Chapter 72: Outflow

“For though these armed men may carry banner and obey a prince, without justice they are only bandits.”
– Extract from “The Faith of Crowns”, by Sister Salienta

It’d be the first battle in a few years where I wouldn’t have Juniper to run my army for me. I hadn’t quite realized how much I’d come to rely on the Hellhound even before the blades were out, when it was all words and maps and trying to figure out how not to get your people killed. Not that map were all that reliable down here. I had four different tracings from mosaics, each contradicting each other on pretty major points and one insisting rather boldly that this entire cavern was actually three dozen miles to the west and I was sadly mistaken about what my eyes were seeing. I’d settled on having a chalk outline of the former islands and lakebed drawn on a slab of polished granite, well aware it would be imprecise and actual distances would be a guessing game. It’d been strange, though, looking down at a battlefield and not having Juniper leaning over at my side. Frowning over the latest imperfection in the war engine we’d raised together, muttering under her breath about Ratface being a tight-fisted twerp. She never would again, I realized with a start.

Ratface was dead.

There would be a reckoning for that, one day, I thought. It seemed a small sin when compared to all the many injuries levied unto Callow by the Empress, some likely to become actual legend in years to come, but it counted to me. As Diabolist might say, a hatred belonging the woman instead of the queen. Won’t matter if I don’t make it through this, I reminded myself. It wouldn’t either, I knew, if I survived in failure. Only victors ever got to truly settle their grudges. The grim thought called me the order. Perhaps, I decided as I studied the chalk battlefield, it was for the best that my marshal did not hold command for this one. Juniper’s art of war was one of discipline and manoeuvre, of bold tactics and vicious traps. It was the bastard child of the way the Legions of Terrors had won their wars, and for all that the faces of my legionaries had grown paler over the years the heart of it remained forged out of the Reforms. A core of well-trained infantry empowered by specialists, professional soldiers costly to train and equip but who could usually beat significantly larger enemy armies.

Like much of what Black had wrought, for the three Imperial marshals might have been deep contributors but there was no denying the central architect, it prized skill over power. It was almost more a set of tools a brilliant mind could use to produce spectacular results than a proper army – it was fortunate that there’d been so many promising generals to be found when the Reforms first took place, and in retrospective the number of them that wasn’t human did much to explain the sudden gains of greenskins and ogres in what had once been a very human institution. At least near the top. Few of the old Black Knights had balked at sending orcs and goblins into the meat grinder to the west when campaigns got going. It was a good model, I thought, though to maintain it in the long term Callow would have to build a War College of its own. Talented officers did not grow on trees. It had its limits, though. Procer had made that clear when it’d tossed a sea of conscripts at the two passes defending Callow and effectively accepted every trade in soldier’s lives, knowing they could afford the most spendthrift or rates and still come out the victor. The Legions, and even the Army of Callow, were armies built for a certain kind of war.

They would be lost, down here, so it was for the best Juniper was not here to go mad over the coming mess.

I would have liked to claim I had something as neat and pretty as a three-step scheme, that I’d read the opposition and would make them dance to my tune, but the unfortunate truth was that I was an outsider down here. Even now that I’d stolen Akua’s fluency in Crepuscular and I could read most runes as well as speak the tongue, a lot of what was taking place was beyond me. I didn’t have the Jacks and the Eyes feeding me reports of about who despised who and why, I didn’t have histories or supply assessments or even more than bare bones scout reports about enemy strength and position. The traitor sigils we’d approached had provided information, sure, but how much of it could really be relied on? They had objectives of their own which didn’t necessarily entail my own army coming out on top, no matter what they said, and without an easy way to independently confirm what they’d told me I’d had to make some choices half blind. At first, I’d tried to get as many solid numbers as I could and work from there. I had a good idea of what the Rumena Sigil could bring to the table, for example, because a lot of people in Strycht hated them and wanted them dead.

But then I’d tried to get a solid notion of what the Jindrich could field – the Rumena were the most powerful sigil by far, but there was a reason the Jindrich Sigil was the undisputed runner-up – but all that accomplished was making clear the scope of the problem. Mighty Jindrich’s envoy, fresh off the pact we’d made behind the back of the rest of the city, had informed me they had around one hundred and fifty Mighty of varying ranks they could bring into the fight when time came. We’d bribed three lesser sigils going thirsty with blocks of ice for information on the same subject, since ice was a lot easier to transport and didn’t require a highly visible fairy gate to deliver, and we’d gotten three different numbers between one and four hundred. Now, at the scale of the kind of battles I’d fought on the surface, a variation of a few hundred wouldn’t mean much. But down here? It’d made no sense to me. All the sigils had small territories, were bound to keep a vigilant eye on each other and constant raids should give them a good idea of enemy strength.

Diabolist figured it out first, because we had gotten some very precise out of those bribes that was the same over all three reports. Small details, like the first rylleh under Jindrich being able to shapeshift and the four shapes it could use, or that the third and fourth under Rumena usually fought as a pair. It wasn’t that the drow were shit at spying, I knew they weren’t. There was a Secret that was pretty close to fae glamour, after all, which was why Ivah had taken so well to it in the first place. It was just that, in fights between sigils, usually the only people that actually mattered to the outcome were the ten, fifteen strongest Mighty. Raids succeeded or failed depending on who was leading the attack and the defence. Why would anyone bother keeping track of how many dzulu there were when a single rylleh could tear through an entire cohort without even working up a sweat? We could and had gotten mostly reliable information on those particular individuals, but getting irritated that no one could give me good troop assessments was rather missing the point.

I wouldn’t win or lose the Battle of Great Strycht through dzulu and lesser Mighty, so instead of getting lost in a maze of unreliable reports I needed to focus on the aspects that would actually make me come out on top. Namely, that most of those people were at each other’s throats if not actively trying to kill each other even as I planned. When you looked at it through that lens, the situation was a lot less grim. For one, my own army was larger than the Rumena Sigil’s and I’d bet on my Peerage over their Mighty any day. My lords had lost nothing of their old prowess and gained much from Winter. Considering the Rumena were the most powerful tribe in Strycht, that meant I could expect that if it came to a slugging match I could come out on top against any one sigil – barring an unexpectedly powerful Mighty fucking up my day, which was admittedly quite possible. The crux of this, then, would be preventing the sigils of Strycht from actually unifying against me. Which wasn’t nearly as hard as it should have been, given that I was an eldritch invader of dubious purposes and origins. Unfortunately, there was also the Longstride Cabal to account for.

Two hundred of the most dangerous Mighty in the Everdark apt to pop out at any moment to come straight for my head, and probably the Peerage’s too for good measure. They weren’t here for territory or wealth, all they wanted was the glory of crushing me. Which meant negotiating with them in any way was effectively impossible unless I could punctuate my offer with ‘or you will immediately die’, and even then it might be a toss-up. I’d picked the brains of my lords for a little more on the Longstrides, wondering if the angle of promising them a battle at a designated time and place could get them off my back long enough to deal with the Strycht sigils. I’d gotten some pretty heart laughs in response, as my Peerage assumed that I was actually joking. Cultural divide, I decided. The whole glory in battle thing was tied pretty heavily to honour, back home, but in the Everdark was the word was only ever used in the sense meaning ‘respect’. The whole rules of behaviour part of drow culture had been pretty much ripped out and replaced with the Tenets of Night when Sve Noc decided it was time for a regime change… however long ago that’d been.

Since sidelining the Longstride Sigil wasn’t an option, I had to either secure the city before they arrived or make them part of the plan somehow.

