Interlude: Zwischenzug

“Of course I fear my friends. If they did not scare me, why befriend them at all?”
– Dread Empress Prudence the First, the Frequently Vanquished

When dawn came to Laure it found Vivienne Dartwick already awake. She’d slept only fitfully on her too-soft bed, the sparse hours of rest broken by regular reports from her Jacks. Now that she’d returned to the capital she was like the spider returned to her web, her thieves and spies passing forward a river of whispers she had not understood how badly she missed before she could drink from it again. It’d been two months since she had last spoken with Catherine, time and distance watering her wine. She still believed most of what she’d said, but the dire state of affairs here had forced her to admit her queen had not been wrong in her predictions: neither she nor Adjutant had been able to afford a full night’s sleep since they stepped out of Arcadia. The orc was a work horse like no one she had ever met, yet she knew that if he’d been forced to handle the Jacks as well as the rest he would have buckled under the weight.

Sunlight passed through the open panes of her window as she sat in silence, two scrolls unfurled before her. Neither were pleasant news. Dread Empress Malicia had sent a diplomatic envoy under truce banner and the man was reported to be riding for Laure with all possible haste. His affairs had been looked through, and he carried no letter or instructions. Whatever the Empress wanted to be said would be spoke in person. Reluctantly, Vivienne had passed along orders for the envoy to be allowed use of courier horses and escorted by soldiers from the Summerholm garrison. The second scroll was a matter beyond her own purview to settle. After refugees began pouring into Callow through the Blessed Isle, Catherine had ordered for the farmers of the eastern fields to withdraw back to Summerholm with their grain and cattle. There had been concerns that if the city garrison sallied out to force the refugees back into the Empire it would be walking into a Praesi ambush.

The farmers and villagers closest to Summerholm had obeyed. Those closer to Praesi borders, however, were digging in their heels. They were refusing their abandon their possessions to the inevitable looting from the refugees but lacked the means to carry them westward, and so they’d refused to leave entirely. Already there had been strife between Callowans and refugees, and over a dozen deaths. It would only get worse, Vivienne knew. More refugees would come, and some would carry weapons. Callowan farmers would empty their cellars of dusty old spears and swords to fight for their land and property, and the killings would escalate. The Praesi were sure exploit the mounting fears and either arm or send troops to help their countrymen. Vivienne’s own countrymen would die, and not a damned thing would be done about it. Marshal Juniper, she knew, would be adamant it was not worth risking the garrison to protect farmers who’d refused to obey a royal decree.

There was only one man in the kingdom who could force her, and Hakram Deadhand was not known to smile upon those who disobeyed his mistress.

Vivienne passed a hand through her hair, noting it was beginning to grow long again. She’d need to have it cut soon enough, and it sent a private pang of fear in her that this was the case. The thief had worked with quite a few Named, since the Liesse Rebellion, and she had not known any of them to have such issues. The largest physical change she’d seen in someone with a Role was Masego’s noticeable loss of weight after the Observatory was raised – and given that the man had often forgotten to eat unless Indrani saw to it, the explanation was clear. The Hierophant had been wasting away chasing his visions, his thinning had been as much a reflection of that as his lack of meals. What did it mean, that her hair still grew and she tired almost as easily as when she’d been young? She’d never observed the same in any of the Named she’d known. The thought that she might lose her aspects, or even her Name itself, had been the fodder of persistent nightmares.

She was already dead weight as a Named, what would she be without even that?

Vivienne forced herself to breathe in and breathe out slowly, the old calming trick her thief master had taught her when he first took her roof-hopping. Yet she could only think of the pain, oh the pain when the lightning had coursed through her body. Of the searing green heat that engulfed her under the cold gaze of the Duke of Green Orchards. Of the flames that had licked at her body hungrily in the depths of the Doom of Liesse, cracking the gums of her teeth and scorching her tongue. A parade of pain, and what did she have but failures to contrast them with? How many of my victories were truly mine? Her hand was trembling with the answer, and the knowledge that followed – all of her defeats had been of her own making. Vivienne snarled and formed a fist with trembling fingers, hitting at the table.

“I will catch up,” she whispered, knuckles throbbing with pain. “I will.”

She breathed in, breathed out. The tremors had not left, but lazing about would not chase them away. She had had yet another losing fight to pick. She left the scrolls behind and left her rooms, grabbing the first palace servant she came across and ordering him to pass the message that Marshal Juniper was summoned to a council in the formal room at Morning Bell. Vivienne had no intention of spending time trading barbed words with the Hellhound as would inevitably ensue if she went herself to seek out the recently-arrived Marshal of Callow. The other whose attendance would be required, though, she would fetch herself. They’d not traded words in three days save through correspondences, their differing duties and long hours precluding the shared meals that Catherine insisted on the Woe having when she was there to enforce it. Honestly compelled the thief to admit she would not have taken occasion to have one even if there had been one. She’d warmed to some of the Woe more than she had ever thought she would. Masego and Indrani she even counted as friends of a sort, a notion that would have appalled her a few years ago.

She had no such conflicting feelings over Hakram Deadhand.

