Chapter 18: Fable

“Some acts only have to be committed once to afterwards echo a threat in your every silence.”
– Dread Empress Massacre the First

The Tyrant’s soldiers were killing my people.

The cataphracts, when I’d caught sight of them from miles away, had been forming up for a night raid. This was war, I reminded myself. Besides, for all my talk of alliances and bargains with Kairos he remained as much a foe as a friend. No doubt some scheme was afoot, one that involved prodding the Fourth Army into moving some way or other for deeper purpose. Skirmishes against the Levantines, maybe, or to make certain the Fourth did not encounter one of the League’s forces. The cataphracts were harassing my legionaries, as they had the Third’s, not pulling knives and engaging in struggle to the death. This was no different than Malicia testing the eastern borders of Callow with refugees and warbands, like a villainous cat taking its claws to something to see how it reacted. It would be wisest to chide the Helikean cavalry, slap them on the wrist and send them off to trouble someone else. They’d cased their raid when I intervened, hadn’t they? Just the sight of a lone rider had put the charge of sundry four thousand kataphractoi to an end, and as I my valiant Zombie the Fourth cantered forward their ranks bent inwards. They were following orders, obeying one of those fearsome madmen Helikeans had idolized for centuries. I told myself all this, as I bid my mount to stop, and it was enough to stay my hand. Then my mind whispered: the Tyrant’s soldiers are killing your people.

My fingers clenched, leather gloves creaking. The Mantle of Woe trailing behind me, stirred by the night’s breeze, I watched as a pack of officers under Helike’s own banner rode to the fore of the host. Five of them, in weather-beaten armour, blades sheathed at their sides. Their conical, crested helms boasted red ceremonial feathers that jutted like a splash of blood, and beneath the rim of the steel cap two curved strips of steel demarcated their eyes. From those a shawl of mail descended to their chests, the lead officer among them unclasping hers to reveal a scarred mouth.

“Black Queen,” the Helikean said in accented Lower Miezan, “I-”

“Kneel,” I softly interrupted.

In the silence the followed the word rang like a thunderclap. There was a pause, the breeze raking its unseen fingers on the carpet of snow between us. The officers assembled behind her mouthpiece bridled at the order. Their leader raised a hand.

“We serve the Tyrant of Helike,” the woman replied. “And bend before none other.”

My staff rose, and with a thunderous snap I brought it down against the wintry ground. The order I had not spoken sounded across the Night like rippling decree, and under the crescent moon’s smile the veil we had approached under was ripped away. The banner-sigils jutted out like the masts of a ship in the utterly still sea of Firstborn, fluttering in low murmurs. Red and black and blue, crisscrossed by strokes of silver and gold. Among them two stood higher than all the rest. Ochre inlaid with gold, a rainflower in bloom. Rumena. Purple cut by silver, a tree bearing twin circles unfinished. Losara. Twenty thousand drow stood like statues around Helike’s riders, grey skin touched with the colours of their sigils. Fear ripped through the steel-clad killers sworn to the Tyrant, like a sudden and brutal shiver.

“Kneel,” I softly said, “or Gods be my witness, I’ll kill you all.”

Shapes slid across my face, two crows far above gliding far above passing between the moon’s cast and my silhouette. Casting razor-sharp shadows as the Sisters smiled against my neck, Andronike humming in approval. She had not forgot the nightmare made of Rochelant, and held no love for those what would serve its maniacal architect. I found their leader’s pale eyes, circled by steel, and saw fear spread through them like ink in water. The words that followed were hurried out, and beneath my notice, even as the soldiers began to dismount.

Under crescent moon four thousand kataphractoi knelt in the snow.

“You will stay knelt,” I said. “Until I tell you to rise.”

Zombie heeded my will and turned around, leaving at an unhurried trot. I left them with their knees to the ground, and went to bring my Fourth Army back into the fold.

The cheers began sounding from the palisade when I came within ninety yards. Behind the wooden fortifications the Fourth Army’s camp had lit up with fire and fervour both, like an anthill boiling over. Torches lit up, and the wall facing me was pulled open. Within seventy yards I could make out the twin rows of soldiers assembling to make an avenue of steel leading deeper into the Fourth’s camp. When I reached sixty yards, a winged shape descended from the sky and landed before me in a geyser of snow. And… wood? What was a post doing – Zombie the Third, bright blue eyes shining with glee, whinnied loudly and trotted up to my side. My lips quirked and I ran my gloved hand down her mane.

“Hello, girl,” I murmured. “Missed me, did you?”

The winged horse I had… acquired from the Summer Court through technically blasphemous means sauntered around my current mount, turning around the back and coming close to affectionately brush against my good leg.

“You are a good girl,” I praised, patting her neck. “Unless you’ve been eating corpses again, we had a talk about that.”

Zombie the Third neighed, I thought, perhaps a little guiltily. Godsdamnit, I’d told Hakram just because it was occasionally appropriate behaviour for orcs didn’t meant he could let my horse do it. The look she cast at Zombie the Fourth – who was a pure necromantic construct, and so about as sentient as his saddle – was less than friendly, too. I cocked an eyebrow.

“Come on,” I said, patting her one last time for the road. “We’re headed to camp. Just let me take care of that.”

There’d been a wooden post tied to her bridle, so I leaned forward to unmake the knot and let it drop. Flanked by my own mount, I resumed my advance. The Fourth Army wasn’t one of my old commands, not at its source. It had few officers from the original Fifteenth Legion, and while it’d picked up a few spare tribunes from General Afolabi’s now-disbanded Twelfth the general staff had actually been from General Istrid’s Sixth, the Ironsides – including the general himself, Bagram. But that was officers, I thought as I approached the open gates. The Fourth Army’s bones, not the meat. In the rows and rows of faces most I saw were young and Callowan. Recruits joined before the Tenth Crusade began, or in the months I’d spent in the Everdark. Those who’d never known my armies as part of the Empire even in name. Maybe that was why, when I crossed the gates, swords were bared and raised in salute. A steel avenue, that old honour granted to the kings and queens of Callow.

“HAIL!”

The word sounded defiantly into the night as my soldiers welcomed me home. Once upon a time, I thought as the sound washed over me, it would have been only knights allowed to stand among those rows. But the times are changing. Head high, cloak trialing behind me, I rode to the end of the alley under the eyes of thousands. At the end, two orcs awaited. One I knew from the few conversations we’d had during and after he brought the Sixth into the Army of Callow, General Bagram. The other had me smiling: Gods, it felt like a century since I’d last seen Hakram. He was still stupidly tall and large, like the Heavens had given an old oak leave to walk around. His hand of bone went without glove, in winter and summer both, but his other – wait, what? I wasn’t sure what baffled me more, that he’d somehow lost yet another hand or that he’d not bothered replacing it. I brought Zombie to a halt, his sister matching him, and met Adjutant’s dark eyes with mine before cocking an eyebrow.

