Chapter 4: Reconnoiter

“I see how it is. We agree to single combat and of course you can still use your enchanted sword, but I bring a single massive flying fortress and suddenly it’s ‘treachery’ and ‘against the spirit of the agreement’.”
– Dread Emperor Perfidious

Ivah wore my colours painted on its face, as did the drow around it.

Silver on purple, a tree with twin incomplete circles under the branches. The Lord of Silent Steps – though the power of that title had waned in weight with the devouring of Winter itself – still stood tall and blade-thin, pale grey features split by vivid eyes that split the difference between silver and blue. The long overcoat and scarf it wore was flattering to its frame, though the face still remained so profoundly inhuman in some ways I could not help but find it unsettling. The drow had been made from a fundamentally different mold than humans, for all the superficial similarities. The colours the first member of my Peerage wore were unsettling in a different way, though, a reminder that as far as the Empire Ever Dark was concerned I still remained the ruler of the Losara Sigil and a member in good standing of the Sisters-blessed cabal making up the southern expedition. That I had left Ivah to rule and refrained from exercising that theoretical authority since we’d left the Everdark seemed to matter little in the eyes of the Firstborn. There seemed to be an assumption that as First Under the Night I simply found it beneath me to meddle too deeply in earthly affairs. The drow knelt when Akua and I arrived, conversation having died out before we even entered the thicket of trees.

“Well, you look slightly less pissy than before,” Archer announced.

I squinted at my friend in confusion.

“Why are you hanging upside down?” I asked.

Indrani was currently hanging off a branch by the mere edge of her boots, scarf and coat rumpled by the merciless grasp of gravity. None of the drow seemed to think there was anything unusual about this, a sure sign they’d been subjected to her presence for much too long.

“It helps me think,” Archer sagely replied.

I flicked a glance at the drow and they rose back to their feet.

“You don’t have to pretend she’s funny, you know,” I told them. “Deep down, she also knows that she isn’t.”

“It is not my place to comment on the wisdom of Mighty Archer,” Ivah replied.

There was a beat.

“Should it be granted to me,” the Lord of Silent Steps added.

I smothered a grin. Taking well-deserved potshots at Indrani was the sole common ground between all peoples of Calernia. I’d bet even the Dead King would yank her chain if given the opportunity. Archer let out a strangled noise of protest, trying to swat at the drow’s head, but instead got tangled in her own coat and began swinging precariously. We all pretended not to see Akua whisper something under her breath just before the branch Indrani was hanging off of suddenly broke and she fell with a yelp.

“All quiet this morning, I take it?” I asked Ivah.

I kept my eyes on it, though even through this careful precaution I could not help but hear Indrani muttering imprecations in half a dozen different languages. For a heartbeat I missed Masego so vividly my heart twanged. It should have been him, forcing her down the tree after she pulled at his metaphorical pigtails one time too many. I hid the sudden shift in my mood as best I could, forcing a smile as I faced Ivah.

“We appear to be alone in the region,” the drow acknowledged. “No runner left from Trousseau after we departed, and so one might presume our presence is still currently unknown.”

With the Sisters swatting aside everything remotely like scrying headed in our direction, it might not be wrong. I wouldn’t presume, though. Not with Above having so much skin in this race, and Choirs having grown so loose-lipped over the last few years.

“We’ll see,” I replied. “It’d be and advantage to remain in the woodworks until we strike, but rumours could have a use as well. It’ll depend on where the others armies are relative to us.”

I’d rather avoid a battle in Iserre if I could, given that ever corpse made here was a warm body that couldn’t be thrown at the Dead King, but given some of the players involved I might not have much of a choice about it. I fully intended on evacuating the Legions of Terror that my teacher had led into Procer, after all. Which I imagined would be a less than popular notion with some people, given that they’d been merrily burning their way through the heartlands of the Principate until recently.

“Cat,” Archer said.

I rolled my eyes, continuing to face Ivah.

“You’ve seen the lay of the land on the way to Rochelant,” I said. “Will it by bloody ice and snow all the way?”

Cat,” Archer repeated, and this time her tone commanded my attention.

I pivoted slightly only to realize she wasn’t even looking at me. Her eyes were peeled on the horizon, to the south. I couldn’t see anything there, but then I was no longer Named. That hardly meant I was without tricks, though. I pulled at the Night, untangling a cool thread and sinking it into my eyes. It took a few blinks to adjust, but after that I could see just as well as Archer. I let out a breath of surprise when I caught sight of what she had. Riders, I thought. Nine of them, on tall grey horses with long manes and tails. The soldiers on them were in light armour, though sets swaddled in thick furs and heavy cloth hats. Those were spears at the side, I noted, not lances. And they had blades but no shields.

“Akua?” I said.

“Levantine,” Diabolist replied. “Though without colours visible I cannot not tell you from which region.”

“Well now,” I murmured. “Isn’t that interesting.”

The armies of the Dominion of Levant should be making their way through southern and central Iserre right about now, if the rumours were to be believed. Hot on the heels of Marshal Grem’s legions. So what were outriders doing this far out to the east of the principality? They were still about a mile and a half out, but these were flat plains so the chance they hadn’t seen the massive army of fifty thousand drow encamped was negligible. They were riding closer, though. Most likely trying to get a read on whose camp this was, which would be difficult to make out from that far out.

“I have questions for them,” I said.

I felt Indrani’s smile without needing to look at her.

“Thought you might,” she said.

I cocked my head to the side, still studying them. With the sun out and the imprecisions inherent to a working at that distance, trapping them would carry risks. Best to tinker with the odds a bit first.

“Archer,” I said. “Kill the horses.”

A good longbow, the kind the Deoraithe used, could have a range of about four hundred yards. Effective killing range should be about half that. Legion-issue crank crossbows, the finest on the continent, could reach three hundred and fifty yards and could be expected to score kills at around one hundred and fifty. I had just casually asked Indrani to kill nine horses in motion at over ten times that distance, and the grin on her face told me she did not doubt for a moment she could do it. I watched with fascination as Archer strung the almost comically large longbow she usually kept on her back. It’d been crafted in the Waning Woods, I knew, from some sort of magical tree. Then additional enchantments had been laid on it. Back in the old days, Nauk had once tried to draw the string back and nearly broken his arm trying. That the most physically powerful mundane orc I’d ever met couldn’t even get that string to move an inch told me everything I needed to know about the absurd amount of tension there was to her bow.

The thing was, I thought as I watched her work, was that most of this was Indrani. Oh, I felt the whisper of power than was an aspect invoked. See. But that just allowed Archer to wield the kind of eyesight and foresight the woman who’d taught her to shoot would have by simple virtue of her elven blood. The strength to pull the string came in part from her Name, which up close and personal allowed to he slug it out with the likes of Adjutant and titled fae. But if Hakram, or I for that matter, had been granted the exact same strength and sight we wouldn’t have been able to make those shots. The skills, the part that couldn’t be replicated? That was all Indrani. Years upon years of nocking and releasing until her fingers bled, until the movements became such a natural part of her there no longer needed to be thought involved. Indrani could and had made a bloody mess of most everything that came up to her when she had her longknives in hand. But it was when she had that bow in her hand that something about her thrummed, that it all came together and I remembered that Archer was more than just a name.

It was Name, and she held it for a reason.

Eyes fixed ahead, she breathed out and like poetry in motion she drew and released. Not a single movement wasted, not a single pause. It was almost hypnotic to watch, like waves on the sea – there was no pause or separation to any of the process. Nine arrows flew, a smirk tugged at her lips and before the projectiles even reached their apex I reached for the Night. My eyes were on the Levantines and I felt talons dig into my shoulders, the Sisters with me even if their crow-forms were not. Whispers sounding in my ear, I held my will into shape and forced the Night to match it. And then waited, watching the riders as the arrows struck home. The first hit between the eyes of the lead horse, sinking straight into the skull and killing it instantly. The ninth arrow went straight through the eye of the horse even as the rider began to realize its companions had been attacked. For every arrow to claim a kill had taken perhaps a single heartbeat, from beginning to end.

Sometimes I forgot how terrifying the people at my side really were.

“And now, for the next trick,” I said.

