Chapter 5: Consult

“I inherited not an empire but a house on fire: fall in line, lest we all burn.”
– First Princess Éloïse of Aequitan

There were few things as frustrating as looking at something you knew how to do, had done, and yet did not understand in the slightest. The half-page of equations and formulas that I’d gotten Akua to write down for me was exactly that, when it came down to it. A practical, measurable representation of what I did when I ‘threaded the needle’ through Creation when making a gate. It’d been gibberish, the first time I glanced at it, but at least I’d thought I knew why. To put it bluntly, I lacked the tools to make the tools that’d give me a chance of making the tools that would allow to comprehend what was going on. More than nine tenths of mages were incapable of using High Arcana or even comprehending the principles behind it, after all, so considering I did not have even the slightest trace of the Gift I’d never exactly been in the running. These were numbers, though, so there had to be at least part of them I could grasp. Something that’d allow me to run on more than instinct and power, because neither of those were truly mine when it came down to it and I’d not forgotten my old lessons. Borrowed power always turned on its user.

So I’d buckled down, put away the wine and tried to figure this out from the bottom. The very basics of Trismegistan sorcery, which Diabolist assured unlike most theories of magic out there at least had mostly observable underlying principles. I didn’t have a library to ransack, sure, but I had the most viciously distinguished Sahelian in a few centuries around to pick the brains of and two literal goddesses on my shoulders. Both of which had been practitioners of high skill, before they got desperate enough to call on Below. It… wasn’t going very well. Not because my tutors were incompetent, they weren’t. Much as it pained me to admit it, Akua was better at explaining the magical in mundane terms than Masego had ever been and likely ever would be. As for the Sisters, they could literally show me what they meant. I just didn’t have the knack for this. It didn’t come naturally to me the way the sword and stories had. Even languages, and Gods knew I’d learned quite a few of those by now, were easier to get a handle on. Not easy at all, sure, but if I put in the work even without the crutch of the first aspect I’d ever earned I could make visible progress.

This, though? I’d finally memorized the classical table of elements and most the relationships involved, but aside from a refresher in all things arithmetic I’d not gotten much out of these new studies. Being able to name the limits of sorcery and a handful of fundamental laws didn’t mean I understood them, not truly. I could name past examples of those limits being hit but it was damnably hard to extrapolate as to how other practitioners might hit them in the future. Like having a phrasebook for a foreign tongue, then being asked to write a philosophical essay in it. So much of sorcery was about context, years of learning and studies, and I simply didn’t have that. I wasn’t sure I ever would, to be blunt, or that trying to obtain it was the best use of my time. Practically speaking, I got more out of a spar with Archer than I did of an hour learning about ritual theory. I passed a hand through my hair – it was unbound, for once – and sighed. The unpleasant truth was that if I’d started these studies years ago, just after becoming the Squire, I might be getting somewhere useful by now. Instead I was stuck depending on the advice and understanding of others.

That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, I thought. Not all the time. But I’d walked into some nasty messes lately by sheer arrogant ignorance, and I couldn’t count on my friends to pull me out of them every time. Not with the kind of opposition there was out there. There were some heroes I’d survive blundering against, but that didn’t hold for all of them. And the heroes were almost a second thought, compared to the ancient thing that was marching south at the head of undead hordes. I gathered the handful of parchments splayed across my low table and slipped them back into my saddlebag, closing the clasp. I’d been circling the same few paragraphs for the better part of an hour now, there’d be no progress made today. Besides, I’d begun another project. The Everdark had been a wake-up call in a lot of ways: about how I’d been fighting, about who I should be fighting. And there, like in sorcery, ignorance and recklessness had begun to cost me quite a bit. If I was to get involved in the wars scouring the Principate – and I was, it was the only possible way I could see of getting the Liesse Accords signed – then I couldn’t just go in like a drunk brawler and swing at everything in sight.

The Dead King was on the march, and that changed everything.

I couldn’t keep dropping geographical features on armies when I’d be needing those same armies to take the field against Keter before long. Not only was I weakening the same Grand Alliance I needed to keep from collapsing, there was a very real risk that everyone I killed down here would get up and start fighting for the other side at some point. Burning the dead would greatly limit the spectrum of necromancy that could be used on them, Diabolist had assured me, but not prevent the magic entirely from being used. Even a mass grave filled with ashes could be a threat if the Hidden Horror got his hands on it. Diplomacy would be the preferable option here, but I’d tried that before and my knuckles were starting to bleed from the amount of times the door had been slammed on them. I’d been named Arch-heretic of the East, and while back in Callow that’d been met with indignant riots the title would weigh a lot more in the eyes of the western half of Calernia. That I’d effectively been made the head of the drow religion would only make it worse, and there would be no keeping that under wraps for long. The only way I’d get the other nations to sit at the table was if they no longer believed they could really win against me without losing everything else.

Which meant I was going to have to kill some very powerful people before the year was out.

The Grey Pilgrim couldn’t be one, because if I killed him then the Dominion wouldn’t stop before either was I buried in pieces or their country was a heap of cinders. I’d made my peace with that. While not someone I’d ever trust, he was someone I could work with. The Saint, though? I’d need her head on a pike before I got anywhere. Considering I had serious doubts even dropping an entire mountain on that old monster would kill her, I needed to prepare something that would. The voice in the back of my head that sounded like my father kept reminding me that relying on an artefact was the kind of foolishness that got villains killed, but that wasn’t what I was doing. Not exactly. I was crafting a tool, in the same way a goblin alchemist would craft munitions. My sword and scabbard had been propped up against my table when I took them off my belt, and I leaned over to grasp them now. No goblin steel blade, this, or shard of Winter given shape. I’d made a request of Sve Noc before we left the Everdark, when my strategy had begun to take shape, and it had been fulfilled.

The scabbard was carved obsidian, a tale writ in runes of some fool girl who’d made an accord with sister-goddesses. The characters were twined around something else, a declaration of intent: Losara Queen, First Under the Night. There was power in putting truth to stone, especially when you had been part of the story told. The blade within the sheath had not left it since the first rest, the only visible part being the long handle of onyx and amethyst. I’d learned the uses of those stones well, in the last few months. One to ingest power, the other to facilitate communion and connection to the divine. Closing my fingers around the handle I closed my eyes as well, breathing in deep. The Night slithered through my veins, answering the call, and I felt the weight of the crows on my shoulders. They approved, these quarrelsome goddesses of mine. That was not nearly as reassuring as they believed it to be. I focused, clearing my thoughts and-

-and the folds of my tent were unceremoniously pushed open.

“The Queen of Callow alone in her tent, ‘handling her sword’,” Archer mused. “There’s definitely a joke in there.”

I bit back an irritated reply, eyes fluttering open. The Night turned to smoke, leaving me, but there would be time enough later. Every hour I could spare, in fact.

“I assume you came in for a reason?” I said.

“There’s word from our scouts on Rochelant, so Rumena wants to see you,” she replied.

I grunted in answer, rolling my shoulder questioningly. The pop that eventually ensued served as a reminder that sitting on the ground for a few hours had actual physical consequences these days. I put my hand against the table to push myself up before pausing under Archer’s bemused gaze. I chewed on my lip, then called on the Night again. Darkness gathered around the sword and scabbard like flies to honey, for a moment emptying the inside of my tent from every speck of shadow. I heard Komena laughing in my ear, before she leant her hand to the shaping: making power stable and solid was always more difficult than just seizing it. I leaned on the long, crooked staff of ebony now in my hand to drag myself up to me feet. Indrani’s hazelnut eyes were studying me curiously.

“Gonna tell me what that was about?” she lightly asked.

“There’s no point in having advisors,” I said, “if I don’t occasionally take their advice.”

“Ooh, cryptic,” she praised.

“Well, I am a priestess,” I drawled back. “You may now guide me to my humble flock, wench.”

She grinned.

“You know, in Alamans romances that have very nice illustrations of what Wicked Priestesses of Evil should wear,” Archer informed me.

I rolled my eyes and pulled ahead of her. She was still trying to convince to wear clothes that in this weather would get me frostbite in very inconvenient parts when we got to the mouthy old drow’s tent, but that was where the easy mood died. Rumena Tomb-Maker had looked unflappable even when throwing gauntlets down simultaneously at the feet of both the Longstride Cabal’s most dangerous Mighty and myself at the peak of my mastery over Winter. That it now looked somewhat disturbed while looking at the map of Procer we’d taken from our Levantine prisoners was not a good sign. Akua was already lounging in the back of the tent, which was deserted save the two of them. Less than surprising, given that it was still daylight out and most drow hadn’t yet emerged from their dawn-induced slumber. The general barely glanced at the staff I was leaning on, but I felt Diabolist’s gaze linger. I did not meet her eyes, instead limping to sit across from the old drow who had greeted me with a mere nod. Archer unceremoniously dropped down at my side, though given the flask that’d mysteriously appeared in her hand I doubted she’d be paying much attention to the proceedings.

“Report,” I simply said.

“Lord Ivah has returned from Rochelant,” Rumena said. “The city is already under occupation.”

My brow rose, and my wariness as well. Humans stepping on other humans wouldn’t wrinkle the Tomb-Maker’s brow, which meant there was more to this.

“By who?” I asked.

Akua cleared her throat.

“While Lord Ivah was not familiar with the banners being flown, it offered detailed descriptions,” the shade said. “Two emblems are being flown: that of the Hierarch of the League of Free Cities and the personal heraldry of the Theodosians of Helike.”

I started in surprise.

“I thought the Hierarch had refused a banner?” I said.

“He did,” Akua amusedly replied. “It is blank cloth, and so even more easily recognizable than heraldry from a distance.”

I mulled over that. The Hierarch’s personal banner would be flown regardless of his actual presence, given that he was in theory the supreme commander of the military forces of the League, so that didn’t give us much. Neither did the Tyrant’s family colours being up there, unfortunately. The villain was essentially a sack full of wet and angry cats made into a person, so schemes were only to be expected. None of this, though, explained why Rumena was feeling unsettled.

“There’s more,” I stated, and it was not a question.

“As there were no armies encamped outside the walls and no visible watch in place, Lord Ivah infiltrated the city,” Rumena said. “The humans within appear to have gone mad.”

“Define mad,” I said.

Akua stepped in.

“There appears to be a revolt taking place,” she said. “Citizens are forming tribunals and killing officials and prominent individuals after public trials, under the supervision of Helikean soldiers.”

I blinked.

“Supervision,” I repeated slowly. “They’re not being forced?”

“Lord Ivah reported feeling the urge to join these ‘trials’,” General Rumena said. “And that the urge grew stronger the longer it remained within. This is… unusual. Though this took place under the glare of the sun, such influence over our kind has no precedent to my knowledge.”

I felt talons digging painfully into my shoulders and winced. The Sisters weren’t pleased that someone might be meddling with minds of one of their own, even one who’d chosen to swear itself to my service.

“Aspect, you think?” I asked Akua.

“Hard to tell without taking a closer look,” she admitted. “Large-scale manipulation of minds by ritual is not unprecedented – Dread Emperor Imperious once compelled an entire army to suicide – but the Carrion Lord’s scuffle with the forces of Helike should have killed a significant portion of their most skilled practitioners. I am not certain they could accomplish such a working anymore. Not directly.”

