Interlude: Triptych

“Only one kind of war is ever just, that which is waged on the Enemy.”
– Extract from ‘ The Faith of Crowns’, by Sister Salienta

Harbour duty was the worst, always had been.

Ines had blown three months’ pay on the warmest cloak that could be found at market and still she was shivering like a dying calf. The prince had spread talk through the city that with the Kingdom of the Dead stirring awake those soldiers who guarded the harbour would see better pay, but like most princely promises it had come to nothing. Rumour had it the coin had gone into buying the service of every fantassin company left in the north instead, and much as she hated freezing by the docks Ines had to admit it might have been better investment. The Princess of Hainaut was doing the same, it was said, and the mercenary leanings of the fantassins had turned the whole affair into some sordid bidding war. Still, better to be here at home than to have gone south as some of the prince’s soldiers had. What word had come back from the crusade’s foray into the Kingdom of Callow was the stuff of nightmares. Strange devils riding to slaughter in the night, an endless horde of orcs and heretics that at the corpses of the fallen. Some more fanciful tales as well, of the Black Queen bringing down the sky on the head of the crusaders and making a lake of their blood. Whatever the truth of it, none of those who’d gone south had returned.

For once, she thought, being fresh to the prince’s service had been of some use. It also meant Ines was inevitably handed down the shit duties by her careerist noble officers, but cold fingers were better than the grave. She put a spring to her step after clearing Gertrude’s Tongue, hurrying towards the bonfire that awaited near the customs house. There she took off her leather gloves and pressed her palms close to the bronze bowl holding the flames, sighing at the warmth seeping into her bones. The pike she’d left to lean against her should had never seen use out of the training yard, and if the Heavens smiled on her it never would. Still, the silence of the night unsettled her. The winds that’d turned her earlier round into a ghastly affair had since died, leaving behind only eerie stillness. Cleves Harbour was lethargic on the best of days, the sporadic ship trade with Bremen and Lyonis the affair only of the prince and the very rich, but now even the fishermen had left. That lot had better read on what took place beneath the waters of the Tomb than anyone else, it was said. Those among them that did not learn to listen to the sound of danger were dragged into the depths by the foul creatures that were the only true rulers of the lake.

Some nights, Ines wondered why the prince even bothered to assign guards to the harbour. Empty as it was, even if some dead mean took it that would be no great loss. The royals who’d founded Cleves had been a farsighted lot: the harbour was not connected to the capital proper. The thin stripe of docks and shore was walled with an eye at keeping the enemy inside, not out, an unspoken admission that if the Dead King raided past the lake there would be no holding it against the Hidden Horror’s armies. The slope descending to the shore meant Ines could not even catch a glimpse of Cleves itself from where she now stood, not behind those tall walls, but that part she hardly minded. It would be the hour-long walk back to the barrack of the capital she was not looking forward to, especially since some enterprising noble lad had decided that the length of that trip should no longer be counted as part of guard duty’s duration. Ines’ only comfort was that if the fucking dead actually showed up, that prick was bound to end up on the bad side of an unfortunate crossbow accident. The lad should have worried less about getting commendations from up high and more about the many people in charge of sharp objects he’d made enemies of.

With an aggrieved sigh Ines put her gloves back on. She’d lingered around the fire as much as she could justify, if the next guard came up while she was still here she’d end up with another black mark on her record. Merciful Gods, though, it was a cold night. And not even winter solstice yet, it’d only get worse. She glanced to the side and upwards, at the slender tower overlooking the waters. She didn’t know who Mikhail had paid off to get that particular cushy duty – the guard tower had a bonfire up top, and a seat – but the man could certainly afford it. The Lycaonese immigrant ran a little business on the side, providing hard drink warming the bones to the guards that could afford it. Ines had always disdained the practice, but the thought of the long walk back to the city after her duty had her reconsidering for tonight. Once wasn’t going to hurt anyone, was it?

“You still up here, you filthy Bremen throwback?” she called out.

No answer. He must have been indulging in his own wares, which was bold of him. There were only so many times he could bribe his way out of the trouble that’d come down on his head if he was caught. Taking her pike in hand, Ines decided against taking the lack of answer as a sign from Above. The thought of a warm belly had grown on her with the consideration. She strode to the bottom of the tower, finding the door ajar. Sloppy of him, she frowned, even if he was drunk. The twisting stairs leading up to the top were just a brisk walk, but when she came there a cold seized her that the fire could do nothing about. Sergeant Mikhail was there: throat opened, blood all over his mail. Oh Gods, she thought. We’re under attack. She would have rung the bell the tower had been equipped with for this very reason, but the bloody thing was gone. Ripped off the metal hinges that had held it up. She leaned over the edge, casting her voice.

“Attack,” she screamed. “We’re under attack!”

There was no answer. She wasn’t loud enough, that was why they had the damned bells in the first place. For all she knew, she was the only soldier in the harbour left alive. That would make it her duty to run back to the city, wouldn’t it? So that they were warned. It wasn’t abandoning her fellows, it was doing her duty. Her hands trembled around the shaft of the pike.

“Damn it,” she whispered. “Damn it.”

She ran back down the stairs, heading for the nearest tower. There were ten in the harbour, they couldn’t have castrated all of them unseen. Her old boots slipped against the frost and she fell, but she grit her teeth and picked up her pike before picking herself up with it. Dodderer’s Height wasn’t far, and as the largest of the towers it’d have fielded more than a single sentinel. Old, fat ones one the edge of retiring from service but there was strength in numbers. She made it past the jutting empty warehouse that was the Prince of Cleves’ personal property and cleared the corner before she saw it. Five corpses, tossed down from the tower onto the pavement below. She glanced up, eyes squinting in the dark, but thank the Gods the bell was still there. Whoever’d done this had not yet ripped it out. Whoever had done this was likely still here, she then thought. Gloved fingers tightened around her pike, she grit her teeth and ran once more. Her attention had been on the tower, though. That was why she missed it.

The undead climbed out of the lakewater, glistening wet under starlight. Rivulets dripped down the bare skull under the ancient helm and it advanced without a word. Ines yelled out in fear, but she’d trained. Feet wide but steady, she struck out with her pike. It pierced through the rusty mail, going straight into the body, and for a moment she tasted triumph. Then the dead thing began pushing towards her through, embracing the impalement. She dropped the pike in ear, immediately cursing herself for it. But it was slower than her, she realized, so she ran for the tower instead of fighting. All she needed was to ring the bell. The door was ajar, she saw, and she slowed to avoid slipping on a patch of ice. Just in time to watch a pair of armoured skeletons walk out of the tower, swords in hand. Blocking the entrance.

No,” she hissed.

What could she do? She didn’t even have a – the two undead were smashed to pieces by the same swing of a silvery sword. There was a man, tanned and wearing plate, who casually brought down a steel-clad boot to smash one of the skulls. The undead she’d fled from was tossed back into the lake by some giant shadow moving quick as lightning. For a moment Ines thought she glimpsed fur and fangs, but what wolf could possibly be so large?

“Ring the bell, soldier,” the man in plate said.

His eyes were wreathed with light, she saw as she faced him. No, with Light.

“Chosen,” she croaked out.

“Go,” he said. “Your courage tonight did not go unnoticed.”

“They’re all over the place,” Ines said. “If they’re here-”

“Cleves,” a woman’s voice said, “does not stand alone.”

A face of painted stone over a cloak, long tresses swinging behind. Another favoured child of the Heavens, she would put her hand to fire over it.

“It will be a long night,” the first Chosen said. “A long month after it, until Malanza arrives. But we will hold.”

“Ring the bell, soldier,” the masked Chosen said. “We will guard you. Tonight, the Dead King learns that dawn is not so easily snuffed out.”

Ines straightened her back. She was no proud Lycaonese, to find glory in dying spitting in the Enemy’s eye. Just some fool girl someone had shoved a pike in the hands of. But she’d been born in Cleves. The principality of her birth was a bloody mess, and she thought little of the man who ruled it, but that wasn’t the point. It was her home. This was Procer. They could lose to princes and princesses, they could lose to Arlesites and Lycaonese, but she’d be damned before a fucking undead abomination flew its banner over the city.

She took up a sword from a corpse and climbed to ring the bell.

Balasi was allowed into the tent by the sentinels without so much as a second glance.

It still surprised him, this. Had he tried the same with his lover’s rooms in Nenli he would have been met at sword point and taken to the city square for a public flogging. Here, though, the campaign had made the king’s laws grow lax. He might not be consort in name, but he was in deed and the soldiers acted accordingly. The seeker of deeds had since grown to suspect that this was one of the reason why Sargon had come forward to claim command over the Fourteenth Expansion. Back home their love would always be an illegal mismatch, but so far away from the Kingdom Under the rules had thinned. Sargon was not sleeping, as it happened. The Herald of the Deeps sat still as stone with his eyes closed as he sought council with the spirits bound to his staff. The Souls of Fire were known to hold wisdom, though a kind narrow in scope. Were they too clever the Kings Under the Mountains would have slaughtered them all, not bound them to the great forges. There would be need to dig deep again, after this land was claimed, to feed the fresh forges being raised. Many spirits would still lie asleep in their beds of molten rock, unknown to the kraksun.

“Delein,” Balasi quietly said. “There is need of you.”

Sargon’s eyes fluttered open.

“Balasi,” he murmured. “I was far gone, this time. What ails you?”

“Not me,” he replied. “All of us. And if that vein is true or hollow has yet to be known.”

“Speak,” the Herald of the Deeps frowned.

“Our borrowed knife has returned,” the dwarf said. “And would now speak with you.”

Sargon’s beard twitched in surprise.

“The Gloom still stands,” he said. “She cannot have been victorious. Are we certain it is the human, and not simply a Night-thing wearing her?”

“I laid eyes on her myself,” Balasi said. “She was stripped of power, but it is her. Unmistakeably.”

“And the cold spirit?” Sargon asked, leaning forward.

The seeker of deeds resisted the urge to roll his eyes. His lover had fancied the thing since their first meeting, considering adding it to his staff should the human queen be broken. Sargon had mastered the Greed in most aspects of his life, but not this: any interesting creature he encountered he desired for his staff of office.

“Changed, yet still existing,” he replied. “You can look upon it yourself when speaking with the human.”

“She is not that,” the Herald of the Deeps said. “You know this.”

“Was not, perhaps,” Balasi conceded. “I am no longer certain of that old truth.”

That piqued his lover’s interest, as he’d intended, and Sargon merely put on a coat before they made their way out. Officer had been ordered to settle the human and her spirit until they were ready to be met, and the two dwarves found them awaiting patiently by a low table. Black kasi had been served, and the Queen of Callow was drinking from her cup with a broad grin. Hairless of the face like so many of her kind, some feeble thing grown even feebler since their last meeting. It had not escaped his notice that she sat in a way that took the weight off one of her legs, as if it were wounded. Or that she’d limped visibly when coming to the camp. The spirit stood behind her, dark and silent. Its face had changed, grown more human. Scarlet eyes had become golden, though no less watchful for it. Sargon’s eyes lingered on it with interest, ever eager to get his hands on fresh curiosities.

“Herald,” the human said, inclining her head in shallow respect. “Seeker. Good to see you again.”

Balasi stood as Sargon sat across the table, only then doing the same. A mere seeker of deeds could not be seated at the same time as the Herald of the Deeps, he thought, bitterness so old and worn it was hardly even that anymore.

“You surprise me, Queen Catherine,” Sargon said. “I had not thought we would meet again until our bargain was fulfilled.”

And such an advantageous one it had been, Balasi thought. A paltry quantity of gold and a temporary cessation of arms sales to a few human nations, in exchange for a sword pointed at the heart of the Night. Sargon had struck it most willingly, knowing that even if defeated the human would drag many kraksun down with her.

“That still holds,” the human idly replied. “I’m here to settle some details, as it happens. The Gloom could be gone by the end of this conversation, if it is fruitful.”

The dwarf’s brow twitched. A bold claim, this. Sve Noc still lived, this was known. Was the human claiming she had bound the old monster to her will?

“Details,” Sargon repeated. “Such as?”

“An offer might be more accurate,” the human mused. “Sve Noc is willing to cede her current territory to the Kingdom Under, but concessions will have to be made.”

