Chapter 42: The Skein’s Plan

“Chaos is a ladder, Chancellor. It never goes quite where you need it to, and the rise is always more graceful than the descent.”
– Dread Emperor Perfidious

Like proper villains, we put a magic gate between ourselves and the consequences of our actions before silently agreeing to pretend none of it had taken place. The Woe had taken to that part of villainy better than any other, truth be told. Probably didn’t help that I was the closest thing Archer had to an authority figure in her life that wasn’t Ranger, or that Hierophant had been raised to believe that repercussions were a thing that happened to people who didn’t have family dinners involving the full roster of the Calamities. Seriously. I would be dishonest not to acknowledge that having Black cleaning up behind me for year hadn’t, uh, encouraged me to display a perhaps disproportional amount of recklessness in my actions. But even at my worst there’d been an amount of calculation involved in those risks. In contrast, Thief had at some point robbed a Legion pay convoy and somehow expected to get away with it, while Diabolist had gone out of her way to personally piss off every single living villain with a higher body count than her. Well, before Liesse anyway. She’d murdered her way to the top of that list quick enough. It was telling that the closest thing we had to a steady hand around was Adjutant, and he’d rather famously gotten into a slugging match with a demon.

Gods, was Juniper the voice of sanity? She ate people, for fuck’s sake. Well, corpses anyway, and she hadn’t done it in a while that I knew of, but still.

“I have so many questions,” I told Akua the moment the gate closed.

“Flammable and inflammable mean the same thing,” she replied without missing a beat.

I paused.

“What?” I managed.

“I noticed you’ve been misusing the latter,” Diabolist said with a beaming smile. “The word is actually derived from the Old Miezan verb inflammare, which means ‘to set on fire’.”

Masego let out a noise of approval, the filthy traitor. Of course of all the Woe’s habits the one Akua had to pick up was giving me lip in the middle of delicate life-and-death situations. ‘Closing ranks in front of outsiders’ had been too much to hope for, I supposed, but Merciless Gods I would have settled for ‘prone to collateral damage we can’t afford to pay for’. It wasn’t like she didn’t have a history. I made the decision that choking my only current source of insight on what was happening was unwise, which I thought was very queenly of me.

“Where are we?” I patiently asked.

“Before the gate to the central chamber,” Akua said, inviting me to look behind her with an elegant gesture.

If you’d one sinister rune-engraved stone gate, you’d seen them all. This one was ridiculously large, but given the alleged size of the Skein that wasn’t a surprise. Besides, this one didn’t even have a terrifying face-shaped demon bound inside. Strictly small time compared to the Tower, that somehow-standing pile of horrors. I considered my next question carefully.

“How?” I finally said. “Just…”

I gestured to encompass Creation.

How?”

“As a part of your mantle, she can draw on Winter to an extent if so allowed,” Masego said.

“Yes, yes, we all knew that,” I lied. “Not need to state the obvious, Masego. But here precisely?”

“The chain,” Akua simply said.

Which bound her to me, or more accurately the Mantle of Woe, and to an extent Winter itself. That explained how she’d been able to open a gate towards my location, anyway. How had she even gotten here in the first place? The whole point of the Threefold Reflection was that it could be turned into an unsolvable maze at the drop of a hat.

“You used Winter, to make your gates,” the shade reminded me. “Your works were known to me.”

Setting aside the headache-inducing implications of that for later, I frowned. So she’d seen where I was planning to get out of Arcadia and gone there. Which told me why she was here, but not how she’d gotten there in the first place. I eyed her warily, since the question had been implied, but she did not speak again. More secrets. Exactly what we needed, at the moment.

“My eye, if you would,” Masego stiffly asked.

Akua sketched a bow and produced the glass orb with a flourish of the wrist. My frown deepened.

“You’ve been running the ritual this whole time,” I said. “He could see through his eye, you through his, and you sent him instructions through it.”

“Cards,” she agreed. “As I was instructed, though I did not always know the reasons why.”

I passed a hand through my hair. Which, as I immediately remembered, had been formed out of Winter smoke and mirrors mere moments ago. There was no sweat matting the strands even after my extortions, which I was almost thankful for. The inhumanity of that was almost comforting, compared to the reminder that any sweat I’d feel would be a lie I told myself and my will enforced.

“We’re on Buzzard, I take it,” I said.

She nodded. I eyed the stone door.

“So now?” I probed.