“You know, one is understandable,” I said. “Happens to the best of us. But two? That’s just careless, Hakram. It’s not like you have any more spares.”

“I suppose my clapping days are over,” Adjutant thoughtfully replied. “And I never did take to the theatre.”

There was a pause.

“You made the same damned joke the last time you lost a hand, didn’t you?” I sighed.

“It’s funnier this time,” he told me. “You know, because I’m running out of hands to lose.”

Something like a sob of hysterical laughter almost ripped out of my throat, but aware of the eyes on us I kept it locked inside. I still burned with the need to actually hug the bastard, who was showing just enough fang from one side of the mouth to be implying either a taunt or mockery. A moment later I cleared my throat and inclined my head at Bagram.

“General,” I greeted him.

“Your Majesty,” he gravelled back, offering a legionary’s salute. “The Fourth Army is yours.”

I glanced back and saw the legionaries still standing with their swords raised. I supposed it was. Zombie moved under my will, turning to face them in full, and my staff rose almost of its own accord. Blades began beating against shield, a ruckus to wake even the dead, and cheers sounded with them. I glanced meaningfully at Hakram, and after dismounting I clapped General Bagram’s shoulder and leaned close to tell him I needed to confer with Adjutant. I was led not far from there, to what I recognized to be Hakram’s old campaign tent. I followed in the orc, limping at a pace. The inside was sparse, as usual, save for the inevitable piles of scrolls that followed Adjutant like a faithful pack of hounds. Still, it was warm and well-lit so it would do. I’d barely passed the folds when I was swept up in arms like tree trunks, hoisted up off my feet. I laughed and hugged the bastard back, though I slapped his shoulder for the indignity inherent to holding me up like I was some little lamb.

“It’s good to see you,” I admitted, when finally the brute put me down.

“You as well, Catherine,” he rumbled out. “It has been much, much too long.”

“I hear that,” I muttered.

“Unexpected that you would find us, but decidedly not unwelcome,” Hakram said. “The apparitions on the field outside, are they who I think they are?”

“Drow,” I confirmed. “Though they call themselves the Firstborn – no, don’t ask, it’s a lot more complex than I feel like getting into.”

The orc hacked out a pleased laugh.

“You brought the drow to the surface,” Hakram said, grinning. “First time they came up in force in centuries. Gods be sated, you actually did it – and so many. There must be at least fifteen thousand out there.”

“Twenty,” I corrected. “The entire expedition in Iserre is fifty thousand strong, though they have their issues. They’re headed your way, should be there before dawn. The Third Army got caught down in Sarcella by the Dominion, but they made it out after losing some skin. They’re with the rest of the drow.”

“The Priestess of Night is our ally, then?” Adjutant asked.

“They’re called Sve Noc,” I said. “And they’re, well, goddesses. More or less.”

“You made an alliance with goddesses,” Hakram said.

“In a manner of speaking,” I said. “You’re talking to the current high priestess of Night. Alliance was made, with some strings, but the fifty thousand are here to back us.”

Hakram’s brow rose.

“The high priestess,” he repeated. “Of drow religion. A religion of drow. Presumably for drow. Which, unless I am mistaken, you are not.”

“That’s the one,” I lightly replied.

“What happened to the last high priestess?” he asked.

“There wasn’t one.”

“And you talked goddesses into this how?”

“I asked real nice,” I smiled winningly. “The trick was doing it twice.”

“Cat, did you pull a knife on goddesses?” Adjutant sighed.

“Of course not,” I replied, offended and technically even saying the truth.

The orc stared at me, saying nothing.

“We have an understanding,” I said, a tad defensively. “You wouldn’t understand, you’re not religious.”

“I’m not going to touch that without a bottle on the table and half a day to waste,” Hakram muttered.

I snorted.

“You’re one to talk,” I said. “What happened to your hand? Tell me you weren’t just struck with a sharp and urgent need for symmetry.”

“Necessary sacrifice,” Adjutant said. “You’ll understand when you meet with Vivienne.”

My brow rose.

“Most likely, yes,” I said. “But you’re going to tell me anyway.”

Flash of teeth, which I identified as implying sheepishness.

“It’ll be a long conversation,” Hakram said.

I studied him closely. I could press further, but it wasn’t needed as far as I knew. And if it was, I trusted he would have told me.

“It’ll wait for that bottle with half a day, then,” I said. “Talk to me about Masego. I know everything Robber knows, but he said you’d have more.”

“He knows more than someone of his rank should, though that is nothing new,” Adjutant said. “If you’re looking for a location, we do not have it. He was seen in the fields west of the Blessed Isle, but we haven’t caught sight of him said.”

I frowned.

“But?”

“Before we took the gate into Arcadia,” Hakram said. “There was a report through the Observatory – the last we ever got. Liesse is gone.”

“The ruins?” I said. “They were destroyed?”

“Gone,” the orc said. “As in moved. And we don’t know how, or where.”

My reflex was to reply that was impossible, especially given the ridiculously vicious wards I’d had put around the still very much dangerous ruins, but then I remembered who had put those up specifically.

“You think he took the city somehow,” I said.

“I think he’s not in his right mind, since Thalassina,” Hakram grimaced. “And that he got his hands on the broken shards of the single most dangerous magical weapon this continent has seen since Triumphant’s day. For what purpose, I can only guess.”

Well, fuck. This was still salvageable, I had Akua around and she’d know how that monstrosity worked better than anyone – she was, after all, its architect. But until we got a read on how Masego was moving around, this was a sword hanging above someone’s head. Whose there was no real way to know, if the disaster at Thalassina had affected Hierophant’s mind somehow.

“We need to find him,” I said. “Quickly. Do you have any idea what happened to the Observatory?”

“Nothing concrete, same as the gates going wild. We’ve got a dozen running theories, but the mages keep poking holes in each other’s,” Adjutant admitted. “About a third of them insist it’s to do with the way scrying is blocked in Iserre, the rest are in agreement they are entirely different problems with no relation.”

It was, I thought, grim irony that the person most likely to give us an answer about what was going on was the one we needed the Observatory to look for.

“I’ll see what Akua can figure out, but she’ll only have so much time to spare,” I said. “I have her working on something else.”

He nodded.

“Archer’s safe?”

