Chapter 29: Retrospect

“My son, the Helikeans insist it is better to live a day as a lion than a hundred years as a sheep but as in so many things they are missing the point. Lions commonly live a decade and a half, sheep slightly less. It is not them you must emulate but instead the common tortoise, a wise creature that achieves very little but will do so for a very long time. This is the ideal state of politics.”
– Extract from the infamous ‘Sensible Testament’ of Basilea Chrysanthe of Nicae

We got three days’ march before Creation turned on us.

It was always going to, I’d known that deep down – there’d been too many moving parts sent to spin within the bounds of Iserre for my armies to be allowed to escape the grounds so easily. But I’d expected, and planned for, the Heavens putting their fingers to the scale through the local crop of heroes. My contingencies had been built to kill or cripple enemy Named, killing as few actual soldiers as was possible. If there was to be a confrontation, my thought had been, best it be contained to Named and army strength on all sides be preserved. Given that we now outnumbered the western coalition army by a fair margin, that shouldn’t have been too difficult. The enemy fielded less than eighty thousand on their side, though they had us almost hilariously outnumbered in all matters cavalry. In comparison my own coalition had taken beatings but overall no dramatic losses, and that left us on rather healthy grounds: a little over twenty thousand veterans from the Legions of Terror, around thirty seven thousand legionaries of the Army of Callow and my largely intact fifty thousand drow. One hundred thousand and ten in total, more or less, so we had the enemy not only beaten in numbers but arguably in quality of soldiery as well.

It’d been the assessment of the Marshals that the enemy was unlikely to seek a pitched battle, and I’d concurred. It wasn’t that it’d be impossible for the enemy to win, should they attack. If they hit us during the hours after dawn we’d be down most the drow and they’d regain temporary superiority in numbers, which might allow them to swing this around if they bled us bad enough before the Firstborn were back on their feet. It was that the costs of such a victory would be horrific, to put it bluntly. Losses would be massive on both sides, and with Princess Rozala having a seat in those war councils there’d be at least one voice to remind them that if I felt my people were being forced into a corner the gloves would come off. Whether or not we were correct in guessing the enemy’s thoughts, their actions at least were correctly predicted: as the eastern coalition began a march to the northeast, out of Iserre and towards Cantal, the western coalition shadowed our advance but did not engage. Not even in skirmishes, to my mild surprise. I’d expected cavalry raids and Levantine light foot to try out screening forces, but the enemy made a point of never engaging in bloodshed.

Some of our soldiers considered this a good sign, and talk in the camps was that we might just walk back to Callow without drawing swords. Juniper had been scornful of the rumours, and passed down instructions to stamp them out, but myself I’d been rather impressed there were still any optimists left in my armies. You’d think they would have gotten themselves killed by now, just by dint of odds. Regardless, my own expectations remained dark and so when the first sign of trouble arrived I was validated instead of disappointing. It was on the fourth morning, about an hour before the Firstborn would be able to shake off dawn torpor, that a chunk of Creation half a mile wide shattered like glass in front of my armies.

“That,” Vivienne slowly said, “looks like a gate.”

It did, I thought, and that was not good news. The two of us had been riding to the Third Army’s camp, when Creations began creaking, so it was only a short ride to General Abigail’s command to order a runner being sent for ‘Advisor Kivule’. I half expected a comment from Vivienne at that, but found her face to be largely indifferent. She caught me looking, though, and raised an eyebrow.

“I’m not a fool, Catherine,” she said. “In Masego’s absence, she’s the finest magical expert we have. It would be wasteful not to make use of her.”

“Haven’t said a thing,” I replied, raising a hand in protest.

I declined the escort the Third Army offered, as well as the offer to accompany me that General Abigail offered while poorly hiding a cringe. She hid her relief at my refusal just as poorly, to Vivienne’s subtle amusement. We rode together towards the break and all the while she was suppressing a smile.

“That one’s in no danger of being tempted into reckless adventures, at least,” Vivienne finally drawled.

“I find the lack of ambition refreshing,” I admitted. “The boldest step she’s taken so far is discreetly inquiring if service months under a field promotion still count towards earning a general’s retirement pension.”

The other Callowan choked, swallowing her laughter.

“Well?” she asked, tone hoarse with suppressed hilarity. “Does it, Your Majesty?”

“Figured I’d throw her a bone,” I mused. “It’s not like she’s getting a general’s salary at the moment anyway.”

We might have continued quite a while in that vein if the approach of the breach hadn’t killed any semblance of amusement. We’d ridden close enough that I could make out what laid behind the filmy, gauze-like surface of the breach: a barren wasteland of howling dust storms I’d visited before. Frowning, I noted that the opening seemed to lead to a place different than the one I’d stood at. The great whirlwinds with streaks of lightning and the earth cracking open into geysers of flame were miles and miles away.

Shit,” I feelingly said. “This is happening a lot quicker than I thought it would.”

Vivienne rode closer, as her sight was not as good as mine, and had grown pale by the time I caught up with her. I almost turned to acknowledge what I felt arriving behind me, but the breach itself was currently of greater interest,

“You told us it was slowly coming into alignment with Creation,” the dark-haired woman said. “That it might take months.”

“That’s what Sve Noc told me,” I told her. “And I had no reason to believe they were wrong.”

“They were not,” Advisor Kivule said.

Her presence in the Night meant her arrival was no surprise to me, but I was pleased to note that Vivienne either had grown better at hiding her surprise or she’d also somehow noticed. ‘Advisor Kivule’ was dressed entirely in black, her closely cut dress covering going from the hollow of her throat to her boots, and neither her face nor her hair were visible under the elaborate veils and half-hat she wore. That I had bound Akua Sahelian to my cloak after Second Liesse was rumoured, but there might be unrest if it came out I was not allowing her to walk about without chains. The false name and attire wouldn’t fool anyone already suspecting her identity, but given the kind of entities I’d bound to my service in the past Vivienne had assured me that the most popular rumours had nothing to do with Diabolist. Apparently she was either a drow sorceress I’d stolen from underground – never mind that they’d seen actual Firstborn and that as a species they distinctly lacked curves – or a fae I’d seduced into making oaths to me. The slightly uncomfortable way Vivienne had spoken the word ‘seduced’ made it clear what kind of seduction was being referred to, which was actually rather flattering – it did imply, after all, that I was skilled enough in bed to bedazzle one of the fae.

“Cryptic,” Vivienne commented. “If you’d care to elaborate?”

“The unpleasant vista that can be seen on the other side is not aligned with Creation,” Akua replied. “In this, Sve Noc were entirely correct in assessing the time. Though I cannot be certain as to what caused this phenomenon, I can hazard an informed guess.”

“Which is?” I asked.

“You described High Arcana runes and a detonation taking place while you visited, Catherine,” the shade said. “Repeated impacts of that nature might reverberate across the boundary between Arcadia and Creation, creating temporary breaches.”

“So whoever-” Masego, most likely “-is behind the mess on the other side, they’re swing hard enough at the wall between us and them that tiles are shattering,” I frowned.

“A more accurate metaphor would be a sword striking at a pond,” Akua suggested. “The initial strike will leave a mark, in this case being the breach you see before us, before creational laws make the water return where force chase it from – in this case, the boundary pressure eventually closing this breach.”

“At least there’s not a permanent gate into Arcadia in the middle of Procer,” Vivienne said. “Somehow I doubt Hasenbach would be too pleased about that.”

“Wasn’t us,” I replied out of reflex. “And if it was you can’t prove it, so in a philosophical sense it isn’t.”

There was a moment of embarrassed silence as the other two women looked at me. I grimaced.

“Well,” I spoke into the quiet, a tad defensive. “Given our history, I might as well start practicing the official response early.”

“Inadequate,” Akua said.

“Sloppy,” Vivienne said, almost simultaneously.