The clean play was taking care of Strycht first. Ivah and my Peerage had found me the right tools to get that particular pile of dry burning, which would weaken the opposition before we struck and allow us to take it with moderate casualties before they realized what was happening. Give or take a few angry sigil-holders. Then before the Longstrides arrived we’d consolidate, harvest Night and title the willing before the enemy struck. Most my Peerage had been proponents of that course of action, betting on a proper ambush laid in Strycht to take care of the problem. I had issues with that plan, though. I’d taken enough cities in my time to know that soldiers walking through the streets wasn’t enough to actually establish control. That held twice as much for a place like the Everdark, where the nisi might not make the kind of mess an occupying force would have to deal with in Callow but millennia of tribal rule ensured there would be significant resistance among the drow ‘upper class’. In essence, anyone with a speck of power not under oath not to stab me in the back would the moment it looked like there was a chance it might pay off.

Wouldn’t be much of an issue if I did put everyone with a speck of power under oath, but practically speaking that’d take days we didn’t have. Establishing order after a battle always took longer than the fighting itself, and the margin of manoeuvre was thin enough as it was. I could have put the finest minds at my disposal to work on solving that – well, mind, Archer tended to solve her problems only one way – but there was a larger problem behind. Aside from the shaky foundations we’d be making our stand on, when the Longstride Cabal showed up we’d be the only enemy on the field. The totality of their efforts would be dedicated to killing me and wiping out my Peerage, with everything else a minor distraction at best. Sure, I could try to drown them in fresh recruits. Send every dzulu and Mighty I had after them, in warbands led by the Peerage, but casualties would be brutal. And when they converged on me, because they absolutely would, the kind of workings I’d need to pull out to stay alive would probably level Strycht and the people living in it. Evacuating the city in advance was certainly possible, but it’d also be hanging up a sign warning them of the ambush.

So either massive civilian death toll or the cohort of hardened killers drunk on Night came in forewarned. One I refused out of principle, the other had decent odds of leading to a rout.

Which brought us to the other option. That one had been cooking in the back of my head since I’d first gotten Ivah’s reports. The sigils in Great Strycht were, well, at each other’s throats to put it mildly. Starting a city-wide fight in there would be about as hard as starting a fire with a jug of oil and a torch in hand. Once hostilities erupted, there would be no banners and uniforms: only a lot of scared and angry drow attacking everything looking remotely like a threat. That was the thing with civil wars, wasn’t it? It was hard to tell who the enemy was. Sure, infighting within actual sigils would probably be minimal while they were in the middle of a battle. But cabals would split and even nominal allies would have to wonder what was going on and if the other ones were in on it. A very volatile mixture that could be made much worse with a few nudges, personified by a cheerfully murderous Indrani. For once, her ability to pick fights with anything sight could actually come in useful! Deep down I’d always known there would be a payoff for that eventually. This part, in and of itself, wasn’t significantly different from what an attempt to seize Strycht would be like.

Which was where the… interesting part came in. The Longstride Cabal, as my Peerage had noted, were not exactly the diplomatic kind of crew. Oh, to have survived this long they probably must have some degree of moderation. Otherwise another band of old monsters would have put them down by now. But while Great Strycht was further into the inner ring than say, Lotow, it was far from the heartlands. I tended to compare it to Marchford, in my mind. An important city, given the lake if loomed over, but not a major player – like Laure, Liesse and Vale had once been in Callow. The Longstrides could come in here and expect to be the biggest kids on the block because, well, they actually would be. Now, combine that with the way drow usually behaved whenever they stood even an inch over another drow and throw in that their cabal hunted powerful entities for sport? The moment someone gave them lip they’d answer with blades, and from there it would escalate. Sigil-holders would know what they were dealing with and likely withdraw if given the chance, but to be able to do that they’d need to have a clear idea of what was going on and the presence of mind to make that decision.

Both were pretty rare things, when in the middle of an all-out battle that would determine whether you and your tribe survived the night.

Akua had called it fighting fire with fire, when I’d put forward the notion, but I disagreed. That implied a degree of control we wouldn’t have after the blades came out. It was more like… fighting a battle by starting another half-dozen battles. I didn’t have to win, not exactly. I just had to lose less than everyone else. Just enough that I got to take home the prize when the dust settled. We’d used our last few days to put the pieces in motion for what Diabolist scathingly named Operation Damage Control, all coming to a head on the day we believed the Longstride Cabal would arrive. Spending the last night with Indrani should have cleared my mind, but instead when the hour came I had a fresh worry to chew over. I still believed that the plan, if it could be called that, would serve its purposes. There would be setbacks, but I still had cards up my sleeves. I hadn’t wasted my days since Great Lotow, or forgot the hard lesson the duel with Mighty Urulan had taught me. If I fought the same way I had since claiming my mantle, I would lose. Badly. Preparations had been made accordingly. But that wasn’t the worry, was it? There was only one thing I knew this morning I hadn’t last night.

Sve Noc would act. Not down the line, not through intermediaries. She’d strike, today and straight at me. If this really was a death match for Below’s favour, then the chosen would have to bleed. And that changed the nature of this battle, didn’t? I did not feel like a coincidence, that’s she’d shown her hand only this late. When the wheels were already turning and it was too late to stop them.

“A good morning to you, dearest.”

I did not turn or reply. Behind me the camp was stirring for war, preparing to march. Below me plains of half-dried mud stretched out all the way to the distant plateaus and hills of Great Strycht. My fingers drummed against the hilt of my sword, the gesture failing to settle me. Diabolist was not offended by my lack of reply, simply coming to stand by my side.

“Did you enjoy yourself, at least?” Akua drawled.

I glanced at her, eyebrow rising. Did she… Well, I supposed it hadn’t been the most discreet of trysts. Drow senses were shaper than those of humans, even those that weren’t Mighty, and the shade’s were sharper still.

“Sve Noc paid a visit to my dreams,” I said.

I had no intention of discussing how I spent my nights with Akua Sahelian. She was not the Scribe to my Calamities, part of us in her own way. I would not forget how she had come into my service, no matter how useful. Or how tiring. That was the part that surprised me, how tiring it could be to hate Diabolist. The Doom of Liesse was reminder enough, but sometimes it felt like I was flogging myself with the memory of it.

As, no doubt, she intended.

“Her purpose?” she asked.

Whatever whimsy there’d been was gone. She understood perhaps even better than me the seriousness of that.

“Information,” I said. “About what I’d do with the drow, if I led them out of the Everdark. About how I’d deal with the Heavens if they meddled.”

Scarlet eyes tightened.

“That such an entity would consider surrender is highly unlikely,” she said, pausing to allow me to contradict her.

Both assessing and fishing for fresh information with the same sentence. Fucking Praesi, I thought half-admiringly.

“She was definitely hostile,” I said. “And tried to overcompensate when I caught her out. All doom and damnation. But she slipped up – there’s two of them, I’m almost certain. And they’re not necessarily aligned in their opinions.”

“Now that is rather interesting,” Akua said. “I had previously assumed that her lack of action was the result of either rules or indifference. Power akin to a god’s does tend to come with the limitations of one.”

I raised a skeptical eyebrow at her.

“I got a pat on the back and a badge from that order’s grandmaster and I’m not feeling all that constrained,” I noted.

“You’ve only ever used a fraction of your power,” Diabolist said, and raised her hand to prevent me from replying to that. “For good reason, I am aware. The alienation would endanger you. Yet that is why such entities have seats of power, Catherine. The Dead King rules the Serenity. The Priestess of Night rules the Everdark, or close enough. There is a reason my ancestors raised pyramids to gather power, darling one. The summit stands on the steps, and is greater for it.”

“I do rule a kingdom, Akua,” I reminded her. “You know, little place between Praes and Procer? There was a coronation a while back, in between the constant fucking wars.”