“Working through some things,” I said. “It got… bad down there, Hakram. She had a close call.”

I could see his chops move as he ran his tongue against his fangs, the cogs in his head turning as he weighed whether or not now was the right time to ask.

“Bottle and half a day,” Adjutant finally echoed.

I conceded with a nod.

“We need to talk with General Bagram,” I said. “Lay down some ground rules about the drow, prepare for the Third’s arrival. I’ll want to know about the state of the Fourth, too.”

“He’ll be waiting,” Hakram said.

“Then let’s go,” I sighed. “We’re wasting moonlight.”

“You have four thousand surrendered cataphracts outside, Catherine,” he reminded me. “The situation needs seeing to.”

“Not surrendered,” I said. “I neither offered nor asked. They’re considering their sins, that’s all.”

Adjutant’s dark eyes scrutinized my face.

“You’re thinking of killing them,” the orc said.

I clenched my fingers, then unclenched them.

“Some,” I admitted. “If I let them go today, they’re a blade back in the Tyrant’s armory tomorrow.”

“Are we to break entirely with the League, then?” he asked.

I grimaced.

“No,” I admitted. “There are some interests in alignment.”

“Then you cannot commit slaughter,” Hakram said.

“Unless you have a lot more supplies than the Third, we can’t keep them prisoner either,” I flatly said. “Four thousand men and four thousand horses. I suppose we could butcher the horses for meat, but the soldiers? Given what’s out there, we don’t have the manpower for the guards or the food to spare. Not without shaving it much too close for comfort.”

“I fought those riders, Catherine,” Adjutant said. “So did the Fourth. And I can assure you, there is no love between us. Not even the fondness of respected foes. But we cannot butcher prisoners of war.”

“Butchery? Slight and price, Hakram. One for one,” I said. “You have lists of dead, lost to their attacks. So did the Third. I will not let this go unanswered.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to,” Hakram said.

The orc let out a long breath.

“I could tell you that this would set a dangerous precedent,” Adjutant said. “That we must be taken as law-abiding actors, if the Liesse Accords are to be signed and held. I could even say that a massacre tonight will be matched by the Tyrant when opportunity comes for him, and we both know it will.”

“But,” I said.

My closest friend in the world looked me in the eye.

“Weren’t we better than this, when we started?” Hakram softly asked.

I did not answer him on the way to General Bagram’s tent. I still had not, after those talks were done, when I headed back into the snows.

They’d stayed kneeling.

A few had tried to run, deciding to die gloriously with a blade in hand, and their pulped flesh had been splattered across the snow by the Mighty among my host. The rest had remained knelt in the cold and the dark, waiting for the judgement that was to fall upon their heads. They shivered and trembled, for the wind had not grown gentler in my absence, but even as their legs had begun to ache and their fingers had grown rigid for the chill the cataphracts of Helike had endured. Some portion admired them for it, but it was not so large that it was not drowned out by the anger still fuming in my bones. And even that admiration was tainted, for valour in the service of the likes of Kairos Theodosian could only be abused. The Firstborn parted for me without a word as I tread across the snows, come to meet the five officers who had meant to bargain with me. They had withstood their wait, I found, and softly five feathery streaks of red still rose and fell with the breath of the soldiers. My staff touched the ground with measured beat as I limped to them, and when I halted I felt their gazes turn to me. It was the leader among them I turned my own eye to, the woman who’d spoken.

“Your name?” I asked.

“Pallas,” she said. “I am a general of Helike.”

Letting the agony skitter across my leg, I leaned against my staff and knelt to match her height. I glimpsed vivid pale eyes that lingered between grey and blue, set on a tanned face that was younger than I had thought. Not so young she had not lived, I thought, and not so young that she should not have known better.

“Nine hundred and thirty two,” I said. “That is how many of my men yours have killed, between the tallies of the Third and the Fourth.”

“They fought well,” Pallas simply said. “And bravely.”

“They died bravely too,” I said, tone sharpening.

I saw in her face, then, the expectance of the blow. Of sudden and merciless death.

“I had thought to kill that many of you,” I pensively said. “And then another as well, for the remembrance.”

“You would take us all instead, then?” Pallas calmly asked. “If that is so, we will not die kneeling. Vainglorious be our pride, Black Queen, we are kataphractoi of Helike. We do not meet slaughter meekly.”

Cataphracts of Helike, I thought. Legionaries of Praes, knights of Callow, fantassins of Procer. The names changed, and the lands matched to them, but in the end it wasn’t it the same defiant promise? We are people, it said. You can kill us, but you cannot make us less than that. Funny, wasn’t it? How you could offer soldiers praise and a title and they’d make of it something to make the world quake. Not the kind of funny that made you smile, but funny nonetheless.

“No,” I said. “The man that serves as my better nature waits in camp, and though his kind knows little of mercy he asked it of me all the same.”

“Mercy,” General Pallas told me, “will not change our oaths.”

In that moment I was no longer looking at a woman kneeling in the snow: it was Helike’s own grim visage looking back at me, that ancient city-state that had fought Praes and Procer at their peaks and walked away unbowed. And it had done so on the back of men and women just like the one facing me. Iron-wrought souls gathered to a Tyrant’s banner, the victors of a hundred fields.

“We serve a Theodosian, Queen of Callow,” Pallas of Helike said, “We do not flinch from doom nor grave, under that banner – or anything else.”

I could take that certainty from you, I thought, easy as breathing. Of all my teachers the one who knew least of fear cowed all of Callow with it, and I have since witnessed sights that would have him pale. And part of me wanted to, because nine hundred and thirty two legionaries were dead at their hands. And perhaps these cataphracts were brave and skilled and loyal, but they were treating death as a game while dancing to the Tyrant’s tune – and even now remained proud of that truth. I wouldn’t even need to speak a word in Crepuscular, to see it all done: under the moon’s gaze, when it came to weaving power not even the Tomb-Maker was my match in raw strength. A mere four thousand, kneeling? It would be, as I had thought, easy as breathing. And that gave me pause, because my leg stung and I still remembered the sky opening at the Battle of the Camps and sending down death at impotent Procerans. Some nights I wondered if part of the reason my father had refrained from embracing the paths to power that were a villain’s due was because he was afraid of what he might do with it. The kind of person it made you, to look at four thousand soldiers and know that your own hand could slay them in the span of a breath. The kind of person it made you, to go through with it. Hadn’t it always been the tragedy of Creation that might ever went to the people least deserving of it? That I could not change, not truly. But I could, at least, act like I was not the Dead King incipient. Like I still remembered what it was like, to laugh and breathe and hurt – what it meant, to snuff out those same things.