She paused.

“There is, of course, another path possible,” Diabolist said. “Binding an entity capable of such influence would require fewer mages, though it would carry significant risks.”

I closed my eyes and counted to ten.

“Tell me someone didn’t summon a fucking demon in the middle of a continental brawl,” I asked.

“Someone didn’t summon a fucking demon in the middle of a continental brawl,” Indrani eagerly replied, the slightest of slurs to her voice.

I ignored that, for all our sakes.

“Akua?” I pressed.

“In other times I would wager only the full Stygian Magisterium capable of that tier of diabolism,” the shade finally said. “But the Tyrant of Helike has proved… surprisingly well-informed. I would not dismiss the possibility out of hand.”

I clenched my fingers into a fist until the knuckles paled. Of all the violently idiotic things to do. If a demon got loose with this many armies in the region, the damage could be… Staggering. We could lose the entire centre of Procer in a month, if it went wrong, and by the time the dust settled the final contest over who owned Calernia would between demon-corrupted puppets and the armies of the dead. Where were the fucking heroes when you actually needed them? A whole warband was willing to show up for the Battle of the Camps but this somehow did not require their attention? I forced myself to calm down. Angry thinking was sloppy thinking. We didn’t know for sure it was a demon. It could be an aspect or a ritual, or half a hundred tricks I’d never heard about. We’d plan for the worse, but I wouldn’t allow myself to get stuck in the perspective it was necessarily what was taking place.

“All right,” I said, letting out a long breath. “Our approach needs to be adjusted.”

“How so?” General Rumena asked.

“If this is the Tyrant screwing with Procer with sorcery or his Name, we let it go,” I reluctantly said. “I’m not starting a war with the League over this, ugly as that reality is.”

“If our assumption is correct and the ‘legionaries’ the League were seen skirmishing with are truly the Army of Callow, we might already be at war with them,” Akua pointed out.

“We don’t know for sure,” I said. “It fits, and my instinct is that Juniper’s out there, but I’m not going to act based on just that. It could be deserters from Marshal Grem’s army, or a raiding force he sent out. It could be a scheme, if someone knew we were coming, to bait us into starting that very war. And even if was Juniper, we don’t know the context of those skirmishes – and note they were that, skirmishes. Not a field battle.”

“You do not believe that, not truly,” the shade said.

“My beliefs are irrelevant,” I sharply replied. “There’s too much at stake here for hasty decisions, and too much we just don’t know. Someone out there set up this game, Diabolist, and until we know who that is I’m not picking any fights I don’t have to.”

Silence reigned after that, and Akua simply inclined her head in deference.

“And if it isn’t?” Archer nonchalantly asked. “Magic or an aspect, I mean.”

I put a hand on the low table, feeling the cool polished surface against the warmth of my flesh.

“Containment,” I softly said. “Observation. Then, if necessary, we purge everyone inside.”

I would not allow a demon to run rampant this close to so many armies and Named. I would not allow the Tyrant to wield that dangerous a tool when both those things were so close, as that might even more dangerous. If the city could not be saved, then I would see it burned to the ground. It was the closest thing to mercy I could still offer. The Liesse Accords would ban the summoning of demons any circumstances, I thought with irritation, not that it meant anything until they were signed. Allowable Use of Non-Creational Entities, And Circumstances Therein. There was an entire section of the treaty dedicated to this stuff. Considering what it had to say about angels it wouldn’t be all that popular with some people, but then others would be less than pleased about the parts pertaining to devils.

I did not mind beginning to enforce the sheerest common sense onto this continent at swordpoint before signatures had been put to the Accords, if it proved necessary.

“Then you would have us prepare for battle,” General Rumena said, tone neutral.

“You have your orders, Tomb-Maker,” I said.

There was a whisper of power in the tent, and the phantom weight of the crows on my shoulders. The old drow took in the sight of the Sisters manifest and immediately bowed its head.

“By your will, First Under the Night,” it replied. “I will begin preparations immediately.”

The weight was gone, quick as it had come, and I let the general leave the tent without further comment. My eyes moved to the map on the table, the small stones that had been placed on it. We were a day’s march from Rochelant and whatever awaited us there, now. There’d be answers soon enough.

“If it is not a demon,” Akua suddenly said, breaking through the silence. “If the Kingdom of Callow is not at war with the League… Then there might be an opportunity awaiting.”

I picked up the black stone representing our army and spun it idly between my fingers. My gaze remained on the inked borders and cities of the Principate of Procer. On the few coloured stones marking the forces we knew about. The two armies of the Dominion, the rumoured Proceran relief force coming from Salia. The most likely current operating theatre of the legions under Marshal Grem. Where we’d believed the armies of the League to be, though that would need reassessment. And far to the south, the duped border army of the First Prince desperately hurrying back towards tactical relevance. The thorough interrogation of the Levantine outriders had wielded more information than anticipated, even if a lot of it was rumours.

“You want to make a deal with the Tyrant of Helike,” Indrani guffawed. “Because that’s going to end well.”

“An alignment between Callow and the League alone would force the Grand Alliance to the peace table,” the shade pointed out. “The addition of the Empire Ever Dark further tips the balance. We would be as much of an existential threat as the Dead King, in some aspects. The alignment need not last forever for concessions to be extracted.”

There was a pattern somewhere in there, I thought. Oh, it looked like sheer bloody chaos at first glance but I’d fought wars before and something about this was raising my hackles. Someone had helped this storm to brew, and that meant someone would benefit from it. Malicia had once told me that when beginning a scheme, one must first consider the desired outcome. She was a lot better at this game than I’d ever be, but I could derive some use from that lesson: what did the players in Iserre want? The Grand Alliance wanted to crush the invasion as swiftly as possible before sending all its forces north. The Legions of Terror, if their march upwards was any indication, wanted to use the northern passage to retreat towards Callow. The League was the entity hardest to predict. It had two heads, the Hierarch and the Tyrant, and it was unclear who was really holding the reins of the horse. If anyone is at all. If they’d wanted territorial gains, I thought, they would not have come this far north so early. It would have been sounder sense to smash the Proceran border army in Tenerife then quickly move to occupy a few southern principalities while the Principate was forced to deal with other threats in the heartlands. Instead they’d joined the complicated dance taking place in Iserre.

“See, the problem with that is that at some point we’re at a table with the Tyrant,” Indrani said. “That’s basically throwing jugs of oil at a bonfire, Akua. He’s gonna fuck someone before that conference is done, and it might just be us.”

Remove the League forces from Iserre, and what did you get? Eighteen thousand veterans under Grem, my own southern expedition of fifty thousand and possibly a portion of the Army of Callow. All of which would join up into a single force when faced with external foes. Against that, a relief army from Salia that should be at least thirty thousand to be worth throwing into the mess. Eighty thousand split in two from the Dominion. And maybe, though to be honest the chances weren’t great, that army of twenty thousand from Tenerife would make it in time to participate. I doubted anyone from the League would have been able to predict the kind of army I’d come back with, but then they might have just been betting blind on my coming back with some kind of force. East against West, to paint in broad strokes, the Grand Alliance had us beat in numbers. We’d have better soldiery, though, and unless the heroes stepped in we’d have the only Named on the field. If truce couldn’t be reached there would be a clash on a massive scale, and one of those coalitions would come out of it shattered. Put back the League onto the field, though, and suddenly the difference was obvious. Like Indrani had mused days ago, neither coalition could commit to that kind of a clash because both ran a risk the Tyrant would come swinging at their back when they were occupied.

This, I decided, couldn’t be the Hierarch’s game. Unless the man was hiding deep cunning and political acumen behind the rambling letters and had been playing some of the finest minds on the continent – and also me – like fiddles then this wasn’t his doing. It would be the Tyrant of Helike, moving through him. No one can make a deal with the League, because the madman ruling it will refuse to make one out of principle, I thought. And the Tyrant, if the Eyes of the Empire were to be believed, had been the one to arrange for the Hierarch to be elected in the first place. That did not feel like a coincidence. I closed my palm over the stone I’d been twirling, then absent-mindedly knocked it against the surface of the table.

“But if you’re trying to prevent one side from being crippled,” I murmured. “Then why are you stirring the pot?”

If the objective was to keep the East and the West from bloodying each other to the extent that no one would be able to stand against the Dead King, it would run against the grain to keep shoving chaos into Iserre. Which he was absolutely doing, if the situation in Rochelant was what it sounded like. Unless you really don’t give a shit about the war, I thought. Because the war is just a way for you to get at something so it doesn’t matter who wins it, so long as they don’t win it too early. But if that was really the case…

“Catherine?” Akua said.

My head rose. I hadn’t realized until now, but silence had fallen over the tent.

“Call Rumena back,” I ordered. “There won’t be a demon in Rochelant. I’ll be heading to the city with a small escort, while the army under it needs to be moving elsewhere. And fast.”

“And what will be doing there?” Indrani asked.

It had never even occurred to her, I thought affectionately, that she would not be coming.

“Paying a visit to my eternal friend,” I said. “To find out what it is exactly he needs so badly from Cordelia Hasenbach.”

182 thoughts on “Chapter 5: Consult

  1. Or this could be purely Hierarch’s game considering the use of Trials. How Tyrant benefits form this in the long term is a riddle wrapped in an enigma stuffed into a sack full of diseased rats.

    Liked by 14 people

      • Maybe, but the People executing the puppets of Wicked Foreign Oligarchs sounds more like something that he might do with an Aspect than anything else. Possibly without even deliberately using said Aspect.

        Liked by 18 people

          • In the Hierarch’s eyes, the law is defined as whatever is voted to be lawful by the People

            If the People collectively decide to do something that helps the Tyrant, it not only becomes lawful but also retroactively rewrites Bellerophan history so that it has always been lawful and such that the People have never taken any action to the contrary.

            In fact even the retroactive rewriting would cease to exist since it has always been that way, and mention of such untrue, unlawful acts would result in immediate execution.

            Liked by 4 people

            • That’s what he likes to say, but the People have voted, and they’ve voted to, well, “consort with wicked foreign oligarchs”. Hierarch doesn’t believe in Bellorophon, Hierarch believes in Bellerophon as it was to him.

              Liked by 3 people

        • Black wants a victory for Praes.

          And also no more starvation, war, pissing off neighbours, flying fortresses, diabolism, blood sacrifices, abusive nobility, oppression of ethnic minorities…

          A victory for Evil. Yes. Definitely. And he’ll have a detailed explanation on how it definitely is one, with theoretical basis and everything ;u;

          Liked by 7 people

        • Black doesn’t want Evil to win. Black just wants to win, period. Bard and Tyrant were on point when they called him just a collection of gears. Black doesn’t have a goal beyond winning but dresses it up in pretty colours, while Tyrant pretends that all he wants is to win but is ironically more principled about it because what’s the point of winning if you can’t act like a winner?

          Liked by 3 people

          • I’d say you’re discounting too much of what originally motivated Black’s definition of winning. He’s not principled, no, but there’s the point of what he actually wants to accomplish and why he cared about that in the first place.