Balasi smoothly reached for the blade at his side. He’d let down his guard, when sensing the queen had been stripped of her power. Where before she had been an oppressive presence without even moving a finger, she now felt light as a feather. Nothing more than a mortal, he’d thought. So why do you feel more dangerous now than you did before, human?

“You were turned,” he said. “Made into their creature.”

The queen made that strange human sound of derision, all nose and doubt.

“I’m really more of an advisor,” she said. “We came to an arrangement, that’s all. Trust was extended, and part of that is letting me speak for them when it comes to you fine folk.”

“You no longer hold power,” the Herald of the Deeps said.

“I wield it instead,” the human said. “That’s quite enough, as far as I’m concerned.”

“You fed your purpose to them,” Sargon said, openly appalled.

“Purpose was shared,” Queen Catherine corrected. “As I would now share a proposition with you.”

“There can be no truce with the Night,” Balasi said.

“The Night is dead,” the human said. “At least the way you knew it. And I am here to speak diplomacy, not theology.”

“And what terms,” Sargon scoffed, “would Sve Noc speak?”

She took out her pipe, taking her time to fill it with herbs. Snapping her wrist, she produced dark flames from the tip of her fingers to light it. It did not feel like sorcery to Balasi’s senses, and this was worrying. She puffed at the dragonbone – what a waste, he still thought, to make a pipe of that – and blew out a stream of smoke.

“Would you like,” Catherine Foundling cheerfully asked, “to make your two biggest problems go at war with each other?”

There was a moment of silence.

“I am listening,” the Herald of the Deeps said.

Friedrich Papenheim might have been a prince, in another life.

Of those who had both the name and the blood, he was the closest relation to the Iron Prince. He’d served as a trusted lieutenant to Klaus Papenheim for decades as a steward and commander, and few others were as high in the man’s council as he. But Old Klaus had made it known he intended to pass on Hannoven to his niece when he died, to make the principality as one with her own. Friedrich had resented this, on occasion, though always half-heartedly. It was hard to be truly bitter when one lost one’s inheritance to the likes of Cordelia Hasenbach. The first Lycaonese to ever rise as First Prince of Procer, the iron-willed daughter of the ancient lines of Papenheim and Hasenbach who’d made the entire south submit to her rule. No, if he was to be royalty but not prince there was none other he’d rather lose the throne to. It would be in good hands, when the time came. Tonight, though? Tonight Hannoven was in his own hands, and it was burning.

He’d kept to the old ways. As soon as it was known that the Dead King was stirring he’d expelled every southerner from the city and hung those that refused the order. Every village and town in sight of the waters had been emptied, the spring armories had been opened and the war horns sounded. Every man and woman of fighting age in the principality had been called to serve, to uphold the old oaths. The whispers had passed from mouth to ear, spreading across all of Hannoven. The dead are coming. Belt your swords, put on your armour, send your children south. The dead are coming. He’d never been half as proud to be Lycaonese as when he’d watched the full muster of his people spread out like a sea of steel beneath the walls of the city. The watchtowers by the Grave had found the Dead King’s host as it crossed, marching under the dark waters with the inevitability of an arrow in flight, but he was no fool to give the horde battle on open field. There could be no victory when every one of your dead turned to the service of the Enemy.

He’d sent riders to the other principalities, Rhenia and Bremen and Neustria. He trusted no sorcery to carry the word when the Hidden Horror itself strode the field. The allies of Hannoven were of the old blood too, and they’d smelled the death on the wind: they would not be caught with their trousers around their ankles like some goat-fucking Alamans. Their armies would already be assembled, and the moment the message arrived they’d sound their war horns to send for full service. But it would be weeks, months before the first reinforcements arrived. The city of his birth was a fortress like few others, but it would not hold forever. And so he’d made the cold choice, as he had been taught from the cradle. Those unfit to fight had begun the march for Bremen with everything they could carry. With them had gone half the muster of Hannoven. He’d sent the young, the skilled, the promising. The future of his principality. With him Friedrich had kept old soldiers past their prime, the greybeards and whitehairs who did not know whether it was winter cold or ratling fang that would slay them. And with those he had fought for Hannoven.

Fifteen thousand against the legions dark and darkly led. They taught the Dead King what kind of people got to grow old in these lands. The first wall they lost on the first day, and retreated after setting the houses aflame. They held the second wall for a week, until the dead sent a flock of winged drakes aflight. Wall by wall they have ground, but never without making the Enemy pay for it. The longer they held the longer the rest of the Lycaonese had to gather their armies, the longer the people of Hannoven could flee without pursuit. They fought for a month and seven nights, dying in the snow as a sea of dead lapped at the walls. Hundreds of thousands, centuries of corpses marching to bring death to all the world. In the end it came down to the Old Fortress, the solitary mountain that had been turned into a castle jutting out from the plains. The dead never paused in the assault, never tired: day and night they came in silent assault, the banner of the Dead King flying tall behind them. It mattered not, for behind Friedrich the banner of Hannoven flew. A single soldier on the wall, grey on blue. Beneath was writ the words thrown in the Enemy’s teeth since time immemorial: And Yet We Stand.

So they stood, and so they died.

Ground away into nothing by numbers and sorcery their few mages could not match. Dead things that had once been Chosen climbed the walls, the sky grew dark with falling of arrows and behind them drakes stolen from the grave spewed out clouds of poison that burned lungs and skin. Less than a thousand of them left now, and most of them wounded. They’d retreated to the Crown, the very highest point of the fortress that could only be accessed by a few narrow paths filled with murderholes. The dead had been met with streams of burning coals and thrown oil, dwarven engines roaring destruction down passages where there could be had no cover. The Chosen dead pushed through, after the horde withdrew, but they found the passages collapsing beneath them and spiked grids of steel awaiting them when they leapt. Now sorcerers that were little more than grinning skulls pounded away at the defences with foul magics, forcing the defenders to stay behind cover until the next wave of dead was ready for assault. Friedrich passed through the throng of wounded, clasping shoulders and trading grim boasts with what soldiers her had left.

Old men, old women. The last gasps of their generation, dying sword in hand. His eyes grew cloudy with pride. Death came to all, but tonight they would meet it as Lycaonese should. Holding the wall in the face of the Enemy, for the sake of all the world. Friedrich beard was already flecked with blood, and he dipped out of sight when he felt the cough came. It would not do for his soldiers to know he was dying. The wound he’d taken hammering a spike through the head of that last drake had only gotten worse. Poison, he suspected, though it made no difference. None of them would live to see dawn, poisoned or not. He wiped his lips clean of blood and returned to the battlements after the cough had passed. The pounding had stopped, he immediately noticed. The assault was coming. Captain Heiserech sought him out, her worn face seemingly amused.

“Commander,” she saluted. “The skulls want to talk. They sent some kind of giant dead. Think it might be ‘Ol Bones himself come to pay us a visit.”

“Has he now?” Friedrich grinned. “Well, let us see what the Dead King has to say.”

Maybe he’d ask for surrender. His people could certainly use the laugh. He wasn’t sure who started. It could have been anyone, or half a dozen at the same time. Only a few voices, at first, but more joined until the stone shook with sound.

“The moon rose, midnight eye
Serenaded by the owl’s cry
In Hannoven the arrows fly.”

The refrain came as a roar of defiance.

“Hold the wall, lest dawn fail.”

Friedrich Papenheim strode to the very edge of the battlements, where the passages had been broken, and found a horror awaiting on the other side of the drop. It was large as three men, wearing plate of bronze and steel that had been nailed to its frame. Its face could not be glimpsed behind the great helm, but the eyes could. Sunken yellow things, glinting with power. That might be the old bastard himself in the flesh, Friedrich thought. The song echoes from behind him, slipping into the wind.

No southern song for your ear
No pretty lass or merry cheer
For you only night and spear.”

“A Papenheim,” the Dead King mildly said. “I should have known. Your entire line is like a nail that refuses to be hammered.”

Friedrich could not deny the sliver of pride he felt at that. He was dying, but he would stand straight in the face of the Enemy. Even if his lungs throbbed with pain.

“In the name of Her Most Serene Highness Cordelia Hasenbach, First Prince of Procer and Warden of the West, I bid you to crawl back into the hole that spawned you,” Friedrich said. “And to take your horde of damned with you, old thing.”

“I rather missed this city,” the Dead King said. “You make it harder to take every time, it keeps things interesting.”

“And when we chase you back into the dark, claiming it back, we’ll raise an eight wall,” the Lycaonese replied with bared teeth. “On it will be written: here lie those who broke the back of the Enemy and stand those who will again.”

Come rats and king of dead
Legions dark, and darkly led
What is a grave if not a bed?”

“You fought well,” the Hidden Horror said. “And so were owed the courtesy of this conversation. Should your soldiers wish to take their own lives instead of having them taken, I will allow them the right.”

“So that we may rise whole in your service?” he laughed. “I think not. We’ll burn, and you with us.”

“Once wolves,” the Dead King said, almost fondly, “always wolves. What soldiers you would have made, under my banner. Die proud, then, Papenheim. You were an irritation.”

Quell the tremor in your hand
Keep to no fear of the damned
They came ere, and yet we stand.”

The aging soldier smiled.

“We’ll be waiting for you at the passes, Dead King,” he promised. “With a proper Lycaonese welcome.”

“I would expect no less,” the Hidden Horror said.

He turned his back on the Enemy and returned to stand with the last of his soldiers, the words in the wind guiding him home.

So we’ll hold the wall, 
Lest dawn fail.”

When the light of day found Hannoven, not a single living soul remained.

Advertisements

313 thoughts on “Interlude: Triptych

    1. Weroxx

      We overtook Ward in the Yearly vote count! Congratulations to everyone that contributed, and to EE. I just would like to let you know that you are awesome, and you make me a proud Patreon supporter!

      Liked by 4 people

    1. Wry Warudo

      This has been fun. We should do another bracket with Dread Emperors/Empresses, would be interesting to see who would win between Malicia and Triumphant, or between Irritant and Traitorous

      Liked by 12 people

  1. trip·tych
    /ˈtriptik/Submit
    noun
    a picture or relief carving on three panels, typically hinged together side by side and used as an altarpiece.
    a set of three associated artistic, literary, or musical works intended to be appreciated together.

    Liked by 18 people

    1. KageLupus

      They are also typically ties together by a central theme, in a literal sense. The middle panel is the primary and the side panels are related to it in some manner.

      In this chapter, the first scene is of Above sending Heroes out to fend off the Dead King’s army. The last scene is Below triumphing against normal humans, and even though it is only briefly mentioned there are Named in that conflict as well.

      The central scene is Cat negotiating with the Dwarves to fulfill her promise to Sve Noc. Assuming negotiations go well (and there is nothing to suggest they won’t) then this is Cat fighting the Dead King at an oblique angle. The Drow become a beachhead on the surface and the Dwarves are able to fully contain him below ground.

      Each scene is told from the perspective of a non-Named character and shows the different ways that the conflict with the Dead King is playing out. Cat represents a middle-ish ground between the other two scenes. The conflict is not direct and the side being represented is not clear cut. Cat might have snubbed Below by breaking their plan to create a new god, and in general by opposing Neshamah, but she is also still using that power to further her own ends. Just because its filtered through Sve Noc now doesn’t really change the overall source.

      All in all, this was a really well done chapter. The triptych layout worked really good and there was a lot of ties between each scene. This might be one of my favorites interludes.

      Liked by 6 people

  2. Darkening

    Mm, I’m a sucker for a good last stand. Always fond of folks like the lycaonese and the borderlanders from the wheel of time books. And now Cat has priestly powers and can wield dark miracles. Should be interesting to see the extent of that.

    Liked by 16 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      My prediction:

      Cat can wield ALL the powers of Night (every single trick we’ve seen the Drow use, and more) but NONE of Winter. Akua will have all of the Winter power.

      Liked by 10 people

    2. Rook

      The Night abilities I think will stay ill-defined enough to be be something that matches the situation, as far as potency goes.

      The amount of flexibility will be essentially infinite, with Sve Noc acting as an intermediary for the thousands of years of experience that Catherine is lacking; but how effective they are and what trick actually comes out will be whatever the story allows or requires at the time.

      The smart thing to do here would be to gain familiarity with how wielding Night works but focus on playing the narrative game, the exact same way that the big name players like the Bard, Neshamah, Pilgrim, or Black are already doing. Theoretically whatever it is Catherine now wields through Sve Noc could topple mountains or fizzle against a fledgeling Hero that can only parrot one catchphrase. The key is whether she has enough weight to leverage it toward the former rather than the latter.