Adjutant was not difficult to find. The cramped and crooked room that had once belonged to some royal scribe was the orc’s office, and he did not leave it unless he was needed for council or court. He must sleep in there, if he even slept. The only distraction the Jacks had found he indulged in were occasional visits from his subordinate Captain Tordis. The other orc’s presence, when not required by reports, was followed by the door being locked and the captain emerging with her hair ruffled and her neck red around an hour afterwards. No other such visitors had been noted, which ran against Adjutant’s reputation for promiscuity. Vivienne suspected her was simply too tired and busy to chase skirts, even those made of mail. The door to the officer was cracked open, light filtering from inside. Neither candles, as Callowans preferred to use, not the finicky magelights the Praesi were so fond of. A handful of common sprites in bottles, spread around the room. Vivienne found the soft glow of them almost soothing as she rapped her knuckle against the door before opening it entirely. The orc was leaning over his desk, brows creased as he moved his quill against parchment with almost unnatural precision. He finished penning his sentence and blew the ink dry before looking up.

“Thief,” Adjutant said, nodding in welcome. “Didn’t think you’d still be up.”

“It will be Morning Bell within an hour,” Vivienne replied, then gestured at the seat across him. “May I?”

“Go ahead,” he replied, sounding surprised. “Gods, morning already? I could have sworn it was barely half a bell past midnight.”

The thief carefully picked up the handful of parchment sheaths left to pile on the seat, glimpsing a grain reserve tally left mostly open among them, and set them down on the floor. She dropped down into the chair, already wary. She forced herself not to look at his hand of bones, to not remember the sensation of it wrapping around her throat and squeezing.

“You look tired,” Deadhand gently said, fangs clicking inside his maw. “Don’t work yourself to death.”

“You’re hardly one to talk,” Vivienne said, painting a smile.

The kindly visage of the concerned friend, the shoulder all the Woe could lean on. That was to be his face today, then. It was one of many. Catherine’s dutiful steward and second, smoothing away every wrinkle. The laughing accomplice, trading jibes and jabs with the lowliest of soldiers. The terrifying giant of muscle and steel, roaring as he tore apart foes with fang and axe. The soft-spoken, cold-eyed thing that had told her mild as milk he would snap her neck if she even considered treachery. Which is your real face? Are any of them true? She did not look at the bones. Dead the hand and dead the man, the song went. She could not put it out of her head.

“I’ve set an hour or two aside for the purpose next month,” he drily said. “I take it there’s a reason for the pleasure of your company?”

“I’ve word from the Jacks,” she said. “The situation east is worsening and something needs to be done before it comes to a head. I’ve called a council with Marshal Juniper.”

“Hopefully Aisha will have gotten some tea into her before she arrives,” Adjutant grimaced, baring teeth like ivory knives.

She’d seen them rip into throats, more than once. Gobble down blood and flesh greedily like it was the finest of delicacies. The quickening in her pulse she kept away from her eyes, having learned from Akua Sahelian’s example. Diabolist had not quite managed to hide how wary she was of the orc, and though the shade’s discomfiture would usually have put a smile on her face Vivienne had been too dismayed to be sharing any opinion with the Butcher of Liesse to take any joy from it. Snakes know one another, she’d thought back then. Akua Sahelian was studying the Woe carefully, forging herself into a person they would allow themselves to like, but she’d found another had struck long before her. No wonder the shade feared him: she’d found a man whose face was as changeable as her own patiently watching her. And unlike Diabolist, Vivienne doubted there was anyone alive who knew what Hakram Deadhand truly wanted. The orc leaned back into his seat, rolling his shoulders and loudly cracking his neck with a little exhale of pleasure.

“I could eat,” Adjutant said. “Probably should, too. Care to join me on a trip to the kitchens?”

“I already ate,” she lied without batting an eye. “Though don’t let me stop you.”

She could think of few things she desired less than watching that maw at work from across a mere table’s width.

“You should get something warm in you,” the orc advised, rising to his feet. “You look like death warmed over. Indrani forgot some of her tea leaves in her room, I believe. I’ll ask a servant to brew you a pot for the council. Formal room?”

Vivienne agreed with a silent nod. She was not surprised he’d noticed her fondness for Indrani’s brews. Those dark eyes missed nothing and forgot even less. They parted ways two corridors further down, and she could not leave soon enough.

“So the farmers with spears are fighting the refugees with knives,” Marshal Juniper grunted. “There’s a surprise: there’d a damned reason they were recalled to Summerholm. The sole ingredient in that stew is desperation.”

Staff Tribune Bishara had not, in fact, gotten some tea into the Hellhound before she arrived. The orc’s particularly fine mood stood testament to this fact. The Marshal of Callow was of the opinion that she should be overseeing the training camps filled with fresh recruits from all across the kingdom, not cooling her heels at the capital, and had spared no pains in expression that opinion to all  those even remotely involved.  Adjutant was taking her spleen with at least the semblance of good humour. The constant gruff whining scraped Vivienne’s nerves raw, especially when paired with the outcome she already knew was in motion.

“The farmers are defending their lands from looters,” she sharply replied. “As is their right.”