“Ah, but do you rule it as Sovereign of Moonless Nights?” she said. “Hardly. Even the Wild Hunt are merely in your service, not true vassals. You bound neither the Woe nor the realm to your mantle.”

“Making Arcadia but worse out of my home isn’t exactly in the works, yes,” I flatly replied.

“And so you have not grown roots,” Diabolist said. “An apotheosis incomplete, so to speak. Did you not wonder why the Grey Pilgrim and his ilk are so desperate to remove you from the throne?”

“I’m a villain ruling Callow,” I said. “I don’t believe we need to revisit the whole Calernian balance of power argument, Gods know I’m tired of hearing about it.”

“The Carrion Lord ruled it for decades,” Akua said. “And, to be frank, the legitimacy of your rule is only marginally better.”

I frowned. It was a pretty sparse forest she was describing to me, and as a rule I tended to think I understood heroes better than she did. But she was a villain, in a way I’d never really been. From a people who’d been fighting heroes for centuries. She might not always be right, she often wasn’t, but once in a while her perspective did allow her to see things I didn’t.

“Roots,” I said. “That’s what you’re implying. The Peregrine worries about me growing roots in Callow.”

“It is one thing to slay a villainous queen of Callow,” Diabolist said. “Quite another to seek the destruction of the immortal Black Queen, the wintry personification of centuries of her people’s grudges. The first is a threat. The second is another Dead King, one whose armies can march through the realm of the fae.

“He knows,” I said, then hesitated. “Or at least suspects that I intend to abdicate.”

“And so you were handled with gloves,” Akua said. “Deals and stories, marching armies instead of a Choir unleashed. You ascribe this to the man being reasonable, but he is a hero. If that decision was made, it was made because he feared that cornering you would see you tumbling through the threshold of apotheosis complete.”

Or he could have been genuinely trying to limit the damages the country would suffer. If he had started calling on Choirs, I’d have needed to escalate accordingly. But when the pivot came, I thought, he backed Hasenbach. Backed the crusade victorious at all costs. He was willing to play within certain boundaries, but only so long as he’d win. The trouble with Akua was she would be convincing even if she was wrong, because she was a persuasive person period. I was unwilling to put any stock in it before I had Hakram and maybe Masego serving as advocated for the opposite thought.

“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “For now, the war is down here. And it’s Sve Noc we’re facing.”

“Part of her, at least,” Diabolist mused. “I wonder if the simplest answer is truly the correct one.”

“Simplest?”

“One is the pyramid,” Akua smiled. “The other standing atop it.”

A rider and a horse, I thought. I’d considered that as well.

“It would explain why we’re not fighting the Night,” I said. “Just something using it.”

“Strife, mother of a thousand opportunities,” she quoted in Mthethwa.

An old proverb I would have been able to name the home of even if she’d spoken it in Lower Miezan.

“I need you to do something for me,” I said.

She turned to face me completely. In Masego that would have been a notice I had his full attention, but with her I always had that. Even when she pretended otherwise.

“I had role given in the battle to come,” Akua said.

“I know,” I said. “But this is more important.”

“And what exactly do you need of me, dearest?” she asked.

There were a lot of ways I could have answered her. Some true, others euphemisms or a hundred different shades of flippant. It’d helped me over the years, the quips. Allowed me to make it a joke or a game, anything but a reality so often ugly. But if I was to let the monster off her leash, then she should be given her due.

“Folly,” I said.

Akua Sahelian smiled, and in that smile lay the promise of things great and terrible to behold.

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138 thoughts on “Chapter 72: Outflow

    1. Dainpdf

      Poor Juniper, having to fight Warlock just after we had a fond send-off, with her having been offscreen for quite a while.

      Oh, and could we have a link to the updated bracket, please?

      Liked by 2 people

        1. FactualInsanity

          Not really. Warlock was cool and powerful, and ooohh, and aaaaahhh, but he was never likable. Now if it was Juniper vs ‘Loshe, given the development his death revealed it would probably have been a landslide, but Wekesa? The end was flashy, but didn’t reveal much more substance than we already knew he had.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Dainpdf

            Eh. I liked the insight we got into where his priorities lay. In the end, the thing that most mattered to the man who had all that power at his fingertips, who cared so little about any morals and any laws of man, who always said none of the wars really mattered because the true concern was the nature of Creation, was his son. Family.

            If that is not a great humanization of a character we were introduced to as a monster, ineffable, alien in his thinking and completely evil in his actions, I don’t know what is.

            Compared to that, Juniper has mostly been in the background since the College, and even then we really got her mostly through her function: she’s the general.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. FactualInsanity

              If that had been a revelation at the end, it would have been a poignant point. But we knew that about Wekesa practically since we were introduced to him. It was implied in everything stated about the backstory of Masego. In how he threatened Cat if his son should ever come to harm. Etc. etc.

              So it didn’t change my opinion of him, because it didn’t reveal anything new. He was human and relatable from the get go. He was also a jerk, to pretty much anyone who was not part of his family, from the get go. Even before he casually stranded who knows how many legionaries in a Hell without notice, because he couldn’t be bothered to think of them as living beings and at least warn them about it.

              Yeah, Juniper is more background noise than fully fleshed out character, but at least she’s likable. :shrug:

              Liked by 5 people

              1. Dainpdf

                Being likable does not figure into it so much as being interesting, for me. It’s much easier to make a character likable than believable.

                As for Wekesa caring about his son: yes, we knew about it, but not necessarily the extent of depth. Masego was almost all he could think about the whole chapter; we finally see Warlock a bit unsure what to do, and it’s when deciding how to talk to his son after all that’s happened. Plus, he arguably died due to how muhh effort he expended looking after Masego.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. FactualInsanity

                  Well, the poll asks “who is your favourite character”, not “who is the most interesting character.” So you’re bound to have wildly differing voting priorities. At the end of the day for me Wekesa wasn’t as interesting and impactful as he was for you. Which is fine. That’s exactly what we’re voting for! 😛

                  Liked by 6 people

                  1. Dainpdf

                    The thing is, at least as I interpreted it, they meant “likeability as a person” – which doesn’t really matter, because I’m not looking for a friend, I’m looking for a character.

                    I don’t really decide on whether I like a character based on whether I’m rooting for them or whether I’d like them if I were to meet them.

                    Granted, the fact that a character can get one to root for them can be an indicator that the character is deep and interesting, but it’s still an associated symptom and not the actual qualities.

                    Liked by 1 person

            2. stevenneiman

              Juniper has a realistic but simple character. All she has ever cared about is the study of war, and everything she’s done has been a reflection of that. We’ve been introduced to her through her function because her personality in a very real way IS her function.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. Dainpdf

                And so she is… Not one-dimensional, but close. And while that may be realistic (is it?) it certainly does not make her very interesting or… I’d say human, but then I risk confusion because she is not a human. I guess person-like will suffice.

                Like

              2. Shequi

                That’s not true though: She cares about family; see her questions to Cat about her mother when the idea of open rebellion against the tower were first raised, and her reaction to her mothers’ death.

                Liked by 3 people

      1. stevenneiman

        Not actually unbelievable that Juniper is winning. I think there’s a degree of tribalism among the fans, so characters in her faction have a distinct advantage even if the other character is cool. Still with the similarities I noted and the Cat-support offset by the tragic death, it’s really anyone’s race at this point.

        Also, assuming the link works properly,

        http://www.bracketmaker.com/tmenu.cfm?tid=470805

        Liked by 2 people

          1. Do we have any Anthropologists inna house?
            ‘Cause y’all (and myself, but not me or I) tend to try to dissect & discern the folks that populate this here Fiction, attempting to figger out motives and aspirations based on what they sez, either within Cat’s perception or from an Interlude of some other character’s perspective…
            This here Work is populated by characters a bit more varied than the population enjoying reading and either applauding or denigrating the Author’s style, intent, depiction, characterization, world-building, etc…, But we all get along, even if we disagree. I like that.