“There was once a man, to the far east,” I quietly told Pallas. “He was a killer among killers, and among that red number there were none more loathsome. So when he claimed the Tower, Foul was the title he took. Third of his name, and last.”

I smiled.

“In the Wasteland they remember him a vainglorious failure, for when he led his armies west the Kingdom of Daoine crushed them all and sent his limbless body back to Ater, along with the head of ever highborn in his host,” I said. “Of his duel with the Commander of the Watch and the valour that saw the Deoraithe prevail I could tell you much, but what would it mean to you?”

I tapped my fingers against my staff, hearing the steady beat of do not forget along with the pulsing pain of my leg.

“It is the years after I’ll tell you a story about,” I said. “You see, Foul did not long survive his return. His successor cared nothing for the man, but there were rules to observe. Two bounties were offered. The first for the head of any Commander, only once claimed in the history of Praes. The second, though? It was for two fingers.”

I leaned closer, voice almost a whisper.

“The one that came after was titled Vile, and of that epiteth proved well-deserving, but for all that he was not without cleverness,” I said. “It was longbows on a wall, that broke his predecessor and so he put coin to unmaking the first of these two. For four centuries following, anyone bringing back the severed index and middle fingers of a Deoraithe was rewarded in gold.”

Pallas of Helike went very, very still.

“Yeah, I figured you’d understand,” I said. “You’re an archer yourself. But a snip of the knife and all that skill, all those years… up in smoke. Can’t pull back the string without those, can you?”

“And this,” General Pallas replied, “is the span of your mercy?”

“I never claimed my kind of tyranny to be deserving of capital letter,” I said. “So you’ll keep the fingers, Pallas. But they will be broken, by your own hands, and with them I take every fucking thing that allows you to call yourself kataphraktoi.”

The woman’s eyes widened in surprise and anger.

“You cannot-” she began.

“Be silent,” I hissed. “You ride around slaying my soldiers and abetting a madman’s madness when the King of Death is sinking his teeth in the world. You do not get to be indignant, Pallas of Helike. You’re a worm in the flesh, and if neither you nor your master can be trusted not to act as the ushers of the end times then you will have to be disciplined.”

I rose to my feet, leaning on ebony, and glared down.

“You came here as cataphracts,” I said. “And here will stay your horses and arms and armour. Not a single one of you will leave this place with as much as a butter knife.”

Breathing out, I met pale eyes and let the slightest part of the fury I still felt slip into my gaze.

“Walk back to your Theodosian, General Pallas,” I said. “And give him warning from the Black Queen – if he ever pulls anything like this on my people again, there’s room for another soul on my cloak.”

In the sky far above crows cawed, the sound of it eerily like laughter.

172 thoughts on “Chapter 18: Fable

  1. RandomFan

    Good on her to not kill anyone. Good on her to take their equipment. Speaking what remains of 4,000- nearly all of them- into breaking their own fingers, or else forcing them on pain of death… That’s villainous, but still more merciful than I think they’d conceptually deserve. Cruel Mercy is the only mercy she can afford; Kind Mercy is ever so much more expensive.

    Liked by 20 people

    1. KageLupus

      It is less cruel mercy and more sound tactics. Killing all of those soldiers would lead to a similar retribution from the Tyrant. It also tell every other player in the war that the Black Queen is willing to slaughter prisoners of war, which is not the kind of PR that Cat needs right now.

      Leaving the Hellikeans to go free and unpunished is a non option as well. That just means you have an enemy commander with forces behind you, who doesn’t have a reason not to attack you with them.

      Stripping the cataphracts and breaking their fingers very neatly solves every problem besides revenge. The Army of Callow has a sudden influx of supplies, the PR engine gets a story of the Black Queen being ruthless but not crossing a line (and who is going to cry when it happens to the Tyrant’s forces?), the Hellikeans get to keep their lives but not be a threat to Cat’s army, and the Tyrant has to figure out what to do with four thousand wounded soldiers. Healing and outfitting them will take time and resources, and even if he does neither he still has to feed them. If he just kills them all then he is out that many warm bodies while on a campaign where getting reinforcements isn’t terribly viable.

      This kind of compromise between what Cat needs and what she wants is very much in character with her past actions. But the sheer elegance of the solution really speaks to how much she has grown as a tactician.

      Liked by 9 people

        1. stevenneiman

          She gets a revenge which is almost as cruel as killing (taking away everything the Helikeans pride themselves on and leaving them to explain their failures and then act as a drain on the man they worship), and she does it without having to feel bad, without making her look unfair or like someone you shouldn’t surrender to, and without providing the Dead King any bodies when he gets there.

          Liked by 3 people

  2. Skaddx

    I am going to assume some good aligned Kingdom is about to have a very bad day. I did say Masego was not going to be helping Cat’s Liesse Accords by breaking bread with the Good Kingdoms any time soon. After all Masego and Indrani could care less about the Liesse Accords, Friends and Family sure. Being the best spellcaster or fighter in the world sure by achieving greatness in their chosen field. But continent spanning peace treaties hardly. Blood Demands Blood.

    Liked by 7 people

      1. RoflCat

        If my theory on him going on a soul searching (literal) adventure for his fathers is true, then him taking Liese might not be so much for the super weapon inside, but for all the weakened boundaries of Creation in there, so he can have an easier time breaching into all kind of Hells looking for them.

        Liked by 13 people

        1. Interesting idea! Sounds like the kind of thing a grief-stricken psychologically traumatized Masego could potentially think of as a good idea; I’d have to imagine he’d swing by the Observatory to grab the Sahelian artifact first, though ofc with scrying down we don’t actually know he hasn’t. Although IIRC at least per the presently-existing rules of the setting that would only be even conceptually possible for Warlock and not Tikoloshe though. As I recall it devils don’t “die” per se, but their essence or whatever gets dispersed and when it recoalesces zero memories or other developed personality traits get carried over. Functionally the same as death, but without any theoretically-intact “soul” type thing that could hypothetically be retrieved from wherever it might have been sent to (or in Warlock’s case possibly sold to).

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Twigsssss

        Is there any doubt at this point that what the tyrant is trying to do is manipulate the proceran army and the callow army into one big fight where both sides kill each other?

        Liked by 1 person

  3. They should be glad that she’s not doing worse. Because she could. And kind of really wants to.

    Yeah … they have a lot of catching up to do.

    Masego has stolen Liesse? That’s probably not an unambiguously good thing waiting to happen. Might not be all bad, but it’s probably not all good, either.
    Maybe the people who thought he might try to summon up Tikoloshe are right.
    That or maybe he’s planning on breaking Praes and/or Ashur.

