Chapter 28: Acts

“Despise not the treacherous but instead the weak, for while both serve the same purpose where treachery requires skill and daring weakness requires only mediocrity.”
– Dread Emperor Vile the First

It didn’t look like he was sleeping.

That disturbed me almost more than the rest. Amadeus of the Green Stretch was still alive, by the measure of most people. The signs of life were certainly there: breath, heartbeat, warmth. So it should have looked like he was sleeping, but it didn’t. It looked like someone had just… torn out his consciousness and a body had been left behind. Its physical functions went on but having known the man – loved him, in our own misshapen way – I couldn’t call this breathing corpse anything but the remains of him. His soul could be anywhere, by now, and combing through Procer for it brought to mind that old metaphor about the needle and the haystack.

In this case, though, the needle was a top-notch Named mage and the haystack was both hostile and on fire. I’d tell Vivienne to have the Jacks watching, and I was considering passing on what I’d learned to Malicia. She was my enemy, true, and he’d both defied and disobeyed her. Yet I suspected she’d sacrifice quite a bit to bring back to Ater and might even be willing to cooperate with me to see his soul snatched back from the heroes. I only barely grasped the nature of the ties that bound Black and Malicia, but I did not doubt the depth of them. Neither would have been quite so intensely furious at the other after Akua’s Folly if there’d not been trust to break.

Was it not an irony of sorts that I was now relying on the architect of that same folly for answers? The shade of the Diabolist had only bothered with a cursory examination of Black’s physical state before turning her attention to more eldritch matters. She was a healer of some talent, I knew, but it was more a result of Akua being skilled at branches of sorcery that required knowledge of anatomy and biology than out of any true affinity for the healing arts. Like Masego, she was more chirurgeon than physician. It was typical of Praesi to be more interested in the cutting of things than the mending of them. Fingers resting on my teacher’s forehead, Akua was frowning with her eyes closed.

I could feel the quiet lapping of Night at his body, and perhaps I should have been studying her methods to learn from them what I could. Instead, though, my gaze remain on his face. He was bearded, now. It was uncomfortable to look at, though more for the sloppiness of the growth than the threads of grey within. Black had always been cleanly to a fault, austere in all his affairs but always well put-together. His hair was still dark, for the most part, but it’d grown longer and like the beard grey was now touching it. It was… distressing to see. Like a chip on a blade you’d believed forever smooth.

“Barbaric,” Akua suddenly said, both hand and Night withdrawing.

Golden eyes had fluttered open, and she was looking down at Black’s body with patrician disdain.

“Elaborate,” I said.

“This was not even sorcery, dearest,” Akua said, wrinkling her nose. “The work of that ignorant little savage the Saint of Swords, I would wager. It was the metaphysical equivalent of attempting field surgery while eyeballing the affair with a two-handed sword that was most definitely not cleaned beforehand.”

“Elaborate usefully,” I specified, hiding my dismay.

The body was alive, for all the lack of driving intellect within, but had it been damaged irreparably? I was intending to snatch the soul back when opportunity arose, to put it back in this very shell of flesh, but if that wasn’t possible we’d have to get… inventive.

“The severing between body and soul itself was clean and sharply made,” Akua said. “But near every other aspect was botched. It was done too abruptly, for one, and so in a damaging manner. Which means there will be some disconnect between the soul and body even should they be reunited, possibly permanent. Memory loss is likely as well, though proper rituals can mitigate that aspect and it is likely to be minor in nature.”

“Shit,” I muttered. “Masego cut up my soul a bunch of times and it was never this bad. Why is this so different?”

The look she sent me was offended on Masego’s behalf, I thought, but also on hers and possibly even mine for having asked what she evidently considered to be a highly plebeian question.

“Laurence the Montfort is a murderous vagrant swinging a butcher’s knife at matters she only dimly understands,” Akua said. “The Hierophant was taught by the Lord Warlock himself from the cradle, and even in those days likely could be counted as one of the ten most learned Trismegistan practitioners on Calernia. You are comparing a mangy attack hound to one of the finest mages alive.”

“That’s nice,” I said. “But what I want to know is if the Saint purposefully made this sloppy or if it was just the only way she knew how to do it?”

Diabolist mulled over that for a moment.

“Though I hate to dismiss the possibility of incompetent wickedness in our opposition,” she finally said, “I believe this might genuinely have been the most clear-cut separation she could accomplish given the means at her disposal.”

So, the Saint had been a bad chirurgeon but not necessarily a malicious one. I supposed the distinction had been academic, anyway. I would have remembered malice directed at my father when he was helpless and prisoner, but in and of itself it would not have moved me to either kill or spare her. That decision, in a way, would be making itself. If the Saint acted against me or mine even one more time, I’d get her head on a pike. If she was reined in by her allies, then I’d swallow my spite and let her be pointed at the Dead King instead.

“Noted,” I said. “Which brings us to our next trick – can you track the soul using his body?”

“I cannot,” Akua immediately replied.

My eyebrow rose.

“The reasons why are twofold,” she told me. “The first is that, as I’ve already told you, the severing itself was keenly made. The… sympathy between body and soul that would remain in most circumstances is near entirely absent here.”

“Near,” I said.

She inclined her head, conceding the point.

“Which brings me to the second reason, namely that I’ve already attempted to do this and found my workings frustrated,” Akua said. “Someone is occluding the soul from sight and search, and doing so with surprising skill.”

“The Pilgrim mentioned he passed on the soul to the Rogue Sorcerer,” I said. “Who I sadly know little about, save that he often uses fire sorcery when fighting.”

