Interlude: Dreadful

“And so Sinistra said: ‘What we cannot grow we will take by dread, and damnation on all who deny this.'”
– Extract from the Scroll of Misfortunes, thirteenth of the Secret Histories of Praes

The Windless Salon was an indulgence.

Not hers, originally, but that of Dread Emperor Sorcerous. The infamous warlock-emperor had been fond of ambitious experiments demonstrating the superiority of Praesi sorcery over all others. His in particular, and he’d never been shy about denting the treasury for his latest fancy. The Salon was one of his earlier projects: an entire floor of the Tower, well above the clouds, made into a single room. The stones of the walls and ceiling were enchanted to make it seem as if it were entirely outdoors, revealing a staggeringly beautiful view in every direction. Nefarious had despised it, for he’d spent the better part of a decade trying to puzzle out its secrets with only failures to show for it. In truth, few save for Sorcerous himself had ever used the Windless Salon. Alaya and her predecessors misliked allowing the lords and ladies of Praes access this far up the Tower, and there was no lack of other wonders within the walls to strike a particular tone when receiving guests. The Empress had, instead, turned Sorcerous’ costly vanity into an office of sorts.

The seats and sofas had been removed, saved for her own luxurious cushioned armchair, and the ornate banquet tables had been replaced by two bureaus and a writing desk. Access here was restricted to those she’d given token to, and with good reason. The transparent walls of the Windless Salon had been adorned with a maze of secrets and faces. Painted mosaics representing every Praesi noble of import hung over apparent air, tiles written over in chalk noting their latest schemes and objectives and alliances. Lines had been drawn to connect conspirators and foes, weaving a tapestry of treacheries and interests that spanned the whole of her empire. It was not all exact, of course. Believing this to be untouchable sanctum merely because she had the minds of everyone with access searched at random intervals would have been arrogance. The tiles were incomplete, sometimes incorrect information added to fool a would-be spy. The only complete and truthful version was in Alaya’s own mind.

Years of practice meant she had only to close her eyes to see the whole of it, but there was something oddly soothing about seeing the Wasteland’s plotting laid bare against the backdrop of Ater’s sky. In the last few years, a fresh section had been birthed. A small cluster of names under a chalk-drawn crown. Such a small representation for a handful of people who’d shaken the foundations of Calernia. A half-full cup of wine in hand, Dread Empress Malicia allowed her gaze to linger on the foremost individuals of the Kingdom of Callow. Some names were followed by only sparse writing. Hakram of the Howling Wolves, the Adjutant, remained opaque in intent and motivation despite her best efforts. It was tempting to study the Woe through the lens of what she knew the Calamities to be, but it would be an overly simplistic view. Oh, most of them had ties to the old guard: Masego was Wekesa’s own son, the Archer had been the favourite pupil of that rabid dog in Refuge and Catherine had been the only apprentice Amadeus ever took. The Adjutant himself was often dismissed as Captain’s legacy in green, which had always amused Malicia greatly.

The boy had more in common with Scribe than he’d ever had with still-mourned Sabah, and even that was overly simplified. His Name, as far as she could tell, had been shaped since inception to serve as shield and empowerment to Catherine Foundling’s own role. The Woe were not their predecessors, and that was a shame: Alaya had spent decades learning how best to work with and around the Calamities. Dealing with a younger and cruder version of them would have been mercifully easy. No, instead she’d been forced to learn to navigate an entirely different river of desires and drives. Changeable things, these, especially in individuals so young. The girl who was now called the Black Queen had little in common with the child who’d chased Black’s shadow as his Squire. Still, she’d begun to understand the lay of them. Where pressure could be applied for the correct effect. Vivienne Dartwick was the weakest link. Archer had been the obvious guess, but much like Hye the girl was simply too apathetic to be influenced. It was hard to leverage someone who cared about nothing save a few earthly pleasures that essentially any major city on the surface of Calernia could provide.

Thief, however? She was a Callowan nationalist, the kind that kingdom bred by the thousands. That was an old foe to Praesi, one made almost predictable – though no less dangerous for it. People like Vivienne Dartwick had broken Wasteland invasions for a millennium and a half with only two major failures to show for their toil. Patriotism was a set of blinders, Malicia would not speak otherwise, but however narrow the perspective it had proven exceedingly skilled at frustrating Praesi efforts. Fortunately, central tenets of it ran contrary to the kind of nation Catherine was trying to build. The Black Queen had failed to realize, she often thought, how deeply she’d taken after Praesi culture. Callowans tended to think of their own ethnic group and their nation at the same thing, unlike Praesi. The Dread Empire had, since the Declaration, been made up of disparate and often opposed forces. Guiding the refugees from the sack of Nok into Callowan territory had been killing two birds with one stone, in that light.

It eased the pressure of Malicia’s own granaries by displacing individuals who would have turned to banditry or rioting if left unfed while simultaneously forcing onto Callow a problem that could not be solved with a sword. Well, she conceded, that was untrue. If Thief and Adjutant had sent in soldiers to slaughter every refugee crossing into the kingdom’s territory the flow would have abruptly stopped and there was precious little the Empress could have done about it without loosening her leash on the High Lords – which would be ill-advised, at this juncture. On the other hand, if the Woe were truly that ruthless this would be an entirely different situation. As things stood, Vivienne Dartwick must be chewing on the fundamental conflict between doing something good, namely not slaughtering desperate peasants, and seeing the immediate costs that good action imposed on her countrymen. It would fester, Alaya thought. In her and in the farmers displaced at Catherine’s orders. The Black Queen might think of her land as more than the territory of tribes-made-kingdom, but few in even her closest circle shared that view.

The seed had been sown and conflict would grow from it. Enough, Alaya had judged, that it would weaken the fabric of the kingdom without collapsing it. At some point a compromise would be forged that pleased no one, slowly dragging back Catherine Foundling to the position Malicia preferred her in: that of an unpopular but unopposed necessary evil. If that strife could be carried to the heart of the Woe, so much the better. That band of children had already proved they could unmake the designs of empires, if allowed to run rampant. It was a private delight of the Empress that the results of her offensive must have Cordelia Hasenbach a throbbing ulcer.

“And yet,” Dread Empress Malicia said, eyeing the walls that were not there.

She sipped at her wine. Beneath Catherine Foundling’s own face, a blank space had been made. It was not that the girl’s designs were unknown: Malicia was thoroughly well-informed of what was unfolding in the kingdom, despite Amadeus’ best efforts. But there was a question, she thought, that must weigh heavy on the mind of every ruler on this continent.

Where the Hells was the Black Queen?

Callow might be somewhat stable, but it was one bad winter away from effective collapse. If Alaya ordered most royal granaries torched, starvation would afflict half the realm after the snows came. And yet, fresh off her failure in Keter, Catherine had disappeared into thin air. The Adjutant and the Thief had been sent back to Laure to settle affairs, but neither had the legitimacy to truly keep things under control. Was it mere negligence? Alaya was self-aware enough to acknowledge she disliked the girl on a personal level, and so was inclined to match perceived mistakes with personality flaws. Yet the Black Queen had proved surprisingly adept at the diplomatic game. Blackmailing the northern crusaders into leaving under treaty instead of risking extermination had been inspired, as had been the request to join the Grand Alliance. Had the First Prince’s grasp on Procer been stronger when the offer was made, Hasenbach might actually have gone for it. Not without losing a few feathers in the process, but the First Prince had already proved capable of cold pragmatism when the situation demanded it.

It wouldn’t have mattered, in the end. The Dead King would have upended the board regardless. Yet the skill was there, however raw, and it meant the girl had learned. If she was capable of shaping a military campaign so it would lead to the kind of peace she desired, she should be able to recognize Callow without her was a house of cards. Something had forced her to seek another path, and the only true contender for that was what had taken place in Keter. The Black Queen was, at heart, still a soldier. In times of trouble, she would reach out for military force. It was the solution she was best versed in. Her options, however, would be few. The League would refuse out of hand, as the Hierarch was the mad puppet of the Tyrant of Helike – who’d sent her a lovely letter professing eternal friendship but was a man made from a mould rather familiar to Praesi. The Everdark was a mess of primitive warring tribes, effectively impossible to mobilize quickly and highly unpalatable allies regardless, which left only two real options: the Kingdom Under and the fae. Malicia had been made aware that the dwarves were in yet another expansion phase, meaning they would refuse to get involved with surface affairs.

That left the sole remaining Court of Arcadia, to which the Black Queen already had ties.

There was a very real chance, Alaya admitted to herself, that within the next six months a horde of fae would come pouring out of gates after Catherine struck bargain with them. It was madness, of course. Giving their kind stronger foothold on Creation was a blunder all living souls would pay for. But fighting fire with fire was Catherine’s signature, and the Dead King’s entrance in the melee might very well have been enough to quiet her doubts. Of all the nations currently involved in the Tenth Crusade it was the Empire that would find it easiest to defend against such an incursion, given its heavily warded cities and high number of skilled mages, but Praes was already under assault by the Ashurans. Deep raids into the Wasteland that left the forces of the High Lords untouched could become a catastrophe, and there was no doubt the Black Queen’s advisors were learned enough of Praesi affairs to know this even if she herself might not be fully aware. Thalassina, then, had become the crucible on which her reign would be decided. If Ashur could be removed from the equation, an attack on the Empire became a very different affair. Wekesa and his son’s preparations were of the highest import.

It might be necessary to arrange a failure to protect Hierophant from vengeful nobles after it took place, even if the consequences would be dire. She’d mull on it. She was fond of the young man, personally, and had found him a breath of fresh air on the few occasions they’d met. He was also, unfortunately, one of the most dangerous war assets of the Kingdom of Callow. A compromise might be possible through Warlock, she thought, who’d certainly prefer his only son be imprisoned for a few years rather than involved in a brutal knife-fight between the Woe and the Empire where death was a real possibility. Wekesa had made it clear he was willing to break a few pots if it meant return to normality would follow. Like her, he knew that disposing of contentious elements would lead to recriminations in the short-term and reconciliation after the storm had passed. It would be the ugliest disagreement they’d had, and one that would taint their relationship for decades, but Alaya was nothing if not patient.