Under the Levantines the ground turned to ink-like darkness, growing from a single small mark to a broad circle. The Sisters held my hand, guiding the needle as I threaded it through the fabric of Creation, and when the gate opened every one of the outriders fell through it. If they’d still been on their horses, alert instead of trying not to be crushed by their own fallen mounts, the process might have been slow enough for them to flee it. Night had won over Winter, in the end, and so dawn had its costs. As it was, though? I let the Sisters guide my hand once more and another gate bloomed in front of our group. Seven heartbeats later, nine riders and their dead horses tumbled through. One was screaming in terror at the fall through the sky of Arcadia he had just escaped, though that ended when he felt an obsidian spear-tip pressing against his throat. He swallowed loudly as my sigil surrounded the lot of them.

“Good morning,” I smiled brightly. “I thought we might have a little chat, just you and me and all these heavily armed people surrounding you.”

My gaze swept across the soldiers, most of which were still in shock. Some had pulled muscles or broken limbs on arrival, the poor fucker to the rightmost having his horse right over his leg. Yeah, that was shattered for sure. It was only when I saw the uncomprehending gazes taking me in that I realized the slight strategic mistake I had not accounted for. I looked at Indrani and Akua.

“I don’t suppose either of you speaks any of the Levantine languages?” I grimaced.

Twin shakes of the head. So no Lunara, Ceseo and what was the third one again? Couldn’t remember at the moment. Well, it hardly mattered anyway. I couldn’t speak or understand any of them. I’d been meaning to get around to learning some tradertalk, which tended to be understood everywhere in southern Calernia, but I’d had higher priorities as of late.

“What I understand of Lunara is insufficient, but outriders sent to operate in the Principate’s heartlands should have at least one individual fluent in a Proceran tongue,” Akua pointed out. “If only to speak with the local inhabitants. I have some knowledge of tradertalk that could be of use, in the unlikely event this is not true.”

My eyebrow rose. Made sense, and worth a shot regardless.

“Any of you speak Chantant?” I asked in said tongue.

“Who the fuck are you people?” a middle-aged mustachioed man growled back.

It was a very impressive mustache, I mentally conceded. It was refusing to be cowed by the scarf meant to cover it, defiantly peeking out over the edge.

“And there were go,” I smiled, shifting to Crepuscular. “Ivah, go wake up General Rumena if it’s asleep and bring it back here. We appear to have gotten our hands on fresh intelligence.”

“By your will, Losara Queen,” my Lord of Silent Steps bowed.

I nodded back fondly, watching it move out swiftly to carry my orders. I turned back to the Levantines.

“Surrender your weapons,” I said, back on Chantant. “And remain seated on the ground. You are now joint prisoners of the Empire Ever Dark and the Kingdom of Callow.”

That’d been a calculated move. I hadn’t truly needed to bring Callow into it, or mention the freshly revived name of the ancient drow empire – which, given that the region was still known as the Everdark, meant didn’t take any real brilliance to be able to put together the identity of the grey-skinned warriors surrounding the prisoners. It told me something useful, though: everyone who stilled or went pale could understand the language I was speaking. Out of the nine, four gave a visible reaction. One did not, save for moving back to learn against a tree, but the calculating look in his eyes told me he’d not missed a thing. This one’s already thinking of how to get out of this mess, I decided. There were no visible marks of rank on any of them, but I’d guess he was an officer. Clever sorts could be useful, if inclined to talk, but they could also screw up an interrogation pretty badly if allowed to speak up. Best to separate these before we got into it.

“You’re the Black Queen,” the maybe-officer suddenly said.

In Chantant, too. Interesting.

“In the flesh,” I replied, the irony known to few quirking my lips.

The statement had been the offered opening of a conversation, if I was reading this right, but I remained disinclined to allow the prisoners to know what the others had and had not said. People were always more inclined to fold if they believed someone already had.

“Bring them back to camp after taking the weapons,” I ordered the drow. “Leave the one who just spoke behind.”

I cleared my throat before addressing the Levantines.

“You were told to surrender your weapons,” I said. “They will now be collected. Resist and you will be subjected to force. Obey and you will be treated fairly. I will not warn you twice.”

They were soldiers, I thought, but also sworn to a crusade. A warning wouldn’t be enough for all of them. One of the outriders tried to reach for his scabbard and got a spear through the palm for it, which had another screaming and struggling until one my warriors decked him in the mouth. Maybe-officer did not resist. I let the drow of my sigil escort the prisoners without a look and gestured at those who remained to step back. It was sunny morning out, the air was crisp and I met the gaze of the Levantine prisoner without blinking.

“Name, rank?” I asked.

“Wasim of Tartessos. I am second in this band,” he replied.

Tartessos was… the second northernmost city in Levant, if I remembered correctly, which was for some inexplicable reason built on the edge of the Brocelian Forest. I’d read in some history that the people from there were known to be hardy and ruthless, which considering the boiling cauldron of beasts they lived next to only made sense. I heard Archer unstring her bow before moving to lean against a tree, likely already starting to get bored and paying only the barest necessary attention to this. Diabolist, though, had been studying this Wasim the whole time in silence. I could trust her to pick on anything I’d miss.

“You are an outrider,” I said. “In the service of the Dominion?”

“I gave oath to the Lord of Malaga when there was a call to arms,” Wasim said. “By the will of the Holy Seljun, he holds command of half the forces of Levant.”

“Implying there is no unified command for the armies of the Dominion,” Akua noted in Crepuscular. “That could be of use. Levantine nobility rules its lands with only the barest homage paid to their Seljun, so their leaders might chafe at taking orders from anyone else.”

I inclined my head in acknowledgement, never taking my eyes off the prisoner.

“Where are the Lord of Malaga and his army, at the moment?” I asked.

How much are you really willing to tell me when I’ve made no threat?

“Marching for the capital of Iserre,” he replied.

“Lying,” Diabolist said.

I sighed.

“And we were doing so well, until that,” I said. “You struck me as a clever man, Wasim of Tartessos.”

I flicked my wrist at Archer. A heartbeat later a longknife was buried up to the hilt into the tree Wasim was lying back against. Less than an inch away from his jugular. I met his eyes squarely.

“Clever men don’t make the same mistake twice, do they?” I asked.

The soldier swallowed loudly.

“They do not,” he hastily agreed.

“Where are the Lord of Malaga and his army?” I mildly repeated.

“When I was sent out, they were preparing to take a defensive position to the southwest of here,” Wasim said. “Near the town of Maleims.”

“To defend against who, exactly?” I frowned.

“The League of Free Cities,” he said. “They march against the Tenth Crusade, led by the Tyrant of Helike and their madman Hierarch.”

My frown deepened. I’d been under the impression the forces of the League were much further south. They were either moving much more quickly than should be possible for a sizable army, or I’d been misinformed.

“Could be a detached force instead of the main host,” Archer suggested in Lower Miezan.

She’d regained a semblance of interest in this, it seemed. Probably because she’d gotten to throw a blade at someone.

“They came from the Waning Woods,” I said. “That means they don’t have a supply train. If they start splitting forces, either they split their limited foodstuffs as well or the detachment starts foraging.”

And there wasn’t much to live off of in this region. Sure they could start sacking towns and small cities for their reserves but even then the Legions of Terror had pretty much picked clean most of the principality. You couldn’t take much food from people already only the verge of starvation. It could just be a bad decision someone up the chain of command had done – either incompetence or lack of information – but that didn’t smell right to me. If they were that incompetent and ill-informed, they wouldn’t have made it through the Waning Woods in the first place.

“If we assume the League force was sent out with sufficient supplies, then something prompted that investment of resources,” I finally said. “Something we don’t know about, but the League’s generals do.”

“Wasim,” Akua said. “Was your band of outriders sent out with specific purpose?”

The Levantine man grimaced.

“We were to investigate rumours,” he said.

“Of?”

“Skirmishes between two armies,” Wasim admitted. “Legionaries and the League.”

I traded a look with Akua. There was no way, we both knew, that the legions under Marshal Grem could be this far east. But there was another army on the continent that fielded legionaries.

So what the Hells was the Army of Callow doing out here, and why the Hells was the League of Free Cities fighting it?

