Chapter 55: Outskirts

“Over the month I spent in Atalante I witnessed no fewer than two hundred debates take place under the gaze of the pale statues of the Temple of Manifold Truths, for the people of the city delight in such exercises of rhetoric as those of Stygia delight in bloodsport. The subjects varied from the purpose of mankind to the proper shape of apples, though the true wonder of the place was that I do not believe a single speaker left the Temple believing they had been wrong.”
– Extract from ‘Horrors and Wonders’, famed travelogue of Anabas the Ashuran

I’d come across more than my fair share of impressive fortifications, over the years. Summerholm, the river-straddling Gate of the East. Liesse, whose walls had been old and half-abandoned yet still holding sorcery powerful enough to give pause to the full might of the Summer Court. Ater, the Dread Empire’s own capital, with towering walls and massive gates that had held strong under the Tower’s shadow for millennia. Keter, Crown of the Dead, a haunting spire of rock beholden to no laws but the Dead King’s that had turned back crusade after crusade. This, though? This was laughable. There were fortifications in northern Callow, a region that had not known the touch of war for a hundred years before Procer created the passage, that were greater than this. When Ivah had called the ‘fortress’ at the edge of Kodrog territory a ring of stones, I’d thought it half-poetry. Daoine and the eastern stretches of Callow boasted old fortifications called the same thing, ancient broken-down forts used in wars that predated the unification of the kingdom and peace with the Deaoraithe. Many of them had been made into the heart of small towns and villages, the hill-forts used as a guild hall or minor noble’s seat. What I was looking at right now was not that: it was a literal ring of stones.

A few narrow tunnels had led us out of the butcher’s yard and into what had once been the lands of the Kodrog, our first approach into another large cavern almost intimidating. There were no corpses to be found, but thrice we came across trails of blood on the stone where dead drow had been dragged. The way into the great cavern was through an angle slope, narrow as the tunnel that had led us there, and part of me noted that this was a natural chokepoint. Easily defendable with a company of crossbowmen and some half-way decent infantry. The ancient drow apparently agreed, for mere feet beyond the end of the slope the ring of stones stood. The sight of it had me raising an eyebrow in skepticism. It wasn’t indefensible, really. The slabs of granite making a loose circle of upright stones could serve as a curtain wall of sorts. Or they would have been able to, without the large gap in the slabs just to the side. Anyone could just… walk right in. That wasn’t a fortification so much as a decoration. The dwarves had apparently been of the same opinion, because they’d wasted no time filling it with corpses.

I’d had dinner with Baroness Anne Kendal, after ascending to the throne, and over pheasant she’d praised me for how quickly I’d reacted to Akua unleashing devils at First Liesse. Said that most would have been stricken with terror, and that my swift decision to ‘conscript’ everyone in the city had saved dozens of thousands of lives. I’d not quite had the heart to tell her by then I’d bared blades at things scarier than mere devils. When I came knocking at the gates of Liesse with the Fifteenth, even my legionaries no longer flinched in the face of the hosts of Hell. Masego had called it horror fatigue. The way some people beheld so much terror their standards shifted and sights that would have once horrified them grew mundane. It was apparently a common phenomenon among Praesi sorcerers. On occasion it led to diseases of the mind, he’d noted, when mages witnessed so many terrors that it was the mundane matters of the rest of the world that grew eldritch to their eyes. I wondered if I was inching towards that, one slaughtering yard at a time, because the aftermath of brutality no longer stirred any great feeling in me.

Most the corpses in the fort had not been slain there. There were tracks leading to tall piles beneath the stones, and even taller ones inside the circle. If there had been marks of fighting there, they were now buried in death. I heard Archer come towards me as I stood a handful of feet from the piled dead within the embrace of raised stones.

“The trail leads north,” Indrani said.

I nodded.

“Did it betray anything about their numbers?” I asked.

“Hundreds, at least,” she shrugged. “Hard to tell the difference between those and thousands on stone grounds. There’s tracks though, from carts or something else on wheels. Heavy things, I’m pretty sure even the wheels are metal.”

My fingers clenched, then unclenched. It had always helped me think, but there was too little to go on here to make any real deductions. It might be carts to carry whatever they’d come for back to the Kingdom Under. They could be supply wagons. They could be machines of war, as Ivah had said the dwarves sometimes used to slay the Mighty. Hells, it could be all of that. We wouldn’t know for sure unless we took a look with our own eyes, and that struck me as a bad idea for all sorts of reasons. I glanced at Indrani.

“Do we know what’s north?” I said.

“Ivah says it’s the core territories of the Kodrog,” she replied. “We’re still in the outskirts of the outer rings. I’ll be at least a few days of travel before we reach the first ruins.”

Piecing together the lay of the Everdark from what my guide was very willing to share had been difficult, even though Ivah was trying its best. The drow considered too many things to be self-evident to be a proper informant. The outer rings, as far as I could tell, were the drow territories outside the loose web of underground cities that had once made up their empire. Those were the harshest battlegrounds of their people, and a gathering place for the strongest Sigils and cabals. The inner ring, singular, was vaguer in what it covered. From context, it seemed to mean all the territories between the old cities. There the tribes that’d been forced out of the cities fought against each other, murdering their way to enough power to try to get a foot in a city again. The cities were where the strongest of the Mighty gathered, Ivah had said, but the inner ring was where a Sigil could be wiped out in a night. Those that fled that underground sea of carnage eked out a living in the outer rings, but pickings were sparse out here. It was uncommon for a Sigil that bolted to the outskirts to make a comeback, even if they bided their time for a few decades.

Holy Tvarigu was at the centre of the madness, the handful of paths leading to it guarded by powerful Sigils who were said to rival those of the cities. We’d need to gather strength and support, before trying those.

“There’s one last thing,” Indrani said. “I found black blood.”

My eyes narrowed. That meant a Mighty. Ivah had been clear that the more Night a drow held, the deeper the changes to their body. I had no reason to distrust that: after reaping the harvest of the cavern it had visibly changed.

“Show me,” I said.

“Sure,” she said. “It’s not far. Want to grab our favourite scavenger in case there’s a survivor?”

“Might be for the best,” I agreed.

And still she did not move. I cocked an eyebrow.


Her lips thinned.

“You all right, Cat?” she asked. “You’ve been looking at dead bodies for a while. And not that long ago you were hearing voices.”

“Just the one,” I sighed. “And that was the Priestess of Night, I’m sure of it.”

“I’m sure you believe that,” Indrani delicately said.

“I’m not quite that far gone,” I reassured her. “Anyways, I’m not going morbid on you. I was actually wondering why they’re not burning the bodies. Wouldn’t it make more sense?”

“Not a lot of firewood down here,” she replied. “And you need that or oil to get a good pyre started.”

“I really doubt the dwarves ready to commit mass slaughter without tallying proper supplies,” I said. “If they’re really killing everyone to make sure there can be no harvest, it’d be logical to burn the dead. Can’t claim Night from ashes, I don’t think.”

“If they’re as prepared as you say, they’ll have a reason for it,” Indrani pointed out. “I try not to spend too much time figuring out why dwarves do what dwarves do. You’ll only end up with a headache and an empty purse by trying.”

“We’re missing something,” I told her. “I’m not gonna go digging in corpses to find out – we don’t have the time to spare – but it’s worth asking questions.”

“Somehow I doubt our little band of murderers is going to have a good explanation for you,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Come on, let’s grab our minion. We’re wasting daylight, even if we can’t see it.”

The rest of our company wasn’t far. I’d learned why the drow were so afraid of coming close to the corpses, after a little chat with Ivah. It’d said it wasn’t the death that scared most of them. It was all the Night that waited there to be taken. By beating them down, we’d established ourselves as higher on the pecking order. Drow who eyed Night ripe for harvest when stronger drow were around tended to end up killed just to make sure there’d be no trouble. Diabolist was keeping an eye on the prisoners, but Ivah was visibly itching to have a look at the corpses. It didn’t consider itself strong enough to just harvest the Night no matter what we said, then. Good. As long as it was afraid of us, it’d uphold its part of the bargain with no qualms.

“Ivah,” I called out. “With us. Archer has found a Mighty’s blood trail.”

“I follow, Queen,” the silver-eyed creature smoothly replied.

Its eyes were brighter, now, but that was the least of the changes. Where before it had been stooped by days of travel with limited supplies and little sleep, now its back was ramrod straight and its stride had grown assured. The skin was still pale grey, but now and then from the corner of my eyes I could have sworn I saw small arcane patterns of Night shine on its bare arms. I suspected there’d been other changes less obvious, though it was hard to gauge something like senses and reflexes without actually testing them. The rest of the cavern beyond the ring of stones was a great deal less bloody. There were trails and footsteps on the dust and dirt, but little else. A handful of leather tents and fire pits skirted the edge of the walls, not enough to shelter more than a few hundred drow. There was at least twice that in dead inside the fort, which meant the corpses had likely been gathered from other tunnels and caverns. Three passages out could be found. Two heading north, side-to-side, and one towards the east. It was that last one Indrani led us towards.

Unlike the last stretch of tunnels out of the Gloom, these were not carved or sculpted. Apparently even when the realm of the drow had still been worth such a name, this had been considered the edge of nowhere. We passed through a small cave half-filled by ponds of water, though they’d all been fouled by dirt and blood, and only found what Indrani had mentioned after another stretch of winding tunnel. There was a naked body, which she hadn’t mentioned, but it was easy to see why. It was a ruined wisp of a cadaver: the head had been pulped, but the rest was a ruin without needing wounding. It looked like it’d been exsanguinated, drained of all fluids and insides until all that was left was paper-thin grey skin and hollow bones. In other news, drow did have genitalia no matter how they called themselves: this one had a cock, though it was as much a shrivelled husk as the rest of it. Black blood and brain fluids formed a blasphemous halo around the wreck of the head, but that wasn’t the interesting part. From the body another trail came. There were bits of blood in it, but also some sort of transparent fluid gone dry. A sticky, stinking trail led from the corpse deeper into the passage ahead.

“Another twenty feet of crawling, then whatever came out got on its feet,” Indrani said. “From there it’s just drip. Haven’t touched the body yet, figured you’d want the honours.”

“Kind of you,” I drily said. “Ivah, anything to say?”

“This is not known to me,” the drow admitted. “Though none but Mighty would have blood so dark.”

Less than helpful. I knelt by the body, gingerly raising it. Immediately my eyebrows climbed up. The entire back was messed up, like something had ripped its way out forcefully. Almost no blood, though. At a guess, whatever had left the trail was responsible.

“Looks like our friend here had one last trick up their sleeve,” I said. “Ivah, you mentioned something called the Secret of Many Lives to me once. Would this be what it looks like in action?”

“I have never witnessed this with my own eyes,” the drow said. “Only heard rumours. Yet if this is true, we look upon the body of Mighty Kodrog. Or one who slew them and claimed the whispers.”

“Let’s find out,” I grimly said.

I left the body there. There was no Night in it, and I wasn’t sure I should let Ivah harvest it even if there was. We set out again, though the trip was amusingly short. Maybe sixty feet further, after the trail of dried fluids had ended, another corpse was waiting. Its head had been pulped as well. There was another trail, and we didn’t stop to check the body before following this time. Apparently the dwarves hunting Kodrog has lost patience, because when we found the next body not even twenty feet further around a corner it was thoroughly demolished. No flesh or bone had been left untouched, the remains more smear than corpse. And still a trail crawled away from it. I heard a rasping breath, further ahead. Had the hunters missed the last rebirth?

“There’s something still breathing,” I announced, and pressed on at a pace.

Indrani snorted.

“Yeah, not surprised,” she said. “Look at the fluids, Cat. It didn’t crawl away, it was dragged.”

Honestly the trail looked to me exactly like the others, but she was the tracker and I was the city girl. Regardless, we did not make the survivor wait long. I almost winced at the sight, after we stumbled across it. This particular body was no husk like the others, though it might wish otherwise. The naked drow had been nailed to the tunnels’ wall with iron spikes through the shoulders and calves, limbs flopping listlessly. The drow’s eyes were closed, but I could hear it breathe just fine. It was still rather improbably alive. Ivah breathed in sharply, and earned a curious look for it.

“This is Mighty Kodrog itself,” my guide said. “The wound splitting the lip in half, it is famed. The blade of the Mighty Soln caused it.”

There was a rather nasty scar and chunk of missing flesh parting the drow’s lower lip in half. More interesting were the nigh-invisible patterns of Night covered Kodrog’s face, surrounding the closed eyes like they were some sort of spider web. It looked like a tattoo of arcane symbols I was unfamiliar with, though a very faint one. Apparently the repeated rebirths had weakened the Mighty considerably.

“It’s unconscious,” I said. “Let’s drag it back to camp, see if we can wake it up there.”