“Starving looters,” Deadhand mildly said. “I doubt there’s any great enmity or deep scheme to it. They’re cold and hungry people, not a marauding army.”

“Leave this alone long enough, and that’s exactly what it’ll turn into,” Vivienne warned. “Blood has been spilled. They’ll band together for the safety in numbers, and so will Callowans to deal with it. By the turn of the month it will be skirmishes all across the river banks.”

“There wouldn’t be corpses on the floor if they’d obeyed Foundling’s fucking decree,” Marshal Juniper bluntly said. “Which was meant to avoid this very outcome, if you’ll remember. Last I checked someone had crowned her Queen of Callow. I’m no jurist, but I was under the impression ignoring royal decrees was some kind of treason.”

She’s Queen of Callow, not some eastern tyrant or a damned greenskin warlord, Vivienne thought, fingers tightening under the table. Our rulers know there’s limits to what they can order and reasonably expect to have obeyed. It was a losing fight, as she’d known from the start. Neither of these two bore any love for the land they’d been charged with ruling, or the people born to it.

“There’s no need to go quite that far,” Adjutant said. “As Thief noted, all their actions save for ignoring the recall are legal under Callowan law. It would be a mistake to paint all that followed with the same brush as that initial mistake.”

Deadhand the diplomat, now: half the friend, half the officer. Vivienne had not wanted the responsibility of the regency of Callow and found the burden of it suffocating, but the way the title seemed to be left at the door in their eyes remained galling. The difference between the authority in name and the authority in truth had grown to worry her, not for what it was but for what it might become. Catherine had come to the throne lawlessly, but that lawlessness could not keep lest the kingdom come apart at the seams. A few years of this, she thought, and it will be one law for those with swords and another for those without. If that came to be, the kingdom would burst like an overripe fruit without even need for an invasion. Callowans had long been under Imperial rule, but they were beginning to wake to the old freedoms. Hatred of Procer and Praes was keeping the peace for now, yet how long would that last?

“A decree’s a decree,” Marshal Juniper growled. “We start making excuses for everyone and this falls apart.”

“If you start hanging farmers for defending their land, excuses will be the last of your worries,” the thief coldly said. “They are not beast of burdens, to be browbeaten into the latest whim and whipped if they do not immediately obey.”

The orc’s maw opened, baring a row of sharp fangs. Vivienne forced her shoulders to loosen, affecting nonchalance. Perhaps even contempt. Show her fear, give her an inch, and it will be the end of you, she thought.

“You brought this to us,” Adjutant spoke before the other could. “And I’m glad you did. Have you already thought of a measure to remedy the issue?”

Always so smooth, so measured. Too perfect. It made her skin crawl. It was no mystery, why she could not make herself trust this one while she’d come to rely on a Praesi warlock and a vicious pupil of the Lady of the Lake. Masego cannot curb his tongue nor his face and Indrani has never been anything but brutally honest of her indifference to the suffering of others.

“The reason for their recalcitrance to leave is simple,” she said. “They will not abandon their possessions to looters but lack any method of bringing them west of they leave. If the means are provided, the matter will be largely settled.”

“Not much road in that region, save for the Imperial highway,” Marshal Juniper said, eyes narrowing. “You can’t just requisition merchant wagons from Summerholm, the axles will break in rough country.”

“The garrison of Summerholm has a large complement Legion-issue supply carts,” Vivienne said. “All reinforced with good steel.”

“No,” the Hellhound immediately said. “That’s out of the question. I will not allow military equipment to be doled out to farmers. Anyone could seize them.”

“I did not mean for them to be spelled away into the countryside miraculously,” she replied scathingly. “The garrison would be escorting the carts. The presence of soldiers will put an end to the skirmishes immediately, which should quicken the process enough the risks will be minimal.”

“You must have been struck on the ear in Keter,” Marshal Juniper growled. “I just gave you your answer. If I’m unwilling to risk carts why would you think I’m willing to risk the force holding the east?”

“It does not hold the east,” Vivienne said through gritted teeth, “it watches from tall walls as the entire eastern stretch slowly goes up in blood and flames.”

“All it takes is for Aksum or a pack of lesser lordships to see the garrison coming and we could lose the entire garrison to an ambush,” the Hellhound said slowly, as if addressing an idiot. “They have mages, Dartwick. They have household troops and devils. The Empire’s interior has been left entirely untouched by the Ashuran raids, they’re fresh and at full strength. If the garrison force is gone, they can push forward to Summerholm and there’s fuck all we can do about it. Half my army is spread across training camps and the rest guarding the Vales. If the enemy move quick enough, we could actually lose Summerholm itself. Walls mean nothing without men on them. All of this, for a pack of bloody farmers who refused a direct order and are now facing the eminently predictable consequences of that refusal.”

“Not your army, Hellhound,” the thief said softly. “The Army of Callow. Sworn to protect its people, not just turn back invasions or war abroad.”

“I know the godsdamned name,” Marshal Juniper snarled. “The queen of the place put me in charge of it. You sure you want to have a pissing contest over that? I don’t think you’ll like the results.”

“Enough,” Adjutant said.