There was no knock on the door. Anyone requiring such announcement would have died to the wards in the hallway. The sound of the steps, though, could allow Malicia to discern the identity of her visitor. The four servants allowed access here had different strides, as did the sole other person with a token.

“Ime,” the Empress said, greeting her guest without turning. “An unexpected pleasure.”

He spymistress observed the niceties, coming before her to kneel before rising. Not quite as fluidly as she used to, Alaya noticed with grief that half-surprised her. Ime had grown old, though her body’s appearance did not betray it. Yet rituals could only accomplish so much, and eventually a cloth stretched too far would snap. It might be twenty years yet before that happened, but it was as inevitable as the sun rising.

“My Empress,” Ime said.

She remained standing. There was no other seat here, entirely by design. None save her should be encouraged to linger.

“I take it there has been a fresh report from the Eyes,” Malicia said, brow quirking.

Her little retreats into the Windless Salon were, while not exactly forbidden from interruption, not to be lightly trespassed on.

“Our agents in the Principate managed to get urgent news through the scrying relays,” the spymistress said, then hesitated. “Lord Black’s legions are in full retreat through lands they’ve already pillaged. The Dominion’s armies are in pursuit.”

Alaya hid her surprise. She’d believed she’d grasped Maddie’s intent when she’d seen what principalities he was targeting – namely, the loudest opposition to Hasenbach in the Highest Assembly. But he should have been heading south or across the lakes, not doubling back. It was the hesitation that gave it away.

“Ime,” Alaya said quietly. “Tell me.”

“We’re not sure what happened,” the spymistress admitted. “But there’s a town full of corpses where he allegedly stole the Proceran fleet and there’s been orders out of Salia to reclaim the barges.”

Her mouth, she found, had gone dry.

“He won’t have stolen a fleet alone,” Alaya said. “The legionaries with him?”

“The orders from Salia did not mention opposition,” Ime grimaced.

Her stomach clenched.

“I don’t believe he’s dead, Malicia,” her spymistress softly said. “I know it’s not much, but Hasenbach has sent people to speak with the shopkeepers on the central avenue of Salia.”

Alaya’s lips tightened. Her teeth clenched to tightly it felt like they would shatter.

“A parade for the heroes,” she forced out. “Celebrating his death.”

“A triumph,” Ime countered. “As the Miezans once held. Displaying a foe taken prisoner. He would make for a very useful hostage. He has influence with every single force on their eastern front.”

“Do not,” Malicia quietly said, “coddle me.”

“This is my professional opinion,” her spymistress assured her. “They have to know that outright killing him would get the Ranger to come out swinging.”

She grit her teeth. Unpleasant as it was to her, it was not untrue. The question was if they’d care, given the number of heroes on the field. Hye was dangerous but she was not invincible and her draw with the Queen of Summer had caused her heavy wounds she’d yet to recuperate from.

“Mobilize the Eyes in strength,” Alaya said. “I want answers.”

Ime’s lips thinned.

“My Empress, moving so openly would-”

“I don’t care if we have to out every agent in that misbegotten fucking hole they call a country,” Alaya hissed. “Find out if he’s alive.

Ime nodded slowly and the Empress forced her hands into her lap, where her fingers could not be seen to tremble.

“And pass this along to Wekesa,” she added tiredly.

Ime hesitated once more. Alaya’s fury spiked, though she mastered it.

“He might leave Thalassina,” she said.

“If Maddie’s…” she began, then faltered. “Warlock would know. They have arrangements. And he’d know I kept it from him. Besides, whether it is revenge or rescue he will not act until Scribe contacts him. Keep an eye on that, she may know something we don’t.”

“I will,” Ime said.

A heartbeat passed.

“And yet here you stand,” Malicia said.

“We must prepare,” Ime said, “for all eventualities. If he is truly dead, the balance with Callow has shifted. If he has been captured, perhaps some matters should be considered with a fresh eye.”

Calm, she thought. A pond without a single ripple, so they only ever see their own reflection.

“The Callowan situation has changed already, simply with what you’ve told me,” Malicia said. “Get in touch with our envoy in Laure. The full terms of my pact with Keter are to be revealed.”

“The initial plan,” her spymistress carefully said, “was to wait until the Black Queen’s return.”

“It also relied on him being a restraining influence against the notion of war on the Empire,” Malicia said. “That can no longer be counted on. We need a new guarantee that she won’t gate in and burn a few miles of farmland to the ground every time she’s provoked.”

Ime nodded.

“I know you might be reluctant to explore the full spread of options, if he has been captured,” she said. “But it is my duty to speak.”

“Then do so,” Malicia flatly said.

“If he’s jailed in Salia, it might be best to simply leave him there,” Ime said. “Temporarily, at least. It would be an opportunity to bring his legions back into the fold, and he can be freed after the situation in the Wasteland is made less volatile.”

Malicia forced herself to consider it with cold eyes. While the legions who’d followed Amadeus to the borders and turned back the invasion at the Vales were not exactly in rebellion, it was undeniable they’d acted against her intent. She’d long known that if there ever came a day when call was made on the loyalties of the old guard, it would not be her most of them chose. The urge had always been there to dismiss the issue as a mere theoretical, but a Dread Empress of Praes could not afford that kind of hopeful thinking. She’d had measures in place for decades, telling herself it would no matter if she never used them. She still had not, and would not unless she had no other choice. Yet much could be accomplished by the more mundane leverage was speaking of – presented with a fait accompli after his release, Black would likely be forced to abandoned his most recent designs. Dangerous as he could be, without an army he was just a man.

“No,” Alaya said.

“My Empress-”

“I will not repeat myself,” she said. “The risks are too high he’ll be executed if he’s allowed to remain in their grasp for long. He is to be freed at first opportunity.”

“You are not thinking about this clearly, Malicia,” Ime softly said. “I know you feel like you owe him. I do as well. But there comes a time when debts have to be weighed. A life spared – or saved – is not a life owed.”

The laughter that ripped out of her throat was not kind.

“Is that what you think this is?” Alaya mockingly said. “He spared your life after you helped butcher his kin with the Heir’s, and because he withheld the blade you understand us.”

The spymistress grew stiff in her stance, but did not disagree.

“I wish this were about something as petty as debt,” Alaya murmured, knowing it a lie. “How easy that would be.”

How could she tell this familiar stranger that they had been one for so long some days she could hardly tell where she began and he ended? Maybe debt could have been the sum of them, if after the civil war he had treated her a figurehead – as was well within his power. If he’d proved himself yet another cage, this one gentler than the last but no less a prison for it. But he’d understood, that it was not comfort or a furious avenger she craved. Kindness, consolation, all the sweets words their tongue could offer. Those things she could have measured and paid back in full. But instead she’d been offered something priceless:  a world of endless paths, and someone to walk them with her. Debt? She might as well try to weigh the worth the breath in her lungs, the blood in her veins. She was not Catherine Foundling, to carve out pieces of her own soul at a whim.

“I have you orders, Lady Ime,” Malicia spoke into the silence that followed. “See to them.”

Her spymistress was not so gauche as to show even the slightest hint of disapproval after being dismissed, though there was no doubt it was there. It did not matter. She had been taught better than to overreach.

“Your Most Dreadful Majesty,” Ime said, bowing low.

Her steps whispered out of the room, leaving the Dread Empress of Praes alone with her thoughts. Her carefully woven surroundings seemed mockery now, a reminder that no matter how orderly she made her world chaos would always crawl in through the cracks.

“I warned you,” Alaya spoke into the empty salon. “Gods, I warned you. That it was not sustainable, that one day you would make a mistake and that’d be all it took.”

And yet she had not acted on it. Because he’d been so sure, because it would have killed the heart of him to be made to sit at her feet. Caged. And he’d won, hadn’t he? Again and again and again. As so she’d not spoken the words. She should have. Better to wound him than to sit on the other side of the continent, wondering if his corpse was floating face down in some foreign lake. Mistake, she thought. It was too bitter a word to be called rueful.

“We will survive,” said Dread Empress Malicia, First of Her Name. “You and me and the others. This empire we raised. We will survive this, as we have all other dooms.”

But if Cordelia Hasenbach and her pack of pale-clad killers had done it? Oh, she was not seventeen anymore. She was not bleeding from the mouth, incapable of rising as the Sentinels nailed her father to the floor.

If they’d killed him, Alaya would give him an empire for a pyre.

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172 thoughts on “Interlude: Dreadful

    1. Jane

      Hm. You know, when I first saw the brackets, this was an easy choice, but now that I think about it a bit more, the Saint’s vicious drive to purge Evil from the world is kind of endearing in its own way…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. luminiousblu

        It’s endearing only insofar as a first-time D&D player who chose the “stick in the arse” interpretation for his LG Paladin. Yeah, she’s more or less on-the-nose Lawful Good, and she’s undeniably a pure and good person if you subscribe to objective morality (which remember, this world does). She’s just also kind of an ass, especially if you’re trying not to go full murderhobo or play a character with some nuance.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Jane

          Oh, she’d be unbearable to actually know, but as a “Good” antagonist, she’s great; how many other characters can half-gloat as she tells a leader that she’s deliberately engineering the sacrifice of their country so that a country more faithful to the ideals of Good can one day take its place?

          That kind of zealotry is hard to write well, especially with that sort of jaded edge to it that she has.

          Liked by 9 people

      2. Not really. Saint is a puppet whose strings are easily pulled by the Bard and that mono mania is all there is to her and is the reason Saint got so mad at Cat when she basically called her a cheap Ranger knockoff, because she knows she is a cheap Ranger knockoff. Ranger also has a mono mania but as seen in that interlude where she went to Keter she has a personality to it and you can’t use it to puppet master her. In a way I hope they do kill Black just so Ranger, even an injured Ranger, would show up and beat the crap out of Saint.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. stevenneiman

        Personally, I find her to be kind of a hypocrite. She wouldn’t have thrown a fit when Cat compared her to Hye if it wasn’t true, and she doesn’t have too much more going for her.
        Both in and out of meta-narrative I feel like Cat did a wonderful job of stripping her of audience sympathy. All it took was a few words and her own thoughtless response and she went from the mighty and noble champion of Good to a self-righteous bully who isn’t even impressive compared the other people Cat’s met.