“You’re going to have to handle the spikes,” Indrani said. “That’s solid rock they were hammered into. Not sure I could pull them out.”

I grimaced but got to work. The difficult part was doing it carefully enough I wouldn’t rip up Kodrog’s body, not taking them out, and greyish blood began pouring out the moment they were removed. No longer black, huh. Someone had had a rough week. I froze the wounds shut, which was about as much as I knew of healing, and hoisted the drow over my shoulder when it became clear the pain wasn’t enough to wake it up. Ivah was looking at me carrying a Mighty like a bag of potatoes like it didn’t know whether it should be amused or appalled. The walk back was quicker, though I was careful not to jostle the goods. In part because I didn’t want to worsen the bleeding, in part because when strangers dangled their dangly parts against me I preferred fewer gaping wounds being involved. A rustle when through the prisoners when we returned bearing our newest addition, a few whispered words in Crepuscular being traded. Kodrog was the only word I recognized. I lowered said burden to the floor carefully and smiled at Akua, who’d silently approached.

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” I cheerfully said.

“Joy,” Diabolist drawled. “More half-dead drow. My favourite. I expect you want me to attend to it?”

“If anyone’s going to know what happened here, it’s that one,” I said. “I need it capable of talking.”

“That much I can promise,” the shade noted. “How long it will remain that way is more chancy a matter.”

“Do what you can,” I said.

“Ugh, does that leave me on guard duty?” Indrani asked. “Because that’s really tedious. You won’t even let me make them fight.”

“I’m sure Ivah can inform them of the consequences of acting out,” I said, casting an eye as said drow.

It nodded slowly.

“Find me in what direction the dwarves went,” I told Archer. “Try to find out numbers, or anything more than we have. If you run into any of them…”

“Stay out of sight, head back immediately,” she said. “I’ve got it. How long you giving me?”

I chewed my lip.

“We’ll need a while for the interrogation,” I said, watching Akua begin to remove the ice I’d shut the wounds with. “We might as well make camp here. A few hours, at least, but careful not to get lost.”

“I never once in my life got lost,” Indrani assured me.

“Last month you told me you’d been sober your whole life,” I noted. “You really should start picking better lies.”

“That sounds like a horrible way to live,” Indrani said.

I rolled my eyes.

“Just don’t get killed,” I said. “Or start another war. Gods know we already have a net surplus of those, and the year’s not even over.”

She waved me away in a less than reassuring gesture, but she adjusted her bow against her shoulder and got moving towards the north-leading passages. She might give me backtalk the way sparrows flew, but I knew I could trust her to pull through when I needed her. I had few worries about her reconnaissance.

“Now would be a good time to inform your fellows we’re camping,” I told Ivah. “They’re free to scavenge tents and necessities, though they are not to touch the Night.”

“As you say, Queen,” the drow nodded.

I watched it walk over to the others, then returned my attention to Akua. I dropped down next to the body in a seat, watching her work Winter into dying flesh. There was Night in this one, though unlike the one in the corpses it was not reaching for me. Neither was it hostile, though. It was just there. A tool in someone’s hand, firmly grasped.

“How’s it looking?” I asked.

“More than halfway into the grave,” Diabolist said. “Which eases my work a great deal.”

I didn’t need to ask her why. What instincts my mantle had granted me made me aware that Winter held dominion over death and decay, among other things. I’d dabbled in necromancy as the Squire, but I remained an amateur at the art. When Akua had ridden my body, she’d raised an army of dead Procerans without even using a ritual.

“It’s a recurring pattern, with you,” the shade said. “That you use and demand others use powers in way that seem ill-suited to them.”

“Power’s a tool,” I said, repeating someone else’s words. “The only limit to its use is your own cleverness.”

“Spare me the Carrion Lord’s lessons, if you would,” Akua said. “I have heard them before. My point stands. Even as the Squire your use of your limited necromantic abilities was admittedly inspired. Never before had I seen someone kill their own flesh to better wield it.”

“Desperation is a sharp teacher,” I grunted.

“So it is,” Diabolist mildly said. “Still, you extend this philosophy beyond the boundaries I expected.”

I scoffed.

“How’s that?”

“This entire enterprise, dearest,” Akua said. “To be frank, I am still somewhat at a loss as to why we now tread the passages of the Everdark.”

“You were there when the decision was made,” I reminded her. “I –”

“Need an army, yes,” she interrupted. “Surely that is not all of it? I surmised this to be the excuse you gave to mask deeper purpose.”

“I don’t lie when holding council with the Woe, Akua,” I said. “Even when you’re there.”

Scarlet eyes considered me skeptically.

“Then you truly came to gather a host of drow?” she said. “That seems ill-advised.”

I frowned at the casual dismissal. Still, I’d let her out of the box for a reason. She had a better grasp on the corridors of power than any of the Woe, and if she had something to say it was worth hearing. Not necessarily heeding, but at the very least listening to.

“You’re aware of our military situation,” I said.

“I am, to an extent,” she agreed. “The Battle of the Camps thinned the ranks overmuch, which led you to seek the Dead King in the first place. There was need for the hosts of Procer to be sent elsewhere and bled. This has already been achieved, Catherine, by the Empress’ own pact.”

“Look deeper,” I said. “What’s the thing that keeps Callow afloat?”

“Farming,” she replied without missing a beat. “I do not disagree with you on the implication, my dear. Your kingdom has weathered a large-scale rebellion, the invasion of the Courts and my own works. If the Army of Callow recruits as heavily as it must to be more than a border garrison, there will be lack of field hands come harvest. Which would have consequences more disastrous in Callow than most realms, admittedly, as it boasts little but fertile fields.”

My own works, she’d said. Almost nonchalantly. Three words for over a hundred thousand souls. The urge was there to simply tear her in half. Pop her head with a squeeze of my fingers, have Winter itself devour her from the inside. I pulsed with the need of it. And you feared I might grow attached, Vivienne, I thought. That I might come to see her as more than the useful devil on my shoulder. I mastered myself, kept the flare of rage away from my face. Not even a slight cooling of the air betrayed it. I’d learned the ways of my mantle well. It would not do to punish her for this, no. Best she keep speaking those words, those barbed reminders of who it was I had murdered into my service.

“Then you know why I need another force on the field,” I said. “One that can take the losses I can’t afford.”

“There are others you might have sought,” Akua noted. “Lord Black still fields legions, and his fondness for you is well-known.”

“Black’s running a game in Procer,” I said. “I don’t know what it is yet, because I don’t know what he’s really after. If he intended to depose Malicia, his opening was just after Second Liesse. He went to the Vales instead, prepared for the crusade. He had most of a year, Diabolist. To plan and plot. It’s not happenstance that the Vales were collapsed and he’s wandering the heartlands of the Principate. He’s trying to accomplish something. The Gods only know what it is, if even that. I’m not getting in the middle of that mess without a very good reason.”

“You have ties to the sole Court of Arcadia,” Diabolist noted. “Bargain might have been struck there.”

“You think that’s better than the drow?” I snorted. “Last time I went for a spin with the King of Winter, I got taken for a ride. I doubt I’ve learned enough in the last year to turn that around, and you can be sure that any pact made with Arcadia will result in the fae having a permanent foothold on Creation. I might as well start calling on fucking demons – those are easier to put away after you let them loose.”

“The Dread Empire-”

“Was a possibility I considered,” I interrupted flatly. “Of course, to get my hands on any of its armies I’d need to climb the Tower and make it stick. Which means I’ll likely have to assault a few of the most heavily fortified cities on the continent with my already mangled forces. Possibly fight Malicia’s loyalist Legions as well. Losses are certain, and even if I win I inherit a mess. Ashur’s still sacking the coasts, Akua. I can’t call myself Empress and just… leave them to it. Not to mention the dangers inherent to killing the person that let the Dead King out. Could mean he has to retreat, which would fuck over a now even more wounded Callow. We’d have to go back and negotiate, assuming he’s even willing. Or it could mean he’s loose with absolutely no leash on him.”

“I believe you underestimate the amount of support a bid for the Tower would find in the Wasteland,” Diabolist said. “There are promises that could see many flock to your banner.”

“Oh, I know all about those kinds of promises,” I murmured. “There are some prices even I balk at paying. I will not wade into a snake pit just to try turning the snakes on my foes, Akua. I have no intention of ever ruling Praes.”

“You may not have a choice,” Diabolist mildly said. “Though I shall let the matter lie. It will come to your door without any need for my advocacy.”

“You should hope not,” I replied. “If Praes is made my problem, I will not be gentle in how I solve it. Should we go over our other options? The League won’t talk with me if the Hierarch won’t, and the man is both mad and stubborn as a mule. The Chain of Hunger cannot be treated with to any real degree, the elves would shoot any envoy of mine on sight and the closest thing the Gigantes have to an ally – Levant – is currently at war with me. You think I’m stalking these fucking tunnels because I want to? I need the men and there is no one else.”

The last sentence came out in a hiss, almost like a wound lanced of pus.

“I understand,” Akua said.

“No, you don’t,” I replied. “I drew a line in the sand, after my coronation. That if all I could accomplish was make a ruin out of Callow, I would melt the godsdamned crown and go into exile. Or walk to the gallows, if that was what it took. The crusade was always going to come, there was nothing I could do about that. But now, Diabolist, even if my armies win the coming battles the kingdom is fucked. We were already a bad summer away from widespread food shortages, when I left. How do you think it will go if the fields are empty at harvest? Either this works, or I’m done. I capitulate, do whatever is necessary for Hasenbach to offer terms that aren’t complete subjugation and kill as many problems as I can before I die.”

“You are what keeps this together, Catherine,” Akua warned me. “If you abdicate, the kingdom collapses into anarchy. Malicia will likely invade and even the League might be swayed by such a tempting feast. Do you think Callow can weather the Dead King without you?”

“The question isn’t ‘will it bad?’,” I said. “Of course it’ll be awful. Even if I clean up every loose end I can before going, it’ll be a shitshow. The question that needs to be asked is ‘will it be worse if I’m wearing the crown?’.”

“The only reason Callow was more than a waypoint on Cordelia’s way to Ater is that your power gave the Principate pause,” Diabolist said. “This is… navel-gazing in the worst of ways. Do you think you are responsible for every disaster to plague your homeland?”

“They happened on my watch,” I said. “I had a responsibility. If I’d fucking bled you like a pig at Liesse, no matter the consequences to me, a hundred thousand people would be alive today. Winter went after Marchford because it was my demesne. Summer torched a third of the south to match Winter. And the Liesse Rebellion… well, you weren’t the only person I should have killed then and let’s leave it at that.”

“It is absurd to pretend to you did not mitigate the damage inflicted,” Akua flatly said. “You dispersed the Courts yourself. To clarify, you drove back forces as older than the First Dawn at the mere cost of a few leagues of burned land. Who else could have brought the invasions to an end at even twice that cost? And let us not pretend to you were the only possible pawn for Winter’s king. The Courts did not emerge in Praes, where bargains would have been eagerly taken, or fractious Procer or the squabbling lands of the Dominion. Why, I wonder? It is almost as if Callow was easiest prey, the most vulnerable locale. You ended the Liesse Rebellion on lenient terms, your mere existence enough to soften the stances of both the Carrion Lord and the Empress against those who raised banner against the Tower. Not a matter in which either would otherwise have been prone to so mild a response. Had you not been on the field at Second Liesse, I would very likely have slain your teacher and triumphed. You seem under the misapprehension that the rest of the continent fights over Callow because you bear the crown. That is disingenuous. Callow suffers because it is weak. Because greater powers can afford to make it a tool to expunge their own troubles. The Principate, the Empire, half the heroes that flocked to the Tenth Crusade. Do you truly believe your kingdom, even under a villainous queen, is greater threat to Good and Calernia than the Kingdom of the Dead? Than the Chain of Hunger?”

“There’s a balance of power,” I said. “The Grey Pilgrim admitted as much.”

“Indeed,” Akua sneered. “The Principate cannot afford too many powers sworn to Evil at its borders, is it? Yet you could have been made friend, through the right treaties. Can the same be said of the Hidden Horror? Yet is is Callow that was marched upon, and Praes beyond it. Because if the First Prince had called for a crusade against Keter, none would have answered. Because against the Kingdom of the Dead the Principate did not believe it could win, and Callow was weaker.”

“You stated the very reason,” I grimly smiled. “Against Keter, she did not believe she could win. And so the strategic reality was that a villainous queen in Callow was unacceptable. You’re also dismissing the fact that it was your own fucking doomsday fortress, built on a massacre of my countrymen it is worth remembering, that served as the rallying cry for this mess.”