181 thoughts on “Chapter 4: Reconnoiter

  1. Someguy

    “I see how it is. We agree to single combat and of course you can still use your enchanted sword, but I bring a single massive flying fortress and suddenly it’s ‘treachery’ and ‘against the spirit of the agreement’.”
    – Dread Emperor Perfidious

    I take it that prior to his ascension, Perfidious’ given name was Albion?

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Skaddix

    I feel blue balled I want them to find them about Masego and the Warlock and the fall of a city. Looks like we are getting there.

    Interesting the Tyrant and Hierarch are not where they thought. If I had to guess a fast moving army that is never where you think it is does seem Tyrant like.

    Liked by 8 people

  3. The plot thickens.

    But seriously … it’s a very good question.
    At a guess, if it is the Army of Callow, they could have been sent to link up with Grem and company and ensure that they were able to make it back to Callow. Or to cover a withdrawal from an attempt to rescue Amadeus.

    Or they could be wrong, and these rumored Legionnaires are actually Grem’s.

    Liked by 10 people

        1. Dainpdf

          I bet it is. Probably the first step, too.

          I still wonder when he’s going to provoke Neshamah, though. Seems to be one of the only people in whose eyes he hasn’t spit yet. Though I guess Cat nasty count, as well…

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Jeremy

    So. In Iserre alone, there are 18 k Praesi Legionnaires (including Grem One Eye and the dragon Catastrophe), two Levantine armies totaling 80 k men, the League’s forces (somewhere between 40 to 100 k, with the Tyrant and Heirarch), 20 k Proceran troops with reinforcements on the way, Cat, Archer, and Akua with their 50 k drow… and now the Army of Callow.

    What glorious, utter chaos this is all going to be. Exactly as planned, I suspect.

    Liked by 15 people

        1. Dainpdf

          Maybe. The big question is how long until Kairos betrays him.

          Also: maybe the ancient monster under Helike is just a means of communication with Neshamah? I wonder.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Yotz

            It seems, we are heading into the Ancient Mosters’ Land steadily.
            I mean – your friendly neighborhood Nyarlathotep, elves, DK, the Dweller Under Helike, the dead yet still alive thing to be dragged out of the lake on Cordelia’s order, something on the lower levels of goblin catacombs…
            When there may be Demons in Hierophant’s custody who – perhaps – were released or let loose due to recent events. And the Archer’s Best Friend, the Absinthe One, who supposedly was dealt with by the Peregrine and Co…
            The last Red Letter looming on the horizon, for the sake of all things foul and unholy…

            PS: Plot twist – the Thing Under Helike was Bard!!!111oneoneeleven

            Also, I need to cut down on ellipses.

            Liked by 3 people

          2. Yotz

            Also, that’s quite an assumption here – to think that Kairos haven’t betrayed Neshamah the moment supposed deal was sealed.

            Or, more seriously – DK would be quite an oaf to not include that sudden but inevitable betrayal in his designs and plan around it, just like Tyrant would plan around that planning, and then it just Traitorouses all the way down.

            Liked by 3 people

  5. danh3107

    A chapter with some meat, nice nice. I suspect that we’re going to be running into some familiar characters here soon. We just may get to seeThief (if her name hasn’t changed) and Hakram again.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Raved Thrad

      Maybe a ViviCat reunion is in order?

      “Hi, Vivienne.”
      “CAT!” *awkward spontaneous hug*
      “Uh, hey, you missed me? Did things go to shit that badly?”
      “Cat, you’re… you’re warm.”
      “Er, yeah, about that…”
      “So warm…” *camera pans away*

      Liked by 6 people

          1. Raved Thrad

            Breaking out of the group hug, Masego’s gaze shifted repeatedly between Viviane and Catherine.

            “You’re both pregnant.”

            Hakram, still one-handed, nearly dropped his drink “What?”

            “They are both pregnant.”

            “Er… actually, so is Indrani.”

            Suddenly, Masego went weak in the knees. “I’m going to be an uncle,” he said, dazedly, as he sat on the ground.

            Eyes glinting evilly, Catherine smirked. “Just think of it as practice for when you and Indrani decide to hatch one of your own.”

            Liked by 1 person

  6. Nerfnow

    So just to make sure right?

    The following forces are currently on the southern front of this world war right

    The league army with unkown numbers but we know the tyrant and heariach are with it

    The dominion army of 80k split into 2 forces of 40k and under unkown names or leadership

    The 20k porcer border army rushing after the league by passed there position

    Black legion of 18k under the command of grem and scribe

    And at salia there will be 20k conscripts army and there gathering all the remaining nobles armies to bring that up to 40k under control of cordelia and other nobles

    And finally we have a heroic band that has Amadeus captured that has saint, pilgrim and the rogue sorc in is heading to saila

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Sup

      And since we know that the gods above has authorized the destruction of porcer to win whatever they want, only the bard, saint and cordelia know this it means we got a lot of groups with vastly different agendas plotting in this region thag cat has no way to findout before there plots come to fruition

      Cordelia – make sure porcer survive and is now unleashing a doomsday weapon to fire, has nominal control of the porcer forces gathering at salia

      Gods Above – authorized the destruction of porcer, has an herioc band here and with Pilgrim here thay also give them ability to manipulate the dominion armies at the right time and can also hijack those armies of porcer if they can get a hero to the leadership, and they have Amadeus and are using him to bait others to

      Amadeus legions – currently in disarray with him captured, still got Scribe and Grem may be retreating or in pursuit of the heroes to rescue him

      The League- Tyrant is a wildcard who may know whats going on but we know Hierarch goal is to bring the choir of judgement to justice and that he been scrying randomly

      Out of these groups only the heroes and league know about what cat had done and kbow about the drow

      Liked by 2 people

            1. We don’t really understand the relationship between the Bard and the Gods. We also know that the Bard works in mysterious ways. What she seems to want out of a situation frequently has nothing to do with her actual goal.

              Liked by 5 people

            1. She probably doesn’t have a Choir, but we don’t know for sure. There was a line back in the Kaleidoscope interludes that made me think she might.

              Something about how ‘Compassion isn’t my wheelhouse’, implying that something else is.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. I think we would have known by now.

                I think it was said that ‘she cut Heaven with her sword’ or something else confusing like that about how she became a hero, and Tariq has described her as having spent her ife ‘blurring the boundary between thought and act’. That speaks to me of someone who very much doesn’t have anyone giving her directions from Above, nor empowered by anyone’s choice but her own.

                But, true, we haven’t exactly had explicit confirmation or anything. That I remember, at least.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. She found a pivot and yanked on it.

                  Named are always credible threats, however unlikely the odds. Saint is the definition of lone wolf who doesn’t care what anybody else thinks about what she’s doing, from what we’ve seen of her. We SHOULD be scared, even if her plan is bloody stupid.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. RanVor

                    Sure. Except it’s bullshit.

                    Saint’s plan is a massive behemoth of a plot that would require at least majority of the heroes manipulating a continent-spanning story to change the balance of power forever. Something like that is not introduced unless it can actually happen.

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                    1. RanVor

                      Well, I’m basing my opinion on what she told Cordelia in Fatalism III. I don’t think she’s cunning enough to lie in that conversation. I might be wrong, of course, but she spelled out her plan pretty clearly.

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                    2. Here’s the quote.

                      ““You don’t understand what this is, do you?” the Saint smiled. “This is not the War of the Grand Alliance or the second invasion of Callow. It’s the Tenth Crusade. You slapped the gauntlet down, girl, and now Below’s picking it up. There is no compromise to be had anymore, no subtle manoeuvering. You declared war on the Hellgods, and the sword will not return to the sheath until one side falls.”

                      “A crusade can be waged intelligently,” the First Prince said. “It must, or it will fail like those before it.”

                      “That’s where you misunderstand,” the Saint amiably said. “You think all of this…”

                      Her hand moved to encompass their surroundings.

                      “Is inviolable,” she continued. “It’s an understandable weakness. You rule here, after all, and love for your people is no sin. But everything dies, Cordelia Hasenbach. Even empires.”

                      The blond woman paled.

                      “This is treason,” she coldly said. “As good as a confession you seek the destruction of the Principate.”