        Like

        1. luminiousblu

          She’s not really a hypocrite when she lives in a world where Good and Evil are very clearly delineated. She’s a Good version of Hye (but less fun and probably old and busted unlike the half-elf, who’s still fresh and looks like she’s still a senior girl in university) – alright, but that doesn’t actually bear comparison because the fact that she’s a Good version of her is the salient difference.

          Like

    2. caoimhinh

      2 Typos found:
      – He spymistress observed the niceties
      should be: The spymistress or Her spymistress.

      – Her teeth clenched to tightly it felt like they would shatter
      should be: clenched so tightly that it felt like they would shatter.

      Also, Archer FTW!!

      Like

    1. Dainpdf

      Black is going to pull a Cat and join the Pilgrim’s hero band.
      …yeah, it’s not in his nature to do that. I just wanted to read about the face the Saint would make at that.

      Like

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        Actually, I can kinda see it. I was theorizing before when the whole “redemption” angle was raised that Cat was going to end up the Token evil member in the band of 5 that would form in response to the dead king. But what if it’s Black? He’s right there after all.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Dainpdf

          Bit hard for Black to join up when the whole core of the man is to spit in the eyes of the Heavens. Who knows, maybe he sees some way to further defy them from the inside, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. This is the guy who uses eldritch, Name-wrought shadows to saw at the legs of a chair for a prank.

            I can see him pulling something like a more or less genuine attempt at redemption that he’d know full well would be thrown back in his face… all just to make the other side jut steam from their ears and start throwing chairs around. 😛

            Liked by 7 people

          2. Insanenoodlyguy

            To be clear, I was envisioning less of the “okay, guess I’ll reform” and more of the “So hey, your desperate and clearly about to die, and if you let me out of this cage we both know I’m bound to see this thing through with you. So I’m going to sit here with an evil grin while you reject me till the last moment and oh look, the dead king’s army is here and now you are surrounded and everything is on fire and sure I’ll make this hasty oath that has no loopholes at all and yep here we go.”

            Liked by 8 people

  1. Lark

    “The Everdark was a mess of primitive warring tribes, effectively impossible to mobilize quickly and highly unpalatable allies regardless, which left only two real options: the Kingdom Under and the fae.”

    While I am of course heavily biased due to the information I have as a reader, it still seems weird to me that Malicia would dismiss the Drow so quickly, especially as she’s aware that the Kingdom Under are expanding *somewhere*. Is this her “one mistake”, to match Black’s?

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Well, it has been pointed out that expanding into the Everdark makes little sense for the dwarves outside the Keter situation.
      Very costly, with benefits unlikely to see the light of day in timely manner, and they can just expand in depth (as they probably did in most previous expansion phases).
      The only reason Ubua and Cat even arrived at why the dwarves were invading the Drow was because they already knew the dwarves were invading, and how.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. luminiousblu

        The funniest thing, I think, is that Malicia basically is the one who made it possible for Catherine to try negotiating with the Drow in the face of a “bearded apocalypse”. The Dead King extended an invitation to Catherine in response to Malicia trying to hammer out a deal with him, and the end result of that is that no matter who got the upper hand, the Dwarves would be on the move.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Jane

      The Drow fundamentally don’t understand the concept of binding agreements – they should be impossible to use as allies, at best a sort of living weapon that you point in the direction of your enemy. It’s only Cat’s Fae nature that makes this possible at all; she’s turning conventional wisdom on its head, something that’s hard to think around unless you make a deliberate effort to do so.

      This setting aside all of the other problems (you need dozens of different agreements normally, most of them haven’t been out of the Underdark for centuries, they’re badly equipped, their tactics aren’t suited for modern armies, etc…) that they present as being effective allies, even if they were to agree.

      Really, the Fae would make a much more logical ally, so long as you assume that Cat is willing to invite that much collateral damage, which… Well, she was willing to strike a bargain with the Dead King.

      Liked by 13 people

    3. Drunken Dwarf

      That is what the Drow are though, at least the very outskirts of the Groom and those that leave it. No one except the Dead King, the Dwarves, and the Bard know about the sheer amount and quality of power that the Drow are hoarding. As for the Dwarves, well they could be expanding anywhere (even further down) so she can’t just assume it’s the Everdark.

      Liked by 2 people

    4. Quite Possibly A Cat

      It makes perfect sense to dismiss the Drow. We as the reader know the Drow have stupid levels of power. But all anyone else has seen is total rubbish. Up until we saw what a real city-tier Sigil holder could do, we thought the Drow were a joke.

      I’m not sure what knowing about the dwarven expansion has to do with it. So what if the dwarves are expanding into the drow? Why would that make the drow any more worthwhile to get? They still all suck as far as anyone on the surface knows.

      If anything she’s underestimating what Winter can do. (Hopefully.) Winter is what allows Catherine to recruit Drow. Without that oath trick Catherine wouldn’t be able to get squat from the Drow. The other possibility is Catherine is doing something that’s a bad idea. (TM) Which would be really bad.

      Liked by 10 people

    5. King Salmon

      It’s a case of having justified historical bias. Catherine, for all of her experience, is still “fresh” – she considers things other people dismiss out of hand, such as the entry into the Grand Alliance that even Malicia praised. In this case, the Drow being ridiculously hard to control is a self-evident fact. You don’t actually consider the Drow a potential ally any more you consider the Chain of Hunger a potential ally in the same way that (to use a historical, real-life example) many civilizations didn’t consider the idea of autarky to be anything but a good idea. It’s just common sense – the Drow cannot be treated with, so you don’t even try.

      The Drow are well-known to be both so prone to backstabbing that it’s literally what they’re known for as well as being so fractured that trying to treat with them would be a lot like trying to treat with “The Celts” as a classical Mediterranian power when you only have access to Iberia. They’re also not all that powerful in a fight, so it’s a hell of a lot of work for allies both weak and unreliable compared to the Dead King or the Kingdom Under.

      The Kingdom Under being in an “expansion phase” could mean many things but the Dwarves themselves did not expect it to be easy or immediate. They intended to drag this war out for decades if not centuries, so Malicia is by conventional wisdom safe in assuming there would be negligible surface results – after all the only actual time we know of where the Kingdom Under’s expansions led to anything at all happening on the surface was when the Goblins got kicked out ages ago, and that time the Goblins only got out because the Kingdom Under decided to ask them nicely first.

      I think something else to note is that Malicia and Black have not (to my knowledge) demonstrated their knowledge of Akua’s existence. Malicia saw Akua in disguise but hasn’t shown that she realized who it was, especially since it’s a believable lie – a Duchess of Winter brought along a fae negotiator from Winter, the land of backstabbing and plots, and later summoned the Wild Hunt lead by a former Prince of Winter when she was in a jam. It’s perfectly believable that she managed to get her hands on a fae, and it’s doubtful that Malicia even realizes it’s possible for Akua to have basically become part of Catherine’s Winter mantle if she considered it at all or even realizes Akua hasn’t been crushed into pieces.

      The fact that the Diabolist, whose mind games are in my opinion close to or even on Malicia’s level (she effectively opposed Malicia outright, and would’ve won if not for the combination of Catherine and Black, with a terrifically shit hand compared to Malicia), is not only on Catherine’s side but is actively doing her best to help her achieve her goals is a mountain-sized wrench in judging how much negotiating power Catherine has. In Malicia’s eyes, Catherine has Archer and herself, plus maybe a fae or a captured drow. That’s not the most promising picture for a negotiating team or even knowledge of Drow customs and magic. Akua, though? Akua’s been at the game since Catherine was born and she’s good at it. It fixes many of the ‘team’s’ blind spots.

      Like

    6. luminiousblu

      It’s a case of having justified historical bias. Catherine, for all of her experience, is still “fresh” – she considers things other people dismiss out of hand, such as the entry into the Grand Alliance that even Malicia praised. In this case, the Drow being ridiculously hard to control is a self-evident fact. You don’t actually consider the Drow a potential ally any more you consider the Chain of Hunger a potential ally in the same way that (to use a historical, real-life example) many civilizations didn’t consider the idea of autarky to be anything but a good idea. It’s just common sense – the Drow cannot be treated with, so you don’t even try.

      The Drow are well-known to be both so prone to backstabbing that it’s literally what they’re known for as well as being so fractured that trying to treat with them would be a lot like trying to treat with “The Celts” as a classical Mediterranian power when you only have access to Iberia. They’re also not all that powerful in a fight, so it’s a hell of a lot of work for allies both weak and unreliable compared to the Dead King or the Kingdom Under.

      The Kingdom Under being in an “expansion phase” could mean many things but the Dwarves themselves did not expect it to be easy or immediate. They intended to drag this war out for decades if not centuries, so Malicia is by conventional wisdom safe in assuming there would be negligible surface results – after all the only actual time we know of where the Kingdom Under’s expansions led to anything at all happening on the surface was when the Goblins got kicked out ages ago, and that time the Goblins only got out because the Kingdom Under decided to ask them nicely first.

      I think something else to note is that Malicia and Black have not (to my knowledge) demonstrated their knowledge of Akua’s existence. Malicia saw Akua in disguise but hasn’t shown that she realized who it was, especially since it’s a believable lie – a Duchess of Winter brought along a fae negotiator from Winter, the land of backstabbing and plots, and later summoned the Wild Hunt lead by a former Prince of Winter when she was in a jam. It’s perfectly believable that she managed to get her hands on a fae, and it’s doubtful that Malicia even realizes it’s possible for Akua to have basically become part of Catherine’s Winter mantle if she considered it at all or even realizes Akua hasn’t been crushed into pieces.