“We enter,” Diabolist said. “After the sixth rune in your head is disabled.”

Skipping a few there, huh. That aside, Vivienne’s card had given me the eloquent instructions of ‘don’t’ when it came to the Skein, so it was worth asking her if-

“And Thief is gone,” I said. “Please tell me someone else saw her get out of Arcadia.”

Masego finished putting back his eye in the appropriate burnt-out socket, yet another reason to be thankful eating was now optional for me, and straightened up.

“I did as well,” he said. “Though she disappeared within moments.”

“And you didn’t think that was worth mentioning?” I asked.

“I assumed there was a reason,” he replied.

Yeah, that was today in a sentence wasn’t it? Could hardly rake him over coals for that.

“Romance my brain, Zeze,” I ordered with a sigh. “Let’s get this cart back on the road before it catches fire. Again.”

His hand rose, and immediate-

“He reads stories,” Vivienne said.

“We can as well,” Masego pointed out.

I intervened before that could turn into a proper bicker.

“So we come at him with a plan, he’ll have seen it from beginning to end,” I said.

“Essentially,” she said, after flicking an irritated glance at the blind mage. “Though the interesting implication is that he can only ‘read’ a single story at a time. It is possible to fool him.”

“Multiple schemes will be required,” Akua mused. “With a degree of bridging between them. It would be ideal to begin on a scheme and move into another before the Skein can arrange for a point of failure.”

“That means someone has to know enough of them to lead us to change tacks at critical moment,” I noted. “Considering you can’t really fight, Diabolist, it’ll have to be you.”

“She’ll need to be fooled as well,” Hakram spoke up. “Given more plans than we’ll actually use and kept in the dark about which few options are really on the table.”

“Go random,” Indrani advised. “That always fucks with oracles.”

Akua nodded in agreement.

“The rest of you will need to be kept ignorant of large swaths of what is planned,” she added after. “Lest the moment you begin a plan the enemy be made aware of it.”

“Masego, you can do memory blocks right?” I asked.

He nodded.

“An easy enough enchantment for all save you and Diabolist,” he said. “Conditional triggers can be woven in, though no more than one per ‘block’. Too high a degree of sophistication risks permanence, the human mind is a complex device.”

“I don’t like how complicated this is getting,” I admitted. “But once you’re wet, there’s no reason not to swim.”

“I don’t follow,” Masego said, brow creasing.

“We don’t leave him to guess between a handful of plans,” I said grimly. “We drown him in them.”

-ly. Rude.

“So this is a stupid plan, but it’s stupid on purpose,” I said, rubbing my forehead. “That’s comforting. You know, except for the part where we fail and die horribly.”

“I was hoping we would avoid that,” Hierophant gravely said.

“Yeah, well, you know what the Dead King put up on the gates into this place,” I replied. “Fine, it’s too late to run anyway. Akua, you got anything to add?”

She bowed smoothly.

“I was ordered,” she said, “to fight as an extension of you, should it come to swords.”

“Well, it’s not like today has been a cornucopia of good decisions so far,” I mused. “So what the Hells, let’s give it a whirl. Zeze, get the door would you?”

With a deep grinding sound, the stone slabs parted.

“This is the part where I praise his efficiency,” Akua announced. “Because misunderstandings and incompetent assessments are humorous.”

Was it wrong that the one of the most horrifying things about the mass-murdering maddened shade of my former rival was that she was trying to develop a functional sense of humour? If so, Black had shown a lot more foresight than I’d thought back in that alley.

“In we go,” I said, warily eyeing the darkness within. “Before I start debating whether it’d have been more reassuring to blow our way through.”

Robber was, inarguably, a horrible influence. The ground wasn’t stone, I knew that just from the feel of it under my boots. It wasn’t even flat. It crunched. Didn’t even need to glance down, the sound was easy enough to recognize: bones. Charming. The inside was pitch black save for a single well of light illuminating the artefact Thief had spoken of: three layered wooden wheels on a stick, with pieces of string joining them haphazardly. She’d not mentioned, however, that every wheel was about as broad as I was tall. Hierophant followed behind me, and the grinding sound told me that-

“Yeah, so that’s not happening,” I noted.

Ice bloomed in the way of the closing stone doors, shattering for the first few inches but eventually forcing them to a halt as I kept pouring power into the working. I was already standing inside a massive dark cavern filled with bones, there was no way I was letting the Skein keep us stuck inside. Speaking of, there was no sign of the Revenant.