    Liked by 9 people

      1. You know, this business with Arcadia echoes could get out of hand — they could threaten a bunch of old secrets and other informational balances of power. Masego’s own ability to extract information from them depends on his own aspect powers, but those aren’t so unique that other mages might not be able to do something in the same vein. On the other hand, without Cat present, IIRC even Masego doesn’t have his own safe-conduct pass in Arcadia. Much less any lesser mages trying to copy him!

        The question is how much of an echo would form from the two recent events. Liesse and Thalassina both were magic-heavy fights with a whole-lotta gating and city-sized fixed magical arrays — but still probably not a patch on the power or significance of Keter’s founding. What I’d really like to see is what shards might be accessible near the Tower of Praes. I’m sure any overarching stories will be scrambled by the sheer number of significant and unreasonably magical events there, but some interesting tales might remain.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. IDKWhoitis

          I feel like the Echos are like a gun waiting to be used, an equivalent to the wise old man who shares dangerous secrets. And to defeat bard, a Mosaic of moments of history and memories from those present and past will have to be compiled.

          The nature of what is considered significant enough to leave an inprint is largely speculative. Masego could be looking for his father’s shadow, or for the secrets of the Book of the Dead.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. stevenneiman

            Here’s a terrifying thought: How dangerous would Cat be if she got a memory upload from that echo of the Intercessor? She’s already terrifyingly good at manipulating the story, so if receiving a portion of the Intercessor’s mind didn’t drive her completely mad I bet she would become so good at it that she’d be unstoppable.

            Like

    1. stevenneiman

      Everything important about Tikoloshe is gone. There exists a devil made from the same… whatever it is devils are made from, but they have none of his memories. If he ever returns to the same intelligence he had before, I doubt it will be with the same personality he has now.
      My best guess would be that Masego is planning to cause ruin to either Praes or Ashur, or else that he’s on his way to meet up with the Woe as the only real family he still has.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        I think you’re right regarding Tikoloshe. At least, right according to what everyone knows is true.

        But thinking about Masego, vivisector of miracles, I think there may be a path for him to bring Tikoloshe back:

        1. Visit whichever Hell Tikoloshe is in and retrieve him.
        2. Visit Arcadia and find the echo of the destruction of Thalassinia.
        3. Enter that echo and extract Tikoloshe’s whole mind state.
        4. Insert the mindstate into the blank Tikoloshe.

        None of these seem to be totally impossible. Consider, for example, the way Masego extracted an extinct language from a serving girl (in the echo with the young dead king) and inserted it into Cat’s head.

        Now that I see all this written down I think there’s a better than even chance that this is what Masego is planning to do.

        What do you think?

        Liked by 17 people

        1. RanVor

          It’s a little more complicated. Tikoloshe’s autonomy was a result of a very complex and highly precise set of oaths and bindings which Masego might not know the full extent of. Without them, he would remain a regular devil even with his old personality inserted.

          Liked by 1 person

              1. Mm. I think they’re the reason he ended up with real free will, on top of just accumulating sentience xp from long long life.

                I don’t think artificially grafting echo of personality to blank slate reincarnation is how guide rolls, but it does seem to me like fully recovering personality+memories should about do it.

                I don’t think Tiko would be happy about that though, considering there’s no way to bring back Wekesa =x

                Liked by 5 people

          1. Andrew Mitchell

            IIRC, and it’s not a sure thing that I do recall correctly, I do seem to have a memory of Masego specifically saying that he’s studied the bindings in detail.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. stevenneiman

              I know that he at least knew the practical limitations and the theory of how they worked. Considering that the only secret Wekesa and Tikoloshe ever kept from him wasn’t explictly referenced in the bindings, I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t have let him look them over. Even if they are outside Zeze’s areas of interest, I’m sure he would have been interested in studying something that his father regarded as a masterpiece.

              Liked by 1 person

        2. stevenneiman

          IIRC they ripped apart a whole person echo just to get a language. Considering how much language ties into, I’d say that a generous estimate is that that’s maybe 25% of the whole mind, probably a decent bit less. It’s possible that there’s a nondestructive way to extract that information if he invests a lot more time and effort (worth it to restore one of his fathers), but that’s not certain. Even if he could do it, the echo was from before the dead king’s time. That means that restore-from-backup Tikoloshe would be less intelligent by the growth he achieved since Sephirah’s ascension, and would have no memory of his time with Masego and Wekesa. Which means that he would be getting an incubus which wasn’t really family, and if he saw any point in that it would be a hell of a lot easier than going back through Arcadia-Keter to pilfer an echo.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Not quite “plan”, but yeah.

        “Quite literally not what I was aiming for, but I can work with this.”
        – Dread Empress Regalia II, as her flying fortress began falling on Laure

        From 4.76.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. IDKWhoitis

    That’s one way to effectively nullify 4,000 cavalry permanently without resorting to murder. Unless Kairos is carrying a massive supply chain around, those people are almost entirely useless. No armor or weapons, no horses to spare, broken fingers for weeks.

    Also, if the kataphraktoi are heavy cavalry with lots of armor, then her Knights of Callow are about to get a massive boost in supplies and armament. Like even the horses themselves are expensive assets that Callow was limited in at the beginning of the Crusade.

    It’s also possible that a great Horse meat feast will be held to celebrate the reunion of 3rd, 4th, Cat, and Drow.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Novice

      The warhorses are a boon to the Knights, yes. But I don’t know about the armor since the Helikeans don’t have the same sorcery-defying armor the Knights of Callow have. I wonder if there’s a specific type of blacksmith or enchanter or whatever that can convert mundane armor to the Callowan type.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Someguy

        The light armour should be more useful for the Drow, though the horses would be less useful for the knights as mounts but more suitable as pack animals given that they are not conditioned to carry Plate Armoured riders.

        Liked by 5 people

            1. Micke

              The defining difference is the armour.
              Real-world cataphracts were modeled on Iranian noble cavalry; trained to use bow, spear and sword. This was before stirrups vastly improved the efficiency of lance charges.

              Liked by 2 people

            2. Ultimate_Procrastinator

              Generally, yes, horse archers were light cavalry. However, the Persian and Parthian cataphracts that Helikean kataphractoi are presumably based on were heavy cavalry, traditionally equipped with scale armor, helmets with metal masks, lances, blades, and bows. They were very expensive to train and equip, but they were also incredibly effective due to the combination of range, mobility, durability, and close-in fighting capabilities.