      The fact that the Diabolist, whose mind games are in my opinion close to or even on Malicia’s level (she effectively opposed Malicia outright, and would’ve won if not for the combination of Catherine and Black, with a terrifically shit hand compared to Malicia), is not only on Catherine’s side but is actively doing her best to help her achieve her goals is a mountain-sized wrench in judging how much negotiating power Catherine has. In Malicia’s eyes, Catherine has Archer and herself, plus maybe a fae or a captured drow. That’s not the most promising picture for a negotiating team or even knowledge of Drow customs and magic. Akua, though? Akua’s been at the game since Catherine was born and she’s good at it. It fixes many of the ‘team’s’ blind spots. That, combined with the fact that Catherine is enforcing oaths with Winter (which is hardly something you usually consider) means that she’s in a position to do the impossible and make deals with the Drow.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. Darkening

        To be fair, Malicia could have stopped her early, she just wanted the super weapon, so she let her get away with a lot of stuff and even cleared some obstacles iirc, because she was sure Black could defeat her in the end and acquire it for her. Still, Akua is very talented.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. luminiousblu

          But isn’t that just the thing when it comes to mind games? Malicia miscalculated horribly when it came to Akua. The only reason Black managed to win was because of the Fae incursion that had Catherine made into a pseudodeific being, which was completely out of left field for just about everyone. Hell, even before that, Akua came very, very close to outright claiming Liesse and a Hashmallim’s corpse, only defeated because Catherine turned herself into basically a wight to keep going. And unlike Malicia, Akua didn’t have the Eyes or Black on her side. Malicia almost got her bacon toasted twice because Akua managed to keep her in the dark of what she was really after and what she was really capable of, and the second time it would’ve been game over if not for a literal chance occurrence.

          Liked by 8 people

      2. Insanenoodlyguy

        Worse, she can REFORM (not in a moral sense so much as a pratical/tactical one) them. Backstabbing is why you can’t get that many drow in the same place doing the same thing… but thanks to Winter Deals, the most powerful Drow are the ones who keep to their words and loyalties. If she starts handing down more Fae titles, that’s only going to become more and more the case. They’ll think of it much differently then a “moral” culture might, but the end result is the same. If the strongest keep their words and the strongest are what matters (the strongest, Cat, being so absolute that she must always keep her word, and YOU must always keep yours to her or she kills you wherever you are on the spot) then integrity is going to become a sign of strength. If they live long enough, then in a few generations, Lying? Oh hell no you would never lie, you aren’t weak! Sure, fae doublespeak and exact wording trickery will become a thing, but that’s just being clever. Not on you if you were made to give your word and the other schmuck chose the words poorly.

        And once you have cohesion and integrity, you have the bedrock to make them start coordinating and actual tactics can be drilled into them. And as much as the power encourages discord, I’m going to bet an army with night power working together is going to be scary.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. luminiousblu

          Exactly, in time what will happen is that the culture will reshape itself around the fact that those who keep their words are strong and influential for it, and so honesty is associated with power and prestige. Lying ends up being something you’re ashamed to do because it’s a sign of the poor and weak, while honesty ends up becoming something children aspire to because all of their folk heroes are honest.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Oshi

            The quieter (read deadlier) possibility is once they stop murdering each other at the drop of a hat stories will actually be able to form. The Drow will come closer to what it means to be fae on the material plane without much of the handicaps.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Insanenoodlyguy

              Come to think of it, whole thing works into the “integrity = strength” angle as well. Named? People who get great powers from roles. The greatest of winter? The first Soverign was an ascended name who became something that told even less lies as she gained more power. Drow will want names bad, and narrative will let them get some. More bound to oaths least consequences, more power. It will work exactly how it should work based on this new framework of what it means to be Mighty. We’ll probably see them have a flavor of bryonic stories about people tragically having to keep or foolishly breaking their word, if the emphasis holds up.

              Probably will make them even more elf like in that Heroes (though also Villians, considering) will be the people that get the most respect. Outsiders on the whole? They have a tendency to lie and break oaths. Won’t even have to shift their “all others are near worthless” cultural perception all that much, it’ll just go from “no night: weak, less than the lowest elf” to “they lie: weak, they could never hold winter.” Named are the exception because their word can be trusted, after all they are strong.

              Liked by 1 person

        2. Byzantine

          Yep. Selective pressure is an amazing thing, both genetically and culturally. There is a reason these days we can domesticate foxes in a few decades, while wolves appear to have taken centuries – the right pressure applied the right way and things change amazingly fast.

          Like

    7. jonnnney

      Well she is not wrong about how long it would take to mobilize them, but Malicia does not yet realize that Catherine can bestow Fae mantles nor does she realize the strength of oaths made to Catherine. The 100+ oath to the kingdom of callow makes that unpalatable allies part a non issue. Honestly, unless the author is being coy, there is a good deal that Malicia doesn’t understand about Catherine’s control over Winter. She doesn’t mention Akua when considering the Woe which means she either doesn’t get that her soul is bound to Catherine or thinks that Akua is merely being used as a tool of war rather than a magic expert and political adviser. Heck the fact that she thinks Catherine would need to make a deal with with the combined winter and summer courts in order to get backup shows how ignorant she is of Catherine’s abilities as the Last Queen of Winter.

      Like

  2. Dainpdf

    Interesting. I guess Malicia could get he Start of Darkness if Black is dead. Somehow, although she’s already evil and has a tragic backstory.
    Even more interesting? In a way, turns out she’s actually Amadeus’s most loyal follower. Scribe and Captain are also contenders, of course, but this? All of this makes Alaya quite the fan.
    It also makes her human. And humans bleed. Seems to me like we’ll be seeing the calamities drop in the not too distant future.
    Also interesting: Malicia has different opinions from the Hellhound regarding the feasibility of ambushing the Summerholm garrison. Plus, she got outplayed *hard* by Adjutant – who even she can’t read, point for Vivi’s paranoia – and all it cost him was a hand.

    Liked by 15 people

      1. Dainpdf

        She seems very focused on the feasibility of letting High Lords act independently. It’s a dangerous thing to rely on, especially in the eyes of someone who craves control as much as she does (plus it would actively wear at all the work she’s done to rob the High Lords of agency).

        Liked by 1 person

    1. luminiousblu

      Hakram is unreadable because, for all of his characterization, his actual goals amount to “Catherine”. He’s a rare breed of right-hand man where his goals amount to supporting the person he serves. He doesn’t have any real ambitions beyond it.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. muffin

        >>>>
        “The Callowan situation has changed already, simply with what you’ve told me,” Malicia said. “Get in touch with our envoy in Laure. The full terms of my pact with Keter are to be revealed.”

        “The initial plan,” her spymistress carefully said, “was to wait until the Black Queen’s return.”

        “It also relied on him being a restraining influence against the notion of war on the Empire,” Malicia said. “That can no longer be counted on. We need a new guarantee that she won’t gate in and burn a few miles of farmland to the ground every time she’s provoked.”
        <<<<

        So, Malicia isn't outright for killing Cat. What was the original plan then?

        I don't get it, why is she constantly antagonizing her?

        Why was she bleeding Callow an Black forces.

        Why the killing of Callow administration?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. luminiousblu

          Because the best way to keep a place under your control is to make sure it literally cannot oppose you in any meaningful way.

          Killing Callow’s administration means that it can’t be its own power bloc, since it lacks functional talent, while bleeding out “allies” you expect to turn on later is a ploy old as dirt.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Killing Callow’s ruler’s class either immobilizes the kingdom, leads to centralization of power which can be toppled with a death of the ruler or to replacement with new people, many of whom will likely be Malicia’s agents.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. FactualInsanity

        I think that’s selling him short.
        It’s not that he has no ambitions beyond supporting Catherine. It’s that his ambitions match hers, more or less. In my opinion anyway.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. luminiousblu

          Well yeah, but Hakram sees his place at her side, not unlike how Black saw his place, for the longest time, at Alaya’s side, or how Scribe sees her place at Black’s side. He’s not a slavish hanger-on, and he supports Catherine because he agrees with her, but the difference is almost moot – he supports Catherine because of her goals, and her goals are what they are because of who she is. Hakram supports Catherine because of who she is and what that implies.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Insanenoodlyguy

            This. And if she ever turns from those goals, he’s likely to go Klingon about it, and put them in a situation where they are fighting to the death. Not to kill her, but to have her kill him in such a way that she remembers what she’s doing this for. (Coin flip on if he actually dies or if the fight ends with one of them over the other but both of them thinking the same way again).

            Like

      3. Stormblessed

        I agree with you… Mostly. My disagreement falls that I don’t think he supports Catherine’s goals unequivocally without any goals of his own, I think he believes in Catherine and believes in his goals and dreams for abetted future. While the might squabble a bit on what that would mean, he takes Catherine’s side and position in the end and is most certainly the ‘right hand man’.

        In a sense, the dread empress can’t understand Hakram because she underestimates and dislikes Catherine. Basically, their relationship is similar to the one between her and Black in that they work as a unit. Hakram and Cat’s relationship might be best described as a mix between that of Black and Squire and Black and Malacia. In my opinion obviously.

        Liked by 3 people

      4. Dainpdf

        He does. Remember the night, ages ago, when he swore to follow her. He dreams of a better world, where his people aren’t limited by their baser instincts, treated by the other peoples of Calernia as brutes and grunts. Or at least that’s what he’s said he wants.

        Liked by 5 people

      5. Byzantine

        And worse the way he does it always leaves you thinking there *has* to be something you are missing. He never does anything for just a single purpose. So obviously his devotion to Catherine can’t really be that single minded… right?

        Like

  3. Jane

    And this chapter is why I love Malicia’s character so dearly; the cold logic hiding behind a dozen different masks, all tied to a character who still fundamentally feels, and cares deeply about the things she wishes to protect.