            The way I read it, he was, yes, increasingly focusing on his plans for the sake of his plans, wanting to win while losing sight of what the point of victory was supposed to be in the first place. Then Bard metaphorically decked him in the face at Free Cities, and he started pulling his head out of his ass a little.

            ““Is the Empire as it currently standsso worthy of survival?” the Black Knight murmured. “I think not. If it cannot adapt, then let it perish. Out of the ashes we will raise something other than a snake devouring its own tail, shattering the world with its throes as it seeks to sate empty hunger.””
            (Book 4, Interlude: Red the Flowers)

            ““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?””
            (Book 4, Interlude: Queen’s Gambit, Declined)

            ““I still do not believe,” Amadeus of the Green Stretch murmured, “that I am wrong. That our methods, our works, are to be so easily discarded. If these younglings want to prove themselves worthy of shaping the world, well…”

            He bared his teeth.

            “Let them come,” he said. “Let them earn it. If they can surpass us, then the sin is ours.”

            “And if they can’t?” Ranker asked.

            “Then they fall into line, or face destruction, and we fight one last great war,” he said. “The one that will matter.””

            …a little.

            We’ll see how that one goes.

            Liked by 3 people

            • That’s not my point, though. Black might have nominal goals, but they’re ironically not the point of his fighting. Black is so concerned with being victorious that he doesn’t care about actually being a victor. It’s not that he needs to regain sight of what he’s fighting for because he really isn’t fighting for anything, not anymore. He puts everything through the fire and is okay with it burning if it’s not up to scratch – but is he really?

              You’re pointing out the fact that he’s alright with the Empire burning as a sign he’s pulled his head out of his ass but I see it somewhat differently. The thing that sets someone like the Tyrant, Neshamah, or any old school-villain, apart from the likes of Black and Malicia is the inherent understanding of transience and a sort of egotism that puts the self above everything else. The Diabolist wasn’t fighting for the greater good, she *was* the greater good. It’s not so unusual to fight for yourself. To people like Diabolist, the concept of ‘everything they’ve ever built crashing down’ is irrelevant because the fact that they were built at all is a monument to their ability.

              Black clearly isn’t this type of person – he doesn’t fight for himself. But he’s also not an idealist or else he wouldn’t be alright with the things he’s built being pulled down simply because they’re stronger, or else he wouldn’t be angry at the Heroes for winning because let’s be honest, behind all the hemming and the hawing the facts on the ground are that most Heroes are just goddamn stronger than the villains, and if calling in a Choir is part of their assets then they’d need to be stupid to not use it. So what is he then? I bet he doesn’t even know himself. He’s not going to go down without a fight, because the only sin is defeat, and defeat is an inherent sin. That’s it. When it comes down to it, he just doesn’t want to lose, but at the same time doesn’t know how to win.

              Liked by 1 person

              • I don’t think the “things he built being pulled down because they’re stronger” means the thing you think it means.

                The person who’s going to be pulling down things he built is Catherine, who he personally taught and knows that she shares his ideals and is if anything more idealistic than him. It’s not a defeat for his ideal for her to take over, he’s just torn between “does she know better or do I know better”. It’s just a question of judgement and competence.

                He knows what he wants: peace for Praes. Peace, justice, equality, not fucking starving every other generation. From there, it’s just a question of how to achieve it.

                He had a very specific plan for a while, and while pursuing it lost sight of drawbacks. He kept compromising, allowing lesser evils in the pursuit of abstract eventual “it will be better later”. Then it rapidly dawned on him that his compromises ended up in Liesse and basically just allowed the Empire to backslide. And he wasn’t okay with that. If what he built turned out to not work, then let it fucking burn!

                I don’t think he doesn’t know what he wants. He wants lots of things. Malicia’s happiness, Catherine’s success, Praes being less of a continental embarrassment, orc liberation, to stick it to heroes, Callow’s prosperity, to prove that he’s right about everything, to maybe not have to kill quite so many people. For his friends to live.

                And then he prioritizes, and then it turns out that even the things he’s put highest priority on maybe aren’t all that compatible, and it’s just… hard 😐

                Liked by 2 people

                • Catherine’s ideals have nothing to do with what Black wants, because from beginning to end Catherine’s story is about Callow, not about the Empire and the Empire can take a hike and starve if it means Callow stops being invaded every generation. The starvation, that may have been Amadeus’ goal once upon a time. It might be his goal again, now that he is no longer the Black Knight, but I’ll wait until I get some evidence that’s the case.

                  “To prove he’s right about everything”
                  See that right there? That’s the core of him, or was, if he’s actually changed. To prove he’s right, and in this case he’s the same as Catherine was for a while back in Book 2-3. Black doesn’t care about the rest of that stuff, they’re a means to an end, and that end is that he’s the one who’s right. That’s fitting considering the side he’s on, but it also means that – funnily enough, for all his talk about escaping the system – he’s the embodiment of the system. Not even as a Well-Intentioned Extremist, because his intent never comes into play.


                  • Catherine can’t tell the Empire to take a hike. I mean she’s going to, for now, but she can’t just say “nope none of my beeswax” long-term. Because Aisha. Because Hakram. Because Robber. Because the Legions of Terror that became the Army of Callow have a reason for being there. She’s made promises in Book 3, both implicit and explicit. She had to put them off because of the Crusade, but they remain a thing.

                    Not to mention, as Black pointed out ot her once, if Praes goes back to its pattern, Callow is going to keep getting invaded every other generation. Catherine wants peace, true long-term lasting peace, and for that she needs to settle Praes somehow.

                    I love to call Amadeus an idiot, but he isn’t, not in this regard. He didn’t just give Catherine power for the hell of it, he deliberately guided her towards this specific position. Her main cause is and will always be Callow, but Praes is a hanger-on that she can’t shake off.

                    And yes, I think “proving he’s right” is only one of the many motivations in play, and not one that’s going to win. He’s admitted to being wrong before, and while he’s proud, he’s not that proud.

                    It’s going to be a conflict. And I think his better nature (which he has) is going to come out on top.


          • Black is trying to break the Conservation of Narrative Energy:

            Evil can’t win. Evil can’t even break even. Black is trying to make it so evil (Praes) at least doesn’t have to play the game.

            Liked by 2 people

            • “Evil can’t win. Evil can’t even break even.”
              So Black says, but the history of the world doesn’t support it. Hell if nothing else the fact that Praes went down once in its history, and was immediately restored stronger than ever, is proof that Evil is constantly breaking even, even in face of massive quantities of supposedly overpowered heroes with supposedly unfair advantages. If the other side is constantly cheating, but your side never really loses, then either you’re cheating too or maybe they’re not cheating after all.

              It’s weird how fixated he is on this, really. Back in Book 1, Catherine and Black had a conversation about symmetry where Cat noted that for every Villain with Destroy there was going to be a Hero with Protect. The flipside that he’s either never considered or willfully ignores is that for every Hero with Bless, there is a Villain with Desecrate. For Evil to lose against Good, Evil has to win first. For the plucky underdogs to win, they have to, well, be the underdogs. Evil can’t win, because neither can Good.

              Liked by 2 people

              • The thing is, the interests of Evil that win don’t line up with the interests of people who live in the Evil country. Evil leaders win all the time, but only if they aren’t trying to better the lot of their people long-term. That kind of victory is what Evil doesn’t get, and that’s what pisses him off.

                I don’t think he’s raging at the right part of the machine, in the Madman speech. It’s not the heroes’ fault that the grooves that Dread Tyrants burned in Creation are awful and hard to break out of.

                But “maybe Praes should stop being an Evil nation”… is maybe less doable than trying to redefine Evil to include being good to its people. Because culture and religion and tradition all these things that are much harder to break and forge anew than the institution of Legions.


                • “Evil leaders win all the time, but only if they aren’t trying to better the lot of their people long-term. That kind of victory is what Evil doesn’t get, and that’s what pisses him off.”
                  Because that is what Evil is. I don’t think it’s true that they can’t better the lot of their people – Terribilis II apparently did just that before he overstepped and tried to break the pattern of half a continent on his own – but the key is that it has to be self-centred. Helping can’t be what’s at the core of you if you’re Evil. You could make a paradise – and really by most standards the Dead King has done just that, assuming Malicia’s talk as the servant in Book 4 wasn’t just lying out the ass – but it has to be done for yourself, first and foremost. Whether to fulfil your ego, to guarantee your immortality, to reign as king eternal, or just to flip the finger to philosophers and show that yes, it can be done, and you’re the one to do it.

                  “But “maybe Praes should stop being an Evil nation”… is maybe less doable than trying to redefine Evil to include being good to its people. Because culture and religion and tradition all these things that are much harder to break and forge anew than the institution of Legions.”
                  Oh come on. Reread what you just wrote. Are you seriously trying to argue that changing a culture – which is actually rather easy, if rarely entirely controlled – is more difficult than literally supplementing metaphysical laws written over thousands, if not tens of thousands or more, years in a single lifetime using a single nation is anything but bull? With the very idea that he’s going to change things he’s utterly failed, because his motivation isn’t to change things but simply to show that it can be done – that he can be more important than everyone who’s come before. And that might be possible, but it would also simply reinforce the real groove he’s trying to break out of, without admitting it – that Evil can be something other than only selfish. Which is impossible as far as I’m concerned.


                  • Well, he is changing culture. He can’t start with changing the cornerstone of it, though, which is worshipping Below. It’s the thing that’s the hardest to shake.

                    And we can juggle the definition of the word “selfish” until the end of time. There’s a position that nobody can be truly selfless unless they’re a literal automaton/computer, because deriving satisfaction from successfully helping others is also selfish.

                    I don’t think Amadeus is as good at this as he thinks he is. You have a point, and he has blinders on – he is also Praesi, he also grew up worshipping Below, and changing that to Above is likely to not just be a solution that occured to him at any point. People who worship Below aren’t going to be majority evil people, just because I believe the majority of people aren’t evil, and what they worship has no correlation with their moral character. If all Praesi are formally speaking Evil, but most of them are just regular people, it makes sense to dissociate uppercase E Evil from lowercase e evil.

                    Harder to keep that up when you’re Named, though.


                  • The thing is, we have in our own culture several icons of “affable evil”, who in political terms would have no problem with keeping their populations content. The most overtly political of them is of course Machiavelli — he and Amadeus would totally love each other.

                    In more recent times we have the “business advisor” Robert Ringer (Looking Out For #1), and Anton LaVey of Satanic Bible fame — they are all about the self-centered thing, but I’m pretty sure that in political contexts they’d also “get” that pissing off large numbers of people is almost as dangerous to your own welfare as pissing off individual powerful people.


              • The problem is, the argument that “for Good to win, Evil has to win first” is full of shit. This is not about that. It’s about the status quo that overwhelmingly favors the Good side. Sure, Good can’t eradicate Evil completely, but it doesn’t need to. Just upholding the status quo is a victory for Good. A loss of Good is not really a loss as long as it’s not permanent, and it never is. They build to last because they don’t have to keep starting again from the scratch all the time. Evil can’t afford that – whatever they achieve is going to be overturned in short order. That’s what Amadeus was mad about in his speech.