              Liked by 5 people

            3. luminiousblu

              Cataphracts in the real world are *extremely* heavy hybrid shock cavalry. They’d be armed with a bow, a two-handed lance (this was before the development of the ‘couched’ lance) and generally also a sword as sidearm. They were prototypical knights, heavily armored noble shock troops with a lifetime’s worth of training and wearing more wealth than most villages could pool in a decade.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Derak

                A byzantine cataphract’s equipment was worth ten pounds of gold. That’s not including training, remounts, provisions, etc. At current gold price, 4000 of those would only cost about 620 billion usd.

                Liked by 2 people

      2. Rook

        There’s nothing wrong with light cavalry. Doesn’t hold a candle to the knights of callow, but even unarmored the sheer weight (not story weight, as in physical this-shit-is-heavy weight) of a cavalry charge is pretty brutal against mundane infantry.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. mordered

          Besides, light horse is excellent for harrying enemy foot an bow units. Even if Cat can’t build extra heavy horse than light horse is an excellent alternative. Feeding an additional 4000 horses however might be troublesome.

          Liked by 2 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      This is more than slight. Using a bow puts fingers under a lot of pressure. Broken ones aren’t going to heal enough to be used for at least a month and a half. No arms or equipment and no ability to be re-armed makes them a burden, especially in enemy lands. If they are lucky they will be sent home in disgrace. They probably wont be lucky. And whatever their fate, it will be as ignominious failures. As cat notes, they had pride in what they were, and they wont be able to be that any more.

      Liked by 12 people

        1. Draeysine

          Sure, but Helike doesn’t have a crap ton of mages and their healing techniques might not set the fingers back to 100% working order. Thats if they don’t die walking back without supplies in the middle of the night with injuries on a very cold and windy snowy night. In any case its extremely demoralizing, and costly. Losing all of that equipment, plus Tyrant’s supply chain is questionable considering how he entered through the Big Dangerous Enchanted Forest with his army, means that those are nothing but useless burdens that didn’t even succeed at dying for their cause. Something tells me those 4k soldiers aren’t going to do anything threatening again.

          Liked by 8 people

          1. stevenneiman

            Considering the mischief Kairos gets up to, a few weeks where he can’t spare mages for anything else might be worth more than anything else you could get for 4000 elite mooks. Mages are the next most versatile unit after Named, and Kairos is someone whose tactics rely on having enough options that nobody can figure out what he’s going to do.
            He might be able to Wish it away, but he’s implied that he’s got a limited supply of those and wasting one might even be more valuable than tying up his mage corps for a few weeks.

            Liked by 2 people

    2. stevenneiman

      Remember, Cat’s goal is not to permanently neutralize threats, its to minimize bloodshed on all sides until the Dead King attacks. What she just did was remove everything that made them a threat and ensure that it can’t be recovered for a matter of months. They’re basically useless until the Dead King is further along, and if Cat can’t bring all sides together into a united front by then, she’s already lost and another 4000 assholes who might or might not have new horses will be the least of her worries.

      Liked by 12 people

          1. I really hope it doesn’t come to that. Cat may have mentioned the idea pretty casually, but a good horse is valuable as shit at this tech level and a trained warhorse quite significantly moreso. When armies eat their horses it’s an act of desperation. Think of them as walking money that’s technically edible but actually much, much harder to replace than currency and you’ve got an idea of what it means to eat these kind of horses. If Cat can actually hang on to these horses that’s not quite a gamechanger but it is a very appreciable boost to Callow, especially since they slaughtered so many of their own best horses to spite the Conquest.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. oneeyed

              The Legions and Callow’s army are low on supplies, from what I remember, and it’s winter, so I have my doubts they can keep 4000 horses easily.

              Like

    3. Razorfloss

      Maybe but this is the only thing that she could do. They don’t have the supplies to take care of them as prisoners, she can’t kill them all else she kills any hope of getting her accords signed and she can’t let them go only to be a pain in her ass later. This solves all her problems right now in the most efficient way without killing them plus it sends a message. The Black Queen is back and she is not to be trifled with.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Andrew Mitchell

    Wow, what a great chapter. The drow suddenly appearing, Cat’s arrival at camp, Hakram and Cat together again, and justice served on Helike’s cataphracts. Every step so well done IMO.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. “and not so young that she should not have known better.”

    Than what? Like, honest question, how does Cat talk with Hakram, and then go talk with someone who is basically just baby Hakram and act so bewildered?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Skaddx

      Yeah i gotta agree in a World with healing from priest. Breaking some finers aren’t really a major setback. The loss of Horses is quite frankly the most significant thing. Armor and weapons. Then any broken fingers. There is basically no way Cat could have played this that helps her really I think she did the best of bad options. Still all this means for enemies here on out is to never surrender.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Rook

      There’s nothing stopping her from healing their fingers herself. Improperly.

      It’s a lot harder to fix a badly healed fracture than to set it properly in the first place. In guideverse, you’d probably need to later re-break the fingers just the right way and then heal them again to have any hope of getting full functionality back.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. oaclo

      Well they sure as hell aren’t gonna have priests of the Gods Above to do it and, based on that mention a few chapters ago of someone who studied with the mage-healers of I wanna say Ashur, mages with that capability are rare on Calernia.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Aotrs Commander

      No? It’s a hell of a lot of Cure Light Wounds spells to cast, though, (metaphorically)… How many do you think the healers can fix in a day? Ten? A Hundred? Wouldn’t have thought your average healer is going to be able to do more than one at a time the level of healing we’ve seen outside heroes doesn’t seem to be massively significant, maybe close to or slightly better in some instances than moden medicine, maybe).

      So, with the best will in the world, between organising the set-up time (i.e. the time required to physically get the healer to each person, even if you tried to do it in a field) and th actual healing (which might not be a six-second D&D cast), I wouldn’t imagine it would be less than a couple of minutes at best (and could easily be more like ten or fifteen, depending on how effective they are) – so, going with the most generous, that’s 30 per hour of invested time that the healers are doing that and not doing anything else. So that’s 133 man-hours required of doing nowt but heal broken fingers and this is pretty much the best case scenario. How many healers does the Tyrant have at his disposal? And of that, how many can he spare, at one location (which might mean an opportunity cost itself), to not be able to do anything else but fix fingers? (If he has to send to troops off in clumps to the healers, that “two monute per” then has become “hours or days per.”)

      Whatever, it’s going to be a significant investment of logisitical effort on top of the healing that’s got to be dealt with.

      (The only reason it won’t take forever to BREAK all the fingers is Cat is making them do it themselves. Because she is awesome.)