    Incidentally, it’s amusing to see her apply that logic to come to a perfectly reasonable conclusion (Cat will go for the Fae – it’s her only option, and it would be devastating), and be completely and thoroughly wrong about it (Wait, what do you mean, she was actually able to unify a decent portion of the Drow?). At least she’s in the right ballpark? I mean, Cat’s less-informed enemies probably think she’s off preparing some dire ritual or something…

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Dainpdf

      I found it interesting that she associated keeping those feelings and loyalties to *not* being Cat – by her own admission, Malicia is biased, but still this says something about what the Black Queen is.
      Compare this to the Nauk situation, for example.

      Like

      1. Jane

        Cat’s capacity for self-sacrifice certainly is becoming a legend, isn’t it? From the Saint of Swords disgust at what she’s done to her own soul, to Malicia’s quiet disdain for how she cuts out portions of herself, to Akua’s presumption that self-mutilation will be Cat’s first resort… She really has quite the reputation, though for different reasons across her various foes.

        In many ways, she has more in common with Akua than one would assume – her dream comes before all else. In Akua’s case, before the cost to the world, in Cat’s case, before the cost to herself.

        Liked by 11 people

        1. naturalnuke

          I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. As horrible a person Ubua is, she is a reflection of Cat and the perfect foil. She’s Cat if Cat reacted inversely to the way she did.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Oshi

            No. The Kingdom Under makes plenty of deal with the surface. This is just one more in a long line of diplomatic maneuvers on the Dwarves part. There is a reason that Malicia knows about the Dwarves expansion after all.

            Like

            1. Yes, they made deals with others, but most of them should be limited to “we sell you weapons for x” or “we can’t send you mercenaries because we are in a period of expansion”.
              Cat’s deal will be perceived VERY differently when all the member of Hasenbach’s alliances are are refused because they are at war with her. The will be a lot of speculations about what is going on between her and the dwarves and how much they are willing to help her. At the very least, refusing to deal with people at war with her will be seen as approving her.

              Liked by 5 people

    2. Yeah, depending on how long it’s been … Cat seemingly disappearing off the face of the planet should have everybody who knows about it in the Grand Alliance worried. Heck – Malicia’s sort of worried, and she thinks she knows what Cat is doing and why. I mean, Malicia’s wrong about the who, where, and why, but sort of right on the what.

      As far as the Grand Alliance is concerned, Cat’s the Archeretic of the East, who dropped a glacial lake on an army, seemingly because she could, can mass produce undead that Holy power is useless against, and disappeared shortly before the Dead King invaded. At best, she’s in Keter, at worst, she’s up to something else horrific and Evil.
      Okay, Cat kind of is up to something horrific and debatably evil, but still, Cat’s up to something she thinks is more important than the problems in Callow – nobody on the side of Above is going to think that could possibly be a good thing.

      Liked by 8 people

  4. Hmmm. That Malicia seems to think that her deal with the Dead King is apparently some sort of counterweight to Cat acting against Praes is not good.

    Black captured … I can see that as being more likely as an offscreen event than him getting killed offscreen.
    Going to backfire all kinds of horribly on them when Cat finds out.
    For that matter, breaking Black out is something she, the Woe, Scribe, and what’s left of the Calamities would be wrong to work together on.
    Would not want to be on the wrong side of that group when they’re all working together.
    Hell, for getting Black back, Malicia might even stop screwing with Cat, at least for a while.

    Hah. Cat going to the Drow is something Malicia has discounted, thinking she went to Arcadia and the Fae. That’s probably a good thing for Cat.

    Malicia, fucking around with Masego/Hierophant is a terrible idea. Imprisoning him is simply a very bad one. Letting him die will end Praesi cities. At best. And that’s only if Warlock and Cat don’t find out you let Masego get killed, then they’ll both turn on you, and that just plain isn’t particularly survivable, at least, not in any sort of condition where survival is desirable.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. IDKWhoitis

      I think in the case of Masego, Warlock would blame her without any proof she did anything. If she failed to protect him, with or without intention, he will be at best neutral in the ensuing shitshow, and at worst will work with Cat to topple the tower. Malica promised she would protect Masego.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. caoimhinh

      My bet is that “Amadeus Prison Break Arc” will have at least 4 chapters named X person’s plan, each showing us the different teams carrying out their plans to rescue Black.
      It will be interesting to see it play out. I just don’t want it to end like the Ace Rescue Arc in One Piece.

      Liked by 6 people

        1. caoimhinh

          SPOILERS:

          The whole Arc was about Luffy (the MC) and others rushing to rescue his brother Ace who was sentenced to be executed publicly in the Marine Headquarters.
          This ended even setting off a war among some of the strongest powerhouses of the world in the Marine HQ, issuing a huge battle involving the top forces of the marines and all divisions of White Beard Pirates.
          Luffy even managed to release Ace from the shackles that bound him to the scaffold, but Ace died at the hands of one of the Admirals while protecting Luffy during their escape.

          A very sad ending for that arc that made their efforts be in vain and leaving thousands of dead as the aftermath.

          Like

      1. grzecho2222

        My guess is that Hierarch and Tyrant will save him since he is:
        a) of Common Orgins and tries to change Praes into place where People (institutions) not Lords have power
        b) mad with Kairos and kidnapping him will make everybody go after them (thus creating too many opponents for Fate to choose)
        c) other reason

        Liked by 1 person

  5. So, Black is alive, but captured, alledgedly. All theories are once again in the air.

    Nice to see Cat’s drow gambit is too insane even for Malicia to consider. I guess this is one of the boons that come with it: nobody will expect for you to get drow army, it’s like getting elf army as a Hero.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Dylan Tullos

      TeK:

      Try as I might, I cannot come up with a single reason for the Heroes to capture Black instead of killing him. Leaving him alive means that he can escape or be freed, while dead is dead.

      I think there are obvious problems with “so crazy they’ll never see it coming”, like the fact that the plan is actually so bad that Malicia immediately dismisses it.

      Like

      1. Because Cat’s too good at manipulating stories to hand her the “we killed her mentor” card.

        Also, taking Black alive is a huge triumph – and proving it is a huge morale booster.
        Plus, they can try to get information out of him if he is alive. Lot harder to do that when he’s dead and you don’t do necromancy.

        Also, Black alive is potential leverage against Cat, the Calamities, and Praes.
        Then there’s the fact that the Heroes probably don’t want to do anything they don’t have to do that could pull Ranger into wanting to kill them.

        Or … Black was tricksy and surrendered at some point. And Heroes don’t/can’t kill somebody who had clearly surrendered.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. Drunken Dwarf

          Not to mention it would officially open the Name spot for the Black Knight. While I doubt they’d expect Cat to take the Name, there is the possibility of another being risen before the Dead King is pushed back.

          Like

        2. Jane

          Because Cat’s too good at manipulating stories to hand her the “we killed her mentor” card.

          …Isn’t the “Holding The Beloved Mentor Figure As A Hostage” card even worse, from a Narrative position? Though a bit easier to direct, I guess… I can think of many stories where that’s gone horribly wrong, and not very many where it works out well for the hostage-taker. At best, it’s setting up a heroic (villainous?) sacrifice on the part of Black that does significant harm to their plans, and puts Cat on a path to greater growth.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. The “Hostage Mentor” card, while not a good one to give somebody, is less targeted than the “Killed Mentor” card.
            The “Hostage Mentor” card, will give Cat the most advantage against whomever is actually holding him prisoner.
            The “Killed Mentor” card would give Cat an even bigger boost against the very Heroes most likely to be able to stand up to her in a fight, even kill her – namely Saint and Pilgrim, plus the other Heroes involved.
            Giving Cat a specific advantage against those who pose the greatest threat to her is not a good plan.

            Plus, the “Hostage Mentor” gives them a known point where they can prepare the area against Cat, whereas “Killed Mentor” means she can strike anywhere at any time. Now they can set up against Cat’s rescue attempt. Still don’t know when, but they’ll know where.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. Jane

              Ah… So you’re saying that Pilgrim is setting up Hasenbach to take the fall, while hoping that Black ends up killed during the rescue and they inflict a bit of lasting damage during the attempt. Yes, that would make sense, though I’d still be a bit concerned by the promise of greater growth such plotlines usually enable. Then again, with how strange Cat’s arc has grown, who’s to say that the plotline would still offer that kind of payoff for her? She’s not the Squire anymore, after all.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. No, Cat still holds the Name of Squire, or, rather, what’s left of it. It is in bad shape, down to the gnawed on bones between Winter and two failed/rejected/broken Transitions from Squire, but she still has it.

                Might not be Pilgrim intentionally setting up Hasenbach – from what we’ve seen of him, he appears to want to protect the status quo, rather than burn everything and start over like Laurence.
                Pilgrim might be using the captured Black as bait and/or leverage against Cat, the Woe, and the rest of the Calamities – if they want Black back, they have to play into his hands, either going after where he’s being held, or trying to cut a deal. If they try to break him out, they’re walking into a trap, if they try to cut a deal, it’s going to be expensive.
                Alternatively, if that don’t try to get Black back, that’s going to cause divisions and gut morale amongst their forces. The Legions would not be happy about Black being left in Proceran/Hero hands, and decidedly disappointed with those responsible for making that decision. Could cause a serious problem.

                Lot of it depends on what actually happened to result in Black being captured. And on whether Black captured is part of a Hero’s plan, part of Black’s plan, or some fluke that just happened.

                We don’t know enough, frankly, to do much speculating about what’s going on with Black presumably being captured.

                Liked by 1 person

          2. caoimhinh

            It works if you don’t look at it as “the hostage mentor” but rather “the villain sentenced to prison”.
            Keep in mind there are narratives that overlap with each other, and the 2 sides from a story might be very different while telling the same tale.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Jane

              But this conversation line was concerned with what Stories this would enable Cat to take advantage of, on the premise that Cat would deliberately manipulate the Narrative to her advantage; how Pilgrim (or other Heroes) would represent the situation and manipulate it to their advantage is a side concern to what Cat would attempt.

              Though I’d note that “The Villain Sentenced to Prison” can all too often be reframed as “Sealed Evil in a Can”, and we all know how that ends – with the Dead King on their doorstep, it’s unlikely that such a seed would sprout, but how many stories begin with a Villain breaking out of prison, exactly?