“I will not defend what I did,” Akua said. “There is nothing defensible about failure, and my means were abhorrent to you. Yet I will remind you that Procer loomed at the gate long before my works took place. I served as an excuse, it is true. And for my sins judge me as you will, for that is your right and privilege as victor. Yet even had you slain me long before, excuse would have been found sooner or later – Praes ruling Callow was no more acceptable than your bearing a crown, after all. You are a justification, Catherine. You are not a motive. At best, you were ancillary to the reasons forces went into motion.”

“I could have gone the other way,” I said. “I was made an offer, in Liesse. If I’d signed up with the Heavens-”

“You would have been slain, fallen upon by the full roster of the Calamities and your own allies,” she said. “The Black Knight, deeming your existence a failed experiment, would have set to ensuring Callow was incapable of rising in rebellion when Procer came calling. I need not remind you of the manner of methodical butchery your teacher is capable of.”

“So that’s your fine wisdom?” I mocked. “Thousands died under your watch but it’s all right, because thousands would have died either way?”

“Yourself and the Woe, the Fifteenth you assembled painstakingly,” Akua said. “All of these are the only reason anyone of import on this continent considers Callow worth treating with. Gods Below, Catherine, do you think without your casting a long shadow the Empress would have waited this long to act? That the Carrion Lord would not have excised treason out of your kingdom? The First Prince may claim to despise all you stand for, yet she stills speaks with you. Because you wield power, warrant fear, and this means the land you rule over are more than a subject to squabble over after someone wins the war. Without the might you have assembled, the only Callow that exists is that which other powers allow to exist. Is this the sorrow you mull over late into the night? That your acts, though bloody, have made your homeland actor instead of spoils?”

“You don’t know that,” I said. “If I’d never taken Callow in hand, heroes could have risen. They have before, with reliability that borders on law.”

“The same heroes the Empire repeatedly smothered in the crib for decades before your birth?” Diabolist gently said. “Or perhaps foreign heroes, from the same nations now marching on you.”

“It’s better to be Proceran vassals than a wasteland, Akua,” I tiredly replied. “And despite my best efforts we seem to be headed that way.”

“I know few things about your people, and much I thought known has been proven false,” the shade said. “Yet how many of them would agree with what you just spoke?”

“A crowd has only one voice, and no wisdom to utter,” I quoted. “My people aren’t always right, especially when pride is on the line.”

“And so now your argument is that you know better,” Akua said. “That you should make the choices for them. Yet you deplore having done that very thing. With some defeats to show for it, yet also admirable successes. What brave soul do you happen to use for comparison, then? I am curious what world-shaking sage would have steered Callow unfailingly, had you not been at the helm.”

“Asking for whoever would have risen not to have lost the second largest city in Callow is hardly unfair,” I barked back.

“You turn blind eye to the realities of the time,” Akua noted. “Another Named would not have benefitted from your relationship to the highest tiers of Praesi power. They would have been forced to rebel while under hunt of the Calamities, raising essentially the same army that was crushed by your teacher with perhaps a few additions. Likely, they would have needed to rely on help from the Principate to stay afloat, which would have begun the Tenth Crusade with Callow the midst of a bloody civil war instead of when its borders were garrisoned. It would have been a nonentity at the peace table afterwards. Perhaps I would have been slain by such a replacement, perhaps not. It is arguable at best if the resulting body count would not have been superior, and beyond debate that the destruction would have been more widespread. The Courts of the Fair Folk would then have found that deeply divided and damaged land much easier to make sport of than it was under your aegis, however flawed.”

“You don’t know any of that,” I said. “It’s speculation.”

“Which does not seem to be of import, when you castigate yourself,” the shade said. “Your usual hypocrisies leave a better taste in the mouth. You are not even alone in those, truth be told. The First Prince calls you a warlord, though she herself rose through war to the throne through the same means. Levant was warring against the Principate not even two years ago, and Ashur was happily trading with the Wasteland but months before the Tenth Crusade was declared. I am indifferent to the moralities of this, admittedly, but they seem to matter to you and it rather beggars belief that all these rivals must now be considered righteous merely because they march against you.”

“I’m not saying they deserve to win any of this,” I got out through gritted teeth. “I’m saying it’s self-defeating to fight them for the kingdom’s sake if the price of that fight is to break the fucking kingdom.”

“The Kingdom of Callow is already broken,” Akua frankly said. “You’ve succeeded at keeping it from falling apart entirely after evicting Praes, which is already impressive. Catherine, four years ago there was no kingdom. There were only the provinces, ruled by the edicts of the Carrion Lord. In that span, your pried your homeland out of the Empress’ grip with minimal destruction and forced a semblance of order onto a realm that was under occupation for several decades. All the while fending off repeated interventions from the two largest nations on the surface of Calernia. This strange expectation you have that anyone, including you, taking up the crown would lead to miracles is rather naïve. Nation-building is not the stuff of months, my dear, which is more or less what you managed to wrest away from more powerful and experienced rulers trying to deny you even that.”

“So I’m the lesser evil,” I bitterly smiled. “There’s a familiar tune. Been a while since it last managed to lull me to pleasant sleep.”

“It is most easy to fall short of a paragon of victory existing only in your thoughts,” Diabolist said. “You speak as if you believe you somehow hoodwinked an entire kingdom into following you.”

“I didn’t exactly ask for opinions before the coronation,” I said.

“And yet Callow did not rebel,” Akua mused. “The remaining highborn and your officials obey your orders. You have brought every Named of note in the kingdom into your service and called the guilds, even those calling themselves dark, to heel. Your army, which is now for the most part made of your countrymen, followed you into war willingly. You are not a Fairfax, it is true. Also largely irrelevant, as they are all dead. Considering the founder of that dynasty was a mere knight, a Named with a distinguished military record can hardly be considered lesser origin.”

“Eleanor Fairfax ascended to the throne by popular acclaim,” I flatly denied.

“She was a skilled and charismatic warlord with the power to make a claim on the throne and popular backing to press it,” she meaningfully said.

“Also the blessing of the Heavens,” I drily said. “I seem to be missing that part.”

“Now we argue theology,” Akua said. “Can no crown be worthy without affirmation from Above? I’ve yet to hear of Cordelia Hasenbach receiving this accolade. Strange that it would be required of you alone.”

“You’re ignoring the part where I’m a villain,” I said.

“You have devoured your own Name and taken Winter in its place,” she said. “You share foes with Below, perhaps sympathies with some who strive against Above. I have yet to hear you offer a single prayer to my Gods, Catherine. Even if it were so, the hypocrisy here would be a deep one indeed. Where is this outrage when a Tyrant rises in Helike? Stygia pays dues only in brimstone, and Bellerophon is a maddened altar of a city. And yet no crusade darkens their doorstep. A standard upheld only when convenient is no such thing: it is merely a tool.”

“It’s a pretty song you sing me,” I admitted. “That I am not always right, but just enough. That my enemies are no better.”

“And yet,” Diabolist said, “you believe not a word of it. Why?”

I thinly smiled.

“Because it was what I wanted to hear,” I said. “And you’re Akua Sahelian.”

It was two hours before Mighty Kodrog woke, and we spent every moment of them in silence.

198 thoughts on “Chapter 55: Outskirts

    1. Yotz

      *inset ‘appropriately enthusiastic mindless accolade of implied awesomness, and flavourful assurances of incessant inexorable voting, with possible vague implications of immediate undertaking of a research project in the field of puppy-based vorschmacks with side of ardent ajika’ here*

      Liked by 11 people

  1. Sometimes the best way top gray someone to do what you want is to tell then the truth, Cat.
    Akua may be a murderous, untrustworthy, psychopathic something, who is totally on board with much of Classic/Traditional/Old School Evil, but she’s not entirely wrong here. She’s not entirely right, either, but don’t discard the entire message because of the messenger.

    Liked by 31 people

    1. Yotz

      Unfortunately, Ubua is too good at arguing. It’s “the boy who cried ‘wolf!'” situation – she is so adept and professional with her words that anything she says is doomed to be either overly scrutinized and dissected in search for several layers of hidden meanings; or just outright discarded as blatant manipulation even if it was said in sooth and from the bottom of heart.

      Liked by 14 people

      1. Decius

        Nothing Akua says is actually sooth from the bottom of her soul-container. It is all intended to manipulate. And she knows now that it will be treated cynically as manipulation.

        Her next manipulation attempt will account for that. It won’t be direct reverse psychology, it will be an attempt to assist at a course of action that Akua does not wish Cat to take. One example would be planning exactly how to abdicate, looking in detail at the things that will happen afterward and comparing them to each other, such that Cat sees how little Callow can benefit from it.

        Liked by 10 people

        1. RanVor

          DISCLAIMER: I’m going to play the devil’s advocate here. Nothing in this comment is to be read as my personal opinion on the matter.

          There’s no way in Hells you can prove the intention behind anything Akua says. We did not have the Akua viewpoint chapter since Kaleidoscope VI, and it did not reveal anything relevant to your point. All you have is an assumption, though admittedly not a baseless one.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. RanVor

            ADDENDUM (the disclaimer above still applies): Your reaction is, in fact, the proof of the truthfulness of Yotz’s comment – you immediately dismiss all of Akua’s input as manipulation, without as much as acknowledging other possibilities.

            Liked by 2 people

        2. the verbiage ecstatic

          … you’re assuming she *doesn’t* want Cat to abdicate and this *wasn’t* already reverse psychology.

          Ubua is always thinking one level of meta beyond your level.


          1. Qwormuli

            Sorry, a character in a narrative can’t be on a higher level of insight than a reader in a work with a reliable narrator. Try to not be a batman fan.


    2. Rook

      That’s the issue with Akua though. Nearly every word that comes out of her mouth is in a way the truth, framed in the right way to suit her point of view. Akua wields her words like Catherine wields steel and winter.

      Here? Akua’s arguments are completely correct in technical sense, and disastrously wrong in with regards to mindset. Her advice here is essentially the moral version of horror fatigue, as Masego labeled it so aptly.

      She’s not leading Cat’s next step right into a pit – just the opposite, she’s saying just what Cat needs to hear to put aside her self-doubt and get out of the current mess. But if you buy into the message in the long term, you’ll look back a thousand steps later and wonder where it all went wrong. That near-flagellant level of self criticism that works against her in some fights is the safety net that keeps her from going into freefall, as she’s crossing all these lines.

      Cross the line if you have to. Thoroughly cross it, if need be. But the moment you get comfortable crossing it is when you win the battle and lose the war. It should an unwilling necessity borne with clenched teeth, not something made peace with beforehand.

      Liked by 16 people

        1. Oshi

          Because she isn’t meant to rule. She knows it. Catherine is bad at it. All she wanted was to free Callow and find someone who could rule. She’s accomplished only half of her goals. Let’s see if she can even accomplish a quarter of the rest.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Rook

            I don’t see her ever being well suited for mortal rule. Cat is the emergency airbag, not cruise control. It’ll save your life but it isn’t meant to last forever. Even if she lost the argument here she’s right in one thing, it’s best for both her and for Callow if her end goal is to ditch the throne as soon as things are stable enough.

            I mean yeah she’s competent, inspires the people, brings them together, and leads them to lop off the heads of their oppressors. But mostly from the battlefield, not from the throne.

            Generally when she’s on the throne, everything throne-related goes to shit real fast and gets held together by her Deadhand sidekick. It’s rather telling that he’s astonishingly competent at logistics and managing mundane domestic affairs, when his major role is to shore up Cat’s weaknesses.

            Liked by 1 person

    3. Dainpdf

      She argues for not improving because perfection is impossible. That is a false dichotomy. Cat speaks of getting out to cut the losses and Akua counters with hypotheticals. She’s being intellectually dishonest, if very skillfully so.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Agent J

        She’s not arguing for not improving, she’s arguing for staying the course. Abdication is nothing but a self-righteous way of abandoning the responsibilities Cat forcefully took on for herself.

        Akua’s right, no one else would’ve been able to end the civil war with as few causalities or put to bed the Arcadian incursions so swiftly. Neither Malicia not Cordelia give a single fuck about Callow or her people and both intend to screw it and them viciously for their own purposes. Callowans for their part would rather be a graveyard with an army than a conquered colony. They are not a people that take to subjugation well, and if Cat condemns them to it anyways, nothing but war, death, and misery will follow.

        Furthermore, let’s not pretend that this entire exercise has been anything but one of hypotheticals. Cat speaks of failures and hypothetical scenarios in which they might have been prevented or mitigated. Akua gives sound rebuttal to each point and buries them with her own. And after all is said, Cat has nothing left but personal attacks to throw at her. The dying gasps of a failed argument.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Dainpdf

          She does do that. Cat argues her continued rule may do more harm than good, and Akua outright responds that Cat is comparing herself to perfection.
          Here she implies that, since the perfect queen is impossible, it is futile to make such comparisons and attempt to improve in that direction.
          As for the hypotheticals, Cat starts from reasonable assumptions, while Akua attempts to feed her ego – she assumes the Fae invasion was inevitable on very little ground, and also says the Calamities would simply put down any and all heroic efforts (here she is wrong out of ignorance – she doesn’t know about the Bard’s involvement).

