Chapter 49: Wrangle

“Forty-two: should a disagreement lead one of the party to leave, you should expect combat within the week as you will either be captured to be rescued by the departed or the opposite. Let it happen, as a common enemy will heal all internal disputes and you can share a good laugh over the corpse of your nemesis’ dead lieutenant.”
– Two Hundred Heroic Axioms, author unknown

We were pretending it was a spirited debate. It wasn’t. These were the bitterest arguments I’d had with the Woe so far, and currently I wasn’t winning either of them. Figured. War on two fronts was never a good idea, but it didn’t look like I was going to have a choice about it.

“It’s a trap, Masego,” I said. “You know that as well as I do.”

“My father would not harm me,” the blind man replied evenly.

“I’m not saying he’ll knife you,” I said. “I’m saying that if you set foot in the Empire, there’s no fucking way Malicia’s letting you leave regardless of what Warlock says. Assuming he doesn’t agree with her in the first place. He and I aren’t exactly bosom friends, Zeze: we came a heartbeat away from drawing on each other last year.”

“Were I still the Apprentice, your objection would have merit,” Masego said. “That is no longer the case. Nothing short of my father’s full wroth would stop me, and he will not go that far even for the Empress.”

My fingers clenched. Then my flank got hit while I was still engaged.

“I’m not going,” Vivienne flatly said. “You need me here, especially if you’re going into the Everdark.”

I shot her a glare.

“We’ll continue that conversation in a moment,” I told her.

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “Because you’re going to lose your argument with Hierophant, and when you do you’ll dig your heels in about this. You hate to lose, Catherine. We settle this now, when you’re still reasonable.”

“There’s nothing to argue about, Thief,” I said with forced calm. “It has to be you.”

“I am a spymistress,” Vivienne replied. “Not a ruler. Send Adjutant instead, it is clearly the appropriate response.”

“No,” Hakram quietly said, looming tall at my back. “It can’t be me. Vivienne, think about this for a moment. Whoever is sent back will need the highest authority possible to settle affairs without trouble. You know what that means.”

The dark-haired woman frowned.

“That’s irrelevant,” she said. “Hakram, I admit without qualms that in matters of rule you are my superior. I will not achieve half as much as you given the same mandate.”

“It’s not irrelevant,” I darkly said. “It’s unpleasant to talk about and it’s unfair, but it’s true anyway: If I appoint an orc regent of Callow in my absence, there will be riots. Maybe even rebellions.”

Indrani didn’t want anything to do with this mess, thank the Gods, and I wasn’t giving Diabolist this close a look into the inner workings of the Woe so I’d sent her to keep Archer entertained. This would have been much, much worse if there’d been an audience.

“Hakram is broadly known to be your second in command,” Vivienne said. “And respected by many. His authority would be observed even without the regency. Your court has been butchered, Catherine, it needs to be rebuilt before the chaos spreads any further. That is not my wheelhouse, it’s his.

“You know whoever I send needs the fucking title, Thief,” I hissed. “Stop being obtuse. I’ve been away from the kingdom for months, the person taking charge needs the legitimacy behind them or it’ll start coming apart at the seams.”

“Then appoint him Governor-General,” Vivienne said. “It carries enough power that-”

“That would make the highest authorities in matters both civil and military greenskins,” Hakram broke in calmly. “We are not dealing with a blank slate or arithmetic empty of emotion. I may be an organizer of some skill, but that is immaterial. The amount of resistance I would face would be much larger than yours. You argument is only correct if stripped of context.”

“I can’t handle all the balls you have up in the air, Catherine,” Vivienne said, voice rising. “You need the entire kingdom’s granaries reorganized, you need to get massive amounts of steel to arm all those soldiers the Hellhound is recruiting, you need someone to steady the treasury and rebuild the King’s Council and – Gods, do I need to go on? I can’t handle all of this, not while also running the Jacks. Hakram could. His entire Role is about taking care of loose ends.”

