as part of their escalation in response to foreign priests declaring them heretics, wasn’t it?

        Wow, my reading comprehension needs work.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Thea

          I think the “graceless heroes”, as declared by the Church of Callow”, are the ones that Cat killed over winter, during the time skip.

          Last time I checked, the (northern) crusade still had 12 heroic members.

          Like

            1. Agent J

              They started with fourteen. Two were erased by a Demon of Absence. Then several were killed at the Battle of the Camps, two of which miraculously managing to stay dead.

              Like

      2. Nope, you confused. The once who wrote about perverse service to earthly power as well as declared Heroes who led an invading force of Crusade to conquerer and plunder Callow were the priests of Laure House of Light.

        Also, while Callow had some cores on Proceran lands, they had expired. Besides, Procer might argue the same. 😉

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        1. Not exactly. The House of Light in Laure (capitol of Callow) declared the invading Heroes (those with the 10th Crusade) to be Graceless, and then went and declared those who participated in the 73rd conclave in Salia (capitol of Procer) to be heretics, essentially. The rest of the House of Light in Callow has been declaring their support of the House of Light in Laure.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Jane

          Hah, I corrected myself before you corrected me! Therefore, I am not wrong, merely delayed in being right! …Or something. I blame being preoccupied with the ramifications of excommunication, and a fundamental lack of clarity on how the Church of Light is organized in this setting 😛 .

          …Maybe this is an event chain that renews the cores, then? At the very least, the history of the Queen of Blades suggests that there ought be a mission chain awarding her claims, upon the restoration of an independent Kingdom of Callow. I refuse to believe that the devs would treat Callow like some minor, given its rich history and abundant possibilities.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I too think they’ll be granted those cores (or more likely permanent claims) after a mission to win an independence war with Praes. Though it just may be that Cat is cheap and didn’t buy a necessary DLC. Also it’s funny how Procer literally used Crusade mechanic to lower the agressive expansion.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Jane

              Is an independence war really necessary at this point? I thought the coronation was part of the Shadow Kingdom event removing Callowan territory from the Empire, though she can wage a reconquest war to reclaim it without incurring AE. Not that I really know how she could win said war without condottieri from the Dead King.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Nah, it just gave you +100% liberty desire, some miscellanious bonuses and cores for the territory of Callow and Daoine. To bad they’re a march and you can’t just diploannex them. And no, she can’t win that war, not after misplacing her 6/6/6 general. She can drag her vassal state into a war with vasty more powerfull forces though. Which is what she had done. Then she can peace out giving Callow independence, after which trucebreak and conquer it again.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Jane

                  Praes didn’t take Diplomatic ideas, though, and at negative stability, they have that nasty Disaster chain that kills the ruler, and sets up a bunch of rebel armies with some crazy modifiers when there’s no clear successor. Plus, after revoking privileges from the Greater Noble estate, she’s still sitting at +30% time to regain stability, on top of the normal penalties Praes has to regaining stability. It’s probably better to just hope that Callow can’t find any good allies and wait for the truce timer to expire, even if it means giving up some pretty good land in the interim.

                  Really, anything that costs Praes a lot of Stability isn’t worth it until they ditch the Succession By The Sword modifier.

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                  1. 1queenofblades1

                    While I love the EU4 references, The Guide is more reminiscent of CK2 😛

                    Although I love the thought of Callow being Byzantium with its Greek cores, the Dread Empire being the Ottomans, and the Dead King and his hordes being Russia while Procer is the HRE Emperor with Privileges Revoked, Ashur is Great Britain, and the Levant is the PLC.

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. Jane

                      Wouldn’t the Dead King be more like Ming? Quite distant and removed from the action, unless things go horribly wrong, and probably working with a modest tech penalty that’s more than offset by their endless money, manpower, and ability to flat-out ignore culture and religion penalties?

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                    2. 1queenofblades1

                      Nope. Because to beat Ming all you have to do is border it and let Mandate tick down. Ming is actually quite vulnerable in the mid to late game. Also Chinese units suck. In addition Russia is a poorer, European Ming (under the AI; underuau human…well let’s just say Novgorod is an underrated trade node). Anyways I meant the analogy as a League War/Crusade and the Ming can’t participate in that. Plus I don’t see the Dead King having tributaries galore.

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                    3. Jane

                      Ah, I’m usually playing with MEIOU, where you can’t undermine their mandate in the same way. Though, you can repeatedly raze their cities until they’re a shadow of their former self, but… Well, I prefer taking land to ruining it.

                      Like

    2. Taking Bayeux and Orne is a bad idea. She doesn’t really have the soldiers to spare, for one. Even if she pulled it off it would weaken her beyond all measure, leaving her incapable of defending Callow properly.

      Second, it’s strategically bad positioning. Right now Callow can protect its Western border with highly defensible passes. If it advances beyond those then defense gets far more difficult.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jane

        In all honesty, that was really more me encouraging Catherine to villainy than it was any sort of serous proposal.

        That said, I’d argue the problem is more one of attempting to maintain control over a people who are convinced that you’re the mortal incarnation of evil, rather than one of defense. She’s struggling to establish legitimacy with people who have good reason to be predisposed to appreciate her rise to power; principalities who consider themselves, well, principalities, and not the reincarnation of a recently-dissolved kingdom will be much harder to appease.

        When it comes to attempting to defend them… It’s much easier to simply, well, not. Raze the crops, retreat past the Vales, and wait for the enemy to advance; if they don’t, wait for the army to leave (being levies, they have to go home sooner rather than later), then take back “your” cities. It’d breed resentment with the residents and the governor, but it’s only a single governor, and who cares what peasants think?

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        1. Dylan Tullos

          Jane:

          The Princes and Princesses of Procer didn’t care what peasants thought when they invaded Callow.

          After the Callowan peasantry drove them out in defeat and disgrace, they realized that might have been a mistake.

          Attempting to occupy two principalities that view Catherine as the “Arch-heretic” would make Procer’s failed occupation of Callow look like a walk in the park by comparison.

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          1. Jane

            Is… Isn’t that what I just said?

            That said, it isn’t quite as hard as it sounds. So long as she can spare a couple of legions to garrison the main towns (she can’t, for at least a year, admittedly), forbids the private ownerships of arms and armor, and has spies identify any resistance leaders on the rise, she can keep things mostly contained, though she’ll probably have to deal with a hero or two. In a medieval setting like this, there are distinct limits to what an angry peasantry can do; Black was well on the way to integrating Callow, and they were historical foes.

            And besides… Catherine is a Villain. The Princes of Procer might have had to care about the opinions of peasants, but Catherine could simply put them all to the sword after the first uprising, and glare balefully at anyone who spoke up. There’d be Narrative consequences for it, but the rest of the country (who no doubt would still think of them as Procerans) would get over it.

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            1. Dylan Tullos

              Jane:

              Catherine doesn’t have a couple of legions to spare, doesn’t have any money, and wouldn’t have any local collaborators. It would be a simple matter for neighboring principalities to send a steady supply of weapons, instructors, and money to the local resistance.

              She would also have to face homegrown Heroes, who would be fighting on their turf with the support of the local population. Black struggled to keep Callow down, and he had both far greater resources and a more defensible border.

              If Callow emptied out their garrisons to occupy the principalities, it would make it far easier for Ashur to send ships up Callow’s rivers to burn towns or even small cities. Catherine would be expanding her territory, but her new provinces would be causing constant problems, and she’d be dangerously vulnerable at home.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Jane

                The question isn’t whether an occupation is viable, however; the question is whether it would be significantly more difficult than Procer’s failed occupation of Callow.