      Liked by 8 people

        1. Rook

          Neither, titles mean shit

          A two bit warlord of a backwater kingdom a thousand years too young to even be considered a threat to the big boys has little weight in the overall game being played by Above and Below

          The lynchpin of a potential war against the dead king, involving every surface nation on Calernia, the dwarves, and the newest deity on the block has a massive amount of weight. Even more if she’s actively rallying against the game Above/Below is playing with Sve Noc roped into her line of thinking, same way Hierarch gave the fucking bard a black eye by sheer force of principle as nothing more than a beggar.

          She’s monumentally more powerful and dangerous right now than before she shed the Winter mantle. The Herald has the right read of it

          Liked by 7 people

          1. SilentWatcher

            Its not Cat thats dangerous its Sve Noc. Cat points at a target, maybe Sve Noc will blast it, maybe she will not, maybe she will blast Cat because the target was shit. Maybe the Combination of Sve Noc and Cat will be surprising, but it still offends me that her significance got reduced to the “pointer” from the “mover” and within the woe from “strongest (maybe together with Masego) to again the pointer ( As she is not the glue of the woe, but Hakram, read extra Chapter Background. She is losing in significance.

            Like

            1. SilentWatcher

              I am rather curious, What will happen when Sve Noc gets affected by the Power you all thought Cat is affected by and just ignores Cats advice or does something different? Will you still be satisfied in her being mortal i wonder.

              Like

            2. She was always the pointer rather than the mover, ever since Black gave her a Legion. Hell, she always WANTED to be – she wanted to be the person to curtail abuses, not the person to rule.

              I get what you find fascinating and interesting in fiction, but dude, you’ve picked a REALLY wrong character to look for that in.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. SilentWatcher

                No she was the right character until the last chapters totally spoiled it. She sacrificed to gain power and victories to change the system. She has all the power in the legion as they are under her command therefore an extension of her power. She was never a pointer because she had the power of the squire. Now she depends on sve noc for power and you people try to magically bullshit into a good thing for her.

                Like

                1. SilentWatcher

                  And answer me this, does cat not need power to curtail abuses? She sold her soul to become a villain to have that power. If she just needed to point instead of juat beating everyone with a stick who disagreed why even become a villain? Why not rise through other means? Is curtailing abuses not a kind of ruling?

                  Like

                  1. She was going to rise through other means, then Black offered her a shortcut.

                    A curious quirk of Praesi political system is that getting a Name also gives you political power. Er, particularly if you’re the apprentice and chosen successor to the second-in-command of the Empire, that definitely helps.

                    Either way, Cat didn’t agree to Black’s offer becuase of the ability to beat up people better that the Name offered, but for the place in the Imperial hierarchy that it would get her.

                    It was always about positioning, and never about personal power. That’s more Akua’s thing.

                    Liked by 3 people

                2. Yeah, her relationship with the Legion was a lot more straightforward than the one with Sve Noc.

                  It’s still an exploration of the same theme the whole series has: power given, gathering followers, obtaining trust and loyalty, working together with other people.

                  Literally the second chapter had a conversation between Black and Cat about ruling, and about how Black focused on making sure Callowans didn’t actually have a reason to really dislike him.

                  Cat’s greatest victories have always been diplomatic ones (recruiting Juniper, the Ruling Council, the story-driven bullshit that had her beat a demigod in a fight on his chosen grounds as a two-aspected Squire, the unification of Callow when she comes back and finds it on fire, recruiting the Duchy of Daoine to her side, the marriage of Summer and Winter, the northern Crusade, now this)

                  (No, Second Liesse doesn’t really count as Cat’s victory beyond all the prep she did for it, she followed Black’s plan and even Akua comments that it was Black wielding Cat as a weapon that beat her, not Cat herself)

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. SilentWatcher

                    “Cats greatest victories have always been diplomatic ones” HAHAHA you would call that diplomatic? With juniper she beat all other contenders with POWER. The ruling Council was founded by Blackmailing Highlords and it failed spectacularly. Beating the Duke of violent squalls to the Death? How is it not about Power and the application of it, but diplomacy? The reunification was done by force of arms (flaunting her POWER infront of kegan and the legion commanders) After seconds Liesse she scared Duchess Kegan to make a Deal, how is that diplomacy instead of POWER?
                    Do you know what diplomacy means?

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. “With juniper she beat all other contenders with POWER. ”
                      I mean… no? It was an entire plot point how her company was objectively the weakest and she got to 1v1 with Juniper by playing the rest against each other? Via diplomacy and intrigue and trickery?

                      And then she still did not have power to reliably beat Juniper, instead she exploited a loophole in the rules and her understanding of what Juniper wanted and her ability to give it to her. Which is also not POWER in the way you mean it because that ability 100% relied on Black allowing her to pick her own senior officers for her new legion.

                      Oh, the undead suicide goats made a difference and shored her up to prevent defeat. But diplomacy both got her /to/ that point and /from/ it.

                      “The reunification was done by force of arms (flaunting her POWER infront of kegan and the legion commanders)”
                      I’m thinking more of what she did in Laure, cleaning up and puttting someone competent in charge and making sure there wouldn’t be riots, and how it spiraled outwards. But with Kegan and Ranker too, she offered them something they both wanted (to Kegan, a passage to Liesse; to Ranker, handling the problem of Kegan). It mattered that she had power to offer said passage, but it mattered more that she figured out what Kegan wanted and acted on that realization to ally with her.

                      Liked by 3 people

            3. stevenneiman

              No, Cat is definitely the glue that holds together the Woe. Just because Hakram felt it necessary to intimidate Vivi and later try to inspire her doesn’t somehow make him the nexus of the team.If he was gone, Vivi would probably still be there. But if Cat was gone, Vivi would have cut her losses and either run or found another heroic band to join. And her having great personal power as the Sovereign of Moonless Night was actually the aberration, as she has otherwise spent every leg of the story with at most moderate power. Her two real advantages have always been competent people at her back (the Woe, the Fifteenth, and even a few members of the Queen’s Men) and a knack for twisting stories and agendas to her advantage.
              Also, I suspect that she’s going to figure out some way to turn the new status as High Priestess of the Night to her advantage. I don’t know how, but she convinced Sve Noc to inject pure plot into her veins and she has a history of turning the plot to her advantage.

              Liked by 6 people

              1. SilentWatcher

                No Cat gathered the woe but the Glue is Hakram it was written in the guide in Book 3 somewhere and no amount of bullshit intepetation from you will change that. Cat being the Sovereign was NECESSARY because her opponents had so much more power than her, it needed something to give her a chance. So according to your Logic its better to be a representative of an Empire then the most powerful of the Empire? If so is not the representative of the Dead King the strongest on this Continent? Whats his Name? Does he also have the magic power of BULLSHIT you bestow upon Cat?

                Like

                1. stevenneiman

                  Aside from a handful of creative misuses of portals since taking the mantle, Cat has never won a fight she had a real chance of losing by means of personal power. Every other real victory has been through a combination of leadership, high-quality subordinates she can delegate to, her peculiar brand of diplomacy, and clever manipulation of the story and the opponent’s objectives. And occasionally taking her opponents by what she’s willing to do. In fact, power plays against her objectives.
                  It’s no coincidence there’s only one truly Evil being on Calernia who has both had that level vast, direct, personal power and survived for more than about 10 years, and he’s considered the equal to the Bard in story-fu. And he was only able to pull that off because he avoided interference for long enough to set up a supportive society that even the most beloved rulers of the real world or the rest of Calernia could only dream of.

                  Liked by 3 people

        2. Nauglith

          Black had no titles or power beyond the few minor ones his Name gave him. It’s what they represent that matters. Black represented the Dread Empire and leveraged that to punch above his weight. Cat now represents an Empire far more ancient and dangerous than Praes.

          Liked by 2 people

        3. werafdsaew

          She is not a slave; she can leave and stop using the Night/Winter anytime she wants. It’s more like a worker/manager relationship. Yes she depends on Sve Noc for power, but Sve Noc also depends on her for direction.

          Liked by 3 people

              1. SilentWatcher

                Look at the facts:
                1. Cat is mortal again
                2. Cat got resurected by Sve Noc
                3. Resurections by any other then above have side effects like undeath
                4. Cat needs Sve Noc for Power
                5. Sve Noc has no reason to listen to Cat

                all these Points prove Cat is subservient to Sve Noc. How bad it is we wont know until future Chapters, but how do you prove your point? How can she just leave? how does cat just leaves :” hey you öhh i keep all the power and will use it later too, i got this shithole country callow to look for bye bye. ” Your wishful thinking clouds your mind. You dont want to acknowledge Cat got defeated.

                Like

                1. Cat did not strictly speaking get resurrected the way she did in First Liesse because according to what Sve Noc said last chapter, she never died all the way. Resurrections are the province of the Above, but healing is for everyone, as both Masego and the Legion regulations demonstrate. Sve Noc healed Cat back to full health as a normal mortal human being (who also now has a Name probably), not bound her to her service as an undead shade a la Akua.

                  Liked by 1 person

    3. stevenneiman

      Yeah. It was kinda coolbut also funny how Papenheim was all pride and defiance and the Dead King was just fondly complimenting the defenders of giving him a challenge. It fits with his earlier note that his favorite part of being summoned was the feeling of resistance in a world that he can’t casually shape to his whims.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. danh3107

    I suspected as much but this chapter made it a bit clearer, the dwarves are either mono gendered or so close in appearance between the two sexes that it doesn’t matter. I mean of course the seeker and dwarf named could be gay, but I doubt it.

    Also the Greed seems like their racial compulsion to steal, which seems vaguely familiar to the Orc’s predatory instincts and berserker fury. There’s some part of them that makes them lust for objects not their own.

    Fascinating

    Liked by 6 people

          1. Darkening

            I read the illegality of their relationship as more of a caste thing than a gender thing, especially with the line about how a seeker of deeds can’t sit in the presence of a Herald of the Deeps.

            Liked by 13 people

            1. Vhostym

              I think it was deliberately ambiguous. I initially thought the same, but then realized the lack of specificity, which considering EE seems deliberate. Hopefully book 5 will have more about the dwarves.

              Liked by 2 people

          2. The issue isn’t with the homosexuality (no one in the setting has that, really) it’s a status thing. If you go back to the chapter where seekers of deeds were introduced, you’ll actually get a pretty good idea as to why Balasi became one.

            Liked by 13 people

          3. KageLupus

            EE already confirmed it, but as an extra point to Good nations also not caring about stuff like that there is a throwaway line in one of Cordelia’s interludes about how the main priest spy that she has is trans. The only comment that she makes on it even internally is that his face is more suited to a Simon than a Simone.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. werafdsaew

              In the Interlude Crusaders chapter Malanza had issue with Arnaud’s proclivities:

              she would have disliked him for that even if her agents had not learned about his… proclivities. She was no Lycaonese prude, but someone taking a knife to that man’s cock would have been a boon to Creation.

              I read that to mean that she, and Procer as a whole, was homophobic. But perhaps it is something else instead?

              Like

                1. stevenneiman

                  I’d sort of figured either something non-consensual, or bestiality. Certainly there’s no compelling reason to believe that it’s homosexuality considering how little evidence we’ve seen of homophobia elsewhere.

                  Liked by 4 people

                2. I’d presumed it was implying tendencies towards pedophilia and/or other nonconsensual acts.
                  Possibly other forms of sexual sadism.

                  IMO, bestiality would be considered distasteful and frowned upon, but probably not to the point of thinking the world would be better if he were castrated.

                  At any rate, I’m pretty sure Malanza’s opinion wasn’t based in homophobia, especially given her reaction to Cat calling her attractive, and the verbal sparring there where Cat ultimately responded to something Malanza said with something along the lines of having a firm rule against bedding people actively invading her country.

                  Liked by 4 people

          4. stevenneiman

            I don’t actually recall anyone having hangups with sexuality or gender identity, and only the goblins so far seem notably sexist. I think that Named have a tendency to beat that particular brand of stupidity out of their respective peoples unless it’s so ingrained that only one sex can have Names. I remember a discussion of one Dread Empress who literally fired a headmaster of the legion academy for refusing female students.