                      “This whole damned house is rotten to the bone, girl,” the Saint said. “You’ve toiled and troubled and fought like lion, but it’ll die with you. You know that already, deep down. Maybe the Principate was what it should be, ages ago, but it has not been in a very long time. It’s greed and power and lies, hungry wars and treachery made into the mortar of palaces. The sickness is all it knows, now.”

                      “You are mad,” Cordelia spoke in a hushed whisper. “Gods Above, your mind has gone and you would take all of us with it.”

                      “Oh, we’ll bleed,” the Saint mused. “We’ll lose badly, at first. And then we’ll claw our way back up, inch by inch. Evil always wins at the start, but it’s us who owns the conclusion. And from the ruins something better will rise. This empire’s already a corpse, but we’ll send it off with a pyre glorious enough it’ll redeem the old faults.”

                      “I will have you arrested,” the First Prince of Procer said. “I will have you killed, if that is what it takes.”

                      “You just worry about getting the armies marching,” Laurence de Montfort dismissed. “Odds are I won’t survive the scrap, but that’s all right. It’s a good war to die in. It’ll be the crusade that settles it, you see: too many old monsters came crawling out on both sides. Won’t be the kind of losses a side can recover from.”

                      “You are not listening to a word I say,” Cordelia whispered, aghast.

                      The Saint of Swords rose to her feet jauntily. The First Prince’s muscles clenched, though she managed to flinch when the Chosen approached her. The old woman clapped her shoulder.

                      “Keep your chin up, girl,” she said. “Sacrifice is always ugly business, but we’ll come through in the end. To rise from the ashes, there needs to be a fire first.”

                      The Saint of Swords strolled out, boots slapping against the stone, and the sound of the door closing behind her was the death cry of an era.”

                      Oh, and a little before that

                      ““Not merely the conclave,” she deduced. “It is your own notion to have the Black Queen named Arch-heretic of the East.”

                      The old woman grinned harshly.

                      “They were eager enough, truth be told,” the Saint said. “Just needed a little push. That I needed to give it at all is what got me in such a meddling mood. You’re flinching, Hasenbach. You’ve been down here too long, the iron’s beginning to rust.””

                      From this, I read the following: Saint has opinions on Procer and how it’s run, and her opinion is that it’s objectively coming to an end, and the only choice they get to make is how many of the Enemy they take with them. Her conclusion being “all of them if possible”. While counting Catherine as Enemy.

                      She thinks it’ll work out this way on its own, if she just gives it a little push. She sees it as inevitable, not a convoluted plan.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. RanVor

                      Well, my interpretation is that she intends to draw all the forces of Evil to Procer, to fuel the narrative momentum of the Crusade with its destruction, with a side benefit of purging a corrupted nation to make place for a pure one. It makes sense, in a rather demented fashion.

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                    4. My interpretation is that she sees all the forces of Evil as already converging on Procer, and the only choice is whether they (cowardly) try to make a truce or fight until the end.

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                    5. RanVor

                      So this is it. I think we have to agree to disagree, because I don’t see how either of us has any chance to actually convince the other.

                      Like

                    6. I think Saint is hoping/expecting/aiming for the forces of Evil to pull something along the lines of another Triumphant – mass conquest by Evil, followed by everything falling apart on them with a new generation of rising Heroes.

                      Sounds massively complicated, but when you realize that it’s predicated on “Heroes and Good always win in the end/eventually, no matter how good a winning streak Evil has had earlier”, Saint doesn’t actually have to do all that much, though. She just needs to keep the Crusade from being smart about things, ie stopping a truce with Callow to prioritize the Dead King, keep the Crusaders trying to fight in all directions simultaneously. That is, all Saint thinks she needs to do for her “plan” to “work” is ensure that the Crusade/Good-aligned forces, go down fighting Evil, and then the next generation of Heroes who do the liberating and defeat Evil will be in a position to forge a new nation based solely on the principles of Heroism and Above out of the ashes.

                      Like

                2. Heroes don’t win on the basis of having a quality powrer base. They win on the basis of being right. If Laurence believes she is right, she has basis to believe she will win. And she doesn’t need other people to confirm her opinions to think she’s right 😡

                  Liked by 2 people

              1. Thing is, Saint doesn’t actually have to actively do all that much to get her “plan”to work – after all Heroes always win in the end, even if the Villain had a terrifyingly good run in the middle of things.
                Saint’s trying to set up the Dead King to pull a Triumphant – conquer successfully and then collapse with a new generation of rising Heroes.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. RanVor

                  You’re almost right. Almost.

                  You see, all Saint has to do is to ensure that nobody will question the necessity of having to fight all Evil nations on the continent at once – and for that, she needs majority of heroes on her side, just because they could easily challenge her on that. And the only way to get all those heroes to subscribe to her insanity is to have at least a guarantee of non-interferece from the Heavens.

                  Like

                  1. I think that it doesn’t matter as much to Saint’s “plan” whether or not anyone on the Crusader side questions the necessity of fighting everyone else, as long as nobody can actually prevent the Crusade from fighting someone. After all, Saint didn’t seem to care about Cordelia questioning the “plan” and calling it stupid.

                    And she pretty much locked that in already when she got Cat declared Arch-Heretic of the East.
                    Because there’s no way to cut a deal with or otherwise avoid fighting the Dead King, the Tyrant of Helike/League, or even Praes (eventually).
                    But Cat and Callow don’t really need to fight Procer and the Crusade on offense, and if the Crusaders don’t attack Callow because they’re busy fighting elsewhere ..

                    Oh man, there’s an explanation for why the Army of Callow might be in Procer – Saint (or someone aligned with her plan) swiped some Crusader troops and raided Callow to provoke a response into Procer.

                    That said … I’m pretty sure that while Above may or may not have explicitly ordered Saint to take this course, they certainly aren’t objecting to it.

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                    1. RanVor

                      Actually, the League can be neutralized laughably easily by killing the Hierarch or otherwise removing him from power. He’s the only reason the League even exists as a unified political entity. Once he’s gone, their cohesion will collapse almost instantly.

                      Praes is pretty much crippled by now, and prolonging the conflict is unlikely to help here. Malicia’s best option is to withdraw from the war and prepare for seemingly inevitable clash with Callow.

                      Callow and the Empire Ever Dark are already working against the Dead King. They only reason they aren’t allied with Procer yet is that the Good guys are too dumb to realize that.

                      The only enemy Procer actually has to fight is the Dead King (and the Ratlings, but they haven’t attacked yet). All others can be quickly pacified, delayed or even allied with… Unless somebody makes sure they aren’t.

                      Like

                    2. Ehhhh, killing the Tyrant of Helike would probably require a Heroic Band, or at least a group of Heroes working together, to accomplish. And they’d probably need to get through his army somehow, which makes a sudden decapitation strike decidedly difficult for a pickup group of Heroes without an army in support, at which point you’re more or less back to fighting it out.

                      Anyways, the point is, even if people question the idea if fighting everyone they can simultaneously, unless they have a way to stop fighting some of those opponents, and keep them from attacking at the same time, there isn’t really all that much anyone can do to really stop Saint’s plan from proceeding at this point.

                      As an analogy, Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican residents can complain about Federal priorities and Trump as much as they want, but without statehood (or moving to a state and becoming an eligible and registered voter there), they can’t do all that much to change things.

                      Besides, most other Heroes are probably busy dealing with the Dead King, not thinking through what Saint is “planning”.
                      After all, most Heroes generally don’t actually need to do much thinking ahead and/or planning – they can afford to just charge in blindly and have faith and trust in Above and Providence that things will work out all right (for them/their goal) in the end, because that’s the way the world and story tends to work if you’re a Hero.
                      That is, even if there are Heroes who would oppose Saint’s “plan”, most, if not all, of them probably don’t even realize that Saint has a “plan”.

                      Like

          1. She had their approval to become a hero. Doesn’t mean they whisper in her ear about her every action, only the Choir of Mercy does that. And we have Word of God confirming that it doesn’t work like ‘fallen paladin’ rules: the further you stray from your Role the weaker you get as a Named, and heroes who betray their morals end up broken inside. There’s no explicit revocation of the powers granted.