They didn’t turn to glare at each other, though given how much of a point they were making of not doing that they might as well have for all the difference it made. The irritation from Vivi was likely genuine, but rubies to piglets that Akua was just having fun yanking her chain. It would be a much greater challenge, I thought, to wean her off pettiness than it would be to wean her off of Evil. Who could say I’d not learned to pick my battles?

“Glad we’re all in agreement,” I drily said. “I need practical details here, o advisor. When’s this thing going to disappear? Can we expect others to appear, and if so how often?”

“Less than a bell,” the shade replied, which had me sighing.

Four hours, in the winter season, was no small portion of the daylight hours already shortened by the forced slumber of the Firstborn after dawn. We’d have to march around the damned thing.

“As for your second question, there are two possibilities,” Akua said. “The first is that we are looking at the initial breach, in which case we might have days before a second instance – though the occurrences will quicken as the process advances.”

“And the second?” I asked, bracing myself.

“This is not the first breach,” Akua said. “And they have simply been occurring in different parts of Iserre, for an unknown amount of time. We could be looking at hours instead of days for the apparition rate.”

“Diabolist,” Vivienne said. “What happens when the rate is so close as to be instantaneous?”

“In metaphysical terms, a repurposed chunk of Arcadia will made into a half-realm straddling the boundary between it and Creation,” the shade said.

“And in physical terms?” I asked.

“I don’t believe this has ever been accomplished before,” Akua Sahelian cheerfully admitted. “And so I’ve no authoritative answer to give, darling dearest. It ought to be interesting to find out whether we are simply to be obliterated by the initial bridging or the process will closer to the forging of a permanent domain with tendrils reaching in both realms.”

Certain death or probably death, then. There was a cheery thought. I closed my eyes, let all I’d learned sink in. I’d come across more than a dozen moving parts since I’d walked out the gate bringing me to Iserre, but this was it – the pivot, the fulcrum, the culmination of all this bloody mayhem. Had the Tyrant planned this far? No, I decided. No one was that good, not even the Neshamah, and for all his brilliance Kairos Theodosian was no King of Death. Now, in matters of war and politics I could grasp how we had come to this cliff’s edge. The Grand Alliance could not and would not yield, neither could I and all the while violent madmen rode the carriage that was the League of Free Cities down ever slope they could find. But what was the story here? There was one, of that there could be no doubt. There were too many Named in Iserre, too many crowns and too many secrets for there not to be a tale in the works. If it were merely the western and eastern coalitions clashing, we would have the heroic and the villainous and the usual tragedies in black and white.

The League’s presence muddled that, however. It was no longer so clear-cut, and after the unfolding calamity in Arcadia was brought into the mix the waters became even muddier. Kairos wants to play a trick, I thought. I want to forge a peace and wield it like a blade. I could only guess at Masego’s intent, but he could not be in his right mind. That would make him, I thought, a danger or an obstacle. The sword hanging above all our heads but not someone who would influence the shape beyond that. Now, I knew what Princess Rozala wanted but she wasn’t the champion for her side was she? It was the Grey Pilgrim that would bear that mantle and I wasn’t really sure what the old man wanted. He should have killed Black, I thought. It would have made more sense to do that if peace was what he was after. I would have been utterly furious, true enough, but if they’d killed him while he was in the middle of burning Procer I would have had to swallow my anger. Instead he’d given me reason to… To twist arms so that I could get him back, I thought, and my blood cooled. I’d heard rumours about Black being dead or captured even in hamlets, it was a given that the moment I came to Iserre I’d hear about it.

So when I’d first encountered the Pilgrim and the Saint, I’d baited her and tricked him to go after something he’d known for certain I would want. And I’d won a victory. Oh, it hadn’t been given to me, but narratively speaking I’d received a written invitation to take it. And I won from it the body without the soul, the part that actually makes Black dangerous to them. It’d been bait, and I’d taken it. A victory, I thought once more. Could it actually be that simple? I wasn’t Named, not anymore, but I was the high priestess of Night and the weight of the roles I still played might be enough. And there had been growing similarities, hadn’t there? I’d slipped into them without even noticing. I now bore a staff and no sword, I called on miracles to aid and protect rather than attack. I had godlings whispering in my ears, companions at my side. I was eldest in influence among the priesthood and Named of a coalition of nations, and an unequaled religious figure in one of them. I had made myself and been made into the patchwork-cloaked opposite of the pilgrim in grey, one step at a time. And now I’d claimed a win over one that might be called my rival. This, I thought, felt like a pattern of three. One I had initiated as a villain, and with a victory.

I knew well what followed: draw and then finally defeat.

Now, if I were the Grey Pilgrim, why would I go this far out of my way to kill Catherine Foundling? Because the Choir of Mercy told me to, I immediately thought but just as quickly dismissed. If Tariq were simply a murderous errand boy for the Ophanim he’d be a great deal less dangerous. No, if he was doing this and had invested so much time into doing it when the Dead King was devouring the north then it was for a reason – not necessarily one I’d considered good or decent, but one that would seem those to him. My eyes blinked open and I found my companions both staring at me in silence.

“I am the Grey Pilgrim,” I said. “Why, of all the threats currently on the board, do I need to have a story-forged knife either at or in the Black Queen’s throat?”

“The fairy gates,” Vivienne replied, cocking her head to the side. “They can either make or break the war to the north. The ability needs to be either solidly secured or removed so it can’t be a threat.”

Which made sense, I thought, if I grasped the timing of it correctly. Black had been captured while I was in the Everdark, which meant the Dead King had either been mustering his armies or already on the march. The Pilgrim ended a strategic offensive that had a real risk of starving half the Principate into collapse if left unchecked while simultaneously acquiring leverage on both Malicia and myself. Snip with the soul and not only did he keep that leverage but he prepared a pattern of three. The degree of foresight that’d require was frightening, to be honest, and I suspected beyond even a hero in bed with a Choir. On the other hand, I wouldn’t put it beyond the Grey Pilgrim to do all this as a contingency. Ending a threat while expanding the tools at his disposal? Yeah, that might fit. He’d know he was exposing himself to my tearing through a gate and appearing behind him at some point down the line – rescuing my teacher would have quite the weight behind it – but cutting out the soul would muddle up that story and I suspected he could do quite a bit with the ability to predict where I’d appear when coming for the soul. Was that really all it was, though? The gates had simply made me too potentially dangerous not to pull a knife on? Considering the man had looked into my soul a few times, he must have known that I’d rather avoid war if I could. I glanced at Diabolist, whose gaze remained hidden behind her veils.

“Because it is the only certain way of killing you,” the shade calmly said, “and Calernia cannot survive a second Dead King.”

I opened my mouth, then closed it. It seemed an absurd claim, for all the talk of apotheosis that had preceded my descent into the Everdark. Yet I trusted Akua’s intellect, if less so her judgement. She wouldn’t have said that without careful consideration. I thought back to my fights with the heroes, when the Tenth Crusade had come knocking. I’d dropped a lake on the enemy, to be sure, but it wasn’t worse than what the likes of the Warlock and possibly the Witch of the Wilds could have done with a little preparation. Although, arguably the lack of preparation needed on my part made it – no, this was all missing the point. Feasible way of killing me, Akua had said. That brought different perspective. Sure, I’d been repeatedly slapped around by the Saint of Swords and she’d shrugged off the worst of what Winter could bring to bear, but I’d usually accomplished what I came for while going around her before retreating. The Pilgrim himself had seen me tear through a band of heroes while fumbling with the barest fraction of my mantle had been able to do. If I’d known half the tricks at the Battle of the Camps that I’d known in the Everdark, I honestly doubted anyone but the Pilgrim or the Saint would have been able to put a scratch on me. And those two, I realized, were the oldest and perhaps most powerful heroes on the continent.

Shit.