            Like

            1. lennymaster

              We simply all agree that minor differences in personal preference aside Guide is quite simple the next best thing since sliced bread.
              My kindle library holds more than a thousend books and I have read or am still reading more than a dozen webserials, but none, not Legion of Nothing, Metaworld, Mother of Learning or even Super Powereds when it was still going has captivated me even remotly as much as Guide does.
              There are books, that surpass Guide in specific elements, such as worldbuilding (Honor Harrington), character development (Anita Blake), humor (ChaoSeeds) or magic/skill/tech system (Schooled in Magic). But none have such a cosistendly high level in all these and more aspects.

              Like

    2. stevenneiman

      ooh, this one’s tough.
      The interesting thing is that in many ways they’re very similar, aside from Wekesa’s tribalism. They each have a single interest and everything they do is either in pursuit of that interest or else a way to get distractions and wastes of time out of the way so they can return to their interest. Both are cultivated as allies because that interest is very useful for war, even by the few people they consider friends.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. stevenneiman

          I voted for him because he’s more interesting, and I tend to vote for the character I consider more nuanced and interesting (which is why I supported Vivi against Willy). but it was a tough call.

          Like

        2. Ternbugkle

          Looking forward to his Son finding out, I expect great and terrible things.

          Lightning splitting the very atoms of water to make a hydrogen and oxygen cloud that explodes leaving heroes briefly on a dry sea bottom before it collapses back on all sides leaving them crushed by the depths.

          Like

          1. HandyCapped

            Would require a metric fuckton of magical juice. Considering that the separation is more costly and assuming that in using magic there is inefficiency, it’s better just to conjure up some kind of magical bang.

            Like

    3. Nordvegr

      I don’t suppose convincing can be done to keep polls open for longer? I work long shifts and have missed several despite my desire to vote, and I don’t get my two hours off work unless it’s a government election.

      Like

    1. Nuke_The_Earth

      Interesting bit about voting, if you constantly refresh your vote it only counts as one, whereas if you let it expire then vote again, it’ll count multiple times.

      Like

  1. Letting Akua off her leash seems like a terrible idea, even loosening it seems like a terrible idea.
    On the other hand, collateral damage isn’t going to be a major issue, and there aren’t really any noncombatants or anything Cat cares much about keeping safe or avoiding damaging.

    Huh. I wonder if Akua’s right about the possibilities if Cat were to more fully embrace her position.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Well… as Akua herself said, there is good reason Cat isn’t doing that. I suspect there is also more to it. The form of apotheosis Akua described, where alienation turns Cat into a glorified fae queen, essentially puts her back within the schema of the Gods.

      As for letting Diabolist loose… Yeah. If I were to play devil’s advocate (sounds appropriate, considering who we’re discussing), I’d say that maybe this redirects stories about Akua being let loose into one’s where she destroys Cat’s enemies, but at a terrible cost, instead of ones where she destroys Cat.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. Dylan Tullos

      Javvies:

      Thief just woke up screaming “Don’t do it, Cat! Don’t do it!”.

      She has no idea why.

      This is pretty much the exact opposite of what Cat promised Thief. Instead of keeping Akua firmly under control, she put her in charge of the drow. Now she’s instructing her to do a Liesse on a drow city.

      At this point, I think Akua is probably the most important member of the Woe. She’s constantly with Catherine, she advises her on everything from magical rituals to affairs of state, and she’s basically Cat’s Chancellor.

      Notably, Cat has become much more Evil while working closely with Akua. She’s forced Mighty into contracts that are slavery in all but name, drowned thousands of lesser drow, and she’s currently planning to unleash the Butcher of Liesse. When Thief finds out about this, she might justifiably conclude that Catherine isn’t listening to her at all, and start looking for alternatives to a Queen whose closest adviser is Akua Sahelian.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. She has protected drow from the dwarves
        -is removing a tyrant who caused the downfall of her own race just for power
        (effectively stopping another dead king from rising)
        – managed to curry yet more war assets and possibly a contract with dwarves who never work with evil empires
        -All while keeping her fae side in check

        Liked by 7 people

            1. Metrux

              And even funnier how people tend to ignore the subective nature of some things to say their own perception is better… We all do it, especially when we don’t notice x)

              Liked by 2 people

          1. HandyCapped

            Not solely narration. Press armies have always been common, both in our universe and in-universe. This is practically a voluntary press army(which already wars against the idea of a press army and alleviates the situation), where they get their most sought after recourse in spades as a trade. This all has a nice extra of saving their race from fire sure extinction. It’s arguably not very nice, but make no mistake, despite Cat’s philosophical flagellation, this is *very* far from slavery. Indentured servency at worst, something a lot better at best.

            Now, letting the butcher of Liesse run free for a while is probably against their earlier agreement, but the reason and situation is completely different, too. That’s important in a world extremely dependent of setting. Only future will tell on that one.

            Like

            1. Dylan Tullos

              HandyCapped:

              You can make a case for Ivah and the lesser drow who volunteered to take oaths in exchange for power. I agree that’s indentured servitude rather than slavery.

              But the Mighty that Cat trapped in Arcadia didn’t “volunteer” at all; she stranded them in Arcadia until they agreed to take oaths. Cat trapped them in a dangerous situation and offered to “rescue” them if they accepted her nonnegotiable terms. That’s the very definition of slavery.

              Before Thief left, she told Cat not to trust Akua and not to let her off the leash. Akua is now running the drow for Cat, and she’s about to carry out another Liesse for Cat.

              Like

              1. RanVor

                You know, it all sounded very reasonable until I remembered how you argued for genocide of the Praesi some time ago. The Drow are basically Praesi High Lords, but more overtly murderous, so do they deserve to be exterminated or not? Or does it depend on who’s doing the exterminating?

                Liked by 1 person

                1. I thought the Woe’s whole motive was to break apart systems in place “a woe unto all”, whereas the Calamities were to subjugate and exert pressure on systems through might makes right. Whereas one is meant to control a system already in place ushering in a sort of forced peace the other is throwing an explosive at a machine that while old has functioned for eons.

                  In this respect the Black Queen has not deviated from the modus operandi of the Woe and has kept to there breaking of systems through the most efficient means.

                  There is probably a fallacy in here somewhere though.

                  Liked by 1 person

    1. ALazyMonster

      The weekly formula is that there is almost always a cliffhanger on Friday, sometimes an interlude is in its place, you can kinda predict where the breaks are going to be because of that. Behold the meta-story of the book about people who try and meta-game fate/stories.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. Oshi

      Its not news about the Peregrine though at least not to anyone but Cat. We were shown form the beginning just what he is and what he will do. He told us so himself when he spoke to the Cutter of all things.

      Like

  2. IDKWhoitis

    This isn’t so much breaking the chess board over the head of the opposition, as really setting fire to the opposition then stabbing them in the eyes with their own queen and king.

    I wonder if Akua’s reasoning is why Grey freaked out when Akua was inhabiting Cat’s body. Did he think that he had failed, or that Cat had taken another step further down the ladder? Like can he see Akua’s soul or did he only notice a change in Cat’s?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. naturalnuke

      Well being that Cat’s soul was so fucked up that Cat’s mind shattering like a glass under pressure just made her feel refreshed(refer to Masego giving her knowledge from Shard), I find it hard to imagine the Grey Pilgrim would notice that any one of the many patchwork stitches of her soul having more control than another.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. ______

      I’m pretty sure he knew it was Akua from the fery beginning. Consider their exchange in interlude Kaleidoscope VI (https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2018/06/04/kaleidoscope-vi/):

      “Child,” he said, tone appalled. “What have you done to yourself?”