            Do we have any kind of indication Pilgrim was in on the Arch-Heretic plan? It goes rather directly against his stated motivation for not allying with Catherine before Keter – he wanted to help keep Cordelia’s dream together.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. She said she knows /little/ of it, not that she doesn’t know it entirely.

      Let me pull up the quotes and check.

      ““Glory in strife,” the beggar screamed out in Lunara.

      Did Catherine know any Levantine tongues? Most likely not. Still, a responding battle cry was in order. It was the heroic thing to do. Something about Callow? Akua pondered her understanding of Catherine’s temper. I am angry, the sorceress decided, because I am disappointed as I have mystifyingly failed to grasp that the Heavens prefer their pawns powerful yet rather dim. I must now protect the venerable sanctity of farms and countless peasants everywhere, as I am very concerned with their fate even though they are ignorant and full of lice.

      “Fuck off and die,” Akua called back, tinting her voice with wroth.”

      …okay this is not the quote I thought this would be.
      Also we don’t know for sure if she answered in Lunara. She comments that Catherine likely wouldn’t even understand it, and she’s actually trying to live up to her disguise here. Actually even with the assumption that Akua speaks Lunara I get the impression that “a corresponding battle cry” would make sense as a response to the tone, just Catherine /also/ crying out in this situation even without understanding the words.

      And “glory in strife” strikes me as the kind of word combination that, presuming Lunara is at least distantly related to Chantant which Akua knows, could be recognized even with a dim grasp on the language. Hell, even without a relationship like that I remember “glory” being one of the English words I knew at the age of like… 8.

      I don’t think Akua has anything to gain from being dishonest here.

      Liked by 5 people

  7. Dainpdf

    Damn. Quite the cliff to hang from.
    Also, much appreciate all the Archer and Cat (and Akua) time on this chapter. They’ve become quite a team. Thank you for the chapter!

    Liked by 6 people

  8. Darkening

    Well that’s ominous as hell. Not many reasons I can think for Callow to be around here. I’ve gotta admit, I’m very curious to see how the League’s army performs. They’ve got the stygian spears with their incredible reputation that we never got to see used back in book 2, the very disciplined Helikean army, the fanatics of Bellerophon that will probably die before breaking and finally have good military leadership, and the standing armies of the others. I’m curious if mercantis got in on this too, hiring up what’s left of their mercenaries, or if they left the official cities of the league to fight this on their own. Or maybe it’s funding their supply situation. They can certainly afford it. But really, this diverse toolkit of different armies, led by a Tyrant, which is a Name with a well deserved reputation on the battlefield. I can’t wait to see what he does with them, with most of the heroes too busy with the dead king to bother him.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Dainpdf

      I doubt Mercantis is parting with any money unless they’re somehow being given more. Unlike the rest of the League, they have no need to obey the Hierarch (who seems to hate them, given his comments on their envoy way back).

      Like

  9. Nerfnow

    And since we know that the gods above has authorized the destruction of porcer to win whatever they want, only the bard, saint and cordelia know this it means we got a lot of groups with vastly different agendas plotting in this region thag cat has no way to findout before there plots come to fruition

    Cordelia – make sure porcer survive and is now unleashing a doomsday weapon to fire, has nominal control of the porcer forces gathering at salia

    Gods Above – authorized the destruction of porcer, has an herioc band here and with Pilgrim here thay also give them ability to manipulate the dominion armies at the right time and can also hijack those armies of porcer if they can get a hero to the leadership, and they have Amadeus and are using him to bait others to

    Amadeus legions – currently in disarray with him captured, still got Scribe and Grem may be retreating or in pursuit of the heroes to rescue him

    The League- Tyrant is a wildcard who may know whats going on but we know Hierarch goal is to bring the choir of judgement to justice and that he been scrying randomly

    Out of these groups only the heroes cia the god above and league via Hierarch know about what cat had done with the drow

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Skaddix

      Not really Saint of Swords flipped the table cause she thinks Procer is too far gone and too corrupt. But she doesn’t work for a Choir like Pilgrim or Hanno so there is no proof she did it cause the Gods Above told her.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. ^^^ this. We know Pilgrim wanted to keep Procer intact when he spoke to Cat before the Keter expedition. The Choir of Mercy, at least, certainly didn’t have a pre-existing intention to condemn it.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. RanVor

          If so, then either Tariq doesn’t know about the plan (which I find unlikely, considering he’s currently disobeying Cordelia), or he’s since got on board with it. Assuming the latter is true, that’s at least two heroes with the power and authority to make it happen. I imagine that if the Heavens were opposed to the plan, they’d at least let their favorite minions know they’re disapprove of what they’re doing.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Or he low key disagrees with Saint but finds it more productive to rope her into going along with his plan than to argue / oppose her, now that the deed is done.

            And the Heavens don’t seem very fond of giving their minions their opinions when they disagree. See: the fucking House of Light schism. If they allow two parts of the House of Light to excommunicate each other without weighing in on the disagreement and while still providing Light to both, they aren’t going to interfere with mortals settling their wager with Below.

            Choirs do – interfere, that is. Saint isn’t connected to a Choir, though, and different Choirs seem to have very diferent opinions on how things should be done.

            You’re FAR overestimating the cohesion there.

            Liked by 7 people

            1. Gunslinger

              Hmm this answers my previous question but I’m still torn by it. Dooming Procer to the Dead King is a pretty big thing. Not something Tariq would let by easily. In fact his previous opposition to its destruction could be his personal opinion but if the gods above spoke to him he’d fold

              Liked by 3 people

              1. Dainpdf

                Could be. I’d wait for a more explicit position before I judge him.

                Pilgrim is definitely ruthless enough to let a kingdom die if he believes it will serve the greater good. He does not have the same hatred of nobility that Saint does, though.

                Liked by 3 people

            2. Dainpdf

              Heroes have a clear ability to disagree with the choirs (lethal though it may be, with judgment), perhaps with the exception of Contrition.

              We saw that in the latest Tariq interlude, where he could have refused to go and stayed with his not-wife, and with the fact that heroes can fall.

              Heck, I’m not sure but I suspect if Saint continues going for maximum butchery of all she deems evil she might fall herself.

              Liked by 2 people

                1. Dainpdf

                  I wouldn’t say “full” considering two of the three choirs whose effects we’ve seen in detail eff with the head of the recipient, but outside that yes.

                  Like

                  1. Depends on how you define “free will”.

                    I don’t get the impression that the angels fucked with Willy’s head much, he was already contrite before meeting them, they just more or less confirmed what he was already thinking in a grand divine way – which also happens to match the dynamic in all other hero/choir relationships we’ve seen. Hanno was confused about the concept of justice and rather remained so after meeting Judgement, Tariq more or less summoned the Ophanim to him through the power of thinking the exact same things they do (and they don’t talk to him when he’s thinking things they don’t agree with, see: his family drama in the bonus chapter. I get the impression that Choirs can’t fuck with the heads of Named much, I mean fuck Catherine’s genuinely prone to being contrite but she still told Contrition to fuck off successfully while seeking resurrection from them. Named are more or less defined by having strong will and conviction that cannot be shaken easily even via supernatural means, and angels don’t have a super special backdoor to that, even with their own champions.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Dainpdf

                      I’m not sure whether Will and Hanno got their Names before speaking to the choirs. Actually, no, I’m pretty sure they didn’t. And Cat seemed pretty sure that Contrition can basically browbeat any mortal.

                      Heck, people were impressed she stood up to the choir. That implies it was not fully expected. Part of that is she’s wasn’t that contrite back then.

                      There is more wiggle room with Judgment – see the boatman – but to refuse them will break a mortal – again, see the boatman.

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                    2. Yes, they got their Names in the process of interacting with the Choir, your point? Catherine stood up to Black’s Name-pressure before she was Named too. Will isn’t a result of being Named, it’s a prerequisite.

                      And Catherine, again, came to them. With a demand, at that.

                      You do have something of a point, the Choirs are bloody terrifying. I don’t think I’ll fold on this until I know the boatman’s story though

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. The Choirs are bound by the rules of the story/narrative – remember, she rearranged things to be playing a quasi-heroic Role in that moment – she claimed to be the heir to the Throne of Callow, with an enemy, and pulled the Sword from the Stone – that’s a “Heroic Moment” that leaves you living – the Narrative mandated that she walk out of that a living person, not undead or a disembodied soul possessing her own corpse.
                      She demanded that the angels play by the rules of the Narrative and give her the resurrection to which she was Narratively-entitled, and then she popped out a new Aspect of Take on them when they tried to resist.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    4. Yeah.