The thought that the man could have conceived of me as a nascent Dead King was ludicrous, he’d been able to see into my fucking soul. I wasn’t… Gods, I’d done some dark things and not always for reasons as good as I would have wished but there were lines I’d always refused to cross. That I would have kept to. This can’t be personal, I told myself, and put aside the horrifying thought that a truth teller might have genuinely believed I had the potential to become the likes of Neshamah. Stepping out of myself, I looked at the story of Catherine Foundling through the Grey Pilgrim’s eyes. The past was largely irrelevant, I decided, save perhaps for a note that I’d been taught by the Black Knight and would likely draw on his manners and methods. What mattered was that I’d come into a Name as the manifestation of what Tariq had called the sin of our indolence returned to haunt us, the first time we’d ever spoken. That was important, that informed what I considered the Black Queen to be. She was a form of retribution by Creation, by the story, for a failure on the side of Good. Catherine Foundling, as an entity, was inherently dangerous to the Heavens. Still, as the Pilgrim I didn’t like killing unless the situation required it and I did not yet know if it did. I should, at least, meet with this Black Queen.

What did I find when I did? Offers of truce, offers to reduce the dangers for everyone, but also a mutilated soul. And Winter encroaching on the remnants, essentially a standing temptation by a power older than Creation and by nature prone to contaminating mortal minds. I make the reasonable offer of this very dangerous person abdicating the crown and allowing others settle the kingdom she’s slowly turning to Evil by simple virtue of ruling it, but mortal considerations prevent her from accepting. This is a good sign, because it means she still has good intentions. This is a bad sign, because her attachment to Callow is the kind of narrative leverage Below will use in a heartbeat to make a full monster of her. So I make a bargain about keeping the damage under control with the Black Queen, hoping that after a clean military defeat she’ll be forced to reconsider the earlier offer. On the other hand, we have to be very careful not to push her so far she’ll sink into Winter and become the kind of mess that gobbles up armies before it’s put down. It’s a delicate dance, but I’ve been at this game for a very long time and I have the Saint of Swords as a contingency. Then the Battle of the Camps happens.

A full band of heroes fails to kill the Black Queen, then the Saint fails after them, and the gate trick kills a few thousand people in less time than it takes to drink a cup of tea. Then the backlash makes her fall into some sort of state – Diabolist taking the reins of the body, though I might not know that – and she faces down the entire heroic contingent simultaneously before snapping out of the fugue state and forcing a truce on the battlefield. Catherine Foundling has now proved dangerous, exceedingly hard to kill and mentally unstable. Given that she’s running around with an entire fairy court’s worth of power, good intentions or not she needs to be removed. The peace conference achieves that, more or less: the terms ensure I’ll be around her, able to find a weakness or guide her into a redemption story that’ll either kill her or turn her to good purpose in the service of the Heavens. The Tenth Crusade is repulsed in the Vales as well, but that’s all right because the Black Queen is the key to settling Callow and she hasn’t gone anywhere. But then the Iron Prince along my native Levant prepare for a second invasion through the Vales, and she comes seeking help. This is a very, very dangerous moment. If I do not help her, I’ve thrown away the story the deaths at the Battle of the Camps bought me. If I do help her, on the other hand, I might be destroying the same Grand Alliance that will be the same power bloc necessary to put her down if she gets out of control.

Cordelia Hasenbach’s dream ensures peace in the west, forced restoration of Callow to Good and a unified front against the long-term term Evil threats I’ve spent my entire life fighting. Catherine Foundling is a young villain-trained queen with expansionist neighbours and access to power that dehumanizes her the more she uses it – the story of that descent into atrocity practically writes itself. The choice is only hard to make in the sentimental sense, and I’ve been doing this too long to allow sentimentality much of a weight. Only, after that, instead of running back to Praes or making Callow into some kind of nation-fortress while I discretely look for an acceptable successor, she leaves. I don’t know where she’s going, but there’s nowhere that’s not a disaster. Keter, to the Dead King? Arcadia, where she can bargain with fae? To the Everdark, where not even the Ophanim can easily look? If she went to the Tyrant of Helike that might be a relief, but months pass and she doesn’t appear in the League. This is a problem, because a half-taught girl with that mantle is one thing but whatever the fae or the Dead King might make of her is a very different sort of trouble. Then Keter begins invading the north, and the game changes: no oath I took means a thing when the survival of Calernia might be at stake. So I leave, and set to shaping a story that allows me to put her down by any means necessary should she return as a true villainous Queen of Winter.

I breathed out, and it was almost jarring to think of me as myself again. The plunge had been deep and exhausting, but it’d also been necessary. Both Vivienne and Akua had been right, in their own way. Whether I came back as a monster or remained the same, the Pilgrim benefitted from having a story-wrought knife at my throat. If I was to be the Grand Alliance’s gate-maker, I could either be bargained with nicely or with the reminder that a promised victory might kill me. If I was the… Queen of Moonless Night, for lack of a better name, he needed to kill me and fast or it might mean the end of the western nations. The thing was, stepping out of myself, I could finally see why he’d consider me that much of a threat. Because I did have the means, didn’t I?

To tread the same path as Dread Empress Triumphant.

It wouldn’t even be all that hard because the pieces were all already there, waiting to be picked up. Already I had Callowans in legionary armour and the a knightly order under my banner. The Duchess of Daoine had sworn oaths to me, and service of her armies, and from the Empire I had already stolen three legions and come to Iserre claiming more. And I could do a great deal more than that: bringing Black into the ranks of the Mighty would forge me a monster of a general who finally had the power to match his wits. I lacked mages, so while Procer bled to hold back the dead I could force the submission of the already-fracturing Praes and bring the finest sorcerers and warlocks of the continent into my forces. Malicia could kneel or be buried with the Tower, and once the rest of the east was unified the goblins would make a deal and the orcs would fall into that nascent empire naturally – I’d have Hakram, Black, and Grem One-Eye in my service, how could they not? And then we could turn west and take the gloves off. I had Hierophant and the ruins of the fortress-artefact of Liesse. I had the Wild Hunt and ties with the ruling court of Arcadia, I had the high priesthood of Night and alliance with Sve Noc themselves. Oh, he was right to be afraid I thought.

If every other choice was taken from me, it might still come to that.

“I came back,” I mused as I looked up at the sky, “reeking of millennial ritual murder and fresh apotheosis, with slivers of living godhood perched on my shoulders and a sworn army of drow. I’ve effectively confirmed his every fear.”

“He will come for you,” Akua said. “I expect that to a man like him there is not a single act that would be immoral when taken in the prevention of a second Dead King’s rise.”

She was, I grimly thought, probably right.

“So we reach out,” Vivienne said. “Make it clear that you are no such thing and offer reassurances.”

“He’ll still want a draw for the pattern of three,” I grimaced. “Just in case.”

“So what do we do?” she asked. “Because this isn’t looking good, Catherine. If what I’ve heard about how he caught the Black Knight is true, he’s not a man we want to make desperate.”

I clenched my fingers and unclenched them, looking at the gate. Kairos wants to play a trick. I want to forge a peace and wield it like a blade. Tariq wants to make sure no one can end the world, or at least our little corner of it. They key would be beyond the gate, I decided. Where I already suspected the armies of the League would be marching through, and perhaps even the other Grand Alliance army as well.

“Now I know what everyone wants,” I said. “So I just need to figure out how to win without making everyone else lose.”

153 thoughts on “Chapter 29: Retrospect

    1. Zard

      This is the best chapter I’ve read in a long time. A lot of times this story feels like it’s stepping to the side and doing fancy spins, not stepping up and building momentum.

      Barely any story makes conversation and opinions powerful, entertaining and valuable by themselves. The Guide tries a lot, almost all the time. When it pulls it off, it’s something else.