                Liked by 1 person

                • It doesn’t really hold as a general rule, though. The existence of Evil nations that have survived centuries an millenia proves that. The Tower stands. Stygian Magisterium stands. The Dead King… yeah.

                  It only really applies to the specific issue of trying to fix Praes’s food deficit problem.

                  Incidentally, that’s what Black’s fixated on u\/(-_-)\/u


                  • Well, nope. The Evil nations continue to exist because Below will not let Above get that ultimate victory so easily. That doesn’t mean they don’t suffer constant setbacks and collapses in a way the side of Good has never really experienced. They appear to be quite evenly matched at the first glance, but in reality, Good is far ahead of Evil in this race.

                    Also, the funny thing with the Dead King is that his ascension didn’t actually alter the overall balance of power at all. He never actually accomplished anything of significance against the side of Good, and he knows that if he tried, it would be his end.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Fair!

                      Lots of ways to look at this situation, I suppose.

                      Either way the way for the Evil nations like Praes to actually get ahead is to stop being Evil.

                      We’ll see how the Callow/Praes situation goes :3


                • “status quo that overwhelmingly favours the Good side”
                  What the fuck does that even mean? The status quo is a victory for Good? The Dead King is a final boss level character, he only doesn’t kill everyone because it’s against his interests to do so and at any point in time he might decide it suddenly is now in his interests – like what happened right now. Just because Sauron can’t be arsed to come outside and play doesn’t mean Good is winning.

                  “A loss of Good is not really a loss as long as it’s not permanent, and it never is.”
                  Nor is a loss of Evil a loss since it’s never permanent. Praes has been around for a thousand fucking years and it’s literally just mortals, there’s a blip here and there but then again Good has blips too, they came extraordinarily close to straight up losing when Triumphant beat the entire continent like a crippled slave. Hell, if the Dead King is to be believed, there’s three divine-class entities in the world – himself, the Wandering Bard, and Sve Noc. Maybe Catherine too, but that depends on the nature of being the first priestess. Just think about that – of four possible pseudo-deities, three are firmly Below and one is beyond the game entirely. Rigged in GOOD’S favour?

                  Are you going to argue that because Evil never manages to make any headway into Good’s territory, it’s rigged against them? But look there – neither has Good ever made any real headway against Evil. There’s no excuse for that, not when we’re constantly told Good is stronger, it cheats, it’s all rigged in their favor. If I play dice for thousands of years with loaded dice and am still only breaking even then I have to face the facts – either their dice are rigged too, or mine weren’t rigged after all.

                  “They build to last because they don’t have to keep starting again from the scratch all the time.”
                  They build to last because it is in the nature of Good to build for those other than yourself, while Evil is defined by believing that everyone else can eat shit and you -are- righteousness. Not even Black is exempt from that. Good is about the knowledge that you’re not the only person in the world; Hanno and the Grey Pilgrim are probably the most overt cases of this, but even William, in the end, thought of what he was doing as the last service of a damned man, the person marked for Hell who could act as a grey guard, doing the dirty work that would’ve ruined him had he not already been ruined. Catherine is the opposite – she’s willing to be damned, as long as she gets to do what she wants.

                  Remember how I expressed incredulity about it’s rigged in Good’s favour? Let’s return to that. Imagine a country that nukes itself every few years and is constantly on the verge of literally starving to fucking death, and its offices are acquired and kept apparently almost exclusively from poisoning people to death. That would’ve caused an immediate collapse in any historical country, or even most fantasy countries. Yet Evil chugs on. The hilariously incompetent Bellerophons – emphasis on hilarious, but incompetent all the same – hasn’t imploded yet, despite being surrounded by neighbours that – in real life – would’ve simply partitioned them, like what happened to Poland. The Dead King is apparently completely untouchable because the Crusades never even got close to the Hellgate itself, let alone the man proper. Praes, for all of its bumbling and its joke schemes, is apparently impossible to topple. Stygia, which is basically Sparta if viewed through the lens of the Persians or the most vicious Athenian propaganda, has outlasted its historical peer in relevance by a massive margin.

                  Fucking hell when Heroes take a dump on villain leaders, it apparently never lasts long enough to make a difference and I won’t believe it’s for lack of trying. They’d pulled down the Tower twice and it’s risen each time, the Chain of Hunger is hasn’t been exterminated yet despite being almost entirely mindless and has a way to either violate conservation of energy or can harness an effectively infinite power source (it has to be asked – what the hell are they eating? They can’t be only relying on cannibalism because as hilariously morbid as that is, it defies how nutrition actually works – meat might have a higher energy density, but that energy has to come from SOMEWHERE).

                  If anything, the fact that Evil polities are objectively built like absolute garbage and yet truck on in defiance of economic theory, sociology, political reality and plain common sense is a mark against Evil, because what can you call that but rigging?

                  “Whatever they achieve is going to be overturned in short order”
                  Because such is the nature of Evil. It is transient and that isn’t a bad thing. It is transient not in the sense of being easily defeated but in the sense of being focused on the self. The entire POINT of Evil is that it always begins, and ends, with you. Black is not exempt from this. The concept of institutional power is nice and all, even modern, but as we’ve seen with the Saint of Swords it doesn’t hold any water in a world where there are main characters who actually matter and then there’s the rest who could be replaced with any other faceless fodder for all the actual plot (read: course of history) cares. For all Black’s tried to stablize things, we’re constantly shown and told that the way he does things means it all comes tumbling down after his own death.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Well, Black’s entire goal was to try to figure out how to keep things going after his own death. As an optimist, I believe in his success 😛 I believe that Catherine is it, and that Black himself has already kind of faded into obscurity from Praesi politics, deliberately at that, just to prevent his strength from accidentally destroying the change he wanted to bring. Even if he was conflicted over that decision.

                    I largely agree with you, though. If you look at Evil’s success through the lens of evil/Evil’s own philosophy, Evil’s actually successful as fuck.

                    It’s just that Amadeus doesn’t share that philosophy, and according to Kairos’s and Akua’s remarks, might or might not be entirely genuinely ignorant that such even exists. He holds the basic viewpoint of a Good ruler: what about my people? How can I best take care of them?

                    He then proceeds to go about it in a Below-sponsored manner, which isn’t as effective as he wishes it was, and that’s his entire point in whining about how the system is rigged. He’s not playing the game the way it’s meant to be played, and to him that’s a mark against the game itself. Like, what, are Praesi entirely not allowed to try to better their own lot?

                    (That’s Below’s fault, not Above’s, I would say. But the blame game is largely pointless, and Below are the ones giving him power – even if it’s just a little – while Above are the ones that keep trying to topple his designs, so…)

                    (And funny thing: Below WERE in fact sponsoring him, if just a little bit. Praesi ARE allowed to better their own lot, they’re just not given help in it. The system is flexible if you push hard enough, and Black pushed damn hard)

                    (And then it stared to snap right back on his fingers, but Catherine functions as a doorstopper there, and it might prove effective yet)

                    (will, IMHO)


      • I’ve read comment after comment Evil this Evil that, and the same about Good. What it seems people are ignoring is the basics of what’s behind this conflict.

        Creation is a construct the Gods use as a proving ground to settle an argument. The argument being should their people be ruled over or guided to become all they can be?

        The Gods above are all about stomping out free will. They feel its perfectly fine for them to put their fingers in the pie whenever they want to. They bestow their heroes with ridiculous powers but not a longer life. They are also pushing the into becoming zealots if they weren’t already from the beginning. Both the Lone Swordsman and Hano the White Knight are good examples of this. The Lone Swordsman was guilt tripped into his role, and Hano has relinquished every choice directly to his God by allowing the toss of the coin to determine all choices. For all their willingness to meddle in the lives of their subjects they do not want to promote free will, and thus even their best toys will succumb to the ravages of time. Their most powerful heroes will age and die just like everyone else. This lessen the risk that they will outgrow the control of their Gods and start to question the game. Rebellion against the Gods can not be allowed.

        The Gods below however require their “chosen” villains to actively grab their name, sometimes even compete for them, but they doesn’t seem to care about subservience. They rather seem to discourage their chosen from depending on divine intervention. You may pray for it but unless you have proven yourself extremely capable they either will ignore you or they’ll punish you. Even if you’ve proved worthy their intervention will come at a terrible cost. Wekesa who was one of their success stories got the intervention he asked for, but even then it came at a terrible price. It cost not just his life and his husband’s many millennium of awareness, but also the lives of over a hundred thousand people and the town. And all this so his son would live.

        The Gods below doesn’t want sniveling subjects. They want their chose to succeed by their own devices. And to aid in that they are granted a life span only limited by their own ability to keep improving.

        That one side is called “Good” and the other “Evil” isn’t really that important. Nor are the labels “Hero” or “Villain” much to go by. Villains can for villainous reasons do surprisingly much good while Heroes can cause a lot of suffering for heroic reasons. And anything a Hero does, no matter how horrible the consequences, is “For the Greater Good”

        While villains do cause death and suffering they don’t have the luxury of blaming it on “the greater good”. When Praes invade Callows it’s to secure access to arable land to avoid starvation. When the armies of Good comes knocking its because “God said so”.

        When Black and the Legions of Dread came knocking it was with more of a plan than the usual invader. Traditionally the invaders either ranted about how they brought salvation even in death to the people of Callow, or they just told them to hand over the food or they’ll be killed.

        Callowans being “Angry horse people” didn’t respond well to either version. The first guaranteed an uprising fuelled by a desire for revenge that would be treated as a loved family heirloom to be cherished for generations, and the second would add the birth of a shitload of home brewed Heroes to the mix.

        Black negated a lot of the blowback by the rules he imposed. The commoners, most of whom never came anywhere close to the fighting, got to pay less taxes than before, got payed better and were actually safer than before the invasion. Even the House of Light remained active with little change being noticeable to the common man. Orphanages operating on the Empire’s dime took in and educated the most unfortunate of society, thus removing a large pot that historically had bred a lot of Heroes.

        Together with careful culling of those who showed signs of emerging heroism this proved to be a pretty successful strategy. But for “Angry horse people”. Callowans are world class when it comes to holding a grudge.

        Heroes were dangerous in several ways. The powers granted them was just part of it. Even disregarding any powers the heroes tends to act like catalysts inciting rebellion. The threat of this wasn’t really a military issue as the Legions most probably would have had little problem stomping out those. However every rebel killed would mean the outstanding debt of Callowan revenge would go up, increasing the likelihood of yet another uprising and so it would continue to escalate until there were no Callowans left to carry the grudge.

        However just killing off the entire nation of Callows were not a practical solution. Not only would it mean the fields would lay untended with no food going to feed the people of Praes, but it would guarantee a deluge of Heroes would descend on Callows and Praes, most likely leading the way for the combined armies of Good.

        By improving the quality of life for the concurred and culling those who showed signs of heroism he saved a lot of lives. Though that’s not how he looked at it. In his head Black saw it as preserving assets. By keeping a lid on heroism there would be more people working to keep food on the tables in Praes. Keeping the body count low also meant it would take longer before the axis of Light could drum up support for a new war.

