Chapter 73: Discerning

“Poison is the weapon of the trade, knife the weapon of the intimate and sorcery the weapon of war. To use any for the improper purpose is the mark of inferior breeding, save if greater game is yet afoot.”
– Extract from ‘The Behaviours of Civil Conduct’, by High Lady Mchumba Sahelian

Akua leaked a sensation of query into the Night, an implicit question as to whether or not she should leave given the nature of our arriving guests, but I shook my head. While she was close to neither she was likely to be a fairer hand at reading them than either Vivienne or Hakram, and that lack of closes itself was not without its uses. I doubted a distraction as petty as that would be enough to get beneath the skin of the Scribe, but it took more than one stone to build a house. Adjutant smoothly rose to fetch another two seats without my asking, while Vivienne pressed into my hand a cup before pouring her own. Cold ice-cooled water, sadly, but I did get drunk a lot faster than I used to these days so perhaps that was for the best. Only a fool blunted the edge of their sword just before tugging at a tiger’s tail. Might not be necessary, I reminded myself. It would not do to assume hostility from Scribe because of the less than stellar terms we’d parted on last time we spoke. Or even with those in mind given that if my father asked her to play nice, I believed her likely to do so. Still, I’d recently learned that Black did not have nearly as tight a leash over the Scribe as I’d once assumed.

It would not do to presume in favour of her either.

It was still half a surprise every time to see Black in anything but plate when it was daylight, though I noted that while he wore a dark tabard and matching long-sleeved tunic the faint hint of a coat of mail could be seen under them. Hard to unlearn a lifetime’s worth of paranoia, I supposed – though when it came to Praes it could not realty be called paranoia could it? Scribe was as slippery to the eyes as she’d always been, even when I was actively trying to watch her. It wasn’t invisibility, for she was definitely there, but trying to notice anything about the villainess had my attention sliding away like water off a duck’s back. She had ink-stained hands, and she was not tall, although she might just have been slouching. Her clothes were loose and made of cloth. I bit the inside my cheek, using the pain as a spur as I narrowed my eyes. She had pale, seemingly bloodless lips. They were not smiling. Black took a seat at Adjutant’s invitation and I only then realized how long I’d been staring at Scribe, with only little to show for it. Something to revisit later, perhaps. I sent an idle prayer to my patronesses, though who knew if they’d deign to intercede for such a trifle.

“Would I be correct in assuming you have been parsing through the reports of the Jacks?” the Carrion Lord calmly asked.

“More or less,” I agreed. “Speculating as to the consequences of the mess, too. An insider’s eye of the affair would be appreciated.”

The last sentence I spoke casually, though none here were fool enough to believe it. I was reserving anger along with judgement, but I was less than pleased at the fact that Cordelia Hasenbach had apparently come rather close to being buried in a shallow grave. If the Eyes of the Empire truly had been either authors or helpers to this episode of convulsive stupidity, I would see to it that heads would roll unless very good reason was given. And I did not mean it as a figure of speech, this once. Black glanced at his aide, either ordering or encouraging.

“The Eyes of the Empire were involved,” the Scribe calmly confirmed. “Not directly, but in the nascent stages of the conspiracy and on its edges when it came to a head.”

“Do the Procerans know?” Vivienne flatly asked.

“The Circle of Thorns did as it took place. By now I would venture this has expanded to the First Prince and her most trusted,” Scribe said.

My eyes flicked to my teacher, whose face had remained serene even as one of his oldest companions casually admitted she’d just attacked the Principate in front of Cordelia Hasenbach while we were under formal truce and headed for the negotiating table besides. He was unmoved, so there was likely more to the story. At least some semblance of a reason for me not to denounce Scribe as an agent of the Tower and send her fucking crucified corpse to the First Prince as an apology.

“Elaborate,” I coldly ordered.

“After the ambush sprung by the Grey Pilgrim that saw Lord Black seized, the Tower reached out to me through the Eyes of the Empire,” Scribe said. “The Empress intended a rescue mission in Salia, paired with a strike at the internal stability of Procer, and given the circumstances I agreed with the necessity. Lady Ime and myself, over the span of several months, laid the groundwork for certain factions within Procer to come to the conclusion a coup was feasible.”

“The rumours that Rozala Malanza was backing the coup,” Hakram gravelled. “They were not simple slander.”

“It was difficult but not impossible to impersonate her by letter,” Scribe agreed. “Given that neither the House of Light nor the Silver Letters use scrying mages and the First Prince’s own order was rendered helpless by the interdict cast over Iserre. We’ve had a convincing forgery of the royal seal of Aequitan since the Proceran civil war, when we funded Aenor Malanza’s bid for the throne through the Pravus Bank.”

“The coup happened,” I said. “Which means the trigger was pulled on this scheme, and recently too. After you were informed of my intentions for treaties with the Grand Alliance.”

“I was ordered by scrying link to end any ongoing operations, erase any evidence of Praesi presence in the capital and ensure the loyalty of all agents in the city,” Scribe agreed.

I glanced at Black, who inclined his head in confirmation.

“In this I did not succeed,” Scribe said. “Ime had several long-term plants among our scrying mages I was unaware of, and she used the Tower’s clout to mobilize the Eyes in the capital for action before I could clean up all loose ends. It appears the Empress had judged the Liesse Accords to be an existential threat to herself and her continued reign.”

Well, I grimly thought, she wasn’t wrong about that.

“Given actions that could not be denied, you had to ensure your loyalists among the Eyes were seen as undertaking damage control,” Akua quietly said. “Which is where the Circle of Thorns was brought in. The First Prince will not take the word of anyone here as to the actions of your agents, but she will heed the reports of her own spymaster. A calculated move.”

“Concessions had to be made to the Circle in order for their leader to agree not to spread knowledge of our involvement beyond the necessary, and hand over the written proof of Praesi involvement,” Scribe said. “I gave formal agreement to the Praesi and Callowan delegations backing the First Prince when she requests relief ships be allowed through the Nicaean blockade around Ashur.”

I’d likely have agreed to that anyway, I mused. Oh I’d have tried to exact a little something to sweeten the pot, or made a show of asking for nothing in exchange to foster a sense of debt between myself and Hasenbach, but this was not a great loss for me. I was still swimming in leverage. On the other hand, Scribe had just entered a biding commitment in my name. That she’d presumed to speak for me was galling enough. Considering that Black was effectively my dependant under Proceran law at the moment, Hasenbach would not be entirely without grounds to kick up a fuss if his aide made promises and then they were gone back on. It’d never hold without the strength to enforce it and I could cut right through by sending the Highest Assembly the charred corpse of Scribe along with a polite note informing them she in no way spoke for me, but it’d sour my reputation with some people I badly needed the willing collaboration of. Worse still, though, was that simply by speaking in my name when negotiating the cover up the Scribe had implicitly stated I was in some way related to this. Sedately, I set down my cup on the table.

“I’ll not insult your intelligence by asking you if you know what you’ve done,” I calmly said. “I assume if you were willing to be in killing distance of me, you have further explanation as why I shouldn’t execute you out of general principle.”

Black’s lips thinned, but he did not object. Neither fucking should he. If Adjutant had entered a binding agreement on the behalf of the Black Knight, back in the day, even if my teacher had then judged it worth upholding he would have put Hakram’s head on a pike as a warning for anyone else wanting to overstep. All else aside, I was the Queen of Callow and a villain in my own right. That someone not in my service or given my explicit permission had presumed to speak for me in such a delicate situation was worthy of violence.

“The Empress was aiming at the Accords themselves, apparently considering them the primary threat,” Scribe replied, voice unruffled. “The Silver Letters brought stolen goblinfire into the city and Ime’s agents set fire near their safehouses in attempts to trigger a blaze. Such an event would have destroyed large swaths of Salia and, given your reputation for the substance’s use, affected popular opinion enough to make made negotiation near impossible. Especially for a weakened First Prince, be it a surviving Hasenbach or a freshly elected Malanza. The odds were more than fair that the Grand Alliance itself would collapse.”

I smoothly drummed my fingers against the table. Her answer, unspoken as it’d been, was that she might have overstepped but she’d done so while in the process of averting what could have been a great crisis for me. Certainly one much worse than the minor concession this had ended up costing me – and the unfortunate implications to Scribe having spoken for me could be smoothed away by making it clear to Hasenbach it’d been an exception and not to be taken as face value again. It still got stuck in my throat that her own personal failure to get her house in order would cost me, and that Malicia’s unimpeded schemes would be considered my problem, but I supposed an argument could be made that I was the one who was diplomatically cornering the Empress. Scribe’s repeated mention of the Accords as the main target was certainly hinting at that heavily. Black cleared his throat.

“Regardless of circumstance,” he said, “offence was given. We will offer reparations to the Kingdom of Callow for having drawn on its influence to clean up our own mistakes.”

Scribe did not speak for a moment, as if reluctant.

“As of this morning, the Jacks serving under Duchess-Regent Kegan of Callow have been granted access through liaison to my informants within the Wasteland,” the Scribe said, “along with a list of all suspected Malicia agents within the kingdom.”

My brow rose. Those were… not small things. Black had been outing Malicia’s agents in my kingdom for a while now, true, but he’d done it slowly and at a pace Vivienne was adamant had been chosen so his own agents would not be outed by the revelations. And the cooperation with Scribe’s own faction in the Eyes would go a long way in keeping Kegan from ending up in a grave between Ratface and Anne Kendall. Those were heavier reparations than I would have felt comfortable asking for, if I’d set the terms, which my teacher would know. Ah, I thought, meeting green eyes with my own. This was not just reparations it was a polite gift-assisted request not to kill Scribe for having crossed me. Which I was finding difficult to refuse, all thing considered. Black was being genuine here, I decided, this was more or less the way he dealt with allies. But there was something about the way Scribe was acting… Oh, she didn’t like me. Which was fine, as the sentiment was broadly shared: the cordial beginnings of our acquaintance had begun to fade effectively the moment I sought power independent of my teacher, which I suspected had simply moved me from asset to liability in her eyes. Still, while she didn’t like me I would not deny she was an intelligent woman.

Which was where the flaw could be found. My temper had waned some, these days, but not quite that much. So why would she test it by appearing reluctant over Black’s reparations? She had to know I’d not be all that well inclined towards her, and exactly what those reparations were meant for. Meaning either she didn’t consider her life or freedom worth these concessions from the perspective of the resources available to Black, which was too warped a view to be objectively credible, or she was playing me. Playing up reluctance so I’d feel more grateful for my teacher’s contrastingly fair attitude? Could be, it would be just like her to damage her own reputation to prop up his own. Even made sense from a tactical perspective, given that she and I were unlikely to ever be on good terms and so the loss relative to gain was greater. Except that I could taste it in the air, now that I’d notice a flaw: I was being sold a story. Not the way the Pilgrim or the Bard would, no. That wouldn’t be Scribe’s game. Instead I’d been invited to stroll through a house of mirrors so that I could take in my own reflections and hold them as truth. Even my father’s blunt but sincere bribery had been used as an ingredient in the brew, something I’d find and read as true and so believe the rest was true.