                She lacks trained legions, it’s true, but it was previously established that it would only take a year to refresh their forces – I doubt expansion would take significantly longer, given their use of a small standing force. They have cashflow issues at the moment, but there’s every reason to believe that will ease as the scars of the last war heal, and their diplomatic problems with Praes are resolved – both problems should be well on the way to being resolved by the time any occupation begins.

                If nothing else, they could send fresh recruits to occupy one of the regions while they train – they only need to look the part in order to act as a deterrence, after all, and maybe deal with a riot or two. You don’t need elite troops to face unarmed peasants.

                She does have collaborators, though, as part of Vivienne’s spy ring. While these two cities weren’t specifically named, we know that she has spies in Procer, and it’s not a stretch to think they might have influence in a border principality; if not, they shouldn’t be hard to find. She’s been established as being rather gifted when it comes to this sort of thing, after all.

                Smuggling would be an issue, true, but large amounts of weapons are rather bulky; regular patrols could likely intercept those, and if not, we know that Cat has access to potent tools for scrying. Intercepting a few shipments will be enough to curb the problem, especially as good weapons and armor are pretty expensive. Similarly, once their contacts are burned, it’ll be hard to tell where to send arms and “retired” soldiers to.

                Coin would be easier, but I rather expect an economic crisis in Procer by the time this is done; it’s been alluded to at points that things aren’t going too well over there. Surplus weapons are one thing, given how many soldiers are dead, but coin probably won’t be free to spare.

                She’d have to put down a few heroes, true, but she has a great information network, and a newly hatched Hero isn’t much of a threat to her. So long as she’s proactive, they won’t pose a problem. Black might have had more resources to work with, but he also had nobles back home hamstringing him, and a much larger territory to oversee; Cat would be working on a much smaller scale, with a free hand.

                Ashur could raid, but why would they? The Crusade would be over at this point, and any justification for hostility would end with it. The new territory would be a liability in a war, true, but what of it? At such times, let it go, and come back during the counterattack. It’s only valuable for its economic output, not its defensive value.

                Like

                1. Dylan Tullos

                  Jane:

                  The occupation of two principalities wouldn’t have to be “significantly more difficult” than the Proceran occupation of Callow, because that occupation was a disaster which ended in a humiliating Proceran retreat. It turns out that conquering a bunch of peasants is harder than the princes thought.

                  You assume that all of the people in these two principalities will be peasants, but we know that every princedom has a standing army of trained, lifelong soldiers. Peasant levies have never made up all of their armies. Besides, I’m sure her new neighbors would be happy to send well-trained patriotic volunteers over the border at every opportunity. The principalities that are next to her can simply send raiding forces to kill her patrols, attack a few garrisons, and retreat before she can do anything.

                  The Lone Swordsman murdered entire groups of Legionaries with the support of peasants and a handful of household troops. The Heroes that Catherine’s occupation would inevitably create could easily do the same, especially to fresh recruits who would be spread throughout the cities of two principalities, divided into smaller groups and surrounded by hostile locals.

                  But Catherine doesn’t just have to worry about the Heroes who will rise. She would have to immediately fight the Saint of Swords, who has proven her ability to beat Winter into a coma, along with every other Hero in Procer.

                  Ashur would gleefully burn Callowan cities because their own priests declared Catherine to be the “Arch-heretic”. Invading Procer would end any chance of stopping the Crusade, since every Good nation would now regard Catherine not just as a Villain, but as a conqueror with territorial designs on other Good countries. The only logical response would be to stop her now, rather than letting her consolidate her current gains and expand further.

                  The best-case scenario is that Catherine rapidly goes bankrupt from the vast cost of supporting a standing army in hostile territory, where the cost of tax collection is higher than the benefits of anything she actually manages to collect. Occupying a rebellious province is expensive, and the cost goes up when your neighbors are supporting the rebels, when Heroes keep arriving to kill your men and encourage the uprisings, and your enemies take advantage of your distraction to strike at your homeland.

                  Like

                  1. Jane

                    Yes, it would have to be “significantly more difficult” than Procer’s occupation of Callow, because those were the terms of our discussion. In my initial comment that you replied to, I noted that the difficulty in occupying the Principalities was a greater obstacle than their defensibility, and reaffirmed that position in my first reply to you; I noted that I believed you were overstating said difficulty, but that is not the same as saying it was easy enough to be worth attempting in Callow’s position.

                    That said, are you just, like, assuming that the war won’t end or something? We’re talking a hypothetical occupation after the war, here. Procer would only ever consider ceding territory if they were broken and devastated, and that would only be the case if the other Crusaders were in a pretty bad state as well. This will be happening after the intervention of the Dead King, let us keep in mind, and we have fairly good reason to think that he’ll be taking everyone’s attention for quite some time; even if he doesn’t kill many soldiers (and he will), all of the Good nations are going to saving their strength for his next advance, and the Heroes are likely going to focus on the bigger threat. They have no way of knowing why he’ll stop, after all. Even if her new neighbors were willing to spare their soldiers, raiding Callowan territory would be an open invitation to a second war – and if they were in such a bad position that they were willing to end the first, they’d never risk it.

                    As for the soldiers currently in the territory in question, why would Cat ever agree to leave them there? Obviously, they’d either be allowed to leave (presumably following the Prince they served), or killed if they insisted on staying. You don’t leave the core of a rebel army just lying around.

                    As for the Lone Swordsman, it’s true he did a fair amount of damage – but only after Catherine helped him, and set up a powerful Narrative to ensure his rapid growth. It has been confirmed that most Heroes during the occupation died without accomplishing anything. Heroes attract fame, and fame is hard to hide from spies. Even if that wasn’t true, Cat has killed plenty of Heroes coming to Callow to kill her – she’s hardly a newbie when it comes to dealing with them, and these would all be freshly minted. Heck, she doesn’t even need to do it herself – she could just sic her fey on them.

                    As for Ashur… Assuming they’re in shape to fight, and willing to ignore a newly-stirred Dead King, why would they care about Callow when they ignored Praes? Praes took a heck of a lot more territory, and extinguished a famously Good kingdom, and eliminated the primary check on their ambitions less than twenty years ago. If the other countries are so concerned with the balance of power, why let Praes go unchecked without constant raids? A pair of principalities is peanuts compared to that.

                    Let us not forget, the biggest challenge to managing territory in medieval times was having decent awareness of what is going on, and being able to respond to problems in a timely manner. Catherine has some sort of freakishly advanced scrying system to alert her to emergencies, saving what could otherwise be months before problems made it to her desk, and can move entire legions to the site of a crisis in a matter of weeks, often less. She can make do with far less than any of the other players in this game would need. Even if some ragtag band of rebels were somehow to make some early gains despite having no real weapons, armor, or training, they could be suppressed before word of their rebellion even made it to the next city over.

                    Like

    3. Micke

      > Ten silver fidi say that it was the Gods Above that declared the Callowan priesthoods heretics, and Foundling Arch-Heretic. This wasn’t any sort of political play at all, but rather the Gods Above saying, “Yes, Catherine Foundling really is your real enemy here, not just a speedbump on the way to Praes”.