      Liked by 4 people

  1. ruduen

    I think it’s been a while since we’ve had that much introspection into what a story might entail. (We’ve had some recent thoughts on things as they unfolded, but much less speculation.) It’s somehow comforting to be back to diving into just what the narrative currently presents.

    Liked by 28 people

    1. stevenneiman

      There’s kind of a sad meta-narrative as well. Tariq described Cat as the specter of Good’s failings come back to haunt it, and he was right in the wrong way. Cat isn’t a punishment for Good’s complacence in only sending second-rate heroes to die trying to overthrow Praes. Instead, she’s a punishment for Good’s arrogance, and for the cycle of closing every reasonable option on a villain and then claiming that they were proven right when villains take the unreasonable option. And in trying to atone for the first failure Tariq adds layer upon layer to the second.
      The extra irony is that if Tariq was willing to see past the blinders of Good and Evil he would recognize that Malicia’s victory would mean peace, prosperity and a high standard of living, and he would have focused on guiding Procer to a more peaceful, less expansionist stability where they did their job in keeping back the dead and ratlings rather than invading Callow as often as Praes and with the same results.

      Liked by 11 people

      1. I think Cat’s the first time the pattern of ‘forcing villains to take the unreasonable option’ becomes explicit.

        It’s something that has locked Praes into what it is, not leaving them an option better than madness on the global scale. But each madman still had choices, and it would take a very, very close look to understand that the options were bad and worse. A close look that Good wasn’t taking.

        Now Black has managed to somewhat… externalize it. Spread the misery around. Passing on the dilemma to a Callowan makes it visible from the outside for the first time ever.

        I’m not really blaming heroes and the House of Light for this pattern having shaken out into what it was in the first place, I guess is my point. They did not have a vantage point to see it from.

        I’m going to love seeing their reaction now 😀

        Like

  2. antoninjohn

    So even now the Grey Pilgrim is trying to kill Cat instead of accepting her offers to work together to stop the Dead King and bring peace, well that story probably won’t work out well for him

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Caerulea

      To be fair, with what he knows he has a damn good reason. Cat is right that if she dove into her power as the sovereign of the moonless nights, she would be near unkillable, and not the kind of opponent you are merely defeated by. She would be similar to the dead king, but with Fairy Gates, which are a massive force multiplier. It would be devastating, and even the smallest chance of it happening must be planned for. So he starts preparing to stop her if he needs to. I think it ends mostly fine.

      Liked by 19 people

      1. Stormblessed

        Not just that I feel. We don’t know how strong triumphant was, just that she ground the whole continent under her foot. The Dead King is horrible but at the very least limited. If his worst fears come to pass Car could be a great deal worse than the Dead King, some kind of monstrous amalgamation of both the Dead King and Triumphant.

        Liked by 15 people

        1. SITB

          To build on your comment, Tariq is right to fear her. She mentioned in this chapter the ways to gather power to crush the Grand Alliance, but this is just window dressing. Look at how he described Cat ‘the sin of our indolence returned to haunt us’; Cat is their failures coming back to haunt them, the story is on her side!

          She won’t be the Dead King or Dread Empress Triumphant seeking to bring the west under her rule, she will come to seek redress and retribution for the west’s faults.

          Hell, she could possibly even say something like “I am the punishment of the Gods, if you had not committed great sins, the Gods would have not sent a punishment like me upon you” and conceivably get away with this.

          Liked by 12 people

      2. caoimhinh

        And also, Cat has something none of the other villains has: she can play the role of Heroine in stories. That gives her an edge the others simply don’t have and makes her dangerous.

        Liked by 14 people

        1. haihappen

          That makes a cruel, and ironic, sort of sense to me.
          Cat: “I will not champion your cause and will work to end this game you are playing!”
          Above+Below, in an eerie double voice: “Yeah, we will see about that.”

          Liked by 4 people

          1. RanVor

            She offered him an alliance against Praes. It doesn’t require a big leap of logic to extrapolate that she’d be willing to ally against Keter as well.

            Like

            1. Oh, that much is obvious enough. It’s in her interest, it’s even in Kairos’s. But that doesn’t tell him what she’ll want in return.

              He’s talked to her when she was desperate and begging, fallen back to the bare minimum she couldn’t fold on.

              Right now she’s in a strong position – stronger, Catherine’s realizing, than she’d thought. She could easily say ‘anyway you can’t make me abdicate if I don’t want to’. If she wanted to, she could fucking conquer Procer and demand tribute – all in return for help against Dead King, because for all that she’s “””willing””” to lend it, she can afford to withhold it and Procer cannot afford for her to.

              Oh, in reality, Cat cannot. Between the drow and the dwarves, she’s committed to this, and she’s as desperate as she ever was to make things go just so. But that’s the shatranj board on the ground, not the one he’s playing on ™. And Catherine’s not making it known that she’s desperate for one specific outcome, because she does need the leverage: it’s just that she needs it for Liesse Accords, not for… any number of villainous plans she could, in the eyes of the Pilgrim, plausibly have.

              And now that the crows are barring him from reading her, there’s no way for him to know she doesn’t, no matter what she says. He wasn’t particularly good at reading people and estimating them based on their words and actions and general personality when he was young, before Behold, and since then he’ll only have lost the skill. He hasn’t needed it in what, fifty years? His talks with Catherine might as well be a text chat for all of how much he can tell how sincere she is from them.

              And the worst-case scenario is very very very bad.

              Liked by 1 person

                1. It is.

                  And he has no idea, because during the peace conference, Cat squandered the chance to come clean and offer genuine and honest and open alliance in favor of a play that ended up handing him the beginning of a victorious pattern of three, and her a soulless body.

                  Like

                  1. RanVor

                    Procer in flames, with the Dead King invading on a scale unseen for centuries. A principality almost burned to the ground by the Legions of Terror. The Tyrant of Helike playing his games in the Grand Alliance’s backyard. Half of the Ashuran fleet gone. The Tenth Crusade crumbling, completely out of control.

                    Think again.

                    Like

                    1. The dwarves and the drow poised to strike at the Dead King’s back. Praes too embroiled in its own games to be a threat to anything outside its borders, and Callow standing guard and providing buffer for if that changes, as it always has. The most powerful vilain on the continent actively looking out for the rest of it and trying to prevent bloodshed. The second most poweful one still acknowledging the necessity of not losing to Dead King and playing political/diplomatic games rather than slaughtering his neighbours. The First Prince of Procer actually a mostly-competent person who cares about her realm and greater good both.

                      It could be so, so, so much worse.

                      Like

                    2. RanVor

                      And all of this would have happened way earlier (or wouldn’t have needed to happen at all), with significantly less bloodshed, if not for Tariq and his oh-so-flawless heuristics. He’s essentially become his own biggest obstacle.

                      Also, competent Cordelia? Are you sure we’re reading the same web serial?

                      Like

                    3. She’s not quite competent enough for the clusterfuck going on. But she did end the fucking civil war, which requires… quite a level of competence. It’s just that it’s like…

                      an actual dog <<< stupid person < average person < average ruler << Cordelia Hasenbach < a person who could actually manage the situation properly in her position

                      Like

                    4. RanVor

                      She’s not quite competent enough to not start the clusterfuck that is currently going on. And she did end the civil war mostly by winning battles and making promises. She does have some skill in diplomacy, but ultimately she hasn’t achieved anything she didn’t promptly fuck up.

                      BTW, how is it that not knowing things is not an excuse for Juniper, but it is for Cordelia and Tariq?