The voice rang with power. Not quite Speaking, Vivienne thought, yet not too far from it. She’d never mastered that trick herself, but she’d seen Catherine employ it. Felt the ripples shudder through everyone, the air heavy like just before a storm struck. The Black Queen rarely used the tool, but when she did the casual display of power was always terrifying. The way she could snatch the will of anyone in earshot as easy as snapping her fingers, bludgeoning them into obedience with weight and power. Adjutant did not have the talent, and for that Vivienne thanked whatever Gods were listening. It was already terrifying enough to remember he’d been able to fight her before even claiming his Name. Every single conversation they held was tinted by the knowledge that the orc was now in the fullness of his power, capable of tearing apart lords of the fae. He could rip out her throat with but a moment’s effort and there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.

“This bickering helps no one,” Deadhand said. “Juniper, there is a difference between having a rough tongue and pouring scorn. One is your character. The other has no place in this room, or in conversation with people who outrank you.”

The Hellhound lips thinned.

“There was no-”

Adjutant barked out a sentence in Kharsum, too swift and heavily accented for her to understand most of it. The words for oil and fires stood out, and the Marshal of Callow closed her maw with a loud click of fangs. She no longer spoke. Vivienne’s eyes remained on the other orc, wondering if she should be expressing her warm gratitude for Deadhand deigning to step in. She found little of that in her heart. The Hellhound’s open hostility was nothing new, and this did absolutely nothing to mend it.

“Juniper isn’t wrong about the risks,” Adjutant finally said, voice calm again.

Another losing fight lost, Vivienne bitterly thought. They did not trust her or her judgement. The worst part of it was that she could see why they did not. What had she achieved with the Jacks that required a Name, that could not be done by another spymistress? How had she proved herself the equal of the infamous Black Queen or dauntless Archer, of an orc celebrated in song or a mage who spat in the eye of lesser gods? She’d been enemies with these two, not so long ago. And even then it’d been William who took the hand now made of bones, while she’d been tossed through a window like a sack of radishes by an offhand spell. I do not belong here, she thought, the warm memories of laughter by the fire seeming so far away. She did not belong at this table, arguing over the fate of her people and losing inch by inch. She’d joined Catherine for more than this, hadn’t she? For something beyond Imperial rule, and there was no mistaking what this was. It might be orcs speaking, but the words were the harsh teaching of the War College – the Carrion Lord’s own.

Vivienne had not turned her cloak to keep living under the laws of the Black Knight. She tried, even now, to keep her eyes ahead. On the Liesse Accords, that single piece dream that could not be called anything but a good for the world. The lone and lonely light in this ugly sea of grey. Yet the Accord were far on the horizon, and the tide was drowning her now.

“We’ll need to amend the operational plan,” Adjutant said. “Leave some of the garrison behind and keep what we send out in a tight cluster with the Wild Hunt ready to gate them out if the Empire mobilizes.”

Vivienne’s heart skipped a beat. It was what she’d wanted to hear. What was his angle, here? What did he gain by this? What does he gain by the Liesse Accords, the old whisper came, that he would champion them so ardently?

“The Hunt is the key to our defence, Hakram,” Marshal Juniper said. “If the League or Procer strikes-”

“If,” Deadhand repeated. “A possibility. Is it a fact that we’re losing people now, Juniper.”

“I don’t like it,” the Hellhound said. “It leaves us fragile.”

“You don’t have to like it,” Adjutant said. “It’s an order. Now, Thief. I believe we have a map of the region somewhere around here for proper planning, but I’d like your thoughts on how we should go about the evacuation. I’m leaning towards a circular sweep, but you’ve people on the ground and I don’t.”

Vivienne Dartwick leaned forward and spoke, the council stretching for over an hour before the bare bones of a plan had been laid down and a recess was called until they’d all looked into the proper records and logistics.

The patient watchfulness in the orc’s eyes never left for a moment, and she never ceased to look for it.

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82 thoughts on “Interlude: Zwischenzug

  1. Go Vote!
    http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=a-practical-guide-to-evil

    And, believe it or not, I actually have something besides voting! Wow! That never happens!

    There is a Discord Server for the Guide, that isn’t overly active, but if more people show up and start participating, it could be!
    So come on, create a discord (if you do not already have one) and join the PracticalGuideToEvil Discord Server: https://discord.gg/w5pnbqP
    (Side effects may include, but are not limited to: being stabbed by a Black Knight, learning you have Zombies inside your soul, dying, coming back to life probably as one of the zombie in your soul, killing Heroes, Villains, and anything else that gets in your way, forcing an Angel to resurrect you, becoming King Arthur by pulling a Sword from the Stone, breaking said sword, claiming part of the mantle of Winter and then messing things up to the point where your body is ripped apart by a Winter’s Storm only to be reforged by Winter, destroying both Winter and Summer courts, nearly killing your mentor, fighting off Gandalf (only slightly less cool), and someone who religiously believes in Swords, having your homeland torn apart by war every other minute, dropping lakes on people, meeting with the closest thing to a True Incarnation of Evil on your continent, finding a bunch of Murder Hobo’s, and constantly wondering if you’ve made the right decision)

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Drd

        If I were ever to become a boxer/mma fighter (not bloody likely), I want my nickname to be “The Murder Hobo”. I feel like it perfectly encapsulates who I am, my true essence. :]

        Like

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      If you have been using the table of contents to read chapters, make sure you go to “extra chapters” and see that you didn’t miss any.