“At least he’s not waiting on a throne,” I mused. “Those fights never seem to go well for us.”

There were tall curved rib bones from something definitely not human serving as a sort of antechamber leading to the wheels, but that screamed ‘trap’ even more than the rest of this room.

“Hierophant?” I prompted.

“We can use them,” Masego replied. “I can already glimpse them. Deep, but simple.”

Good to know. Still didn’t tell me where the Hells the undead rat was.

“Oh what a stroke of luck,” I loudly said. “The Skein isn’t here. I guess we’ll just walk towards those wheels and-“

Sword clearing the scabbard in a heartbeat, I stabbed the bones beneath my feet and poured the howling might of Winter into the mess. Frost crept through the mass of bones, and my eyebrow rose when I realized how deep it actually went under us. At least sixty, seventy feet. Not trace of the Skein though.

“Catherine,” Akua said.

I sighed.

“He’s above us, isn’t he?” I said.

The answer wasn’t so much laughter as it was the quiet rumbling of the storm. A massive shape leapt down and bones were sent flying in every direction while I smoothly rose and fell into a guard. Hierophant, prudently, came to stand behind me. Diabolist was at my shoulder know, and all I felt from her was a hunter’s patience. Furred body bending over the wheels and cutting through the light, the Skein watched us with a leering grin. He was large as Thief had said, but her short description had not done the Revenant justice. Thick dark fur covered a body that was almost humanoid, save for the long wormlike tail that came from its lower back, but it was the head that was discomforting to look at. We call their kind ratlings, but looking at that rotting leather it was a snake I thought of. The pale golden eyes with deep red gouges under them only deepened the impression. The two pairs of bone-like antlers ripping through the top of its head were wickedly sharp, even after what must have been centuries. A Horned Lord. Even Ranger considered the likes of that difficult to deal with, and when we’d come across that woman in Arcadia I’d felt like she could murder the lot of us in the span of a single breath. Not an opponent I should take lightly. Not an opponent I should fight at all, if I could help it. Sadly, my mouth disagreed.

“So can we knock off the theatrics?” I asked. “Because, let’s be honest here, Akua’s probably more Evil than you are and if I told her to fetch my slippers she’d do it.”

The creature’s dry red tongue licked at fangs half the size of me.

“Take the wheel, lead the Empress to the orc,” the Skein said, then cocked his head to the side. “Or. The Empress escapes, yet dies to a blade of stolen moonlight. Two paths.”

“Well, I’m glad someone knows the plan,” I mused. “Would you care to monologue about how we’re going to fail?”

The Revenant laughed.

“Then you strike,” he said. “Or. She strikes with you. Or. You flee. Tricky little things, skittering around, but you entered the maze. You did. Surrendered too many paths. No end remaining is fortunate.”

I reached for the last card inside my cloak and my fingers came away wet. My hand rose.

“Just give me a moment,” I asked.

The ancient abomination stilled. I got the sense he was somewhat taken aback. Last card, huh. I slipped it out and angled it so the light well the Revenant was across would make it clearer. The Queen of Swords.

You have an invisible crossbow.

Written diagonally, across the whole thing. I flipped it. Nothing on the other side. Seriously, Past Catherine? That was the entire message? She might as well have just drawn herself flipping me the bird. What an asshole.

“Catherine?” Masego probed.

“If you were hoping for a solution,” I said. “That was not it.”

“It was pointless,” the Skein said. “Seventeen stories? Pretty little tales, but you always end up here. No matter the path, the destination is the same.”

Seventeen. Gods. There wasn’t enough alcohol in all of Keter to justify that, and even worse I was pretty sure we’d planned this sober.

“Look,” I said. “I’m with you on this one. This whole thing has been a debacle from start to finish, and the person responsible should be buried alive. We’re on the same side, here.”

The Revenant stilled again. Evidently, this was not unfolding as expected.

“You did this,” he tried.

“That can’t be, I don’t remember it,” I immediately denied.

I’d fought enough Praesi to know that sufficiently high station and blatant lies could get you out of nearly anything, if you played your cards right.

“We should look into it together,” I told him. “Have you considered we might be getting framed? I’m just saying, this is a horrible plan. I could do better. It just doesn’t add up.”

“Does this actually ever work?” I heard Akua ask Masego in a whisper.

There was a beat.

“It got us into Skade,” he eventually conceded.

“Are you trying to lie to an oracle?” the Skein said, by the sound of it genuinely offended.