      Of course, the Tyrant’s likely to just execute them all, making the point moot.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. > assuming Kairos has that many in one place without having them busy with something else specific

          also I’m not sure if priests CAN heal 30 pairs of broken fingers per day

          Like

          1. RanVor

            That’s an optimistic (for Kairos at least) estimate, true. But I think we can safely assume the entire process wouldn’t take more than a few days. It’s time-consuming, but not so much to cause a delay that would be significant on a strategic scale.

            Like

            1. A few days during which the healers can’t be doing anything else.

              It’s opportunity cost if nothing else, and as far as I’m following Cat’s going for blitzkrieg here anyway. A few days might be all she needs.

              (And even aside from that, there’s the issue of re-arming these people and separately the issue of image – Cat has proved that she can do that, that she overpowered and caught Helikeans to the degree of being able to enforce them breaking their own fingers. This one’s not a direct loss for Kairos so much as it’s a gain for Catherine)

              Like

              1. RanVor

                To clarify, I was only talking about the problem of healing the cataphracts. Just sending them back to Rochelant on foot with their fingers broken is enough of a delay by itself.

                Also, I doubt Cat let them go just to kill them somewhere else.

                Like

    5. Indeed, two finger bones “isn’t a big deal”… for each individual soldier. Even without magical healing, most of them would recover eventually. Mages can speed that up to a point, but as others have noted, for 4000 soldiers, two fingers each adds up to a whole lot of healing. Either way though, it’s time and resources.

      Combine that with the equipment and horse confiscations, and those soldiers will not be fighting again soon. In fact, they’ll be lucky if they’re recovered and re-equipped in time for the Dead King’s arrival, which could be quite unpleasant for them.

      Also, this is a serious and very public bitch-slap that the Black Queen is giving the Tyrant; as the plundered soldiers make their way home, everybody they pass is going to get the story. Between this and her previous engagement, Cat’s reputation will be getting some new polish.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. ^^^ the reputation thing is important too

        Kairos has not really been a primary target for anyone so far, everyone’s been ignoring him / low key exchanging info with him. Cat’s the first one to seriously kick him in the rear

        Liked by 2 people

    6. stevenneiman

      She’s not trying to permanently cripple them, just ensure that it will be expensive and inconvenient to get them back into fighting shape until the point where they’ll have to turn and fight the Dead King’s forces. They now need to walk back to a place where Kairos has mages, spend weeks in one place and exhausting Helike’s mages (the most versatile tool of a man who relies on unpredictability), and then they’ll need to arrange 4000 new high-quality horses and new bows, then get back from wherever they were getting healed to somewhere they can be of use. Sure, they aren’t really gone and this would be a bad tactic if Cat was fighting a nation-vs.-nation war with Helike, but as it is, this is absolutely perfect for her needs.

      Liked by 2 people

    7. As people have been pointing out healers are a finite resource. To expand on that a bit, if the League has let’s say 200 capable healers (could be more could be less, I don’t feel we’ve really gotten a sense of the League’s capabilities in this regard) each of them would have to heal 20 people to heal all of those soldiers. And let’s be real, after walking back through the snow without supplies frostbite/exposure is going to supply a lot more injuries than just a couple broken fingers. It’s also been stated that performing a bunch of healing in a row will wipe somebody out. So either they don’t heal them all at once, meaning they’ve got possibly still thousands of injured soldiers just kind of hanging around draining resources without contributing, or they do heal them all at once (if that’s even possible) and then they have to choose between ceasing active operations for probably at least a few days until their healers recover or engaging in combat with potentially not enough functional healers to be able to treat all critical injuries. The first surrenders the strategic initiative to the opposition which tends to be death in a campaign, and the second drastically worsens the fatality to casualty ratio for any engagement and harms morale to boot. Tyrant would probably choose the latter as the lesser evil in his lights, but the point is either choice is harmful, as is just not healing them all.

      It’s certainly correct that in a world with magical healing these injuries are unlikely to be permanently disabling, but it should be understood that the loss of materiel is *not* the only significant setback Cat dealt Helike/the League here. This is still a significant strategic complication even setting aside the fact that Tyrant will be faced with replacing the arms and armor of 4,000 elite soldiers when his only possible supply lines would be through 20,000 very angry Proceran soldiers or through the Waning Woods (i.e., he doesn’t have a viable supply line). Last note on how this hurts Kairos: these are specifically *Helike* soldiers, meaning his own personal military strength relative to the rest of the League just took a hit, not to mention any priestly healing (which has been stated to be objectively better and easier than mage healing) would be coming by way of a Good-aligned League city doing Helike a favor. He’s secure enough to hang on to effective command anyway I’d imagine, but I wouldn’t suppose that to be exactly *helpful* to him either.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. An excellent analysis; I’ll just point out one more layer: Those disarmed and crippled troops are also stranded in foreign territory. I don’t know how “unpopular” they’d be locally, but it might not be so trivial for them to “walk back to their Theodosian”.

        Liked by 3 people

  7. caoimhinh

    Cool chapter, Cat’s appearance with Night miracles, the “Kneel” command, her honor avenue by her soldiers, the heartwarming moment of her reunion with Hakram, news of Masego and food for our speculations, mention of past Dread Emperor, it was all cool.

    I wonder if the battle will start next week since it seems to still require a chapter or two in preparation for it, and the Interludes ended so it’s unlikely we’ll see Juniper and co’s POV before Cat arrives there, although we might need another time skip of a few days.

    The mention of past Dread Emperors and their titles made me wonder, in the hypothetical scenario of Cat actually claiming the Tower and becoming Empress (which would unify the three countries Praes, Callow, and Ever Dark), what do you guys think her reigning name and title/epithet would be?

    I think something like “Dread Empress Pragmatica, First of Her Name, the Game Breaker” would be an awesome title fitting for her.