        In effect evil was doing a lot of good, not in an effort to do good but because it furthered its long-term goals.

        At the same time it’s interesting to note that in the eyes of the Gods above everything Black achieved, including minimizing suffering and strife was evil simply because it served the interest of the Gods below.

        And I have totally forgot why I was writing this. I think it had something to do with the way a lot of the comments seem to miss that in this story world the labels Good and Evil is just that, labels. Good can do evil, and it will still be labled as being done for the greater Good. Heroes who leads people to rebellion against impossible odds which ends up causing a lot of death and suffering with no gain whatsoever to show for it is lauded for their heroism even when it was blatantly obvious from the beginning that there was never any chance they would win.

        From beginning to end it’s a competition between gods. One side who is holier-than-thou and the other egging their pawns to break all the rules they can, but also letting them deal with the backlash.

        I’m rambling again ain’t I?

        Now I’m starting to doubt that posting this is such a good (yep, a pun. Deal with it…) idea. But I guess anyone making it far enough to reach this deserves the punishment.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. > Citizens are forming tribunals and killing officials and prominent individuals after public trials

    Well, well. What aspect has Hierarch found himself, I wonder? And how willingly is he using it, given that it may well be messing with The Will Of The People?

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Well people killing their former oppressors does sound like Hierarch Aspect.

    Cat does raise a good question what are the Heroes up to. We know what Saint has a Faction setting a trap with Black. We know what some are fighting the Dead King. We still have no idea what Hanno is doing. The Hierach’s Vision had him raising sword on a beach which seems pretty random.

    Liked by 4 people

    • My only question is why Cat didn’t even mention or consider the possibility of the Bard acting there.
      Cat wouldn’t be forgetting the Bard now that she isn’t Named, would she?

      Liked by 7 people

      • …huh.

        That’s just creepy enough that I wouldn’t discount the possibility.

        I think a more mundane explanation, though, is that there is no benefit to considering Bard. It’s like including the possibilty that a meteorite will fall on your head when planning opening a small business. It might! Does that knowledge help? No!

        Liked by 11 people

          • “Powerless you ain’t, Maddie”. Just because he doesn’t hold a Name doesn’t mean he’s not still entangled in the strings of Fate, and he specifically explicitly has potental for a new one (or several).

            Bard doesn’t have the literal rules-of-the-game limitation of only being able to appear to Named. She still acts entirely, as far as we know so far, through actions of Named individuals, whether by choice, by convenience or out of inability to be effective otherwise.


      • Ehhhh … if it’s Bard, she’s using somebody else to do things via proxy.
        There’s no real point in considering Bard at this moment. Bard has a decidedly ill defined agenda concealed behind a web of lies, bullshit, and deception.

        Whomever is physically involved, they’ll be doing it for reasons of their own, in addition to whatever push in this direction Bard gave them. And as such, the only factors that can realistically be judged are their own reasons, ignoring Bard.

        Liked by 5 people

        • I mean, he wasn’t thinking about her until she literally appears in front of him. It does not disprove the possibility that Bard just has a low key anti-memetic effect on non-Named that only gets disrupted when someone else brings her up / she’s literally right there.

          Liked by 3 people

        • Depends on who is being Liberated and what they’re being Liberated from.

          If you are being Liberated from mortality, you’re probably ending up dead or undead, not getting some form of immortality.
          If you’re being Liberated from obedience to laws against murder … that could easily end badly.

          Or if you’re Liberating murderers and rapists from prison, that’s not exactly something that’s Good, either.

          Whether an Aspect sounds like it leans towards being Evil or Good doesn’t matter that much, unless it’s related to something that is exclusive to or prohibited to its followers by either Above or Below, though a Hero is probably not going to be in a position where they get an Aspect that has stereotypically Evil implications/connotations, ie a Hero isn’t likely to get an Aspect called Torture or something. On the other hand, Evil mostly doesn’t care about the implications/connotations of Aspects, though a Villain almost certainly can’t get a Resurrection-type Aspect the way a Hero can, Resurrections being the domain of Above, not Below – however, a Villain could probably end up with an Aspect that converts a corpse into higher grades of undead.

          Liked by 1 person

        • If anything Bellerophon cold be said to be under the tyranny of the people. I highly doubt that they have a state religion as any God, above or below, having any more power over the way of the people goes against the governing principles of Bellerophon, most glorious city of the free.

          Bellerophon is aligned with Evil not because they swear to the Gods below but because they refuse to bow to the Gods above.

          Good or Evil. The Gods above does not recognize anything in between while the ones below couldn’t care less.


      • How about Judge?

        It’d fit perfectly into Bellerophon’s mentality, and would work for Hierarch’s beliefs.

        The citizens driven by his aspect to Judge their rulers as Wicked Despots Ruling With An Iron Fist Who Must Be Overthrown.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Do mine eyes deceive me or did Cat just directly refer to Black as her father?

    “The voice in the back of my head that sounded like my father kept reminding me that relying on an artefact was the kind of foolishness that got villains killed”

    If this happened before then I certainly didn’t notice it.


    Liked by 13 people

    • good catch, i also think it’s never been quite this explicit before, although really not new info otherwise. Her convo w/ archer about her relationship w/ Ranger was pretty darn clear even if their words danced around it.

      Liked by 4 people

    • Yeah, I noticed that as well.
      One thing that’s kind of interesting is that of the five and a half calamities, only one and a half aren’t confirmed to have at least adopted children. Ranger seemed to consider her apprentices like children (though she was a horrible parent), Black had Cat, Captain had a husband and three kids IIRC, and Masego and Tikoloshe had Masego.
      There was no real indication that Eudokia had any real personal connection to anyone except Black, and we don’t really know enough about the Assassin to say, considering that they’ve had exactly one on-screen appearance where they were even identifiable.

      Liked by 2 people

          • I’ll tell you more.

            ““We both know they will give you nothing of worth,” the Webweaver said, but she was smiling. “Leave them here. The only redeeming aspect of tonight is that I’ll get to see Assassin’s face when I tell him he botched the job.”

            There was something in the woman’s eyes that would haunt the Taghreb’s dreams for months to come.

            “He’s going to be in a mood,” she said with delight.”


            (though I’m pretty sure Eudokia wasn’t consulted for Assassin’s pariticipation at Liesse, given how tailored it was to violate Cat’s trust in Amadeus and make her mad at him)

            Liked by 2 people

            • You know, I’m startong to think that, at the end of the Guide, there’s going to be some huge M. Night Shyamalan twist that flips the story around and reveals that Assassin was the main vharacter of the story all along, and then we’ll have to go back and re-read the entire thing looking for the hints that were dropped.

              Liked by 1 person

      • Eudokia/Scribe isn’t actually one of the Calamities.
        The Calamities are/were Squire/Black, Apprentice/Warlock, Ranger, Cursed/Captain, and Assassin.
        Scribe and Malicia, while Named associated with Black and the others, are not themselves Calamities.

        Liked by 5 people

        • Honestly I think as far as Eudokia goes it’s splitting hairs.

          Malicia, yes, is separate from the group. But the only reason Scribe isn’t known as one of the Calamities is that she’s lower-key than most of them and joined after they established themselves as such. She’s a full part of the dynamic.

          Liked by 2 people

    • The first time she did (sort of) was actually in the first half of Book 3.

      ““As far as I’m concerned, the closest thing I’ll ever have to a father is down south killing fools,” I replied coldly. “And he doesn’t have a last name. Born a farmer, you see.”

      Then, there’s the whole deal in Liesse, which was her and Black at the very least acknowledging what was going on.

      ““You let me believe she took you prisoner,” I said. “You had the means to warn me you weren’t. Why didn’t you?”

      “In part because I was not certain you would be able to deceive her,” he said. “In part because of the story you used to become Duchess of Moonless Nights. It was my understanding that if you slew Assassin while believing he was me, it would prevent the eventuality of a… repetition of pattern.”

      Patricide, he’d danced around saying. Even now neither of us were comfortable with the implications of the word.”

      Then, there was the bit at the end of Book 4 which killed me even deader than the previous two somehow.

      ““I am angry,” I correcting, baring a grin that was all teeth and defiance. “Truth is, Andronike, I’ve been angry all my life. At the Praesi for owning my people, at my people for being owned. At my father, for being so much less than he could be.”

      Catherine does so rarely. But denial’s no longer the name of the game ;u;

      Liked by 11 people

      • Wait, how could I forget the first and most epic straightforward f-word drop!

        Book 3 Chapter 57: Revolve

        ““Does it get easier?” I asked. “Carving away pieces?”

        Pale green eyes met mine.

        “Yes,” he said.

        It was a lie. We both knew that. But I loved him a little, for saying it anyway.

        The last part I remembered of that night was my father’s hands putting a blanket over me.”

        Liked by 7 people

    • It also happened the night she thoroughly broke up with Killian, she had a discussion about it with Black and cried, that chapter ended with “The last part I remembered of that night was my father’s hands putting a blanket over me.”

      She has admitted it to herself quite some a few other times, even in a conversation with Indrani she let it implicit. I look forward to when she finally admits it in front of him.

      Liked by 10 people

      • …yeah.

        This one 🙂

        (and they’ve as good as admitted it both of them, in the unsaid patricide discussion after Liesse. But the time when she actually calls him that to his face can’t be anything less than utterly epic)

        Liked by 4 people

  5. I see Cat getting along with Tyrant, they both exploit chaos for gains. So they may both dance this macabre to the hilariously horrifying end. Everyone watching this is going to lose.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I did speculate Cat would find out about The Rise of Darth Masego, The Divine Death of Warlock and the Grand Doom of Thalassina from the Tyrant and Hierarch and that seems pretty darn likely. So it will be interesting to see how Cat reacts when the duo drops that bombshell on presumably Indrani, Cat and Akua. I assume that is the elite squad that is going in.

    I mean I am glad Cat is confident in her sword but I somehow doubt it will bridge the gap between Saint and Cat in a direct fight. Cat might win exploiting stories I suppose. Archer is a much better fighter and got ragdolled by Saint. Of course this does draw a parallel to Hanno, I believe they both have magic swords now.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Hub, maybe Hierarch is doing a practice by putting the concept of procer to trial before doing it to thr choir

    And Cat is still underestimating how much influence the Gods Above above have with their heroes and how far they go to win this game

    Liked by 2 people

      • Not really their style though. Those below are betting that given time and free will their people will prove to be “better” than those controlled by the above.

        Better being largely undefined, but probably they are treating it like a game of last man standing.

        Whatever the case it will take more than a little tampering from above before the below enters the fray. And if that happens there’s good odds they’ll be pretty pissed their villains weren’t able to handle the situation themselves.


  8. So Cat is gathering power to unleash it against the Saint of Swords, Noble Phantasm style?
    Cool, I wonder what her Excalibur’s name will be. It reminds me of some Xianxia stories where Intent and Qi is accumulated inside a sheathed blade for a long time to be released in a super technique that uses up all the gathered energy but it’s a certain-kill move.

    It’s always nice to see her refer to Amadeus as her father.