            Liked by 2 people

              1. stevenneiman

                Ok, I remembered someone being executed for refusing female students and a headmaster getting lobbed from a catapult, I guess I must have forgot they were separate incidents. My point still stands, that it’s hard to have a middle ground of sexism where a woman can become Dread Empress but can’t do anything about sexism with their theoretically infinite authority.

                Liked by 2 people

    1. luminiousblu

      >but I doubt it.
      Come on mate the number of homosexuals in this story already is pretty disproportionate compared to the number of canonical couples.
      I’m almost at the point where anyone with a companion is assumed to be homosexual until proven otherwise.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. luminiousblu

          The only bisexual coming to mind is Catherine, who, uh, is basically an informed bisexual since all of her relationships and (save for a few offhanded lines about Ratface and Warlock’s toned bodies and at some point boinking a fisherman) lust have been directed exclusively at major female characters. Sure, we’re *told* she’s bisexual but ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
          Asexuals don’t count since I specified ‘canonical couples’, and asexuals don’t have canonical couples more or less by definition.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Yep, they’re definitely kind of a thing.

              A very adorable thing that Catherine doesn’t want to ruin, but I’m pretty sure a poly arrangement won’t interfere with anything there ❤

              (if you're reading this erratic please know i've been screaming about this and am incredibly grateful that you have a canon aro ace character in a relationship like this ;u;)

              Liked by 4 people

            2. luminiousblu

              Sexuality by definition refers to sexual attraction, not romantic attraction. It’s right there in the name and trying to argue otherwise is disingenuous. Archer I guess you’re right, she’ll fuck anything that moves.

              Like

            1. stevenneiman

              Archer, Cat, and Akua (and Tikoloshe, more or less by definition) are confirmed bisexual, though for Akua it seems to be more about cultural norms than personal desires.
              Aside from Masego, who’s obviously asexual, and Wekesa and Malicia, who are confirmed to be strictly homosexual, it’s hard to prove that any other character is only attracted to one gender rather than just never having an attraction to the other mentioned on-screen.
              It’s also worth noting that the complaint about Cat being an informed bisexual is only referring to a sample size of two people she’s actually slept with during the course of the story. She’s mentioned being attracted to tons of other characters of both genders.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. I actually have a private theory that Akua might be aspec, aromantic and possibly asexual too, from how… mechanical her descriptions of her sexual conquests have been. “Enjoying sex without feeling any particular attraction to the partner” seems like a Her Thing.

                Either way, she’s not exclusively attracted to one gender, that’s a fact.

                Liked by 3 people

      1. Deviant Loader

        With so many people being homo or asexual in this story.

        I am actually more surprised that their population was not declining when most people I have seen just adopted children instead.

        (I am just joking btw, of course not everyone in the story is like that)

        But seriously though, even for a story based world, orphans poping out of nowhere to be adopted seemed to be the staple for many couples there…

        Anyway, despite the author’s many takes and prefered biasness in this world’s settings, many regarding races, gender and sexuality.
        At least, the story was still enjoyable to read at times.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. luminiousblu

          There’s no reason to hedge your words, it’s really goddamn weird. I suppose the apparently widespread availability of healers significantly lowers the death toll from childhood disease but historically the reason (exclusive) homosexuality was looked down on was the fact that if you didn’t have kids your tribe would go extinct.

          Then again, the world is more or less willed into being by literal gods, and maybe a couple of the more powerful ones are homosexual so there we go.

          Like

          1. According to your logic, medieval monks and Catholic priests, who swore a vow of chastity and might have violated it a lot but definitely never were allowed to have a family and raise children, must have bee the MOST stigmatized and ostracized people ever.

            And yet.

            Like

      2. Ιούλιος Καίσαρας

        I share the sentiment.
        I believe it’s a testament to the quality of a story (or maybe that I personaly just like the messages the author tries to convey 😛 ) whan author’s quirks don’t make a negative impact..

        Like

    1. stevenneiman

      For me there’s something of a sweet spot for the power level I can really enjoy a protagonist being at for a long time. Winter Cat was already pushing that, and she would have gone straight over into boring OP territory for me if she’d mastered Winter as it was implied she was going to.
      I much prefer he being cut down a peg and trying to play matador with beings vastly more powerful than her.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. IDKWhoitis

    Man, Dead King is one of the classier villains that I appreciate. Like he knows what the answer will be, and he respects them. I’m half expecting him to start laughing when the Drow come out of the Underdark. He’ll probably kill a hefty amount of them, but boy he is going to find that interesting. This invasion of the North is going just as I was imagining, with precision strikes carried out from recon carried out over centuries, massive numbers drowning the enemies, multi-frontal assaults all along the front. I’m kinda rooting for the Horror.

    I’m left wondering how long until Cat gets back to Callow, or is she just going straight for Dead King?

    Liked by 17 people

  5. IDKWhoitis

    Wait, FUCK, Catherine learned Magic.

    Like not standard magic, and maybe some variation of Named magic, but most importantly she admitted she can WIELD the Sves power. Like oh fuck. Alienation was the greatest limiter on her, and she just got rid of that.

    The shear amount of shenanigans she can now pull with a literal gods power without going all monologue-ly is just not ok. Like Black on steroids. The Gods Above are going to have a proper FIT when they see this shit on the field.

    Liked by 20 people

      1. SilentWatcher

        No. She went from God to slave with no control over power. She already had a solution for the principle alienation, namely shunting it of to others. Principle alienation will still be a problem, because she only ever had these problems when using the power, not when simply possesing it. Indestructible construct body traded back for an aching leg and the euphoria when smoking a drug. Truly a good trade, with no negative consequences at all like saimt cutting her head of in 1 second.

        Like

        1. IDKWhoitis

          It was no perfect solution to alienation, as there was an inherent bias at the core of Catherine, Duchess of Moonless Nights, who could not, would not, grow as a character. She became rigid (and in ny opinion, whiny) about her beliefs, for pretty much all of book 4.

          Like if you wanted to look at why I hated Book 4 so much, it was Winterized Cat meandering for 80 chapters with very little to show for it and ready to start (whining) monologuing about right and wrong and how she was shit. We only really progressed, in like 3 chapters at rapid pace, when Winter BROKE. Cat is at her best when shes flexiable and more tricky than a fox, which she has regained. All that Power from winter would not matter if she got a sword to the back of the head next fight, and it’s possible she would, because Cat would NEVER learn at the rate Winter was (limiting) powering her. She was frozen at a specific plot point in time, and was just thawed.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. SilentWatcher

            What did she do differently in this chapter? She is dealing again with the dwarfs with no idea about their culture and probably getting scammed again. She will continue to whine and complain about past decisions like she did since Book 1. It is part of her Character to reflect on her actions.
            Its too early to say she is now trickier without the mantle, as we have seen no difference between Cat now and when she held the mantle. She just enjoys her pipe and has a hurting Leg. Is this a sign of being tricky? No.
            The biggest Advantage from a Construct Body is NOT dying when she gets a sword to the back of the head. Now its even more difficult with a garbage Mortal Body, no more Construct Senses, Reaction Time and Strength. Cat was learning the entire Time, how to fight better with her Powers and Construct Body and she would CERTAINLY become better, as an “Potential” immortal she has enough Time her slowed learning is not a big Problem. Now she is “thawed” and lost her Progress, her Power and has no more “Potential” Immortality (Considering being a villain gives Immortality, but it was her Construct Body which let her survive all her recent Battles). Good Job, now she learns probably more in 10 years then as an immortal in 100 years, but the probability that she will die in the short term is so much greater without being a construct.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. d0m1n1c

              We still don’t know what she can do with Sve’s Winter/Night hybrid.

              If she can do even half of the stuff we saw the Mighty do with Night in addition to gating, then she’s no weaker than she was before. Considering that all the oaths she took as Winter, I’d say she’s far more free as Sve Noc’s first priestess; Sve Noc is probably bound more by that, than Cat is, but we won’t know for sure until the next book.

              Liked by 4 people

        2. Principle alienation is not a problem for priests using miracles of their deities. Miracles don’t work the same way as directly using your own power. Catherine is as safe from this particular problem as Ashen Priestess was.

          Also, remember how Catherine fed a fae their own fingers? That was fucking horrifying and tbh I’ve been strongly worried about Cat’s slow slide down the slippery slope of cruelty and indifference. She was worried about it and she STILL did, because no mental double-checks really worked and Vivienne is actually ironically less idealistic&principled than she is and easily swayed by her charisma.

          Winter!Cat was cheerily rolling towards disaster, while Priestess!Cat has an advantageous political position, no principle alienation and like the BIGGEST bragging rights (which matters in a narrative-driven universe)

          Liked by 3 people

          1. SilentWatcher

            Why was it horrifying? she made an example and she is a villain. what do you expect a pat on the wrist and dont do it again? I see no indication that being a priestess this story will be less a disaster wreck then when she held the mantle. How is she in an advantageous political position??? She is not even in the game anymore, because from being the power she became beholden to 2 dark, murderous goddesses of a traitorous race. Negotiations will be done with Sve Noc not with her. Should she use powers beyond what a mortal can wield, she will still experience principle alienation (thats the very definition). I think you guys misunderstood something heavily in thinking Cat gets Godlike powers without some drawback now she is mortal again. And what in Belows Name does she can brag about? She went and Lost against a God and begged her to help her? She went and Lost Godlike powers? She went and is now a traitorous Priestess instead of a Player? What can she brag about? dying thrice? Its more of a Mark of her bad decisions.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Rook

              She walked into the greatest altar to Below ever built, freed it from them by feeding half of Creation Beta into it, and turned it against Below itself instead of letting them win by becoming the replacement.

              She’s potentially walking out of there having turned what was one of Below’s greatest assets since before Callow was a kingdom, into a weapon pointed directly at Below’s other biggest asset.

              The mantle let her lord over some petty squabbles or fledgeling Named that ultimately don’t mean shit. She shed it to start climbing out of the bucket, and have a demigod and an entire race help her fight against the game that’s whipped the continent for tens of thousands of years.

              At the moment she is possibly in the most narratively advantageous position of any mortal alive, easily rivaling Black or Malicia.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. SilentWatcher

                Are you sure the drow are freed through her gifting Winter? It is not written. We dont know if there is now a hybrid Power of Night (WinterNight) or not. Below has Won because Sve Noc got the Power and they will use it. Is It enough to pay the Sorcerous Debt? We dont know. You are assuming Sve Noc and all Drow will just do whatever Cat says. Maybe it will work for the next war, but after? Why should they give a shit about the Liesse Accords, why should they care about Callow or the debt Malicia still has to pay? Will Cat lose all Power when its no longer in Sve Nocs interest?

                Like

            2. “Negotiations will be done with Sve Noc not with her” is contradicted in this chapter. It’s literally the other way around: negotiations that would otherwise have been with Sve Noc (or, well, would not have existed at all) are going through Catherine instead.

              Soft power is not lesser than hard power.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. SilentWatcher

                But why could she do Negotiations for Sve Noc? Because Sve Noc GAVE her the right. Do you think Cat can keep it when she fucks up? She is not the one negotiating its Sve Noc. When diplomats meet, is suddenly the Diplomat of America the President instead of Trump? Are Diplomats the true Power or are they just a replacement because the TRUE Decisionmakers cant be bothered or have other Talents? Cat is representing Sve Noc, she is NOT representing herself in this Meeting.

                Like

                1. d0m1n1c

                  “Because Sve Noc GAVE her the right.”

                  In the same way, Cat GAVE Sve Winter; give and take, right?

                  “Cat is representing Sve Noc, she is NOT representing herself in this Meeting.”

                  Cat is doing exactly the same thing she’d be doing if she had beaten Sve, we know that from Sve’s flashbacks, the only difference is that instead of being Winter, she’s human agains, which is exactly what she wanted.

                  I’m pretty sure “human queen making deals for her homeland” is a better role in the story than “eldritch horror lording over it.”

                  You’re also forgetting that Cat swore no oaths to Sve; Sve appointing Cat her first priestess is likely as large a leap of faith as Cat giving up Winter, if it’s not, then I’d expect significant rebound on Sve when she acknowledged Cat’s gift.

                  Liked by 2 people

        3. Suggestion: never play Cleric or Warlock in D&D, then. You wouldn’t like the awesome cosmic power at the price of either giving your time or soul to the power source. Or your first born, whichever.