So, I was being had. And Black hadn’t been brought in on it. So was this really Malicia’s ploy at all? It was true the Empress was only losing so much even if it became public she’d helped along the coup, considering the Grand Alliance had been founded in large part to bury her and the Accords would entail her removal regardless. This could be Malicia realizing that openly allying with Keter had burned too many bridges, and that the same alliances taking shape to drive back the Kingdom of the Dead might turn towards her if victorious. Sloppy work, by her standards, but then she had to be running out of tools to use. On the other hand, if I was frustrated in my efforts to establish alliances to the west she had to know I’d be headed east instead – and with a sword in hand. Short-sighted, yes, but honestly still a feasible mistake if Malicia was desperate enough. Which she had to be, with the Tribes having taken Foremen and the Dread Empire on the edge of rebellion from repeated defeats. Feasible, though, was why people thought the hooded figures with tattooed eyes on their skin were the true Eyes of the Empire instead of the chatty innkeepers. Feasible meant you stopped looking because you had the answer. Yet I couldn’t see, frankly, what Scribe had to gain from all this.

“Appreciated,” I said, not bothering to force a smile. “I’ll want a report of everything that took place so no detail can be sprung on me at the table.”

“Naturally,” Black conceded.

He dipped his head in thanks, trusting in the word I’d just as good as given.

“Vivienne,” I said, “I’ll need you to arrange a scrying session with Duchess-Regent Kegan as soon as possible.”

“I’ll see to it immediately,” she briskly replied, rising to her feet.

“Akua,” I said, simultaneously dumping into the Night a sense of stillness, “we still need to bring General Rumena into the loop.”

“As you say, dear heart,” she smiled.

In the Night she shaped her will as a sense of action, then a question, and I assented through the same. Neither of us missed a beat, or otherwise gave sign of this.

“I’ll arrange for that report presently, then,” my father said, sounding rather amused as he rose to his feet.

His old friend followed suit without missing a beat.

“Scribe,” I said. “A word, if you would. I’ll require a few more details out of you in case Hasenbach sends for a private meeting soon. I’m not walking into that blind.”

“The report-” she began.

“Eudokia,” Black sharply said.

She returned to the seat. I nodded thanks at my teacher, who acknowledged them with a discreet dip. No, he most definitely hadn’t been brought into this. I smiled at Hakram, who was lingering behind me, and drained my cup of water before handing it to him. Clicking his fangs in amusement, he moved to fill it again. Scribe waited patiently even as I reached for my dragonbone pipe and slowly stuffed it, only then clearing her throat.

“If you could refrain?” she said.

A heartbeat later I felt Akua’s working slither around us, smooth and silent, and tapped a finger against my pipe to light it. I puffed out, waiting until Hakram had set down the filled cup at my side before speaking.

“You get one chance to tell me the truth,” I said. “After that, my patience will run out.”

Adjutant’s muscles shifted the slightest bit, coiling as he readied for strife. He’d not hesitated in the slightest, I thought with affection.

“You are seeing shadows of your own making,” Scribe said.

I breathed in, then spewed out a steam of smoke.

“Hakram,” I said.

Over two hundred pounds of raw fighting orc struck with blinding quickness, leaping across the table and catching a surprised Scribe by the throat. She began screaming for help. I leaned back into my seat.

“We’re under containment,” I said. “Screaming won’t help.”

“They betrayed us?” Adjutant casually asked, slamming her against the wall and dragging her gasping form up the wall.

“She’s lying,” I said. “But whatever she’s up to, Black isn’t in on it.”

“You are making a mistake,” Scribe gasped. “There is no deceit, only your need to be right.”

She didn’t try to bring Black’s name into this, for which I afforded her a sliver of respect.

“You had months with the Eyes in Procer,” I said. “Oh, I’m sure that everything you told us about how it unfolded is correct in detail. That there were plants answering to Lady Ime among the mages, even that the order to start fires near possible munition locations came from the Tower. What I don’t believe for a moment is that you couldn’t have prevented it from happening. You had months with the Eyes in Procer, Scribe. What was your game?”

Black, I thought, would not question her story. It wouldn’t even occur to him, I thought, the same way that it would not occur to me to wonder if Adjutant was lying to me. Too much of the bedrock of who we were depended on the certainty that they could be relied on, even when all else failed.

“Sometimes we fail, Catherine Foundling,” Scribe gasped. “Sometimes it is not malice, or scheme, or treachery. Sometimes we just fail.”

“I will torture you,” I frankly said. “I won’t like it, but the stakes here are too high for me to leave stones unturned out of squeamishness. I’ll bleed you, and if that doesn’t work I’ll ask one of my people to peel your mind like an onion until the secrets come spilling out.”

“We trained this in you,” Scribe laughed. “I suppose it is our own doing, in the end. There is nothing to be found, Black Queen, save the unravelling of what you have wrought.”

I blew out a long breath.

“Rip out an eye,” I said.

It occurred to me a moment later that Hakram had only one hand left, made of bone, and that it was already holding up Scribe by the throat. I had begun to rise, to do the dirty work myself, when I saw Adjutant was moving. At the end of his stump folds of gleaming translucence were taking shape, almost spectral on appearance. They folded into themselves, methodically, until a broad clawed hand had come together. I glanced at his face, saw only the pleased baring of fangs, and the point of two claws touched above and beneath Scribe’s eye. And then the hand dispersed.

“No,” Adjutant said.

I blinked in surprise.

“Pain won’t do anything to a woman like that, Catherine,” Hakram said, calmly studying Scribe. “And neither will something live having her mind sliced open.”

“We don’t have anything else to threaten her with, Adjutant,” I flatly said.

“We do,” he disagreed. “Send for the Carrion Lord. Let him see this.”

I began to tell him I’d sent Black away in the first place to spare him this when I noticed stillness. Scribe had gone utterly still, even through her aspect I could feel that. Hakram had found the pulse of her, somehow.

“She’s not kept him ignorant out of disloyalty,” Adjutant said. “Have you, Scribe?”

Silence.

“I suppose you would understand, wouldn’t you?” Scribe rasped.

“You love him,” Hakram Deadhand said, almost gently. “Not a call of the flesh or a tender feeling. The way a knife loves a steady hand, the way a sparrow loves flight. It can’t be helped.”

It felt wrong, to be here. Like I was intruding on a moment to which I alone of us could claim no kinship. Yet my mind turned heedless of the rest, cogs falling into place. The details had been there all along, hadn’t they? The conversations I’d had with Scribe were few, but one had mattered more than the rest. When I’d tread the halls of the Tower for the fist time, and she had whispered a dangerous secret in my ear. Ranger and I disagreed on many matters, Catherine, but there was one thing we always agreed on. Was it really that simple, that… I hesitated to say petty, but what else could it be called? No, not petty. Personal, and in a way that was worse.

“Malicia,” I croaked out. “This wasn’t about Procer or the Accords or anything else. You did all this so he would have no choice but to kill Malicia when he returns to the Wasteland.”

148 thoughts on “Chapter 73: Discerning

      1. It takes 1 minute to post a topwebfiction link. It takes 20 seconds to click it and vote.

        I wonder how the fuck someone could have the time to read the chapter but not a spare minute and a half on top of that?

        Liked by 7 people

  1. Alex

    Damn, Scribe. Waited what, 40 years, 50? for her chance and took it.

    Also, this is out of scope for this chapter but I’ve been wondering:
    Do the red letters get sent to everyone who advances past certain points technologically, or only to places where the situation could spiral out of control? For instance if Praes didn’t have a reputation for being all “conquer Calernia” would the gnomes have let them build the farming machines and gunpowder?

    Liked by 16 people

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      As far as we know, Red Letters are only send when technology advance too far. The fact that the nation is prone to invade its neighbors or not is irrelevant. Even if it is a peaceful nation now, it can change in the future. And anyway, what a peaceful nation has can be duplicate by another, more aggressive.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. edrey

        there is another point, if one nation invade and absorb a nation with two letters and then another letter is send. its the first or the third? lets say callow invade praes. then pickler creat something. that is something first or the third, or they just attack to save time? we need more information anyway

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Oranckers

          As I understand it, when a letter is received, the recipient doesn’t just stop any further research, but actively undoes all the progress they made. Therefore, if one nation invaded another that had previously received a red letter, they wouldn’t recover anything letter-worthy, and thus they would not be considered to have received any letters.

          Liked by 6 people

        2. KageLupus

          My impression is that the Gnomes don’t care about who receives the letter or why, just that they don’t have to send three warnings to the same place. Praes and Callow and Procer are almost definitely lumped into the same geographic bucket by the civilization that can wipe cities off of a map.
          The whole point of the red letters seems to be that whoever gets it not only has to stop developing that tech, but also has to actively prevent others from doing so. The simplest way to do that is to tell everyone “This line of research is off limits.” The Gnomes are paranoid enough to wipe out a city for doing research that might threaten them in the future. I doubt that they would also be forgiving enough to care that two people invented firearms independently and not count it as two strikes.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. laguz24

            What I wonder is, since the hard limitation would be three letters. At some point, any nation would receive three. Even if they were around 500 years apart, by sheer odds some nation will receive three letters even if they have no wish to tick off the gnomes. Does that mean that the gnomes come in anyway? The Atlantis of calernia died because they ignored them but praes listens.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. That’s why I think they do keep track of who did what. Amadeus’s worry about two Red Letters within a century was likely more about “will gnomes think we’re not taking this seriously”… and even then, it was about a single century. I doubt they were the only red letters in Praes’s entire history.

              Liked by 1 person

    2. RoflCat

      I think it’s not that Scribe has been trying to find a chance to Malicia all those decades, but that Malicia was firmly an ally of Black that made Scribe stayed any such plan.
      Sure they might disagree on things, but if it ever came to Black vs anything else, Malicia would’ve picked Black.

      But then 2nd Liesse happened, and Malicia chose something else for the first time.

      To Scribe that was the turning point. Malicia could no longer be guaranteed to by ally of Black and she’s going against his ideals.
      So it’s time to break Black away from her, and one such way is for Black himself to severe their ties, for real this time.