      I read this for a quarter of a year before I realized that ranger had an interlude I’d missed.

      Like

    1. stevenneiman

      Cool to see Vivienne’s perspective for once. I don’t recall if we’ve ever had a POV chapter from her, but it was interesting seeing how much self-loathing she feels stemming from being the only non-combat member of the Woe. I notice how she carefully omitted things like the fact that she was instrumental to defeating Summer.
      I also kinda feel bad for her poor relationship with Hakram, given that in some ways they’re very similar. The only real difference is that he wants to help Cat as long as she spits in the eyes of the high and mighty and she wants to help Cat as long as she helps Callow in turn. It might be because we spend most of our time in the POV of the only character he really bares his whole self to, but I actually think he seems like a very straightforward and simple character. He’s defined by the willingness to do whatever Cat needs him to do, whether that means brutally slaughtering enemies on the field, scaring the shit out of Vivienne, or doing paperwork 23 hours a day for weeks.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. soonnanandnaanssoon

    The zwischenzug (German: pronounced [ˈtsvɪʃənˌtsuːk] “intermediate move”) is a chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move (commonly a recapture), first interposes another move posing an immediate threat that the opponent must answer, and only then plays the expected move (Hooper & Whyld 1992:460) (Golombek 1977:354). It is a move that has a high degree of “initiative”. Ideally, the zwischenzug changes the situation to the player’s advantage, such as by gaining material or avoiding what would otherwise be a strong continuation for the opponent.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zwischenzug
    -From Wikipedia, the true Guide to the Goods and Evils of Humanity.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Andrei

      So I was getting a feeling but seeing the name of the chapter explain confirmed it for me: Thief is the target of the Pilgrims redemption story. I expect he will appear to her at some point in the future and convince her that this whole evil thing isn’t good for her or callow and she will betray Cat. This betrayal will be one more step our dear Cat takes as shes climbing The Tower.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am expecting another few chess-based chapters about what’s going on abroad, probably something from the Empire, something form Masego, and then something from Hakram, although Masego/Empire could be combined or just focus on Masego, and Hakram may have been covered here.
    There will also probably be something on Tyrant/Hierarch, and, if we’re lucky, the Bard.
    I do believe that it is too early for anything on The Dead King.
    Probably 2 or 3 more chapters, in all, so the rest of this week is probably some more interludes before we hit the main story again, and see the storm that Cat just unsealed.

    Like

  4. Thief doubts herself. That’s … realistic, but I’m not sure what options she has for the self-improvement/”catching up” she wants.
    Also, Hakram could manhandle you before he got his Name because he’s big, strong, and a trained and capable combatant. You aren’t really any of those, Viv.

    Also, Hakram’s wants? They’re limited with his Name – his wants are linked to what Cat wants.
    Cat would’ve wanted the farmers helped to move, thus Hakram wants to figure out how to best do so.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        Following the logic she states, a spy mistress (lower case intentional).

        And honestly, I’m kinda on board for this transition if it does happen, she herself has started doubting herself to a fatalistic degree. I’m also on board for Akua getting a seat at the table, as horrifying as that sounds.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Stormblessed

    Yeah Thief is both way overestimating and way underestimating Adjutant at the same time. His wants aren’t very complicated. He’s loyal to Cat in almost every sense of the word. If his goals end up being some kind of other plot in a way that goes against Cat I’d be more than shocked. Obviously he can have individual medications, but betraying Cat just seems off the table narratively (except maybe if mind magic could somehow be involved, but it still feel like a bad story).

    That being said, the viewpoint of Hakram’s capabilities from Viv’s perspective lay is incredibly interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. the verbiage ecstatic

        Keep in mind, though, we don’t really know his role. He’s the first of his Name, and we’ve never gotten the story of what “Adjutant” symbolizes for Orc-kind. Roles can have multiple sides, and we’ve seen one facet of it, but do we know how it ultimately evolves? Vivienne’s perspective is interesting, because she’s calling out something that we should have seen: Hakram is a little *too* perfect as a crutch for Cat. In a world that runs on narratives, that’s a tad suspicious…

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            1. RanVor

              You didn’t read very carefully, did you? It’s actually more of a villainous role since heroes tend to be competent enough not to need those.

              Like

  6. Someguy

    This plan is a half-assed one bound to raise a Name if some Callowan farm boy/girl go through the portals into Arcadia and gets lost/kidnapped. Of course such stories usually end with the boy/girl being toyed with by the fae for eternity but coming out with a magic sword to slay Evil is also likely.

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    1. RanVor

      What? The Fae portals are the emergency plan in case of an ambush. The regular plan is to get people’s stuff to Summerholm by mundane measures.

      Like

      1. Someguy

        No plan survives contact with the enemy. Worse, no plan survives contact with stupid, stubborn people who are part of an “escort mission”.