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Agent J

            Yes, that’s what kick started the conversation, the question of abdication, but the perfection response came when Cat began tallying her losses and contriving hypothetical ways they could have been better addressed. Akua’s response was that she handled the shitshow that is Callow as best as reasonably possible.

            Her argument then, is not “don’t improve, perfection is impossible”, it’s “so your rule hasn’t been perfect, that’s no reason to quit now”. The difference, I feel, is clear as day.

            If Cat wishes to improve and learn how to rule better, Akua seems to be in full support of that. Whatever Cat’s vision of “better” may entail. But that is not what Cat’s talking about. She’s arguing that she should put down the crown when she deems herself to be “doing more harm than good”. That’s not an argument about improving on one’s faults. That’s just quitting.

            As for how reasonable her assumptions are, we’re both a little biased in this regard. You’ve made the case for her abdication multiples times now, and I’ve been vehemently opposed to it. So I don’t really find her assumptions all that reasonable to start with. And she’s made a poor case for it in this chapter.

            Akua on the other hand has shown just how much of the problems plaguing Callow were born out of her hand and how much of an absolute disaster things would be were she not in the picture.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Dainpdf

              Choosing to rule Callow, if she is doing more harm than good, is a fault to be improved.
              Akua is not just arguing that Cat shouldn’t quit, she’s also arguing that Cat has done the best that could be done. That is an argument against examining her faults, what she could have done better.
              Akua argues for arrogance, as befits a classical villain – and, as we’ve seen with Black, that way lay defeat.


              1. Agent J

                Quitting is not improvement, it’s quitting. Let’s not mince words.

                Yes, she argued that “you did the best that could be done” in response to “I suck, someone else would have done better”. And she’s right. Those that could didn’t and those that would couldn’t. This entire story started because Cat got tired of waiting for others to get the job done so she got off her ass and did it.

                Again, Akua is not arguing for arrogance or complacency or stagnation. Akua is many things, but complacent was never one of them. Her argument is for Cat to stay the course. Keep ruling, keep defending her countrymen, keep trying to bring about the better world she envisioned all those years ago… and keep needing her service.

                That she’s a manipulative bitch with ulterior motives does not make her wrong.

                And no, she has not made an argument in favour of not examining faults, because that was never the topic on debate. Cat’s been wallowing in misery for some time now and has been contemplated just giving up. The price, apparently, was steeper than the warlord anticipated. If it gets too steep, she’s saying, she may just quit instead. That’s the debate. To quit or not to quit.

                The thing is though, Catherine is a known flagellant and takes an almost perverse pleasure in lashing herself. This is not an honest critique of her shortcomings and ruminations on ways to improve. This is another damn pity party. Gods, am I ever sick of them.

                When did our beloved Black Queen become a toddler in need of emotional coddling? Does every dozen chapters need someone to tell her to stop belly aching and get the job done? It was barely a few chapters ago that Indrani had to push her to be more decisive with the Drow captives. A few more when Hakram had to push her to be more decisive with Masego. And even Juniper had had enough with the pity sessions during the Battle of the Camps and pushed her to be more decisive with the crusaders.

                The weakest rulers, historically, have always been those left incapable of making and sticking to a decision for fear of failure. Well, those and the ones utterly lacking in agency, but when you’re grouped with toddler kings and empty figure heads, you’re in poor company.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Dainpdf

                  The belly aching thing? It’s called a conscience. And yes, quitting *is* an improvement if you are doing more harm than good. And Cat has reason to believe she has. Admitting you have done what you can but now you’re just making things worse is basic humility.
                  I never said anything about Akua arguing for complacency, only arrogance. And arrogant she is. Also, she’s not just trying to get Cat to need her. She’s trying to get Cat to fit her mold of what a villain should be. Or a ruler.
                  And that is a Dread Empress of the classic sort. Someone who uses their countrymen as a tool for their purposes, someone who achieves what they believe is greatness no matter the cost to others.


                  1. Agent J

                    I used to be terrible at riding a bike, so I stopped riding altogether and would you just look at the improvements.

                    Improvement on a situation and improvement of ability, I shouldn’t have to state, are not the same thing. You’ve been asserting that Akua’s argument is that Catherine is as good as she’ll get and there’s no point in her observing her faults and trying to become a better ruler because perfection is impossible. Yes, that’s arguing for complacency. No, that’s not at all what Akua said.

                    And a conscience? That’s a great and wonderful thing. It makes our society actually functional, unlike the Drow. But in our leaders? Is it really a good thing if it’s crippling their decision making? I’d rather a competent ruler than a kind one, and most of Cat’s senior officers would agree. The only one who puts any stock in kindness is Vivienne and she did not join Cat because she’s a boundless ray of sunshine. Hell, the man she followed before her tried to enslave an entire city.

                    Cat used to know that there was a time and place for everything, including a conscience. She’s lost sight of that lately, traumatized by Liesse as she’s been. Cat is not being humble, she’s being sheepish.


                    1. Dainpdf

                      The bycicle is a false equivalence. It’s more of a “I used to gamble in the casino. Then I noticed it only ever loses money, so I stopped.”
                      See? Improvement. Akua’s not arguing for complacency. She’s arguing for forging ahead blindly.
                      As for a conscience, it’s useful when you don’t wish to throw the baby out with the bathwater. At some point you get so involved with strengthening and securing your rule that you forget what you started to rule for.


                    2. That’s not what the argument being made actually is.
                      You’re discrediting the message because of the messenger.
                      Ignore who is saying it for the moment – focus on the statement itself.

                      What I understand Akua’s primary point to be is, in essence, this:
                      “You didn’t do a perfect job, and, sure, in hindsight, maybe you could have done a better one, but in your position, pretty much everyone else would have done a significantly worse job at the whole thing. There may be individuals who could have done parts of what you did better, but they would have done the other things significantly worse, if they could do them at all.”
                      And that’s true. No other character we have encountered or heard of could have managed the entirety of what Cat did. It would have taken someone more or less just like Cat to even come close.


                    3. Dainpdf

                      That is actually not an easy affirmation to make – saying that, absent Cat, the calamities would have just crushed all heroes ignores the fact that the Bard actually outplayed them in the League. And she was involved in Callow.
                      Plus, the whole point of the discussion is that, while Cat’s leadership has brought many victories, the cost may have been too great. Perhaps Callow’s future will see less carnage in her absence.
                      And saying that the amount of troubles would be the same with or without her is also fallacious – she’s completely ignoring how narratives work.
                      I’m not saying that Cat should quit, and that she has been a net negative for Callow. All I’m saying is that she needs to keep the possibility in mind. The moment she stops is the moment she becomes another Akua.


                    4. Absent Cat, one of the other claimants – the Praesi claimants – for Squire would have gotten the Name.
                      William (Lone Swordsman) likely either doesn’t get released by Alt-Squire or dies outright, or wins against the Squire/claimants and then runs into Black and Captain and gets murdered, or gets away before they arrive. Either way, he doesn’t get the Cat-induced change to his approach. He doesn’t have those altered Story-level motivational urges. He doesn’t form his group of Heroes. There is no group for Bard to join. He is not in, and therefore he is not protected by, a Pattern of Three with Cat/Squire, and therefore is fair game to get owned by Assassin. William doesn’t have the drive to seek out Ranger for training or to spend a year in Arcadia when she rejects him.

                      The Fifteenth is likely not formed or formed under Akua/Heiress or the Praesi alt-Squire.

                      Absent Cat, the status of Callow/the Praesi occupation of Callow, and suppression of Heroes, is more or less unchanged.

                      Absent Cat, Hakram doesn’t get his Name.

                      Cat is sufficiently rare enough in perception, point of view, motivation, ability, and position, that there is a very small subset of people who could feasibly replace her Role in full. The set of people who could partially replace her Role is somewhat larger, but still relatively small, and many of them are in opposition to the others who could fill in for the parts of her Role that they can’t.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    5. Dainpdf

                      You underestimate the Bard, for one.
                      For another, absent Cat, someone else would have taken her place. A band would have been formed. Would they have succeeded? It’s plausible.
                      You can’t just remove Cat from the picture and assume everything else happens the same way except without her.


                    6. You’re the one assuming things happen the same without Cat as they did with Cat at critical moments.

                      William only formed a band of Heroes because of what Cat said and did to him.
                      Without Cat at Summerholm as a Villain-Squire Claimant, the Praesi Squire-Claimants likely either kill William in the foundry, because none of them are getting sidetracked trying to deal with Cat, or stall him long enough for Black and Captain to show up and kill him.
                      Alternatively, William still gets away, but without the consequences of Cat inflicting Name-level motivational and objective changes the way she did, and without the protection of a Pattern of Three, which, leaves him wide open to getting owned by Assassin, and without the motivation to form and lead a group of Heroes, far less make a deal with Procer to support a rebellion.

                      In addition, without Cat, or a suitably equivalent Callowan-Villain-Candidate for the right Name, who might as well be Cat, it is unlikely that Bard would have bothered to show up to join a band of Heroes in Callow – the situation would have been more or less status quo, which she hadn’t done a thing about in twenty years.


                    7. Dainpdf

                      The Bard set up that band. It would happen with or without Cat. What she did was create a pattern of three that dragged the whole affair out and caused a lot of casualties, but the band would have popped up eventually.
                      As for why she would have moved, the timing was good. Malicia was reaching the final stages of her power centralization, Cordelia was fast approaching her unification of the Principate… There was a lot of tension in the air.


                    8. It wasn’t Bard who formed the group. It was William, under the urging of Cat’s Name-level influence on him, who called for heroes to join him. Bard showed up later.

                      Bard wouldn’t have bothered to show up without Cat, or an equivalently positioned Callowan. Bard would have accepted the Callowan status quo, as she had for the last 20 years, and waited until Cordelia called her Crusade. Maybe she would’ve shown up for the rebellion that would’ve taken place in about five years if Cat hadn’t pushed William into kicking it off early. But then, the Crusade might’ve wound up being concurrent with that. But without something or someone who is a fundamental change to the Story of Callow, like Cat, the status quo is still tolerable for Bard.
                      I suppose it’s also possible that Bard might’ve tried to give Hieress or alt-Squire a nudge or assistance towards replacing the Calamities and Malicia, with pushing Passes back towards classic/old-school Evil instead of the New Evil of Black.

                      Without William being protected by the pattern of three with Cat, he’d have been taken out by Assassin, and not been available for Bard to try and use. Without William’s calling for heroes, there is no Callowan Hero who can form a group. Thief wouldn’t, even if she could. Bumbling Conjurer? Don’t make me laugh. Hunter would’ve stayed in Refuge without William calling for Heroes.


                    9. Dainpdf

                      How do you know what the Bard would have done? The best source we have (and it’s pretty poor) is the illusions Cat had when fighting Akua, and in those there was a heroic band. Cat is not everything.


                    10. Because of how Bard does what she does.
                      Bard works through other people.

                      Cat isn’t everything, but at critical moments, replacing her with someone who can fill the same Role she does, and make choices that result in the same or a similar outcome is nigh impossible.

                      For example, in the first and most relevant critical moment, it requires Cat, or a sufficiently similar Callowan who is a Squire-Claimant.
                      None of the Praesi Squire-Claimants could or would have had the kind of impact on William that Cat did. The Praesi-Claimants would have either killed or been killed by William. He would have either died in Summerholm, be it at the hands of the Praesi Squire-Claimants or Black and Captain, or escaped without the Name-level influence on him that Cat caused, and without the protection of a pattern of three, which means Assassin would have gotten him.

                      Without William being influenced by Cat, he’s not going to be interested in calling for Heroes. Or making deals with outsiders.
                      He called for Heroes first, then Bard showed up.
                      Without William, there is no one to call for a group of Heroes. With no group of Heroes, Bard has nothing to work with.

                      Remember, Bard plays a hellaciously long game.
                      She can afford to wait a few years of status quo for an opportunity.
                      That opportunity would most likely come when Cordelia got her Crusade. It might have come in a few years, when Black predicted a major rebellion – Cat used William to kick it off early.
                      Besides, while waiting through status quo for the right moment, it allows Heiress and her Classic Evil the opportunity to turn on Black and Malicia. If Classic Evil wins, Bard doesn’t really need to do anything else to protect The Way Things Are Supposed To Be. Also, a win for Classic Evil, or even just a strong showing, gives grounds for a Crusade.

                      Akua’s illusions are just that – illusions and mindgames. They should not be considered evidence of what might have been.