      Liked by 18 people

    3. Alex

      To clarify, I suppose I was thinking less along the lines of invading and more whether or not a nation has “graduated” from the duality of good vs. evil. For example, I wonder if the nation across the sea ruled by both hero and villain receives the same warnings.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. konstantinvoncarstein

        According to Amadeus, the Gnomes are blocking technological advancements to preserve their monopole and power. I don’t think that a nation having transcended Good and Evil is more of a danger to them without technology.

        Liked by 5 people

    4. James

      Scribe’s honesty is genuinely refreshing. Dont get me wrong, Cat’s soothsayer skills are absolutely awesome and the thought processes behind them are nothing short of glorious, but its just that with everyone and their uncle being these master liars, schemers, and manipulators, one of the very few times Scribe and Cat talked, Scribe told her the truth. The difference in character is refreshing, not to mention the INSANE amount of forethought @EE

      Liked by 1 person

          1. maxwell wearing

            actually I meant the line from way back in the first book when Scribe said that she and ranger agreed that Black should rule Praes.

            At the time it seemed significant, but then it never came to anything

            Liked by 7 people

  2. NerfGlastigUaine

    Cat’s come so far. The whole Woe has. Being able to divine intentions like these, see the subtleties beneath the plans. Remember Conspiracy when we were all terrified of Scribe? I mean, I’d say we still kind of are, but Cat’s definitely batting in the same league now.

    Liked by 17 people

        1. Morgenstern

          As in, she just doesn’t want Black to ever know she made an honest mistake/miscalculation, afraid of losing *his* … respect/”love”? (just curious pondering)

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Zgggt

            It wasn’t a mistake. Hasenbach did everything to have Black murdered rather than captured. As far as Scribe is concerned, she needs to *not exist*. So, she was willing to turn a blind eye to Malicia taking a stab.

            That being said, it was Cat to rescue Black from what Malicia should have known was a suicide mission (the big bad razing the countryside, looking to cause starvation amongst the poor peasants). So Malicia, similarly, must be removed. Luckily, it seems that both causes can be related.

            I am unsure as to what the point of damaging Rozala that badly was. I doubt Procer takes well to incompetence on the scale of not knowing about a coup in her name. At best she looks like an airheaded puppet, at worst she looks like the worst pureblooded Praesi backstabber. Guess mom will go unavenged.

            Liked by 4 people

      1. lennymaster

        My guess is that Cat caught on because she no longer has a Name and she is vastly more experienced these days. Before Black and Scribe were simply one entity, one mind two bodies. The, in some ways, unflexible thinking of a Named could not have concieved of one acting in such a way without the approvel of the other, even to the others benefit.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. I don’t think Names have that kind of impact. Fae thinking is relatively inflexible, and Cat still managed to beat the Northern Crusade and improve on her diplomatic skills while fae.

          Catherine identified this because of several factors:
          – she is now vastly more experienced, yes, and has a lot of experience that even Black doesn’t have (few people have been willing to do diplomacy with him over his entire career, I imagine);
          – she specifically remarks that both her and Black have deliberately left blind spots in their analysis, people they don’t analyze, because their analysis still gives false positives, and false positives with these people would be disproportionately damaging. Also because it’s draining to analyze all the time and resource allocation is saner if they just blindly trust some people. Scribe is in this blind spot for Amadeus, but not for Catherine.

          What amuses me is that the specific trigger of Catherine noticing the disrepancy was a disrepancy in acting. After noticing it and thinking about it she noticed more problems, but the trigger, the thing that jumped out at her, was simply her ability to read people and understand their decision making process on the fly.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. caoimhinh

      They don’t always relate, though this chapter is meaningful as it refers to one of Akua’s conversations with Catherine about what to use when killing someone close to her, and what would be considered a break of decorum to do, as killing is a way of art in Praes Court and it sends a message when it is done in certain ways.

      If there were true feelings, the knife is used. And that relates to both Catherine stabbing Amadeus at the end of Akua’s Folly and Black’s likely way to kill Alaya(Malicia), as it would be deeply personal.

      Liked by 15 people

    1. Nairne .01

      I understand your sentiment here, but Cat has her own game and you have to remember she stabbed Black back then. Scribe is not going to just trust her just like that, especially while Black’s fate is still undecided before the negotiations.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. No necessarily. Scribe and Catherine both have different kinds of loyalty to Black. Scribe is loyal to his person, whereas Catherine is loyal to his intentions, and both are willing to put one over the other. Scribe predicted it was not impossible there would be a conflict here – Catherine being against acting behind his back on principle, because she’s interested in his judgement and trusts it in places where Scribe stops caring.

      It’s still entirely possible Catherine will out this scheme to Black just so his decision making wrt Malicia is clear and unimpeded.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Sparsebeard

        From what I understand, everything she said was true, Malicia did launch the plot through Ime.

        The only thing is that Eukodia might have been able to stop it, but didn’t.

        So whether or not Black knows that scribe deliberatly botched her orders, it doesn’t change anything at this point since, ultimately, Malicia is responsible for the consequences of her own actions (it might have been different if she had been thwarted but it’s kind of a moot point now).

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          If it had been stopped before it began, there would be more options. Black may have taken the same path, but in contrast to our last interlude, the woman who believes in him took away the choice.

          Liked by 7 people

        2. It is, in fact, currently unconfirmed.

          >So was this really Malicia’s ploy at all? It was true the Empress was only losing so much even if it became public she’d helped along the coup, considering the Grand Alliance had been founded in large part to bury her and the Accords would entail her removal regardless. This could be Malicia realizing that openly allying with Keter had burned too many bridges, and that the same alliances taking shape to drive back the Kingdom of the Dead might turn towards her if victorious. Sloppy work, by her standards, but then she had to be running out of tools to use. On the other hand, if I was frustrated in my efforts to establish alliances to the west she had to know I’d be headed east instead – and with a sword in hand. Shirt-sighted, yes, but honestly still a feasible mistake if Malicia was desperate enough. Which she had to be, with the Tribes having taken Foremen and the Dread Empire on the edge of rebellion from repeated defeats. Feasible, though, was why people thought the hooded figures with tattooed eyes on their skin were the true Eyes of the Empire instead of the chatty innkeepers. Feasible meant you stopped looking because you had the answer.

          Catherine did not voice this part to Scribe, since it was only reasonable doubt and not solid foundation on which to accuse her.

          Oh, and it’s also important to everyone involved to understand just how much of a loose cannon Scribe is. Because she did, in fact, disobey Amadeus’s order to pull everything back and disallow the exact thing that happened, and she fucked both Cordelia (making her deal with the coup) and Catherine (agreeing to a concession in her name) over in the process.

          Fucking over allies for the sake of disputes over who should have the Tower is, in fact, the exact reason Praesi can’t have nice things.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Cicero

    Ah… that… makes sense. For the Scribe. In a twisted way.

    And it actually… makes an odd sense as to why she wouldn’t involve Catherine. Since she doesn’t want to involve Cat is something that is in some sense a betrayal of Black. Even if her loyalty to Black compels her to do it.

    Not because she cares for Cat’s feelings, but because she doesn’t want to hurt Black, and because she doesn’t want to put any more strain on Cat’s loyalty to Black.

    Twisty twisty.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Also, she probably thought Catherine could in fact be against giving Black what’s essentially misinformation on principle. He’s a clever storyweaver, and this kind of plot is exactly the kind of thing that could trip him up in subtleties – did Malicia really even turn on them, as Catherine has pondered?

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Slider


    Wow. I have no words. Like a certain other web serial said, my mind just drew some really complicated reasons as for why Scribe did what she did. And it only was something so simple yet so complex.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. Soma

    Glad to see that chekov’s gun come down into play.

    When Malicia comes up I’m still hopeful to see her story resolved fairly favorably for her. Malicia is kind of a sleeper, but, for the screen time she’s had, out of our characters, she’s among the top for having character. As a protagonist of another story, she’s got a hell of a story.

    I think it really rubbed me the wrong way, with how everyone took to calling Malicia stupid evil because she has fucked up and made mistakes, and how often and how eager some often seem for her death. Malicia has been eminently reasonable, given her position. People hate her for opposing Catherine, because everyone kinda hates when someone is antagonistic to our protagonist, for not solving the problems Catherine is solving, for not *being* Catherine.

    Catherine’s genius is defusing the conflicts with heroes and stories, and I can’t quite condemn Malicia for not having that, and dealing with what she has, given the setting. Malicia correctly predicted failure was on the horizon and tried to prepare for it, and horror followed. But the setting is horrific. I don’t think Malicia has earned more censure than Black, or maybe even Catherine. Yet.

    Whatever happens, props to the writing. Whenever Malicia comes up it makes me think about how fascinating and complex her story about control is.

    Liked by 20 people

    1. caoimhinh

      I personally consider Malicia stupid evil as her complex about control led her to betray her closest friend in the world and fucked up her Empire and everything they had built together for the past 40 years.

      In her paranoia of wanting to have power independent of her Black Knight (who had so far been the reason she was still alive and the one who put her on the throne in the first place), she fell into the trappings they had spent a lifetime avoiding.
      She financed Akua and kept things secret to Black, and the moment she operated behind his back everything started going south.
      They were effective and successful because they kept each other’s worst impulses at bay, she broke that balance and they both suffered for it.

      That said, her story and screentime are pretty great. Each moment dedicated to her shows an impressive character, even in her failures.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Soma

        Yeah, but see that does irritate me. Calling Malicia stupid evil because she was paying attention to the situation, couldn’t see a resolution, and began to make one without Black because she *knew* he would object isn’t stupid. Wrong perhaps, but not stupid.

        Black and Catherine are, by all accounts, insane. Archer directly states this to Catherine. A madman and his daughter apprenticed in his madness. Malicia would be stupid to not have had something in the works as a backup and blindly trust Black. Hell, you said it yourself, Black “had so far been the reason she was still alive and the one who put her on the throne in the first place”. What kind of ruler, especially an autocratic ruler, could be comfortable with the amount of power Black had, and the lack of movement on any backup plan should the Grand Alliance solidify? Black’s plan was essentially ‘win’.

        The tragedy of Black and Malicia’s break is that it took two. Black asked for more trust, loyalty, and faith than you could expect even a hero to give, let alone your Empress. And Malicia even gave that for a time, before she broke faith. She broke faith only when the certainty of a war they could not handle began to crystallize. To call it ‘stupid’ that Malicia not be a tame beast of burden galls me.

        Black had begun to invert the relationship so much that he was beginning to ask the Empress to defer to him at the cost of her safety and the strategic position, for what is by all accounts, his particular madness. We, the readers, know Black was right. But we have a bit of an advantage of perspective, don’t we?