          Also, don’t pick Ghaunadaur/Juiblex as either an indifferent god or patron — and/or both. (Heck, it/they/he might nor even notice, and even if it/they/he does, it may not necessarily end badly — well, depending on how you define that. At least it/they/he would find it funny, the enormous troll.)

          You’d hate it.

          Go Gormauth Souldrinker, instead. ;P

          Liked by 4 people

    1. nick012000

      She’s the Priestess of Night, now. Of course she can use dark miracles. I expect it’s probably just an expansion of the same dark power she used back before she got Winter.

      Liked by 9 people

    2. Novice

      I know that when the deed seeker mentioned that Cat looked more dangerous he’s most probably referring to the merging of Night and Winter she currently wields, but I like to think it’s because Cat has all of her mental faculties back. All of that good ol’ low cunning and story weaving goodness.

      Liked by 22 people

        1. haihappen

          Akua the Shade of Doom(TM) with golden eyes? Is she already transitioning into something resembling “good”? The Fairy Godmother of Treachery?
          Gold symbolizes “good” things in this universe, right?
          Nevertheless I find it improbable and unfitting that The Specter of Lies would wield any Winter power.
          Winter is dead. Welcome to The Moonless Night!
          (Or “The Long Night”, but that may be trademarked)

          Like

          1. Catherine is pretty bad at lying, though she’s good at identifying situations where lying even with her shitty skill will help. She’s not a fan of morally bad methods either, and becomes less and less of a fan with character development.

            Catherine absolutely shies away from anything that can be described as ‘low cunning’. And there’s few things more directly opposed to ‘low cunning’ than the shit she pulled on Sve Noc (“fuck it, this is a gift, have fun”) or the deal she’s brockering with the dwarves for them – literally she’s making peace where none was previously to be had via facilitating discussion and uniting against a bigger, more horrifying threat.

            Low cunning, maybe Cat has some of it, but she’s shedding it more and more, and Komena definitely doesn’t have any evidence of it from what the flashback-conversations were about.

            Liked by 2 people

      1. RoflCat

        No, he’s definitely not referring to the power she wields, but rather his intuition told him this human is more ‘dangerous’ than the Winter Queen he met before.

        Because Cat’s biggest threat to anything was never her power, it was her ability to take the box and smack people with it. Winter operate inside the box and thus dulled her ability to do that.

        So now it’s back to stealing boxes and smacking faces.

        “What Foundling does isn’t thinking outside the box so much as stealing the box and hitting her opponents with it until they stop moving.”
        – Extract from “A Commentary on the Uncivil Wars”, by Juniper of the Red Moon Clan

        Liked by 8 people

        1. SilentWatcher

          Why did could she not Steal boxes and smack faces when holding the mantle? She had this thinking outside the box Mindset as part of her Character even before taking the mantle and bearing the mantle “fixes” your Character, it does not change anything about you. If you look at the battle of Camps it was already thinking outside the box when she offered negotiations to Malanza instead of fighting Saint and Pilgrim until she won or lost. Also the decision to go to the everdark is another undeniable Hint she still thougth outisde the box, as not even Malica, a Grandmaster in sheming, anticipated it.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. She did still have the mindset, but she was worse at actually doing it, because it requires a flexibility of thinking that in Catherine was getting slowly frozen by Winter.

            She was also losing sight of her actual objectives, ideals and principles, and because she’s a charismatic leader who everyone defers to everyone else has been following her blindly and even Vivienne started approving of horrifying things in the name of utility.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. SilentWatcher

              Maybe she lost a bit of flexibilty, but lets not forget Masego, the Hierophant, fresh from witnessing a wisp of a god of above (maybe he even saw his fathers retaliation). His Name is about Gods so there would not be an issue with him helping Cat in some way. Maybe the problem needed Time to fix, but what does she have in abundance if not time as an quasi Goddess with a construct body? Does it Matter if the Liesse Accords get approved in 1 year or in 10 or 100?
              Where did she lose sight of her actual Objectives? She wanted an army to win the war ahead and then Liesse accords. Never was it mentioned she wants suddenly to do something different.
              Did you read the first three books of this Story? Because everytime its not Sunshine and Flowers she loses one principle or a fancy ideal. Its a steady downwards slope since the first chapter, from killing 2 defenseless men to prevent them committing a crime, to killing some servants on suspicion alone and finally forcing the service of an entire Race. Its coming in small steps and not through some magic winter Influence you guys think affected her. I quote again Sve Noc: “She barely held the mantle for a decade, it was still her doing the decisions”
              I just feel some people didnt like the Winter motive and think that for some reason Cat as mortal is a step forward, when we go back to the trope of the moronic underdog against the immortal abomination. I sincerly Hope you will be disappointed by how the story unfolds.

              Like

              1. Well, the way I’ve been tracking Catherine’s arc (currently on my third attentive reread with liveblogging), she’s actually a lot more idealistic now than she was at 15. She’s shed some principles but gained others, and she’s been actively working to become a better person and make a better world all along. That’s literally an objective she has, and having Winter in her was interfering with that.

                I love arcs of people becoming better people, and I love this, even if you assign no value to it.

                Liked by 2 people

                  1. Yeah, that’s why Catherine was worried about what Pilgrim told her about being an Evil Queen of Callow and has been planning to abdicate and questioning all her decisions and the judgement of everyone around her in a paranoia spiral.

                    It also opened her up to Below’s play here in Everdark with pitting her against Sve Noc, which is why Catherine chose to take the most radical Below-opposed third option she could find.

                    Catherine being formally a villain is, at this point in the series, the best joke anyone’s ever played on Creation. (And Black’s the one who played it)

                    Reminds me of a fairy tale I read as a kid, of a noblewoman selling her soul to the Devil to feed her people through a famine. In that story, when she died angels literally stole her soul away like ‘nope this bargain doesn’t hold she’s ours’. We’ll see what happens in this one lmao

                    Liked by 3 people

                    1. SilentWatcher

                      in What way was this opposed to Below? She helped Below win even MORE. Instead of letting 2 pawns fight and let 1 get stronger while the other dies, she managed to empower 1 while still surviving. Below still has an empowered Sve Noc and Cat, who wields Night ( or Winternight or wathever) instead of losing 1, maybe gets even a new Name , Below kept BOTH pawns. Even Cats Plans to strike at the Dead King does not matter to Below.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. SilentWatcher

                      Cat is the greatest Champion of Below, she wants to change creation according to her image as it should be. This is Heresy to Above and Preaching to Below. In The Prologue which side wants the souless minions who follow every order and which side wants them to decide themselves?

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. Below likes strife and dislikes peace. They are Evil, dude, it’s not just a label. They like their followers to be fighting each other as much as they like them fighting the Above. The entire Everdark and the horrifying murderfest their culture turned into is testimony to that.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    4. SilentWatcher

                      Cat did not give Sve Noc her Power to do good, she did it for selfish reasons and the gamble was needed because every other outcome was a loss to her. Are the Liesse Accords not great for Below? According to Tyrant Good has already won ( when he said he used his wish aspect on bard) so a Ceasefire is good for Below and bad for above. In light of this, cat is a Champion of Below

                      Liked by 1 person

                    5. The exact reason why Cat considered every other outcome a loss for her – including the victory that Akua was gunning for – is because she was trying to do good, not just gather power.

                      And Above is the side that actually tries to minimize strife and maximize peace. It does that while also waging war on Below, which is something of a contradiction and the reason why Cat can’t just stop being a villain and go over to the side that matches her inclinations better.

                      You do have a point in that Above is winning and stopping the war gives a benefit to Below as well. Once we shift from the point of view of gods to the point of view of mortals though, Catherine’s solution is starkly good in the lowercase sense.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    6. SilentWatcher

                      Show me the exact passage where Cat thought : “I do good now when i give up” What is your definition of Good? doing Good? doing Bad with good intentions? wanting Good things but being a monster? All 4 of them are clearly monsters, but with good intentions in some way (except maybe Akua). Cat is not a good person, for all the crimes she will commit and has committed in the past. Why should Above not want Strife when they are winning? They have nearly won so they dont negotiate.

                      Like

                  2. SilentWatcher

                    Are you using your magic power of Bullshit again? How do you prove she is more idealistic then when she was 15? What principles has she gained? how has she worked to become a better personen? In this Arc she considered making a pact with the Dead King ( truly a principled action!) then she tried to murder Malicia and torched some palaces ( Another glorious example of being a better person according to you) then she went to enslave ( at least similar) a race ( THE EPITOME OF A JUST DECISION). These decisions are prove against your comment, that she is becomming a better person. You also cant blame Winter as Sve Noc stated she did herself the decisions, as she held the mantle no long enough. In your twisted Mind, Cat giving up, making all her sacrifices and crimes to get so far become meaningless, betting on the mercy of Sve Noc, who cannibalized part of her race to save another part, is her becoming a better person? Are you serious? This whole Story is so entertaining, because she becomes more and more evil ,while a having a good goal. Who said this quote again? The Way to hell is paved with good intentions.

                    Like

                    1. Yes, Catherine evaluated giving her power to Sve Noc as a good and ironically Good action, because Sve Noc’s goal is to save her race from extinction, and Catherine cares about people even if they are not /her/ people.

                      Catherine was also worried enough about Callow becoming more Evil than it used to be, which is the kind of abstract worry she would not have had at 15.

                      She’s looked back on her First Summerholm decision to start a war to further her ambition with horror (although imho she was far less responsible for the ensuing bloodshed than her self-blame says, she did make the decision).

                      The main principle/belief Catherine has gained since then, though, is the ability to trust. Baby Cat was convinced that nothing comes without a price and everything that looked like she might be lucky was actually a trap. Adult Cat… yeah. Did that. Look at her inner monologue (or was some of it not inner? i don’t remember) about trust and control and how it always fucks people, and how it was the reason Malicia and Black fell apart.

                      This is the kind of thing Cat did not understand at 15.

                      She was willing to start a war to advance her ambition, though.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    2. RanVor

                      I think the Good course of action (at least according to the Above’s definition of Good) would be the one that eradicates the drow, but otherwise I agree.

                      Liked by 2 people

        1. The Dead King is old school. I can appreciate that.

          Also, while my knee jerk reaction is to say “what are your doing you fool?! you’re dooming your invasion with this villain speech!”, I think it’s important to remember that the Dead King knows his stuff. He played the narrative game so well that he bested the Intercessor, and then he added a few millenia of experience and practice onto that. There is no way he doesn’t know exactly what the results of that kind of villain speech will be. So he’s got to be playing some kind of long game.

          Maaybe the game he’s playing is just the same game he’s been playing all this time, maintaining a stable narrative cycle of invasion and retreat that sees his personal sanctum in the Hells grow stronger each century. But the Intercessor did offer him a real victory this time, on some level. So maybe he’s just maintaining a particular pattern for the opening of this war that he’s familiar with and knows how to play before moving on to the interesting stuff. Maybe this is a “first step of the plan always works” kind of deal, exploiting a particular narrative to ensure initial victory.

          Or maybe he just really does respect these soldiers and wants to honor them by giving them satisfaction and meaning in their deaths. I don’t know, but I love the Dead King as a character and how long I can spend trying to dissect his motives.

          Also, holy hells, did anyone else get chills from how readily the Lycaonese completely unmade their lives and went from zero to uncompromising martial law, sacrificing their entire elderly population, and making existential preservation decisions because of a few skeletons hitting their harbor? I know we’ve seen the Lycaonese talk a big game about how hard they are and how they know true war, but seeing them actually act on that was something else. These folk know exactly what’s coming and that’s *terrifying*. More than anything we saw in Keter, the way the Dead King has shaped these people has made the true magnitude of the Dead King’s threat sink in for me.

          Liked by 19 people

            1. I’ll live with it 😀

              “Or maybe he just really does respect these soldiers and wants to honor them by giving them satisfaction and meaning in their deaths.” <= I think it's this one, personally.

              Villains speeches and other little narrative vignettes like this matter for bending LUCK. Neshamah has spent his entire existence ensuring luck would have no influence on the outcomes of his plans. He can afford to just build the story out of the building blocks he likes, now.

              Also, the Lycaonese are terrifyingly amazing, and definitely lend insight into how Cordelia thinks.