    Why hasn’t Cat thought about the possibility of the Bard being involved? This kind of mess where Cat noticed it seemed like someone had predicted something big would happen seems like the kind of stuff the Bard would do.

    Finally, I was re-reading the Guide, and in book 3 Interlude Commanders, there was a mention of “The Princes’ Graveyard” in the epigraph by Juniper, we hadn’t seen such battle, right? That’s some awesome foreshadowing for the incoming battle where according to Cat “important people need to die but the armies must live”.

    Typos found:
    -before either was I buried / I was
    -who owned Calernia would between / would be between
    -even if was Juniper / even if it was
    -that might even more dangerous / might be even more dangerous
    -ban the summoning of demons any circumstances / under any circumstances
    -what will be doing there? / what will we be doing there?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Keep in mind that we know more about what Bard has been doing than Catherine does.

      Information Catherine has:

      – Bard’s semi-involvement in Summerholm that ended with Cat Speaking to her to shut up;
      – Bard “getting into William’s head at the end”, as told by Vivienne;
      – Bard’s involvement in the Free Cities;
      – Bard being possibly involved with the Augur’s rise;
      – Bard’s presence at Liesse;
      – Bard’s involvement with Neshamah’s rise;
      – Bard’s involvement with the sisters’ rise.

      Information we have and Catherine doesn’t:

      – Bard’s little talk with Akua when she was letting out the demon (unless Akua has shared that, which she might have but also might have forgotten about / not considered relevant);
      – Bard chasing away two Emerald Swords from their mission to kill Akua;
      – the hints we have at the heroes’ connection with her / knowledge about her (Pilgrim and Saint mentioned her briefly during Kaleidoscope, and the drinking stuff left behind before Cordelia’s talk with Saint);
      – Bard’s conversation with Anaxares that ended her time as Aoede;
      – Bard’s conversation with Neshamah as he exited the portal;
      – Bard’s conversation with Amadeus in the Epilogue.

      We know Bard has been meddling with the Tenth Crusade and around it actively. Here’s what Catherine has got:

      “The Bard had been considered old even in the days of Sephirah’s fall. Gods, how long had she been around?

      I did not consider myself all that inclined to fear my enemies, admittedly sometimes even when I should have. But as the whetstone slid against the edge, I admitted to myself that for the first time in ages I was genuinely afraid of an opponent. Heroes, even those who could tread all over me, I could cope with. There were ways around power, around the laws of the Heavens. They could be tricked and twisted. But something like the Wandering Bard? She might have set in motion the sequence of events that would lead to my death decades before I was even born. If Black was to be believed, she could not be killed and even if she somehow was anyway she’d only return with a different face. There was no telling what she knew or how she knew it. There was no telling where she was and what she was up to. How could an entity like that be beaten? The sharp song of stone on steel held no answers, soothing as it was.

      I’d believed that I understood the game unfolding across Calernia. That I could guess, if not know, the motives and intents of the other players. The Tenth Crusade, the Empire and the League: the three powers on the board, as far as the nations of mankind went. My attempts at seeing through the Dead King were now revealed to have been little more than presumption, but light had been shed on more than that mistake alone. There was more going on behind the crusade than faith and ambition. Hasenbach might have refused my terms because of political considerations, as I’d previously believed, or she might have been moved by a whisper in her ear years ago that only now clicked into place. I could no longer trust any of the actors to act according to the rules I’d believed they obeyed, because I’d been blind to half the war even as I fought it. Which now took me to the very place I’d been struggling to avoid since I took the crown: I had to take measures to insure the survival of Callow while in the dark about the objectives of all the other forces in play.

      Fuck, for all I knew the Bard was interceding in my favour. I’d had strokes of bad luck, sure, but exceedingly good one as well. I wasn’t unaware that Black had been arranging things quietly in the background so that opportunities would land in my lap ever since I became his apprentice, but there were things beyond his ability to arrange. The Bard had been in the thick of it, at Liesse, when I gained back the aspect I lost and snatched a resurrection out of angelic hands. Had she been beaten there, or had that restoration been the purpose all along? Hells, had she pulled strings for me to win just so I’d fuck up with Akua the following year and Second Liesse got the Tenth Crusade going? I could go mad, trying to find the hand of the Wandering Bard behind every turning point of the last few years. But then could I really afford not to look for it? If I kept my eyes closed, I’d lose. Or whatever else she had in mind for me.

      She’d admitted to the Dead King that he’d been too clever in his scheme for her to be able to crush him, but that’d been centuries and centuries ago. When she was still learning her Role. I had to face the possibility that even if I made all the right choices I might still end up broken because the Bard had shaped the choices I’d be able to make so she couldn’t possibly lose. I felt shards of stone pass through my fingers, and noticed with a sigh that I’d crushed the whetstone without even meaning to. That was my only one, too, I’d have to borrow Hakram’s from now on. I picked up my scabbard with a sigh and sheathed the longsword. So much for any of this calming me. There were no easy answers to be had. ”

      It’s true that she seems to be forgetting that Bard could be behind every shadow. But is that really a bad thing, when the alternative is madness and paranoia?

      Liked by 3 people

  9. “The villain was essentially a sack full of wet and angry cats made into a person”
    And Hierarch is a weaving machine of political messages his constant desperation.

    Liked by 5 people

  10. Sacrificial typo thread:

    “ “You know, in Alamans romances that have very nice illustrations of what Wicked Priestesses of Evil should wear,” Archer informed me.”

    Looks like two potential sentences both partially came into being here.

    “And what will *we* be doing there?” Indrani asked.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • “In Alamans romances that have”
      I would replace that with they so it would be:
      “In Alamans romances they have”

      I got a few other typos in my comment above, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. You know what I want? I want the Tyrant to have a crush on Cat. Trying to awkwardly flirt with her during meetings and such. Cat isn’t sure if he’s genuine or whether it’s a scheme, but then rolls with it because it sounds like fun.

    Liked by 3 people

      • I could picture the Tyrant flirting indirectly but obviously with Akua. Like, VERY obviously. Only to irritate the others and throw them off balance.
        Or suggesting a political marriage of Cat with the Hierarch, you know, for funsies.

        Liked by 6 people

      • Catherine can’t be older than like, twenty herself. She was eighteen when she was dealing with Akua. It’d be sort of cradle-robbing but a university sophomore hooking up with a high schooler doesn’t sound that weird.
        The main issue is that Catherine seems to be mentally unsuited for any sort of actual relationship, and I don’t mean unready but unsuited. She thinks of things in terms of victory.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hum, how old was Catherine at the time when it was mentioned that Kairos was sixteen? You’re right, there’s probably less of an age difference between them than I’ve been thinking.

          Catherine has a lot of ‘actual relationships’ with people. Primary romantic partnership hasn’t worked out for her so well before, yes, partially because she’s too busy doing other things for any romantic partnership to be primary.

          She’s been doing pretty well with Indrani though 🙂 what with the relationship not being primary partnership nor trying to be, because that’s not actually necessary for anything at all 🙂

          /irate poly aroace rant over

          Liked by 2 people

          • Poly, Aro, Ace….
            Honestly, that is not a combo I expected to see.

            If there’s no romance, and no sexy, and you have multiple people in the category, I’m trying really hard to tell the difference between “Poly, Aro, Ace” and the power of Friendship.
            No intention to judge/criticize, am only try to picture in my head what this would look like, as I am 50% of way down the Ace spectrum, and several friends are Poly and it is… really hard to communicate between those philosophies sometimes.

            Or maybe you just meant that there were Poly considerations, or Ace ones, or Aro ones, all of which are valid, but not necessarily assumed to be in play all at the same time

            Liked by 2 people

            • No, I meant what I said. Aspects of poly philosophy that I care about line up with aro ace anger about putting too much priority and importance on the idea of “a couple”, in the traditional romantic+sexual way. Relationships can be different, and they all matter. Friendships matter, family relationships matter, and you can have many romantic relationships at the same time that aren’t the least bit cheapened by not fitting the “couple” archetype. It’s easier to be aro and it’s easier to be ace in a world that recognizes that, and it’s easier to be aro ace in a world where people don’t go “but how can someone survive without a primary romantic+sexual relationship”

              Liked by 2 people

            • Also, see: Masego. His current positioning in the group is my ideal wish fulfillment scenario, because he gets to have a primary queerplatonic relationship with Indrani that does not require compromise/sacrifice on either side’s part because it’s not monogamous on her part.

              That’s my poly aro ace point.

              Liked by 1 person

              • This makes sense to me. Thanks heaps for explaining.

                For me, friends who are Poly are often the ones who get stuff least… but I suspect that is just my friends, and I can totally see what you are saying about less emphasis being put on the “Primary relationship” thing, how those philosophies line up in that regard.
                Also see what you mean about how a poly set up as with Cat/Archer/Masego allows for really close relationship while still allowing things to remain platonic for Masego.

                Liked by 1 person

          • “Catherine has a lot of ‘actual relationships’ with people.”
            Claptrap. Catherine has lovers. She does not have a relationship in the romantic sense of the word. Archer she treats like a family member who’s also good for fingering. There’s a difference between someone you enjoy sleeping with and someone you hold a relationship with.

            “partially because she’s too busy doing other things for any romantic partnership to be primary”
            Rather because Catherine cannot fathom not being in nominal control. Her closest approximation is goddamn Hakram, who she implicitly trusts if only because Hakram himself has no agenda whatsoever outside of Catherine.


            • You know… this might be just a matter of word use disagreements.

              It sounds like you are using “Actual relationship” to mean a particular type of romantic relationship, while Liliet might be refering to a much broader category of thing, which includes Such things as Catherine’s relationship to Black, Juniper, Masego etc etc etc. “Human relationship” – in the sense of relating to one another.
              All these things are important relationships in her life. In many of them (Black, Masego, Archer etc) she is distinctly not in control, and she is okay with that.
              In some sense, (especially Book 1-2), one of Cat’s defining traits was her ability to collect a group of people who were loyal to her, and yeah, there was control, but these people were loyal to her because she met them on their terms. She was a friend first and commander second.

              So yeah, if you mean “Balanced monogomous romantic partnership”, then I agree, we haven’t seen Cat do one of these in the past two years worth of story (or whatever its been). But like… so what? Plenty of people go for 2 years without having that sort of relationship, and there are many REASONS for that… not all of which indicate they are incapable of it.

              In terms of the broader def of relationships… I’d say that Cat has indicated some ability at this in the past… but I kind of have to agree that a large number of her relationships with other people are messed up/twisted in one way or another. (honestly, her interaction with Masego seems to be the most balanced one and healthy one)
              I’m not sure how much this says about Cat, and how much it says about the situation she finds herself in.

              The fact that she apparently has literally no friends from the Orphanage might be a bad sign… or just a sign that the Author wasn’t interested in those characters.

              Liked by 1 person

              • The original conversation came about from a hypothetical teenage crush that Tyrant might gain on Catherine and whether or not it’d be weird. It’s obviously not a “human” relationship, but a relationship in the sense of a significant other. You don’t have a crush on someone you’d like to be friends with.