      Remember it’s all about Hasenbach, as acknowledged by the Grey Pilgrim; the fate of Praes is irrelevant. Hasenbach wants to carve up and plunder Callow to solve her domestic problems, using a crusade as their excuse. With Catherine being crowned by a representative of the House of Light, and thus ruling Callow by the grace of the Gods Above, and Catherine’s repeated offers to join the crusade that excuse is very flimsy indeed. I’d say this being a political move by Hasenbach or her backers is quite plausible.

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      1. Metrux

        The episode itself says it can’t be her, and the results go against the Grey Pilgrims ideas, so we can safely assume it has NOTHING to do with Hasenbach or her backers. That said, I very much doubt the Heavens did this. This looks more like a blunder on someones part than a true thought out movement.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Byzantine

      The heros that came with the Crusade through the Steps, against Catherine. And they were declared graceless for allowing Catherine to make a truce.

      …This is going to be very interesting, to see how Leventine reacts to the realization they just declared Grey Pilgrim graceless.

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    2. Anon

      The heroes who attacked Callow with the Grey Pilgrim – I’m guessing in agreeing to a ‘ceasefire’, the priests decided they were in cahoots with Catherine, and thus have been stripped of their titles/status.

      which would actually be kind of interesting, to see the Regicide go to town on the house of light, but I have a feeling that won’t probably happen.

      It would make for an interesting ‘freedom’ for the Grey Pilgrim now, though – since he’s no longer under Hasenbach’s ‘command’.

      Like

      1. Dylan Tullos

        Anon:

        I just reread the section, and I figured it out.

        The Callowan House of Light in Laure declared the Heroes to be “graceless” in retaliation for the Salian conclave declaring the Callowan priesthood to be heretical. I knew that it wouldn’t make sense for the Crusade to excommunicate their own Heroes.

        It’s a pretty meaningless declaration, since the Heroes have literal magical powers given by the Gods Above. Excommunicating people with a direct connection to the Heavens isn’t likely to have much of an impact, though it is definitely the kind of angry, vindictive response you would expect from Callowans.

        This is basically Callowan priests saying “I know you are, but what am I?”. Except it makes even less sense than that childish taunt, because Heroes, by definition, always have the Grace of the Gods Above. That’s what makes them Heroes.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. >Pretty meaningless.
          I think not. Think about it, it’s the world where stories dictate fate. If a country does not recognize any Hero to thread it’s grounds as Heroes, they won’t be Heroes on this country ground, simply Named. And this is very important. Not even Praes ever denied Heroes that title.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Metrux

            Praes couldn’t deny their Heaven given powers, though, since they had no conection to Above. Though I don’t think the effect will be as pronounced, this means that even if the crusade is won, Callow will never again become the Good Kingdom as it was.

            Like

      2. Not quite. You’re right on which Heroes, but wrong about who did it and why – it was the House of Light in Laure – aka the capital of Callow – that declared the 10 Graceless, and the Houses of Light elsewhere in Callow declaring their support of the House of Light in Laure.
        The House of Light in Laure (Callow) also went and declared those who participated in the 73rd conclave in Salia (aka capital of Procer) to be heretics, essentially.

        Like

      3. narcoduck

        Wrong House of Light. Someone correct me if I’m wrong but I think the order is:

        1. 10th Crusade’s Priest Orders denounce Catherine as Arch-Heretic.
        This nullifies any treaties made with her (such as that at the north passage)
        It also denounces any who follow Catherine, such as the Callow House of Light who crowned her

        2. Callow House of Light gets pissy and counter-denounces
        They denounce the assembly in the Procer Capital of Salia for bullet point 1
        They also denounce all heroes who invaded Callow with the Crusade as hidden villains
        This includes the White Knight, the Saint of Blades, and the GREY PILGRIM (literally the holiest figure in Levant).

        This isn’t Callow falling to Below like the Grey Pilgrim feared. This is Callow becoming Protestant!

        Liked by 4 people

          1. Micke

            The differences between the Callowan and the Proceran and Levantine Houses of Light were already greater than the difference between the Roman Catholic and the English Catholic churches in 1550.

            On a sidenote, it would be an interesting time for a Wizard of the West to appear amongst the conscripts in the Royal Observatory.

            Liked by 1 person

        1. Dylan Tullos

          narcoduck:

          You have the order right.

          The Callowan priesthood isn’t just denying the decision of the Salian conclave. They’re denying that Heroes are blessed by the Heavens, which is impossibly stupid. Heroes talk to actual angels, and they wield powers given by the Heavens. If they went against the Heavens, they wouldn’t keep their powers.

          Protestants are happy to argue with Catholics because Catholic priests can’t prove that God is on their side. Callowans are arguing with Heroes, who can prove that the Gods Above are on their side. Some of them even communicate with angels, who tell them what the Gods Above want.

          Like

          1. No, it’s more like “So, Gods declared me a heretic and order me to be purged? Well both can play this game, I declare the Gods to be heretic!” One has to give them for their massive guts, renouncing Heavens from being, well Heavens for all the shit they’ve done. And it’s neatly goes into the canva of the story. So what if you are an angel? That doesn’t mean you’re good!

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Jane

              “But… But you literally crowned a Villain. Who calls herself a Villain. Who is announced as ‘Tyrant’ when she’s a visiting dignitary. Whose inner circle is called ‘The Woes’! Who weaves the souls of her fallen enemies into her cloak!

              “Yeah, well, that doesn’t mean the people attacking her are Good! They could be Villains in disguise, you don’t know! I speak for the Gods, and I say the Gods crowned Foundling!”

              I concur, that move took guts 🙂 .

              Liked by 6 people

          2. RanVor

            Well, we don’t know how exactly this connection works. Being declared graceless might as well render them unable to communicate with the Heavens.

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            1. Dylan Tullos

              RanVor:

              I absolutely doubt that the Grey Pilgrim is going to lose his powers because a bunch of Callowan priests say that he doesn’t have the Grace of the Heavens. The Heavens are quite capable of speaking for themselves, and they grant Heroes their powers directly, with no priestly approval required.

              The Gods Above do not operate on democratic principles. They give their Grace according to their own standards, with no regard for mortal politics.

              The Heavens have made their opinion of Villains very clear indeed; you can revolt against their guidance, but it’s dishonest for the Callowans to suggest that their excommunication is somehow based on politics, rather than their decision to crown a declared enemy of the Gods Above.

              Liked by 1 person

                1. Dylan Tullos

                  RanVor:

                  We’ll find out whether the Callowan declaration has any effect soon. If Grey Pilgrim is still talking freely with the Heavens, it will be clear that declaring him “graceless” has no effect.

                  The Gods are quite capable of deciding who to bestow their Grace upon without input from the Callowan priesthood.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Metrux

                    You do know this is not about the Heavens or the earthly church, right? This is about narrative. And the narrative has let Cat be a Hero for a moment when she needed the sword, and the ressurection… So just think for a moment what happens when the narrative says a bunch of young heroes on a Crusade made for conquering are said to not be Heroes. Yes, more entranched named like the Pilgrim and the Saint might be unaffected, but for others this could very well lead them to their deaths, even if they keep their powers.

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              1. Morgan

                To the contrary, there seems to be a long history of Heroes being denounced across Calernia! During the negotiations between Cat and the leaders of the 10th Crusade, it was revealed that Procer calls all Villains “Damned”. It is also heavily implied that all foreign Named are considered Damned!

                Likewise the Thief is a Hero who the crusaders call “Fallen”, but this doesn’t seem to have affected her abilities much nor does it seem like Thief refuses to worship the Heavens. It seems to me at least that the Thief just places more importance on her homeland than the Heavens.