        Like

  7. Anon

    Huh. I don’t recall Vivienne ever displaying so much…..open fear of Hakram before, even in her own memories/past interludes.

    I know she’d been quite wary of him, but this seems another level entirely.

    I do like how she either doesn’t ‘get’/recognize Hakram’s seeing the Warlord in Catherine, and/or is ignoring the possibility that Cat means different things to different people – and in every case, possible of bringing about change to the world.

    I’m also a bit….curious on her feeling like she hasn’t accomplished anything? She stole the sun, helped save Cat from Akua, was useful in Keter, etc….I know she’s not as combat-focused, and in the time of war she currently finds herself in, thief isn’t as useful as Adjutant or even Scribe would be, but it feels like she’s suddenly….undergoing a bout of depression, almost?

    I can certainly see it happening, mind, but it feels…perhaps a bit sudden/out of the blue?

    Otherwise, were I to guess on her Name making her still get tired/grow hair, it’s part of being a thief – were she to be ‘stuck’ in time, she might eventually end up too recognizable. (Or alternatively, potentially a sign she’s not on the ‘ageless’ aspect that the more evil-aligned characters have)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Kingbob

      I think this is the Heaven’s putting the finger to the scales. the Hero turned repenting and comes back to the light is a dangerous story when you can make it work.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. IDKWhoitis

      She seems pretty depressed, as she can only see herself doing wrong, having done wrong, and probably only going to commit more wrong in the future. Her losing her figure and losing her “spark” is bound have a cascading effect if she doesn’t succeed at some pivot.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Jane

      Depression sounds exactly like what’s happening, to me – she feels like she’s being left behind by the power demonstrated by everyone around her, and is unable to properly understand the value that she brings to the team.

      And her current impression of Hakram is probably tinted by her own depression, highlighting all of the negatives. As a spymaster, someone who can be all things to all people is probably one of the most significant threats around – someone she genuinely can’t understand the core of, when her entire job is to understand others. That he’s capable of crushing her in a heartbeat (and, uh, has, before), and she just had a near-death experience, probably just makes things worse – kind of like PTSD.

      Liked by 6 people

    4. Azure

      I think Thief is missing the obvious signs that she’s transitioning to another name. Doesn’t it make you weaker till you get your new Aspects, as you’re essentially in limbo? It’s definitely some kind of information gathering web type name, Spy Mistress seems too obvious.

      Also being away from Catherine seems very bad for Thief, and might be linked to her new name in some way. She pretty much gave up there at the end and only Hakram taking her side, saved the day. Something really weird is going on with her mental state without Catherine around. She feels powerless, so she is becoming powerless, like a vicious self fulfilling prophecy. Catherine really needs to return soon, or Thief might lose her name transition to despair.

      Like

      1. Miles

        But I think she’s just having a bad time because she’s surrounded by only the co-workers she has issues with.

        She might also be a bit racist.

        Like

  8. Concerned

    Ya know, she never actually was called Thief with a capital T except by Hakram this chapter….

    Combined with her hair thing and self-doubt, that’s not good.

    Personally I blame Diabolist, but I do that for everything

    Liked by 1 person

    1. MagnaMalusLupus

      Not quite, there was one instance I noticed:

      >“You don’t have to like it,” Adjutant said. “It’s an order. Now, Thief. I believe we have a map of the region somewhere around here for proper planning…

      Like

  9. IDKWhoitis

    So if I read the timeline correctly, 2 months have passed since the last movements of Cat?

    I foresee a sudden and brutal interruption via the Foundling method that will end these Interludes.

    Akin to the chessboard combusting into green flames mid game.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Alivaril

    I’m going to agree with the theory of “Above and/or a narrative pushing poor Thief.” This just doesn’t seem to match with her past behavior; she was sloooowly getting more comfortable with Hakram years ago (she’d drink and eat with him even if she did sleep with one eye open) with this as a major backslide and Vivienne’s analysis of Hierophant and Archer both focused on their moral failings. Depression would explain the focus on perceived failures and failings – I can definitely attest to that – but not the abrupt jerks toward Templar Good or paranoia.

    This also has interesting implications with Pilgrim’s whole “old traits made more acute” accusation – is it that Villainous leaders change those under them, or do they GUARD said individuals from Above’s attempts at mind control?

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Jane

    *sigh*.

    See, this is why Cat really, really needed to have a proper talk with Vivienne before she went home – Thief’s repeated failures are really starting to wear on her. It’s obvious why they didn’t have time for that talk, but they really need a heart to heart before it starts to affect her work.

    Cat doesn’t need another super-Named right now. She has plenty of ways to break an army when she needs to, up to and including dropping the sky on them. What she needs is someone who can act as a competent administrator and who can ferret out Malicia’s plots before they lose the other half of their officials. Being able to deal with intrigue has always been Cat’s weakest point. What good is having a kingdom if you don’t actually have anyone who can run it?

    Besides, the name of Thief has never (so far as I know) been some ultimate killer who can take on any challenger – if she wanted that, she should have transitioned to Assassin. That doesn’t make Thief any less important, however – stealing the Crusader’s supplies forced them to the peace table in a way that a direct confrontation never could have, for instance. And she stole the gosh-darned sun once! She does know how they talk about that, yes?