                      Like

                    5. I mean if I were in charge of them the same way Cat’s in charge of Juniper, I’d lecture them more than Cat did her :3

                      Note how Cat yelling at Juniper at length didn’t actually lead to her saying “nevermind I was wrong the Hellhound was a talentless hack all along”

                      Like

                    6. What question? Why it’s an excuse for one but not the others?

                      The answer is, your premise is wrong. Depending on how you parse the word ‘excuse’, it’s either an excuse for all of them (their level of competence is high but not that high), or not an excuse for any of them (their level of competence is high but not that high, and that is not high enough)

                      Like

                    7. RanVor

                      My premise is, Juniper is shat on for making mistakes due to limited knowledge, while Cordelia and Pilgrim get a pass, despite their mistakes being much more numerous and disastrous.

                      Like

                    8. RanVor

                      That there is this annoying thing called responsibility for one’s actions, and it gives a total amount of zero fucks about your reasons.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    9. In my eyes it works like how Bard characterized Black – suck it up and keep trying / try again. If you know what you did wrong, do it different this time. Keep going until you no longer can.

                      Amadeus strikes me as a character who understands responsibility possibly the best – or one of the best – in this story.

                      Like

                    10. RanVor

                      “It was one thing to make a mistake; it was another thing to keep making it.”
                      ― Jodi Picoult, Handle with Care

                      Aside from the fact that what you described has very little to do with responsibility in the sense I meant it (and only slightly more with responsibility in general), the quote above sums up 90% of my problem with Pilgrim quite nicely. If he just made a mistake, it wouldn’t be a big deal. However, not only does he keep repeating that mistake again and again, making things worse for everybody with every iteration, he is praised for doing so. He refuses to acknowledge that his approach failed and instead of adjusting his strategy, he tries to brute-force it over and over, with increasingly disastrous consequences.

                      Is it really too much to ask for Pilgrim to pull his head out of his ass, realize how much harm he has caused and back off, maybe returning later with a different approach? Like, you know, a reasonable person whose actions end up producing results opposite to intended?

                      Also, it occurred to me that Pilgrim is the perfect example of what’s wrong with the idea of preemptive strike. Acting against a perceived threat, you often end up creating a very real threat you are not prepared to deal with.

                      Like

                    11. I think the main factor in our disagreement here is, I don’t think the problems in the situation are Pilgrim’s fault to the degree that you think they are. I think he was at the mercy of circumstances, and he can’t looking back see a single moment where he could actually fix the situation.

                      Partially this is because PART OF THE PROBLEM is incomplete information that he has. We the readers from bird’s eye view can invent all kinds of hypotheticals about how things could have gone better, but he doesn’t know the facts that are part of our view on it.

                      He still doesn’t know about most of the mistakes he’s made. Most of the information he didn’t have, he still doesn’t. In fact, he has a smaller percentage of total necessary information now than he did at first, because now Cat’s not letting him read her, either.

                      He is making rational based on incomplete information. I would disagree that these decisions have made things that much worse / are making things that much worse either. He could have done better if he had had fully complete information, true, but I’m seeing him doing fairly well with what he has.

                      – actually talking to the terrifying Black Queen and walking away with a largely correct impression of her and a terms of engagement agreement
                      – seizing upon her willingness to be reasonable and attempt to build a heroic story to follow through with it and guide her to actual redemption
                      – after the chance for diplomatic approach is thoroughly demolished by the Arch-Heretic thing (he has no idea how determined Catherine is to do this diplomatically, she didn’t exactly tell him), he goes back to Procer to try to fix what he can
                      – successfully stops a rampaging villain from burning any more farmland / plunging any more of the Principate heartlands into chaos in the face of invasion
                      – in the face of having no idea what’s going to go wrong next, makes himself a universal tool that will help in dealing with 90% of possible threats (unfortunately not Kairos)

                      I’m seeing Grey Pilgrim as fairly competent and reasonable. His weak points are largely evaluating/predicting people, so he acts based on “hope for the best prepare for the worst” heuristic wrt those.

                      Like

                    12. RanVor

                      It doesn’t really matter, because I no longer have any interest in discussing this matter with you. You have officially depleted my reserves of patience.

                      Like

    2. Isaac Martinez

      We can look at the story in another way, if we look Catherine as Indolence’s Reaction. When Tariq met our Queen, he should had seen already that Cat is not a old style villian, but he plans as if that were the case in the Battle of Camps, and when he ia taken as hostage he doesn’t react to Cat’s Pain (Indolence), and Cat reacts and leave.

      In the end, Tariq never shows Mercy to the enemy.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. > In the end, Tariq never shows Mercy to the enemy.

        It should be noted that it is canon that Mercy and Compassion are separate Choirs. I think that provides some very useful context on what exactly Mercy means to Tariq/the Choir backing him.

        Liked by 4 people

          1. I mean, it’s not like it’s a coincidence that Tariq gets classed under “old monster” more often than not. Heck, I mostly like the guy and I’ll still admit there’s a good bit of truth there – that was kind of my point honestly. I dunno if you read it, but I did a whole long thing a while back about how the Choirs defining virtue exclusively in the terms of their own narrow slice of it very strongly tends to produce warped results (which means a hero swearing to a specific Choir can be reasonably described as essentially a power boost in exchange for some dubious moral side effects – sounds almost familiar, doesn’t it?). And when Mercy is defined solely and exclusively as “minimizing suffering” then it’s basically just utilitarianism without any brakes and that will pretty much always take you to some real morally uncomfortable places in a hurry.

            Liked by 7 people

            1. RanVor

              I did indeed read it, although I didn’t realize you were the person who wrote it.

              Well, Tariq himself isn’t completely devoid of compassion. The Choir behind him on the other hand… Let’s just say this train of thought can get really terrifying, really fast.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. Yeah, having different usernames in different places can def make it harder to track that stuff lol. And I think I’d say I’m about 1000% in agreement with everything in your second paragraph there!

                Liked by 4 people

  3. danh3107

    This is a very weird but interesting chapter, it manages to progress the story but not really progress the situation the characters are in. huh

    Also cat needs to stop going full Black, when you go full Black you can never go back.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Wait until she starts saying “I am exactly as expendable as any other person”, that’s when you sound the alarm.

      Like, she already more or less figures that. But when she starts SAYING it,

      Liked by 7 people

    2. Aotrs Commander

      On the contrary, I think going Black is absolutely the best option and she should do it more. Hell, Black should go Black more.

      (Pilgrim, on the other hand should just go die in a fire…)

      Like

  4. Interesting.

    Huh. I think the Alliance has been misinterpreting Augur’s warning about the fall of Procer if they just let Cat walk away. The threat isn’t Cat or internal revolt, the threat is the gates and the Arcadia/Creation boundaries getting ripped open and the Alliance not being able to respond in time.

    Liked by 16 people

    1. IDKWhoitis

      I want to imagine words about not being cryptic, and possibly a couple of slaps and punches, will follow Cat meeting Augar. I just hope Cat doesn’t see her as a physical manifestation of fate, because we know what Cat promised to do to those.

      Liked by 9 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Cordelia: Agnes, what do you see?
          Augur: Two black crows flying north.
          Cordelia: What does that mean?
          Augur: That Procer is saved, but you are screwed.

          Or else a string of incoherent words about doom, woe, terror, nightmare and other similar words, since that seems to be what everyone sees when gazing at Sve Noc, hahaha.

          Liked by 11 people

  5. IDKWhoitis

    I’m betting there is some horrifying Gate trip incoming. Reunion with Masego and Archer. And probably a very scary talk with Grey about temptations and threats.

    Because let’s be honest, when’s the last time Cat did diplomacy without some threats.

    Liked by 6 people

  6. ninegardens

    Gate trip!
    Bring Grey with you.

    Break the pattern of three with a “Mutual victory”.

    Everything will be nice.

    Also, god damn, if Cat is right, Pilgrim is a terrifying, effective, and sympathetic monster.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. MagnaMalusLupus

      >There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.

      -Sir Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

      Liked by 9 people

  7. caoimhinh

    Hmm, if the army of Callow crossed with 40 thousand soldiers shouldn’t their numbers be much less than 37 thousand after the losses they incurred during this campaign?