      Catherine’s body isn’t looking any different from usual, here, so the Pilgrim must be looking at the soul. There’s a chance that he meant that Catherine’s transformation when so deep into Winter is troubling, but he’s already shown he can ignore this if necessary. In contrast, Akua’s soul being long extracted, bound to a cloak’s collar and then shoved into Catherine’s body is definitely something that would catch his attention.

      “What needed to be done,” the Black Queen calmly replied. “My side doesn’t get to walk away clean, Pilgrim. I see you’ve been tossing around resurrections like they’re godsdamned solstice treats, too. Charming. Not going to have any long-term ramifications at all.”

      The monster paused, then leaned forward.

      “Did that register as a lie?” she grinned. “It didn’t, did it? Have a good think about that one next time you try to sleep, Pilgrim.”

      Akua’s response may be interpreted both as telling the Pilgrim that him putting his hand to the scales was a narrative invitation for her to get “resurrected” as well, and as offer for him to think about actually resurrecting her at a later date.

      “Surrender,” the Great Elder said. “Abdicate. It is not too late.”

      “You missing the part where I’m currently winning the battle?” the Black Queen drawled. “Hells, it’s not too late for you either. Terms were offered and they hold. Take your army and go home. This doesn’t need to turn into a Named pissing contest.”

      Tariq replies with pretty much the same conditions that were constantly offered to Catherine, confirming to the Diabolist that a redemption into a Good name is still an option, and gets the same kind of retort.

      “You would argue this, after slaying thousands?” the Pilgrim asked.

      “I feel like we might need to revisit the concept of foreign invasion,” the villain noted. “Specifically the part where it has fucking consequences. Like, you know, people dying. You’d think that one would be a given, but apparently you’re slow learners. Wahwah, my attempt to conquer a – sort of – sovereign nation wasn’t met with flowers and a godsdamned parade. It’s almost like we’re not happy about the whole thing. Go figure.”

      “And you think your reign a better alternative?” the Grey Pilgrim asked calmly.

      I’d like to point out that the phrasing “You would argue this, after slaying thousands?” implies that casualties inflicted by Catherine personally are significantly larger than the ones inflicted by the armies, which isn’t true. However, if he’s addressing Akua, then this turns into a reminder that he can’t simply leave alone a mass-murderer who killed more people than the both present armies combined. When hearing an extended (and roundabout) explanation of why she considers herself already having suffered consequences of her failed conquest, he responds with understandably sceptical “And you think your reign a better alternative?”

      “Hells, Pilgrim, I was born to rule,” the Black Queen replied with a toothy grin. “But I’ll settle for getting you fucks out of my backyard, this once. Any takers?”

      The monster’s gaze swept across the crowd of Bestowed as she idly emptied her pipe and put it away within her cloak. The only answer was Light blooming and weapons raised.

      “Ah, well,” the Black Queen mused. “Pissing contest it is, then.”

      Akua straight up says she was born to rule Hells. I know she kicks ass in this chapter, but I can’t wrap my head around everybody in the comment section missing it. At best some people remarked that this phrase is out of character for Catherine. But after Akua realizes he wouldn’t budge on the subject, draws the line of what she considers her due and effectively closes the negotiation, she doesn’t harm heroes that much either! Her section of the interlude starts with her musing about playing a hero herself, and then she proceeds to throw around attacks an average hero would easily shrug off. The only serious attacks are on people who have a healer on hand (Silent Guardia, Forsworn Healer) or heavy hitters (Saint of Swords).

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Holy shit, I didn’t see that “I was born to rule.”

        1) She’s letting her Akuaness flow out into her disguise, I find that highly unlikely.
        2) She’s trying to make Catherine a permanent fucking sovereign. Seeing this chapter…

        Liked by 4 people

      2. medailyfun

        Nope, trying to view Pilgrim’s words as directed to Akua is just like trying to view Cat’s words to Athal as directed to Malicia. A doubt he would try to appeal to Akua’s conscience.

        >Akua’s response may be interpreted both as telling the Pilgrim that him putting his hand to the scales was a narrative invitation for her to get “resurrected” as well, and as offer for him to think about actually resurrecting her at a later date

        It just does not make sense, she did not need resurrection at that moment and I doubt she implied herself being killed any soon. I believe the ramifications that would disturb Pilgrim’s dreams were about his resurrection leaving people ‘different’, that was mentioned somewhere later in the text.

        Like

        1. ______

          > Nope, trying to view Pilgrim’s words as directed to Akua is just like trying to view Cat’s words to Athal as directed to Malicia.

          Now see here, take a look at these quotes and tell me, who are they directed at: a random servant that is irrelevant in the greater scheme of things (by his own admission) or an ally that she regrets moving from “unreliable” into the “has to die for any of this to work” cathegory.

          “Negotiations can fail,” the dark-haired woman replied. “I knew it was one of the possible outcomes even before I learned there’d be opposition.”

          “Now you sound like him,” the Black Queen said, rolling her eyes. “I can realize when I’ve been outbid. Malicia was always going to be willing to go that extra mile I’d balk at. We’ll see in a year whether the Dead King feels like riding a different horse.”

          “I’m freeing you as of right now,” the young woman said, and clapped his shoulder gently. “That should be within my rights, I think. And you’re certainly welcome to tag along, if you want.”

          “Callow,” she said. “Back home.”

          That’d been a lie, he thought. The tells were there, though much harder to pick up on than before. There must have been more to her short conversation with the herald of the Crown than a mere dismissal.

          “I’m not going to make you, Athal,” she said patiently. “I genuinely think you’ll be better off with us, but I can see why you wouldn’t want to leave and I’m not going to force you. I meant it, when I said you’re free. You can decide for yourself.”

          “I guessed that’d be your answer,” she said. “You were a kind and pleasant host, Athal. I hope you’ll be treated as you deserve here.”

          Like

          1. Morgenstern

            Totally out of character for Catherine to be that scheming…

            AKA To me, she totally talks like someone who would have liked a slave that was gifted to her to go free, one she liked at that (and, as an only scheming notion for a NOT-schemer like Cat, one who might have important information about the Dead King and his realm after all, even if he himself does not see how he, the menial servant (who gets around very much) could be that important). Nothing in there hints at her having understood she was talking to Malicia herself. Being Cat, she would otherwise directly have CALLED HER Malicia. And not spoken to said servant OF Malicia.

            If we would have to interpret that as you suggest – that would be AKUA talking there and not Cat. It simply does not fit Cat’s character description to the reader at all to be talking like THAT if she had understood it was Malicia. What she WAS thinking, though, was that she might be talking to the DEAD KING himself. That HE was taking over Athal (at least at times). And that suspicion was made rather obvious as one Cat DID have, directly in the text… Thus, Athal has more importance than he implies, aka, yes, she IS speaking to someone who is of more import (through either the knowledge he was, unwittingly, or contrary to what he claims – or him being the Dead King or being an earpiece for the Dead King that He listens through) – but it not’s because she somehow suspects *Malicia* behind that.

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        2. Morgenstern

          Second that one. I also view it as a direct reference to him talking about “what have you done to your soul” –> she basically replies “hells, what have YOU done to OTHER PEOPLE’S souls”.

          Like

          1. Morgenstern

            Ehrm… Shows strange and not quite as visible as it should have been here… that (first!) comment starting with “Second that one” was related to medailyfun’s post.

            Whereas, the second one (starting with “Totally out of character for Catherine to be that scheming…”), which is shown above the actual first one… is related to .. ehrm.. the post from the person with a blue something and no name (I guess the dashes are supposed to be the comments nickname?)..