    But when you’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder with much flashier legends, I understand how that can leave you feeling inadequate – especially after nearly being killed by a “merely” human mage. That’s why Cat really needs to have a talk with her, to help her see her own value.

    (Plus, you know, Cat really needs a morality pet given the kind of people she surrounds herself with, but… Well, I doubt pointing that out would help pull Vivienne out of her funk compared to highlighting the value of her accomplishments.)

    Liked by 6 people

  12. Wry Warudo

    Two months have passed? Wonder if Cat killed the Sve yet?
    Maybe we’ll be getting a drow army coming to save Callow in its hour of need

    Like

      1. Weren’t they invisible?

        Also, just because they’re sentient, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can talk or otherwise readily communicate with people.

        Plus, they didn’t want to serve their creator – why would they serve Cat? Besides … I kind of doubt that they have much of a hierarchy or organization – they are, after all, based on solitary big cats.

        Like

          1. I could see any given tiger going all in on the whole “be invisible and be able to breathe both water and air” plan once given enough sentience to understand whole paragraphs of explanation. That’s, like, up there with asking “would you like extra catnip with that side of mutton?” or something. XD

            Like

  13. So, did any of you guys noticed that Thief in chapters is no longer starts with a capital T? This is as good as outright admission that she lost her name, coupled with physical changes, and tiredness. And frankly? I can buy it, yeah. Thief has little to do with both her current purpose and burdens, she is spymistress now, not a thief. I womder to what name she’ll transition now, of any at all. Any guesses?

    By the way, I honestly adore the way Woe are being flashed out. Never really thought about them, truth be told. Cat, Dead King, WB, Black, Malicia, Cordelia? Yeah sure. Never much pondered how Woe feel though. Took ’em for granted. And EE now have seen fit to remedy this.

    First there’s Archer’s perspective. And it quite simple and direct, really. She was a wild animal and she found a home. I would confess not putting much weight into her assesments of others, just like I won’t be putting much in Thief’s. She is drawn to Catherine like a wolf, and Woe is her pack. And her adoration to Masego comes from a same place. He has something she respects above all, strength, but he is also safe to be around. In her own words: “dangerous without the edges”. For someone raised by the Edge incarnate, Lady Ranger, it is quite the reprieve.

    Masego is trickier to parse, partly because he’s supposed to be a genius and somewhere on the autistic spectrum, and I am neither of those things. But his explanation, coupled with his Name dream is quite important. He said that he’s attracted to Cat quite in the same way the smaller celestial orbs are attracted to large. He does go own mentioning family, so that is where Archer is probably right, kinda. He is drawn to Catherine the same way he is drawn to the centre of mass, but also in the same way you are drawn to a bonfire in the cold night. He was a boy who’ve seen his world unmade at the age of nine, and that experience defined who he is. The only stable thing he ever had was his family, his fathers and the Calamities proper. And so he is drawn to Cat because she gives him that much needed stability, the starting point, which is what the family is to him. Also, what with Ruin and perceived betrayal of his father, his personality may’ve yet change. We still don’t know what his third aspect as Apprentice was, so we can’t even theorise it, but who’s willing to bet we shall se it soon?

    Hakram’s a bitch to handle. Juniper confesses she thought him to be a “coldblood”, basically a psychopath. Also Cat says that “what she took for absense, was just an apathy”, Vivi’s perspective puts a spin on this, yet again. Also, given what we know of him from his own POVs, I’d refrain from calling him such. Also, I do have my doubts now.

    Thief is the latest addition and in the way, the oddest. Unlike others of Woe, she is loyal to Cqllow firetmost. It was very unsetling to learn about her reactions to her repeated defeats. How I just ignored them entrely. In a way, Thier joined ot of despeation, not belonging. Unlike othes, she already has a home, which she shares with Cat. In a way, that is adding some deeper connection betwen them that she lacks with others. Masego sees home in his famìly, Archer in her pack, Hakram, I suppose sees it like a tribe just like Juniper, although his loyalty is a great deal more personal. Thief and in a way, Cat, does not seek a home, because she already has it. And that estranges her from orcs, for she does not see herself as part of their tribe.

    On a side not, we got Mazego with autism, Hakram with psychopathy, Viviene with depression. The pattern is concening, although I’ve yet to figure what kind of crazy is Archer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Raved Thrad

      I looked back through the text, and you’re right. It’s an intriguing point, which makes me wonder if we’re about to see Vivienne transition into a new Name.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Wry Warudo

      For all we know Thief may not actually be part of the Woe. Iirc, the queen only explicitly mentioned Cat and referred to Masego as being part of the five. Considering how Summer was also at odds with Diabolist at the time, this may make her a candidate, since she’s technically a member of their band now.

      Like

  14. I’m looking forward to seeing Vivienne transition hopefully.

    Maybe Vicegerent to create a grey Chancellor role. Or possibly Vicereine/Viceroy/Viceregent since she is wealthy, acts as regent, and may end up in a wife type role (which is a common meaning for Vicereine, though all three words can be synonyms) and Vice twine just goes nicely with the name Vivienne.