    Well, it will be interesting how the next battle plays out, it certainly isn’t on the battlefield anyone expected. It makes me wonder where is Indrani since Cat sent her to find Masego without any clue but apparently Cat found him first. Archer might appear in there since similar Gates would be appearing across Iserre right now. She might even make a dramatic entry to save the day.

    Typos found:
    if it came out I was not allowing her to walk about without chains / delete the ‘not’

    they’re swing hard / they’re swinging hard
    ever slope / every slope
    the barest fraction of my mantle had been able to do / the barest fraction of what my mantle had been able to do

    and the a knightly order / either delete ‘the’ or ‘a’
    They key / The key

    Liked by 3 people

  8. burdi

    but cat already thrice dead right
    just like the pattern of the three, it is unlikely for creation to kill cat since she already dead for three times
    or the fourth will be her rise to immortality since there is no such thing as the pattern of the four

    Liked by 5 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Hmm, I would argue it has only happened twice (one by William and another by Sve Noc) because Cat embracing Winter title didn’t kill her, Wekesa was very wrong about that.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. There was a chapter called that.

        And Cat did die at Liesse per se, she just didn’t lose information in the process. That’s the part Wekesa was wrong about, not the death itself.

        Also I’m still curious wtf happened with that sword stabbing that Amadeus sent her off into the Name dream quest with way back when

        Liked by 3 people

        1. ninegardens

          That wasn’t a death-
          that was just a light stabbing!
          What’s a light stabbing between-
          Wait.

          Okay, so you know how Cat “Branded” William when she let him go, and story totally backed her up on that.

          And… the last time she saw Black, she stabbed him, said “Come back when you a better person”, and hasn’t seen him since (what did he do wrong again?).
          Does that count?
          Did she brand a story onto him, and is that likely to overthrow the story Bard tried to brand on him back in the free cities?

          Am I correct in suspecting that either/both of these count?
          Has this been discussed before?

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Yep.

            I am pretty sure that happened both between Bard and Black, and Cat and Black.

            I also can’t unsee them as working in the same direction.

            (Feels like a sin, doesn’t it? / Become a better person, or else)

            (Also, I’m pretty sure Cat stabbing Black at that point was the finishing of a pattern he’d deliberately started way back when, discharging the entire death flag collection he’d gotten in an impressive display of “if you treat someone well don’t be too surprised when it backfires on you and they refuse to kill you”)

            Liked by 5 people

          2. Also what Black did wrong was… ok hear me out: I’m pretty sure he set up the situation in Liesse to break Cat’s trust deliberately, to advance the story of the student eventually turning on their mentor. He’d just seen Cat ardently refuse to accept the possibility of his death, and instead of going “you know what maybe surviving is a worthwhile thing to try after all” he went “she’s wrong and I’ll make her see it with blunt force if I have to”.

            Amadeus is convinced he’s a bad person. It’s what he’d told to Cat before (“I am the most selfish person you will ever meet”), it’s what he told her in Reunion (“I saw it in your eyes the first time we met: the best of me without the worst of me”), it’s what he told her at the post-Liesse conversation (“Not that I consider it to improve the principle of behavior”).

            His position is “I am a bad person therefore I deserve to die and I am not including personal survival in my long-term goals and never have”.

            Cat’s response is basically a slap upside the head and a “If you’re a bad person because you’re doing things you know to be bad things HAVE YOU CONSIDERED TRYING TO NOT DO THEM”

            Amadeus: “nah if you want me to not betray your trust you’ll just have to kill me”
            Catherine: “nice try now go and fucking fix it yourself” -kicks him out-

            Liked by 10 people

            1. Jarthion1

              I very much agree with you on every point except Black believing that he needs to die BECAUSE he is evil. His actions are totally mechanical and morality is just another tool for him. He may believe that he needs to die, but if he does than it’s likely because that is the sacrifice that will win his game (almost certainly by pushing cat in a particular direction)

              Liked by 2 people

              1. “His actions are totally mechanical”, huh.

                I keep wondering how people think this works. Is there a program inputted into him by an external programmer that tells him what to do? Did he roll dice for what outcome he wants? Did he get it handed from above (lol) as a divine decree?

                Amadeus is motivated by something. Even if it’s at this point just pride and desire to achieve the goal he’s set, that’s still fucking emotion! An amoral one, but perfectly mechanical is an absurd premise. Not just “wrong for this particular character”, it’s absurd. Self-defeating. Amadeus is not just a machine, because every machine needs an operator to set it in motion – who’s the operator of his, if not he himself?

                Kairos has called him out on losing sight of his goal, failing to keep his eyes on the prize, allowing his goals to indeed boil down to pride and achieving what he’s set out to achieve for the sake of achievement.

                But he’s still the same person who’d once set the goal. He changed, sure, trauma molds and shapes people, moral trauma in particular – doing things they do not want to think of themselves as doing. But person + trauma = person, it doesn’t categorically change the state, unless it’s straight to corpse. But Amadeus is alive yet.

                Like… I’m not even going to argue about what emotions we’ve seen him express, how we’ve seen him react, the philosophy he espouses, not at this point. I’m just pointing out that by definition his actions cannot be totally mechanical. It’s an oxymoron.

                A sacrifice that will win the game. What IS the game?

                Like

                1. Qwormuli

                  Yup. Or at least mostly. The currently mentally vacant ragdoll might ACT with mechanical game theory logic disregarding feelings (of his and others) most of the time and even priding himself upon it, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t feel and want. While deciding on the most meta beneficial course of action, he does have the impulses others do, but just ignores them and locks them in a box in favor of the greater drive of his -the one that made him the Black Knight (also a human want).

                  But, that’s the but. He does feel, but he doesn’t strategically act or plan like he does (towards the goal that he, the thinking and feeling human being has set, yes), so Jarthion1 isn’t totally wrong, either. That is what his soulscape projects, the man made into a clockwork. His set of internal values are inherently intrinsic and the arms of the clock tick. An oxymoron, yes, but remember that the man behind it is self admittedly hypocritical. And I agree, that that hypocrisy sometimes drives him towards his own grave, because to him he NEEDS to be an unimportant piece.

                  Like

                  1. I don’t think he’s as good at reducing himself to a machine making perfectly mechanical judgements towards the initially-set goal as he’s trying to be / as you think he is.

                    I love Amadeus, but he’s just… not that good at it. He’s still human, and still acts and thinks and makes decisions like a human.

                    A human who’s trying very hard to be a perfect rationalist, but does NOT succeed all the way.

                    Liked by 1 person

      2. Ali Khan

        And even if you do argue that winter killed cat, that just means sve Nov didn’t kill her and she was resurrected anyway at that point.

        She’s been resurrected twice. There won’t be a third.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. haihappen

          Things happen in Threes, or only work on the Third Time, aka, the “Rule of Three”.

          Threes: A thing works three times, not after. I think the Rise aspect was an example of that?

          Third Time(‘s the Charm):
          1) An attempted action will only work on the third try, e.g. The underdog protagonist archer that shoots 3 arrows will do crappy on the first too, and after brief introspection, will shoot true on the third.
          2) An action performed in reaction to an event when it the event happens the third time will always succeed, e.g., the archery type Named that attacked the dragon in the Vale.
          3) “There will not be a Third Time” is only valid if 2 actions before had no consequences, making the third fail by action of another party, and as such can be seen as manifestation of (2) from the opposite viewpoint. This usually applies to a feat that a character can perform readily, and will not work on the same enemy/obstacle a third time. This is a variation of “It Only Works Once”

          I can definitely see Cat dying one more time.