                      And the story doesn’t say “and then the angels overwrote the hero’s will to make them their puppet”. The story says “the angels empowered and guided the hero”.

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                    5. Dainpdf

                      Oh, my point was that the Choir didn’t appear to Named and then convert them. How that was relevant to what you were saying now eludes me. Apologies.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    6. …basically, the tl;dr of my point is that the question is not whether or not the Choirs are capable of subverting the mortals’ free will (they are if they try, we know that) but if they do. To their chosen champions, specificaly. Named are unversally strong-willed enough that merely being near an angel won’t overwrite their entire personality the way it happens to an average person – again, that’s a prerequisite.

                      My argument is that they don’t. Whether it is because they don’t have the capacity to or because they choose not to is not, to me, a meaningless distinction, since I see them as more of an automated system than individuals capable of meaningful choices.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    7. The Choirs are more insidious than just reaching into potential heroes’ skulls to remake those brains the way they’d like them to be — they find people willing to choose to let them… direct… them, instead.

                      Which involves… influence. But, consent to hand over the keys to the locks is sought. Always. Good luck evicting the new… perspective… afterwards, though. 😛

                      Liked by 1 person

                    8. That’s about as far as I can see it going, yeah.

                      With the clarification that I don’t think Choirs have deliberate agency in this: it’s a more-or-less automated system, angels aren’t moral agents. Antropomorphizing them is a mistake 😛

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              1. Yotz

                Contrition may stand as an exception not due to Heroes bound to it not having the option to disagree, but due to them being so traumatized by their own acts that they simply unable to chose it.

                Also, Saint may be following the footsteps of the last of the Greyhill Paladins, if you are correct.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. Dainpdf

                  Well, if one has the ability to guilt almost anyone into compliance, isn’t it essentially taking away their free will?

                  TBH Justice does a similar thing, except by throwing one’s imperfection into one’s face until one submits.

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                  1. Yotz

                    I’d say that’s more akin to a conspiracy of convenience – arguably, last true moment of free will for each Choir-connected comes in the moment of formal request from a mortal; after that, mortal’s interests are either in complete alignment with the Choir’s (Contrition), or are always of secondary importance and subservient to the supreme moral absolute of the Choir (Judgement).

                    Elaborating on that – in case of Contrition time may heal the wound, lessening the motivating drive of the original crime, but since the Choir is changeless by its nature, it maintains status quo by constantly reopening wound and reverting mortal to a starting point – until the contrition quota would be met. Which is to say – not in mortal’s life, probably.

                    With Judgement one simply surrenders the morally dubious right to judge to unarguably morally impeccable source – the Choir. In such case all one need is faith – for even if you can’t understand why exactly the punishment was meted out in each particular case, you have unerrable, sinless, by definition morally superior Choir to lean on; and simply devout yourself to fulfilling their will. After all, they know better that you, their vision is clear, and their Judgement is not clouded by lies, preconceptions, and sentiments. If you go against their will, you are left to rely on your own sense of just – your faulty, flawed understanding of it. Which goes against your nature that led you to the Choir in first place.

                    Now, Mercy is an odd one in such perspective. Not long ago, there was a bout of discussion in regards to imprecise nature of suffering measurements and consequences of that imprecision for relation between the Chosen and the Choir.
                    Given that many – if not all – situations where Mercy is involved can not be solved with clean-cut choice between some suffering and no suffering; but, rather, routinely devolve into a choice between arbitrary non-zero amounts of suffering; the roles of mortal and Choir in that pair may be reversed.
                    Since the Choir of Mercy can’t make a choice that’ll lead to increase of the world suffering, but are forced to chose nevertheless – the mortal takes on active role in the union. The weight of choice lies on him, freeing the Choir from Azimov’s trap ; of course, the mortal must face the repercussions for increasing the measure of pain, which makes the Chosen a sole exception to the inaction rule – and we see Pilgrim reflecting on how he is damned, but being at peace with it, since by accepting the evil on himself, he spares the others from it and all the pain related.

                    In essentiality, Chosen of Judgement and Contrition forfeit their right to free will by surrendering the burden of choice for clarity of vision in former case; and seeking redemption – and damn the price! – in latter. Each problematic situation you may find yourself in would be immediately solved up on-high – all you need to do is to follow instructions as precisely as you possibly can.
                    Chosen of Mercy come as more free-willed simply because it’s they who make all the decisions in their union – unlike the strict non-negotiable dictate of two other Choires. Mercy usually simply informs you that there is pain somewhere, and someone ailing. How to resolve situation is up to you in such case. You’ll be damned by any choice you’d make – but at least you soothed some pain, and made the world a bit happier. That’s why, probably, Mercy doesn’t make formal contracts – they just make you feel, and leave actions – or inactions – to you. You seek Justice, you seek Redemption – but Kindness finds you by itself. And its blade cuts deeper than Judgement or Contrition could ever even imagine.
                    …or could’ve, if they could imagine things in first place, that is.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. It’s been repeated many times that Hanno is a very atypical hero of Judgement. “I do not judge” is an exception. Normally, Judgement heroes are very much known for meting out their own verdicts.

                      You can’t extrapolate a pattern from what we explicitly know to be an exception.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    2. Yotz

                      But then again, what are the qualities need to receive a positive answer from Judgement? I mean, if they routinely chose only people of certain mindset, thouse people would act simply as semi-mindless appendages of the Choir: they’ll have enough free will to seek and destroy, but not to act beyond the dogma.
                      Then again – the pool is too shallow for concrete conclusion, even with Hanno being atypical: we just can’t tell what typical is here.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    1. Dainpdf

                      Just because the motives seem to fit doesn’t mean it’s happening. And I suspect you have a different perspective on the Heavens than I.

                      But do tell me how it helps their quest of preventing pain and eradicating evil.

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                    2. RanVor

                      Oh, I am sure that my perspective on the Heavens is VERY different than yours.

                      For starters, I do not believe that preventing pain is anywhere near the top of their list of priorities. Sure, there are the Ophanim – but that’s only one Choir, and even they care more about smiting Evil than actually sparing people suffering.

                      In my interpretation, the gods – all gods – are dogmatic. Their first priority is winning the wager. The way they try to achieve it differs between Above and Below, but in both cases, all other concerns are subordinate to that main goal.

                      Now, the Principate of Procer is obviously faulty as a Good nation. The nobility is corrupt, self-serving and impious. The tenets of the House of Light are perverted to serve earthly pursuits. The common people are oppressed and forced to fight in petty civil wars, giving their lives for greed of the Princes instead of protecting their land from the predations of Evil. It’s not hard to understand why the Heavens would be displeased with that. I don’t see why wouldn’t they consider it expendable enough to sacrifice it to ensure the downfall of their opponents’ greatest success, especially considering that when they win, they can build another, better nation on top of it.

                      You can, of course, disagree with me, but I have neither time nor energy to argue with you right now, so don’t expect me to reply.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. Dainpdf

                      It is doubtful whether the Saint’s plan will guarantee the downfall of the Dead King, or even Cat or Malicia. I also doubt that Cat counts as the greatest success of the Gods Below, especially now that she slipped the apotheosis trap. Malicia is also floundering, herself. Is the largest good nation in Calernia really worth sacrificing for this? Especially when it is in the middle of fighting the Dead King? This strikes me as throwing the baby out with the bath water.

                      Like

  10. caoimhinh

    Interesting, so the Legions of Callow are also in the region?
    Time for gathering forces!