                As far as that sort of relationship, Catherine has basically been said outright to be incapable of handling it. Some of those are just insults which touch on truth (Malicia), some of those are her coming down too hard on herself, and some of them are just plain related to how she sees the world. Catherine does not see compromise and never has. All of her ‘compromises’ were either forced on her from a position of weakness or not compromises at all, insofar as she still got the things she wanted. That’s not how you maintain relationships.

                “The fact that she apparently has literally no friends from the Orphanage might be a bad sign… or just a sign that the Author wasn’t interested in those characters.”
                It’s explicitly said that she had no real friends there. Not enemies, necessarily, but not friends. Because Catherine doesn’t particularly like the feeling of being an equal to someone, and likes it even less than the feeling of being inferior. If you’re inferior that means you’re out of your league. If you’re equal to her, and not implicitly taking her orders, that means you’re a competitor, and Catherine has never been alright with those.


                • Ehhhh … as far as the lack of friends from her orphanage days goes, Cat was effectively an outsider in the orphanage, being half(or more) Daoine, plus she wanted to join the Legions, unlike all the other girls.
                  She had few, if any, interests in common with most, if not all, of the other girls.
                  Plus, with her latent Name-potential (and quasi-Heroic tendencies), it’s unlikely that the staff would have urged her and the other girls to be closer together.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • – Being Daoine has never been shown as some sort of crippling handicap against anyone but the Orcs.
                    – Joining the Legions wasn’t exactly widespread knowledge. Catherine is mutely surprised back in like, chapter 2 when Black (Scribe?) guessed she was saving up money to go to the College.
                    – That honestly is not an excuse. If anything it makes it worse. How ridiculously narrow-sighted do you have to be if you have nothing in common with anyone around you? Hell you don’t even need to be alike to be friends – the futbol team captain who never shut up and the girl who was literally a mute cripple were best friends, because one liked to talk and the other loved listening.
                    – Plus, with her latent Name-potential (and quasi-Heroic tendencies), it’s unlikely that the staff would have urged her and the other girls to be closer together
                    Oh come on, that’s an unfalsifiable statement. You could excuse everything before the rapist guards with “Black’s agents were onto her”.


                    • Actually, I had the thought that the orphanage staff would likely try to discourage other girls from being close to Catherine, too. Regardless of Catherine’s own ability to make friends, it makes sense as something they would do, both to hopefully discourage Catherine from her plans by creating the impression that nobody shares her ideas, and to prevent other girls from being dragged to a death sentence with her if it fails. Just, looking at this from the perspective of people who are trying to care for these children while knowing that Black’s receiving regular reports on them, it’s 100% something that would be done as a standard policy. Hero potential? Isolate them and discourage them. It’s literally part of the point of the system Black set up, to tamp down on the heroic inclinations of the younger generation as much as possible.

                      (And it has worked admirably. Catherine who had friends and support in her ‘fix things’ inclinations would be a lot worse a candidate for the apprenticeship Black offered, she’d have stronger ties to Callowans and their rebellious moods and less readiness to make friends out of Praesi, which is something Black specifically wanted for her for his plan.)

                      And that aside, the first problem you see in Catherine’s hypothetical potential relationship with Kairos is Catherine’s inabililty to compromise? Really? Like, that’s the reason you think it wouldn’t work? And if Catherine were just a little softer, her+Kairos would be the perfect couple?

                      Yes, Catherine isn’t soft. She’s idealistic and refuses to back down on her principles even if it makes her a hypocrite. She has expectations of the world, demands in fact, and she will not compromise on trying to do what she thinks is right. And she won’t accept a romantic partner who doesn’t live up to her idea of what her romantic partner should be like.

                      As this person, she is perfectly likable and has attracted not one but two distinct and partly mixed friendgroups: the 15th officers and the Woe, and I’m looking at Rumena, Ivah and the Sisters and seeing Catherine binding even more people to herself. She’s magnetic and charismatic, and she’s warm and good to be around, just the way she is. Indrani went on a whole rant about it in the Everdark.

                      And the Cat/Indrani/Masego poly angle is the cutest ship in existence so I just don’t even know 🙂


                    • “And that aside, the first problem you see in Catherine’s hypothetical potential relationship with Kairos is Catherine’s inabililty to compromise?”
                      I wasn’t talking about Kairos, but why relationships aren’t her angle in general. You can’t have a normal relationship if you need to be in control literally all the time with no give.

                      “Just, looking at this from the perspective of people who are trying to care for these children.”
                      And my point is that you can go so far down the rabbit hole that Catherine’s own character never comes into play at any point in time before the story. It’s an established character flaw that Catherine has tunnel vision, an extraordinary sort of defiance where she’ll do things she dislikes just to be contrarian about it and prove she can do it anyway, and has trouble compromising or viewing others as equals, I don’t see why it shouldn’t go back to before she became the Squire.

                      Hell if you want to play the “discourage heroism” card, I have one to play too. “Plucky orphan, disliked by everyone around her for dreaming bigger, who has no friends, no family, no roots, but a burning desire to change the world for the better and doesn’t mind if she gets hurt doing it”. Sound familiar? Sounds like a premade D&D character, doesn’t it? Having roots helps you avoid becoming a Hero. William, Hanno, the Grey Pilgrim, Vivienne, Hunter – all of these either lost their roots or discarded them. A plucky young’un who can’t find peers because she was too different is a recipe for disaster if you want to avoid Heroes.

                      “And she won’t accept a romantic partner who doesn’t live up to her idea of what her romantic partner should be like.”
                      You know how hilariously ridiculous this sounds, right? You’re proving my point for me. Catherine doesn’t want this, but if some girl told you she was waiting for a prince on a white horse to take her away you could tell her that it’s not going to happen. She won’t compromise – and so, she is unsuited for relationships with real people. You know, the type with flaws.


                    • “You can’t have a normal relationship if you need to be in control literally all the time with no give.”
                      The thing is, that’s very much not how her close relationships work. She’s actually argued with Juniper about this, when Juniper insisted she should enforce the chain of command and Catherine said that wasn’t the kind of outfit she was running.

                      You are specifically 100% entirely inaccurate about this. People around Catherine would if anything prefer if she was a little more confident in herself and was a little less worried about asserting too much control over others.

                      She gave Vivienne a bloody killswitch. An override command that would force her to obey Vivienne’s will. How is that “needing to be in control all the time”?

                      She was worried as fuck about Masego going to… the heart of the country that’s currently her enemy… to help it… and to personally help the person who’s repeatedly expressed the desire to see her dead…

                      and she still ceded to Masego’s point about how he didn’t need her permission to go. Which, I mean, remains true regardless of what she thinks of it, but it specifically contradicts your point about her relatinships: she saw the other person’s autonomy and ceded to it.

                      The only relationship where she needs to be in control all the time is the one with Akua, and even that’s been morphing more and more into a trust-based relationship of equals, despite all the practical considerations to the contrary.

                      And if a girl told me she was holding out for a prince on a white horse and seemed perfectly happy to go without a relationship until one turns up, I would recognize that girl as my younger aro ace self who didn’t know what aro ace was, or a lesbian, or just someone who doesn’t want a bloody relationship for the sake of a relationship, and I’d be like YO YOU GO FOR IT BUDDY YOU HOLD OUT FOR THAT PRINCE. Higher standards mean lower interest, and that’s not wrong in itself. If Catherine was whining about “boohoo why can’t I get a girlfriend/boyfriend” you’d have a point, but note how she isn’t. She doesn’t have something she doesn’t want; what a great indicator of her lack of ability!

                      ^^^ in this last paragraph I used the word “relationship” to mean the couple kind, but everything above it uses it in a wider sense. Personal relatioships aren’t that different whether they are romantic or not. Catherine does have the capacity to connect with people, listen to them and cede control. You can’t base your analysis on her on a single disaster teenaged romance (and for that matter Catherine had a bloody good point about Killian and human sacrifice and it’s an entirely fair thing to have as a deal-breaker, I can expand on that if you’re interested).

                      You have a point re: heroic stories and few relationships. It was remarked by an agent of Black’s that she “doesn’t have the traditional heroic capacity for forming strong friendships”, so there’s something there. Still, that something sure wasn’t in play in the War College, was it? Discounting the possibility of outside meddling, I’d say it was a mindset: War College kind of selected for people who have the same basic view of the world, on a level, as Catherine does. She wasn’t able to connect well with people who don’t have it: note how back in Laure her most cordial relationship seemed to be with Ebele, the legionary who frequented the tavern.

                      It is, in fact, a thing. It’s not control issues, though. The other way round, like I said: Catherine’s an anxious bub who tries to arrange as many double checks on herself as possible. Yes, she’s authoritative, but it’s not the same thing as not knowing how to back down.

                      Liked by 1 person

            • What Ninegardens said.

              Non-romantic relationships don’t matter less. You can’t just judge Catherine’s ability to form healthy bonds with other people based on her one (1) attempt at having a girlfriend that fell apart eventually. Not when she has a whole healthy friendgroup that functions with 0 romantic drama despite the immense potential for it with all the unrequited crushes fluttering around. Catherine’s relationship with Indrani being defined as “friends” and not “lovers” is a sign of its health, and a sign of Catherine being actually very good at managing her relationships: she and Indrani figured out a structure they were both comfortable and happy with, instead of trying to fit into an awkward and restrictive and inconvenient traditional framework.

              No, Catherine doesn’t do primary romantic partnerships. Yes, it’s largely because she’s too fucking busy being in charge of a large scale attempt to unfuck her region and probably the whole continent. And guess what! It’s not obligatory! Catherine doesn’t have to have a primary romantic partnership, or space for one in her life, in order to be good at relationsips and connecting with other human beings!

              Liked by 1 person

              • Stop being so defensive, you’re on a random tangent ranting about…I honestly don’t know. Romantic freedom? I have no goddamn idea what you’re on about, you first claim you weren’t on about romantic relationships (when the topic at hand is what happens is Kairos wants to bang Catherine, presumably for more than a one night stand), then you come around and say “b-but nothing’s wrong with not having one anyway!”

                My point is that Catherine’s personality is, in fact, not suited for relationships, and it has nothing to do with her being ‘busy’ as she likes to excuse herself, since that is in fact nothing but an excuse. Tyrants, kings, and warlords throughout history have found time for lovers, and I don’t mean rape slaves or political marriages. Someone like her will always find another thing she needs to be in control of. Oh I don’t doubt that she can still have relationships and friendships, but treating someone with their own agenda as a life partner is beyond her.

                In any case, try to separate your own frankly overwhelming views on what I presume is romantic freedom, nontraditional relationships, and polygamy from the matter at hand. Which has nothing to do with any of that.


                • Alright, let’s talk about the matter at hand.

                  Kairos x Catherine.

                  He sacrificed several thousand civilians to make flying towers that he didn’t even intend to keep for longer than a day.

                  Like, he killed them.

                  For what basically amounts to ‘the lolz’.

                  He’s hilarious, yes. But any hypothetical crush he can have on Catherine is not going to have any relevance to the fact that he’s awful, and she is at best willing to tolerate his existence because she can’t afford to antagonize the League.