          Liked by 4 people

    2. Panic

      Not Everything is a pattern of Three. That has been a official thing two time so far. Cat and Williams whole joust and what this is shaping up to be. But I agree. Catrine The Thrice Risen sounds much better than Catrine The Four Times Risen

      Liked by 3 people

  9. TOOK YOU LONG ENOUGH TO NOTICE CAT.

    Wow this analysis is a relief. We finally have proper perspective for this shit.

    Also, Catherine Foundling is wonderful and amazing and EVERYONE IS GOING TO WIN ❤ ❤ ❤

    Liked by 6 people

  10. ninegardens

    “Pilgrim. Hey. Buddy. So like… you don’t want every one to die, and I know I sure as hell don’t want everyone to die, and I am no longer possesed by Winter maddness, and like… I would really LOVE to get my army up north to mess with the Dead king, so how’s about you help me with this whole Arcadia problem”

    “Did I mention, once we beat Namesha back I’m planning to drop my army of supersoldiers on top of Keter, shuck off this Priesthood, and retire to the country side. You can read my mind- you KNOW that I’m honest.”

    “Also, seriously, we’re about to go vs the Dead frickin’ king, do you mind giving me my Black knight back so that we can aim him at some REAL enemies, Possibly even reform Pareas a little bit?”

    Also, I know Cat is scared about getting murdered via redemption story… but its also worth noting that a redemption story might cost you your life, but narratively speaking, it will also BUY you a heck of a lot. As in, it could probably buy you those accords you were hoping for.

    Also also, we all know that Pilgrim is messed up… do you think she could roll HIM into a redemption arc. Because that sure as hell looks like what she’s done to Black.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. ninegardens

      “also, if I gate north, I’m happy for your armies to hitchhike with. That’s like 200,000 soldiers, showing up tactically in the middle of Skulltors battle lines, *wiggles eyebrows*. I mean, you don’t trust me, but seriously, have you got any better ways to get a WIN here? Cause… way we’re playing at the moment, both of us are just going to lose more slowly… “

      Liked by 6 people

      1. caoimhinh

        The hilarity of when they negotiate Cat gating them north through Arcadia will be when they find out that she needs to have overall command of those forces for the trip to be safe for them. They are going to be royally pissed off, but can do nothing about it.

        Liked by 6 people

      2. Alegio

        It would be funnier if she just dropped them near the DK and then gated back with her armies, leaving them in a desperate situation to either kill/maim the dead king or die.

        Good enough story leverage against the dead king, but also against herself later as a revenge story where she is the traitorous villain.

        Like

        1. Sylwoos

          Except that she already detonated the nuke and is now only directing the explosion.

          The sisters got the apotheosis he feared and now stand on Cat shoulder. Even if she die, those two are not going anywhere. The drows are coming to the surface lead by two goddess made of night and Winter regardless of what happen between Cat and The Pilgrim. Loosing Cat at this point would be disastrous, because she’s the one catalyzing that mess in the good direction.

          Liked by 8 people

          1. But Saint would feel better about everything after Cat was dead – for the months necessary for her to realise that the war was lost and the West was gone and the Enemy had everything and her hands had chopped down the last hope of preventing that.

            And the Peregrine could put aside that annoying, all-consuming, obsessively paranoid fear about the Black Queen suddenly changing her entire set of goals and priorities and focus on losing the war with maximum style and minimum hope of saving anything from the wreck.

            *Surely* it’s not reasonable to ask them to be any better than that; *surely* expecting them to do the same amount of thinking as this half-taught Callowan girl is a bridge too far. They’re *heroes*.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Jarthon1

              Fear can be a very powerful motivator. In this case that fear is, if not justified, then at least rational. She said herself that if she had no other path than following in Triumphant and the Dead Kings footsteps is an option that she would take. The consequences of this are likely a victory for evil on the continent of Calernia. Massive loss of life on all sides that only eventually leads to an all out war between the fully evil and actualized Cat and the Dead king as the only two remaining surface powers on the continent. We know from the Everdark ark that fights between two forces of evil without any intervention from good is seriously bad news. The Grey Pilgrim may even know that this is an unlikely course for Cat to take, but it is a legitimate possibility that would be on the scale of or maybe even worse than WWII and the holocaust on earth. He can and should (from what we know about his character and morality) take any and all actions necessary to prevent this situation.

              Liked by 1 person

                1. Arguing from Consequence is a fallacy. Retrospect is 20/20, that doesn’t mean the basic heuristics he used are Horribly Stupid / Morally Wrong / whatever people are arguing. They were not well-calibrated to this situation, because he’s eighty and this is the first time he’s encountered something like this not only in person but probably even in story.

                  Liked by 4 people

                  1. RanVor

                    Road to hell is paved with good intentions.

                    I’ll put it this way: if a person has good reason to believe their neighbor is a terrorist, and go to great lengths to expose said neighbor, inadvertently causing deaths of several unrelated people, only to find out too

                    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fear’s like that.

      Personally, I would like to see a Peregrine POV chapter where he is going over this reasoning from his end, to see how much of it Cat and Akua got right. Maybe while he’s sitting in the ashes trying to figure out where it went wrong, and why.

      Liked by 4 people

    1. Here, have this Internet. But seriously: Yeah Pilgrim is a pretty good schemer, but Masego is something big that he probably has no clue about. Modulo Choir info of course, but given the level of play here, it’s unclear what they know about him or his goals. The question is, can Cat deal with it, with an army at her back?

      Liked by 3 people

  11. Mammon

    There is one other option, one that Cat cannot consider as she doesn’t know the heaven’s plans like we do and is set in certain believes. (And which may not be the case at all considering the very title of this book series.) Tariq fears that she will redefine good and evil as the ultimate final ploy to get the last victory.

    How often can a villain win? As often as they want, until they’re stopped. But how often can a villain win in a scrap against overwhelming odds while keeping in mind the ethical costs and brooding over them in between adventures, before stories will turn her into a hero? How often can a villain be a justified reactionary force against the leaders of the good guys being the aggressors and initial villains?

    Why is Cat a villain at all? Because she was the Squire, trained by the Black Knight. But from a different perspective, wouldn’t the man who liberated and fought for equal rights of two species that have been enslaved for centuries, who fought to end the bloodshed and villainry of his kingdom and others alike, who against normal people always prefers to peacefully subjugate and recruit, be a villain? Would a Squire from the good-aligned Callow really be a villain by default, when trying to protect and liberate Callow?

    Meanwhile, the part that Cat doesn’t know, the heavens are planning complete continent and status quo destruction. If opposed by the right person the right way, that’s a villain’s plot to be thwarted by a hero. Meanwhile, the choirs are old relics controlling the world as tyrants based upon times when slavery was still good, and they’ve been objective villains every time in Cat’s adventures. Meanwhile, Tariq is a king-killer. He knows that with the right push and the right pivot, down the road Cat can be a hero that turns the entire board and all the stories around.

    It has already been defined that good and evil can change over the centuries. It has already been established that the heavens and the good are none really ‘good’ and pure no more. The Ebb and Tide making all others hate the Principality, Levants being war-craving barbarians, etc.

    Meanwhile, Callow is practically at war with all the active evil forces; the Dead King, the Free Cities, Preas. But the neutral dwarves are now allied to them (and no longer to the Principality), and the former drow are now neutrals by centuries of isolation from the course of political events, who assume a roll of the greater good by sealing the Dead King.

    Looking at the playing pieces, the northern principalities are definately still good. Fighting the ratlings kept them good, and the first prince is currently one of theirs unlike all the first princes of previous generations. That’s one piece on the board perfect for this move of redefining who’s good and who’s not.

    And then there’s the Hierarch, a piece literally able to make this redefinement of Good and Evil stick lawfully. Accompanied by a Tyrant that corrupts and exposes all the villains amongst the good guys.

    My prediction: *Cat sneaks up on Tariq, says Joink and snatches the hero title away from the good guys to save the world and overthrow the tyrannical Choirs in their almost cartoonish plot to destroy the continent.*

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The heavens aren’t planning shit. The heavens aren’t even interfering to make it clear to the House of Light which side of the war they’re backing.