“Given that the workings on his end were surprisingly apt at gainsaying Night and its miraculous nature, I would wager her him Proceran or Proceran-taught,” she told me. “Jaquinite sorcery would be uniquely suited to the thwarting of the miraculous, being inspired of miracles itself.”

My lips quirked into a mirthless smile. What a helpful coincidence that a Named mage from the theory of magic most suited at hiding from my means of pursuit would be sent off with what I was looking before I even returned to the surface. Fucking Heavens. It might genuinely have been a coincidence, for all I knew, but given the opposition I was inclined to gesture obscenely at the sky just on principle.

“So what can you do?” I asked.

“Establish a ritual array for resonance,” Akua said. “It will be imprecise and require a great deal of power, but when employed the ritual should reveal if the soul is close.”

“Define close,” I said.

“A radius of seven leagues,” she said. “Though that broad it will simply reveal if the soul is within that area. For more precise results, the radius would have to be significantly lowered.”

Seven leagues, I thought, forcing myself to visualize it. It wasn’t nothing, though I would have preferred larger if there was to be an investment of Night in every attempt. The haystack had been made into smaller bundles, I supposed, but it’d not gotten smaller in any real sense.

“Prepare the ritual array and make me an estimate of the kind of power it’d require,” I finally said. “When you have the time, Akua. This is not as high a priority as our immediate threats.”

It surprised me that even looking at Black the words were not difficult to speak. I’d thought, I supposed, that looking at him in the flesh there would be a sudden sprout of sentimentality that’d have me hesitating between taking risks to pursue this and taking a more pragmatic approach. I cocked my head to the side, gazing at the pale skin of my teacher, and found that aside from a faint tinge of guilt the decision hadn’t brought anything out of me. And the guilt, truth be told, came more from how the decision had barely needed to me made than from the making of it. But then you’d understand, wouldn’t you? I thought, looking at the not-sleeping man. That there are larger things at stake than you and I.

“You seem wistful,” Akua softly said.

“I don’t know what that means,” I lied, “you don’t need to impress me with your fancy Wasteland words, Akua, I-”

“Playing the fool did not work even when I considered you to be one,” the shade said. “Why would it now?”

I shrugged my shoulders, as if to say it’d been worth a try. I could have simply left the tent, I thought, but that would have felt too much like a retreat and I’d had enough of that for the evening. After my private talks with Princess Rozala had made it clear there was no real chance of an accord being reached, I’d simply waited until Black’s body was delivered to my people before taking my leave. My warning to her had been blunt, but then we were rather past subtle intrigues weren’t we? The day and night had been exhausting in a way that had nothing to do with the physical, and seeing Black with a gaping hole where everything that made him who he was should be hadn’t helped my mood in the slightest.

“You must hate him like poison,” I eventually said. “Are you remaining civil as a courtesy to me?”

I didn’t like to think of Second Liesse – or the Doom of the same, as some called it, though my own people most often named it Akua’s Folly – but on that dark day I’d been allowed a glimpse into the nature of Akua Sahelian. Not through the madness she’d wielded like a blade, or the the victories she claimed over me, but when I had seen her flinched. She had bound me, title and Name both, and the binding could not lie: when Akua saw her father die before her eyes, it had wounded her. The body of the architect of that death now laid on a cot before us, yet not so much as a flicker of hatred had touched her face in all the time she’d been in the tent.

“Hate,” Akua repeated, tone pensive. “I can see why you would believe so.”

I glanced at her and found golden eyes watching the Carrion Lord’s chest rise and drop at its own steady pace.

“Are you claiming you don’t?” I asked.

“I suppose I might kill him, given reason,” the shade said. “Though that would differ from duty only by the tinge of satisfaction that it would bring, like an old mistake finally blotted out.”

“I was there, Akua,” I said. “I know what it did to you, when-”

She turned to me with burning eyes, and my tongue halted.

“My father’s death was the writ of many hands,” she said. “His, it is true, but others as well. The goblins who fired the crossbows. Your own, for serving as distraction while he was taken. But most of all, the fault is mine.”

She looked way.

“I waged war on villains, and did not sufficiently safeguard that which was precious to me,” Akua said. “I am the mother of that murder in every way that matters.”

“There’s sense to that,” I replied. “Logic, even.”

My eyes stayed on her.

“And not a trace of the grief I saw then,” I finished.

She turned to meet my gaze, and for once there was anger not mastered or leashed in the cast of her face.

“What is it you want from me, Catherine?” the shade asked bitingly. “Tears? Lamentations? Or is it pain that you demand?”

“Yes,” I said. “I want you to be in pain.”

She flinched back at that like I’d slapped her. Before a heartbeat had even passed, she was smiling and amused and her body beginning to angle so it would display her curves more prominently. I admired how well she’d been trained almost half as much as I utterly despised it.

“While I’ve certainly heard you prefer the rougher forms, I-”

Her tone was light, suggestive, there was a slight emphasis on heard that implied she might actually have heard Archer and I spending a night together – which was possible, tents weren’t exactly the finest way to keep something quiet – and she’d changed tack blindingly quick. I ignored it.

“If you’re in pain,” I continued, “if you can feel pain, I means you value things. People. That you begin to understand things other than yourself have value.”

“I have always known that,” Akua said. “Your take on Praesi values, my heart, remains simplistic for all that we have spoken of the subject.”

“Intellectually you assign value to other people,” I corrected. “For their usefulness, potential, the pleasure or amusement they can bring you. But that’s still thinking of them as assets. As objects. But if their loss pains you, Akua, they were more than an object to you.”