                    11. What exactly do you think I’m assuming here?

                      The primary assumption that I have made is that without Cat, Black doesn’t have someone immediately available to fulfill the same Role she does in the same way that she does. As such, the butterfly effect takes hold, though we really only see meaningful changes at Summerholm, and since Cat’s actions and the effects of her actions are significant, things play out rather differently.

                      Pretty much everything else is largely either directly stated, inferred from, and/or implied in the text. Since of it only much later, but there nonetheless.


                    12. Dainpdf

                      You assumed William could not survive the Squire meeting without Cat.
                      You assumed the Bard’s objective is to keep the status quo.
                      You assumed no successful band could form without Cat.
                      And those are just the few examples I can cite off of the top of my head.


                    13. RanVor

                      I didn’t want to interfere in this discussion, but I have to point a few things out.

                      Your first statement is an outright lie. He did not assume such a thing at all. He said William could die during the Squire meeting, but if he didn’t, he wouldn’t have the protection offered by the pattern of three. And this is true.

                      That the Bard’s objective is maintaining the status quo can be inferred from her conversation with the Hierarch in the epilogue of Book 3.

                      Forming a successful heroic band without William is highly unlikely, considering it was attempted for twenty years to no avail. Moreover, it’s not illogical to assume even the Lone Swordsman couldn’t have done it without a lot of additional narrative weight from his pattern of three with Cat.

                      From what I see, you are the one doing all the assuming so far.


                    14. Dainpdf

                      I disagree with that inference. She has a vested interest in the status quo, because she wins there, but it is not her final objective.
                      Why would it be without William if he doesn’t need to die at the Squire meeting? Also, things that have not worked before can work now – for example, no one had ever killed one of the Calamities, and yet now someone has. No (direct, at least) Cat involvement.


                    15. RanVor

                      William might have not need to die at the Squire meeting, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t die afterwards. And forming a successful band depends heavily on narrative weight, which William probably would not have a lot without the pattern of three.

                      What does it matter if the status quo is a means instead of an end? The effect on Callow is the same.

                      To summarize, there is a chance that Callow would be better off if Catherine didn’t become the Squire, but it’s an extremely flimsy one. Because that’s what you’re arguing about, right? Whether or not the entire plot of the Guide is one gigantic mistake.


                    16. RanVor

                      That she’s imperfect is unquestionable. People usually are. But that’s irrelevant to the argument. We’re not talking about why she made choices she made, but whether or not Callow would be better off if she didn’t make those choices. In other words, whether or not accepting Black’s offer was a mistake.


                    17. No.
                      RanVor’s got the short version down nicely. Much more aptly summarized than I would’ve done.
                      Wall of text version follows.

                      William’s encounter with the Squire-Claimants goes significantly differently without Cat – all the Praesi Claimants get to focus on him, rather than splitting up, one going one on one with Cat and loosing, and then Cat turning on the rest and allying (however briefly) with William against the Praesi-Claimants. William is certainly in a worse position without Cat than with her when dealing with the Praesi Squire-Claimants.
                      However, Willaim either wins outright (meaning no Squire), gets killed (because none of them are going to let him go), or escapes that fight on his own. Assuming he survives, depending on how long that took, he might run into Black and Captain, if he does and fights, he dies, though he might be able to escape.
                      If William survives Summerholm, he is not in a Pattern of Three, and thus Assassin probably tracks him down and kills him in short order. The Pattern of Three protection is the only reason why Black didn’t send Assassin after William immediately after Summerholm – it would have been pointless.
                      Disregarding the high probability that Assassin gets him, William has not had the encounter with Cat, and thus has not been changed by the encounter with Cat. It was explicitly said that Cat kicking William’s ass and letting him go, and what she said to him, caused Name-level changes that William had no ability to fight. That those changes were significant and largely out of character for the Name, but enforced by the Name because of what Cat did.
                      William, without the changes imposed on him by Cat, is the Lone Swordsman, emphasis on Lone. His Name is one that doesn’t work with others under normal circumstances. The Lone Swordsman might join a group that someone else formed and leads, but normally doesn’t do the forming.
                      William screwed with Cat’s free will, but she screwed with his right back – and harder. She ultimately figured it out, albeit later, and got over it, but he never consciously did, and didn’t get past the effects until Liesse.

                      No Heroic band forms in Callow without William doing the forming because of who the available Callowan Heroes at the time are – Hunter is in Refuge, Thief is busy keeping her head down, and Bumbling Conjurer lacks the … everything.

                      Without the Name-level changes imposed by Cat, William, if he survives Summerholm and manages to dodge Assassin long enough, would act completely differently from the way he did under the influence of those changes.

                      Bard’s objective, based on what we have seen her do and say, is to maintain the Story and, apparently to tilt things in the direction of Above.
                      She protected Heiress, wanted her to beat Cat. She wanted to stop the New Evil that Black believes in, because of it and he succeeded, it would change the Story in unalterable ways.
                      The status quo of Callow, prior to Cat becoming Squire, is one that Bard had tolerated for 20 years, plus not doing anything (that we know of) to stop the Conquest. She demonstrably isn’t that concerned with a Praesi Occupation of Callow, as long as it remains an Occupation of Good Callow by Evil Praes, and Callow is still spawning Callowan Heroes. That’s just part of the Story.

                      Also, as Ranvor pointed out, we have her interaction with Heirarch.
                      We also have her stopping the elves from killing Akua.
                      We also have Bard discussing the difference between the Classic Evil that Akua represents and the New Evil of Black that Cat is a successor to, and her preference for the Classic Evil of Akua, because while it makes a mess, it loses in the end, but the New Evil is a kind of Evil that can actually win. I believe that was in a discussion with William, possibly the one where she urged him to summon the Hashmallin.

                      She plays an incredibly long game. Waiting for the right moment is entirely in character for her, especially when waiting gives time for both a suitable moment for her to do things to arrive, and allows for Classic Evil to take on New Evil to the detriment of the winner, and if Classic Evil wins, the Story is no longer threatened by New Evil.
                      Bard is functionally immortal – she takes a longer view than anyone except the Dead King, in part because she can afford to, in part because she has to.
                      There are lots of unanswered questions about Bard, sure, but there are also things where we have some of the answers.

                      As RanVor pointed out, things pulled directly from the text aren’t exactly assumptions.
                      Things going differently without Cat doing what she does at critical story moments? That’s not really much of an assumption either. Cat’s a Callowan with a Praesi Villain Name – that’s not a Role that anyone else can readily fill.
                      Critical moments going differently resulting in a different sequence of events following? That’s not really much of an assumption either.
                      The butterfly effect doesn’t get entirely ignored, in some ways, it’s even more important – and it’s certainly easier to locate critical moments where it’s clear the butterfly effect would have major consequences.

                      Liked by 1 person

        2. Zach

          Is it really true that Callowans would rather be a graveyard than a conquered colony? Recall the state of Callow at the beginning of this story – the Black Knight correctly calculated that, as long as their basic needs were met, the Callowan people would not rebel and the number of heroes would be kept to a minimum. So clearly Callowans – or at least your average Callowan who isn’t a noble or whatever – are actually totally fine with being a province of Praes or whatever!

          Various characters, as recently as the past couple chapters (in reference to the Drow) have touched upon the idea that some of these cultural mores might just be the values of the nobles/elite, and that the common people primarily just care about having their basic needs met.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Agent J

            That’s an excellent point, but Callow was never truly peaceful. There was always deep seething resentment bubbling under the surface. Remember gallows of Summerholm (or was it Marchford?) where Cat first saw the cold Carrion Lord rather than the generally affable Black? How many average Callowans were plotting rebellion? Remember that massive rebellion? Sure, it was the nobles that lead the armies and got the glory, but down there in the mud, who held the line?

            You’re right. Since we can’t exactly take a census of a fictitious people, my assertion is moot. But EE has been beating us over the head with Callowan pride, spite, and stubbornness. I mean, a queen split open her throat at her own coronation after naming her rebel cousin heir. That is sheer badassery to a level I couldn’t even contemplate. Callowans are not a meek people. Incessant invasions from all directions tends to harden a folk. I’m thoroughly convinced they’d choose liberty over life any day of the week. Many already have.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. RanVor

              This trait of Callowans reminds me of my own people, the Poles. Polish history is full of people who gave up their lives for lost causes, achieving nothing but retribution and repression, forever hailed as martyrs for an elusive ideal of “Polishness”. We are taught in school about the heroism of insurrectionists from the November and January uprisings, even though both resulted only in increasingly brutal repressions. Even now, many Polish people view the neighboring countries, especially Germany, as enemies and oppressors, despite the World War II ending over half a century ago.

              Like those Polish insurrectionists, Callowans would fight to the last out of misguided belief that there is something noble in dying in vain. And, again like Poles, trying to divide their ancestral lands would only solidify their resistance. In the end, Procer would end up with a nation-sized graveyard anyway.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Agent J

                The Callowan plight resonates with me for much the same reason. Their stubbornness and the almost impossible uphill battle they face reminds me a great deal of my own people as well.

                Somalis have ever been a hard-hearted and unruly folk. Our lands were conquered and divided into five colonies, a gross injustice that’s been emblazoned on our flag. A five pointed star signifying that all our lands and people are united in our hearts if not on the map. Said map only depicted two of the five chunks united, leaving large swaths of our territory and people remaining under the brutal rule of our Kenyan and Ethiopian neighbours. Somalia proper is a shattered, woeful mess gripped by a seemingly endless conflict. In our weakness, our neighbours prey on us ceaselessly, countless nations invade us for the flimsiest reasons, international corporations dump their wastes in our water while major fishing companies strip it of fish by the tons, and the greatest power on earth bombs us unendingly, failing to hit their actual targets frustratingly often, killing scores of innocents instead without so much as a “sorry, our bad”. All the while, our people kill each other constantly and senselessly, spilling more of their own blood than all foreign soldiers combined.

                Suffice it to say, I’m heavily invested in the Callowan plight. If they can make it out of their dreadful situation against impossible odds, perhaps things aren’t as hopeless as they seem for us as well.

                Liked by 2 people

    4. Decius

      Such is the cost of being a manipulative, backstabbing, mass murdering wastelander. The people smart enough to murder you into servitude treat you like a manipulative, backstabbing, mass murderer from the wasteland.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. MagnaMalusLupus

        Umm…nobody said, thought, implied, or even remotely hinted that the Dwarves were Good. Its pretty dang obvious that they’re not on the side of the angels, though I don’t know that they’re Evil either. It’s quite possible that, like the Elves, they are aligned with neither.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Ternbugkle

        Not sure anybody said dwarves were good, they heavily implied nobody lived to mess with them twice.

        Massacring murderous violent slavers on the way to pick up supplies is almost a public service.


        1. Metrux

          I do think they treat it as a public service, and let the good deeders pay their taxes this way, instead of in money. Which would explain why the dwarfs are so well furnished for this, the cost is lesser :V


  2. taovkool

    Surprising that I actually agreed with the Diabolist, even if she might be doing it just to get more points on her boss’s ass.

    Cat’s been far too harsh on herself. If the usual pattern of escalation I’m reading here rang true, She might be due another wake up call.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Jonnnney

      A major problem with Akua’s argument is that Cat being hard on herself is how she gets better. Once Catherine is satisfied with herself her power will have reached its peak and then something stronger will knocker her out. By continuing to strive for a theoretical better solution she continues to gain strength and continues to be a player in the great game. Akua’s path is a happy one that always ends in defeat. Cat’s path is a sad one that doesn’t end.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. One of my favorite chapters.
    Lots, and lots of perspective toward the events that have happened thus far, and a lot of character development for Cat, and Akua.
    And although it is what Cat wanted to hear, I believe that it is mostly the truth, and tells a lot about the situation.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. stevenneiman

      I’m surprised that Akua didn’t acknowledge that the Heavens tried to do the same thing to a major population center that she did and only failed because of Cat’s personal intervention. Though I suppose that Cat might have responded by pointing out that she drove the particular hatchet man of the Heavens to do so. Ignoring that the Heavens could have gotten another one, but that’s how Cat would think.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thaumaturge

    that last line was perfect.

    honestly i agree with a lot of what Akua is saying – and ugh i hate having to say that – but it is a genuinely good point that she is the one saying it. Akua probably makes a lot of sense, really, she grew up in Praesi courts and was named even before Catherine, it’s no surprise that she can be particularly persuasive.

    but does that make her right? right now she’s in a supportive role, certainly, but insomuch is she a supportive character?

    i think Cat could do with some genuine pats on the back and some assured “you did good”s but if they only come from Akua’s mouth, am i really in the right to think that?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. stevenneiman

      The important thing to remember is the two things Akua’s current mindset is shaped by: She needs Cat to survive, and she lost to Cat. If Cat decides that it isn’t worth existing it’s pretty obvious that her last act is going to be to destroy Akua’s soul and ensure that she never has any kind of opening for a comeback. Also, it’s just plain annoying to have to listen to the person who ruined the schemes you spent your entire life preparing moping about how useless and ineffective they are. Especially if you’re trapped listening to that moping with no possible escape and you’ve been raised from birth with wasteland arrogance and success-worship.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. limlimrevolution

        I had not considered the existential horror of your lucid soul being enslaved by someone who brutally curbstomped you, only to then be subjected to them moping and whining about how shitty they are at everything. Especially when you have been raised to believe that “iron sharpens iron”. Almost makes me feel bad for Akua. Except for, you know, the whole mass murdering psychopathic necromantic demon summoning ritual thing. So in retrospect, it’s actually a sickeningly effective punishment.