The thing was, she had a point. I knew she’d been very careful not to use the reason she was being so aggressive about this, of course. She didn’t want me around Diabolist without her keeping an eye on it. Not, I suspected, because she thought I would suddenly forgive Akua Sahelian for her sins. She knew me better than that. But she saw Diabolist as a weed, and thought it was her duty to burn out any attempt to grow roots. I forced myself to set that aside, and address what she’d actually been saying. Which, unfortunately, wasn’t untrue. I trusted Vivienne to run the Jacks and to undertake some other discreet matters, but it was a fact I’d never dropped so much responsibility in her lap before. She’d had the education of a minor noble as a child, even though her family no longer formally held title, but that would only take her so far. What she did remember, she would be out of practice at. And we don’t have forever, I thought.

Procer would be occupied with the Dead King for the foreseeable future, but there was no guarantee part of the crusader host would not try Callowan borders again if it saw weakness. The Dominion still had two armies on the field, and the League’s intentions were opaque to me. My instinct had been that the Tyrant of Helike and his madman of a Hierarch would be taking a swing at the Principate, but that’d been while it was still the dominant force on the board. With Keter on the march, the League might be feeling adventurous enough to aim for other territories. And that was without even considering Malicia, who sure as Hells wouldn’t let me bind the wounds of Callow in peace. If Warlock was in Thalassina and cooking up something dangerous enough he wanted Masego to lend a hand, then the Ashurans were about to get a very nasty surprise. That left me the only direct threat at the Wasteland’s gated: the Empress wasn’t going to stop after a few assassinations. She was only getting started. And the only person I trust to lead the Jacks in hampering her plans is Thief.

Vivienne was leagues above Hakram, when it came to shadow games. My second was skilled at sifting through what our informants brought us and digging out the nuggets most important, but he didn’t quite have the knack when it came to actually using the Jacks for more than spying. I needed someone to start a knife fight, and Adjutant wasn’t the man for the job. But Vivienne wasn’t the woman for the rest of it, was she? She wasn’t wrong about that. If I forced too many duties upon her, she’d only end up failing at what she was actually good at. Which left me only one way through the mess. I knew what I needed to do was poor tactics, but it still needed to be done.

“You’re right,” I admitted, and there was a glint of triumph in Vivienne’s eyes. “Hakram will go with you. For the sake of appearances you’ll still be named Regent.”

And there went the glint.

“No,” they said, more or less at the same time.

I cast a look at Masego, who seemed mildly irritated our own chat was left unfinished but unwilling to press the matter. He would be. Knowing him, he was probably mentally organizing his arguments without listening to a word of what went on between the rest of us.

“Catherine, you can’t go into the Everdark with so weak an escort,” Hakram gravelled. “This is madness. The drow are infamously violent and treacherous.”

I kept my face blank. He’d never… There was a first time for everything, I told myself. It didn’t matter. I had an argument to win and getting emotional about it wasn’t going to help.

“I’ll have Archer and Diabolist,” I said. “It’s enough. I’m not going to war with them, I’m going to secure an alliance.”

“And who will handle the diplomacy, then?” Vivienne harshly said. “Indrani? You? Or will you allow the butcher of Liesse to speak in Callow’s name?”

“Better we dispense with the drow entirely than risk you going into their realm with so light a force,” the orc said. “They would be a useful addition, but they are not crucial and results are uncertain. Not worth the dangers.”

“It was one thing to put all our coin on the Army of Callow when we had the leash on the Dead King, however laughably feeble that leash was,” I replied. “It’s another when Malicia’s the one who let him out, on unknown terms. There will be battles, Hakram, and there’s only so many Callowans of fighting fit. Only so many we can afford to lose. We need someone to share the casulaties with, or it won’t matter that we have good farmland: there won’t be enough people left to till it. If you have another candidate for alliance, I’m all ears.”

“You did not answer me,” Vivienne said.