“I would never dare lie to you,” I lied. “You’re obviously a… rat-person of highly discerning judgement. If you just get Malicia in here, I’m sure we can straighten all of this out.”

“It’s like watching a demon get loose,” Akua murmured. “You know you should run, but you just have to look.”

“You want me to bring the Empress here,” the Revenant said. “The Empress that you are trying to kill.”

“That’s completely unrelated,” I said, proceeding forward with greatly unwarranted assurance. “And hearsay besides. I’m as loyal to the Tower as any Praesi.”

Assuming said Praesi was highborn, anyway.

“Did you truly expect this to succeed?” the Skein eventually asked.

“I’ve rolled the dice on worse odds,” I admitted, perhaps a little too honestly.

While that was not a high point by any definition of the term, it definitely went downhill from there.

I’d learned several things today. First, elves were bullshit even when they were dead. I wasn’t unaware that I didn’t have a lot of room to talk when it came to recovering from wounds, but who the Hells just decided they were all right and had Creation agree like a drunker singer? Second, when the Lady of the Lake called a breed of foe ‘hard fuckers’ she meant ‘how would someone even kill that thing if it wasn’t already dead?’.  I was now on my eighth sword, and beginning to appreciate why heroes always got handed some nifty legendary blade before they were sent into the meat grinder. I might as well have been trying to breach a wall swinging at it with a salmon. And, not, I grimly thought, even a large one. That was, sadly, not even in the top ten of my current problems. The Skein’s jaw hung unhinged, gaping wide, and it closed only when the last of the darkness had been swallowed into it. There went my domain.

Which he had eaten, because that was a thing that could be done.

“It comes,” Akua whispered into my ear.

Thank you, helpful collar fairy, I acidly thought. If I’d wanted a running fucking commentary, I’d have asked Black for a talking sword. I leapt onto a platform even as the Skein’s bare fist collided with the bones beneath where I’d stood, immediately leaping onto another before the swing of his tail could catch me. I’d learned the hard way that I couldn’t take a hit from the Revenant without spending precious moments rebuilding whatever passed for my spine these days.

“Burn,” Hierophant said.

Ribbons of golden flame streaked across the dark cavern, folding around one of the Skein’s limbs, but he turned and casually sucked the fire into his open maw. The breath that spread was putrid, like something left to rot for so long the rot was all that was left. The Horned Lord flicked at glance at Masego, who stood atop a ring of bones surrounded by a pale globe of light, and without warning moved. Fuck. I took a running leap off my platform, then as the fall quickened my momentum called on my domain again. The brushstrokes of night came but twice before the Revenant lazily struck down right through them. The darkness dispersed like smoke and then the backlash hit. My eyes froze in their sockets, then shattered, and with a hoarse scream I dropped out of my controlled fall into a pile of bones.

“Move,” Akua said.

I rolled to the side without thinking, and a massive impact close to me had me spinning back in the air. I reached for my face – was that a rib going through my cheek? – and forced the eyes to form quicker. Vision returned just in time to see the massive handful of claws headed my way. Flick of the wrist and ice sprouted on them, forming a long staff I caught by the side, and then the tail smashed me into the wall of this accursed place. There went my spine again. There really was not getting used to that, was there? I heard Masego bark out something in the mage tongue and dropped listlessly to the ground. Diabolist was there, red eyes and pleasant smile, helping me up.

“There was mention of fighting together,” I said after spitting out a few of my teeth.

Akua Sahelian offered me her hand.

“Shall we?” she said.

Gods help me, but I took it.

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101 thoughts on “Chapter 42: The Skein’s Plan

    1. Rook

      I’m not sure if she’ll ever go, all recent signs point to her being here to stay for the recent future imo

      The first paragraph, when talking about the reckless tendencies of the Woe, Cat unconsciously inserted her right between Thief and Adjutant. That kind of unconscious inclusion is pretty telling about how entrenched her position is becoming even to Cat of all people. Then the last paragraph to end it is taking Akua’s offered hand, which is more or less the most blatant possible symbolism for acceptance there is.

      Combined with involving her in main character banter, of all things, basically indicates a semi-permanent promotion to recurring evil sidekick

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Azure

        You are forgetting that Catherine and Vivienne are both Callowan. They will NEVER forget what Akua did in Liesse. This is just a setup to make her think she’s winning and when the time comes they will snuff her out.