            Like

      3. Drunken Dwarf

        The thing is though if the Pilgrim had noticed it was Akua, or even someone else controlling Cat’s body, he would have destroyed Cat story wise. What I got out of this dialogue was that the Pilgrim was trying for a story set up where the hero’s go into the villian/monster’s domain and slay it. Akua was defending Cat’s war acts and her position of rule to muddle the monster story he was going for. Even Akua’s leak at the end, which really was a cheeky play on words against the Pilgrims truth telling, would fall under defending Cat’s rule. It’s honestly scary how well Akua played the Pilgrim’s story, while acting as Cat, so much so that he decided it would be better to let the Saint do her thing rather than speak.

        Although I do have to agree that it looks like Akua might be going for a redemption story herself, maybe even trying to steal or benefit from Cat’s.

        Like

  3. Jane

    I’m reminded of how Ivah already views Akua… The story of how a vicious shade leveled a city in the Underdark is going to be a particularly dark Drow legend for ages to come. Or it would, if the story of how the Drow left the Underdark wasn’t already going to be filled with legends.

    Incidentally, “The immortal Black Queen, the wintry personification of centuries of her people’s grudges” sounds like the perfect description of Cat already. Pilgrim is right to be worried, and probably should have called down a Choir on Cat’s head. Not that it would have helped, given that she’s the main character, but at least he’d have felt he’d done everything he could.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Well, the issue is that, on one, Cat is *not* a personification. And that’s good – means she’s still reasonably human and thus has free will. Unlike the Fae.

      As for calling on choirs, it is inviting Cat to escalate as well, with catastrophic collateral damage to both the country and the army, which they need for the Crusade. And/or put Cat against the wall, from whence she can rise as a demigod.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Pilgrim called on a plague was that because Black was using his aspect of lead so much or did black during the time he was waiting on his ship with all the corpses figure out the Pilgrim’s trick and think that he can also do an equal trick as the below can interfere when good interferes.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dainpdf

          I think that only applies to direct intervention. The plague was just the Pingrim revealing that he’s more than a single trick – he’s the Good side’s Wekesa. Or Zeze, as you will.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Jonnnnz

            I am still not giving Pilgrim any slack for using biological weapons. I get that good in this world means “advances the plan of the gods above” rather than anything to do about behavior (else Champion would be a villain for basically murdering whoever she feels like, and Adjutant would clearly be a hero for a Name that is all about helping someone else)… But straight up mass murder outside of combat in order to improve his chances of winning is basically Liesse with heavenly approval

            Like

            1. Dainpdf

              Not disputing that. One may argue he killed less people and the objective was defense, or that Black was already harming civilians and so this served the greater good, but the act was still abhorrent.

              Like

  4. Nafram

    Well, this should be interesting. This confrontation could see our time in the Everdark come to an abrupt end, should Sve Noc be slain here and not in the seat of her power. It fits, in an odd way, the Longstride Cabal is the strongest force Drow have to offer save for Sve Noc herself, and they are coming to play on the decisive battle, furthermore, if Cat’s certainty is to be believed, the Big Bad herself is coming to the party too. Should Cat win, then the Everdark has no more cards to play, and that means an endgame is upon us. Of course, it could be that Sve Noc escapes with the greatest among the Longstride Cabal and unifies the rest of the Drow under her banner for a final battle, so there’s that

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dainpdf

      I assume this is only their first clash. There could be up to three of them.

      The meta reason to end it abruptly, of course, is the fact that we’re 70 chapters into this book, but given the amount of chapters we’ve had that didn’t really move the plot forward much I don’t think EE is much concerned about that.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Kirroth

    So the battle plan is intended to follow Cat’s usual pattern, as other characters have often commented on. To cause as much chaos as possible with the expectation that her foes will suffer from it worse than she and at the end she’ll be bloodied but standing at the top of the heap. It plays to her strengths but is getting a little predictable.

    Or should I say, that WAS the battle plan. Now there’s a new one. One that calls back to Akua’s Folly in scope or intent. Which is a frightening thought even if it means her chances of success have gone up. Being too repetitive is a bad tactic and a worse narrative.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Dainpdf

      When “causing chaos” becomes predictable, there are two options. Cause order, to surprise the enemy… Or ramp the chaos up to unprecedented levels.

      I think we know which one Cat has chosen.

      Liked by 5 people

  6. Skaddix

    Hmm makes me wonder if Akua will try to take the power of Sve…assuming her Pyramid theory is correct. Not exactly impossible since Cat really doesn’t understand much about magic although Archer does but if Archer is not close enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dainpdf

      She *has* been forbidden to partake in Night. We can only hope that impedes or at least stalls such a plot.

      I have also considered that the Sve may have or will visit Akua’s dreams and propose treason in exchange for… Well, probably just a change of master, but then Akua gets to pull a Kairos and backstab the Sve as well.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. She’s been forbidden from partaking in it, but what about literally being it?
        What if her plan here is to turn herself and Cat into a new hybrid Sve Noc of both Winter and Night.

        Sovereign of the Moonless Night, after all.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dainpdf

          Hopefully she needs to imbibe it to become it? Or the inability to do so makes it harder?

          As for becoming a dual being… I guess? It doesn’t seem to be exactly how the Sves work, though. Seems like one is the Domain itself, or something like that.

          Like

          1. Dunno man, might actually make it easier. Like, imagine if Akua took part in Night. Sve Noc would have influence over her.
            Since she doesn’t, it would mean that Sve Noc can’t intervene with Akua from the inside.

            Like

  7. Dainpdf

    Well, we do know the Pilgrim does not mind a little civilian slaughter to make his omelets.

    However, it does not mean he didn’t also wish to limit civilian slaughter. After all, when he argued for moderation it was never by saying Cat would escalate, always by pointing out her well-intentioned core.

    I suspect that Above certainly has weighed things the way Cat thinks, and that it was a factor in the Peregrine’s thinking. He has the learning to know of apotheosis.

    But that does not mean that sparing lives did not also figure into it.

    Besides that… Cat is crossing a lot of lines, here. Indentured servitude, shaking hands with genociders (and helping them), and now Folly? Below must be happy.

    Liked by 1 person

            1. Skaddix

              Well Archer also made this point. Sure Cat likes to think of herself as pretty Neutral but there is no true Neutral in this World. You either High With Above or Down with Below. Sure you can be less or more in either Direction but I don’t the Gods lets you play it that neutral when you are a major player. Ranger gets away with it because she is small time player so even if she is slightly on the side with Below, she is not doing enough for Below or Above to care. By small time I mean ambition wise not power wise. She is like Goku, she only really cares about training and fighting the Best and her friends. The wider picture doesn’t matter to her.

              Cat though doesn’t get to play neutral, she is taken the Mantle of Winter and Runs a “Good” Country. Its not really a shocker that Cat is slowly sliding to Villainy due to the Gods Below forcing her hand and having Akua whispering in her ear. Vivienne was the counterbalance against Akua but she is gone. Archer doesn’t really care. Hakram and Masego are decidedly Evil. Just look at how hard Cat is struggling to convince herself she needs to get rid of Akua. Now that is not to say she won’t because Akua will probably make a play to get free eventually but if Akua just stayed as useful advisor probably not. Especially since Akua is the only one Cat has on her team with a knowledge of Politics. And that is honestly why Vivienne is in trouble in my book long term. Cause Long term she doesn’t really do much. Her spy network someone else can run and her combat utility is useful but limited. Maybe her recent change will fix that but I am not sure a clash is inevitable with her as the only Goodish character surrounded by Evil or Neutral at Best.