“Should I weep, then?” the shade harshly replied. “Should I wail and beat my chest, swear revenge on all those who can be revenged upon? Should I burn half the world to assuage my grief, make Creation pay the long price?”

The Callowan term she spoke derisively, but I could hear it was forced. It had screwed my countrymen, over the years, the need to see grudges settled. But it also appealed to that vicious, childish part of us that wanted to answer pain with pain. Hurt those who’d hurt you. And anyone who’d ever grieved had heard that song, sung to one beat or another.

“Would you like to?” I asked her softly. “Weep. Wail. Bury him with no honours of mine, but what you can offer from daughter to father.”

“And what would you know of that, Catherine?” Akua said, sounding tired.

My eyes flicked back to the body laid out in front of us.

“I know,” I said, “that sometimes you grieve more what could have happened than what did.”

Akua did not answer. The silence hung heavy in the air, broken by only two people breathing. The shade among us had no such need.

“He shouldn’t have been born in Praes,” Akua said. “He’d be angry with me for saying that, but anywhere else on the continent they would have let him read in peace and deep down that was all he ever wanted. But in the Wasteland, when the Gift flowers so strongly there are expectations.”

“He was powerful, I’m told,” I said. “Like few others.”

“Like many others,” Akua softly denied. “But he was clever and found angles others did not even consider. But he was not of the old blood, so his fate was death or patronage. He could have been husband to my mother, you know. He had the talent for it and if he’d tried to establish a presence at her court he would at least have been made a formal consort. But it wasn’t in his nature, Catherine, to see magic as a tool for power. To him it wasn’t just the Gift, it was a gift.”

“He’s the one who taught you,” I said.

“I suppose he did,” Diabolist murmured. “Though it was never a lesson in the way my tutors would have made it. He was… sharing something he loved with me. Helping me understand it so we could wonder at it together. It made a difference. I could not help but love it as well, when it was something that was ours.”

I envied her that. The memories she must be peering at with that faraway gaze, the hours she’d gotten to spend with her father that hadn’t been just lessons. Getting to know him as more than a teacher and a guiding hand.

“I loved him,” Akua suddenly admitted. “But, in the end, not as much as I loved what my mother taught me to reach for.”

She chuckled barrenly.

“So how could I dare weep, dearest one, when I chose that ambition over him?” she said.

“Because you miss him,” I softly replied. “Even so, you miss him.”

I heard her move and found her leaning forward. Chin against her raised palms, long hair cascading down her back. I couldn’t see her eyes or her face, but the tension in her shoulders was open.

“I do not think this is a kindness you offer me, Catherine,” she said, tone ambiguous.

“It’s not about kindness or cruelty,” I said. “It’s about being whole, more than just the parts that’re useful.”

Silence, as she mulled over my words.

“Why?”

A dangerous question, that, for it was being asked by a dangerous woman. Akua Sahelian was bound to me still, and had been shorn from Winter by virtue of there no longer being such a thing. But my leashes on her had frayed as well. The Night was not mine, and though I could stripped her of her power that would have left her nothing but a shade. Powerless. It should have been a matter carefully weighed, the absence of many safeguards Winter had allowed against Akua being divested of her claws. It hadn’t been, though, not after Great Strycht. Because she’d said some things about doing good that night that I didn’t believe she truly understood the implications of. Because once you embraced a principle, you didn’t get to pick and choose where it worked and did not.

“Because, now and then, I forget who you are,” I said.

What matters more, Akua Sahelian had asked of me once, the conviction or the act? I still had no answer to that, no iron-bound truth to offer. But she had made her choice, and it betrayed her own belief.

“It won’t matter,” Diabolist said, “for you are, my darling, Callowan to the bone. It will kill me or it will kill you, but in the end all debts will be paid.”

“So it will,” I agreed quietly. “Did I not swear to you, once, that no place in Creation would safeguard you from me?”

“That,” Akua fondly said, “and a fate that would have men trembling in a thousand years.”

Praesi, I thought and did so less than affectionately. Would else would take a ruinous oath as a tender remembrance?

“And you’ll have that,” I mused. “It’s owed. But I’ll make you into a person first. Because there’s no meaning to passing judgement on the Diabolist – she’s just a villain. That’s the sum whole of her.”

“Yet you still do not believe there is difference between the Diabolist and Akua Sahelian,” the shade said, cocking her head to the side. “I am bemused, dear heart.”

“I’m going to claw back a person from what they made of you, Akua,” I calmly said. “And then, at the end of our road, we will have justice.”

“And I will submit myself to this decree,” she said, sounding amused. “You seem implacably certain of that.”

“It is borrowed certainty,” I said. “But certainty still.”

“I am all ears, Catherine Foundling,” she drawled.

“What matters more,” I asked, “between the conviction and the act?”

“The act,” Akua Sahelian said.

She had not hesitated a moment and so I smiled.

“How long have you been acting like one of us, Akua?” I simply asked.

No answer followed, not after and not when I left the tent.

82 thoughts on “Chapter 28: Acts

  1. danh3107

    It’s hard to tell with Akua, whether she’s being genuine or not. I’d like to believe in this instance she was, and that makes my fascination of a character I used to hate so much sweeter.

    Liked by 19 people

    1. IDKWhoitis

      I think that ultimately, it doesn’t matter at this point. Cat has let her guard down, and now treats Akua like a person, and is trying to remodel her in a greater way than even when Cat could actually change her appearance with Winter.