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Yotz

                One thing they should be especially careful with in the case of Black’s imprisoning, is the place. I mean, if you throwing someone in the local analogue of Elba or, Gods forbid, Château d’If – you simply asking for it at this point.

                Like

              2. caoimhinh

                Yes, but also many stories for a villain end in him being captured, deprived of power and ending life in prison, it’s also stronger than the “rescue the imprisoned mentor” narrative because it’s an end of narrative not the plot of one AND because Cat is a villain, not a Heroine fighting to rescue her teacher who is held as hostage.

                Of course, we the readers know that it can horribly backfire for Pilgrim and co. since Cat has a knack for bending narrative in her favor, but Pilgrim might not know that or rather, he might think he can outsmart her in this, as have been his attitude when facing her during the Northern Campaign and the peace treaty; the bit of insight we got from him when he planned the plague trap against Black also shows us he believes himself to be above the others in the knowledge of narrative, such arrogance will kill him when facing off against Catherine.

                Like

            2. SilentWatcher

              i dont think pilgrim would do such a foolish mistake. it could be “it was a trap all along” they must expect the calamities to rescue him. Even malicia is now emotional in her decision making.
              Even crazier, maybe Black planned to get captured, because he is a weakness of Malicia

              Liked by 1 person

        3. Dylan Tullos

          Javvies:

          You know what would be good for morale? Killing Black and displaying his body. That would be great for morale. The Carrion Lord would be dead and gone, the most feared Villain alive would be vanquished, and all Good people could sleep soundly in the knowledge that he was never coming back.

          It would be less great for morale to capture Black and have the Calamities break him out a week later. However nice it might be in theory to have him as a hostage, there is no jail anywhere that could keep him safely.

          Grey Pilgrim is allowed to use a plague to kill innocent villagers. He’s allowed to smother his own nephew with a pillow. His Choir obviously isn’t going to care if he kills a Villain after they surrender.

          The Saint of Swords did not strike me as the kind of woman who refuses to kill Villains because she’s scared. Heroes die as part of their job, and there’s no better way to go out than as a result of killing the worst Villain since Triumphant.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. If he’s not alive, what proves it was actually Black’s body? Remember, he’s relatively unassuming, and not at all like what anybody thinks of when they think about him. Plus, he’s Duni, and so is light skinned like a Callowan (and Proceran?), not the stereotypical darker skinned Praesi. The average person would just assume they don’t actually have the dreaded Praesi Black Knight.

            Plus, as noted, while he is alive, no one else, such as Cat, can pick up the Name of Black Knight.
            As a prisoner, one of the few standard Names available to Praes is off the board and staying off.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Dylan Tullos

              Javvies:

              The benefit of killing Black is that Black will be dead. This is an advantage that does not go away or lessen over time.

              The benefits to taking Black prisoner are that he can’t fight you and that your morale improves. These advantages can go away in five seconds when the Calamities arrive to break him out. Taking the Black Knight off the board only helps you if the enemy can’t bring him back.

              It’s better to take a permanent win over a temporary boost. As for the danger of another Black Knight, that Black Knight would be a rookie, without Black’s decades of experience as a Hero killer, his skill as a general, or his relationship with the Calamities. Heroes aren’t scared of a random Black Knight, like the dozens or hundreds who have fallen and failed; they’re scared of Amadeus of the Green Stretch, who actually succeeded in conquering Callow. Killing him is worth any cost, and failing to do so is an act of pure idiocy that leaves Evil’s most dangerous general to live and fight another day.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. The Calamities showing up to break Black out of prison is them showing up on ground that should be a place chosen and prepared to trap and kill them.
                I don’t know about you, but fighting the Calamities at a place of my choosing that I’ve prepared to have them, even if I don’t have much control over the timing, sounds like a better idea than letting them choose the time and place, far less digging them out of Praes.
                And you can control the timing some – announce a date for an execution or trial, public or otherwise, or transfer to a place of execution or trial.

                Also, it is within the realm of possibility that killing Black would free his soul to get installed into someone else. Nermcromantic practices are the realm of Evil, after all.

                Sure, a new Black Knight won’t be Amadeus, but it could easily be Cat, as far as the Heroes know, and that would just be a disaster. Or maybe it’s somebody else – someone whose identity and capabilities are unknown. It could easily be someone more dangerous in a fight than Amadeus – probably would be, in fact.

                Liked by 1 person

              2. caoimhinh

                Yeah, they probably mean to use him as a temporal prisoner and execute him in a later date.
                That would give them the benefits of:
                -boosting their own morale while damaging the enemy’s morale
                -sowing hesitation, unrest, and tension between their enemies (Praes, Malicia, Cat, the Calamities, the legions, etc) because every faction will react differently
                -gaining some time before the next offensive, because while it can be expected that the many factions in Praes and Callow’s side would join hands to break him out, they won’t do it immediately.

                Of course, it is a risk, but Black can be contained temporarily, and executed later on when preparations are in place, while killing Black would effectively make Cat, Malicia and the Calamities join in a vendetta against Procer; Saint might not care, but Pilgrim would, and will plan more carefully to take advantage of the other’s agitation, hesitation and haste on rescuing Amadeus, setting traps and countermeasures to deal with them.

                We know it will probably backfire to Procer, because Catherine is the MC, but that’s us the readers, the characters don’t know that and thus can make those mistakes.

                Like

          2. jonnnney

            The good guys are currently planning to set out a few million innocent people as lambs to the slaughter because they lost an election. I doubt they care about morale. The benefit of keeping Black alive is Warlock and his Son don’t get a chance nuke the Ashuran fleet which is the only military around that is currently attacking the Dread Empire itself.

            Like

        4. Rook

          The problem with Black isn’t that he isn’t a clever enough mastermind. The problem is that he treats himself as just another piece on the board. An important one, yes, but still expendable given the right conditions.

          I think the question of his survival isn’t whether things are going according to plan, so much as whether his plan actually involves his own survival. The fact that killing Black may be far too costly for the Heroes or Procer to weather is worrying, not comforting, because Black himself has so much to gain from sacrificing his own piece here. It may, in fact, turn into a farce in which the Heroes have to save the archvillain while said archvillain attemps to off himself on their swords.

          The thing is that if he actually forces them to kill him, he wins. All the old Heroic monsters have crawled out of the woodwork, placing themselves in Procer’s camp and openly taking the field to put him down. The sharpest swords that the Heavens have to bare, the ones that would normally come screaming out of a clear blue sky to save the day, are in the open field and targetable along with the Crusade and Procer itself. All at once.

          If he dies here, he gives the deadliest monsters that Praes has spawned in tens of generations a clean swing at them under the guise of a classic, typically Heroic, motivation – retribution for a loved one lost.

          The end result? He breaks the last remaining madmen of Praes against the last remaining Heroic nation close enough to be a threat, and simultaneously wounds or outright shatters most of the Legendary Heroes that might ruin all his plans. The snake eating it’s own tail is ended, procer is ended, Callow is under the iron fist of his own apprentice, and a massive power vacuum is created that can now be filled by mundane institutions.

          Liked by 8 people

      2. Oh yeah, why would Peregrin leave Maddie alive? What about a bait? Praesi had consistently proven that being on defensive is a prefferable position. Now instead of trying to invade Callow (which is impossible giving an upcoming undead incursion), you can dictate where Calamities’ll struck. And you’ll get a “Good country besieged by various forces of evil” bonus, which gives +2 defensive roll. I think, the most important thing for Good is to get every monster into action there. They don’t really care about backlash or casulties, as long as they will be the ones left standing. It’s a nice trade, me thinks, making Praes go on offensive.

        About “so crazy they never see it coming”, Malicia does not judge which plan is better, cause both are different yet similar shades of godawful, she judges what she thinks Cat will do. And I think whatever adventage giving fae permanent foothold in Creation has over herding a bunch of backstabbing demigods into an army, it’s worth it, as long as your enemies won’t expect it.

        Also, while we consistently overlook nisi and dzulu in favor of Mighty, what Cat told us, time and again, is that she doesn’t need monters, but rather numbers. And think of it this way: if Kingdom Under can’t sell weapons to any side in Calernia that is at war with Callow, whom they can sell those weapons? Give “cattle” drow cheap dwarven arnaments, and you got yourself analog to Proceran levies, for your professional core Army of Callow.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Yotz

          Cat may still get herself an army of slightly less backstabbing lesser demigods courtesy of her auctions – on which nisi are the main buyers, afair, since most of the dzulu are waiting for a shot on the Titles. Yes, some of the dzulu may be lured in by the promise of draining a Mighty – but with Cat’s last gambit that would be one with no guarantee on getting more in foreseeable future. So the bulk of dzulu and – presumably – all the Mighty in Cat’s thrall will wait on a chance to prove themselves enough to gain a Title, making (slightly) empowered nisi Cat’s main footsoldiers. Which, depending on the amount of Night drained and Secrets obtained, may place some of them on the level of elite troops of other nations, or even higher. I mean, if your meatshield is capable of nearly instantaneous regeneration and is highly poisonous for anyone who dares to chomp on it…

          Liked by 1 person

      3. werafdsaew

        How about the reason given in this chapter? They want to parade him around in a triumph, and they don’t want to piss off Ranger. Or maybe one sworn to Mercy, GP actually cannot take a life unless it saves another life elsewhere, and he judges Black to have been sufficiently neutralized. I’m sure I can come up with other possible reasons.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Death Knight

          No, the reason Mercy is one of the most feared choirs is because of their core ability “The FINAL mercy.”

          Life is horrible and difficult, full of suffering and anguish. You are doing your choir’s will when you alleviate another person’s suffering by killing them.

          There’s a reason Saint (rancid sack of vinegar and piss discount Ranger) shuts up when Pilgrim tells her to.

          Mercy’s creed permits killing of ANYONE for the paltry price of merely feeling their suffering.