“Because what you said was pointless, Thief,” I said. “I would prefer Diabolist to serve as an adviser, but if I need to let her do the talking then that’s what going to happen. I know you don’t like it. I don’t either. But there’s no point in letting her out of the box if we don’t actually use her.”

“There’s a difference between using and trusting,” Thief hissed.

Enough,” I said, voice rippling with power.

Not Speaking, no, I was not that far gone. I hoped I would never be. Vivienne flinched, and Hakram looked chastened for reasons beyond the obvious. He usually brought his objections to me in private, and I thought he might already be regretting this. He should have known it would sting he’d side openly with Thief in an argument, even if he disagreed with me.

“Callow was just crippled,” I said. “You can both argue all you want, that is a godsdamned fact. And we all know the Empress is far from done. Now, the two of you can disagree with me heading into the Everdark with only Archer and a mass-murdering spectre for company, but at the end of the day I have to be the one to go and someone needs to fix the mess back home. Vivienne, you argued you couldn’t do it alone. You’re right. Hakram goes too.”

“He could-” Thief began, but I raised my hand.

“No, he can’t,” I said. “I’ve heard your issues with this plan. I have answered them and made a decision. Unless you have something new to add, the only question left if whether or not you’ll obey when I make this an order.”

Hakram stirred uneasily.

“You’re the one who gave me the speech about needing to assert authority,” I told him. “I just have. I won’t deny the risks. But you can’t deny that Callow needs the two of you to get back on its feet, either.”

The orc licked his chops.

“The drow are a gambit,” he said. “Promise me you will treat them as one. Do not carry your anger over the failure in Keter into this, Catherine. We can survive without them. If the situation spins out of control…”

“Hakram,” Vivienne cried out, sounding betrayed. “You know she won’t listen if it’s just me. Gods Above, stick the damned course.”

“There is no perfect solution,” the orc said, turning to her. “We take the risks we have to. It’s not the choice I would have made, but I’m not the one making the choices. Neither are you.”

“I won’t bet it all on a long shot,” I told Adjutant. “There’s a limit to how long I’m willing to stay there as well. But I believe it’s worth trying.”

He nodded, though his discomfort was still plain on his face. I turned to Vivienne, who was worrying her lip.

“I could refuse to go, even if you make it an order,” she said.

She could. The Woe were not sworn to me, save for Hakram, and his oath was not one between queen and subject. It was a deeply personal thing, and not one I would sully by equating with simple obedience. There were few things I still considered sacred, but what the two of us had said on that hill beneath moonlight was one of them. No, for all that I was Queen of Callow I would not call Thief my subject. She was, like most the Woe, my companion. When she deferred to me, it was out of trust and respect. Not because a sister from the House of Light had put a chunk of metal on my head and spoken a few dusty words. Forcing her hand here would shatter the fragile trust the two of us had built since we’d made our pact in Laure. I would have to convince her.

“You’re making this about me,” I said. “That is beneath us both.”

“This is about your decision,” Vivienne replied, frowning. “Not your character.”

“My decision shouldn’t matter to you,” I told her. “The question you should be asking is this: is it better for Callow if I accompany Catherine or if I return?”

Her eyes narrowed.

“You are the queen of said kingdom, in case you forgot,” she said.

“I’m a warlord who got oil smeared on her forehead,” I replied bluntly. “I’m useful to the kingdom, it’s true. There would be consequences if I died. If. I’m not exactly easy to kill these days, Vivienne. And while it’s possible my heading into the Everdark without you will end up biting our home in the ass, it’s a certainty that if you don’t return some of our people will bleed for it. Hakram will have too many duties on his plate, as you pointed out. He won’t be able to use the Jacks like you would.”

“You can’t leverage Callow against me, Catherine,” Vivienne said, sounding resentful.

“You didn’t join up because you liked the look of me,” I said quietly. “There was a reason, and you were quite blunt about it. I’m not using a damned thing, Viv. I’m reminding you what we’re actually about. It’s easy to forget, in the thick of it. I know that well.”