      Akua could be acting or genuine, but she is going to be reformed whether she likes to or not. She doesn’t actually have a reason to be around or subservient to Cat anymore, and she almost looks forward to that bad ending Cat is promising her to be immortalized in the history books. Yet she still follows Cat, and keeps trying to fit in, and Cat has just offered her an in.

      The only thing she could do, is truly fit in, because what difference does it make at this point?

      Liked by 11 people

      1. I think she’s following this now because she knows, story wise, that there isn’t another path. She isn’t being kept like a tiger in a cage, so she lacks the story to break from it. Her big climax ended in failure, so she can’t rise again from the ashes. All she has is the redemption, and I think she is finding some form of freedom in letting go of the ambition she once held, even if she began her current path solely as a survivalist instinct.

        Liked by 10 people

      2. luminiousblu

        Personally I find the process rather disgusting, partially because Catherine has officially reached the point of being a Sue when interacting with her own party for me.

        Oh she gets told, once in a blue moon, that she’s full of shit, but more often than not she’s either right or it takes minimal effort for her to admit she’s wrong by the time someone actually tells her she’s wrong. The Archer fight was a non-starter, Vivienne I’d hoped would lose her shit at Catherine but instead they’re all buddy-buddy, she outsmarted everyone just like that and the Heroes didn’t even get a consolation prize really, and the story clearly portrays her as holding the moral high ground and everyone else as sadly deluded at best, absolute monsters at worst. You might argue that well we’re seeing the story from her point of view but really it’s getting tiring at how apparently the only person capable of introspection and reading other people is Catherine these days, we never get her being taken down, like legitimately taken down.

        Granted the story never did that often but it tended to feel like for me that she wasn’t apparently the only person portrayed as not totally fucking insane or a complete monster. William was a poor deluded fool, sure, and Akua before getting fleshed out around Second Liesse was basically Maleficient tier, but then Catherine was mostly flailing about as a minor player under Black’s wing, Warlock and Masego had their own ideas and Catherine actually fucked up during Marchford (although that she apparently wasn’t really set back by it at all burned a little – would’ve been more impactful if she actually lost the third aspect which she already had gotten to use for a while instead of losing a nebulous ‘potential’), she fucked up against the Courts, she fucked up with the Council, people told her she was being a complete idiot once in a while. These days not so much and I’m not convinced she’s any smarter than before. Liesse Accords sounds hilariously off-kilter considering it’s essentially asking Gandalf to sign a treaty with Sauron and while the narration tries very, very hard to make her seem reasonable it just makes her seem supremely arrogant about her personal values that apparently literally everyone is harbouring somewhere deep inside and just repressing, despite Callowan ‘long prices’ being derided absolutely everywhere as excessive, unique to Callowans, and completely retarded in-world.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. IDKWhoitis

          TLDR: If you think Cat always wins, this likely won’t convince you.

          I mean, all named are Madmen at best. This story loves the problem of opposing sides feeling that they are doing the “Right” thing, people will look delusional. When someone, or a group believe what they are doing is “Right”, they are capable of monstrous atrocities. I don’t mean just the Heroes (Looking at William’s Mind rape via Angel, or Grey’s Plague Extermination), we see this in our Villains as well, but one side dances around the fact that they are monsters by doing what is “needed” and what’s “right”.

          In dealing with Grey, we see he does not actually care that he has broken mortal law, because he was doing what was “right” and “needed”. He only cares now because he is being held hostage by a story. On good days, Saint and Grey could smite Catherine, but this is not a good day, they have walked into a story where they are not the heroes. They just tried to assassinate a foreign dignitary under truce banner. If they try shit right now, the Heavens won’t be able to leverage much power. Meanwhile Cat has the upper hand, not only in a moral high ground (which could be debated, but its hard to look the hero in this scenario.), but also in terms of raw power at their disposal. Cat has a literal god on her shoulder. You can call bullshit, but this is what you get when the opposition has Angels whispering in the opposition’s ear.

          I don’t know who you refer to Monsters here, as from each person’s perspective, they are acting rationally with information they have realistic access to. Grey and Malz know about the broken treaty, so they know what Cat is on about, and they are ashamed. They don’t fight what she is saying, because they know that she is right, Grey did cheat and lie, so there’s no actual reason to bargain with him. The lord from Lev thinks Cat is full of shit, because this is the equivalent of Feds busting down your door, holding your grandfather at gunpoint, and demanding he comes with them. Without any context, you are going to feel righteously angry.

          Most introspection is from Catherine’s view, as we get to ride around in her head for most of this story, and that’s just how the cookie crumbles in regards to first person point of view. However, it would be disingenuous to say it the ONLY introspection or insight we see.

          Malz has had her psyche shaken to the core, she is dealing with PTSD from fighting up north, and knows that fighting Catherine is really going to fucking suck, whether or not she wins. Malz has expressed sadness at how this is going to play out, because she is stuck between a rock and a hard place. If she fights Cat, she could lose heroes and lots of men/material that are needed up north (to say nothing about actually winning the fight). If she lets Cat go, we see massive rebellions and desertions within the army, which may rival or be greater than loses taken fighting Catherine. She doesn’t want to fight, and because of that, she asked Cat to take a LOSS. Cat understands why she made the request, but she can’t follow through, even if she wanted to. Cat’s Legitimacy rests on Warlord fame, and the Heroes are untrustworthy variables besides.