              Like

              1. Dainpdf

                Archer is pretty firmly on the Neutral side of things. She’s not got a stake in the game of the Gods, nor does her Role bind her to either side.

                Cat doesn’t seem to have issues with arguing she needs to kill diabolist. She’s just getting tired of the constant mental vigilance necessary to live with an adversarial master manipulator right over her shoulder.

                As for Vivienne, she did contribute quite a bit in the past… And if the chess interludes were any indicator, she’s going to get even more involved from now on.

                Like

                1. Skaddix

                  I believe its been stated no Names are truly neutral by our writer. Some are simply closer to the middle line then others. But I agree she doesn’t have a real stake in the Gods Game beyond being a Woe Member.

                  I am more saying the fact that Cat has to keep telling herself that and complains about the constant vigilance means in my book said vigilance will eventually slip up.

                  Eh no. Her biggest move was stealing the Sun combat wise. Beyond that even she herself notes that anyone non Named with skill could run the Spy Operation as well as she can. So her primary role has been the Good Angel on Cat’s Shoulder. But in terms of overall value to the Woe when it comes to Military, Magic and Politics she doesn’t really contribute much hence her crisis of faith with Hakram. My point is I don’t think she is the least important Woe member as of now and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

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                  1. Dainpdf

                    I am not sure it will slip up in the sense I think you mean. As Cat said, she has an excellent reminder. She won’t find herself liking and accepting Akua.

                    She might, however, lower her guard in the heat of the moment and get stabbed in the back.

                    As for Vivienne, she has a distorted view of her own usefulness – the crisis of faith with Hakram shows he valued her work more than she did.

                    Like

                  2. No instance of a given Name is neutral, but there are Names that can be a Heroic or a Villainous Named in different instances of the Name.
                    I.e., Squire can be a Hero Name, usually leading into White Knight, or a Villain Name, usually leading into Black Knight.
                    Likewise, the Names of Thief, Archer, Ranger, etc. are not alignment-locked.
                    For that matter, I’m pretty sure Adjutant and Hierophant could end up being alignment-independent Names as well.

                    Like

        1. luminiousblu

          “If Bai Qi [the guy who executed 200k surrendered prisoners of war effectively out of spite] agrees with your battle order, it should fill you with shame and is a red flag.”
          That’s basically what I’m hearing right now. It’s a bad person with no moral fetters, so if you have his/her approval that means you’re making a huge mistake. Note, however, that I haven’t mentioned that he’s the only general in his historical era to have not lost a single battle and died to political intrigues with almost a hundred victories under his belt.

          You can call Akua evil – the Chinese called Bai Qi “heartless and without human decency”. You can call her a monster – the Chinese called Bai Qi “the Butcher of Men”. But you can’t just not acknowledge her area of expertise and pretend that her plans are always bad simply because you don’t like her, because even though everyone hated Bai Qi, people still honoured him as “Mars”. Just because Akua agrees with a plan doesn’t mean it’s bad – I would argue that most of the time, if Akua thinks your plan is bullshit for reasons other than her values, then it’s probably bullshit and that if she thinks it’s good, it’s probably at least decent.

          This is the woman whose spellcraft is on par with Masego, whose acting nears Malicia, who played fucking everyone up until the very end of Second Liesse and who needed [four] named directly involved (Catherine, the Squire; Amadeus, the Black Knight; Vivienne, the Thief; and the decoy Amadeus, Assassin) to bring her down, one of which was also a Duchess of Winter, not including the bullshit she assembled outside which took on multiple legions, Warlock, Hierophant, Kegan, so on so forth and just about fought them to a standstill.

          Like

          1. Dainpdf

            You forget Akua did lose. And ues, she had all of those people take her down… because her methods ensured that many people would come to take her down.

            It’s called Akua’s Folly for a reason. Because it was foolish. Plus, what Diabolist views as “effective” often translates to “diametrically opposed to Cat’s whole life objective”.

            Getting approval from Akua is not like getting approval from Bai Qi. It’s like getting approval from Napoleon when fighting for democracy in Russia in the winter.

            You know he was great, but he also failed catastrophically, and his methods were adapted to his view – that of concentrating power in himself.

            Like

            1. luminiousblu

              I’m not denying she lost. I’m denying that her plans are bad. You have to remember that she lost, essentially, because of something not even Malicia or Black saw coming. Even then you basically needed a bunch of other bigwig Named to help. She lost, but she lost narrowly against overwhelming odds, which says something about what she can pull off when she set her mind to it.

              >because her methods ensured that many people would come to take her down
              And they still would have failed, had Winter not shown up out of nowhere and had Hierophant not evolved into Hierophant during the experience.

              >it’s called Akua’s Folly for a reason
              Because she lost and therefore it was folly, yes. But if anything is consistent in this work. it’s that folly isn’t folly until you actually lose. Winning is what matters – Akua lost, so her plan was foolish. It doesn’t, however, negate all the other plans she put up, nor the sheer effectiveness it had in evening the otherwise overwhelming odds.

              >diametrically opposed to Cat’s whole life objective
              If Catherine has such a poor grip on herself that she can’t measure her own life objectives then she doesn’t really deserve to make her own decisions. She has a relatively strong grip, though – which is why she views Akua’s advice as something to be heeded carefully, but weighed against her own values. The entire point is that unlike the posters in the reply chain, Cat realizes Collar Fairy isn’t stupid, and while she makes a few poor decisions once in a while, most of them are incredibly sound.

              >Getting approval from Akua is not like getting approval from Bai Qi. It’s like getting approval from Napoleon when fighting for democracy in Russia in the winter.
              No, it isn’t. It’s like getting approval from Napoleon in a war situation. The only thing you’d take with a grain of salt is when he recommends invading a large land territory in the winter. Napoleon was a legendary general. He fucked up once and it was the end of him, but that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t the guy that entire nations avoided fighting. Akua’s advice should be taken with a grain of salt. Disregarding her advice, or avoiding what she advises, is beyond stupid, because if Napoleon tells you that you should put your cannon on the left he’s probably goddamn right.

              Like

              1. Dainpdf

                Akua would have lost anyways. She might not have lost to Cat, but she would have gotten pwned by the Pilgrim or some equivalent in short order.

                Akua is a representative of the old breed of villain. A good one (whether as good as Kairos is up to debate – I think not), but still limited by that.

                Oh, if Cat hadn’t managed to kill her, and she had gotten through Black and the eventual Wekesa (which is not certain), she would have done a bunch of damage before Above put her down. But she would not win. She can’t.

                Also, Akua’s plans only work if one cares exclusively about one’s own power, or maybe something like the old Praesi customs. Something like what Cat wants, the preservation of lives? Using Akua’s plans without curation would result in throwing the baby out with the bath water.

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                1. RanVor

                  Isn’t it the entire point that the game is rigged and villains can’t win no matter how good they are? This doesn’t tell us anything about a actual quality of Akua’s plans, only that the Heavens are unbeatable. But you’re disregarding the fact that this is Evil vs. Evil situation and the Heavens are not going to interfere. In this case, Akua’s plan might actually work very well and have relatively little long term consequences.

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                  1. Dainpdf

                    No long term consequences? That’s not how summoning at least three demons and opening a Greater Breach works.

                    As for whether Akua would have won, that’s exactly my point. She might have won victory against Black and Warlock (though I doubt it), but she was charging headlong into all the stories and roles that saw her head on a Crusader’s pike by the end of the month.

                    Taken overall, her methods do not succeed at reducing collateral damage, effecting lasting change, or keeping her alive.

                    As Cat said on chapter 54: “Fine, I didn’t mean to impugn your talent at short-sightedly endangering the very fabric of Creation to try winning battles you ended up losing anyway on account of being kind of a fuckup.”