              Liked by 7 people

          1. luminiousblu

            I mean the thing with the Dead King is that he’s playing the role of the bigger fish who gets called in for assistance. The bigger fish doesn’t tend to actually die or get crippled, they just sort of shove off after a while of milling about and causing general mayhem.

            Liked by 3 people

          2. IDKWhoitis

            I wouldnt be surprised if he took this opportunity to dig a massive pit in the center of the Procerian cities, place a couple thousand dead with a latent magic trigger, and reseal it. You know, for an advanced wave next time around. He can afford it.

            He might also be nice enough to start building foundation for the 8th wall himself, with all that expendable labor. Just to fuck with some heads afterwards or to actually serve as fortifications for his own troops in the long run.

            I feel as if there is no conventional long term goals for the Winter King. What is 100 years to an Immortal who can plan better next time.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. I think the pit thing wouldn’t work for the same reason he doesn’t just raise all the graveyards: the dead bodies will decay with time. And if he uses sorcery, a priest or a Named – hell, maybe personally Augur – will catch it.

              The wall though lmao I can 100% see him doing that ❤

              Liked by 2 people

              1. IDKWhoitis

                We know he is capable of raising just skelebros, and that this man is prone to experimentation and future planning.

                All he had to do is leave a receptacle or trigger device (possibly time delay) and leave the inert bones there. After 200 years, his army automatically rises again with no warning and causes chaos in the enemy back lines.

                I can also see this as a reason for Northern Procer to just burn their dead to ashes. We haven’t fully covered Procers burial practices, but we know the Lycons are really careful about their dead going to the other side, its wouldnt be unreasonable for them just to get rid of their dead wholesale to prevent graveyard raising. It’s also possible that the attack on Cleves was done by graveyard raising and other tricky shit.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. SpeckofStardust

                  The funny thing is that he likely has done that before, and that after this battle settles and he is pushed back they will check for such things.

                  This after all is far from his first time taking this city after all.

                  Liked by 3 people

          3. Decius

            Am I the only one who thought that they deserved Goblinfire more than the Lone Swordsman did?
            If you’re gonna set your city on fire to spite the invading army, do it right!

            Also, it seems like the Dead King could have been much smarter, and just built a wall around the fortress and left enough corpses there to fend off a counterassault. The ENTIRE ASSAULT was about helping the Lycaonese to die valiantly.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Killian

              I agree that goblinfire would be much preferred. However the problem is that it’s GOBLIN fire, as in made by goblins. And the only goblins are in Praesi with a small clan in Marchford.

              Liked by 3 people

        1. SilentWatcher

          ah i see your point, she lost already everything, her power, her dignity, her freedom and her Construct Body, she already has nothing of personal value left to lose. Of course she is now more dangerous.

          Like

      1. Novice

        One of the most badass phrase ever uttered in fiction. The Guard, comprised of nothing but normal men and women, armed with what the other factions consider as weak, never fucking broke even with the planet thrown asunder.

        Cadia stands!

        Liked by 9 people

          1. Novice

            The Navy and the Space Marines actually managed to break through the giant Chaos armada in space. It’s why Abaddon decided to crash the then compromised Blackstone Fortress, something that is desired by most factions, to the planet itself. There was the Lord Castellan Creed defending the lines buying time for the rest of the Guard to retreat via the Navy while the planet is busy cracking.

            So no, the Guard held the line to the bitter end.

            Liked by 2 people

  6. nick012000

    Also, that’s not the Dead King. Friedrich Papenheim is an idiot: the Dead King was a human, originally, and he certainly wouldn’t need to go as far as to *nail* his armor onto his body. That’s probably just a Named Giant that got killed an reanimated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. byzantine279

      Uh… The Dead King can possess whichever of his servants he feels like. That was him using a convenient body for the conversation. If he had brought his real one there was a risk of a Hero suddenly showing up. They basically grow on trees around things like the Dead King.

      Liked by 12 people

          1. RanVor

            This entire contest is pretty much analogous to the state of the war between Good and Evil, only with amount of screentime instead of providence. I, much like Black, am offended by this and thus I refuse to vote on the main character out of principle.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. I guess that’s kind of fair?

              I happen to think that there’s nothing /wrong/ with Good reliably winning against Evil, and the actual problem that Black’s pissed at is how an entire nation has been written off as Evil and is now consistently getting the shitty end of the stick without Good ever even making an effort to protect or help Praesi civilians in any way.

              But yeah, the character contest is kind of a shitty idea in itself.

              You know what would be cool? A round robin everyone vs everyone character contest, where literally every pair of characters gets voted on, and then the points are tallied. IMHO this would be a lot more descriptive of how much people actually like which character, because while there would be matchups of purely popular character vs side character, a lot of matchups would be decided by ‘between these two characters who are in conflict my preference is X’.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. RanVor

                That’s an admirably idealistic view of Black you have, but I must disagree. Black is Evil to the core, always was and always will be. He’s just more practical than most. What he’s pissed at is that the good guys have advantages he views as unfair. He wants to prove that these advantages can be overcome. It just happens that the best way to do that is avoiding classic villain pitfalls.

                Your idea seems really good, though.

                Liked by 4 people

                1. Kairos: “it used to be about being right, being fair, but it hasn’t been about that in a long time, he just wants to win, but it’s the kind of victory that means nothing at all”
                  ^ his comments on how far Black strayed from his original objective aside (although that’s also really interesting to explore), the original objectie definitely appears to be doing the right thing

                  More interesting is his conversation with Ranker in “Queen’s Gambit: Declined”

                  ““A better world,” the Black Knight murmured, looking up a stars that were not those he’d been born under. “Oh, I have wondered. What it might mean, what it would look like.”

                  “We made one,” Ranker said. “It’s on fire now.”

                  “And who set the flames?” he smiled. “Cordelia Hasenbach. Catherine Foundling. Kairos Theodosian. Children, in our eyes. Yet is it not the right of the younger generation to look at the work of that which came before it and judge it insufficient?””

                  This not only implies he’s a big fan of Catherine’s ‘better world’ idea, he also was trying to make one with his friends already.

                  Oh, he told Cat he was after victories for Evil, but he’d also told Cat that he was going to avoid threatening her to not have her eventually backstab him, and that was literally a goal he was after.

                  Catherine has commented that he ‘was a fundamentally evil man’ during their post-Second Liesse conversation, but not only is it a foray into terminology Cat usually doesn’t use, not only was Cat freshly be-Wintered and had her judgement stiffened proportionally, it was also right before she yelled at him for destroying the weapon despite her asking him not to, and boy did she change her mind on THAT one, later. She was pissed at him for using her as a tool, and that was a very personal upset.

                  I have an idealistic view of Black, yes, but I think it’s strongly supported by the text.
                  (these quotes aren’t all I have, just the first ones that came to mind as most directly relevant to the specific topic of conversation)

                  Liked by 2 people

                    1. True!

                      But man, after Akua with the power of friendship fulfilling my fanfic of her genuinely supporting Cat instead of fucking off / backstabbing her at the first opportunity, and Catherine choosing to fuck the Below in the most radical way possible, I’m feeling adventurous 😀

                      Liked by 3 people

                    2. SilentWatcher

                      How did Cat “fuck Below in the most radical way possible” ? Was it not established that NO matter the outcome of Sve Noc vs Cat Below always wins? it was literaly written in the guide itself, so i look forward how you will use your bullshit power to twist facts around.

                      Like

                    3. An outcome that had one of them actually defeat the other would be in Below’s favor.

                      An outcome where the winning side (which Catherine was, Akua had a plan and an advantage over Komena in the trial) cedes its half of the power to the other without requiring the other to actually win first / bleed for it / cross more lines than the other side in a campaign of escalation?

                      That’s defying the Below, and that was the point of why Catherine did what she did.

                      Click click click. Crabs in the bucket. And one suddenly pushed the other up instead of dragging it back down.

                      Liked by 2 people

                  1. SilentWatcher

                    When your beloved Character even says: Black is a fundamental Evil Man, you still try to wring the story so Black meets your unrealistic Vision of him. He does “good” things because it is more “practical” then “evil”. He was honest to Cat because it was practical and would foster her loyalty instead of doom at her hand. Black is and will stay fundamentally Evil. Who says he cant win his Crusade against Above while helping Cat with her Vision of a better World? He will probably bet on Cat as his Plan to meld Callow and Praes together has failed due to Malicia.

                    Like

                  2. SilentWatcher

                    Kairos argument with Black was not that Black has suddenly a good Objective, but that Black is not using Evil means to win. You see that clearly illustrated in that interlude Chapter where Kairos faces down an entire Army, as he does not want a victory with the army of Helike but a victory for Below. Again you write Cat got Influenced by Winter. Haha you cant just blame Winter for every decision of Cat which disproves your good image of Cat. She was not influenced by Winter in this way, as firstly she was holding the mantle not long enough and secondly Winter makes you rigid and not suddenly makes you think someone is evil. Where exactly did Cat change her Mind on destroying the weapon? She never changed her mind. You should reevaluate how you see Cat and Black as you didnt understand some things how they where written.

                    Like

                  3. SilentWatcher

                    And it was NEVER a goal of Black to have Cat Backstab him, he knew his plans would carry the risk of making Cat angry and planned for either her as a successor or that she does not kill him. The Act of Cat stabbing him was never the Intention it was a Consequence. The more i dissect your Arguments the more holes i find

                    Like

                    1. There is evidence in the text that Black likely planned for Catherine to backstab him from the start.

                      The one I found most striking on my recent reread was Black’s decision to stab Catherine when sending her into the initial Squire Name vision. Masego later told Catherine that it was entirely unnecessary, and Catherine assumed Black was just being dramatic for the hell of it. But the universe is dramatic as well, and Black stabbing Cat (which she was later angry at him for and called him a jackass and wanted to deck him in the face) made it that much more likely that eventually a mirror event would happen (and it did, just not to death). Black couldn’t have not known that. He’s the man who taught Catherine to watch everything she says, he wouldn’t make a gesture like that without actually intending its inevitable consequence.

                      And then we have the part where in the Free Cities when Wekesa made a comment that if Catherine were to backstab Black he’d kill her, and Black’s reaction was internal horror and the thought ‘how many people he loved he would have to kill before this was over’ => instead of going ‘well I’ll just have to make sure Catherine doesn’t do that’ (WHICH WOULD NOT BE HARD CONSIDERING SHE ALREADY WASN’T GOING TO AND NONE OF BLACK’S INTENTIONS AT THE TIME CONTRADICTED HERS BADLY ENOUGH TO PROVOKE HER TO THAT DEGREE) he went ‘well I’ll just have to kill Wekesa’.

                      Catherine discussed this with him explicitly as well, at the start of their shared journey into Liesse, and the best he had to say was “well, not today”.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Isi Arnott-Campbell

                      I’m wondering something: why do you still read the Guide, if you’ve grown so scornful of the direction in which it’s heading? Why not cut your losses and spend this time on something else? Don’t get me wrong, criticism is great and all, but criticism is not quite the same thing as this pronounced and broadly-encompassing personal dislike for the characters and your fellow readers.

                      Do you simply want to watch things go the way you’re sure they will so that you may gloat? If so, I have doubts as to how satisfying it would truly be, even if your confidence is not misplaced (which I also believe, personally).

                      Liked by 1 person

            2. So actually I’ve reread our debate and I realized that the point I actually disagree with you on is /who the status quo favorite is/.

              Not to bring in real life politics into this, but half this comment section is a ‘why so many gays’ shitshow already, I might as well put in my 5 cents.

              Amadeus is a white guy with a ‘rationalist’ mindset matching the title of the series. He’s extremely charismatic and likable, and what chapters he has are always extremely well-written and memorable.

              Meanwhile Catherine is a bisexual woman of color, a female protagonist refusing to conform to widespread ideas of what protagonists should be like or what women should be like.

              The idea of her winning a popularity contest over him?

              That’s the best testament to Guide’s writing quality that I can think of, and the biggest “fuck you” to the real world status quo.

              I love Amadeus a lot. If I were trying to actually pick which of them I like better, I’d be sitting and staring at the wall forever.

              But when I pick which one of them I want to /win/, well,

              Liked by 2 people

          2. IDKWhoitis

            So Black is Black, lovable monster to the Bone. He is a rigid machine which rails against a rigged game and would rather burn everything to prove a point, rather than surrender. He is still that boy he was 50 years ago, underneath all that sarcasm and experience. And we love him for it.