          As for the Lord, you have to remember that there is literal hero blood running in the guy. He was born to fight Damned, on principle he can’t let the Villain go. He hasn’t fought Cat yet, and probably has only faced small time villains if any at all. On top of that, she has constantly belittled and slandered the Pilgrim. From his point of view, he thinks Cat is full of shit. (yes, it is a repeating pattern that people underestimate Cat, but Grey and Malz are here to make sure that stupid moves remain to the minimum. Remember the Cavalry charge Cat stopped single-handedly?).

          Will Cat lose? Maybe not, historically speaking she doesn’t. But what’s the cost going to be this time around? Another friend? She is quickly running out of disposable ones for that. And with Akua joining the Woe, there might be a metaphorical sword hanging in the air for the Woe. But that’s not the point.

          As for your argument about the Liesse Accords, we don’t know if it will succeed. If all these victories come to nothing, if she won every battle and lost at the peace table, I think that would be the hallmark of a tragedy. If you don’t see selling parts of yourself and cutting off what isn’t useful as a loss, then I get why you feel cheated. Cat lost autonomy in Book 3, and was stuck in a perpetual hell of depression and self doubt in Book 4. But that’s not a loss, I guess. Cat lost her Trust in Black, she lost an ally in Malica, and she had her very foundations of her role in Callow rocked and broken apart. But these are worth nothing, I guess. We see a Catherine that is never trusted, labelled Arch-Heretic of the East. Cat is unable to reason with people because she is so insane/traitorous in other peoples eyes that she hampers peace talks by being present, even when everyone who matters agrees with her. What the fuck do you call that? She’s won every battle, done everything “right”, and she is still the Villain.

          You are right, everyone will see this as Cat being “supremely arrogant about her personal values”. This is why the Liesse Accords are on such shaky grounds right now. She wants to do good, she has tried to do good, she has tried to do what is “Right”, and no one will agree with her until she forces them to. It is completely retarded, but you can’t expect everyone to sit down in good faith to talk it out, there are opposing definitions of what is “Right” and “Needed”, just like in the real world.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. luminiousblu

            I’m not really sure what you’re trying to say all in all. It feels like you’re talking about stuff I’m not actually contesting. Pilgrim, Laurence, Malicia, and so on certainly aren’t portrayed sympathetically or as if they’re not totally off their rocker, while Catherine is consistently portrayed as the only sane person who actually shows up in the story. Cordelia Hasenbach used to be portrayed as reasonable but then she both dropped out of spotlight and left on a rather sour note, while Malicia never felt as clever as EE tried to present her as but the facade is totally gone these days (Malanza is trying to replace Cordelia but she doesn’t have the weight behind her hence only sane person).

            Liked by 1 person

      3. I’m flashing back to Book I, when Amadeus set Cat to studying Praesi “fairy tales”. IIRC, The protagonists there tended to end in disaster or doom, but not before they’d “made their mark on the world”. Akua may consider that she’s in that last part of the story….

        Liked by 2 people

        1. IDKWhoitis

          It’s what I worry about Cat too tbh, did she learn too well from Amadeus? Or did she complete her villain role, and is now a completely new arc?

          Like

        2. luminiousblu

          A protagonist who makes their mark on the world before dying doesn’t mean they get fucked up and then accomplish something with their last breath most of the time, it’s a Napoleon case, or a Hannibal case, where even when you lose your shadow is so long you define an era and pound culture and history like clay.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. werafdsaew

      “What matters more,” I asked, “between the conviction and the act?”

      “The act,” Akua Sahelian said.

      Just as the role is important than the Name, the act is more important than the conviction. As long as Akua is acting like she’s part of the party, she’s getting redeemed whether she likes it or not–the power of the trope of the Five-Man Band will do the rest.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Jonnnnz

        A Villain would say the act is more important, but a Hero would not. The Choirs themselves seem to be about will rather than action. The Pilgrim murdered (via heavenly bio-weaponry) thousands of people so he could capture Black, in a move with a higher death toll than dropping a lake on a massive invading army mid-battle. The first is considered heroic, the second villainous. Conviction goes a long way here, and there’s probably a case for it protecting people such as the Saint of Swords (and to an extent, Black and Malicia).

        Liked by 2 people

        1. werafdsaew

          You’re talking about morality, but I’m talking about story mechanics. We’ve known for a while now that if you slot yourself into a role of a powerful story, then that story takes on a life a its own and then drags you kicking and screaming towards its predefined paths whether you like it or not. And there are few stories as powerful as the Five-Men Band.

          Liked by 7 people

          1. AdrianGrey

            But this isn’t an example of the Five-Man Band. The Woe already has the full complement of 5 people: Catherine, Hakram, Indrani, Masego, and Vivienne. If Akua joins for real, she would be number 6, which really doesn’t have any strong story associated with it. Unless one of the Woe dies or retires, the story likely won’t let Akua be part of it.

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            1. Nathan Utter

              I actually disagree with the strong association part. While Akua isn’t one of the base members of the Five-Man Band, there IS a trope associated with defeated enemies joining the Five-Man Band: the Sixth Ranger.

              So true, this isn’t an example of the Five-Man Band but it is a related trope.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. luminiousblu

                The Sixth Ranger is a super dangerous role if you’re looking for redemption though. Like the name implies it’s associated with wanderers. When someone leaves the team for good or joins it temporarily, that’s the role they fit into. They’re like an extension of the party, and the party functions without it. Unless you want to say she’s replaced Masego – which for now she has – but then Masego is currently in the role of the party member who’s gone absolutely fucking insane and needs sense beaten back into him. Whether or not he dies during that fight and returns only for long enough to see Catherine’s face and apologise has no strong tendency associated with it.