                  And you were putting it as though Catherine was “not mature enough” for a relationship and as though her not having space for it in her more busy than most historical rulers life makes her somehow weaker / less capable / less mature than someone who would.


          • They don’t age past whatever they think of themselves as. Catherine has grown taller, check the end of Book 3 – she notes that she’s now taller than Black.
            And in any case, twelve-year-old brats being sexually promiscuous is hardly unheard of in legend. Cú Chulainn made cuckolds out of half of Ulster by the time he was seven years old. Somehow.

            Liked by 1 person

              • Masego got his name before the age of ten. So did Indrani.

                Warlock had grey hair. Sabah looked very nearly her real age.

                The appearance of Named reflects their image of themselves. I don’t think Kairos would picture himself as an eternal 12yo.

                …though of all people who would… if anyone would, it’s as likely as not to be him. Eh.


    • I mean, to be fair, this is Tyrant we’re dealing with….

      I’m not sure if his flirting would be awkward, or just kind of amazing in a Supervillinous magnificent bastard sense. Sure, he’s a insane cripple with creepy eyes and possible evil intentions… but I can’t imagine him being awkward about it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know we never seen any proof that Tyrant cares about Sex lol. So far he and Hiearch seem pretty asexual. And I certainly don’t see that impacting their decision making at all.

      Honestly Tyrant strikes me as more likely to like someone like Akua lol then Cat. Even if his chaos style and mastery of stories is Cat like. Cat has moral limitations that would clash with Tyrant.

      Liked by 1 person

      • As a local asexual who craves representation everywhere I can see even a shadow of it, I would like to inform you that not having sexual relationships or potential for them brought up in a politics-and-war-centered narrative where you’re a side character antagonist doesn’t make one asexual.

        Akua’s more likely to be aromantic and/or asexual than Kairos is, based on textual evidence, because Akua has actually expressed views on sex and relationships that lines up with aspec stuff, while Kairos has simply not been examined from that angle at all.

        The same applies to Anaxares. Sometimes, even allo people are just single 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        • Its harder to judge Tyrant cause he is young still and was busy making moves. Hierarch though is what 30 or 40 so its easier to judge him as probably not much interested in that stuff. I think Akua likes sex just fine at least when she was alive, not a romantic though that is for sure.

          Liked by 1 person

          • ‘Liking sex’ and ‘being a romantic’ have very little to do as a concept with asexuality/aromanticism. Those are about having attraction to people. Which I couldn’t really explain to you what it is because I’m aromantic and asexual myself, but it exists apparently! And I’ve seen no indication of caring about it or having it or any inkling of what it’s like in Akua’s POV when she talks about how she views sex. “This person is probably good in bed” is not attraction.

            It’s likely that Akua’s aroace-ness stems from trauma more than anything, and it’s possible that it will change with time as she recovers.
            (Which she clearly has been, despite the whole ‘collar ghost’ status being at Catherine’s side has clearly been healthy for her emotionally)
            Sexual orientation is fluid actually, it’s a thing that comes up in the aro ace community, and the conclusion is that we’ll have everyone as long as they share our experiences, whether there’s an external reason or not.

            And meanwhile, someone can have attraction and lower libido, too. That’s also a combination that’s possible.

            (And Masego meanwhile is a lovely poster child of having all meters stuck solidly on 0 and being perfectly comfortable with it <3)


      • Also brainwashing didn’t work last time though the army did get further against the Dead King then any other. So it might work this time if the quality of Named against the Dead King is better. Wonder if there is a type of Angel that is especially good at beating up undead.

        Liked by 1 person

        • The point of the previous Crusade angel summon was to override the political bullshit and get the First Prince’s head out of their ass.

          Cordelia IS the First Prince. She doesn’t need mass brainwashing summons when she already has the political authority and acumen to get people to not be completely awful&stupid about the situation.


    • It’s Cordelia’s personal quirk. Lycaonese principalities did not have female rulers for a lot longer than the rest of Procer, and while Cordelia has I believe herself acknowledged in her narration that it’s backwards of them, she still takes pride in her national identity. If she’s the Prince of Rhenia, she’s also the First Prince of Procer, and nobody gets to pretend she’s not Lycaonese.

      It’s a similar power move to Catherine refusing to change her last name. Yes, it’s Foundling. You now have Queen Foundling. You’re being ruled by an orphan from an Imperial Orphanage, who had her last name picked by the Praesi administration, and doesn’t see the sightlest problem with it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh Cat, you are so very mistaken about how able you are to work with the Pilgrim. Heaven wants a huge fight now, so the “Heroes” are going to oppose any attempt to stop it out of “principle” and the one orchestrating that will be the Pilgrim, using the Saint as his “bad cop” so he can fake being a kind and understanding grandfather.

    Who do you think got you named Arch-Heretic in the first place?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Saint, actually.

      Pilgrim literally refused an alliance with Catherine out of the desire to keep the Grand Alliance together, while Saint’s move was to destroy it.

      Whether or not Saint has convinced Pilgrim to get aboard the ship now that it’s sailing, it wasn’t his idea originally, and he only left Callow (abandoning his designs there) after the Arch-Heretic bomb dropped.


      • Saint doesn’t intend to destroy the Grand Alliance, but to reforge it into an actual alliance that will hold for centuries. To do so, she needs to eliminate politics as a factor determining the level of cooperation between the Good nations, and Procer in its current state stands in the way.


          • She didn’t state it explicitly, but that’s the most logical outcome of her designs. Collapsing the Grand Alliance doesn’t make sense from her perspective.


            • It does if she thinks it’s the ultimate symbol of political greed and corruption. Which it kind of is, and even Cordelia has been getting frustrated at Levantines and Ashurans being in it for territory grabs and assuming she is, too.

              The Grand Alliance is kind of a trainwreck in terms of Good.


              • In its current shape, yes, it is a failure. But the IDEA is good, and that’s why it needs to be reforged, not destroyed. Saint doesn’t think Cordelia is wrong, just insufficiently fanatical. With Procer on the brink of destruction, Ashur and Levant will have no choice but surrender to the heroes to survive, which will allow Laurence to remake the alliance according to her vision. Cordelia’s dream will be preserved, even if the First Prince herself won’t be part of it anymore.


                • I think you’re projecting your own understanding of the situation on Saint. Just because it sounds like a logical conclusion from her thesis doesn’t mean it’s the one she would come to.


                  • I base my reasoning on the assumption that Saint knows the rough shape of the situation and is at least competent enough to pose a threat. It is possible that I’m wrong and she isn’t, or that she has no idea what’s going on, but I wouldn’t bank on it.


                    • I think Saint’s worldview wrt governments and alliances might be idiosyncratic enough that she won’t come to the same conclusion even with the same base premises and full knowledge of the situation.


                • Problem with that is it’s not actually a clean slate.

                  I’m pretty sure that Saint wants Evil to pull something akin to a Triumphant here – successful conquest followed by everything falling apart latest on in a few years with a new generation of rising Heroes.
                  And the new generation of Heroes are the unquestioned leaders and founders of a new regime.

                  When you base things on the premise that Good ultimately wins in the end, no matter how good a run Evil had earlier on, it’s harder to reform/alter something in the way you want it to be, than it is to let Evil destroy it utterly and have Above help you replace it from scratch.

                  Liked by 1 person

  13. As far as meeting the Tyrant goes, I am not sure what will happen. He can see what people truly want, in their heart of hearts. The real question is what he does with this information.

    I could imagine him supporting Cat or opposing her and her (and us) not being able to tell the difference.

    I could also imagine his metaphorical scouter exploding if he tried that on Akua.

    Liked by 2 people

    • See, the main issue I see with the Tyrant is his incredibly high quality arsenic, which Cat is no longer immune to (No longer being named)…. then again, I guess that is the kind of thing that Night could deal with… so probably fine.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. I reread the final lines. I did think Hierarch was a plausible choice. But she’s saying ‘eternal friend’ and ‘he’.

    Both Tyrant and Hierarch are not eternal. And ‘he’ rules out Bard. I really think the Dead King could be the one in the city.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. “The only way I’d get the other nations to sit at the table was if they no longer believed they could really win against me without losing everything else.”

    So in the end catherine came to conclusion just like Malicia with her doom weapon

    in the end she need power

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, except Malicia was planning on holding her doom weapon over the rest of Calernia’s heads forever. Cat just needs a good enough position in the short term to bring the Grand Alliance to the table.

      The doom weapon was obvious hero bait, it would have brought endless waves of them until one succeeded. Cat just needs to beat the Saint and a few others, then leverage her advantage to get the Liesse Accords signed.

      Liked by 1 person

      • So here’s a question- what would the story weight have been if Malicia got the doom weapon, and then created a treaty (say, equivalent to the accords), saying that the damn thing was illegal and granting Procer etc liscence to dismantle the damn thing as soon as the treaty was signed. None of this “Hold it over them forever” but instead “Hold it over them for five minutes while asking them to sign a reasonable treaty so that no one (myself included) ever makes one of these again.”

        What would Story even make of that? Would it still count as hero bait if the heroes had already been offered a reasonable diplomatic route to removing the damn thing?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Evil Supervillain is about to create a doomsday device. Should us heroes go stop that? 😉

          Also, agreement through duress doesn’t count so i doubt the accords would hold for very long in that case.


    • Yeah, except Catherine’s going to threaten to kill heroes and destroy armies, while Malicia’s threat would have been to irreparably damage the fabric of Creation and let hordes of devils out into countrysides at will.

      One of those is politics and power struggle. The other is “kill it with goblinfire right now no matter the cost”.


      • That the differences in personality lead to different practical applications of the conclusion doesn’t mean that the logic behind it isn’t the same.


  16. I predict the insanity in Toulouse is from the kanenas. I think they have enforcement methods other than murder to make people abandon a basic human trait like ambition. Also, I think the Sisters will be declared to be the “Gods Below” as far as Bellerophon is concerned because they have the right to vote in the councils. It’s never been done before so there is no prior precedent.


  17. So…. possibly a dumb question/theory… but how sure are we that the Bard is on the side of “Good”?

    I mean… is she trying to make Good win, or is she literally some kind of spirit of “Keep the game running”, smiting down anyone who disturbs the rules… on EITHER side. [I think we can all agree that to the best of appearances she is not actually good in the traditional earth sense]

    I mean, she showed up for Sve Noc, apparently offering a deal on behalf of Below…
    and sure, she’s been trying to break Black, but is that because she is “Good” or because he is trying to damage the game?

    And if that is the case….. then what the heck is the role of the Dead King?
    I mean sure, his actions seem pretty bad… but his timing and attack are COMPLETELY in Cat’s favour… and potentially in favour of breaking the game (If Cat get’s her treaty etc etc)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re 100% spot on with “keep the game running”. She has appeared to be acting for both Above and Below and she’s actively working against Cat and Black who are both trying to break the game. The Deak King’s on the side of Below but he’s been extremely careful not to give Above any story leverage that would see him undone. Having said that, he recognises that he’s currently stuck in a seemingly endless rut so perhaps he sees Cat trying to break the game as an opportunity for him to break out into something new as well?


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