        Liked by 3 people

  5. Stormblessed

    Hahahahaha! What an excellent chapter. The debate going back and forth was great and gripping, only to have the rug pulled out and subverted at the last second by Cat’s final line! How fantastic!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Maybe 23-4 or so, depending.
      IIRC, she said she was 18 when she was talking to Talbot in the dungeons of Marchford when he was offering the services of two thousand knights.

      The timeskip was ~5 ish years. I think.


          1. Yotz

            Au contraire, mon ami – since her body is a function of her mind, she will be exactly as old as she feels – unless she’ll constantly extend her will to regulate her appearance, or just became detached enough from her mortal patterns of thinking. And regardless of all that – she will grow older, immortality or not. It just that her age won’t be affecting her directly. That’s where “growing up” part comes into play.

            Imagine this – decade later Cat suddenly notices clear signs of aging on Nauk’s and Hellhound’s faces. This causes epiphany of sorts – full weight of her immortality suddenly becomes not only known to her as abstract thing, but completely, finally, irrevocably understood; and – somewhat – accepted. Later that day grey-haired and wrinkled Grossmeister Talbot walks into the throne room only to find a frail crooked crone on the Queen’s throne, holding a half-empty cup of wine, and looking into nothingness with cataract eyes. And all this only because of one single thing – that’s how Cat feels at that moment: incredibly old, frail, and half-blind. She would be nearing 31 there, mind you.

            Now, under the strict mental control or absolute dehumanizing detachment that scenario would be nigh impossible – Cat will remain unchanging – or, rather, changing at glacial pace. But that’s a thing to think about later – we still a in lack of several future story points to make any educated hypothesis on that particular kink.

            So, “optional” would be appropriate for “growing up” only – “growing old” still will be mandatory, just less noticeable.

            …Unless time shenanigans ensue.

            Liked by 1 person

  6. Jane

    Even if it’s what Cat wanted to hear, it was certainly what Cat needed to hear. Self-reflection is necessary to avoid doubling your way down into destruction, but at a certain point, self-reflection becomes self-pity instead, and Cat’s been over that line for a few months now.

    Yes, the loss of Liesse was a tragedy, one that she failed to avert despite her best efforts (setting aside the dubious “Raise banner against the Empress by killing one of her governors without permission” option), but expecting to avoid loss when playing games on this scale is to demand perfection of yourself – something that no person, Named or not, can offer. And every other sin she lays at her own feet is nothing more than a reflection of that single mistake – that she couldn’t avert Liesse.

    And, you know, if she wants to mourn Liesse, that’s a good thing – it demonstrates that she still has a heart. But if she lets that guilt guide her more than the facts at hand, that’s an indulgence that Callow can’t afford. Because if she lays down her sword because she genuinely believes the situation to be hopeless, that’s being a good ruler – but surrendering the kingdom out of a misguided belief that she’s failed them is just trying to soothe her own ego while making her kingdom pay the price.

    Even if she has to raise the farmhands and starve Callow in order to keep fighting… Is a season of famine really worse than becoming part of the Principate? Because that’s a cost her people would willingly bear, and it’s something they only need suffer once. Accepting annexation by a foreign kingdom is something with much longer consequences, and will probably involve more than one rebellion, to say nothing of resuming the wars with Praes.

    That said, I do understand where Cat is coming from – she’s comparing herself to Malicia, Cordelia, and her teacher, each of whom has played a nearly perfect game in her eyes. But someone who still a novice comparing herself to seasoned players, and expecting to surpass them on her first round is simply being arrogant. As Akua says, that she has slipped her kingdom out of their hands and not watched it burst into flames is success. To expect that success to be flawless is asking the impossible.

    Listen to Akua, Cat. That she just doesn’t want her owner to be buried with her cape doesn’t make her wrong.

    Liked by 14 people

    1. I’d argue that Cat did play a near perfect hand her first time through. I mean, go look at Akua’s entire argument.
      A lot of what Cat pulled of simply could not have been pulled off by most other people, and with our behind the scenes looks at the others, we see that they are all in similar situations, just in such a way that Cat can not see it.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Jane

        Well, with precognition or a spy network on par with Malicia’s, she probably could have acted in the extremely narrow window between [when it was politically acceptable to kill Akua] and [when Akua massacred Liesse]. But that falls firmly under the heading of “unrealistic expectations of perfection” – it was a misstep, but not one that any sane person could blame her for.

        It’s why I describe her guilt as self-indulgent – she’s blaming herself, heavily, for not being perfect in a situation where nobody could be perfect, and the only reason she can even consider such a standard realistic is that she’s measuring herself against people who built their legends before she was even born. That’s not honest self-reflection – that’s just a pity party, whether she realizes it or not.

        Liked by 7 people

  7. Novice

    I once hated Akua as a character, now I only hate her as a person. Hells, I once wanted her to be nothing more than a plot device, if at all given a role.

    Casting her as a way for Cat to confront her own insecurity and then Cat dismissing her entirely without the whole thing seeming ill-contrived? I don’t know how you’ve done it but you changed my mind EE. Well done.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. naturalnuke

      I always liked Akua as a character actually, she’s both a foil and a mirror. She is Cat taken to her logical conclusion if Cat actually went down that slope. Akua had a goal, a drive to do something that is basically impossible, and the pragmatic and unscrupulous practical realism to clearheadedly do what she thought she needed to achieve her goal. She’s literally Cat with a different set of values because of upbringing.

      I mean, this whole book is a story of ‘how does Good look from evil’s side’, what would this have looked from Akuas perspective?

      A plan years in the making, progresses against all odds, until a rival appears, an up-and-comer who wins by the skin of her teeth on impossible odds. Of course you tried to put roadblocks in her way, but she always overcomes them and comes out stronger for it. She progresses to the level of skill you took years to achieve in only 1, gathering a host of competent individuals who can cover, effectively, all the inadequacies of her, and a mentor who intervenes should you ever gather too much of a lead.
      But you persevere, and manage to achieve a plan that cost countless lives, resources, and time to achieve her penultimate goal. And your rival, impossibly, is there to meet you. But you have one last plan, a way to surely beat her, to beat everyone who might stop you, and at your height? When you have your rival, who you’ve grown almost attached too because she was the only thing that stood with you in your climb, when you have her at your mercy, planning to SPARE her, her mentor comes to the rescue.

      Akua suffered Cats ‘villain fighting the hero story’ but instead of raging against it says ‘that’s life, gotta make the best of it’. I fucking respect that. I like her as a character for the sheer irony of her story and her reaction to the same injustice the MC suffered.

      Liked by 22 people

      1. naturalnuke

        It goes back to that quote what was it, “…you were brought up in a culture that said you can win. We don’t even get that…”, or something to that effect.

        I think Akua is genuine in the ‘Cat won so she can do with me as she will’ attitude. Of course she was also raised in a culture where backstabbing is a legitimate career path. I think the attitude lasts as long as Cat is the ‘winner’. Cat hasn’t lost yet, she’s struggling but Akuas not gonna even try to jump ship because she genuinely believes ‘to the victor goes the spoils.’

        Liked by 1 person

          1. This is a beautiful way of looking at Cat’s story, and harkens back to something Akua said here.
            The Gods Bellow do not own Cat, she does not worship them, and it creates a much more mobile story thread for Cat to manipulate, and allows her to play the Hero role in stories.

            Liked by 3 people

      2. Dainpdf

        Akua’s problem is she was trying to keep the sand castle up when the tide came calling.
        That, plus she was a foil against a regular hero. Her position doesn’t work as well against someone like Cat, who gets some heroic luck but also dips into villainous practices.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. naturalnuke

    I feel like he’s been sitting on this interaction for months and was itching(and rushing) to get to it. This chapter has fewer – negligible even – spelling or grammatical mistakes on release than any of the chapters of this book so far. And it feels worth it almost, because this was a joy to read(so much so that I started reading parts outloud to myself because I felt they deserved to be spoken).

    Liked by 9 people

  9. Aeon

    I kind of love what’s going on here. For all that Akua’s manipulative, she still has a very good point here. Something tells me that Cat won’t be dismissing this conversation as easily as that last line claims.

    Also, I really do like what’s been going on with helpful Akua. It may or may not happen, but I’d love to see her join Cat legitimately.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. As noted: the smart move for the Diabolist is to behave exactly the same way she believes a competent, loyal, trustworthy follower would behave, even when Cat is not watching her, always and forever.

      Not to somehow earn trust or friendship, but because if Cat keeps winning, Akua keeps this semblance of life and freedom and opportunity for happiness. Sixth Ranger ahoy.

      We all know the Black Queen is never going to run out of enemies, so the Diabolist is never going to run out of runway. And Akua may be a handy target to redirect the redemption story to. (:

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Black Queen: “Akua is brilliant and thoroughly well-informed and so can figure out what to tell me to get me to dance to her puppet strings. I must not listen.”

      Also the Black Queen: “Akua knows nothing about me and is kind of a fuckup; so when she tells me that I actually did the least bad job possible, except when I indulged my squishy wannabe-hero wishcasting, I must not listen.”

      Within two chapters of each other. Catherine Foundling, ladies and gentlemen. She’s here all week. Try the veal.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. magesbe

        The second opinion is something she espouses a lot more than she actually believes, because it gets under Akua’s skin. In her more personal, honest moments, she acknowledges that Akua was abominable, but skilled, intelligent, and capable.

        She wants absolution, which Akua is giving her, but also knows that Akua will say whatever she thinks she should say to manipulate Catherine. I don’t think she’s going to be dismissing this conversation as much as she pretends. Akua isn’t saying anything Cat hasn’t already considered herself, but at this point Cat views these as justifications, not excuses.

        For my part, I feel like Akua has a lot of good points, but the mindset she’s putting forth is also dangerous; it is as bad to feel like you are the best choice for your kingdom no matter what happens as it is to feel like you are the lesser evil at best. She hasn’t given up yet, and I doubt she’ll just surrender even if the Drow don’t show up; at the very least, all of the Woe will be trying to talk her out of it, and probably most of the remaining government as well.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Dainpdf

        Akua is a master manipulator and analyst, but she has heavy blinders on that limit her. That’s why she lost to Cat.
        Also, she will use poor arguments if they are what she thinks will convince Cat to see her way.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. To be fair, a messenger does matter in this particular conversation. If someone as thorouhly fucked up as Aqua tells you “Good job!”…

      As per Godwin law, it’s quite similar to what you would feel if Hitler said to you “What an amazing way yo rule your country, keep it up!”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Dainpdf

        Especially since both drove their enterprises into the ground, besides the whole “being an inhumane monster” bit.
        And both being charismatic but often fallacious and manipulative.


    3. Dainpdf

      Eh. Diabolist was misinformed (did not consider the Bard, who has been proven to be able to outmaneuver Black and was involved with the Rebellion), dishonest (argued that the impossibility of perfection is a reason not to acknowledge faults), and mostly engaged in convenient hypotheticals.
      Notice how, when questioning the Drow alliance, she chose the worst options to bring up before raising the idea of climbing the tower.
      This was her being manipulative and nothing more; her points are as empty as her arguments.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Dainpdf

          The ones Cat raised right after, like the Elves, the Gigantes… The ones which won’t treat with her, in part because she is a villain – which is why Akua did not mention them.


            1. Dainpdf

              Huh? I don’t understand. All I was saying is that Akua cherry picked alliances, since Cat herself pointed out there were other options and Akua clearly “forgot” to mention anyone on the side of Above.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. RanVor

                So it is a convenient coincidence that Akua only mentioned the alliances that could feasibly be made, and omitted the ones that are hopeless to even try?


                1. Dainpdf

                  No. It is a suspicious coincidence that she only mentioned the ones that were problematic due to being counter-productive, while leaving out the ones that were problematic due to Cat’s own previous villainous decisions.
                  In doing so, she establishes her main argumentative assumption: that Cat’s choice to go with villainy was predetermined and set in stone, and there is no point in arguing about times when she failed to do good, only in wondering how she might best strengthen her position.
                  This, of course, stems somewhat from Akua’s own Praesi philosophy of iron sharpens iron, but is also a subtle appeal to Black’s own ideal of “one sin, one grace” aka the ends justify the means.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. RanVor

                    And you surely can prove it’s not because of Black’s Legions and the Fae being arguably superior options to the Drow, and because mentioning the Titanomachy, which is not an option at all, lacks any merit whatsoever.