    Typos found:

    -It’d be and advantage / an advantage
    -given that ever corpse made here / every corpse
    -Will it by bloody ice and snow / Will it be
    -I cannot not tell you from which region / I can not tell you
    -The thing was, I thought as I watched her work, was that / delete one of the ‘was’
    -power than was an aspect invoked / that
    -allowed to he slug it out / allowed her to slug it out
    -people already only the verge of starvation / on the verge

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  11. Nerfnow

    Seems to me that the that we underestimated the Heroes and there are doing the same thing the dead king did with his plan back in the day,

    By taking Amadeus to Salia they taking initative and forcing a fight there and by giving that breaking speech to Cordelia they got her preparing something no one would have predicted and can be blamed on the villains in the aftermath

    And since Cordelia is gathering the rest of the porcer nobles that either werent in the city to begin with or on the frontlimes the destruction of Salia will be the effective end of porcer as the the remaining nobles on the frontline will be easy pickings for heros to influnce as they fight by heros side against whatever

    And since most will believe that the villains were behind it no one will be left that knows what the heroes are plotting

    Liked by 4 people

        1. To Pork, or not to Prok. Is that the question?
          Yes, our Proceran folks are depicted with a distinctly Porcine nobility. The biggest influence (current terrestrial tech here) on whether the Pig you raise grows fast is what & how much you feed it. So our society depicts Pigs as greedy.
          Proceran has waged war of conquest against every neighbor nation. Greed = Conquest.
          That is all

          Like

    1. 1queenofblades1

      We don’t know if Black has transitioned. Squire is up for grabs, we don’t know about Black.

      And honestly, I’m hoping that Abigail chick becomes the Squire.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. We know for certain that Black has lost his Name from the Epilogue. He’s not out of the woods as far as being Named and generally tangled in the story, but Black Knight isn’t him anymore.

        “Ah, already under the spell. He had neither heard nor felt the man cast. Interesting. He truly was bereft of even the smallest trace of his Name.”

        ““I am,” Amadeus said, “no longer the Black Knight.”

        “You don’t fit that groove anymore,” Marguerite said. “

        Liked by 8 people

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          “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.”

          Liked by 1 person

  12. Yotz

    The question is: how?

    There are not that many reliable pathways between Callow and that part of Procer, to my recollection: Northern Pass near Harrow; Red Flower Vales, utterly devastated by the Warlock and the Witch; and Waning Woods.
    …Plus the fourth option, of which below.

    First option would imply some sort of deal between Cordelia and Regency – which brings the question: what was promised; while Vales can be reopened by more or less mundane means – in which case, that may be purely Callowan initiative.

    Third variant is completely improbable without Wild Hunt cutting a deal with either Regency or Hellhound personally – for neither of them have insanity of that particular hue that is needed to just bruteforce your way through that hellscape, paying for passage with lives. Which brings us to the branching path – instead of using Hunt’s influence to clear the way through the Waning Woods, whoever cut the deal with them could opt for a Gate option with assistance from certain one-eyed mischief-maker.

    Then there is a fourth option.
    Once which doesn’t rely on the Army of Callow, but comes with its own slew of sub-branches.
    When Wekesa rerouted hellgates by creating a stable portal loop, there was a significant contingent of legionaries left in Hell. There is a person who holds dominion over nearby part of the Weave. Forced to survive, legionaries might have made a deal with a certain DK, and now are unleashed on the south of Procer since they, technically, does not belong to him, and therefore are free from the limiting factors of his condition.
    Alternatively, they weren’t able to survive incessant onslaught by the local denizens, and consequently were revived by the DK with the goal of using them in partisan/provocateur actions behind the enemy lines.

    And lastly and very alternatively… Part of the Left Behind or not, but certainly of the Legions – well, remember all thouse tall-tales about another person who, according to rumours, would’ve been able to gnaw a part of Hells for herself. May she never return, as they say. Well, there may be an itsy-bitsy mishap with the last part, about never returning…

    //wildmassguessing(walloftext).end

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Yotz

        I mentioned that under the Hunt clause – ending with “certain one-eyed mischief-maker”.
        But – yes, that’s an option.

        On a side note – if Drow are now so susceptible to Night/Day metaphysical cycle, how Devouring of Winter affected the Hunt, both Winter and Summer sides, I wonder?

        Liked by 5 people

    1. Mike E.

      But how tainted would they be? I recall Zeze purging a group of non-legion soldiers in the middle of one of the Liesse battles because they had been exposed to corruption for a very brief period and he was following legion protocol for exposure. Can’t imagine being trapped in hell coming out any better.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s specifically demons that can taint/corrupt mortals, and those are each drawn from a specific hell; the chunk of the 15th that Warlock abandoned was left in one of the hells inhabited by devils, not demons. In other words, profoundly inimical and hostile to mortal life, but not inherently corruptive. Remember, good ol’ Nessy set up a whole civilization in one of the hells and the people who live there appear to be more-or-less normal; or at least, as normal as you can be when you’re living in a society custom-designed by the Dead King. So I’d still call that chunk of the 15th showing up ever again a very long shot, but it’s not intrinsically impossible. Just very, very unlikely.

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      2. Yotz

        Depends on whenever they come into contact with a Demon of Corruption during their involuntary residency there or not. Per protocol demands Zeze purged anyone who was hit by metaphysical fallout of heavy Demon usage in the area, not just anyone who fought against random devils. And given that corruption is specifically that particular Demon domain… Though, I see how, say, incessant hatred towards anything and everything, being a byproduct of Hatebringer’s influence, can be considered corrupting influence despite not being corruption per se.

        But still – all things considered they may come out squeaky clean in essence, if slightly singed in form.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. RanVor

            I honestly think there’s nothing wrong with doing things that are, as Galvador put it, “tragic and impactful”, as long as they are not ass-pulls and don’t contradict the established facts within the story. Tragic events create tension, and tension is good and necessary.

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            1. It’s a little more complicated than that.

              We’ve had tragic and impactful deaths in the story – and every single one of them served to push character arcs, character relationships and thematic points forward. Nilin, Nauk (sort of), the Gallowborne and personally John Farrier, Sabah, Wekesa&Tikoloshe. Every single one of these events kept echoing for a while after it happened, and the latter two are going to keep echoing yet. They changed the entire setting into ‘a place where two of the Calamities have just died’.

              If someone dies, it’s not just ‘impactful’ in the ‘the readers will be sad’ way. It’s impactful in the ‘the entire setting gets shaken up by the fact that this is a thing that can happen in it’ way. That’s the kind of scale that major character deaths work on in guide.

              What narrative and thematic benefit would there be to one of the sisters dying? How will it push the story forward? How will it change other characters’ actions and attitudes?

              Will this change be good for the story?

              That’s how you fucking write character deaths. That’s how erratic does.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. RanVor

                Well, of course you have to build upon it. That’s how writing works, and that’s what I meant by creating tension. Everything has consequences that have to be taken into account. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. It just needs to be done well.

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                1. I didn’t mean that “erratic refuses to do things on the basis that they would be tragic and impactful”. I meant “erratic does not consider the potential for tragic impact to be sufficient basis for story events to happen”.

                  I meant that just because it would be really sad if something happened, doesn’t mean it will, in Guide. It would be really tragic and impactful if Indrani died during the Sve Noc fight, but it would also serve no useful purpose for the narrative, so she didn’t. And I called it back then that she wouldn’t because it was bloody obvious, and because I’ve learned to trust Erratic not to pull this kind of shit just for shock value.

                  Deaths get properly built up to, in Guide.

                  You can’t just say “gee when will a sucky thing happen” and expect that it will.

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                  1. RanVor

                    I disagree. Something being tragic and impactful is a valid reason to do something in story, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it needs to be done well, with all consequences taken into account – otherwise it would disrupt the flow of the story, instead of changing its direction.

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                    1. I think we’re having a terminology issue about the word “impactful”.

                      My point is that the story needs to demand that specific impact. Not just “an impact.”

                      I don’t disagree with you, and I don’t think you disagree with me. Do you really think one of the sisters will die before the end of the story? What do you think the impact of that will be, if you do?

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                    2. RanVor

                      I don’t have an opinion on that. As a general rule, I don’t make predictions for the story, because I suck at predicting stuff, and also because I like to concentrate on what has happened, rather than what would happen. I might try to predict immediate consequences of a particular development, but nothing more far-reaching than that.

                      My point is that if Erratic wants it to happen, it will happen, and it will be brilliantly executed, because that’s what Erratic does. I have nothing more to say on the topic, make of that what you will.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. RanVor

                      Oh, and I should probably clarify that by “impactful” I mean “an unexpected event that changes the direction of the story”.