                Like

            2. werafdsaew

              And conveniently, Vivienne no longer has a Name. Yes Cat said that she’s not kicking her out, but it doesn’t change the fact that Vivienne is now 100% useless in a fight.

              Like

          2. Akua might be a 6th ranger, but AFAICT, the Woe is not even close to a Five-Man Band. The trope page makes it clear that two or three correspondences don’t make a 5MB, you need all five members by type and role, and I don’t see how the Woe come even close.

            Like

      2. caoimhinh

        Yep, and we have seen that it’s indeed that way even in the way that world works, that’s why Cat, Pilgrim, and every other Named can shape stories and use them as weapons. The act matters more than conviction and intentions.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. luminiousblu

        Redemption, at least in the Christian sense of the word, fundamentally sees very little difference between the act and the conviction. You can’t actually act without the conviction (saving someone so he can pay you back isn’t charity – by definition the act of charity means giving for the sake of doing so) and someone with conviction can always act even if only a little (someone with legitimately nothing to his name can still perform charity by helping others carry loads or so on).

        Also I honestly don’t believe that Catherine’s band counts as anything similar to redemption in the first place, nor that it’s realistically a good thing to get caught in orbit.

        Like

    3. The thing is, Cat is simply unable to truly grasp Akua’s mind — which leaves Cat tantalized and fascinated. This is all too typical for a “normal” human faced with a sociopath.

      But that dark fascination is also a trap, an adept sociopath can use it to subvert and corrupt others even after their mask is torn and their great ruse (“oh yes, I’m one of your flock, really…”) uncovered.

      Like

      1. I don’t think Akua is any kind of sociopath.

        An interesting fact. Do you remember Akua’s story about her childhood companion she’d been forced to sacrifice? “She was charged with taking my canings until I was old enough that it would not hamper my growth.” Their strategy was legitimately to punish someone else for child Akua’s transgressions and expect that to influence her behavior just as if she’d herself been punished. It worked, I’m assuming.

        Akua’s been traumatized through hell and back, but she’s perfectly capable of empathy and attachment and human emotions. Cat understands her very well actually.

        Liked by 5 people

          1. I have a theory that Akua (and Amadeus also btw) is an empath – as in, has hyperdeveloped empathy.

            It, uh, doesn’t help. It just means she’s learned to not notice when she hurts herself, too 😡

            Like

  2. Of course Saint isn’t as good as soul-surgery as Masego.
    She’s muscle. Amazingly skilled muscle, but muscle nonetheless. Muscle so good at cutting things with her sword that she can cut intangibles like a Domain or souls. But still just muscle in the end.

    Masego actually knows what he’s doing when he tinkers with souls.

    Heh. Cat is humanizing Akua so it hurts Akua more when the final hammer ultimately gets dropped on Akua.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Skaddix

      I doubt it…Cat is just not that manipulative and long term of a planner. What I think Cat does need to work on is respecting other Cultures if she wants the Liesse accords to work.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. caoimhinh

        For me it’s more like Cat is trying to make Akua into a better person so she can justify letting her live in front of the others (especially Vivienne).

        Liked by 5 people

          1. caoimhinh

            Yeah, only Viv would oppose strongly, while the rest would either obey because Cat says so or not give a damn about it.
            But Catherine is the type of person that needs an excuse for her actions, even when others wouldn’t criticize her, and also because she isn’t honest with herself about feelings until a long time has passed.

            Liked by 3 people

        1. luminiousblu

          Arguably, saying you’re going to make someone else a better person *is* disrespecting their culture, and she’s not even always right about it. Forget who the K-redhead mage was back in book 1-2 but the big stink Catherine originally raised was about human sacrifice of legally dead people, which didn’t make any sense (they’re already going to be hanged you may as well make use of them before they get dropped) and clearly isn’t a universal value. I mean yeah, Catherine wants to make a declaration of human rights sort of thing, but in the first place nobody even agrees on what those rights are. People in OUR world can’t agree on where the line gets drawn.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. caoimhinh

            I agree with you.
            But this is merely Cat’s excuse, it doesn’t need to make sense, it’s just the thing she says to attempt to justify not killing Akua.

            Also, even to this day CatxKillian break-up still seems like a really forced thing in the book (it came out of nowhere and didn’t make much sense). Their fight started because Cat didn’t take Killian to the council room when she announced the founding of the Order of Broken Bells which was “her first step at rebellion”, then Cat twisted the fight around and ended up being the one offended at Killian due to her considering the use of human sacrifice for power. Worse is how Cat in recent chapters still said that she would have needed to cross lines to keep being together with Killian, which is a lie since once Killian found that Cat was against it she discarded the idea, but Cat still pretends to be the righteous one in that discussion.

            Like

            1. magesbe

              I feel like you are simplifying their relationship breakup. It wasn’t as well developed as it could have been, but there was more to it than that. Cat didn’t feel like she could stay with Killian knowing that it was only her disapproval that stopped Killian from doing the ritual, not any moral fiber or objections. She openly admitted that it was hypocritical to hold Killian to higher standards than others around her, but admitted that she was having a hard time helping it. Combined with her increasing responsibilities, Cat felt that staying with Killian wouldn’t be the best thing for either of them. She wasn’t pretending to be the righteous one in any manner other than the fact that her partner had no objections to human sacrifice.