        Like

          1. Azure

            Catherine swore an oath with Vivienne about Akua. As the last entity of winter she is bound by that oath. She is fae now and oaths are binding.

            Like

      2. Cap'n Smurfy

        She’s sliding into the role of Treacherous Lieutenant far too well, which does not bode well for Larent. Especially considering he hasn’t been playing that right or particularly well.

        Like

      3. Miles

        That’s just Akua manipulating Cat’s fae nature. She built a story for Cat to follow and Cat is stuck in that story until Akua wins or another Woe disrupts it somehow.

        Like

      4. Miles

        That’s just Akua manipulating Cat’s fae nature. She built a story for Cat to follow and Cat is stuck in that story until Akua wins or another Woe disrupts it somehow.

        Like

      1. mavant

        Possible names for this pairing:
        Marcher
        Arsego
        Mindrani
        Indego (or Indigo, if we’re playing loosely)
        Archophant
        Hieracher (I vote no on this one, too confusing)
        Hierani
        Indophant

        Personally I vote for Indigo.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Someguy

      To be fair, that actually works. Though only when the other party has an interest in playing along due to mutual benefits with themselves having the leonine share.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Delakar

        That’s the best fucking, god damn line I’ve heard in a while. The mental image of a grandmaster watching a betted game, where some fool reach over and castles for his opponent thus prolonging the game.

        Fucking 200iq, I love it because there are so many reasons why it may happen. But none of them are all that good

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        1. Yotz

          >On the table there was a chessboard with a formation of chess pieces on one side of the board, and a scattering of checkers on the other.

          Protip: best way to win a game of Texan hold’em is to hit your opponents with a baseball bat until they stop moving. Though, decapitation with a hockey-stick is an interesting option.

          Like

      1. IDKWhoitis

        Dead King probably has a dedicated mold removal squad, or a general purpose maintenance crew of undead. He seems to have a firm grasp of organization and logistics.

        Like really, Black and DK should get along like best buddies. They both are schemers, and they have a pissing match with the heavens.

        Liked by 10 people

  1. Yotz

    Like proper villains, we put a magic gate between ourselves and the consequences of our actions before silently agreeing to pretend none of it had taken place.

    …and stuff like this is precisely why I absolutely adore this book…

    Liked by 9 people

  2. Someguy

    I thought the plan is supposed to be Dove?

    “Skein.

    Not the most pressing danger at the moment, but whatever.

    Don’t. If Hakram is there, Swan. If not, Dove.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Snowfire1224

      I think they’re on dove now that they’re actually fighting him. Buzzard was from when they were fighting the elf. The thing is they talked about being on plan buzzard before they ran into the skien in this chapter.

      Like

    2. IDKWhoitis

      I think the Lie Akua had caught on to was that one. Cat was throwing so much bullshit about, the skein missed the bull charging for his ass.

      Like

  3. IDKWhoitis

    So was the bolding on “drown”, was that an aspect? Or just emphasizing? Because 17 stories does not a drowning make. Unless it was improperly used, and thus had little effect. Because we have seen Cat drown her enemies in Winter before, so that could be a type of power up. Maybe it’s like Struggle, but it just lets Cat win harder or snuff out weaker opponents…

    Like

      1. IDKWhoitis

        While I’m not the Skein, I imagine it’s like playing tradegy looper with experienced players. We don’t have all the info the Skein did, because like the Skein right now, we’re are focusing on Cats POV.

        I feel like the drown aspect of this, isn’t so much 17 storylines being a bit much, it’s multiple plot lines being run simultaneously. Archer for example, may be on none of the 17 plotlines, yet. Thief is moving through another one, unseen. And the Skein is too busy trying to kill Cat, that he may not be watching the other plotlines closely enough to maneuver Malica to safety.

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      1. Enjou

        Maybe it could be a proto-Aspect? She doesn’t have a proper Name at the moment, so it could be an indication that she’ll get one.

        And it would be a suitable aspect, given how she dropped a lake on an invading army.

        Perhaps she just needs a third instance where she does something that could be considered an attempt to drown the enemy.

        Like

    1. Gunslinger

      This was pretty hilarious. The best part is always new members to the Woe being stunned by the general stupidity of Cat’s plans.

      Finally regarding the Horned Lords all I can wonder is how Procer even manages to fight them off. I suppose even Procer will spawn heroes when these fuckers make an entrance

      Liked by 1 person

      1. IDKWhoitis

        I still believe that the number of plotlines wasn’t so important as the number of plot lines simultaneously running. Also, the Skein seems to rely on physical sight to ascertain information, and past actions.