The expression on her face was an ugly one, but she did not contradict me. She spat to the side, after a moment.

“Fine,” she said. “Damn you, but fine. I’ll go. Don’t make me regret it.”

I let out a relieved breath. If that hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t have had anything else to trot out. Tired in a way that was nothing physical, I turned my eyes to Masego.

“You two can leave us,” I said without turning.

“Catherine,” Hakram tried.

“It’s been a while,” I mildly said, “since I’ve had to repeat myself so often.”

His fangs clicked together, but he didn’t say anything more. Hierophant had been sitting silent this whole time, growing increasingly impatient.

“Quite finished?” he said.

“Yes,” I replied without a hint of apology.

I gathered myself together for another verbal brawl.

“I spent most of your squabbling mustering arguments,” Masego admitted frankly. “I have several, some grounded in fact others in my personal opinion. It took me some time before I realized it was unnecessary to do so. I do not need your permission to go.”

“You need my gate, if you want to get there before the year’s over,” I replied.

“If necessary I will summon and bind a fae of sufficient rank to serve as a gate-maker,” he said without hesitation. “Though I would be disappointed by the pettiness of your choice.”

I grimaced. He’d be right to be. It was easy to simply think of the Woe as my companions, my closest friends, and leave it at that. The truth was a little more complex. The ties binding them to me were different for all, and though that’d never brought conflict until now I could admit that’d been mostly luck on my part. It’d been going to happen sooner or later. Masego and Indrani were not invested in my fight the way the other two were. For the latter it was an entertaining enough diversion, and she liked me enough to carouse away the ‘boring’ parts, but for all that Archer was arguably the least tightly bound to me she also had few other calls on her time. She wanted to travel, one day, but she was in no hurry. Masego had first joined the Fifteenth because he believed it would allow him to witness sights nothing else would, and in this we had delivered. He truly liked us, I was sure of that. Even Vivienne, who’d come late to the band. But his first and paramount love would always be sorcery. After that came family, and though some days I suspected we were half-that in his eyes his fathers had been entrenched in that position for much longer.

If Warlock sent for him, as the man had, Masego would go. Because even after that sting of that betrayal revealed by the echoes of the fall of Keter, he loved the man deeply. I’d almost considered not passing along the message, truth be told. He might not have heard it when I spoke with Juniper, as he’d not been so close. But that would be a betrayal, what was left of my principles had whispered. But he would learn eventually, and it would cost you, a colder part of me had noted.

“I won’t withhold a gate no matter your choice,” I sighed. “I didn’t mean that, and I apologize for implying it.”

“Apology accepted,” he said, nodding politely. “Though the choice has already been made. This a formality I will entertain until you have made your peace with that.”

I rubbed the bridge of my nose.

“For future reference,” I said. “When you’re humouring people to avoid hurting their feelings, it’s best to avoid telling them that.”

The dark-skinned man frowned.

“That’s rather backwards,” he noted. “Would their feelings not be more likely to be hurt if they believed at the start they had a real chance of success?”

“That’s – you know what, we can finish that conversation at another time,” I sighed. “Masego, I know you have reasons to want to go.”

“I do not care in the slightest for the fate of Thalassina,” Hierophant said. “Some ritual components of use come from the city, but none irreplaceable. It is my understanding that the Ashurans are your enemy as well, however, so out of politeness I will kill as many as I can before taking my leave.”

“And that’s appreciated, believe me,” I said. “But I need you with me, not on the other side of the continent. If half of what I’ve heard about the drow is true, your presence would make talks go a lot more smoothly.”

Having a mage capable of flattening a mountain in attendance tended to make people a great deal more civil.

“You are quite skilled at terrifying people into obedience,” Masego said, and he sounded like he believed it was a compliment. “My presence seems like it would be helpful, but necessary is overstating the case.”