              Like

    2. caoimhinh

      Cat might actually be the one driving Akua towards the redemption story.
      That “I’ll make you into a good person before I destroy you” seems like an empty excuse to me. It’s as silly as “Let’s redeem this criminal sentenced to death and make him into a good person before we kill him”, that’s pure bullshit, she just likes her (or grew fond of her) and wants to make her a better person to have her around.
      That type of story never ends in the redeemed being killed by the person who taught her to be good, she either lives on or dies saving others.

      These Akua chapters are always the same formula: “Conversation starts about relevant subject of the moment, conversation steers towards Akua due to Catherine asking her questions, Akua talks a bit about her life, Akua tells an unknown info about her life plus something we already know, and conversation ends with Catherine promising again that she will kill Akua.”
      If Cat needs to constantly be reminding herself and Akua that she is going to kill her, she has long passed the stage where she decided to not do it, she is just in denial.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. TBF every time Cat looked at Akua in Book 3 she had an inner monologue slowly and exquisitely describing Akua’s appearance and then ending with a reassurance that Catherine still hates her and wants her dead.

        And she followed through on that.

        Sort of.

        …Yeah I agree here lmao.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Cat to Akua:
          *Fighting against each other*
          “I’m going to kill you”

          *Making alliance*
          “I’m going to kill you”

          *Watching the stars together*
          “I’m going to kill you”

          *In the cinema*
          “I’m going to kill you”

          *In a picnic*
          “I’m going to kill you”

          *Eating dinner*
          “I’m going to kill you”

          *Sharing bed*
          “I’m going to kill you”

          *Fighting against an enemy army*
          “I’m going to kill you”

          *When it’s finally time for peace and can kill her without repercussions*
          “I have decided that I’m not going to kill you. But I have only just decided that now, I was totally serious all the times before”

          Everyone else: “Yeah, of course. We believe you, we never saw this coming.”
          *Indrani gets a fortune due to betting on this early on in Robber’s betting ring*

          Liked by 10 people

  3. IDKWhoitis

    Watching Cat let Akua in from the Cold really made me feel something.

    Winter is over, and Cat has moved on in life from what Liesse was. It’s now Night-time, and Cat has left the door open to Akua. Although some of the Woe may feel worried at this new, and possibly hated individual, she does fit in. Archer respects Akua after surviving the Underdark, Masego never really had a negative opinion, Hakram will watch over her, as he did with Viv. Cat has let her in, and only really Viv may feel threatened, if not insulted. But even with that, I still see Akua as part of the Woe in the end.

    It’s going to be a shame if Saint or Grey annihilates her.

    Liked by 7 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        I don’t think needing a Name is one of the requirements for the Woe at this point, and there isn’t an actual limit to how large Cat can make the Woe. Although Fate may be tempted to keep it at 5 through the use of deaths, Fate is always trying to screw Cat over, so this is nothing new. Both Akua and Viv may be part of the Woe, but we all know Viv will have a fucking Fit when she figures this out.

        Liked by 6 people

  4. edrey

    akua point of view is lacking here, without that you feel something is missing, this madness is two ways after all.
    also, there is not extra chapter, what a pity

    Like

    1. caoimhinh

      That’s because EE doesn’t want to confirm anything, but just keep the readers guessing and debating. Using Akua’s POV would confirm her intentions in one direction or the other, thus killing the suspense. All these “conversations with Akua” chapters about her had actually been “people speculating about Akua”, not “Akua talking about her intentions”

      Like

  5. Stormblessed

    I’m still waiting for the moment where Cat calls Black her father outside of her own thoughts. I thought it was going to happen in this chapter, but breaking this space to Akua would be wrong. It probably either needs to happen extremely publicly or in private with Hakram.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. caoimhinh

    Honestly, these “let’s use an entire chapter for a conversation with Akua” chapters have always felt like filler to me.
    So, there were no more attempts at diplomacy, no conversation with Pilgrim and Saint again, nor Catherine offering the same she offered to Rozala to the others. It was offed as “there was no point in keep trying so after getting Amadeus I left”. Even if we knew that the talks would fail, an attempt was supposed to be made, instead who got half a chapter of Cat saying that Akua loved her father (which we already knew), that Akua was not showing her true emotions (which we already knew), and Cat saying that she will kill Akua (which she already has said lots of times, but with each time she repeats it, it sounds less likely).

    I know character development is important, but these Akua chapters are really not developing much at all besides showing that despite Cat trying to reassure herself and everyone else at the end of each of these chapters that she will definitely kill Akua, it’s obvious since a long time ago that she is having second thoughts. This “I’ll make you a good person before I kill you” is an excuse that seems more like “I’ll make you good and repent of your bad deeds so I can justify that I’m not killing you”.

    None of these “Catherine conversing with Akua” chapters have brought much new insight nor expanded what we knew of Akua already, more like they are displaying Cat acting in denial of her desire to let Akua live. There was development in the conversation Vivienne had with Akua in Arcadia, and the thoughts Cat had about her along the entire Ever Dark Arc as they gradually changed into a more favorable vision of Akua, the development ended with Akua saving Cat during the encounter with Sve Noc, but there has not been so much development in the conversations that use half to entire chapters, as weird as it seems.

    Typos found:

    I would wager her him Proceran / him or her Proceran
    to me made / to be made
    the the victories / the victories
    Would else would take / Who else would take

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mmmm I really disagree with you about the worth of these chapters.

      They’re buildup. They’re letting us know what’s going on, they’re letting us see how Catherine’s and Akua’s opinions of the world, themselves and each other slowly mutate with time.

      Or I might just be an unrepentant CatAkua shipper crying tears of joy for the author feeding me and mine :3

      But I really do believe this will pay off in time.