          Liked by 2 people

      4. Morgenstern

        Well, one thing you do achieve, when taking someone captive is making other people come for them. That just MIGHT actually be something worth angling for (making a trap for them). And, if the person(s) in question do/es have enough tricks (known to the maybe-captors!) up their sleeve that they would see you simply CLAIMING to have taken the other person, but actually killed them… there would be no way, but to actually do take them prisoner, if that were indeed your angle.

        It would be a funfest for Black, of course, being taken prisoner to the main city, where he can spread the plague that he has probably caught, his Name simply not letting it kill him….

        But. There is at least a third avenue: Those shopkeeper-talks? What if it is NOT (quite) a parade of victory at all? It might actually be about mourning some lost hero(es), less about victory….

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Morgenstern

          (Far away sidenote: Black might, of course, simpy not have contracted the plague at all, due to Name shenanigans, which changes a lot of the perspective of what Black’s plan might be.)

          Liked by 1 person

          1. caoimhinh

            I still think the theory of infected undead going down the river to spread the plague in Procer is a high possibility, and I particularly like it, since it would come to hit the Pilgrim in a few days time and hit him hard (he must feel the pain of those infected until they die) due to the sheer amount of people infected.
            It would also be a huge “fuck you” and spit in the eye of the heavens if Black managed to do that.

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      5. ______

        The Pilgrim might be actually going for the “install Amadeus as the new Dread Emperor” plan Catherine suggested, believing that the divide it creates in the Legions will make the Wasteland tad bit less impossible to campaign in.
        Remember, they ar already waging war on three fronts, with the fourth about to be opened in the Free Cities and the fifth whenether the critical mass of hungry ratlings is achieved. A currently nameless claimant to the throne might be too good to pass up.

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  6. IDKWhoitis

    I do have to wonder how much of a weight Ranger could place on the scales in favor of Praes if she just tore a hole in Procer. Like could she mobilize Refuge? Would the Saint and Ranger just duke it out and wreck a city? I kinda wish Ranger gets involved anyways, an old monster reawakened because someone decided to poke its tail.

    Regarding the Drow gambit, I think they might be much worse than Fae, as wards and spells may not be as effective. Even accounting for Winter influence, they are fundamentally of this plane of existence, so a Ward cannot banish them as easily.

    Regarding Magic, Would Warlock use Combat magic to suppress Masego (and better question, would he win?). Like that path leads to either a city being lost in the aftermath or an emotional showdown between Masego and his father.

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    1. A lot of people think Ranger would just tear through the crusade but I disagree. Part of why she’s so powerful is that she doesn’t step into any narratives. We’ve seen her fight against the Dead King’s Revenants, we know she’s been scrapping with the rattlings and the drow but it’s never as a part of a bigger story – it’s just her hunting the foes she finds worthy.

      In fact, the moment she steps into a story bigger than her, like when she fought against the Summer Queen, she gets seriously injured. So yeah, I’m sure she would do some damage but I doubt it would be very significant.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Death Knight

        We’ve only seen Ranger fighting foes head on and we’ve been led to believe that she does not have any other tactics.

        That is a mistake.

        Recall in the interlude Apprentice in book 3, Archer uses arrows that are made of naturally enchanted wood. These arrows fly straight though most mage shields.

        They’re mage killers.

        Now I’m not saying Ranger invented them but she has centuries of experience fighting Named from all walks of life. From Sorcerors to Knights to Puglists and everything in between.

        If she actually hunted those heroes, as in be as pragmatically cold as possible. Making use of traps, magical trinkets, specialized arrows etc. that an actual hunter uses in real life, well, as the Calamaties have proven repeatedly you can kill anything bullshit heroic Named included with enough preparation.

        Also, Ranger’s role is hunting strong opponents. That’s her Role in the Story. Now, wouldn’t you say a team of Old Heroic Monsters qualifies? Especially ones that managed to kill the most feared Villain in recent history? Her lover too?

        No as long Hye does not face all 5 of the bastards head on she can kill the lot of them.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. More to the point, we’ve only seen Ranger looking for a fight for the sake of a fight to push/improve herself.
          There’s a distinct difference between wanting to fight with someone for the sake of a good fight and wanting to kill someone so that they’re dead.
          The former is ultra-hardcore sparring with live blades, the way Ranger does it. The latter is an ambush opened with lethal strikes, if it’s not just a headshot from behind cover.
          In other words, the former is the Exiled Prince challenging Cat, the latter is Cat telling Nauk to just shoot him instead of answering the challenge.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. ______

      Masego mentioned that miracles and wards don’t have much overlap (which is why he couldn’t contain the Heavenly Fences). I think Warlock may find out that his defences aren’t enough to hold Masego, or to protect himself.

      Like

      1. IDKWhoitis

        It will make for a very funny story of Masego gets “Grounded” and can’t go to the murder party in Callow (or Tower) and sneaks out anyways.

        Like

    1. Sylwoos

      As will be everyone reaction if killing the Sve doesn’t destroy the night. She’ll show up with a army of named able to put to shame the Hero’s gathering of the tenth crusade.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jason Ipswitch

        I will be very surprised if the Night does not survive, given that the woman gunning for her is The Queen of Moonless Nights, who at least in theory still has an Aspect called Take. (And a history of taking things like resurrections and leveraging them in her own favor.)

        Liked by 3 people

    2. One thing she still can’t get her head around: Cat isn’t inclined to kill Amodeus, nor is she particularly willing to attempt climbing/levelling the Tower. But, if Malicia keeps pushing Cat because she fears she might become a real threat… self-fulfilling prophecy may occur.

      Everything Malicia dislikes about Cat stems from the rock-hard belief that Squires will always try to kill Black Knights to get power coupled to “Callowans hate Praesi unconditionally”.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. IDKWhoitis

        Villains create their own demise, and Malica is slipping into some bad villainous habits lately.

        She’s gotten used to holding most of the cards, and now that someone stole one, the house of cards is toppling.

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  7. caoimhinh

    Nice chapter from Malicia’s POV.
    Good to see her assumptions and plans directly from her, she is going to be VERY surprised when Catherine emerge with an army of Drow and a pact with the Dwarves.

    Come on, Amadeus, be alive.

    It will be interesting to see Wekesa’s reaction to the news too, he will probably get them right after or in the middle of talking with Masego.
    I wonder who will handle the rescue operations, it might even be 4 different teams with plans to free Black.

    Like

  8. Gunslinger

    Evil chapter this, dangling us all the hope of a still alive Black. Though I have to say I laughed when Malicia didn’t even consider the Drow as a possibility given how monumentally stupid it originally seemed

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Xinci

    Truly another interesting and informative chapter. Malicia is still non-the wiser on the Tyrants plan as like many others strangely ignores the Heiarch. Well I suppose few know what he has seen, he only needs the right pivot to have sume fundamental impacts..truly he would work quite well with Cat.

    In this case props to Hakrams musings in previous chapters for he foresaw the way the game would go and is working to support the fabric of the kingdom more now. We shall of course have to see how it plays out but the pivot is there and change comes. Cat getting a highly adaptable force that can help her fill in the various roles of her kingdom is rather important, but as mentioned she is *raw*. She will need several more lessons or inspirations to learn how to mold them into the proper role and actually keep that adaptability intact. A big question right now is how Cat will mold her people as a whole once she unifies them or if she will act as a unifier at all, given I am still unsure if Cat is still in a foundational stage like Archer is.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. soonnanandnaanssoon

    “a world of endless paths, and someone to walk them with her”

    This. Damn I can’t believe a Dread Empress & her Black Knight could best describe my relationship goals.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. caoimhinh

      I know, right? It’s a pretty awesome phrase, the best of this chapter in my opinion, with second best being the ending sentence “If they’d killed him, Alaya would give him an empire for a pyre.”
      And both of those phrases come from the same source: their relationship and the love and dreams they have shared for over four decades.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Jessica Day

    I find it interesting how she correctly identifies Vivienne as the weak link but misunderstands her as simply nationalistic. But then, I don’t suppose there is anyway for her to have heard about Cat’s plans with the Liesse Accords?

    Liked by 4 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        Malica seemed very well informed about many things. Akua was in Keter, Malica was in Keter, DK is Malica’s ally. I thought Malica knew this whole time, and allowed it because Akua is worth more alive than dead.

        When dealing with Black or Malica, I feel like its a better assumption that they have more information than they are letting on.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. caoimhinh

          Hmm, well, she might know and simply not mention it during this chapter, but a higher possibility is that she doesn’t know. Malicia had a meat puppet disguised as a servant of the Dead King who spent the most time with Cat’s group, but Akua was disguised as a Fae, one thing I find strange is that it was never really mentioned how they presented Akua, since giving her a new appearance would only works if they gave her a different name, but we don’t know about that, so far it’s only in conversations between them that they say her name.

          Akua was called ‘The Shade of Splendor’ by the announcer when they were in the Dead King’s audience, but that’s ambiguous since it means that Neshamah knows she is a shade, but doesn’t specifically states that he knows her real identity and isn’t just calling her Splendid because her appearance is that of a Fae.
          But, the Dead King is not Malicia’s ally, and he doesn’t need to share any information with her, he does what he pleases. If anything, he is more likely to see Catherine as an ally rather than Malicia, though he is not beyond making things very hard for her and even hurting her and her closed ones badly, he even admitted head on that he might betray her and wouldn’t be offended if she betrayed him.

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          1. IDKWhoitis

            I think part of the reason Malica thinks Cat is going the Fae route is that she had a “Fae” with the Woe, and confirmation bias is making her draw conclusions that sound pretty decent.

            The Dead King is a mercenary, who is friendly with Cat because she is new to the whole “Immortal” thing, and he might be able to gleam the whole Breaker of cycles thing that other powerful entities have just mentioned offhandedly about Cat. He is just trying to game another variable, and treats her as more than disposable or passing, because she truly has the possibility of staying “On the Board” for the foreseeable future.