        Liked by 12 people

        1. Except that’s not true.

          The Grand Alliance only came into existence after Akua’s Folly and the Doom of Liesse.

          Prior to that, Hasenbach was having trouble getting the other nations to join the Grand Alliance. And even after, it still took her years to get them to agree.

          In addition … at that point, holding off Procer in a ground war would have been entirely practical, and there would have been limited risk of naval invasion, and they’d have had more forces available to assign to coastal protection duties. Because without the Doom of Liesse, Ashur might very well have not joined in. And even with Ashur, it is still a manageable risk.
          Remember, at this point, no one in Praes has the slightest clue that the Stairway ritual exists, which means they can expect to concentrate their forces on defending the Vales, something entirely possible, and in the face of a Proceran invasion, they don’t need to worry about a Callowan uprising.
          The Vales, even if they were entirely unfortified, are a hugely favorable for the defense strategic choke point. And they’re heavily fortified. And there’d be plenty of time to build additional lines of field fortifications before they were needed, if that became neccessary.

          Malicia is, at heart, a Classic Stupid Evil Villain of the Old School. She got as far as she did because following Black’s plan put her in power, and gave her the Conquest. And since she was actively winning and making clear gains, she didn’t break from his strategy.
          However … during all that time, let’s not forget that she was secretly putting mind control hooks into senior Legion officers.
          She took a slow route to breaking the High Lords … but instead of permanently breaking them as an institutional power base (and institutional threat to the stability of Praes) the way Black wanted to, she broke the High Lords to her will, instead.

          Remember, Malicia is the one who wrote “The Death of the Age of Wonders”. Albeit early on.
          Akua’s Folly and Malicia’s plan for it is nothing if not an example of Age of Wonders style villainous thought at its worst.

          She became what she was fighting … if she truly was ever anything different.

          Liked by 7 people

          1. Soma

            Yeah, gonna have to disagree. Pretty sure it was made explicitly clear Cordelia was solidifying the grand alliance before the Doom of Liesse. Book Two Epilogue she Cordelia has flipped Ashur. Your argument falls apart pretty hard there, considering this was way before the Doom.

            “‘Hasenbach has flipped Ashur,’ Alaya finally said”

            https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2017/01/04/epilogue-2/

            Interpreting Cordelia as not an immediate threat to Praes without the Doom is insulting to both Cordelia and Malicia.

            Liked by 6 people

            1. Eh … sure, eventually Hasenbach would have been able to get her Grand Alliance and the Crusade without the Doom.
              Maybe it was Levant, not Ashur that needed the Doom. But the Doom definitely helped.

              But without the Doom, it takes longer, there’s less urgency behind it, and the Alliance members are less invested in it, and would be less willing to soak the casualties and keep going.
              And the Praesi/Callowan forces have more time to build up.

              But whenever the Crusade gets kicked off, there’s still a manageable, if difficult and bloody, victory condition attainable for Praes/Callow. They have one hell of a defensive choke point in the Vales, and any seaborne invasion force is going to be limited in what it can accomplish quickly. And there’d be plenty of forces available to go after any attempted beachhead.
              Crusades are not guaranteed wins for Good. They can and have lost before.
              Remember, there’s a reason why the last five or so Crusades have all been aimed at Keter, not Praes. It’s because one of the Terribilis’s broke a couple Crusades (3rd and 4th, IIRC) so badly they decided it wasn’t worth it anymore and decided to go after Keter and the Dead King instead.

              I note that you’ve ignored my other points about Malicia’s flaws.

              Liked by 5 people

              1. Soma

                Your other points are irrelevant given your incorrect starting premises on which they hinged. Your arguments hinged on the grand alliance only coming together due to the Doom. That is explicitly incorrect in the text.

                Being able to paint something in a villainous light is not evidence of stupidity, and, therefore, is irrelevant.

                Also, compare the statements:

                “The Grand Alliance only came into existence after Akua’s Folly and the Doom of Liesse.”

                and

                “Eh … sure, eventually Hasenbach would have been able to get her Grand Alliance and the Crusade without the Doom.
                Maybe it was Levant, not Ashur that needed the Doom. But the Doom definitely helped.

                But without the Doom, it takes longer, there’s less urgency behind it, and the Alliance members are less invested in it, and would be less willing to soak the casualties and keep going.”

                You’ve moved the goalposts on me quite a bit here. The second is even a total concession that Malicia is reacting to a serious real world threat, and is simply trying to downplay the magnitude of the threat.

                Black himself says in the epilogue of book two “Dear Cordelia might get her crusade, after all.” Unless you want to start accusing Black of stupid evil, I think we can both assume that the crusade is a fairly pressing threat.

                Black also said in the Book Two epilogue “Levant, now Ashur. She’s trying to forge an alliance against us,” so she already had the grand alliance set up. She just lacked the pretext which Black also knew would come.

                “The tone was light, the implications were not. If Hasenbach managed to forge her broader, continental version of the League of Free Cities she only had to wait until the pretext for a Tenth Crusade fell into her lap. Amadeus held no illusions about the fact that it would.”

                The threat was there. There was just unresolved league business and a pretext left. The pretext is easy. Praes’s involvement in the League business was concluded with Captain’s death.

                Liked by 4 people

                1. You are focusing on one part – the least important part – and ignoring everything else that is independent of that part.
                  The founding of the Grand Alliance is the least important part of the conversation about Malicia having fucked up and being a Stupid Evil Old School Classic Villain at heart.

                  You are ignoring the larger and more important part of the discussion – the one where Praes/Callow had a viable path to a worthwhile victory condition without the Doom, and the existence of the Doom makes that already existing path to victory more difficult than it needed to be.

                  And the part where a younger Malicia wrote “The Death of the Age of Wonders”.
                  And the fact that the Doom is very much a prime example of Age of Wonders style Villainous thinking and subject to all the attendant pitfalls thereof.

                  And the part where Malicia didn’t permanently break the High Lords as an institutional power base and threat to the stability of Praes, instead she broke them to her will for as long as she can hold them.

                  And the part about Malicia becoming what she fought – if she ever truly was different in the first place.

                  And the part about Malicia having been planting mind control hooks into senior Legion officers from the very beginning being indicative of her mindset.

                  Liked by 3 people

                  1. Micke

                    IIRC Black and Malicia both agreed that a crusade was inevitable with Black’s plan. Black believed resistance was quite possible if the stupid, hero-making evil super weapons of old were replaced with a Callow that hated Procer more. Malicia, however, believed that turning Callow against her in favour of a hero-making evil super weapon would scare any would be crusaders off.

                    Liked by 6 people

                  2. >And the part about Malicia having been planting mind control hooks into senior Legion officers from the very beginning being indicative of her mindset.

                    Actually, that bit falls under “using the tools to hand”. I mean, she’s the Dread Empress, and that’s one of her Aspects… specifically one titled Rule.

                    Liked by 3 people

                  3. Ahad Mahmood

                    I specifically remember text aluuding that when Malicia stated her plan Cat was slightly swayed and even cinsidered not destroying the resulting weapon. It is Black that said Hell No and destroyed. The fact that even Cat appeared to think the plan had some merits (although she was disgusted) is alot more telling than people realise.

                    Liked by 5 people

                    1. Catherine was actually pissed off as all hell at Black for destroying the weapon, and half of their conversation in Curtains was her being mad at him for that. She was in fact sold on the idea that it would prevent the war.

                      And Amadeus said that he might not have destroyed it if not for his recent encounter with Bard highlighting the specific threat that she presents as immediately relevant.

                      Liked by 1 person

                  4. Shveiran

                    I don’t think the rest is independant to this point, actually.
                    Claiming Malicia has possibly always been an Old School Villain in light of extreme measure she took when she saw no other way out is shaky footing, after all. If we agree that a Crusade was coming, then all the “Stupid Evil” actions – which really started with her part in the Doom of Liesse, so far as I can see – then it is hard to say she was not in dire straits.

                    The idea that the Vale could have held is, honestly, debatable. With this many countries and Heroes, Praes was, if not bound to at least very likely to be blindsided eventually by something someone brought to the table.
                    Sure, it was the Stairway in this version and Malicia didn’t know it was coming. I argue however she had to know that SOMETHING would be coming. Too many old dragons coming out to play for us to be certain mountains and walls would be a reliable solution.
                    I mean, Arcadia alone is a known possibility for small groups of powerful individuals to move unimpeded; Black and Warlock was using it before it got trending, and it is not beyond the Heroes to coerce or make a deal with a powerful Fae to land a dozen Heroes this side of Vale. Are you telling me they couldn’t have found a way to throw a stick in the wheel? Heck, this is just one exemple that we know is true, but there is no telling what else could have come out – and certainly there wasn’t then.
                    Have you seen what Ashur ended up being capable to bring down at Thalassyna? Maybe a different Choir would have come out to intervene if the struggle turned bloody enough.

                    Again, one doesn’t have to think Malicia was right – whether logically or morally – to make that choice, but I really agree with Soma in finding that characterizying Malicia’s approach as stupid or dumb or an old timer set in her way and unable to embrace change is not something I can agree on.

                    Malicia has been outmaneuvered by the forces in the world, who turned the young empress that penned the Death of the Age of Wonder and suggested striking economic deals with Good countries to tie their prosperity together into a woman that was certain usVSthem was the only game in town and that Praes couldn’t stand alone against the world and hope to win.
                    If you back someone into a corner, they come out swinging. It’s not recklessness to take a gamble when you believe you are doomed if nothing changes and that teh results could fix your situation – and she was not stupid to believe what she did.

                    Just wrong. Allegedly.

                    Liked by 4 people

                    1. lennymaster

                      One, the cracks between Black and her started showing way earlier (mindcontroling his officers for example).
                      Second, corner or not, the outcome of magical WMDs is inevatable, all she ensured by backing that horse was trading a possible to maybe even probable defeat for a guranteed one.
                      Thirdly, nobody has answered so far what her motivation for leaving the highborn structure in place was. Sure it is a devil you know, but that devil has consistently and inevatably fucked up time and time agian. At some point you have to pull the plug or the devil you know will eat you, wether you know it or not.
                      It comes down to her wanting to rule Preas, and him wanting to turn Preas into something worthy of beeing ruled, much less beeing proud of. She disagreed with him on that front from day one, but never bothered to carry out that discussion and just let him work without bothering to tell him about the difference in theit outlooks. He put ultimate faith in her, but she did not do the same for him. Thus the reason for Ranger and Scribe to distrust her, the two people both far enough away to be objective but close enough to see it.
                      Lastly, without the Doom Preas would not have been alone. She would have had Callow on her side, something that definitly was not the case afterwards, no matter wether Cat agreed or not. As to why she did agree? Because she was young, inexperienced and high on the power of her in that moment shaping Name. She just stated last chapter how dangerous that last one can be.