      Liked by 5 people

    2. KageLupus

      I am also going to disagree with this being a filler chapter. Akua being a member of the group and having people joke around and not treat her like an outcast has been a driving conflict since it first started. Originally the justification was that she was going to be useful until they didn’t need her anymore and then Akua would pay for Second Liesse.

      After the big throw down in the Everdark the narrative got flipped, though. Akua declares that she is going to use the power of friendship to do Good and redeem herself. Her reasoning is that actions are all that matters so if she goes through the motions of being moral it is the same as actually being moral.

      This chapter is Cat pointing out that Akua fucked up again. First she proves that Akua is not a heartless monster and does/can care about other people aside from just how useful they are to her plans. Then she reminds Akua that she has been acting like one of the Woe, which in her own words is as good as being one.

      Cat isn’t going to kill Akua because she doesn’t have to. Akua set herself up for a redemption story, after committing heinous crimes. We already know how that story plays out because the Pilgrim tried to set Cat up the same way. Akua is going to end up making a Heroic Sacrifice at some point, and she is going to do so willingly because that is what one of the Woe would do for the others.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. SilverDargon

    I really like what Cat seems to be implying about Akua’s changing character. The idea that she’s literally being changed into a better person because she took on the role in an attempt to play the heavens. That’s just a fascinating take on how heroes and villains get made in this world. I mean part of it might just be psychology, “Becoming the mask” and whatnot, but Cat seems to be implying that morality is a literal force which is changing Akua ever since she decided to play at being a hero down underground. Which to be fair, is fairly plausible.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I think this very much is psychology. And… sociology? Relationshipology? Pretty sure it’s sociology that does that… or psychology.

      Anyway, this is not a guide-specific process. This is how it works, and I’m really glad Catherine’s seeing it.

      And I’m really glad all the cards are on the table face up between the two of them :3

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Alegio

      Think of the reason why Archer is in the Woe, its a place where she can belong. That’s something Akua has never had before and even if she is just acting, the simple effect of not having to worry about praesi BS all the time and having something to do where the best end scenario is not “And then the heroes killed me, but not before I fuck@d everything up!” probably does wonder for her wounded psyche.

      Like

  8. Someguy

    Looks like Cat is shaping Akua to have actual human emotional responses just to slam the “No Redemption” cage on her and bury her forever away screaming.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Alegio

        I’m more of the mind that Cat believes that she wants that, but in reality, all she wants is that Akua becomes more of a person so at some point the realization of what she has done hits her like a hammer.

        Cat probably doesn’t even wants Akua dead, she likes her too much and can see she is way too useful as an ally for that.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Angita

    I actually rather like Akua and Catherine’s interactions. The redemption matters to me because Akua at the time of her defeat (and still now) is fond of Akua’s Folly. She wants to be the person who inspires the next generation. It’s not really satisfying (in justice or in emotional impact) to kill her and be done with it if it’s her reward. By comparison, Cordelia is an exquisite moment of justice/revenge, depending on how you view it. Cordelia was fool enough to base the continuation of her nation on a Crusade, resulting in many people’s deaths who had little to do with the decisions. Her comeuppance is when Saint tells her the heroes are taking over and Procer as it’s currently known is going to end.

    Akua being redeemed gives us that chance of her sneaking away from the rest of the Woe and crying about a failure, be it her father’s death or something that hasn’t happened yet. That element of “I tried so hard or I wanted something to happen so much and I failed” is a comeuppance. I won’t call it justice, at that point, if Akua’s being useful, but I want Akua to have a Cordelia’s Cracked Crusade moment. She hasn’t paid for her crime yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. caoimhinh

      That is certainly going to be an interesting conversation. It will be great to see the change in their dynamics, given that their relationship has changed so much.

      Like

    1. Barrendur

      @Richard Ngo:
      Excellent quote! But I can’t, for the life of me, remember where I first encountered it… Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’, perhaps? Please remind me.

      Like

  10. Perception is an odd thing, when numbers transition from ‘meaningful’ to ‘a statistic’. I sincerely hope that Cat doesn’t forget those 100k souls of Liesse. If she wants to get Akua to the point where remorse is real and thus the punishment is meaningful, that’s fine, so long as she actually follows through in the end.

    Like

  11. Alegio

    Cat stop trying to excuse yourself, we all know you actually like Akua and are trying to help her like any other good person would do to such a traumatized soul.

    And it’s lovely how Akua still probably thinks that she is “acting” her part. She already fell for that something that traped all he woe around Cat, the feeling of actually being part of something and having a place where she belongs (especially a place where you don’t need to kill the people you love as an entrance fee).

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I think part of the point Cat was making is that once she rrally feels or changes the pain she will suffer due to her regrets will be more than anything could do. And that so long as she doesn’t feel that pain Akua is just acting or rather imitating people

    Liked by 1 person

  13. lennymaster

    I have finally realised Cat’s plan for Akua. She is taking her revenge, she is literally destroying her by turning her into a different person, or rather a person at all. Akua set herself up for a redemption story, not realising that that will destroy her as surely as having her soul ripped to shreds. In the end, there might still be a person left, but she will be nothing like her former self. And she cannot sabotage the change or stop, doing so reverts her to being the wily villian doing whatever it takes to survive, continuing makes her a hero who wont stand for sacrificing her live if it is not for some greater good. And being a person will set her finally up for feeling bad about what she has done.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Vivid

    “Which is more important, the conviction or the act?”

    An easy choice, when you realize their congruence. I guess its recognizing that they’re the same that sets apart Black and Akua.

    Like

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