            Liked by 4 people

        2. jonnnney

          If she does know about Akua she likely thinks that Catherine is only using her as a weapon rather than a weapon, a magical expert, and a political adviser. She certainly doesn’t understand how much power and control Catherine has as the Last Queen of Winter. Honestly the fact that Malicia always has more information is a big problem with Catherine because she makes far too many assumptions about Cat even when she has little concrete information.

          Like

  12. Fern

    Jesus crimminy what a fucking look into Malicia’s character. This whole time we thought she was going to betray him if it meant keeping Praes together, but that was never in the cards, was it? Sure, she planned for it just in case, but that betrayal would only come from him, not her. Calernia’s mistake has been seeing these two as the Big Bad and her Dragon, when it’s really a dueteragonist situation in the hypothetical “Maddie Alaya and the boys take over the world” story. Just as well, we have a pretty good idea of what makes Black tick: like a much less deplorable version of Griffith, his dream – of stopping the cycle of war and plunder between Callow and Praes so that they can buckle down and finally fix the damn place – comes before everything else. At the same time, he’s wise enough and has a good enough group of people with him to know that if he took control of Praes from Malicia it’d cause more problems than it solves.

    The crusade won’t know what hit em.

    Liked by 8 people

  13. SMHF

    Reading this chapter again, I think I figured out Malicia’s terms with The Dead King…
    He can attack any land on the continent that is not at peace with The Tower. Giving an east out to anyone in league with Cordelia when though gets going… and keeping Cat at bay, because she wouldn’t risk her people as long as he’s out and about.
    It just sounds like something she’s go for.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Or possibly an alliance. Either way, Cat already foresaw the confrontation with the Dead King and is preparing for it now. She’ll be ready when she comes back with an army of Drows and with enough coin from the Dwarves.

      Malicia is shooting herself on the foot by jumping the gun on exposing her deal with the Dead King. Unsurprising since she’s not aware of what Cat is doing.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Agent J

          She knows that she made a deal with the Hidden Horror, but not what the deal entails. Malicia is of the opinion that exposing the details of her Dead Alliance, it would make the rulers of Callow less likely to be openly hostile.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. RanVor

            Yes, I know. That’s not what I was talking about. Sugarrollblog stated that Malicia is risking a lot by revealing her deal with the Dead King, and I was wondering what she might possibly lose that is not already compromised.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. caoimhinh

              Because Malicia is rushing to conclusions and acting up before the correct, planned time.

              She is exposing to Cat’s friends the true and full extent of her deal with the Dead King, which means showing exactly how long and tight is her leash on him, to what extent he can act, invade and attack, and allowing to look for loopholes to exploit.
              So long as the terms of the deal were a mystery there would be uncertainty and hesitation when taking decisions for Cat and the rest, now they will know the game rules and can make countermeasures, which is why Malicia’s initial plan was to wait until Cat returned to reveal it, because Malicia wanted to first see what were Cat’s cards at hand before making a decision and playing her own.

              Liked by 2 people

  14. So Black is confirmed as captured. There’s a lot of speculation about the “hostage mentor” storyline and how Cat will work to rescue Black. A few mentions about caged Evil aswell.

    There’s another potential way this goes though. Where are they going to keep Black? Their primary stronghold? The capital of Procer, where one queen who is rapidly losing faith in the heroes has just realised the threat her empowered allies pose to her people.

    Now a mentor character is going to be key prisoner in close proximity to a leader who is in desperate need of help and advice from a friendly(?) teacher who will be quite happy to provide some insight.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Considering the scene with Hasenbach there is definitely potential. Aside from the obvious tropes of a captured mentor which is no doubt what GP is thinknig regarding this (thinking like a Villain). I’m just looking at “good” narratives that Black is going to be more than happy to insert himself into. After all he himself is a manipulator of the narrative and it’s something the Good guys won’t expect. Cordelia is supposed to just sit and watch her country be destroyed, it’s for the Greater Good after all and it’s notl ike she’ll be able to do anything on her own.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Byzantine

          Yep. Black is Evil because it is what he needs for the job. If being Good does the job? He wouldn’t hesitate to use it too. He does not care at all about the sides. He wants to break the board.

          Like

  15. This smells an awful lot like a trap, and with that final line, I suspect Malicia may be stepping into it. For all we talk about vengeance stories, we’ve already seen how trying to play into those works out for villains against heroes when the Champion was paraded in front of the Black Knight at the Vales [Lest Dawn Fail]. If he had taken that bait he would have been stuck in the field, already committed, when the White Knight miraculously returned. Even the Black Knight believes this would have killed him. Unfortunately, Malicia and Warlock don’t seem to be as adept at Story-Fu. If the Black Knight dies, Malicia seems to be planning to throw every superweapon and horror at her disposal at those she sees as responsible. The problem is that Dread Emperors/Empresses have been throwing superweapons and horrors at the Good nations for centuries and it has always ended the same. Not even Triumphant managed to las (Note the current similarities of Malicia to Triumphant what with the alliance with the Dead King). I suspect the capture may be intended to make sure Blacks allies and friends are paying attention when he is executed, so whoever is running this scheme may better control exactly where the vengeance will be directed. Pilgrim would rather he die than any of the young heroes predicted in the chosen band of five [Kaleidoscope II] and the Saint of Swords also seems quite willing to make sacrifices [Fatalism III]. Note the conspicuous absence of any mention of the other heroes predicted to make up the chosen five in the goon squad cornering the Black Knight [Queens Gambit Declined]. Perhaps this is intended to keep them clear of the vengeance, allowing them to swoop in and slay the villain? Or I could just be being paranoid.

    Like

  16. Yotz

    …on the small table near the fluffy atrocity that Sve Noc called her bed was an opened letter from a Tyrant of Helike, evidently professing eternal friendship to the Night…

    Liked by 7 people

  17. Nash Equilibrium

    Is anyone else noticing the parallels between what Cat is doing now and what William did after his defeat in book 1? She has run away from the storied war and is taking time to have a training montage before returning bigger and stronger (or in Cat’s case just stronger, she’ll always be short).

    And since Malicia and the hero’s are still pressing Callow, mostly Malicia, now when she returns it’ll be the timely return of the hero.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This book so far has heavily demonstrated how the narrative roles of good and evil are swapping between the sides of Good and Evil. The Good named are following plot lines that are traditionally villainous. Hell, Grey Pilgrim basically acknowledged that he was pulling out the “bad” stuff when he captured Black and is quickly taking on the role of a major antagonist. Plagues and mass slaughter are not the stuff of the good guys.

      I wonder how they’ll react when the shoe finally drops and they realise exactly what they have become.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Agent J

        He asked when was ruthlessness strictly the purview of Evil. I absolutely loved that quote. Employ their methods, earn their results. It’s not a coincidence Cat’s been leaning harder towards anti-villain than actual villain.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Byzantine

        Or more accurately when they realize that Bard’s millenia-long plan has finally come to fruition. because let’s face it: she’s been setting this up for a very long time. And I suspect she hates *all* of the Gods for what they have done to her.

        She wasn’t mocking Black because he was out of his league. She was mocking Black because his plan was so small.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. mavant

      I think after this adventure, Amadeus is just going to go back to the Green Stretch and take up cricket.

      He’s always wanted to be batsman.

      Like

  18. So, seems Sorcerous came after Triumphant. I’d thought he was one of the earlier Dread Emperors, but if his vanity project in the Tower is still around he clearly came after Triumphant brought the whole thing down.

    Liked by 5 people

  19. Snowfire1224

    Is it just me or has Malicia miss read the situation. She talked about Theif grappling with killing the refugees or solving the problem in other ways, but in the chapter before Theif didn’t even consider killing them. Unless I’m remembering it wrong.

    There’s also the fact that she completely dismisses the Drow, which I honestly don’t blame her for, but she also treats Cat as if she’s incapable of not learning how to be less reckless after pointing out the girl can learn.

    Also I think she misunderstands Black, she can tell him all she wants that he’s going to lose and get himself killed. For Black it doesn’t matter if he dies as long as it achieves his goal. She can warn him all she wants, he’d still go out their with his sword raised high and fight to his death knowing that it’s ome more step towards his larger plan to fight the heavens.

    Like

  20. mavant

    I must say, even though I don’t much care for Malicia most of the time, I love her BFF situation with Amadeus. It’s nice to see this deep, decades long friendship without romantic undertones. I mean, all the Calamities care for each other, and I love that in an “even bad men love their mothers” sort of way, but something about these two just warms my little Grinch heart.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Joshua Sills

    ‘“I wish this were about something as petty as debt,” Alaya murmured, knowing it a lie.’

    The first step is hardest, they said to her.
    You will have to walk through fire.
    It will burn away what you once were,
    And always devour whole a liar

    These may be really simplistic of an analysis, but looks like Malicia is out, and it’s just a matter of when Cat is ready to climb.

    Like

  22. Rup

    1. ..fighting fire with fire was Catherine’s signature…
    Uh…that should be.. fighting fire with Goblin fire & Winter ice….

    2.  ….her fingers could not be seen to tremble…..some days she could hardly tell where she began and he ended…
    …..Wow…i am speechless

    3. …and Maddy…perfect nickname for the ultimate rationalist (ya..short from Amadeus…but still nice pun)

    Like

  23. Rup

    Oh…this comment is about a previous chapter…..the way the sigils in that everdark city contended with each other…seemed so close to the “raiding the tower” game of Hakram

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  24. It weirds me out that Malicia thinks Cat won’t ally with the drow. Like, it seems mad obvious that she’s going to enslave them. Cat has used the Gallowsborn. She binds souls to her banner. She compels Akua, whatever other people may think she is. Heck, back when she had a real name it was all about stealing other people’s power. She takes the souls of Heroes and makes items out of them. She has broken the Wild Hunt to heel. The people she defeated in her freaking classroom battles ended up in her army.

    Like, Cat’s soul or story, or whatever you want to call her modus operandi is fundamentally that of a slaver. The idea that she’s not going to be able to keep bodies in line is ridiculous. She can *speak* and make people obey short term. Tell them to take Fae oaths, and now they die if they disobey, without her expending any power.

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