    Or Maybe Guildmistress if she takes on all the dark guilds after Ratface’s death. She could have the nickname the Grey Lady or the Black Lady to match Cat.

    Or it could be that her watching of Cat and Akua leads to some role like Auditor, or possibly Witness if something happens.

    There’s also the issue of what will happen with all the night Cat may be about to have access to. Will it all go to Ivah? Or will Vivienne end up having some part of that if Ivah ever feels powerful enough to challenge Cat and inevitably gets the night beaten out of him.

    I’m so excited to see where Vivienne ends up.

    Like

    1. Tobias

      I like your train of thought RE: vicereine, but she should just be called Lesser Queen. Then, if she screws up, she can be demoted to Lesser Lesser Queen.

      Like

  15. Cthulhu

    I’m sorry thief is depressed but she has an awful job right now and isn’t suited to it.

    I think she’s going through what Cat did when she betrayed her Name. It made her weak and depressed.

    But I do have one complaint. Seems to me that Thief is going through this betrayal because she isn’t using her power to steal. The task in front of her is to transport a whole bunch of shit from the East to safety.

    Rather than send an army …. wouldn’t it be better for her to go with some fast horses and just steal the stuff at the border? Sure, it’s a bunch, but she has an infinite bag of holding to grab the stuff.

    Get the stuff. The people flee to safety with no stuff left to be lost. She saves her people and avoids using the army and gets to feel good about her power.

    Why not do This? Or why not have the Dead Hand suggest it? Is she so depressed she can’t even think?

    Like

    1. That, or think of everything she needs to do as a caper. Specifically, keeping her ill-gotten title and role with the hope of future dodgy capers. That, or finding ways to fence part of the responsibility off by conning some useful pigeons into it.

      Like

    2. Concerned

      They’re needed at the capital to make sure the Kingdom doesn’t fall apart. She can’t run off and steal shit and let the leaderless Jacks die to Malicia.

      Like

    3. Ezreon

      This got me thinking. What if farmers refused to move even with means to do it, and Thief decided to just appropriate their stuff so they would HAVE to move? And word of it spread and transitioned her.

      Like

  16. One little thing that i only saw on when i read the chapter again is that Vivienne is never referred to as Thief with the exception of conversation with Adjutant where its more a title than a Name. At all other points it’s the thief. She is not Thief in the eyes of the story anymore, she is just the thief.

    Like

  17. sophiasmile09

    I’ve never commented before and I’ve just caught up so it’s possible I’m about to say things that have already been said. However, two things:

    Thing the first: Does anyone think Cat is ever getting another Name? She’s pretty clearly rejected the core concept of Names (dichotomy of good/evil, roles, balance etc) so surely there’s just no way in hell that the Universe would “reward” her with another Name? She’s sort of transcended them in a way, which is good because it means she’s not fettered by them, but bad because she can’t benefit from the power a Name brings to the table.

    Thing the 2nd: Akua is an Africa Akan word that means “born on a Wednesday.” from the rhyme — “Wednesday’s child is full of woe”.
    Ya gotta wonder how deep Akua’s position with Cat and the Woe is really gonna go…. (Akua also means God in Hawaiian so that’s interesting too)

    Anyway this story is great, I love it and I can’t wait to keep up with it forever and ever. #Hakramisbae

    Like

  18. Dell

    I’m curious as to why Juniper outranks Thief who is Regent. Is this a misunderstanding on Vivienne’s part where she lacks confidence to order Juniper around? Thief is also a Named in the Woe, just as much as Hakram is, yet Juniper does not afford her the same respect.
    I think this also stems from ‘racism’ on Vivienne’s part and Juniper and the non human members have picked up on this and Vivienne’s fear of them, so they just don’t respect her.

    Like

  19. Death Knight

    So, let’s tally up all the badass shit Viviene has done:
    *Dropped an Armada on the Summer Fae
    *Stole the godsdamned sun from Summer’s heaviest hitter, second only to the Queen of Summer herself
    *Has enough potential that the living embodiment of death offered to train her/take her on as an apprentice

    Feel free to add more.

    She has no reason to feel inadequate or inferior to the other members of the Woe. They each have their designated Role in the group and hers is soft power and indirect but pivotal actions (Cat and the rest would be ashes now if she had not stolen the Sun) as well as Cat’s gatekeeper.

    The fact that she’s going against her Role in the story is likely the reason she is losing her Name and her hair is growing. Her self image is ruined.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dell

      As someone else mentioned she seems to have PTSD from some of the horrific consequences of what’s been happening. She got lit on fire and then zapped by lightning. She felt every second of it. It’s a huge difference to Catherine who can’t feel much of anything anymore, which means she has a serious blind spot to what Vivienne is dealing with. So in Vivienne’s mind the pain is overwhelming all the positives she’s done in that she feels helpless in comparison to the rest of the Woe who just shrug it off and keep going. I mean even Masego just plucked out his eye like it was nothing. Physical pain in the Woe is not something they even acknowledge.

      Liked by 1 person

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