                There is a big difference, however, between a nation or an individual (even if they are Heroes!) and an entire branch of a church denouncing a group as heretical. I imagine the narratives might even create new Callowan Named to try and fight the Invaders.

                Like

  5. Anon

    Hm….I’m curious if this was the Tyrant’s trap, to destabilize Hasenbach (after all, her…uncle? is the main general still in/around Callow), and/or something really weird went on with Cordelia losing any semblance of control over her populace and her armies.

    As for Cat vs Malicia….I dunno. Cat’s chances aren’t terrible, but going down the road to climbing the tower is a villain story through and through. I’m not sure how she hopes to climb her way out of that storyline, unless she maybe keeps the Grey Pilgrim’s story as a last-ditch escape pod?

    I’m also curious on Malicia ‘betraying’ Black’s legion to bleed out, when he told her he wouldn’t rebel against her. Unless she disbelieved him at the time (or something else has come up), that feels kinda….dumb of her to rely on the Dead King for the majority of her troops.

    That story, as has already been stated by the Dead King, is only gonna end up with her +/- the Dead King sticking their necks out to be chopped down once the Heavens get to respond by smashing both hands down on the balance-scale.

    Like

    1. The Dead King is her backup plan.
      Her main army, Black’s, kinda doesn’t listen to her anymore, and is literally no position to actually help out the Wasteland right now.

      Like

      1. Just This Guy, Ya Know

        If she kills Malicia and doesn’t climb the tower, who does? Black doesn’t want the job. The Warlock would take it apart brick by brick to see what it was made of, unleashing all the horrors contained within. Scribe would do an excellent job as a Chancellor, but not as Empress. And Assassin, well, that’s when you intentionally start producing red letters because you’re better off with the lands under the ocean than with someone like Assassin in charge.

        Of the Woe, Hakram would be great, but that would trigger a massive revolt. Thief is a no-go. Masego is not quite as bad as his father, he’d try to take apart the horrors too, instead of letting them out. And Archer would get drunk and wander away in a week. As for Akua, see my previous sentence about Assassin.

        So it has to be Catherine. She could build her own tower in Callow, unite the two into a Callowian empire (which would probably screw up the grand scheme of things completely), but she’s going to need to be in charge of both Praes and Callow in the end.

        Like

        1. Metrux

          The true question here is: why should she care who climbs the tower? Praes is also getting invaded and she doesn’t care for it, let it deal with itself, while she deals with her people and her own war. After she is in a more secure position she can look to the side and see who climbed, if anyone, and then decide how to proceed from there. Names are born from necessity aswell, if there is no one to take the throne, a Tyrant will be born, as has been in the past.

          Like

    2. Dylan Tullos

      Anon:

      The priests of Procer, the Levant, and Ashur were angry at the Callowan priesthood for crowning Catherine, so they declared that anyone who served the Black Queen was a heretic. This isn’t unreasonable, since Catherine is a Villain, which makes her an enemy of the Gods Above. If you serve an enemy of the Gods Above, you become an enemy of the Gods Above. Which makes you a heretic.

      If Callowans ever do figure out that Catherine is allying with the Dead King, she’ll face a general uprising of her own people and a revolt of the Callowans within her army. I’m not sure how she can rely on keeping this a secret, especially now that Malicia is involved.

      Like

    1. Jane

      It’s to his advantage to mention that everything is going to hell back at home while they’re busy negotiating, and also to his advantage to mention that there’s someone else trying to “outbid” them.

      He could lie, but it would be easily exposed once they’re home, and harm his long-term interest in a working relationship with Cat.

      Like

    2. Argentorum

      Except that all the info given is easily verifiable. And if he’s lying he’s just baiting Cat to see how she reacts, and when she leaves and comes back right away, nothing happens. It doesn’t make sense narratively for him to be lying about this since it’s just wasting time. Him telling the truth about the conclave and the counter offer (existing, as the terms actually offered may have been much better for Malecia before he beefed them up) makes much more sense.

      Like

    3. Azure

      Exactly. Why wasn’t there more suspicion on the Woe’s part at the information that they’ve just had handed to them. Given that Catherine has already proved stupidly susceptible to manipulation (see previous chapter where she went to Akua after her ‘chat with the DK), then the DK is probably laughing away at how easily he is getting what he wants.

      Really at this rate if Catherine does end up climbing the tower, her name is going to be Dread Empress Naivety, given how stupid she’s become.

      Like

    1. And I find the situation is quite funny it you don’t look too much at the details. I mean, you have two young queens fighting each other for the attention of an older and more successful king. Where is my popcorn?

      Liked by 2 people

  6. So, did someone just made you a better offer? Please, sit tight, while I murder them, and return with my previous offer. If any other offer come your way, please inform. So very Cat-like way to win a bidding war, just stab every other bidder.

    Also, we finally got ourselves the country on the East, singlehandedly ruled by a warlord, and sharing the same religion as sophisticated countries of the West, except both view each other as dirty heretics. So nice to see an analog to Great Schism. Now’s the time for truly amuzing Crusades.

    Also also, why do I get a feeling, that Dead King specifically let Cat onto his new deal to push her to climb the Tower?

    And I want to share some unrelevant theories with you guys, for which I’m too lazy to register a reddit account:

    What if Tyrant’s play is to make Hierarch a new Intercessor? We know she used to play for other team, we know she’s not absolute volunteer, and we know she handcrafted Hierarch name. Whose role is basically a Mediator. What if she tried to raise a replacement for herself, failed, abandoned the idea, and now Tyrant picked it up? Only instead of someone who ensured the same stories repeated themselves, intervening on behalf of Gods, we got some who propels the new stories, while solely relying on people’s will, not Gods? It’s not so much a play against WB, but against Gods themselves.

    Also, does someone keep track at magic system in the Guide? I came to a conclusion that Keter’s Due is the creational law, not so much a representation of entropy, but a concious flaw inserted into magic by Gods, or a simple consequence of a lack of understanding of a world from a mortal perspective.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Pipieman

    This makes me think of something. We know the wasteland has trouble in the grand Story stabilizing its population, but what would happen if Callow invaded/conquered the wasteland?

    Like

    1. That was my idea of Black’s plan all along. First you conquer Callow, then Callow conquers Wasteland from inside, and both transmute into completely new nation. Kinda like Great Britain, specifically, the shenanigans that followed a conquering of Scotland.

      Like

    2. Novice

      If I remember correctly that already happened, the different Knights who participated in a previous Crusade established crusader states in Praes that lasted decades. Then Terribilis happened.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. BaggyOz

      That shouldn’t be too hard. Malicia’s plan already involves weakening Black and her plan to set thhe Dead King loose is the same capital E Evil that lead to the split at second Laure.

      Like

      1. I think you meant “capital B Bond”. Be Evil. Heck, even be Stupid. But, if you start up on the White cats, Heath Robinson death traps, betrayal of loyal minions and Apple aesthetics… you’ve well and doomed yourself.

        Pure Stupid Evil can, maybe, get learned from and be corrected (especially when combined with Obliviously Evil). But, an attack of fully-aware Bond Villainy after getting warned about it…? *sucks in breath*

        Like

  8. Burnsy

    More thoughtfully than my last comment: the fact that the Dead King invited Cat to a meeting of the immortals, suggests more than Cat seems to have realized. He must have seen dozens of potentially immortal power, and yet Cat is only the second in all of history he has seen fit to invite to his kingdom.