“The grand total of what I know about the drow is four pages from Surley’s first volume of Realms of Calernia,” I told him. “I’d be going in blind, without you.”

“There is little I have read on the subject that Diabolist has not,” he said. “And much of the reverse that is true.”

This wasn’t going to work. I needed a different angle.

“You won’t be safe in Praes,” I said. “I’m essentially at war with the Empress and you’re my most dangerous sorcerous asset.”

“Malicia cannot lay a hand on me without incurring my father’s enmity,” Masego said. “Which I do not believe she wishes to happen, as he would kill her brutally.”

“She could still-”

“Catherine,” Masego said gently. “I know you would prefer I remain at your side. I am not displeased by this. Yet there is nothing down your current path that matters more to me than getting answers from my fathers. We are not debating. I am awaiting your final silence.”

And there it was. I wondered if this should feel like a betrayal, because it didn’t. Hakram siding with Vivienne had, and it was still a pebble in my metaphorical boot to remember it, but this… It would be like getting angry at a fish for swimming. Masego would always do what he wanted. It was the way he’d been raised: essentially untouchable in a nest of scheming and murder, people bending over backwards to curry his favour or accommodate him. In a way, he was no less highborn than Diabolist. He’d had all the privileges of the old blood with none of the duties, and still the heart of him was pure Wasteland. His desires would always come first, and it was unthinkable to him that they would not. I passed a tired hand through my hair.

70 thoughts on “Chapter 49: Wrangle

  1. Metalshop

    Well this is an interesting change in the group’s emotional character, especially hot off the heels of the Woe’s display of unity and strength over the course of the Amneisia Plan.

    Also the trio of Akua, Cat, and Indrani is amazing to think about the dynamics of. I don’t think we’ve sen Indrani interact with Akua much.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Jane

      If memory serves, when last we saw them interact, Archer proposed using her as target practice. Not because she was irritated, but just because it seemed like fun.

      …I don’t think they work on terribly similar wavelengths, and I get the feeling that a full book featuring the two of them forced to work together would end with one of them killing the other out of frustration, followed quickly by the other when they suffered the consequences of whatever was forcing them to work together.

      As it stands… I expect a lot of awkwardness, where Cat’s the only one really speaking to either of them – complicated by the fact that Cat’s much more in the mood to brood, rather than deal with Indrani’s Indrani-ness, or Akua’s constant scheming. But I may be off my mark.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Stormblessed

    This chapter feels like it ended a little abruptly. Like in the middle of a scene or something. I’m not expecting another half to show up, but it really does feel there should’ve been at least Catherine saying some variation of “I’ll open you the gate.”

    Liked by 17 people

    1. Agent J

      A lack of closure sometimes illicits the best emotional responses. Besides,

      “I am awaiting your final silence.”

      After a line like that, there’s nothing of real value that can be said. Personally, I’d have preferred if she walked away after tiredly brushing her hair, but eh, first point still stands.

      Liked by 9 people

  3. Cir_C

    I’m glad that there was some personal conflict within Cat’s merry band of murderers. Let’s see how she does with the Woe fractured in a fairly well realized manner.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jane

    Huh, it’s been a long, long time since Cat is going into significant danger (by mortal standards, not Cat standards) without either the Woe or an army at her back. I mean, she does technically have Archer, but that’s like having a really sharp sword at your side, compared to the tricks that Hierophant or Thief can offer. Diabolist as well, but that’s like having a cursed tome at your hands.

    Speaking of Akua, you just know she’s already plotting how to make use of being Cat’s only confidant for the duration of her trip. No idea as to whether she’ll get actually some “roots” in, to reference the chapter, but she’s certainly going to try. Well, honestly, I suspect she already has more of an “in” than either Cat or Vivienne realize, though it’s still pretty shallow. Though… Her plans might actually benefit more from being with the full Woe than alone with Cat; she already has plenty of alone time with Cat by virtue of being in her cloak, while few of the Woe would be willing to talk to her without cause. Meanwhile, if she suddenly comes back BFFs with Cat, the others are definitely going to talk Cat out of it – if Akua doesn’t improve her bonds with the party as a whole at roughly the same pace, it’s going to cause deeper tensions than it’s worth.