                      Liked by 3 people

                    2. Crusades are not auto wins for Good. They can and have been beaten back before.

                      Remember, one of the Terribilis’s shut down consecutive Crusades hard enough that the last five? Crusades have all been aimed at Keter and the Dead King instead of Praes.

                      Based on what was known at the time, it would have been entirely doable to successfully defend and reach a point where the Crusade ends. Admittedly, casualties probably would have been heavy, but the exchange ratio would have been heavily in favor of Praes/Callow.

                      And remember, without the Doom, there will be far less commitment and dedication to push through despite the casualties on the part of individual Alliance members (and their troops).
                      The Doom is the difference between “no reason not to Crusade and kill Evil” and “we have to kill them now before they use it or build something like it again”.
                      Oh, sure, some of the more Story aware Heroes likely would still be pretty dedicated to removing Callow from Villainous rule … but that’s not an insurmountable problem either.

                      Malicia spent the better part of 40 years trying to build bridges, or at least, rebuild the foundations to build bridges. The Doom wiped out all that effort.

                      Liked by 1 person

                  5. Soma

                    I focus one part because the rest of your arguments are irrelevant. They are vague assertions, and contestable points in their own right. They are not support, they are the potential for supporting points, if you developed them. However, leaving them vague and not addressing potential criticism of many multiple points is an effective way to attempt to shift the work onto your fellow interlocutor. To complain that your partner in conversation is being unfair because they will not do your work for you is not an effective way to have a conversation, though it is an effective way to sway a credulous audience. Performance or reasoning, what is your purpose?

                    “And the part where Malicia didn’t permanently break the High Lords as an institutional power base and threat to the stability of Praes, instead she broke them to her will for as long as she can hold them.

                    And the part about Malicia becoming what she fought – if she ever truly was different in the first place.

                    And the part about Malicia having been planting mind control hooks into senior Legion officers from the very beginning being indicative of her mindset.”

                    The above is very similar to, if not exactly, what is referred to a Gish gallop.

                    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gish_gallop

                    >During a Gish gallop, a debater confronts an opponent with a rapid series of many specious arguments, half-truths, and misrepresentations in a short space of time, which makes it impossible for the opponent to refute all of them within the format of a formal debate. In practice, each point raised by the “Gish galloper” takes considerably more time to refute or fact-check than it did to state in the first place. The technique wastes an opponent’s time and may cast doubt on the opponent’s debating ability for an audience unfamiliar with the technique, especially if no independent fact-checking is involved or if the audience has limited knowledge of the topics.

                    I’m of the opinion that the many multiple arguments fall into the category of specious, and that they do so unintentionally.

                    I’d like to take the time here to say, though I’m being very critical, I’m not trying to insult you or cast aspersions on your character. It is possible to be irritated with a line of argument or reasoning, more so than the person you are arguing with, and that is the case here. I’ve made arguments like this before, and likely will again when I’m not paying attention.

                    The only real way I can deal with this style is to point out that the arguments you are making cannot hold water as they currently are, they require further development, and that it is not my responsibility to develop arguments against myself in a conversation.

                    Not only that, but we’ve significantly strayed from the original, and most potentially damning, example of Malicia’s behaviour that could be argued to be stupid evil. That would be the Doom of Liesse. I’ve addressed such arguments because they are the most relevant; without a particularly damning incident it is very difficult to call Malicia ‘stupid evil’.

                    Liked by 3 people

                  6. surrealgoblin

                    This is my first comment here, so please forgive me if I’m not following proper etiquette in my response.

                    While I think that Malicia certainly made the wrong call in condoning Liesse,I don’t think that or sparing the High Born were stupid evil decisions.

                    As I see it, the reason that her and Black were able to work together as closely as they did for as long as they did is because they shared the same goal of breaking the story of Praes’s growth and destruction. That goal means that it is possible to both win the crusade (drive off the forces of Good, prevent them from taking Praes and turning into it into Crusader States again) and lose the war. If the crusade fails but destroys the farmland in Southern Callow such that Praes cannot become economically dependent on it, that is a loss. If the Crusade fails but the attempt drives the people of Callow deeper into a national identity built upon resisting Praes’s invasions such that Callowan hero’s are leading rebellions and aiding the 11th or 12th Crusades, that is also a loss. The continued spawning of Callowan heroes inevitably leads to Black and Malicia’s defeat, and even a failed crusade maintains the story of a plucky kingdom trying to win back its independence from the Evil Empire. Whenever Malicia talks about victory and defeat, she isn’t taking an excursively military view, but a political view, and a long term political view at that. Trying to create WMDs to give the tenth Crusade too high a cost was a terrible idea imo, but it does make sense.

                    She only put that plan into action once it was clear that Ashur was going to join. She had the next second citizen in her pocket so she only needed to keep the Crusade from beginning long enough for the current second citizen to die before the emerging alliance lost the majority of its navy and a good portion of its strength. Cat’s existence shows that the Callowan narrative was starting to fragment, and the longer that could have happened before a showdown with the West, the better the chances of Callow siding with Praes over Procer. Perhaps most importantly, Malicia’s decades long plan to destroy the High Born was within a couple of years of coming to fruition which would free the Legions to be able to adequately defend Callow without risking a revolution on the home front AND signal the Praesi shifting away from the narrative of Evil Conquerors who must lose in order to be able to continue conquering. Lesse was a gamble that tools from the age of wonders would be enough to slow down the crusade just enough. Even if it brought the entire continent down on Praes in the end, even if it lead to Praes losing the crusade and Malicia’s head on a pike that would be worth it because she was within years of the only victory that matters; an economically and narrativly interdependent Praes and Callow.

                    Which bring us to how sparing the High Lords was not stupid evil. I think we can all agree that militarily, it would have been possible for the Calamaties and the Legions to defeat the High Lords following/during the civil war. Maybe it would have been too costly, and the country would have been too weak to hold Callow and hold of its neighbors. Maybe Malicia would not have been able to afford keeping Procer at war long enough for the occupation to take root. But that is neither here nor there. Whatever bureaucrats or minor nobility the Tower put in charge of keeping order and maintaining sacrifices to prevent famine would just have seen themselves as newly minted High Lords even if not officially recognized. They would have just gone on sharpening their iron against the tower because everyone knows that even a lowborn can rise to the top if they are clever and ambitious enough. It would not have changed the narrative. That, again, is the only victory that matters. Its not enough to kill the High Lords, Malicia needs to kill the idea that the High Lords are needed. In order to do that she needed to keep Callow under her thumb (to remove the narrative need for the High Lords to bring glory and hope to a pretty hopeless and desperate people) and tie Praes economically to Callow and Callowan crops (to remove the economic and spiritual need for the High Lords as the people with the sorcerous knowledge of how to feed the people through ritual sacrifice.) At the same time that she removed the need for the High Lords, she slowly stripped them of their power and wealth, so that when their eventual defeat came, they would go with a whimper. Her end game is to make them appear so hollow, unneeded, unimportant and ineffective that no one would want to step into their shoes. Rooting them out of their seats of power may have killed them, but Praesi are used to their heroes (lower case) dying in a blaze of glory. That would only have strengthened the story that Praesi are elegant and powerful, and that strength and guile are all that you need to take what you wish.

                    I swear I am not a Malicia fangirl. She is actually one of my least favorite characters in the story. I think that she made a lot of mistakes, breaking Black’s trust not the least of them. But I also think that the only thing at all close to stupid evil she has done is make a deal with Keter, and that she is one of the best examples of a truly evil villianess who ISN’T stupid evil that I have seen.

                    p.s. I am defining “stupid evil” as doing evil for its own sake, aka Kairos.

                    p.p.s. Is this too long?

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Andrew Mitchell

                      Welcome! p.p.s. Is this too long?

                      No, not too long. 🙂 Pretty much the same length as many other posts in this very long discussion many commenters have been involved in.

                      Like

                    2. Soma

                      Not a Malica fan girl? HOW DARE YOU!

                      All joking aside, excellent comment. Definitely not too long.

                      I definitely agree with your point on the high lords. Your analysis of Malicia’s possible usage of the Liesse weapon is particularly interesting. I think I’ve always assumed Malicia trying to survive, but the idea that she went into that knowing she would die in order to use it as a stalling measure for a narrative victory is particularly interesting. That’s really thought provoking and opens up a new way of thinking about Malicia, and what she might have been doing this entire time offscreen too.

                      Liked by 1 person

            2. Also from that epilogue:

              > “That girl [Cordelia] is us,” Alaya said, “forty years ago, looking at the stars from a different land.”

              And an ironic note:
              > “One day,” Alaya continued, “we will have foreign allies who are not complete imbeciles. By sheer dint of odds, it has to happen eventually.”

              Well, Cat will. As an aside, I’d missed or forgotten that Akua purposely went for the Name of Diabolist.

              Liked by 4 people

          2. medailyfun

            The Crusade was a sure thing before Liesse happened. In Cordelia’s eyes it was just the tool Procer desperately needed, so they would definitely find the proper casus belli, like Free Cities involvement or something else. Bard would have provided something for sure.

            Liked by 6 people

            1. NerfGlastigUaine

              Yeah, both Black and Malicia were certain Crusade would happen. There disagreement was on whether the Hellgate ritual would be a deterrent or the instrument of their ruin.

              Liked by 6 people

          3. >Prior to that, Hasenbach was having trouble getting the other nations to join the Grand Alliance. And even after, it still took her years to get them to agree.

            What? Years? Where did you get years?

            Akua’s Folly took place in summer. Next spring Callow was getting invaded. It took all of half a year for the Crusade to mobilize. All Akua’s Folly did was accelerate the timeline and give the Crusade better narrative base (which Amadeus successfully broke by breaking the fortress and the Empire).

            >Because without the Doom of Liesse, Ashur might very well have not joined in.

            No, Cordelia already had them at that point. They were licking their chops at the Praesi coast, Akua’s Folly was barely more than an excuse, for them specifically.

            >Remember, Malicia is the one who wrote “The Death of the Age of Wonders”. Albeit early on.