    As far he is concerned right now, this interplay between he, Cat and Malicia is just another move on the immortal chessboard. But he, ancient as he is, see’s Cat as a player, not as a piece on the board.

    No matter what else, that says to me that this ancient and experienced creature believes, that when it comes down to Cat vs Malicia, Cat will win.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. werafdsaew

    So Calernia is undergoing something like the reformations? Which begs the question, why aren’t the Gods Above intervening when their priests are declaring each other heretics?

    Like

      1. werafdsaew

        I don’t think so. A member of Laure’s House of Light crowned Catherine. If the Gods Above didn’t like that they could have intervened then.

        Like

        1. Dylan Tullos

          werafdsaew:

          All Gods, Above or Below, are incapable of intervening directly. They can’t just lightning bolt anyone they dislike; instead, they act through mortal agents.

          The Gods Above sent a large number of Heroes to remove Catherine from the throne. They gave those Heroes powers, and in some cases they granted them direct angelic guidance. TeK is right to say that the Gods Above aren’t being subtle about wanting the Black Queen dead.

          By defying the obviously expressed will of the Gods Above, the Callowan priests who support Catherine have declared themselves to be heretics. Opinions may differ on whether or not this is a good thing, but they have no right to get angry when the Salian conclave declares that they’re enemies of the Gods Above. That’s just stating a fact.

          Like

          1. werafdsaew

            I don’t buy it. Even if the Gods Above can’t intervene directly, they still have angels. In a world where priests can literally cast miracles, sending a don’t-do-that message is too much?

            Also it was the First Prince who started the crusade, not the Gods. You can’t say that they can effect crusades, but don’t have the ability to keep their priests in line.

            I think the Gods are simply playing a different game than they let on. In retrospect, the closest we got to the Gods Above having an opinion on anything, is in chapter 58 of Book 3, where the sister claims that it doesn’t really matter where the borders are drawn or who rules over Callow.

            Like

            1. It takes very specific circumstances for angels to be summoned and we don’t know anything about how free they are to influence Creation in smaller ways.

              Grey Pilgrim is the closest we got to someone who actually communes with the Heavens and he’s been supporting the Crusade from the get go. Casting miracles is just a power granted by the Gods as far as we know – it’s not an indication that Gods can communicate with the priesthood.

              I think it’s a case of the First Prince thinking she would use the crusade for her political goals when in reality the Heavens were using her to be in a better position to remove Cat from the board.

              Like

          2. agumentic

            Not exactly. Callow just declared all those heroes villains in disguise, and it’s not like it written on them from whence their powers came. They were evil, or were seduced by evil, and that their powers look good is just a clever ruse from the Gods Below, and all evidence to the contrary are lies, deceptions and heresy.

            Like

            1. Dylan Tullos

              agumentic:

              Yes, if Callowans ignore all evidence and common sense, they can claim that Grey Pilgrim is a Villain in disguise.

              But that’s basically sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting “LALALALA!” at the top of their lungs. He’s obviously a Hero, he talks with the Heavens, and the Heavens want Catherine dead (or redeemed).

              Like

              1. werafdsaew

                Unless the Callowan priests loose their ability to cast miracles–and I highly doubt this will happen–Callowans have no reason to believe the foreign priests over their native ones.

                Liked by 1 person

              2. David and Solomon of Israel were indisputable “heroes” (in this story’s sense).

                David slew Goliath, Solomon was blessed with wisdom. But then David had sex with a married woman, tried to cover it up through lies, then ended up ordering that her husband explicitly be placed in a position where he’d die, effectually murdering him. And then on his deathbed he renegs on some oaths. And thus his lineage lost the kingship. See http://tyndalehouse.com/tynbul/library/TynBull_1995_46_1_07_Provan_1Kgs2_Barzillai.pdf

                Soloman was blessed by God for asking for wisdom, but Soloman eventually became corrupt, started worshipping other gods, etc. Rinse and repeat.

                Yes, the Grey Pilgrim is a hero… or at least he was. But we’ve seen that he’s making choices now and justifying them for the “greater good” and saying that he hopes that the end justifies the means because he isn’t happy with what he’s done. It’s not too far a stretch to say that the Grey Pilgrim may not really be a “hero” anymore, or that he may actually be acting kind of villanously, whereas Cat has been true to her word in all situations (because of her fey nature she actually can’t lie anymore) and tried to do everything good for everyone, etc.

                it’s not quite as clear as it first appears.

                Like

    1. Jonnnney

      The gods above can’t intervene without letting the gods below do the same. The beings that are influencing the grand alliance are likely the choirs or even the narrative itself.

      Like

    1. Metalshop

      That is something I’ve been thinking about. She’s only barely the Squire anymore and it’s not clear that she’ll ever actually get another Name. She clearly still has a Role, but there seems be some induction that the Roles can operate mostly independently of the Gods. Look at Ranger for instance, who seems to be a villain mostly by default and is able to train a hero without it resulting in her murdering him or him getting put down by her.

      I could very well see Cat just going forward as a purely independent actor in the wager of Creation, even while benefiting from or subverting the structure of Fate.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Metrux

        I don’t know why people never get this, but Ranger is not a Villain. Not even Black can say with certainty that she is one. She has fought for both sides, and her longevity can be attributed to her race, so no one is sure if she is actually a Hero or Villain. Do remember our lessons from long ago, the Names get shaped by their cultures, there is nothing that stops a Hero from being barbaric and loving to fight. we actually already have a known Hero like that, so why is Ranger always pressed as Villain? If anything, she is more neutral, and we don’t know if a neutral Name is possible, either.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Agent J

          To you and RanVor, Ranger is Neutral. We know this. Don’t remember where it was stated, but it was explicitly stated. So is Archer, by the way.

          Like

              1. RanVor

                If Ranger’s powers come from neither Above nor Below, then there must be a third side that empowers her, and the existence of the third side makes a large part of the plot rather pointless. Therefore, for the book to make sense, she must be either a hero or a villain, and her being a hero is incredibly unlikely, so a villain.

                Like

                1. Byzantine

                  Or there are a number of neutral pieces empowered by both sides (or a pool set aside for this at the start) to keep the stories moving.

                  Like

                    1. Why should Creation and Arcadia not get a word in edgeways between the Heavens and Hells? The gaming pieces and the boards they are placed on are also part of the game, not just those thinking they’re the all-important players (the Gods). As well as that, I get the distinct impression that the moderator, the rulebook and possibly even the timer are also getting royally sick about how this game was designed and is currently being played.

                      Like

  10. Un-Metaphorical Grapevine

    What if Cat uses Akua as a figurehead on the throne by changing her appearance so that nobody would recognize Akua. Cat wouldn’t have to become another Queen.

    Like

    1. Killian

      Better yet, kill the Dread Empress don’t crown another one and make Akua Chancellor, one beholden to the Black Queen of winter.

      Like

    1. magesbe

      ““It’s a Wasteland foe we face,” I said. “So it’s that most sacred of Wasteland traditions we’ll turn to.””

      That seems to heavily imply that the Wastelander, Malicia, will be targeted.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Metrux

      Because even if she suceeds it would bring her no good. On the contrary, she needs allies, and killing the last possible one doesn’t help her one bit. Also, she’s not able to.

      Like

  11. Someguy

    Heh. Hasenbach wanted to ride the rodeo called the 10th Crusade, she got her wish. Now she can’t get off and the Bull’s got tentacle dicks popping outta it’s back like a whack-a-mole game.