            Cat was assigned the role of protagonist, and as such has a significant amount of Screentime. Book 4 pointed out how stagnant Winter Cat was, and by far, did very little other than bitch about how unfair things were and how she was the worst thing to happen to Callow and her friends.

            The difference was that one character owned his imperfections, moved past them, actually changed the face of Calernia irreparably, and is willing to sit quiet until it’s his turn on stage. Finding an interlude is a little disappointing, but when Black is involved, it somehow feels better. Meanwhile, reading Book 4, felt like a trudge with Cat, 20 chapters of drow bullshit. I love old cat being back, because she’s already moved much faster than winter Cat could in several chapters (sans the whole teleport thing).

            But in matters of who our favorite monster is, I’m betting on Black.

            Liked by 3 people

    1. Just This Guy, Y'know

      The Undead Horror just did a spot of incredible necromancy and conquered a spot of hell. It’s not like he did anything important like develop a fertilizer that can prevent famines (besides blood) or work on a steam engine. The gnomes object to technological progress, not horror and bloodshed and things that make a decent being turn pale.

      If he had his undead minions working on the fertilizer thing on his level of hell, they’d invade and wipe that level out of existence. Until then, he’s fine.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        You are also assuming the Gnomes would win. There could have been like 3 wars with the Gnomes, and DK could have edited that history out of his civialian populations memory.

        Like

    2. St-just

      IIRC it’s not so much the Gnomes have sidestepped the story as that the entire continent the story takes place on is…well, not a BACKWATER, necessarily, but too fragmented to really matter on a larger scale.

      The Gnomes, like the Dwarves, are real global powers. Like the whole continent of less racist elves who can still reproduce out there somewhere.

      Liked by 8 people

        1. SpeckofStardust

          “Not you elves, anyway,” the Bard said. “It’s why they kicked you out, isn’t it? The others. The ones that breed with humans, whose kingdom is larger than this entire continent. Lots of room there, but not enough to fit your opinions about lesser races.”- Epilogue Book 2

          Bard chatting with a couple of Elves.

          Liked by 12 people

    3. hmmmmm

      The gnomes seem to me to be something like Britain during the South American revolutions of the 18th century, or the USA/France in Africa and the Middle East. They’re a foreign power capable of global force projection, and able to topple any conventional government in order to safeguard their dominant position and stabilise the political situation, but without anything to gain from direct occupation or colonisation.

      If anything, the gnomes are more hands-off. They bomb nations that invent gunpowder and mechanised agriculture*, but we haven’t seen them bankroll proxy wars or launch surgical strikes for any other reasons.

      * Maybe. This isn’t outright stated, but “messing with powders” probably means sulphur/charcoal/saltpetre and the “farming machine” was probably a mechanical reaper or thresher.

      Liked by 5 people

        1. they can’t bomb them directly but they could most definitely collapse their tunnels on their heads
          oh, that would also ruin all the surface nations above them, but since when did collateral damage stop gnomes? 😡

          Like

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          Oh, for sure. But it looks like she left a lot on the table and could have got a lot more out of them. I’m just saying I hope she doesn’t leave so much on the table this time.

          Like

          1. Skaddix

            She didn’t really have a strong position that time. This time she can solver all their problems for the Dwarves for real without losing any troops and handle the Dead King.

            Liked by 3 people

                1. Oh, true, the situation did change from their last talk due to Sve Noc being stronger now.

                  However, Catherine needs to hold on to her earlier deal and what she negotiated for herself out of it, thus she can’t really afford to take the hardline stance anyway.

                  Liked by 1 person

            1. Someguy

              Correction, this time she came as an Attorney representing Drow interests for Dwarven/Callowan Profit. Unfortunate for Sve Noc that her only advocate in this situation has such a massive Conflict of Interest (Confluence of Interest?).

              Liked by 2 people

  7. Skaddix

    Still wondering what eat the Baby is…still suppose it makes sense for the Woe to have a priestess…the woe now has a Fighter, A Thief, A Archer, A Wizard and Priestess classic party.

    Granted Night seems to have quite a bit of Druid or Transmutation in the skill line since they shapeshift a lot.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. That glimpse of Cat’s new powers, and i loved the other segments, reminded me of the wheel of time latest 3 books, although i keep expecting Drow to suddenly appear to save the day to the confusion of everyone else xD

    I had to read it slowly just to streech the enjoyement as much as i could, i can’t wait for the enxt chapter wether is the epilogue or another interlude but i hope we see a little of how the Drow will intervene.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. HardcoreHeathen

    Erratic, you’ve demonstrated once more your almost unrivaled ability to craft a moment. The heroics of the Proceran guardswoman and the last stand of Friedrich Papenheim were spectacular. In just a few hundred words each, you introduced a character, gave them an arc, and made me care. Scenes like that are exactly what I think Interludes are for: giving a hint of broader perspective that we can’t get from our first-person viewpoint character.

    However, I don’t think that it’s a good tool for showing internal development in the viewpoint character. In my opinion, that’s the main benefit of a first-person narrative: you can put us inside Cat’s head while she has her emotional arc.

    Instead, for the second time in a row, the climax of the arc has abruptly POV-shifted to someone else. The last time it was with the Dead King, where between chapters we went from “we assassinated Malicia and now the Dead King is here to speak to us” to “Athal/Malicia’s POV about how the assassination failed and the conversation with the Dead King is already over.” Now we’ve done essentially the same thing, except the climactic gambit from the previous chapter actually ended up working this time.

    Both of these moments are hugely important for their respective story arcs. They were massive undertakings that required sacrifice, struggle, and self-doubt, and Cat’s response and growth to their outcome is sort of the whole point. You can’t really convey that from a completely disassociated perspective.

    I also have the sneaking suspicion that, just like with the conversation with the Dead King, we’re never going to see the conversation with the dwarves about the new deal. I don’t know if that’ll be important (certainly the private conversation with the Dead King, the most powerful entity on the continent, seems to have not mattered) but it’s another important plot point that isn’t going to get covered “on screen.”

    It’s like watching a YouTubers React video, where they’re watching what sounds like a really interesting video. Except I don’t give a shit about their reactions; I just want to see the video.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Catherine’s offscreen conversation with the Dead King is most definitely a Chekhov’s Gun.

      And Catherine’s most immediate recovery from ‘oh god I died AGAIN’ is not the most interesting part to focus on. I say this as someone who has started like 5 headfics in her head about the immediate aftermath, and they were all boring / fluff with cuddling and recaps. 90% of what would have been going on would just be spreading information about what happened.

      It’s not like this is the end of the story. We’re going to see the impact on Catherine yet.

      This is a zoom out to show the big picture. Yeah, it’s a little rushed, erratic did say he didn’t initially plan a book break here. But it’s necessary.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. YES.

        A feeble thing grown even feebler, yet more dangerous ❤

        Catherine's #aesthetic is absolutely wonderful, too, and every time we see her from the side we're reminded of why she is so beloved in-universe ❤

        Liked by 3 people

    2. SilentWatcher

      I agree with your opinion, that we as readers should get more then morsels of these conversations, but it is a great tool to leave it out and let the readers fill these gaps themselves, you will undoubtedly imagine an epic and stirring Plot relevant conversation perfectly suited to your tastes. Some conservative readers may get wet over “character development” some enjoy the “fantastic” part of a fantasy story like myself. in leaving out these conversations EE creates suspense and lets each of us imagine the Talks, without disappointing to much. Also it probably saves time to write.

      Liked by 4 people

    1. Letouriste

      Black would win easily if he wasn’t out of sight since so long.
      Cat got a few strong chapters in the row just last week so that’s not really fair. Still think black will beat her tho

      Liked by 2 people

          1. SilentWatcher

            Wrong. Black is powerful in the way he uses his tools with skill and precision. Where Cat needs a hammer, Black just uses a needle. Probably the Needle was crafted out of the Souls of his enemies children and he burned a Church to craft it but the Result was worth it in his eyes. He does not flinch in at discomfort and morality. If there would be Chance he would achieve his plan but had to be a monster with a fae mantle to achieve it, HE WOULD NOT EVEN HESITATE. Lets look at Cat. She threw away her Hammer and now borrows one which does not belong to her. She just cant rid herself of her morality to achieve her goals and all this whining how uncomfortable the mantle of power is and how much better it is to be a crippled mortal. On the other Hand i see Black suffering gladly to ensure his legions can march faster. Cat can not even stomach a bit discomfort for an indestructible Body.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. SilentWatcher

              Considering all the dead heroes Black left in his Wake he is probably the most powerful Black Knight in the history of Praes. What does it matter if he cant flip his hand and a tower crumbles? he dislodges 1 stone and it crumbles from that. This does not work for Cat as she rather uses her fists and gambles for victory (like making a leap of faith in gifting Sve Noc Winter) instead of searching for that 1 weak stone, as it would be not morally acceptable to use that particular poor stone`s weakness. Blacks Philosophy is Result is everything that counts, so comparing him to the last Black knight in light of this Philosophy he is more powerful than the last Black Knight.

              Liked by 2 people

                1. SilentWatcher

                  Blacks goal is not a better world. Its winning. Chapter 37 Madman. He said in the epilogue of book 3 he wonders what a better world woud look like, but we dont know what his goals are.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. That chapter was about how Black was pissed about Praes being stuck in a starvation/war cycle unable to break the pattern.

                    Oh, he gave a pretty speech. He’s great at speeches. And at lying to himself.

                    Liked by 1 person

                2. RanVor

                  Consider this: I love to read about selflessness and heroism. I’m also a sucker for redemption stories. So this entire thing with Cat becoming more moral is fine and dandy. And yet, if I wanted to read about good people doing good things, I wouldn’t have picked A Practical Guide to EVIL, would I?

                  Liked by 1 person

                    1. RanVor

                      There’d be no problem if it was like that from the beginning. But the title held for the first book, maybe the second as well, and then started to gradually lose its meaning until it became pretty much hollow. I have mixed feelings about this so far. We’ll see what comes from this when the next book starts rolling.

                      I’ll withhold my judgement for now, but I hate it when the show betrays its premise, and I feel like this may be happening to the Guide right now. Nevertheless, it’s still an amazing read and I’m very glad to have found it.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Honestly, on reread I think that was the intended premise from the beginning. Black’s early explanation to Catherine that the most practical way to handle an occupied country is to be good to its population laid foundation for increasing evidence mounting in favor of the theory that evil is impractical and the best way to be evil is to not be, which the characters promptly set out to demonstrate.

                      Erratic is a troll is all it is 😀

                      Liked by 1 person

    2. Aotrs Commander

      Though it nearly physically pained me to chose between them, a long period of introspection and an objective analysis of my reactions indicated that I should vote for Cat by the very narrowest of margins (and probably all the wrong reasons).

      Looking at the tally, is has slipped in her favour. (Perhaps, like me, it was a hard decision.)

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Morgenstern

      That’s your opinion and that’s fine. But please speak for yourself and not for “all of us”.

      To juxtapose it with another opinion, I, for one, rather like what EE is doing here, as a juxtaposition to yet another component of our out-of-story reality, especially in that doesn’t-matter-to-people-in-world way. I find it a blessed respite in at least one aspect from all the real-world -isms, many of which were perfectly transported and/or even used as hyperboles in-world. If this is about putting up a mirror, the resulting mix is just fine in my eyes.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. KageLupus

      Honestly, it also kind of makes sense. Imagine a world where homosexuality was not a taboo, and from the sounds of it might never have been one.You are going to have a lot more of those couples running around. Between bi and gay both being widely accepted it, it doesn’t seem that unreasonable that you’d have something like every other character falling into those relationships.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. I don’t see how it couldn’t have some sort of stigma. To continue a bloodline you need an heir, which usually means man and woman. Given that lower class people usually copy higher class, that would mean most would go for a similar relationship even just to continue their own bloodline.

        And if that’s what most people do, then a homosexual relationship is going to be a bit odd and can’t help but carry some sort of stigma.

        Like

        1. Don’t forget that adoption exists. Communal childcare is a thing for human societies, and it allows – nay, necessitates – that some people not, in fact, have children of their own to instead help take care of the children of others.

          See: Wekesa and Tikoloshe.