            Yeah =x

            Liked by 3 people

            1. lennymaster

              The Crusade was inevatable, the creation of the Doom however did accelerate it, dramaticly so, as well as provide a Damocles sword hanging over the Callow Preas relationship, possible distracting factors on the outside, Free cities, ratling hordes, other Named springing up and possible problems in the Allinces political ties and last but not least in the shape of a gaint Hero bait at the same time.
              The Doom was like a Villian standing in front of a Chasm next to an altar/ under a gaint chandelier/ next to their chained up monster/ the mincontroled/Stockholmed victim while threatening the beaten Heroes loved ones/ holding a speech about how they are not so different after all.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. Yes, but it’s less obvious in-universe than you’d think. Much like how it was not obvious in-universe to Cordelia that letting her Princes and Princesses believe they would get spoils from Callow and then sending them through the northern passage would absolutely doom that expedition narratively.

                Or how it was not obvious to Catherine.

                Or how it would not even have been obvious to Black, had Bard not just killed Captain.

                Liked by 1 person

        2. caoimhinh

          It is beyond wrong and falls into stupid because it was something they had actively and consciously been avoiding for over 40 years and was the very reason they were successful. The very moment she started doing things on her own without her most loyal and capable partner she fell right back into the tendencies and impulses they had spent a lifetime avoiding.

          It is not just a mistake, because she was fully aware of what she was doing, and knew better than to do it, yet she did it anyways because she was following her emotions instead of acting rationally.

          “What kind of ruler, especially an autocratic ruler, could be comfortable with the amount of power Black had” doesn’t exactly applies, because Black was her power.
          It wasn’t some random guy rising to power or a rival faction gaining influence, it was the very guy who put her in the throne having the power that kept her in the throne.
          He had always been in that position, that was how they worked, he was the strategic military man and she was the schemer politician. Then she went and screwed things trying to get her hands on a weapon that only painted a gigantic target on her for the Heavens to destroy her.

          The “she didn’t see any other option” is an excuse, Malicia said that to Catherine and Amadeus, but we saw things from her point of view and the real reason was she wanted her own power.

          Besides, they had plenty of plans for all nations (Black even managed to adapt his plans in a single night to force an acceleration of them when he realized he was dying), had a strong base of power as shown by Catherine and Amadeus managing to fend off the Crusaders even without Akua’s hell weapon.
          But in a world ruled by Narrative, the ruler of the Evil Empire started walking the steps of her predecessors and thus condemned her country (since a Named ruler’s story is her country’s story) to suffering a Story-fueled Crusade, a secession of the conquered provinces (which restored their status as an independent nation) the loss of her most trusted aides and an internal conflict of multiple rebellions boiling (Callow’s, the Goblins’ and the High Lords, plus maybe Black’s).

          The moment she didn’t have Amadeus putting a brake to her impulses she went straight to Stupid Evil territory, and for a stupid emotional reason: an obsession with control and distrust of her freaking best friend in the world.

          “Black asked for more trust, loyalty, and faith than you could expect even a hero to give, let alone your Empress.”
          He didn’t ask for it, he earned that over and over, and they needed that to survive and succeed. I have to put special emphasis on this, because it is extremely stupid to be distrustful of the guy that had spent most of his life keeping her alive.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. ? The “she didn’t see any other option” is an excuse, Malicia said that to Catherine and Amadeus, but we saw things from her point of view and the real reason was she wanted her own power.

            With some reason. Consider Malicia as not Black’s ruler, but his former protege, who he’d raised up to a throne. But now Black had found another protege, even more in tune with his methods and goals… who he was likewise raising to a throne. And this, after they’d taken the trouble to conquer Callow and wipe out its prior royal line. Jealousy yes… but not completely unwarranted! Black was changing their original plan (Callow as a vassal state) and creating a competitor to Malicia. Hmm… just when did Cat first hear That Song?

            Liked by 2 people

            1. caoimhinh

              So you now argue jealousy-fueled paranoia?
              Again, that’s still not a rational choice, it’s an emotional one, and jealousy is one of the most stupid emotions, it blinds you to reality and makes a person create their own fictional version of what’s happening instead of listening to reason.

              “Black had found another protege, even more in tune with his methods and goals… who he was likewise raising to a throne”
              See, that seems true, but is missing the point, Black was raising his replacement, as thinking himself immortal was hubris and he is too practical a man to not have a back-up plan.
              Catherine was to be the person who would carry on his goals and further advance his plan towards the dream of making Praes something that didn’t depend on blood rituals and invasions to sate their bellies.
              As a Callowan Hero-minded person wielding a Praesi Villain name, Catherine would be the final piece to cement the Praes-Callow unification. She would have been the overall Governor of Callow and de facto Queen just like Amadeus had been the de facto King, but she would also be the new protector of Malicia as the next Black Knight, she would have been the one to consolidate the union between the two countries and make Callowans start seeing themselves as Praesi too, and having the Name of Black Knight would tie Catherine to Praes effectively, given the cultural significance and weight of that story, which Malicia knew.

              Are you willingly ignoring how many times Amadeus made his line-that-can-not-be-crossed clear? He always told Catherine that Malicia must rule, at every single chance he got.

              Although it is true that an outside observer could have seen things in the light of “a rebel is in the making, gathering influence”, Malicia was not really that much of an outsider to not know the true nature of things, because Black kept her updated with both reports and personal conversations, and Malicia also had lots of spies observing Catherine. She knew what Amadeus’ plans were, yet she focused on how she was going to lose direct control of Callow, when he was carrying out the plan of making a better nation for her to rule and live on, she narrow-mindedly focused on the possibility of how she was going to rule a smaller nation, willfully discarding everything else Amadeus said to her, and a lifetime of successes on his plans, instead she acted behind his back and screwed it for everyone.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Yeah, that’s what Amadeus was thinking. But he was spending much of his time off in Callow, or otherwise gallivanting around, while Malicia was back in the Tower marinating in Praesi suspicion, scheming, and skullduggery… not to mention stories. Remember, Malicia was never as good at dodging stories as Black was, and the scenario I just described is a classic story indeed. Even while Cat and Black were doing something entirely different, I don’t find it too implausible that Malicia might have been caught up in it.

                Liked by 2 people

              2. Soma

                I’d like to address something in your arguments that is increasingly seen out in the wild around the world. You’ve begun to speak about emotions and rationality, and somewhat have begun to treat them as characteristics rather than processes. This is important because processes can wildly vary given the context they operate in. What are though of as Characteristics much less so.

                Rationality is a process of using logic on a set of assumptions and so then coming up with a conclusion, examining the conclusion, and updating and examining your set of assumptions.

                Emotion is actually surprisingly similar, but less fine grained. Emotion often gives you some very generic conclusion very quickly, but has a larger margin of error. Emotion is worthwhile in and of itself, but not always the best tool for a job. One way to understand emotion and rationality might be to look at them like one would a heuristic and an algorithm. Emotion even has value beyond the immediately practical, as often emerges from complex systems.

                Emotion and rationality are processes that often do effect each other. They can be complimentary or discordant, but one is not inherently better than the other. This is because they do different things, even though they have some overlap at times.

                Because emotion is easily denigrated, partly because modern society fetishises reason and rationality (often misunderstanding those things in doing so), accusations of emotionality over reason are often used to discredit a person. It is very hard to prove something about one’s subjective experience, and, therefore, hard to refute the accusation. The lack of objective refutation is something many credulous audiences will take for proof.

                Malicia is working with a different set of assumptions than you are. You trust Black completely. Malicia doesn’t. She trusts him a lot, she even loves him, as he does her, but she doesn’t trust him completely. She has good reason to believe there are limits on how much she should trust Black.

                Black is the type of person that he was written as having the following little bit in the story “If he’d been the kind of man to pray, he would have prayed then. But he was not, so instead the gears began to turn and he wondered how many of the people he loved he would have to kill, before it was all over.”

                https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2017/09/20/villainous-interlude-cadenza/

                Malicia is wise to the fact the second she is *interpreted* as a liability to Black’s goals she is in mortal danger. Black is not a Hero. He is a villain that will murder his loved ones the second they become obstacles to his goals. We may like him, but he is a villain. You are arguing for complete loyalty to someone who uses loyalty as a tool and will discard it the second it is an ineffective tool to achieve his goals. If you work from the starting assumptions Malicia is likely to have, complete loyalty is probably irrational.

                Lets look at a possible set of assumptions for Malicia:

                Black is brilliant. Black is fallible. Black could reasonably make an attempt on my life. Most of our interests align. Not all of our interests align. Some are in opposition. It is possible our interests could increasingly diverge. Black is inclined to kill people in opposition to him, and will attempt to kill people who are obstacles who he feels can’t be practically removed any other way. Given the presence of outside actors, I cannot completely whether I am a liability or not. I want to live.

                Should Malicia trust black completely? From this set of assumptions, no. Is this the exact set of assumptions she is working from? Probably not. However, I think that it should be pretty clear it is *possible* Malicia is working form a reasonable set of assumptions where she should not trust Black completely. It is not clear she is operating purely on emotion or divorced from reason.

                It is easy to make an accusation that someone’s mind and ability to reason is being clouded by emotion, and often such an accusation is rhetorically persuasive. That does not mean it is a well reasoned argument that someone is being emotional, or is not being rational. Rationality interacts with sets of assumptions which often wildly differ, and so results often wildly differ.

                Liked by 4 people

                1. caoimhinh

                  This here, your answer and the way it was expressed? This is what I love about debates, people having contrary positions and still defend them with great sense and solid argumentation, it’s awesome.

                  Liked by 2 people

                2. caoimhinh

                  About the processes of emotion and rationality, I don’t completely agree.
                  I agree that emotional decisions are also processes, but I think the difference lies in that they are based on different sets of variables in their iterations rather than using different assumptions. (Or perhaps I misunderstood you and we are saying the same but on different terms?)

                  For example, the decision of whether to punch someone on the face after they insult you or hit you.
                  The logical process will consider the action in terms of the consequence utility, benefits and harms; while the emotional process will consider the action in terms of venting off the frustration or anger felt at the moment, the emotional process will be in terms of like and dislike, feel good or feel bad, even ethics and morals.
                  Also, rational processes tend to look on the long term, while an emotional one would look at the short term.
                  More processes than one of each type are run in parallel and sometimes one is integrated into the other

                  Both types of processes are run side by side in a person’s mind and one of them eventually wins (sometimes the processes are in agreement), which of the processes was in control at the moment determines the nature of the action taken.
                  It’s not even a matter of which action was taken, but rather what was taken into consideration, what defines if it was a rational decision or an emotional decision.

                  Got angry but was scared of being hit again so didn’t strike back? Emotional response.

                  Got angry and was scared of being hit again, but there are people watching and if you don’t earn respect they will mock you, so you strike back? Emotional response, but different action.