    Malicia, Malicia, Malicia wtf are you doing fighting your own army with enemies at the gate. Instead of going badly down the Emperor Gaozong route, you’re digging yourself deeper with the Emperor Chongzhen route?!

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chongzhen_Emperor

    Like

    1. Jason Ipswitch

      If she is, does that imply she’s going to have Black killed, sealing her own doom? (Adding Avenge the Betrayed and Murdered Mentor to Cat’s narrative weight, in addition to turning Scribe, and possibly Warlock and Assassin, not to mention all the Legions, against her.)

      “In particular, the Chongzhen Emperor’s execution of Yuan Chonghuan on extremely flimsy grounds was regarded as the decisively fatal blow. At the time of his death, Yuan was supreme commander of all Ming forces in the northeast, and had just rushed from the borders to defend the capital against a surprise Manchu invasion. For much of the preceding decade, Yuan had served as the Ming Empire’s bulwark in the north, where he was responsible for securing Ming borders at a time when the Empire was suffering humiliating defeat after defeat. His unjust death destroyed Ming military morale and removed one of the greatest obstacles to the eventual Manchu conquest of China. “

      Like

  12. Ha!Ha! Arch-Heretic of the East…I wonder if this can become a name.

    Oh no matter.

    IT’S HERESY TIME!

    Sorry. Always wanted to say it.

    Okay, first the fact is the Dead King already had another option before Cat ever step a foot in Keter. The stone lighting at the end of Book 3 was indeed Malicia contacting the Dead King, I think.

    Secondly, the redemption story imagined by the Grey Pilgrim is just dead in the water and the rest of the case-fire terms are going to the dustbin too. And it is the ‘Good’ side which broke the agreement first. Not good, violating your word with the Fae…
    The Grey Pilgrim can escape easily the camp of the Army of Callow since the Woe aren’t here, but Prince Amadis is still prisoner for no real gain.

    Thirdly, Cordelia and the rest of the world are extremely lucky Catherine has still morals because otherwise Cat would let the auction war climb up before returning to Callow and letting Malicia take the responsibility of handing the Principate to the Dead King.

    Fourth…it seems the time has come to get rid of Malicia. I see her strategy, but honestly if the undead armies surge towards Callow and Praes, the losses the Empire has taken means they can’t put a fight.

    One thing is sure, the Tenth Crusade is already a gigantic mess and it is going to be more chaotic in the next months, not less…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dylan Tullos

      Antony444:

      The problem here is that Catherine is in deep trouble any way she goes.

      Somehow kill Malicia and go home? The Crusaders break through with a hundred thousand soldiers and a host of Heroes.

      Ally with the Dead King? Everyone in Callow rises against you. Also, the Dead King’s last ally was Triumphant, and he left her to face the music when the forces of Good rose in rebellion. Catherine doesn’t want to lock herself into that Narrative.

      Let Malicia do what she’s planning? Most of the continent falls to the Dead King, Malicia is able to turn her attention to destroying Catherine, and Callow starts wondering why they are on the same side as a nation that is allied with the “original abomination”. Either war with Praes or Callowan rebellion follows.

      There are no good options, only different flavors of doomed.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Metrux

      You misunderstand. The reason why they can’t let malicia to it is because she wouldn’t stop at the principate. “She didn’t defend, she is letting her enemies kill her internal opposition”. Right now, her internal opposition are the Woe with Callow’s armies, the Calamities with the Loyalist armies, and a bunch of weakened high born. Her true army in this game is the Dead King, so she will use him to carve up what’s left from all of that, meaning Callow just became a target aswell. So, even with full Evility she couldn’t let Malicia take this win.

      Like

  13. 1queenofblades1

    So everyone is wondering why Black is fucking around deep in Procer. What if he’s doing it so that Cat gets an opportunity to bring down Malicia without Black having any way to get involved including the thousands under his command, along with the Calamities, meaning even if anyone wanted to revolt against Black’s order to stay put and not help Malicia, they can’t because by the time they reach President, it’s all over since there’s a massive army plus the ruins of the Vales in the way.

    Like

    1. 1queenofblades1

      And speaking of which, I’d like it to be Monday now please. I hope EE doesn’t put another series of Interludes here like when Cat got possessed. Those were great but this is too big of a cliffhanger to do that…

      We need more frequent updates 😦

      Like

      1. To be fair, a cliffhnger like that is exactly the time and place to start making interludes. I would rather see a few myself, from a perspective of Hasenbach would be nice. Also, Gendalfs reaction to him being called a Villain would be priceless.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Lark

    So. It’s been a while since it was discussed, but I seem to recall that Warlock’s true bond is to Black, as is Scribe’s – Which means the key to killing Malicia (without immediate and final retribution) lies with Black’s support, or at least acceptance. Viewed through this lens, Second Liesse (and Black’s break with Malicia) is quite possibly going to have a narrative backlash much sooner than expected; Malicia must realize this, so it should be interesting to see her play.

    I wonder exactly how much of this Black predicted, and whether it has anything to do with his decision to go gallivanting about Procer; I would suggest that it is an excuse to be out of the way when the empress finds herself at swordpoint, but that seems far too shallow – there’s undoubtedly more, better reasons, as there must be plenty of other ways he could occupy himself far from the tower.

    Like

    1. Metrux

      How Malicia will respond? With blindness. Since the beggining she took care of his blindness while he took care of hers, but now they’re divided, each blind to a part of the great scheme. Too bad the part she lacks is narrative knowledge, oh well, I’m sure this is not important for a Named…

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Yotz

    Speaking of House of Laure’s reaction – that reminded me of my second favourite drinking toast:

    To all of us, and to Hell with them!

    Like

  16. DreadEx

    So say they purposely lose the bidding war leaving Callow and Procer a target of the dead king and Praes. Seems like a good way to get the crusade to apologize and ally with them. If they throw back the dead king, nothing personal between immortals right?

    Like

  17. Terion

    First time I ever went: “Woo! Regicide!”
    Also this chapter is a clear turning point. I had been wondering what had happened to the song, we haven’t heard it in a long time. But now Catherine is once more the girl (shaped thing) that climbs the tower.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Dread Empress Insolent, here we go!

    This felt like a very calculated move on the Dead King’s part. If he was already negotiating with Malicia, why invite Cat at all? It’s likely he doesn’t care about the Procer deal at all and this is his gambit of trying to replace the current Dread Empress. Seen in that light, giving Triumphant’s old room to Cat is a nice touch.

    His ultimate goal is still very much obscure though. Like, I don’t think he cares about the crusade nor Procer. It’s unlikely he’s doing all this just to welcome Cat to the immortals club. Yet, it’s fairly clear he wants Malicia and Cat to be in conflict and expects Cat to come out victorious. For what purpose? What does he gain from this?

    Like

    1. Hardric62

      I think he sees this little mess as a final test, to see if Cat is ‘worthy’ of that Immortals Club… If Neshamah want to throw it out against the gods, he needs ‘allies’ able to go against the pattern of the story or able to subvert it to forge their own path, so they can eventually throw away the gods’ rule…

      If Catherine can claw her way out of that pit, then she can clearly endures anything the Heavens, no the gods, can throw at her, like he does, and he gains a ‘worthy ally’, part fo the landscape as much as him, and someone who will have to go for the ‘fuck all gods’ way because they won’t be able to tolerate her any more than him. if not… He’ll wait for another one. If Neshamah ever showed one quality in that entire story, that’s patience.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. RanVor

    “You heretics!”
    “We’re not heretics! You’re heretics!”