                      Also, I do not consider either of the Sve Noc sisters dying that tragic and/or impactful.

                      Liked by 1 person

                  2. Galvador

                    Funny thing is tragic and impactful things tend to happen in guide more than you realize. Liesse’ fall, warlocks death, cat getting stabbed in the hearth to get her powers instead of her hand, those things didnt have to happen.
                    This is a story about stories, are you surprised that tragic and impactful choices are common? This story thrives on tropes and this is one of them.

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                    1. ?

                      What are you even arguing with? What do you think is my point?

                      Because it’s not “tragic and impactful things don’t happen in guide”.

                      It’s “erratic doesn’t kill off characters for shock value”.

                      Like

  13. Skaddix

    Hmm wonder if this lends credence to my idea that the Hierarch and Tyrant did sack the Observatory. I don’t see why else the Army of Callow would come out to clash with the League of Free Cities Armies near the Callow border. Seems a sizable army as well so something had to force the clash. The lack of knowledge on where the Free Cities are probably comes down to the Scarecrows are up to which seems a Tyrant ability combined with Hierarch Farsight spying.

    Wonder if Hakram and Viv will make an appearance soon or if we just run into Juniper.

    I assume the frequent Masego references are foreshadowing to things changing when he comes back. Which we know but the characters wont, I wonder if it might actually be Tyrant and Hierarch that drops this bombshell.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Skaddix

        Fair enough. Its kinda hard to figure this out without a timeline since we don’t know about the time from Epilogue to Prologue to Chapter 1.

        Given though that this series has realistic time for troop movements of weeks with Arcadia and months without. Then you figure there has to be some reason for Callow to move a large amount of their forces away from the Praes Border and towards the Procer Borders. Now they could also trying to be saving the Legions but I don’t see that as an independent move without some deal with Malicia we didn’t see and she didn’t mention in the Prologue. With Juniper’s mother dead and potentially Black, they got no real reason to try to save the Legions and make such a big move without Cat.

        So I think its more likely Tyrant and Hierarch made a move to blind Callow. Especially since Hierarch saw everyone else. Dead King is tying down most of the Crusade, Praes has a Goblin Rebellion, Masego is gone but coming back more powerful/angry, Cat is coming back soon, Hanno is off somewhere, Seer is getting visions. But all in all Callow is sitting fine with no one in a position to attack them. The duo had a narrow window to get in take out the Observatory before Cat and Masego got back and I think they took it. Plus 4 different armies clashing in the same region sounds full Tyrant chaos strategy.

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        1. Yotz

          Again, logistics.
          Given the protections Masego had there are still functioning, and are powerful enough to scare away the Sisters, hypothetical strike force employed by Tyrant must be at least on the level of Fae or Mighty to strike at the capital of Callow without being noticed by the Observatory and/or mundane means, or numerous enough to disregard being noticed.

          Even mobile emitters in faces and assorted bodyparts of Atalantian pristhood wouldn’t be able to conceal crucial data – if you see a cataract in your all-seeing-eye, you can bet that in the middle of the blind spot the enemy lurks. And if that spot is moving – an army can intercept whatever is, regardless of knowing precisely what it is.

          So, that lefts us with small group of high-powered individuals sneaking in – despite the Burning Eye; infiltrating the place that Fimbulwinter is afraid of; and defeating certain Fadila Mbafeno without consequences on tectonic scale – all while leaving enough defense systems intact to scare a pair of Goddesses away afterwards.
          Seems out of the realm of “improbable” and straight to “impossible” to me.

          Now, said that – the Tytant may have a wunderwaffe of some kind, or lead his whole army to strike at Laure while gargoyles are imitating his presence in the Procer, or something equally insane like that.
          But if – if, mind you – he indeed done something to the Observatory, I’m more inclined towards accepting blanket area denial by the Atalantians, than outright sacking of it by direct military incursion of some kind.

          Secondly, if he indeed sacked the Observatory, it makes no sense for the Army of Callow to chase him into Proceran land. Left without their all-seeing recon and with dubious provider of gating ability – who shouldn’t be trusted by default to boot, they should be focusing on protecting Callow with more mundane applications of military doctrine. Chasing him away from Callow – sure, but chasing an obvious bait into the obvious trap – that’s some truly legendary level of incompetence on the part of the military command.

          Liked by 3 people

  14. Aotrs Commander

    So. ‘Drani fired and killed nine shots at what is something one the order of 4000 yards (2.3 miles, near as dammit) – at sufficient distance Cat had to use magic to enhance her eyesight to see the target.

    (While I can’t find the source now, a few years ago, for a now-abandoned RPG I wrote, I managed to get some data on human visual acuity and my notes say that you can about see a man at 1 1/3 miles with the naked eye, and excellent eyesight at just over three miles; also worth noting that on level ground, a six-foot human can only see a little over three miles before the Earth’s curvature gets in the way.)

    The longest-range recorded sniper kill, which comes, remember, from a highly-trained specialist using modern weapons and gear (including telescopic sights) is 3800 yards.

    One of the biggest long-range/accuracy issues with bowfire starst to come from the arrows themselves, especially if they are not, like, aluminium manufactured, because wood is imperfect. (Modrn snipers use special ammunition, even, to much higher spec than your regular assault rifle.)

    ‘Drani just shot nine arrows in (assuming Cat was being a little dramatic with “under a heartbeat”) in probably no more than one to three seconds with a 100% accuracy, with a weapon with a significant flight time, at that range, massive error margin.

    I am pointing that out here, for you all, because I want everyone to appreciate how FUCKING INCREDIBLY GOOD A SHOT Indrani is.

    We are talking “better than Hawkeye and Green Arrow combined” by several orders of magnitude.

    Liked by 6 people

          1. Hawkeye doesn’t have superpowers last I remember. He’s just awesome through the power of being really fucking awesome. That’s the thing in fiction that Names are a reflection of.

            Like

                1. Oh.

                  I replied to your comment from the notifications panel so I didn’t see the correction.

                  This makes more sense than what I assumed you meant (that Hawkeye does have superpowers and I’m just marvel ignorant, which tbf I largely am)

                  Like

              1. And Batman’s what, non-Named?

                Names are, on a meta level, commentary on protagonists getting to pull off unlikely stunts / having the narrative exaggerate their capabilities as far as suspension of disbelief will go. Badass Normal superheroes are food for this. And non-Badass Normal ones are too. Superheroes and supervillains are part of the prototype for the hero/villain framework in guide.

                Like

      1. Aotrs Commander

        All the results I saw on my google search for “how far can you see” said for a six-foot human, on level ground (slash sea level) the horizon was about three miles (5km).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yotz

          Eh, radius versus diameter.

          Also, definitions of the “mile” differ.- Chinese mile (“li”) is standardized as 500 meters, making your field of vision roughly 10 li – but that’s splitting the hair, so we can ignore it.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Not 4000 yards. From earlier in that section:

      “So what were outriders doing this far out to the east of the principality? They were still about a mile and a half out, but these were flat plains so the chance they hadn’t seen the massive army of fifty thousand drow encamped was negligible. They were riding closer, though. Most likely trying to get a read on whose camp this was, which would be difficult to make out from that far out.”

      A mile and a half is about 2600 yards. So over ten times the killing range of longbows and crossbows, but not ten times the overall range.

      Still absolutely ridiculous, of course.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Aotrs Commander

        It was a little open to interpretation. Indrani’s eyes were “peeled to the horizon” and Cat, assuming she doesn’t have vision problems, shouldn’t have had any difficult spotting mounted moving humans at a mere mile and a half (she would have needed Night to magnify for details) – and even a mile and a half is closer to twenty than ten times the 150-yeard crossbow kill range.

        (Notably, however, even in the modern era, most firearm and even tank engagements are still fought at around the 1500-yard mark because of terrain, so, as you say, it’s still quite ludicrously good shooting regardless.)

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Mike E.

      That paragraph was easily the best of this chapter. Indrani is badass. And I love the description of her bow draw weight. Reminds me of Shardbows from the Stormlight Archive, where only Shardbearers had the augmented strength to draw one.

      Liked by 1 person

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