                    1. Dainpdf

                      If it were an option (and it might, if Cat were not a villain – the Gigantes are known for their hate of Procer) the Titanomachy would have made for a pretty good ally.
                      Better than the Fae or Drow, considering both are bound to attempt to betray or swindle her.


                    2. Dainpdf

                      It is, if considering why it is not an option can lead to making it an option or avoiding losing similar options in the future. For example, would the Gigantes aid Callow if Cat were to resign?
                      That is just a simple idea, but it is food for thought.


                    3. RanVor

                      Also, that was not the topic of the conversation at the time. The question was what alliance Cat should consider instead of the Everdark. And you stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that the Titanomachy is out of this particular picture. It’s not about what could have been. It’s about what is.


                    4. Dainpdf

                      I specifically raised the issue of how Akua’s pick of possible alliances to mention was part her own biases and part a calculated choice to prepare for her main argument.


                    5. RanVor

                      And I specifically called you out on talking nonsense. It’d be way more suspicious if she did it your way, bringing up options obviously not applicable in this situation.


                    6. Dainpdf

                      As opposed to bringing up options which are actually counter-productive to the objective, one of which she has vested interest in?


                    7. RanVor

                      They are not counter-productive. They just have consequences Cat is unwilling to deal with. Akua wouldn’t be, so they naturally occurred to her as possibilities.

                      I’m not suggesting Akua is innocent. She’s definitely not. But you’re reading too much into this, and it pisses me off for some reason.


                    8. Dainpdf

                      They are, considering that all of them will make the Callow situation worse. They are only viable from the “let’s win battles and show these crusaders” angle, not the “let’s make sure Callow is in the best shape we can by the end of this” one.
                      Now, I hesitate to claim things about your reading experience, but I suppose it could be because, much like me and Cat, Akua has told you what you wanted to hear (whether she has a point or not) and you dislike that being questioned.


                    9. RanVor

                      I think it’s because I dislike overly suspicious people. You might have noticed I tend to respond in this manner every time someone starts to spew paranoid ramblings.

                      Is contacting Black really that disastrous? Don’t get me wrong, I agree with Cat why those aren’t viable options, but they’re really obvious choices from Akua’s perspective. She mentioned them simply because that’s what she would do in Cat’s place.


                    10. Dainpdf

                      I see. Well, skepticism and cynicism are close enough that one can fall easily from one to the other.
                      What I find interesting is how many people are ready to trust the words of Akua and doubt everything the Pilgrim says…
                      (not saying this applies to you, just commenting in general)


                    11. RanVor

                      I’m not arguing for trusting Akua, I’m arguing against paranoia. The moment Cat starts to fear everything coming from Akua’s mouth is the moment she loses control over her.

                      And it’s kind of hard to believe your remark wasn’t directed at me, considering it was I who argued with you over the reliability of the Pilgrim as an information source.

                      Also, I have a personal question to you: do you ever sleep? Because while my own sleeping schedule is currently very irregular, you seem to always reply to my comments within an hour at most, no matter what time it is.


                    12. Dainpdf

                      So is mine! I guess we just happened to match.
                      As for direction, I don’t recall names easily, so I had not made the connection.
                      As for losing control over Akua, that control is not one of trust, but of power.


                    13. RanVor

                      But power is irrelevant if Akua can’t fulfill her primary purpose due to Cat refusing to listen to her. What is the point of keeping an advisor whose advice is always ignored?


                    14. Dainpdf

                      She has abilities that can be used.
                      And being skeptical of someone’s words and never taking them at face value is not the same as plugging one’s ears and going “lalala”.
                      Plus, she has her areas of expertise. Magic, politics, even medicine, among many other things. Definitely not ethics or “how not to be a classical villain”.


                    15. RanVor

                      You seem to be under the impression that we’re discussing the entire conversation. We’re not. I’m refuting your claim that Akua’s choice of potential allies is a proof of her ulterior motives towards Cat. This aspect of the argument is strictly political, and therefore within Akua’s area of competence. Morality has nothing to do with it. And there is a point where skepticism and ear-plugging become interchangeable.


                    16. Dainpdf

                      I did not state it is proof. I stated that, given the fact that she is attempting a manipulation, her choice of allies becomes much clearer. Therefore, it is evidence of her manipulation, though not necessarily proof.
                      Politics in Creation necessarily involve morality; in fact, I wouldn’t be averse to claiming that it does in our world as well, because ethics and morality dictate what is acceptable or not.
                      In Akua’s case, her political expertise is clouded by the Praesi doctrine she subscribes to, which accepts great damage or risk to one’s own side in order to hurt the other guy. A doctrine which she is trying to get Cat to embrace.
                      Her framing of the discussion in terms of pure “efficiency in hurting Procer” also helps her influence Cat towards climbing the Tower, because it steers the conversation away from both narrative and moral impacts, as well as the cost to Cat’s own people.


                    17. This is circular reasoning.
                      You are assuming a particular slant and manipulation in a particular direction, which colors interpretation of what she says, and using that interpretation as evidence of her manipulation in a particular direction.

                      Or so I understand from what you just said.

                      Things don’t work like that.


                    18. Dainpdf

                      It is not. It is collection of evidence through observation. One makes a prediction based on a theory, then observes the data. If the data fit the prediction, they are evidence (though not proof) of the theory.


                    19. RanVor

                      If politics are inseparably linked with morality and Akua is proficient in the former but not the latter, then her political expertise is no such thing and any advice she may offer on the matter is inherently flawed. Which begs a question: what is she for? If her experience on the field of politics is rendered useless by her lacking ethics, why is she still outside the box?


                    20. Dainpdf

                      Politics being intrinsically linked to politics does not mean that she is not skilled at them. It just means that whoever listens to her advice, or works with her, must take into account their differences in ethics, because while Akua’s stratagems are great, she may not be devising them for the same purpose as what you’d want, and her readings of people are necessarily slanted by her ethics, as are everyone else’s.


                    21. RanVor

                      Assuming your first sentence is a typo, the direct consequence of what you’re talking about is the existence of different “types” of politics, and the one Akua is skilled in is not the one Cat needs, and that makes her of little worth to the Woe. And though Cat wrongly believing in her usefulness is not unthinkable, how did Vivienne come to the same (wrong) conclusion is beyond me.

                      Unless, of course, Akua does, have some genuinely useful advice to offer. And this is where paranoia starts to get in the way.


                    22. RanVor

                      Eh, despite the fact I repeatedly stated my opinion in no uncertain terms, you keep misinterpreting it and the discussion is going nowhere because of it, so I have to reiterate:


                      The problem is that you create a false dichotomy by framing my opinion on trusting Akua as in opposition to yours, while it’s actually similar, just less extreme.


                    23. Dainpdf

                      I am sorry for reopening this chain, but I have been re-reading the Guide and stumbled upon one of the earliest chapters, where Cat attributed wavering in part to having been caught up in a redemption story – by a hero, even.
                      That has made me reconsider some of this whole argument. It actually baffles me somewhat now, that Cat wouldn’t think of that lesson when if anything she’s more bound to stories than before, now.


  10. Someguy

    Akua is only correct about the realpolitik, it’s her own goals, aspirations and methods in such a situation that is garbage. Cat should only use Akua for political analysis and seal her away otherwise.

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Her attachment to the land the kingdom sits on baffles me. I would just round up all the callowans, move them to Acadia, bide my time whope training a massive army, then pop out a couple centuries later to fuck up everyone on my shitlist. Or their descendents. I’m flexible like that.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yeah, Cat struggles with the fact that her body is a construct, I doubt she really is willing to think like a functionally immortal that she is. Plus yeah, she doesn’t know of centuries down the line would be a better opportunity. Plus people may not be as keen at leaving their homeland to live in literal fairy tales. Besides, Cat is just not someone who will bail at her country to go hide in corner. Why should she?

      Oh, and also, two centuries later she will be just an otherwordly evil invader. Not a good story.


      1. Dainpdf

        Depends on how it is set up. It could be a return to reclaim the lost land, if set up correctly (which would involve it being a last resort after being pushed from all sides… Much like right now). But it’s too Dead King for her, I suspect.


          1. Dainpdf

            Does it need to be the Bard? Cat has proven herself perfectly capable of setting up stories by herself. And well, Triumphant is basically a villain version of the King Under the Mountain


    2. Agent J

      Arcadia is not free real estate. Her treaty with the King and Queen of Arcadia only permits her to ferry her troops and supplies through. The moment they she starts setting up shop in Arcadia i stead of merely passing through she breaks her treaty. Broken treaties with Fae royals is not going to end well, not to mention it opens up a new front in her many wars.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. ericwinter

    You know, a lot of people seem to be missing the exact point of what Ct meant by her last line. She’s not just saying ‘I don’t believe you cause you’re you.’ She used Akua, because she’s Akua, to remind herself of why she’s fighting. She used her to remind herself that for all she’s accomplished, for all the ancient monsters and older Named she’s beaten, it’s *Not good enough*.IT’s exactly what she wanted to hear, because it would push her to do better. Because Cat has always broken the scales, proved the impossible, when she’s the underdog. When people tell her you can’t hope for more, *She proves them wrong*.And Akua, the woman she hates more than any other, telling her she’s done more than enough? That’s just gonna light a fire in her belly hot enough to burn the entire continent to ashes if it gets her what she wants.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. lennymaster

      Akua did not say, stop trying to be perfect, she said stop beating yourself up for not being perfect, for that is impossible. You did a better job then anyone could have reasonbly expected of you, that neither means good, though her efforts certanly can not considered to be less then decent, nor bad.
      Stop being such a whiny selfrighteous asshole, nobly talking as if your surrender would make things better.
      Do not get me wrong, I love this story, but I liked Cat better when she raged against Goods hypocrisy instead of flagelating herself for consistently making the best out of a bad situation.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. It’s a strange philosophical argument in this chapter. Do the successes that Cat has gained thus far show proof of concept? Or is she sailing down a deceptively smooth path. Does the constant need to be ‘better’ result in a more well stood Cat? Or does her constant strife and turning away valid paths result in her own trappings. Was she more successful when she was ignorant to how much the world turned to shit every time someone tried to do something? Is the illusion of succeeding in something better than actually doing it? What is a story, more than a structured narrative designed to place the protagonist in the spotlight, as if they have the only real agency in the world?

    I think that Akua’s analysis/manipulation applies for her earlier actions. The ‘greater good’ and ‘lesser evil’ work when she genuinely believed in what she was doing, and decieved herself from what was happening. However, one cannot stay innocent to the world forever. Cat stared into the abyss, and thus she learned. She set herself upon a new stage in this Book, where she is playing the role of someone who has to fight the world. She can’t afford to be believing that she’s just better than the other guys, she has to constantly prove to herself that she is better than the other guys.

    There is a reason each of the Books are called Books. They have a different stage, a different story. The first Book is the story of Cat stepping onto the stage, and fighting for her place in it. The second Book is her first step of agency, her first time her ideals and goals are put to the test. The third Book is about her getting what she wanted, and realizing that it isn’t enough. The fourth Book seems to be about the temptation of an easy road and the world trying to break her off her true path. It’s possible that we have the Story itself trying to right itself by pushing Cat off of her protagonist villain path. For the story of the protagonist villain to work, the Villain genuinely does have to be better than every Hero, and the Story is putting temptation in her way at every step.

    It all falls back into her original goal of making Callow better than it was. Her Story is the Story of Restoring a Homeland. If she strays from the path, she falls. Akua’s options results in Cat acting as Callow’s ‘Rightful Ruler’ which she is not. Her Story is not to rule Callow, it is to restore it. If she tries to solidify her control, at any expenses to her people, she will fail, because she will then be the villain in someone’s Story. Maybe not immediately, but years down the line, when Callow has suffered under her rule, and malcontent rises along with heroes. It will result in a similar situation to Callow prior to the start of Book 1.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. I really want to see Cat abdicate now. The more I think about it the more I think that this gambit isn’t going to work. Either she’s going to get rewarded for her diligence by Story intervention in her favor, or her dedication will be put to the test one more time. She’s insisted that she’d abdicate if she was the worse option, and if she thinks she’s the worse option, then she will. That much repetition implies foreshadowing.

      That and I really want to see how that story goes.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. mavant

        That smells heroic.

        I’d be delighted to see her abdicate in favor of a democratic election system.

        Then the league might be on the side of callow after all. Or at least the hierarch.