      Saint’s a solo lunatic, possibly egged on by Bard for Bard’s own purposes.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. haihappen

      That would be the ultimate twist: The Bard setting up all the pieces on the board to produce a second Triumphant.

      Speaking of Which:
      What does the Bard want? What is it’s End Game? No one knows, maybe not even the Bard. Probably not the Bard.
      Only One thing for sure: The bard plays a game, and Cat very much wants to flip the table, board and all.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Riaan Theunissen

        Considering that the Bard has been the tool of both Above and Below for so long… I expect that she either wants freedom or to totally derail the plans of whichever side denied her the choice of joining.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Andrew Mitchell

        IMO the Bard’s role is to keep the game going forever. Sometimes working for Good, sometimes Evil, but always stirring the pot to keep the stories going.

        As to what she wants personally? I suspect that she doesn’t want to do it anymore but she can’t find a way out.

        Liked by 2 people

  12. Alegio

    1. May she never return

    2. That sounds like a neat plan so… Come on Cat, just do it! It’s not an evil empire if you treat your people well and keep the ritual sacrifices to a bare minimum.

    Like

    1. My issue with the term “evil empire” is that it’s redundant. Empire is evil. The core of the concept is forcibly putting disparate peoples under a banner they didn’t accept, and there just isn’t a version of that where it doesn’t regularly produce atrocities of varying scale as a byproduct of the maintenance of that power structure. There’s a reason everybody on Calernia hates Procer, and that reason boils down to it keeps attempting empire.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. RanVor

        Except in reality it’s more complicated than that. Many empires, both historical and fictional, provided safety and stability to the people under their rule. It is often more beneficial to join the empire than to fight it. Of course, it greatly depends on how it is governed, but empires that keep people in check only by sheer military force tend to fall very quickly.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. It’s certainly correct that history is a large and very complicated place. I don’t think there’s much of anything you can say in a sentence or a handful of sentences that’s going to be 100% true about history at large. It’s true that there have certainly been a number of times/places where some version of “well, they’ll brutalize you if you try to leave or make too many of your own decisions, but as long as you don’t feel like any of that it’s better than getting turned into ground beef by some barbarian raiders or that even worse empire across the river or something” is the smallest evil on offer. It’s true that very few empires stand on the mere use of force alone. It’s also true that even fewer respond to “dissension” (thinking for yourself) and “rebellion” (wanting to rule yourselves) with anything else. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to consider that morally problematic at the minimum; or, you know, evil.

          Put another way: not every empire is King Leopold in the Congo. Pretty much every empire insists on the right to become that if they ever feel like it, because that’s what it means when you don’t accept the concept of the people you rule having a say in how they’re governed or in whether you rule them at all. I’m not good with that.

          Democracies are certainly fully capable of some real fucked-up shit even when they’re not engaging in projecting their own version of empire (see: Bellerophon, for a relevant fictional example), but I still pretty strongly believe that it is inherently a superior form of government in the general sense. The kind of monarchies that are what are realistically on offer on Calernia (to bring this back towards the Guide) are pretty goddamn far from what I’d consider ideal, but when they’re ruling over their own respective peoples who generally accept their legitimacy that’s a damn sight better than when any of them go out and start trying to murder their way into an empire.

          Not sure if this actually stayed on point the whole way through, but I’m almost at the end of my shift and I don’t really have the brain cycles left to edit this. Here’s hoping it made sense!

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I would say: Good Empire is an oxymoron (hi Procer yes we would like to have a discussion), but there’s still distance between ‘meh Empire’ and full on ‘Evil Empire’ XD

            There’s a lot of intermediate steps between what empires inevitably are and fucking Praes.

            “Evil” vs “Evil Evil” so to speak D

            Liked by 1 person

            1. That’s a fair distinction! There’s definitely a difference between empire as “this concept inherently requires morally defunct actions to establish and maintain it” vs empire as “did you guys paint numbers past 10 onto your Evil Dial”; e.g., Rome, where they pretty regularly committed atrocities but usually had good-for-the-times governance for those under their rule + most of the people they were fighting weren’t real nice either vs. (infamously) the Nazis and pretty often the Soviets (especially under Stalin) IRL.

              Liked by 1 person

  13. It’s been stated many times that Cat can’t kill Tariq. It’s not quite true though.
    If she actually exposed the many unforgivable crimes he’s committed even Levant would turn on him.
    Even classic villains would be jealous of his Evil resume.
    Killed family? Check
    Abandoned loved ones? Check
    Murdered entire innocent villages for power? Check
    Broken his word? Check
    Used a magical plague on his own allies? Check
    Burned thousands of people alive? Check
    This is just we know about.

    Like

      1. Qwormuli

        No it wouldn’t. In essence he IS the holy Seljun and the nation would be willing to murder him on the spot, if Tariq started fancying the seat. Historically, Seljun was the closest seplacement to pilgrim. That now exists.

        Like

        1. RanVor

          No, he isn’t. The original Grey Pilgrim was the first Holy Seljun of Levant, and the royal line is descended from him. But it has since become its own position, and I do not believe Tariq is the second Grey Pilgrim ever.

          Like

          1. Qwormuli

            “The Lady of Tartessos discreetly made the Mark of Mercy with her fingers, as he did, for while she might be vicious wretch even she knew the respect due to the living breath of the Pilgrim’s Blood. Even out on the outskirts of the Brocelian Forest it was known that the man who should be the Holy Seljun of Levant was not the one sitting the Tattered Throne.” -Interlude: Congregation I

            Is this enough of a proof? A character saying in-story, that it is an ubiquitous agreement across the country, that Pilgrim is the Seljun that should be?

            Liked by 1 person

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      1: Killed family? Check
      2: Abandoned loved ones? Check
      3: Murdered entire innocent villages for power?
      4: Broken his word? Check
      5: Used a magical plague on his own allies? Check
      6: Burned thousands of people alive?

      1: Only one member, who would have started an hopeless war, wich would have caused thousands of senseless deaths. It was the only reason for it, and absolutely not a villainous one.

      2: Yes, because he had a greater call. So, a typical heroic characteristic.

      3: For power? Have you read the story? He did it to capture Amadeus. Okay, it was horrible and inexcusable, but it is clearly not for his own benefit, and more for the common good.

      4: Yes, and inexcusable. He makes it impossible to ever trust him.

      5: Cfr 3

      6: When? I honestly don’t remember.

      So I don’t think he is villainous per se. More of an anti-hero, or as Catherine described herself, “the one prick in every heroic band that crossed lines for the Greater Good”.

      Liked by 3 people

  14. Reqque

    “and bring the finest sorcerers and warlocks of the continent into my forces”

    Do we have any clues on what the difference is between a sorcerer and a warlock?

    Like

  15. “So I just need to figure out how to win without making everyone else lose.”

    Assassination! Kill the princes. Use the Drow for stealth. Accomplish that and the opposing army will be forced to retreat. Plus the oath to Larat is fulfilled. Two birds with one stone right there.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. aran

    “Wasn’t us,” I replied out of reflex. “And if it was you can’t prove it, so in a philosophical sense it isn’t.”

    I see Archer has rubbed off on you.

    (But I mean we knew that.)

    Liked by 1 person

  17. aran

    It would be a much greater challenge, I thought, to wean her off pettiness than it would be to wean her off of Evil. Who could say I’d not learned to pick my battles?

    !!!

    Has Cat ever brought up trying to redeem Akua before, even subconsciously?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well, Akua has brought it up before.

      It appears that Cat has been mulling on the issue 😀 (and coming out in favor of “yeah she doesn’t know what she’s signing up for but that won’t stop me from letting her have exactly that”)

      Like

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