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                    1. RanVor

                      I’m sorry, but I can’t honestly discuss anything if you keep changing the context of my argument to fit your your position instead of actually addressing it. This is not Second Liesse and you know it. The conditions are completely different. The Heavens won’t defend the Drow. Also, Akua won’t be completely free to do whatever she wants. That means no demons and no greater breaches.

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                    2. Dainpdf

                      Well, you were the one who brought up her past as evidence of her effectiveness. My point was that Diabolist is good at a specific type of game, and that playing that game in itself is already a mistake. Cat has a lot to learn from Akua’s toolbox, but to learn her outlook or general strategic sense would be disastrous.

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                    3. RanVor

                      NOPE. You were the one who brought up her past as evidence of her ineffectiveness. I said her past is evidence of nothing. Second Liesse doesn’t give us any indication whether Akua’s methods would be effective IF THE HEAVENS WEREN’T A FACTOR, which is the case here. But you had to warp my argument into defending the Second Liesse. Again. I’m starting to think you’re doing this on purpose.

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                    4. Dainpdf

                      The point is that Akua’s way of thinking wins battles and loses wars. Cat wants to win in the end – she wants to build something lasting.

                      Her thinking is also one that eschews mitigation and ignores collateral damage in favor of brutality. Also not something Cat would want to get in the habit of doing – she generally wants to keep at the very least her army, but normally also the battlefield.

                      Additionally, it’s not about the Heavens. It’s about the sort of story and Role into which Ubua naturally casts herself. Stories and Roles that end with her dead and her goals destroyed.

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                    5. RanVor

                      And why those stories end like that? Because of the Heavens. Unless you honestly think Akua is now in charge (in which case I see no point in continuing this discussion), you have to see how far removed the current situation is from that. So why do you keep insisting it’s relevant when it’s not? The Second Liesse would have failed anyway because its ultimate target were the servants of the Heavens, and you just can’t beat the Heavens. Fortunately, Cat has enough common sense not to use superweapons against the Heavens. Against the Drow, however? As long as Cat doesn’t suddenly go batshit crazy, it’s fair game.

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                    6. Dainpdf

                      Stories are a thing, beyond the conflict of Good and Evil. Evil vs Evil has its stories as well. And, again, it’s never about just this one battle. It’s always about the war. Sure, the Heavens and their servants are unlikely to intervene in the Everdark, but narrative momentum gained down there still applies once Cat goes back to the surface.

                      As I said, this is the kind of thinking that contaminates. It looks like a good option because all the best poisons do. Much like absorbing the Night way back was a perfect solution and Cat didn’t trust it, the old Praesi ways aren’t something one should seek to emulate.

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                    7. RanVor

                      Wrong. Stories are MADE OF Good and Evil, FOR Good and Evil, BY Good and Evil. They are literally patterns that have been repeated until they started to enforce themselves. Good always wins at the end not because that’s how it should be, but because it’s been happening for so long Fate has accepted it as a default state. Mainly because the Heavens have been cheating since the dawn of time.

                      Sure, the narrative momentum will at least partially carry over to the surface. But it will be narrative momentum of a different kind, because the conditions are much different and so is the story. Obviously you have no trust in Cat’s ability to detect narrative pitfalls if you think she would not just approve of, but come out with such an initiative without seriously considering potential consequences first.

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                    8. Dainpdf

                      There are stories involving Evil alone, and also stories involving more than one evil. There are stories involving Good by itself, and others involving neither party necessarily.

                      For one example, one might recall the stories that appeared in Second Liesse. No real Good side there. The stories in Arcadia didn’t feature the opposition of Good and Evil but Summer and Winter… Stories are more than just that one conflict.

                      As for trusting Cat’s ability to avoid bad narratives, I trust that she will dispose of Diabolist eventually and not go too far into her views, although it may take a loss or two. No one is perfect, but Cat seems very capable of learning from past mistakes.

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              2. Dainpdf

                On the last point: Akua’s overarching ideals, the first principles from which she builds her thought, are the problem. They sabotage her at the root, so that she is useful for her skillset as a toolbox, even for tactics, but not for strategic thinking.

                Cat can use Diabolist to cast, word oaths, read people, or even make specific plots – and even in those cases curation is advised – but to have her advise the overall strategy is just a bad idea.

                Like

  8. Someguy

    “For though these armed men may carry banner and obey a prince, without justice they are only bandits.”
    – Extract from “The Faith of Crowns”, by Sister Salienta

    Incorrect. Without taxpayers giving them salaries they would just be bandits. “Justice” is the bullshit propaganda of whomever shouts the loudest at whichever period of time is politically profitable to do so.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. FactualInsanity

      While I am inclined to somewhat agree, a protectio racket would fulfil the salaries condition, but would not make them not-bandits.
      I.e. it’s somewhat more complicated than that. Justice may be a delusion, but the important bit is that it’s a shared delusion.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. Unorginal

      Who are you preaching to here? You can debate the foundations of government elsewhere in a fic that isn’t about there objectively being good and evil even if that good and evil don’t exactly conform to human perception?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m still wondering who she’s going to give the throne to.
    I find Talbot a very unlikely candidate.

    So she needs to find a candidate that can be a proper “Good” King/Queen for callow. I feel like she’d have to weave her death into a narrative like that for it to be a proper story.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. she could be another Ranger: her own little circle that nobody is stupid enough to fuck with, the country she helped make off to the side keeping up diplomatic relations

        would be nice

        Like

    1. medailyfun

      I can see the parallels between Abigail story and one of Cat’s alternative lives shown in four-fold something in Book III thus story-wise she becomes a good candidate

      Like

      1. RanVor

        That would make no sense. Callow already has a queen. Vivienne getting the Name of the Queen would send her on a narrative crash course with Cat. And no, it doesn’t matter that Cat intends to abdicate. She’s the queen NOW, and that’s the only thing the narrative cares about.

        Like

  10. TotesARealPerson

    Anyone else worried that finally getting the Archer x Cat sexytimes payoff right before the big battle might have just set Archer up to die?

    Like

    1. Zaver SaintCloud

      Under normal circumstances, the rules we have seen regarding Stories would see that as a possibility. However, given that The Woe are slowly but surely replacing The Calamities, the death of any major Named in Cat’s group seems highly unlikely (at least until the very end).

      Like

  11. Exec

    This chapter felt a bit less focused than recent ones, like a stream-of-consciousness ramble, but it was still interesting to see Cat’s perspective on the battle ahead in full.

    Hopefully the next chapter is “The Storm”!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. IDKWhoitis

    My guess (probably far off the mark) is that Cat is about to imbue the Ice she is handing out, and the water around her, with “Still Water” magic to turn the whole city into a roving madhouse of death. With everyone dying and reanimating, no one is going to truly know the true scope of the attack.

    Every Sigil is just going to think that another Sigil has allied with Cat and is attacking them with a “touch of winter”, which while not wrong, probably wouldn’t understand the practical differences between Winter fueling someone’s power, or winter using someone Corpse as a construct.

    The city will eat each other alive, and when Sve or Longstride shows up, they might try to slaughter the city wholesale as it seems like everyone is tainted by Cat. Thus forcing the city to their knees, and onto Cat’s side by force.

    Has just the right mix of Necromancy, Mass-Genocide, Chaos, and Psych-Warfare to qualify for a Catherine’s Gambit or Akua’s Folly depending on the angle.

    Like

    1. The fairy queen Callow didn’t think it needed and certainly never wanted… But, once they got her, had to admit they paid for her in instalments over many, many generations because, well, she does fit like a glove. Also, nobody pays a grudge back quite like the Black Queen does.

      Like

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