    Speaking of Vivienne, she really has had a rough week, hasn’t she.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alivaril

      Well, it doesn’t ALWAYS end poorly. There are sometimes story arcs where characters handle themselves just fine. Usually to illustrate that, while they’re most dangerous as part of a team, they still shouldn’t be underestimated while solo. That being said, the chosen chapter quote makes that rather more unlikely.

      (Also, joining the people saying the end of the chapter felt abrupt.)

      Liked by 4 people

    2. BroadAxe

      Don’t you know? You never split the party!
      Clerics in the back to keep those fighters hale and hearty,
      The wizard in the middle, where he can shed some light,
      And you never let that damn thief out of sight

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Cicero

    Seemed to end rather abruptly. I sort of except Cat to accede and the ask Masego to deliver a message to Black via Warlock that if he needs a gate all he needs to do is ask.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. grzecho2222

          Drow probably handle succession that way
          Also I’m still waiting for the moment when two fighting villain pull out “Ha ha it was first part of my plan at the same moment”, because what even is the result of this


  6. Shorter chapter, yes, but does provide some interesting information.
    The Woe have lose threads forming, that are pulling them around, and tying them up, and getting them annoyed with each other.
    If Akua catches wind of this, which whe will, she may be able to Alienate Cat from Thief, and move her closer to the tower.


  7. Silverking

    Cat, you keep viewing your party splitting up as a bad thing. Don’t you know anything about anime timeskips? When your party has had a rough time with their latest opponents, and then everyone goes in a different direction for a while, they all come back with their next power upgrades! Masego gets sorcery training from Daddy Warlock, Thief works with the Jacks to get the combat training she so desperately needs, Hakram’s Adjutant Name evolves to Captain (or possibly the Callow equivalent of Chancellor).

    Oh, just had a thought: Catherine’s biggest limiter in regards to Winter has not been drawing on enough power, but keeping her mind to going Stupid Evil. This is because this leaves her open against the machinations of Good and Practical Evil (like Malicia and the Dead King)…but what if “Classic Evil” with the power to back it up is exactly how to get the drow to like her?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. If there’s a Callowan equivalent to Chancellor, it’s probably something along the lines of Castellan or Steward. At least, for the nominal administrative role/aspects involved; Chancellors often promoted themselves to Dread Emperor/Empress over the corpse of their predecessor, which probably doesn’t have an equivalent Name role in Callow.
      That said, I’m not convinced that there is a Callowan equivalent. Remember, the Callowan crown only came with a Name about half the time, per EE. Sure, some probably got their Names before wearing the crown, and would’ve had it while being Crown Prince(ss), but …

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Metrux

      Just a problem: Hakram’s Name is not transitional. He is the Adjutant, and this won’t change as long as Cat is alive and kicking. Also, Thief should train with him, not the Jack’s, because the whole of the Jack’s wouldn’t stop a single other member of the woe, and she would be fighting people capable of giving them pause 😉


  8. Someguy

    I have this image in my head of Masego meeting Warlock and just transmitting a memory packet into his head the Essay “What I learned on my Field Trip to Keter”.

    Liked by 7 people

  9. Snowfire1224

    That’s the second time Cat has had to pressure Thief into something, the first being the comsideration of the Dead King as an ally. I get the feeling that having to pressure her more than once is going to come back to bite her at some point.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Splitting the party for doing things is a classic mistake. On the other hand … it’s not like they’ve got a decent alternative.
    Masego going to talk/yell at his fathers is inevitable.
    Somebody has to pick up the pieces in Callow, and realistically, unless they’re aborting the attempt to deal with the Drow altogether and Cat goes to Callow, the best way to do that is the dual team of Hakram and Thief.