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    1. Byzantine

      Yep. This is his actual welcome.

      As stated before, I don’t think he really cares about current events at all. It makes no difference to him what offer he takes. He’s just using this to see what the new kid on the block can do – and how quickly she can improve. He knows everything that has been going on, so he knows what the King of Winter saw in her. This is him seeing if she’s good enough (or can become good enough) for his purposes.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Decius

    Skein can see the stories, and starts the fight off by getting the upper hand and not winning? Haven’t they seen enough stories to know where that ends up?

    Akua powers Cat up, Antagonist side escalates (probably something to do with all the bones), Zeze does something to regain the upper hand, enter Empress, holding Thief by the throat and demanding surrender. Beat panel. Cat drops her sword. Beat panel. Full surrender stance. Beat panel. Invisible crossbow to the Empress.

    I’ve got the details wrong, partly because this isn’t a graphic novel, but that crossbow is going to kill either the Empress or the Dead King.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Byzantine

      Dead King is still in his Hell, I doubt he’s at any risk. He arranged this whole thing intentionally, he isn’t going to go anywhere near Cat with his real body until he’s sure she isn’t going to try something stupid.

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      1. mavant

        God, if that thing never shows up I’m going to be so mad. Like, foreshadowing a demon that erases things from existence in a story about a world that runs on storybook rules, and then erasing it from the story… Is admittedly a clever subversion or lampshade hang or fourth wall painting or whatever the term is, but GODDAMMIT so don’t play with my emotions like that!

        Although I guess art is about making the reader / viewer feel something, so I dunno.

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        1. Birdeye

          The absence demon has shown up, though. Everyone just forgot. In Ch. 4, Thief reports 14 heroes invading. By the time they engage, in Ch 10, there are only 12 heroes, and no one bats an eye at this discrepancy. In fact, Cat even notes that it never occurred to her that the number of heroes was “A tenth and two officers”, and she mentions that everyone had been having headaches for the past few days.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

            Also: In Arcadia, Zeze learned to do a certain thing/became powerful enough to do said thing. Cat saw it happen for the first time there. She had two subsequent “first” times seeing that trick of his, both of them during the period of time in which the demon was active nearby.

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          2. Cap'n Smurfy

            And that’s not even counting the discrepancy in chapter numbers in the URL around that time and the fact that Catherine and the Woe all had headaches around that time.

            Like

          3. mavant

            At the time, I think I just assumed this meant 12 other than the Pilgrim and the Saint, but in retrospect your explanation is clearly superior, especially given the detail of the headaches.
            Still, I want to know what happened to it.

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  5. Rook

    Wait, what if she has a literal invisible crossbow? Plain old ensorcelled invisible weapon set to automatically fire whatever doomsday bolt it’s loaded with, based on a set of trigger conditions

    No one but Catherine knows what the card says, and Catherine herself thinks it means something symbolic because a literal invisible crossbow would be a stupid ass idea. The plan’s set in motion but the skein never sees it coming because it’s the king of all stupid plans among the pile of stupid plans, where no one knows anything about at all.

    Thing goes off at the last moment when there are too many branches in the story closed off for the Skein to do anything about it by the time it fires.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Sol Invictus

      Well I can’t say this wasn’t expected. Mesago was facedown on a pile of bones unmoving, Me feeling the strain of using too much winter, unable to even reform my spine without it becoming a gruesome array of icicles, heck Im not even sure if Akua was still inside her box.

      “Stand down Catharine” the Empress said as her knife drew a trickle of blood on an unconscious Viviene. “You are defeated, yield now”

      Like Hells I would. Alright Past Catharine, you better have been good on your word or so help me, i would bend all of creation just to smack you in the face.

      I raised my arm, my fist clenched, I extended my thumb to point upward.

      Not even the most Preasi of highborns could hide the disbelief and confusion in her face.

      And then my pointer finger directly a the Empress throat.

      The Empress changed her expression to one of utter disappointment. Well thats one thing we can agree about Malicia.

      “Your Mad” the Empress said.