          See also: in this world apparently miracles exist that enable children to be had even with an incompatible genital combination (source: Brandon Talbot’s hilariously awkward talk with Catherine in Book 3)

          And of course, it’s pretty hard for a stigma to emerge when Named set precedent for what is and isn’t approved by the Heavens 😀

          Liked by 1 person

    3. caoimhinh

      LM, dude, the protagonist is bisexual, you are a bit too far into the story to complain about gay characters now hahaha.

      Besides, it’s like one LGBT character for every 20 or more straight characters, take it easy, even the characters in the story don’t care about it.

      Here it’s like: a character is introduced, they are gay, no one makes a fuss, characters do things, move on, plot happens, it has nothing to do with their sexuality, the story goes on, cool.

      This matter-of-factly way of taking on the sexuality of characters is actually way better than how so many tv shows and webnovels handle the subject. Here there’s no forcing any characters to be gay or twisting plotlines for the sake of having drama about sexuality or any of that ridiculous stuff, everyone’s chill about it and it’s not plot-relevant; it’s just part of what a character is, just like sexual orientation is just a part of what a person is, but it’s not the defining trait nor the most important part of who you are.

      Liked by 4 people

  10. Gunslinger

    Catherine being so cheery can only mean Archer is still alive. One can hope!

    Also I’m so happy we got a look at her. I was honestly expecting her to show up only in the next book so it would be a long wait!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Goblins make explosives. Praes isn’t exactly neighbours with Keter and hasn’t exactly participated in the Crusades. It’s entirely plausible that the Dead King does not, in fact, have access to any.

      Like

      1. Goblins make explosives with hell-based materials. I’m guessing the Dead King has long since reverse engineered and improved on whatever they’ve got. If he’s not using it, it’s because he’s saving it in reserve.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Uh, what makes you think the Dead King has never encountered goblins? There was a whole secret war when he and Praes duked it out in the Hells. He also could have heard through his spies about goblin munitions. I just can’t imagine that the Dead King would be totally ignorant about *the* thing that one of the races on Calernia is known for.

            Also, let’s be real, the Dead King can definitely scry better than Masego’s observatory. He probably has a few dozen comparable setups at least. He’s probably the single most likely person in the world to know exactly what goblin munitions actually are and how they’re made.

            Liked by 1 person

              1. Nairne .01

                It could be that he has more knowledge on the munitions the goblins make and knows of some consequences that are either not worth it in his eyes while the matrons either don’t know of said consequences or do not care because the munitions are perhaps used only outside of their domain(though that seems unlikely).

                Liked by 2 people

  11. caoimhinh

    Lycaonese are true badasses, that principality should be filled with long bloodlines of Heroic Named. Friedrich’s replies to the Enemy carried with them a tone of honor and badassery that even Cat’s replies don’t have. Friedrich didn’t land any sick burn, but his words were… appropriate for the occasion.

    The Dead King’s comment a confirmation of Lycaonese being descendants of “the People of the Wolf”, which is kinda cool, that whole culture and their descendants have been at war for countless years against the Kingdom of Death. And yet they stand.

    On another note, please tell us that Archer is fine, please.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Named are those that stand out. Lycaonese heroes don’t stand out, they’re exactly the same as every other person there.

      Can an entire nation be Named? Not consist of Named, but have a Role as a nation as a whole? 😀

      Liked by 3 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Oh, good point, that might explain it.

        Although I think they should have more Named there, I mean, there are bound to be some more extraordinary people than others among the Lycaonese, especially since they should have developed a lot of techniques, weapons, and magic to fight against the Kingdom of Death and the Ratkins (though that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least we haven’t seen them for now).

        It might also be that the Lycaonese Heroes are currently in another part of the continent fighting in another front of the Crusade or on their way back to the principality.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. RanVor

          Procer has few heroes in general, but the ones they have are probably either with the Pilgrim or supporting Cleves and Hainaut, which are less heavily fortified than Hannoven.

          Liked by 3 people

      2. caoimhinh

        Also, a point to remember, Lycaonese aren’t a nation, they are an ethnicity/cultural group and hold 4 of the Principalities of Procer: Bremen, Hannoven, Neustria, and Rhenia, with Hannoven appearing to be the most important or at least having the most badass bunch of people XD.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Yeah, and Callow has teams of Heroic Named spawning almost every year, which Black has effectively hunted down for 20 years, he even mentioned in early chapters how they are appearing even faster now than before the Conquest.

          Like

  12. Aaron Sofaer

    I love that Cat is back to our favorite version of Cat: hit them with the box, not with your raw power.

    The Lycaonese are badass as all hell, holy shit! As mentioned, the way they go from zero to “hold until the last of us is dead” was super well done.

    Also, it amazes me that there’s always that one person who just really hates it and posts twenty times every two days about how much he hates it. Get over it, dude, the story isn’t yours to dictate.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. SilentWatcher

    How does one hit better with a box? with Power. Of course i know the story is not mine, but the comments are here to write our opinion, and i will hit you all with mine until you stop glorifying the Devolution of Cats Power. Please EE show these fools another twist like when Cat first became part of Winter.

    Like

    1. caoimhinh

      Skill is better than Power, that has been the point of all the story, one needs to be practical, not overwhelming, in order to achieve a victory. It’s the entire reason why Amadeus, the Calamities, and Malicia are a force to be reckoned with, while the crazy Villains with flying fortresses, great rituals, and armies of monsters could not achieve any lasting victory since the times of Triumphant.

      Cat is weakened but that doesn’t mean she is weak now, as she put it “I no longer hold the power, but I wield it” so she still has power, probably more than before as she now can use the Night too, but she is no longer bound to it by the rules imposed unto the owners of power (A.K.A the gods and demigod-level beings like the Fae), more importantly, she has a sharper and clearer mind now, she will be more focused and use her power more efficiently.

      We’ll have to wait until a couple of chapters later to see what exactly her new fighting power is and how it affects her, I wonder about the exact deal she has with Sve Noc, since there lies the nature of her use of power now.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. SilentWatcher

        also you read my comment wrong, i never said Cat needs overwhelming power, But Power makes everything easier like hitting people with the box

        Like

      1. SilentWatcher

        Do you not understand it? Skill is Power too. With equal tools, Black is more powerful than Cat in every Way as the application of Power is part that Power. Cat needs more Power to smash the Tower as she is not as good in application as Black. If Power is worthless and gets everytime defeated by practical means, why are there so few stories of 1 Unnamed beating a Named? Even Bard is overpowered with immortality, invulnerability, near omniscience. Cat thought herself in a conversation with Pickler, Power can be so overwhelming there is NOTHING you can do to bridge the Gap. Maybe she is no longer rigid as Fae, but principle Alienation will still be a problem as it appears when mortals use Power not meant for Mortals.

        Like

        1. SilentWatcher

          If you look at how she defeated William and Akua at first Liesse, she was practical in using a sword in a stone story and suddenly Creation made her more POWERFUL as she needed that Power to win.

          Like

          1. Exactly.

            Catherine doesn’t need WINTER POWER to win if she’s able to bend the narrative so that she has the exact amount of power she needs to win at crucial points.

            She was better at story-weaving pre-Winter, because being more rigid story-wise is one of the attributes Winter was forcing on her.

            She has all the power she needs, already.

            Liked by 2 people

  14. CipherSKT

    First off. A direct address.

    Hi. Not sure anyone else has offered but I would gladly edit out typos on ALL the chapters for you Erraticacerrata.

    Add in the occasional missing word.

    I would suggest someone proofreads the chapter again to make sure I didn’t take liberties with the masterpiece

    For free (or just a mention lol)

    Okay. That said, I know he’s busy. Any of you gentlemen know who I can get in contact with to arrange that?

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Samantha

    I’m very interested in this new theme for Cat’s evolution.

    I see silentwatcher going on above about how this is terrible, cat is now a slave and has lost her power and therefore all relevance.

    All I can say, is I think that they’d end up as one of those ranting villains spouting off about power in this setting. You know. The ones with INFINITE POWER that then do nothing and die to a plucky hero?

    I always felt, reading this, that the main important themes here are that its not raw personal power that matters.

    Its wether you can put your finger on the scales. Wether you can shape the story. Being human grants great advantages in that way. A repeated theme we see mentioned over and over is that the old monsters get stuck in their ways. The inhuman immortals like Sve Noc and the Dead King and so on.

    Cat as a human was always more dangerous than Cat as a demi-fae, because she wasn’t limited.

    I read the whole transformation with a sinking heart. Even as Cat was drowning armies and crushing enemies under ice and casually backhanding monsters. Not because she was becoming weaker, but because she was giving away her agency. The free will that allowed her to fuck over the system as an underdog every time. She was GAINING problems, rather than surmounting them. She was being pulled into a story. Calcified. Turned static and locked into the pattern in the same way as other old monsters.

    People comment that they wonder what new powers she got from Sve Noc and try to calculate if she’s gained or lost power… but that’s mostly irrelevant I feel.

    She’s regained her humanity and therefore all her real power. The strength of the underdog. The agency of the weak. The free will of the human.

    In this setting, that’s a thousand times more important.

    Also, importantly, Cat is going to be MUCH happier like this. She hated the principle of alienation and her distance from humanity.

    You could look at it like ‘CAT IS NOW SUBORDINATE TO SVE NOC’ and be unhappy that your power fantasy was thrown aside.

    But this was never that kind of story anyway.

    And frankly… uh. Well, I mean. Sve Noc made her proclamation about Cat being her high priestess and all that.

    Cat meanwhile is probably going to go ‘okay cool’ and casually walk back off to Callow to get on with things as if nothing has changed.

    Some ancient god thing has declared her to be tied to them for all eternity? Swell, but I have a war to win and a people to save. Thanks for the ability to smoke my pipe again, I missed that

    As both this interlude and the general themes of the story reveal: Cat may be weaker now, but she’s far more dangerous in every way that matters.

    (I mean dear god, Black is weak as hell and he’s the most terrifying villain in a long time.)

    Liked by 5 people

  16. Xinci

    This was a nice feeling, though I still feel the undead are so…small for what potential they seem to be able to have given how the DK can craft them.
    Still dissapointed in the Dead Kings undead Usage in this war. I like the Wolves, their way of life carries a familiar type of tone to me. Though at times they are weak, duty gives them weight.
    General assumption i had would be the Dead king gradually adapting his forces(crafting/remaking undead) to his enemies. Creating different bone structures, vein for liquid, or sacks for gasses to adopt new tactical and strategic purposes.

    1. Assumption being that the Dead king can animate and modify organs and bones growth and regulatory functons for his undead. Bone formations can be grown for some excellent resilience for movement

    2. General rule for skeletons is they are as strong or stronger than they were when alive but with less weight because no flesh(center points/weakpoints of power vary depending on undead type and sapience). Some key-points would be joints, and going against strong opponents(those who can blow them away due to less weight or break too much of their bone at once, so in this case heroic strength?).
    3. Course dont know if we saw his sapient undead in that last fight. But plenty of tactics they could have. Something that doesnt tire can wear heavy armor(can be custom crafted to help the skeleton fit along with being full of liquid or sand to make it heavier and thus harder to push away). That also means each strike or bow fired can be done so long as the bone and magical “ligaments”(however they exist) can hold.Living bone could be grown for undead potentially given the specimen shown earlier. Cloth and leather can be used to help keep their joints in place, Flammable materials that exude toxic gas can be hold in containers that might be crushed(mix in the right minerals and pressure from their liquid ballast might get a spark going and light em up), or burned in the skeletons(best for heavy/full plate). Maybe something better for underground or open field usage and psychological warfare. Silent army of armored figures surrounded by a mist of toxic gas march quickly and steadily onto the enemy. I am more unsure on group tactics with them though….since we have seen stealth actions but not really how they fight beyond the focus on the *numberless dead theme*

    Like could he have sent intangible units(wraiths,ghost) to move in past those traps instead of heroes or was the place warded?Dunno might be the small vision here just left a lot to be seen later?

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Chrischinbrush

    This is honestly the first time I have liked Procer. Spitting in the face of a centuries-old evil, holding fast for the armies to muster, all with the knowledge of an inevitable death. It was truly moving.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Rup

    …absurdly…i heard “the Girl who climbed the Tower” when Ines climbed that watchtower in part 1….dunno why she felt like a micro-Cat…for Cleves..for Cleves…

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s