    That said … really not sure that the Drow are worth it.

    Still not sure why Cat hasn’t notified Black that Malicia made a deal to let the Dead King loose.
    Even if she doesn’t want to step on his toes, or base a plan on him and the Legions with him … giving Black a heads up is the least she can do – she warned Hasenbach, after all. Though warning Hasenbach will probably end up diverting at least some attention from Black.

    Wonder where, and how far, Warlock is going to go. And who he’ll ultimately side with.

    Wait, what happened to the Wild Hunt? Did they just wander off after leaving the city of Keter?
    Or did Cat send them somewhere?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ezreon

      They are in Arcadia probably, wasting time. She can’t scry him over all the distance, mountains and such. Hasenbach has her artefact to establish connection, Black does not


      1. Except Black is somewhere in Procer – he just finished dancing everything that mattered in Cantal, and is heading to do the same to Iserre.
        Cat and company are, at the moment, on the same side of the mountains as Black, with nothing in the way but distance. And technically the curvature of the planet. They’re on the shore of the lake between the Kingdom of the Dead and the Everdark.
        Depending on positioning, there could well be mountains in the way of scrying the Observatory in Callow.

        On the other hand, it has just occurred to me that Cat could intentionally (consciously or subconsciously) be leaving Black in the dark/ not contacting him so as to avoid putting him in a position where he’d be forced to choose sides between Cat and Malicia.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. delspaig

    Don’t you know you never split the party? Clerics in the back to keep the fighters hale and hardy? You keep the Warlock in the middle to shed a little light, and you never let that damn Thief out of sight!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Whale

    I actually like it incredibly that the characters are fleshed out so well that this split, despite not being the best decision for them as as group, felt inevitable.
    It really creates a feeling the characters are the one making the story and the author is just here for the ride.

    Plus, as someone already said, they need time alone for future character developments and it tends to be put aside when they’re with Catherine as she overshadows them with her personality and the scope of her struggles both in their world and in reader’s eyes.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Iconochasm

      Exactly. There is a price to being the plot-driver in an adventuring party, and that price is that when someone gets snagged by a personal plotline hook, you have to let it happen. Ideally, actively support it.


  13. RanVor

    I doubt Masego is in any kind of danger while in Thalassina. Wekesa would never hurt his son, nor would he allow anyone to do so.

    Keeping him away and occupied while the Empress deals with Cat, on the other hand…

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Didn’t expect to see such hypocrisy in Cat, both in her actions and her thoughts. I’m profoundly dissapointed. Calling Masego selfish while forcing him to choose between his friends and family just cause he’s useful? Feeling betrayed that Hakram had an opinion?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Twisting Viviene into accepting something, again, cause she is tired of arguing, and not even trying to mend the fences after that? Fuck, treating friends like tools and subordinates? And she calls Masego selfish?

      Also there’s stuff from previous chapter with putting grief and anger in the box and whatnot. Cat has made some character growth, but I doubt it’s in the good direction. Also, really unexpected, to be fair. Or maybe I’m just thick, but such conflict (as it implied) needs to be properlyforshadowed, otherwise it feels kinda empty. Like forced drama.


  15. Hellspirit

    the Author seems to have a tendency to build everything up at the start of their book and then once Catherine is on top; start pulling out the rugs, making the next situation one step worse then the previous one, only to have Cathrine (her side at least) turn all (everything) around at the end in a power trip.

    Considering these, it seems we’re pretty close of not at “Rock Bottom” for Cat.


  16. Gunslinger

    Opening quote is quite a bit of foreshadowing though one has to consider if hero axioms would apply to the Woe.