      “Yup”, and then I pulled the trigger.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Insanenoodlyguy

      I feel like it’s another case of “Fuck you Past Cat” and it’s a lie. She is supposed to think Archer is there somewhere, hidden, possibly by theif, but in fact they are off attacking Empress. But because Cat is going with the plan where Archer is around, that’s the one the Skien is countering. Neither side is actually aware the other is doing a different plan (easy name swap, what’s written under ones Dove is written under another’s swan, etc.) so it becomes harder to read.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Redlaw

    There is something i don’t understand. The body of cat is a fakery forged through winter. So doesn’t that mean that her current speed ; strengh ; reaction time are just limitation she put on herself and that she could easly become even stronger if she wish? After all she doesn’t really have muscles or brain in the proper term.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Byzantine

      Yes, that is correct. We are seeing her slowly realizing that.

      Truth is if she was better at handling Winter she would have simply dropped the need for bones entirely. What does not exist cannot be broken. etc.

      Like

      1. Novice

        Oh, she already figured it out long ago. She was just in denial and was forced to embrace it last chapter. It’s the reason why she was on the verge of being an alcoholic and had to swear an oath to Hakram.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. werafdsaew

      It’s possible, but she’s already very strong, and there has to be a limit to how strong she can make her self, so she may be already at that limit.

      Like

          1. RanVor

            Including herself. Akua isn’t stupid. She doesn’t really hate Cat personally, and certainly wouldn’t doom herself to spite her, especially when her very existence is dependent on her. When she betrays, it’s going to be for a tangible benefit, not out of spite. I’d rather be worried about her not being able to keep up with that many plots.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yotz

              Maybe seventeen is all what Skein was able to discern. He can’t read any story if he doesn’t know the story is even here, and there always can be a few more layers of meta. Like, they were planning for him, so he planned for their plans, but they knew that he would plan for their plans, and so they planned around him planning for it, but he… And so we plunge deeply into layered abstraction logic, and after the first layer it’s usually not possible to determine desired outcome among the endless meta mirages.

              Liked by 2 people

  7. mavant

    Unrelated to the current chapter, but has anyone mapped out the world here? Does it actually fit onto classical Europe / Mesopotamia / Asia Minor in the way that the names imply?

    Like

  8. Cthulhu

    I am too stupid to follow all the plots and counterplots.

    At this point I figure Black shows up and reveals that he actually is the Bard and that Cat is actually the long lost daughter of the Empress, and that all Named are aliens.

    Sort of a bizzare combination of The Good Place, Highlander II, and Dance in the Vampire Bund. Why the hell not?

    And hey — remember when Cat simply had to survive officer training school? That was what — 2 years ago? 3?

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Greg

    Skein seems ridiculously strong, but I guess the whole point of this arc is that the Dead King is far more powerful than even his reputation, so having a minion like this makes sense.

    I am a bit surprised none of the Woe ever mention that Cat’s diplomacy approach is basically Starlord dancing at the end of GotG — confusion fu designed to make their enemies discomfited and/or angry enough to make a mistake.

    Still not a fan of Akua becoming a sixth ranger, as I don’t think it fits Cat’s (or Vivienne’s) character at all, and don’t particularly like Akua as a character. Isn’t Cat literally oathbound to make Akua suffer in a legendary way? But I will try to suspend judgment until we see what her ultimate arc is.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Akua isn’t currently wearing her own face. Or height. Sure, she seems to handle it with aplomb… But, she’d never show any discomfort about that kind of thing to anybody, least of all her boss (if only because being Ms Smugness of Smarmyton-upon-Pridesforth is her whole MO).

      Being exactly who she is is a major facet to our Akua, no? That rug isn’t under her right now. She’ll be feeling it on some level, even if she outwardly and inwardly denies it… Which makes it a form of torture, just not of the hot poker variety. Heck, getting her to change any of her original attitude over time through very rough handling, her adopting more of her own acting as core and/or enforced “education” could be said to be torturing her into becoming somebody and something she’d never have chosen to become before. *shrugs*

      Like

      1. IDKWhoitis

        In a way this could be a different path to “Destorying Akua”. Instead of destroying her entire being, she is being replaced bit by bit, until the outside and inside cannot quite be called “Akua”.

        Like

  10. stevenneiman

    Nothing to do with anything that’s going on, but I find it interesting that of the five and a half original Calamities, only one and a half aren’t at least surrogate parents. Sabah had a husband and several kids, Amadeus has Cat, Hye has her apprentices, and Wekesa has Masego. I kind of doubt that Eudokia or the Assassin (whoever they are) have families, but I wouldn’t have expected any of the others except Sabah would if I didn’t know about them.

    Liked by 1 person

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