    I know the situation is grave, but I can’t help but find the mental image of priests accusing each other of heresy incredibly funny.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Dylan Tullos

      RanVor:

      In a world where literal angels show up, though, it’s not that hard to find out who the real heretics are.

      Spoilers: They’re the people who crowned a declared enemy of the Heavens, not the people who are following the anointed champions of Heavenly Choirs in a holy war against the forces of Evil.

      Like

      1. Abstracted

        You keep trying to make this point, but your argument is built on a foundation of smoke.

        In a world where the ability to call upon the powers of Heaven can be rescinded at a moment’s notice, it’s not hard to tell that the Callowan House of Light are not heretics in the eyes of Heaven.

        Spoiler: The House of Light in Callwo have still been wielding the miracles of the Gods Above during the entirety of Catherine’s reign. And while the Crusade might be meant to be a holy war, this one has been anything but; it was created by Hasenbach for political reasons, to achieve political ends. The fact of who is on what side of the fence when the Crusade was called is a lot less relevant than you try to make it out to be, given that.

        Now, the whole faith and legitimacy of the Crusade are beginning to escape the trappings of the political roots it was founded upon, and we are seeing the results.

        Procer and Levant declare the crown ruler of Callow a heretic and the faithful of Callow retroactively heretics as well for supporting her rule (Callowan priests are still wielding heavenly miracles, btw).

        Callow, in response, declares that the Proceran and Levantine faiths are heretical for besmirching the mandate of Heaven that the Callowan faith bears (not groundlessly, because they are still capable of granting heavenly miracles), and that all heroes in service to a Crusade launched by so-accused heretical faiths do not serve a Heaven-annointed cause, and are thus not graced by the mandate of Heaven themselves.

        Everyone accused of heresy, at this present moment in the story, is assumed to still be able to grasp heaven-granted miracles at the moment. So at the moment, there’s no way to tell whose accusations are actually rooted in fact. To make a long story short, this situation is far from having a clear answer, and you cannot paint it as having such and still be honest.

        Like

        1. Cicero

          There is also the question about who the Crusade was called against in the first place. Reading the first chapters it appears that the nominal target is Praes, not Callow. That Callow is merely a target because it is a vassal state of Praes.

          Thus Cat’s offer to betray Praes and join the Crusade.

          But the actions taken by the Salia conclave suggests that the Crusade against Praes was all a ruse, just like Cat has been claiming, and that Callow was the true target all along.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Someguy

            My impression was that Callow was the watermelon everyone want’s to carve up to rule because Praes is just a loot piñata for precious gems and metals because seriously, no one wants to put in the effort to prevent Praes from rising again. A regular external enemy is useful to distract the populace from internal social problems.

            A Callow that remains independent post-crusade means less profit for everyone else involved as they seek to divvy up lands for their second sons and by-blows.

            Like

            1. Morgan

              The longer this conflict goes on the more inverted everything seems. Practical Evil is basically Good that worships the hellgods, and this new Good has become Evil which worships the heavens. I mean really, think about it!

              Hasenbach has over the course of the story:
              1. United a divided and fractious nation by brutal elimination of any competition. (Employing assassination, brute force, and persuasion in equal measure)
              2. Ensured her nation’s internal stability by starting a war with Callow. (Sending the fantassins and her political enemies as a vanguard)
              3. Called upon unstable and uncontrollable supernatural forces to assist her invasion force. (Angels)
              4. Created a sorcerous cabal dedicated to her service and performing large rituals against her enemies (burning a passage for the crusade).
              5. Unified multiple cultures to join under her regime. (The Grand Alliance)
              6. Lost control over her ambitions. (Called a crusade without understanding its consequences)
              7. Is currently declining in influence while her peers undermine her. (This entire chapter!)

              Does this list sound familiar? It should! This list describes basically a template for past Dread Emperors and Empresses. Our dear Cordelia has well and truly fucked herself over. Problem is, she’s probably the best option for leader of the Alliance (as Cat pointed out). If this theory is correct, it would also mean a lot of narratives will be clashing (especially for Heroes who thought they had a solid understanding of the story a.k.a. Grey Pilgrim & company).

              Liked by 1 person

      2. RanVor

        Whatever. I don’t have the patience for you, Genocide Man. Look for your hidden meanings elsewhere. Or don’t. I don’t care.

        Like

  20. Enjou

    Ok, three possible options for a regicide here…

    Dread Empress Malicia seems an obvious candidate. She’s conveniently also a guest of the Dead King, so she’s in reach to be killed. But all this talk about Catherine becoming Dread Empress is a terrible idea. Dread Empresses and Emperors inevitably die, killed either by heroes or through treachery. It’s a well established role, so would be bad for her to take, because she’d almost inevitably fail. She’d want someone else to take up that mantle – maybe Black since he’s better aligned with Catherine’s goals, maybe even give it to Akua and control Praes through proxy, or maybe just leave a power vacuum so that Praes tears itself apart through infighting. But no way in hell she takes the title herself, and killing a Dread Empress would bolster her claims of wanting to join the crusade.

    The other obvious one is the Dead King. If he dies, Malicia can’t make a deal with him. Furthermore, there’d be a bunch of undead armies with no ruler, many of them mindless and ready to spill into Procer. And with the announcement of his death, the Dead King’s kingdom becomes a target of opportunity that many in the crusade couldn’t pass up – Hasenbach would practically be forced to switch targets from Callow to Keter, if she’s just not moved her armies to deal with the influx of the undead. Meanwhile, Cat gets to announce that she murdered the Hidden Horror, freeing the land from such an evil monster, making those who declared her Arch-Heretic looks stupid as hell in the process due to her heroic seeming act, and her offer to join the crusade looks a lot more genuine. She can even truthfully tell the Grey Pilgrim that she stopped Malicia from making an alliance with the Dead King, which is going to throw off his entire game, since a big part of his reasoning in wanting her dead is that Callow becoming Evil would throw off the balance of Good and Evil on the continent.

    Hasenbach is the third choice, though less obvious and frankly unlikely. Procer would be thrown into infighting again trying to choose another First Prince, which is good for both Callow and Praes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t solve the Malicia problem, as she could still ally with the Dead King if she so desired, which she would in order to eliminate Catherine and Black. So this isn’t a likely option.

    Of course, double regicide is possible, as options one and two aren’t mutually exclusive.

    Like

    1. mórrígan

      The Black Queen is reckless and self destructive, but she isn’t stupid.

      Despite the fact that Catherine has shown a propensity to succeed where the story doesn’t want her to, I genuinely believe that taking on the Dead King is far, far out of the realm of possibility and well into actual impossibility – at least, given her current capabilities and everything she has at hand right now (which, realistically, isn’t that much.)

      Attacking now, while she and her Woe are in the heart of Keter, is the best and only shot she’ll ever get at Neshemah for a while … but not only is the old monster protected by a score of undead Heroes and a literal army, Catherine and co. haven’t even sniffed out the Dead King’s true body yet – they’ve only interacted with proxies thus far. You can’t exactly kill a lich without knowing where the phylactery is. Even if the Woe pull something out of their ass, they still have to fight their way out of Keter through the rest of the Dead King’s stuff.

      And that’s excepting the narrative consequences of trying to kill a host who invited Catherine into his home under good faith and has done nothing but be perfectly cordial to the Woe.