    Wohoo now we get to see the Drow, always up for more sightseeing though I’m not sure how they fit into the overall picture. I suspect Cat will fail there again before having to rely on Black or something.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. grzecho2222

      All of them are heroes in their own ways,
      “Born under cursed stars…You most of all, Catherine Foundling. The five of you would be woe unto all you behold”
      Orphan trying to save her people
      Wizard trying to save the reality
      Thief trying to steal back what was taken
      Warrior trying to make things right
      Former slave trying to be the most free that she can be

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Amoonymous

      I mean, it’s been a mildly large plot point acknowledged in the story itself that Catherine in particular (and by extension the Woe as a whole) are villains playing heroic roles.

      I’m pretty sure we’ve already seen traditionally heroic tropes used in the Woe’s favor, so to me the opening quote is such blatant foreshadowing that it’s like being hit by a brick (not that that’s a bad thing). My thoughts are the “captured” will be Masego since he’s going both solo and in enemy territory; whether the captor will be his father or Malicia to use against his father who knows. It is worth noting Warlock could be considered Malicia’s lieutenant in context of the preface quote.

      It could also just be a setup to subvert that foreshadowing though, but it feels like that’ll be less likely.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. grzecho2222

        The lieutenants that I think are left are: Iron Prince to Cordelia, Lady Ime to Malicia, this one general to Kairos, Hakram to Cat and Champion to White Knight


  17. Mike E.

    ““Catherine,” Masego said gently. “I know you would prefer I remain at your side. I am not displeased by this. Yet there is nothing down your current path that matters more to me than getting answers from my fathers. We are not debating. I am awaiting your final silence.””

    Gods I love Zeze.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Letouriste

    That’s probably the most interesting way to go with that. Congratz EE, you found it. The impossible trio deep in the dark forest, the duo not completely trusting each other but complementing each other really well and fitting the problem at hand and finally masego stop being there for safety and easy jokes=> forcing you to explore Archer character more and helping the development of cat-akua strange relationship. I just realized this book really developed Thief and Archer as main characters, they were always in the background before. Same for akua somehow.
    On another note, I start to hope cat will someday visit some hell and find people she know there;)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Azure

      I’m with Vivienne here and don’t want to see anymore Akua being let off the leash. She’s just too good at manipulation and Catherine is just too dumb for her. Splitting the party was necessary here, and yes Catherine had no choice, but she needs to acknowledge that she needs more safeguards against Akua. She needs to put her back in the box and never let her out again, unless either Hakram or Vivienne are around. Catherine cannot handle Akua and will let that leash slip inch by inch. That’s the irritating thing about Catherine at the moment. She isn’t acknowledging the fact that she isn’t capable of handling Akua alone and is instead putting her head into the tiger’s mouth.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. RanVor

        You know, Cat didn’t get where she is now by playing safe. If she put avoiding risks over getting the job done, she would never achieve anything. There are currently too many messes needing to be taken care of immediately and only so many people to take care of them. This was bound to happen sooner or later. Sure, depending on Akua is dangerous, but in this situation, not depending on her is a game over. This may not be the smart solution, but it’s the only solution.

        Liked by 2 people

  19. Someguy

    “And so Subira of the Sahelians slew Maleficent and said: ‘Emperor am I now, Sinister of name and deed. Let this be the truth of our empire, that iron ever sharpens iron ‘til the last cut is made.’”
    —Extract from the Scroll of Thrones, second of the Secret Histories of Praes

    Someone make Black a sword named “Last Cut”.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Maginot

    I think I have made an error of confusion.

    Is Masego going to the Thalassocracy of Ashur (the country/island to the south) or to Thalassinia (the city in Praes)? With the Augurs prophecy of woe to the south, I thought it the country. Masego’s reference to killing Ashurans on the way out strengthened that idea. So too did the comment about Warlock cooking up something the Ashurans would regret.

    But the concerns about Malicia and no one to protect Masego seem to indicate the City.
    Attacking the Country had seemed brilliant. It had seemed like the coming of a great pincer movement. The Helike Tyrant about to attack Ashur while the fleets were far away. And the Woe/Warlock creating their own mischief.

    Unless the Ashuran fleets have continued bombardments and move closer in, even to the city, then I cannot decide which is which.


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