        1. Metrux

          You do know democratic systems are some of the most flawed in the history of mankind, right? Of course the ones that came before are flawed, it’s why we changed out of it through the generations. But our system right now is not any better, it’s just a diferent flavour of bad, so I really don’t think a democratic election system will do any good for her people.

          To note, we only use democracy because no one has found a better alternative so far.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. RanVor

            Also, Catherine has expressed a disdain for democracy before. It’s hard to blame her, really, considering the only democracy she might have possibly heard of is the Bellerophan one.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. mavant

            I didn’t say I think democracy is flawless, I said I’d be delighted to see our Queen of Air and Darkness use it as a political weapon.

            As for better alternatives IRL, Hanson’s futarchy concept seems pretty intriguing.


            1. Xinci

              A Futarchy by would honestly be on the side of the above or some neutral power I think. The gods above regularly use their understanding of all possible timelines(story threads) and all actions to mould specific pieces to highly specific events. They would want to test this out somehow though they may have done this through the hard and early heroes in the style of levantines like the Valiant Champion instead of forming a test society. On calneria at least…


      2. RanVor

        The thought that came to my mind upon reading this comment was “there must be something seriously wrong with this story if people want the protagonist to give up”.


  14. 1queenofblades1

    I really have no idea where the story’s going…and I love that. It isn’t predictable; something lots of stories with an MC as OP as Cat suffer from. Sure she wants an army from the Drow; but will she succeed? And if she does, what’s she going to do with it? Defend herself and the Kingdom obviously, but will she climb the Tower? Or burn it to the ground? Will she raze Salia or save it from annihilation? What is the fate of the Principate; will it endure or fracture? What’s Black doing? What about the Tyrant and Hierarch? What’s Intercessor up to? Where’s the Grey Pilgrim? What’s the Princes Graveyard? What’s going to happen with the Dwarves? Will the Gnomes be relevant? What about the elves and the Chain of Hunger? How does the Dead King tie into all this? If Book 1 set up Cat as a character, Book 2 was First Liesse, Book 3 was was Second Liesse and Book 4 seems to be the Tenth Crusade; what’s Book 5? Will we ever get a peek across the Tyrian Sea? Is Malicia losing the plot? What do the Gods think of all this? Is Saint of Swords or Ranger a bigger cunt? Will Cat get a happy ending; or will it end all fucked up like Worm? Will Triumphant return? What’s going on with Warlock and Hierophant? Are the goblins really going to rebel? Will Cat make the Drow more like Black made the Orcs more? That is, will she become to the Drow as Black is to the Orcs? Will Akua ever redeem herself?

    So many questions!!!! I really hope EE hasn’t written himself into a corner.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. lennymaster

      That is one of the things I so deeply enjoy about this story. After reading over a thousand fantasy and scify books it becomes hard to find any kind of story that can genuinely surprise me. After a certain point even the most shocking betrayal and twistiest plot twist tend to be long anticipated.


  15. Well there were some nice “Take that!”‘s for many comments. But I think that Cat has a valid reason to think she wasn’t good enough – Threefold Crossing. While the realities of her visions are arguable, she knows enough of Calamities to know that they’re not invincible. It just as well may’ve happen as follows: Cat rejects the knife, Swordsman kills every calimant on Squire, Heiress becomes Squire and everything goes downhill from here. Or any other quasiplausible case that Aqua seems to be so fond of making.

    Now, admittedly, I am a little to eager on selfdeprecation, so my point is not objective at all.

    Also, am I correct in assuming that sigil is basically Mighty and some redshorted mooks? Will Cat feed all the spare night in here to Ivah too? Will he change his name since he’s no longer cattle? I mean he already calls her Queen, she clearly need to overpower him into another treacherous lieutenant, Larat is lonely.


  16. Silverking

    This debate reminds me of the quote, “The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.” Cat keeps imagining that things could have been done better, while Akua claims that no, Cat is the best thing that could have ever happened to Callow, by virtue of the fact no other option could have actually worked. If the Heavens were capable of dropping down the Perfect Restorer of Callow, they would have done it ages ago. Instead, the Callow-born Heroes got smothered in their cribs by the Calamities, and the foreign-born heroes apparently never let “the liberation of the provinces formerly known as Callow” get to the top of their to-do list (as Cat herself called out with her first conversation with the Grey Pilgrim). And, to paraphrase King Edward, no Heroic quality is a better match for a Queen of Callow than Cat’s willingness to kick Callow’s enemies in the teeth with all her might.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Well, according to the Book 3 ending, where the 3 alternate lives of Cat play out, she was that ‘perfect savior’. She was probably intended by the Heavens to be the better part of the Swordsman’s band, but something happens and the Guide is born out of it. Maybe it’s just Cat’s innate nature of violent independence that drove her from her heavenly path.

      The lack of observation of something does not imply the lack of it’s existence.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Allafterme

        If memory serves right and Akua’s shenanigans can be trusted, by the time Cat would become White Knight Callow would be reduced to land of swords, pikes & spears, remnants of a people battling out over carrion of a nation. Things may be grim but at least they are not THAT bad…

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Metrux

        It’s what Black first saw in her. When he heard the information on her, she seemed like a Hero ready to be born. When he met her, he clearly said “I was wrong, you couldn’t ever be a Hero”. The thing is, in the Guideverse, Heroes strive for the status quo, while Villains strive for change, in the most usual way breaking what they don’t like. Just think about it, there was no Hero shown so far that didn’t strive to keep things or bring them back. Cat is not that kind of person, and as such, she would need to be diferent to be able to become a Heroine.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Snowfire1224

      Your comment of the best of all possible world reminds me of the book Candide, that book talks alot about both complete optimism and pessimism and reject both. If I remember correctly it was written to reject someone else’s optimistic philosophy that was being used to justify a lot of horrible things


  17. Dainpdf

    I find it interesting that this wasn’t just what Cat wanted to hear. It was what we, readers, wanted to hear – and what we wanted her to hear.
    If we forget that this is Akua Sahelian. She talks a good game, but she ignores quite a few points, some on purpose, some out of ignorance. First, the Bard made a play during this time (and outplayed Black at least once in the process). With Cat on Team Good (or whoever rose in her place), it might be that the Calamities fell. The Bard is that powerful a player.
    She speaks of the whims of the fae, but really those are hard to predict in the best of days – as Cat proved.
    In any case, her main argument rests on perfection being unachievable, and this recognition of faults being meaningless. Which is blatantly stupid when put that way, as is the auxiliary “but your opponents on the side of Good also have their faults”. The first one is just fallacious reasoning – she sneakily assumes the only point of improvement is reaching perfection. The second is her own brand of myopia: she only understands principles as relative to others.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Not going to lie, this is really going to bite her in the ass.

    When you don’t listen to the one wise person in your retinue… well, yeah.

    Starting to think that Vivi is giving her biased opinions on what good advice is and what bad advice is.


    1. Metrux

      Excuse me, the only wise one? I think you have something very wrongly misunderstood. When it comes to mind, I like to cleanly separate some parts: smarts, knowledge, creativity and wisdom. Why they are separate? Why, of course because they are DIFERENT. Smarts is your logic, your ability to think in logical paths and come to logical conclusions. Knowledge is anything that you learn, and has no value in itself, it has value when used by the other three skills. Creativity comes not only in the artistic sense, but also in your ability to think outside the box, in the way you can invent new ways and paths to follow. Wisdom is your inherent skill to know when to employ each skill, or follow your heart/instincts. A smart person knows that tomato is a fruit. A wise one knows not to use tometoes in a fruit salad.

      If you take those skills and try to compare between all the members of the woe, you may find that Akua is great at the first three, but is the worse in the lot at wisdom. Not kidding, she looses to Archer and Masego in this department, they still know when it’s worth it to just let it go for others, or when to just enjoy the little things. She doesn’t. Akua is all about doing whatever is necessary for her objectives all of the time, which is comendable, but really not wise.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. lennymaster

      I generally agree with Akua in this chapter, mostly because Cat’s self flagellation has been going on my nerves this entire book, and while I would not consider her to be as lacking as Metrux acuses Akua of, but to call her “the one wise person in your retinue” is just strange.
      Also, that implies Akua harbours good intentions for Cat. Wich is just plain wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. RoflCat

    A part of me wonder.

    Is Akua doing this for her own purpose, or because she’s part of Winter and she’s being affected by Catherine (whose soul is weaved into Winter, affecting all that drawn on it) to have a self-reflection moment?

    Just instead of talking to yourself, it’s your nemesis, the one person closest yet furthest away from you, speak it out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. werafdsaew

      I thought it’s pretty simple. If Cat ever abdicates, then she would have no further use for Akua, and we know what will happen to her then, so she is simply trying to prevent that future from ever happening.


  20. RanVor

    Akua or not Akua, Cat was in dire need of a pep talk. I know from personal experience that the lack of faith in one’s own abilities is an anathema to ever getting anything done.


  21. NotQuiteHere

    It’s as if Erratic needed someone to give Cat a talking too…but all the characters who should do it were away…not that it doesn’t fit or that it seemed unplanned (very well done in that respect), I just spent the entire chapter going is Akua really offering emotional support?!

    Thx 4 the chapter!


  22. superkeaton

    Thank you, Akua, for telling Cat to stop being a self-pitying prick. And damn you, Cat, for not listening to her. It’s the same shit that Hakram’s been saying, that Juniper’s been saying. Damnably frustrating.


  23. werafdsaew

    Which would have consequences more disastrous in Callow than most realms, admittedly, as it boasts little but fertile fields.

    Wait a minute, why is having lots of farm land a bad thing?


    1. Unmaker

      It’s the ‘little but’ part of the statement. No iron mines, coal mines, or forges to make weapons. No war colleges or wizard colleges to make human weapons. No other significant ways to make money to hire mercenaries or train defenders. So they’ve got what every army wants (supplies) but no good way to defend it. At least, that’s my take on it.


  24. Unmaker

    The Secret of Many Lives is almost up there with Named power. And Kodrog is only one of many Mighty, and apparently not the mightiest. And each and every power of Night is somehow connected to Sve. Can she draw them all in? Or use them, even occasionally? That could potentially make her the most powerful single being around.


  25. gloomyMoron

    “Laure, whose walls had been old and half-abandoned yet still holding sorcery powerful enough to give pause to the full might of the Summer Court.”

    Wrong city. Laure is Callowan’s capital, correct? Liese, or however it was spelled, was what was meant. The city Akua soul-nuked. The Summer Fae never reached Northern Callowan.


  26. the verbiage ecstatic

    Great, the arguments I made two chapters ago in the comments about how crazy this whole expedition is are now coming out of Akua’s mouth 🙂 I guess sociopathic villain mastermind is not too bad as a fellow traveler?


  27. Exec

    The way Ubua describes Callow while she’s freezing the wounds of a broken, half-dead warrior inches away from the grave that has escaped death from vastly superior opponents multiple times…
    all because Cat doesn’t have a better healer to offer…

    It’s like poetry, they rhyme!


  28. burguulkodar

    Lots of hollow discussion here, but I concur with Akua. I never liked Cat’s disgust of herself. Seems very psychotic and obsession-based, to me. In a different way from Masego, but it has always been there.

    Cat herself has noticed this trait, when she pointed out in this book that it was no coincidence she murdered her own swamp self in the Named Dream, and disliked her condescendent self.

    Cat is in perpetual war with herself, something that is not really something pleasant to be and is prone to mind disfunction (which, frankly, she has ever been). Her impulsiveness and outright violence as a way to solve things is the tip of the iceberg for a deep personality problems.


  29. Jeffery Wells

    I love this novel, and the world that has been built up here.

    It’s pretty clear to me that what takes the name of Good is not inherently good, and what takes the name of Evil is not inherently evil. The only difference between them is the strategy One is straightforward about doing evil, the other hides it behind lies of goodness. I prefer to think of them only as Above and Below, rather than Good or Evil.

    The Grey Pilgrim is the clearest example of this. He speaks platitudes of goodness and light, and even fulfills such platitudes of you are on his side, seeking to guide people to be better than they are. He preaches righteousness and goodness wherever he goes.

    Yet he is perfectly willing to consign tens of thousands of innocent people to death to prop up a warlord against a queen who he knows with certainty has done everything in her power to prevent the deaths of innocents. He even used this against her to steer fate like a weapon to kill her.

    All for literally no reason other than that her Name belongs to the wrong team. If that is not the embodiment of evil I don’t know what is.

    Also the various priesthoods of Calernia declaring the least evil villain in the history of villains to be Arch-villain, while simultaneously declaring all priests of Callow heretics to justify it. If that’s not pure evil I don’t know what is.

    That is the evil of Above – they pretend to be good to do their evil, while the evil of Below doesn’t pretend.


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