                  Case in point: Malicia knows on a conscious level that Amadeus would not betray her, yet she has a pathological need for control, (Tikoloshe even stated that Malicia “craves control the way a starving man craves a meal”) so despite her rational processes telling her that Black was never plotting to seize the Tower from her, her emotional processes prompt her to take measures “just in case”.
                  She has at least twice admitted that she knows Amadeus is not disloyal, and then she follows with the words and yet “there can be only one sitting in the throne of the Tower”.

                  What her rational mind tells her is an unnecessary and even potentially harmful action, her emotional part makes it so that she can’t be at ease unless she takes that course of action.

                  Considering Malicia’s motivations, statements, and her disregard of both the history and lessons learned during the past decades, and her disregard of the potential consequences in favor of personal satisfaction; her course of action can only be called emotional.
                  Financing Akua’s weapon behind Black’s back was not something done in cold logic and rational thoughts, it was something done to satisfy an emotional need.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Soma

                    A value for a variable is, more of less, an assumption. Saying something is an assumption is just saying that thing is taken for given at the start of the process. A set of assumptions is the set of information you perform a process on. Different processes can use either the same or different sets of assumptions. I don’t think we have a disagreement there, I might just have worded something clunkily.

                    I think where we disagree is somewhere around how Amadeus would act and Malicia’s knowledge of that.

                    You said, “Malicia knows on a conscious level that Amadeus would not betray her,” and I don’t agree with this. I think Black would definitely betray her should it get him what he wants. I think Black absolutely would kill her if she was an obstacle and killing her was a convenient way to remove her as an obstacle. I think Malicia is also aware of this. I think Malicia is reasoning from a place where the prior is an assumption, in addition to an assumption that she cannot completely control whether she is an obstacle to Amadeus given the presence of actors outside of their relationship who have, would, and will, attempt to further estrange the two.

                    You say her distrust of Amadeus is pathological, and I’m coming from a place where not trusting Amadeus to always look out for one’s well being (especially should his interest ever possibly run counter to yours) is reasonable, rational, and likely necessary for one’s survival.

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. caoimhinh

                      Malicia has admitted in her thoughts that she knows Amadeus was not planning to seize the Tower from her in the Epilogue of Book 3.

                      I’m sure she also did in at least another ocassion, but right now I don’t remember in which chapter that happened.

                      Fun and ironic fact: at the beginning of Epilogue 3, Malicia is actually mad because she considers she had put blind trust in Amadeus and he betrayed her expectations when he Destroyed the weapon.

                      Like

          2. Shveiran

            You seem to be among those that give great meaning to Malicia having agents in the Legions (you know, her Legions; the Legions of the country she leads); personally, I don’t see what’s the matter. It’s not like she was planning to have Amadeus killed or anything.
            Is it that strange for a ruler to not want all her power base to be dependant on the loyalty AND survival of one of her allies – that also happens to tussle with Heroes as a job description?
            I mean, yeah, maybe it’s not NICE, but… I really can’t fault her for it.

            The divide between her and Amadeus was not born JUST out of a control freak syndrome. Sure, Alaya had an hard time feeling in another’s power – which a) given her history is pretty damn understandable and b) she kept in check for decades still.
            WHat pushed her to act behind Amadeus back was the certainty (well-founded, incidentally) that Amadeus could not contemplate a different resolution to the conflict than kicking in the Crusaders’ teeth until they stop coming. She simply believed that his solution would not have worked, and so chose to make a different gamble.

            Yes, perhaps she was wrong. So?

            This doesn’t make her an out of balance control freak.
            Just someone that knows the house is burning down, unwilling to bet her life on your attempts to kick down the door and oping instead to try her luck jumping the window.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. lennymaster

              “She simply believed that his solution would not have worked, and so chose to make a different gamble.”
              You mean gambling on the kind of weapon that is the litteral origin story of a Hero? Designed to counter/destroy EXACTLY that weapon? Just imagine it: the humble smiths son out of town that faithful day when it was destroyed, killing everyone he loved?
              Does anything, ANYTHING about the Doom not scream angelic intervention, plucky, unlikely Heroes literally swarming you to death and prophecies announcing a destined one to defeat you.
              A desperate cornered animal, chewing its own paw of to escape the trap is one thing, seeing a tiger come for you and cutting your own leg off to distract it momentarily while you hop away is an entirely diffrent prospect altogether.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Shveiran

                The idea that this was narrative suicide has been brought up several times by you and others; and I personally do believe that to be a very reasonable evaluation of her tactics.

                Where I disagree with you, is when we move from “made a narrative faux pass” to “that was a dumb mistake”.

                Yes, narrative is an actual force in this universe.
                But how many characters are aware of that enough that they balance each and every action they take in terms of story shapes? I can name a few easily, but it is a huge leap to go from there to the assumption that only idiots don’t think like that.

                Cat thinks like that, and Black, certainly. PIlgrim, Death King, the Wandering Bard obviously.
                Hanno somewhat. I am probably missing a few, but it isn’t a long list, is it?

                Even among the Calamities, people that kept villaining as long as Alaya did, how many are narrative-aware? Was Sabah? Was Warlock? The latter was aware enough he knew about Patterns of Three, but what else did he ever say to suggest he was considering this kind of details?

                Black spent his life dealing with stories, because he spent most of his time dealing with the settling of Callow and killing Villains or Heroes. Malicia, on the other hand, spent it handling economics and trade, scheming and plotting with nobles, handling spies, and playing chess with foreign leaders over the globe.
                She never dealt in stories. Sure, that’s how the world works. It’s cear as day to us READERS, but you barely need two hands to count the people on Calernia that share that knowledge. Malicia knows it in theory, but has never practiced that knowledge because she was using a different set of skills.

                That’s not being a moron, that’s having a blind spot.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. caoimhinh

                  Wekesa likely knew a lot about Narrative, I’m not completely sure if he also thought in terms of stories, but he at least was shown to know about how it affects Named. I seem to recall he had made some research about it, and after a lifetime fighting and killing other Named, he must have acquired quite a bit of insight on the subject.
                  It’s shown in how he knew that Black taking a Squire was signing a death sentence, and how he stated that when Catherine stopped being the Squire then Amadeus was revitalized. He also was shown musing about the evolution of Named abilities during his fight with the Hedge Wizard.

                  Whether Malicia is as aware of Narrative Force as Amadeus is debatable, but she should know about it to some level, and not only because of spending a lifetime working with Amadeus, who never makes a move without taking that in consideration.

                  At the very least, Malicia showed she had knowledge of Narrative when she was justifying her financing of Akua’s weapon to Amadeus and Catherine, she explicitly said that the Heavens were going to keep going at them until they died, so the best way to survive that unwinnable fight was to never fight at all. Her reasoning to why she would not be trapped in the Story of an Old School Evil Villain was that she wasn’t directly involved in the manufacturing of the weapon, and she was not planning to use it at all, only have it as a deterrent, hoping that the fear of her use of the weapon would make everyone not mess with Praes.

                  (That is, of course, wishful thinking. As simply having the weapon already made her a target, and even after the destruction of the weapon they remained a target for the Crusade. Since both for Narrative and realistically, other countries would have to deal with a Praes that had such a weapon, it needed to be gone and they would not stop until the weapon was destroyed as it posed a danger too big to be ignored but not enough to actually make them submit. Some of them would take it as a cultural and religious mandate to destroy it, and she knew it. It was a doomed enterprise. And the fact she willfully ignored this after her decades of political experience with other nations shows that she was acting on her emotions rather than thinking rationally.)

                  So to my understanding, she was as aware as Black about the risks that Akua’s Doom Weapon carried and what it signified Narratively, but disagreed with him on whether she could avoid the death trap. Malicia was willing to take that risk, so she took measures to possess that weapon, Amadeus was not willing to take that risk, so he Destroyed it.

                  And her reason for taking that risk was because she pathologically needs to have control, common sense be damned.

                  Liked by 1 person

          3. >It is not just a mistake, because she was fully aware of what she was doing, and knew better than to do it, yet she did it anyways because she was following her emotions instead of acting rationally.

            She did not, in fact, know better. She had a coherent plan which she believed would work, and yes, her estimation of factors did get impacted by emotional reasoning, but that does not make her either “stupid” or “evil”, only at her limit of incompetence.

            Liked by 1 person

        3. Yeah.

          It’s a funny thing, when Black took an apprentice that he was utterly unsurprised to learn was hearing the Tower climbing song.

          It very much took two to tango, here.

          Their relationship is incredible and that it took as much as it did to strain it is incredible.

          Liked by 4 people

      2. >I personally consider Malicia stupid evil as her complex about control led her to betray her closest friend in the world and fucked up her Empire and everything they had built together for the past 40 years.

        >In her paranoia of wanting to have power independent of her Black Knight (who had so far been the reason she was still alive and the one who put her on the throne in the first place), she fell into the trappings they had spent a lifetime avoiding.

        Not quite.

        We’ve seen her POV, and we’ve seen her dismiss thoughts about Amadeus possibly betraying her out of hand, with ‘okay that’s where i draw the line on the paranoia’.

        And we’ve seen this:

        >Guilt never came. She would not apologize for taking measures preventing him from throwing away his life in a hopeless war, however slighted he felt by the truth that he had become a foe to his own survival. That was on his own head. Not even love would make her neck if she was in the right.

        She is not exactly the only one of Amadeus’s friends thinking he had a death wish, and they were not exactly proven wrong about it.

        Oh, she underestimated his skill and understanding, failed to trust in his judgement where she factually should have. But how would she know to trust it when he’d been going “you are smarter than me and you know better” for 40 years? She felt responsible for everything, and she did not feel like she could take a blind leap of faith on his ability when he was blatantly leading the story up to his own death (WHICH HE FACTUALLY WAS, IN TAKING A SQUIRE).

        She underestimated him and misjudged him, and her blind spot of having spent most of her lifetime at court and having come to think of it as representative of the entire Empire smacked her hard on this.

        >This, this is why you cannot rule. Because you’re not interested in ruling Praes, only in securing a war camp for your pissing match with the Heavens. You cannot butcher your way into having a different homeland, Black. It’s a pretty plan you laid out. But you are not the only living man in Praes, and so it fails. Because the Empire is not an instrument, it is a nation and that nation wants things. It will not docilely wait until your point is made.

        (she’s wrong, the vast majority is with him on this)
        (this is the mistake and the misjudgement)

        Malicia and Black both were weaving something incredibly complex, and both reached the limit of their incompetence. Amadeus failed to explain to her what he was doing and all the nuances he was taking into account, she failed to understand it on her own.