      Needless to say: bleak prospects.

      I’m not exactly sure how she’ll be able kill Hasenbach either, with the Augur watching her back and whatever contingencies she’s put into place.

      The only option for regicide is Malicia, and I’m curious to see how Cat’s gonna pull that one off.

      Like

      1. Yotz

        But the question is: what a table game popular in illuminated stratas of the Imperium of Man has to do with anything here?

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  21. Oui

    Well, I hope we aren’t in for an asspull of truly gigantic proportions. I mean, how the hell do you expect Cat to defeat Malicia? Her Army of Callow consists of, at least partially, Malicia’s/Praesi loyalists (as loyal as these people can be), Callow itself is heavily damaged by the Crusade and it seems that Black’s actions merely granted her a stay of execution. I repeat – how the hell do you expect Cat to defeat Malicia? Especially, when one half of the Wasteland is a… wasteland incapable of supporting an army and the other half is a deathtrap filled with ancient horrors and guarded by the arguably strongest magic forces on Calernia (not counting the Gigantes).

    Like

      1. Yotz

        Indeed.
        It’s far to easier to remove the root of evil – Malicia, in this case – than conquer the Empire. In fact, since Malicia is evidently in Keter at the time, it would be suitable to remove her from the equation here and now, while she can’t use her significant home – Tower advantage.
        This will either force DK to protect Malicia, showing his hand and intention thus making Masego’s option only valid choice left; or – if he ignores it – analogously making his preferences and favor for the Calowan delegation open. Such heinous breach of diplomatic traditions, of course, would be unacceptable for almost any other nation – save for the rats, drow, Praes, probably dwarves… You know what – let me rephrase that: killing fellow diplomat under the aegis of the formally neutral third power would be seen as a reviling incident, and acted upon accordingly – but Donkey Kong cares not for the outsiders’ scorn, nor for their opinion. In fact, the enactment of such plan may shine favorably on Cat in his optic receptors.

        As for the “conquest” part – the Wasteland needs Callow. Primarily because one part of it is a wasteland incapable of support not only an army, but a civil population of any significant size. If Praes would be left with empty Tower, and imminent Uncivil Wars break out, all Cat would need to do to quell possible unrest in her army is to organize humanitarian food convoys – and most of the Empire, including the Praes loyalists, would immediately accept her as a new Dread Empress even if wipes Tower from the existence. Especially if she’ll cast down the Tower – for it would be seen as deed expected from Empress.
        As for Malicia’s loyalists – the Army of Callow always had at most trace amounts of thouse due to criteria of enrollment, and now they are even rarer occurrence due to massive losses among the Praesi parts in the last campaign. Thouse of them who are lacking in the mental faculties would be immediately found and executed by fellow soldiers, and more cunning part would go underground, acting as sleepers – waiting for the signal that’ll never come. Because in a few months diehard Malicia’s clique in the Praes proper will die hardly from starvation and lethal goblin steel poisoning. After which all internal politics of the Empire would proceed with the Black Queen’s interests in mind first and foremost, for even Highest of Lords would prefer to not be mobbed by starving peasants, if all possible. If someone even tries to reconquer Callow after that, that will lead only to another civil war with parts of Praes who like to eat, which consequently will left Empire in no form for further conquests for a few more generations.

        Black would be less than mirfed, though – mostly because his Legions would declare him new Dread Emperor the moment the news about Malicia’s passing will reach them. Cat’s Name Transition is not the only thing that was broken in the aftermath of neutralization of the Liesse Machine, you know.

        Like

        1. Nicknamer

          Comments interesting as always, but its important to summarize the funny nicknames.

          Akua = Ubua:)
          Death King= DK = Donkey Kong (Lol good job Yotz)

          Did i miss some more?

          Like

          1. Yotz

            Eh, I tried to force “Garcher” after a certain friendly “suggestion” – but oh well!.. Forced meme is forced, therefore fnord.

            Like

    1. werafdsaew

      Did you read chapter 23? Cat’s assessment was that without Black’s legions, there isn’t enough army left in Praes to stop Cat from conquering the Praesi countryside, though taking the cities is a different matter.

      Like

  22. Cicero

    Just to be clear for some that seem to be missing it. There is a dispute between the different House of Light priests.

    The Procer priests in Salia, along with the other members of the Crusade, declared the Callow House of Light priests to all be heretics for crowning Cat Queen.

    The House of Light in Callow then turned around and declared the conclave of Salia to be the heretics:

    [QUOTE]
    “We so declare the following,” Vivienne read out loud. “That all who took part in the seventy-third conclave of Salia are guilty, of: perverse service to earthly powers, false righteousness for earthly purpose and, declaration of godless sanctions.”
    [/QUOTE]

    Then they went further and declared the heroes that invaded Callow to be “graceless” ie, accused the of not faithfully representing the Heavens.

    Like

    1. Yotz

      Not just “unfaithfully representing the Heavens” but outright being servants of Below in disguise, according to the Book of All Things of all things.

      Like

  23. Berder

    Has anybody considered that the Dead King may be lying about making deals with Empress? All we have is his word that the those papers came from her. He certainly had an incentive to lie, it could have caused Cat to agree to more favorable terms for him.

    Like

    1. Yotz

      Best lie is just telling the truth.
      Also, the more powerful you are, the less reasons for you to lie so blatantly. In this case, lie about the source of those papers may lead to her increased acceptance of his new terms, of course – but also will immediately put her in the “burn Keter to the ground, make a cup from the Dead King’s skull, and portal the ocean into Serenity” mood upon returning home. Which would be a little counterproductive for him, don’t you think?

      Like

    2. magesbe

      One reason I don’t think this is the case is that this is scaring Cat off. So instead of the initial terms, he’s getting no terms. If the goal was to force Cat to concede more, it backfired badly. It would have been better to put the terms upfront. Cat might have actually bit the bullet if she didn’t think that the terms would be escalated even if she accepted the modifications.

      The DK is a very smart man. I doubt he would have made this kind of mistake.

      Like

  24. Viconr

    I see some problem with thi double heresy and stuff, but maybe solution.

    As I see it, heroes mostly winning, yes, but why? Is It being with Gods Above, being Heroes or being good, or simply most stories give them the prize?

    Because as I see it, Gods Above is mostly Good, but not always Good and right now Cat can turn it into fight ofr well-being of Callow and maybe simple folk of Praes. While Crusade goes from balkanizing Callow with replasing head guys into Praes Invasion old-style with religious purging to boot.

    So she has Story and Moral Superiority on her side… Until she makes deal with Dead King and it turns into praesy story in a heartbeat.

    Like

    1. Byzantine

      Weren’t the uncivil wars back around the time she was fighting Diabolist? There were a bunch of civil wars going on at that time. None of which could be truly described as “civil”.

      Like

  25. Antoninjohn

    Cat could always “visit” a couple Procer cities on the way back, kill some Heroes in the wrong place, burn down the priests and churches, kill then raise as undead some mages. Thief can retrieve the some of interest Procer owes Callow in the form of the treasury and all the cities supplies

    Like

  26. Draconic

    “That all who took part in the seventy-third conclave of Salia are guilty, of: perverse service to earthly powers, false righteousness for earthly purpose and, declaration of godless sanctions.”

    I can already see those 3 on personal banners… The first one for Archer, “declaration of godless sanctions” on Catherine’s, and “false righteousness for earthly purpose” could be written on the grave of the Grey Pilgrim. Or simply on a random proceran flag.

    Like

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