    Typos found:

    -cased their raid / ceased
    -and as I my valiant / and as my valiant OR I and my valiant
    -two crows far above gliding far above passing / eliminate one of the “far above”
    -those what would serve / that would serve
    -we haven’t caught sight of him said.” / delete the “said”
    -in the end it wasn’t it the same / delete the first “it”
    -the head of ever highborn / every

    Liked by 3 people

    1. John

      I’d say “Dread Empress Persistent, the Blade-Catcher” might be more appropriate. How many times has somebody stabbed her with something and then seen her respond ‘That’s MY sword now, you’re not getting it back,’ figuratively or otherwise? There’s the original knife (and by extension, the Legions) she accepted from Black, the angel-wing and associated resurrection, walking into the circular firing squad of Drow society and essentially stealing the whole damn thing, this new bit with disarming the cataphracts… and her big long-term legacy goal, the Liesse Accords, seems to be mainly about limitations on strategic weaponry and atrocities, along with diplomatic mechanisms for general de-escalation, effectively snatching the biggest, nastiest “blades” away from everybody.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. stevenneiman

      She might actually be Dread Empress Benevolent the second. She has a similar specialty in story-fu, and unlike the first one she actually IS benevolent.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, that’s what makes her so scary. Somebody who’s trying to kill, rob, or enslave you is a known quantity, you just fight or run away. But somebody who insists (and believes) they’re trying to help you… those can be far more unpredictable and dangerous.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Trickster315

    So did anyone else catch the fact that Cat referred to Black as “my father”? Correct me if I’m wrong but I think she’s only ever referred to him as black before, even in her own thoughts.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. RanVor

        Horse casualties happen. Besides, horses tire. In a regular war campaign, every cavalry soldier needs at least one spare mount to maintain combat readiness at all times.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. Someguy

        The Golden Horde (Mongols) had at least 5 mounts each, which also functioned as baggage train & Emergency Fod Supply.

        Not sure about the Greeks & Persians though.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Ultimate_Procrastinator

          Being nomads, I believe the Mongols would have had more horses than a typical cavalry force, but I believe two spares was generally typical for a well-equipped cavalry man.

          Liked by 2 people

      1. Cavalry can maybe – for short trips – make do with only one mount. The lighter your equipment loadout the further that envelope gets you, but it’s a relatively small one at the best of times (light cavalry on good ground/roads).

        Realistically, though, you want at least two mounts per mounted combatant, not counting any packhorses and supply train, for any sort of distance. You’d prefer more, though.
        You can get by with having only one combat trained mount if you primarily ride the other for distance travel, but you don’t ride (and thus tire out) your combat trained mounts for very long unless you have additional combat trained mounts you can switch to or you have no other options.

        Most likely, Cat has picked up somewhere in the vicinity of ten thousand horses, quite possibly more when all the packhorses are included.
        Sure, cataphract warhorse training is different from knight warhorse training, but they’re still quality horseflesh.

        Liked by 6 people

      1. I don’t think this falls under that. It’s basic casualty reporting, something presently relevant and being publicized throughout the army. Really going through the feelings about his death can wait for then, but not the raw information.

        Liked by 3 people

  9. Gunslinger

    > Walk back to your Theodosian, General Pallas,” I said. “And give him warning from the Black Queen – if he ever pulls anything like this on my people again, there’s room for another soul on my cloak.”

    Shivers, this is the good stuff

    Hakram Cat conversation was surprising not just because Hakram has yet to have a second hand attached (dropping yet again the combat effectiveness of the Woe) but also to the fact that Cats mortality wasn’t brought up.

    Liked by 6 people

        1. Buy Woe™ Brand Stabbing Cream!

          “Wait, is that for if you’ve been stabbed or if you’re going to be stabbing someone else?”

          “Really either would make sense here but actually it’s just goblinfire, we’re selling it to our enemies it’ll be hilarious.”

          …I probably should not be imagining Robber as the one doing R&D and marketing for the Woe’s product line but let’s be honest he’d jump on the opportunity if Cat didn’t proactively ban him from it.

          Liked by 4 people

  10. Can someone explain why Hakram felt the need to do away with his other hand? I reread that chapter, and I’m just not getting the uncertainty or whatever else regarding Thief’s loyalty.

    Like

    1. basically thief doesnt think she belongs there in the friendship sense of it nor the usefulness aspect of it, and shes losing her name, which is what kinda lead her to join them in the first place.

      hakram was like “fuck that yo, imma chop off this hand to show you that youre more than just a name.”

      Liked by 3 people

      1. There has to be more to it than that. Was the whole thing just Thief being mopey/mellow-dramatic, and Hakram couldn’t think of a better way to assure her of value as a teammate?

        Like

        1. You don’t lose your Name through a passing depressive episode. She was undergoing a prolonged existential crisis over what her Role was, how her Name related to the duties she was expected to fulfil, her role within the Woe and whether she had ever actually been a Hero or just a Villain with pretensions. And, if she had been a Hero, why did looking back on those days feel like she was a bigger Bad Guy back then than she feels being a scared-as-hell ¿Villain?…?

          Also, she was months into a fully justified, PTSD-induced anxiety-depression spiral she was having no luck in breaking out of. Her Name might have helped her… if she were willing to ditch Callow and focus on being the Thief.

          Vivian has done many questionable things, but quitting Callow? Fuck, no!

          Liked by 5 people

        2. magesbe

          Hakram tried to reassure her. But not only are words cheap, at that period Vivian didn’t trust Hakram half as far as she could throw him, which is pretty much not at all. He himself lamented that he was the only one there; the others she trusted enough that words might have been able to help, but she distrusted him too much for that.

          He picked the only thing he could see, a way to tell her that he was taking her seriously and not trying to play mind games or manipulate her. Words were not going to cut it, no pun intended.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. The thing is, for most humans, his solution would simply not have been something to consider. I fear that “Adjutant” is likely to become “that guy who mutilates himself for the group’s benefit”. Which admittedly does sound like an Evil role.

            Liked by 1 person

        3. “Mopey/melodramatic” is one way to put it, sure. Eudiachloris has put it in a more precise way.

          Hakram couldn’t think of a better way to break through her paranoia wrt him. Words are cheap. I do think there MUST have been a better solution, but he felt time pressure, and only something in this category would do the job quickly.

          Liked by 2 people

        4. That makes more sense, I appreciate the insight everyone 🙂 That said, I was hoping Vivienne would eventually appreciate just how insanely powerful Thief really was; she took an entire fleet of boats and dropped them in the middle of a city, and later proved she could steal an Aspect if it was made physical (the Sun). Hopefully she gets a new Name and isn’t just side-lined like Ratface & Killien. Hmm, I wonder if she ever went through with her Fae conversion. Anyways, maybe something close to Thief, but more definitively Evil, like Shade or Shadow.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. RanVor

            I don’t think she’s in danger of being sidelined anytime soon. I disagree about the Name, though. If she gets a new one, I very much doubt it’s going to be related to thievery.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. I actually don’t think Vivienne is going to get anything like an Evil Name, she was and remains a heroine. Her Name crisis was related to her no longer doing thief-y thing and operating as a mastermind instead, not to anything to do with which side she was on. That transition was seamless, she was as on the side of Callow and the right thing to do as she ever was.

            Liked by 1 person

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