        What happened to the two of them was a fucking tragedy, not.. her being undeserving.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. lennymaster

          No she failed by putting everything on a absolutly, undeniably doomed superweapon. I would bet Bard was somehow involved in this, but it does not change the fact that she supported a plan ending in a magical WMD. In a world that litteraly hands mindlesly grieving teenagers weapons that can cut steel like a hot knive cuts butter and equips them supernatural powers as well as a year long montage compresed into a few months realworldtime to hone their fighting skill.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Fun fact! Multiple descriptions of the situation can be true at the same time. Your “no” does not actually proceed to contradict my explanation.

            When analyzing characters’ decision making in PGTE, it’s important that we the audience have several important advantages over them:

            – we accept easily that things work on story logic, because to us it is a story and therefore the idea intuitively makes sense. Furthermore, a lot of the fandom are people who hang out on tvtropes / like other meta fiction, and have the same kind of nuanced understanding of what story logic is as medical doctors have of anatomy;

            – we are detached from the immediate emotionality of the situations, and often only understand the characters’ emotions through analysis. So what the situation is in a more global structural sense is primary to us, and what it feels like from the inside is secondary and does not skew the position. Erratic’s writing style particularly contributes to this because he tends to be much more clear about what is actually happening than what the characters feel on the topic (as opposed to e.g. ward by wildbow, for example);

            – we can, on a certain level, trust the narration and the writer’s intent. We have Word of God statements explaining what erratic is trying to do; we can freely assume none of the characters are a coma patient whose dying dream this will turn out to be at the end. So when things are implied in the narrative by common convention of how narrative works, we will often take it for granted that they are true in a way that is entirely non-obvious in-universe. It’s very typical in fandom to assume that Catherine is right about everything, simply because she is the protagonist and we have the meta knowledge that that makes her much more likely to be right than wrong, on most occasions. The same applies to Amadeus, her teacher – because he was the audience’s source on the basic foundation of how the world works, we take it as obvious that he’s right about it – and it’s entirely non-obvious to other characters in-universe, because they learned about how things work from sources other than his explanations (notably, lived experience). Few adults genuinely assume that That One Person they’ve met has unique insight on how the universe works that should a priori be assumed right even if it seems counterintuitive – but we can assume that in fiction just by how the writer positions them in the narrative, and that colors our perception;

            – HINDSIGHT BIAS. When reading Book 3 for the first time, did you, personally, hold the position that the superweapon plan (YOU KNOW, THE ONE THAT CATHERINE AT THE TIME WAS ONBOARD WITH AND WAS MAD AT BLACK FOR RUINING) was stupid? Maybe you did, which would make you smarter than me. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t think it was doomed. It was not, in fact, obvious until it was explained, and even then the tipping point for even Amadeus, the main ideologue of the “politics must follow story fu” movement, was that Bard exists and actively opposes them.

            No, it was not obvious in-universe.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Soma

              I really appreciate you making this clearer than I think I was able to.

              The understanding that people in the guide are working with different sets of information is really important. Readers having all the information, or, at least, way more than any single character, really changes the readers experience from what any of the characters would experience. You put this really well.

              Liked by 2 people

        2. caoimhinh

          That’s still an emotional decision, not made with a clear mind. She knows perfectly well that Akua’s weapon is something from the Old School Evil Villains, yet she engineered its creation and financed Akua, when she should know what such story signified. She accused Black of trying to be cleverer than Fate, but it’s actually she who is trying that; Malicia’s reasoning for thinking she would be safe is that she assumes that since she didn’t make the weapon or even used it, she will not be trapped by the Story nor bound by it, as she would simply be the person who has the weapon. Which is stupid and wishful thinking, because she is still a Villain, the ruler of the Evil Empire, and simply having that weapon makes her a target for the Narrative Force.

          And that’s still not the reason why she did it, but rather the reason she felt reassured of her safety in doing it. The reason behind it is still her desire for control.
          Everything we have seen about Malicia’s actions behind Black’s back effectively shows us that those were not based on logic and reason, but rather emotional decisions and actions taken due to personal issues.

          What you quoted was Malicia finding justifications for her actions after the fact. That was after Black had Destroyed Akua’s weapon. We saw Malicia’s motivations much earlier in the story.

          Remember what you told me a few days ago, about people’s mind working in a way that makes them convince themselves of being in the right? That’s Malicia right there.

          That fragment you quoted is not an omniscient narrator stating facts, is Alaya going “I’m right about this, I did this for love, totally not out of paranoia or fear of losing control. Yeah, I did this to save him. It was for all of us, not me alone, yeah let’s go with that. I won’t apologize, I am right.”

          That Epilogue is funny because almost everything that Malicia was thinking was actually wrong and what she said was contextually inaccurate.
          That chapter doesn’t show us a cold and cunning Empress, but rather the emotional person Alaya really is under her mask, her whole section of the chapter is filled with her ups and downs on emotions, and her whole conversation with Amadeus shows how she was attempting to manipulate and wound him emotionally (a typical reaction on someone who is in turn emotionally wounded, like when someone is sad or angry and says offensive things to others to hurt them, so they would also be sad or angry), she even spoke things against Wekesa and Scribe in hopes to make Amadeus lower his trust in others’ support so he would not turn further away from her (text says: What she need break to salvage even shards of what they had once been). While Amadeus spent the whole conversation trying to be amenable, approachable and even apologized when his words hurt her.
          He was the reasonable person in that conversation, even backed off when she goaded him into venting off his frustrations, all the while Alaya was just displaying her insecurities and emotional wounds for the readers.

          Consider this:

          At the very start of the chapter she thinks “He would not speak to her until he was no longer in a vulnerable position. Alaya had known this because she knew the man, how his mind functioned. Amadeus did not treat from a position of weakness.” And then right afterward she went to talk to him as Malicia the Dread Empress yet he came to see her as Amadeus of the Green Stretch and that drew blood.
          He was facing her as a person and a friend (even showing that he was wounded), while she was posing as a ruler talking to a vassal, and the emotional part of her recoiled due to this, she knew Amadeus was the one on the right and it was her who had broken their trust, but her pride didn’t let her admit it and instead proceeded to try to manipulate him, while he talked to her with honesty.

          That conversation ended with Amadeus invigorated and smiling after being honest with her, and facing the new challenges ahead of him, looking at the uncertain future with wonder. While Malicia, after the carousel of emotions that was that conversation for her, was left alone with her worries and regrets, Alaya went still and felt something like grief but deeper than the word could ever mean taking hold of her.

          The Hierarch saw many things, close and far away. In a cold room of black stone, he watched the most beautiful woman he’d ever glimpsed wipe away a tear and clench her teeth. By the crackling hearth of an inn he saw a knight and a champion clasp arms with older heroes, whispering of Heaven’s Mandate. He saw a young girl on an ill-fitting throne, lost but unwilling to retreat. He saw the fields of a Hell tilled and strewn with villages, its people never having known a blue sky. He saw knives bared beneath the earth, north and south, skins of black and green ghosting through tunnels. He saw a green-eyed man grinning in the face of havoc, alone with well-worn maps.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Everything you’ve said is accurate. I fail to see, however, how any of it makes her ‘stupid evil’. Is having emotions and making decisions influenced by them stupid or evil now? How would a non-stupid non-evil person act in her situation that would be different?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. caoimhinh

              Having emotions don’t make her evil nor stupid. That’s not what I am saying, nor what anyone else has said.
              However, her dark emotions such as insecurities, arrogance and fear of losing control, drove her to take the choice of financing Akua’s Doom Weapon in hopes of appropriating it.
              And that’s the stupid Old Evil kind of weapon, surely we can all agree on this. That weapon is undeniably of the Old School Villains Breed: a flying fortress of doom that makes portals to Hell.

              So having emotions doesn’t make her evil nor stupid, but the choice she took driven by those emotions was the stupid evil path.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. > I personally consider Malicia stupid evil as her complex about control led her to betray her closest friend in the world and fucked up her Empire and everything they had built together for the past 40 years.

                “Did a Stupid Evil thing once” =/= “is Stupid Evil”. People don’t work in clear categories like that.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. caoimhinh

                  Fair enough.

                  Though she has displayed Old School Villany tendencies both in the past and in the present. As she defends the traditions of Praes and even idolizes the glories of the Tyrants of old (she simply believes herself to be above them), contrary to how Amadeus actively rejects all those Old School Villains stood for.

                  The things we have seen her done when Amadeus was not there to put her on check, lean pretty heavily to the Old School side (Akua’s weapon, massive mind control of soldiers, deals with the Dead King)

                  Liked by 1 person

    2. Some Smartass

      I think Malicia’s story became a tragedy when she decided to do insane things like enable Akua and ally with the Dead King. Shit like that is the leading cause of villain doom, and she knew that going in.

      I suppose I can spare some hope that she’ll have all the control she wants over her death. I do like her, after all.

      Liked by 8 people

  6. Huh.
    Yeah, this makes sense – Scribe could have stopped this way earlier than she did, but chose not to in order to make it untenable to leave Malicia in power. And Scribe would also know that the viable candidates to replace Malicia are basically Amadeus and Cat … and neither one of them have been particularly eager to take the Tower for themselves. And Cat is probably going to be pretty busy between Callow, the drow, Cardinal, and the Accords, which means Amadeus would be more likely to accept the burden (in his mind) of dealing with reforming Praes.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. It’s even possible that Malicia did not pull the trigger at all, and Scribe herself did from the shadows. As Catherine has remarked, having her alliance in the west fail would see her coming east sword in hand. Malicia likely understands that she does not want to antagonize Catherine at this point, and particularly not prevent her from spending her current strength on helping rescue Procer.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. KageLupus

        I am pretty sure that Malicia did originally order Scribe to start destabilizing Procer. Not only because it all makes sense, especially the points about the Accords being an existential threat to Malicia, but because the best lies are ones that stick closest to the truth. If Scribe did this whole thing on her own it would eventually come out in the open. Can you really imagine Black not trying to talk to Malicia before killing her? What happens when that conversation turns practical and Malicia says “What do you mean, I ordered Scribe to burn down Procer?”

        Like Cat said, the details all have to be correct because anything less than that would be obvious. It is the one small, subtle betrayal that snuck in that Cat was trying to figure out. Scribe being incompetent is too out of character, when up till now she has been supremely capable.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. caoimhinh

          It was also a chance to mount a rescue operation for Amadeus.
          Destabilize Procer, make the political factions be at each other’s throats and the House of Light losing credibility, the ensuing chaos would potentially delay the public execution of Black, and in the worst-case scenario they would still pay a harsh price for killing him.

          We must keep in mind that this plan was set in motion months ago when Amadeus was captured (he was only rescued by Catherine a few days ago), and the two women behind it (Alaya and Eudokia) were desperate. They found a common ground: they would either rescue Amadeus or set Procer on fire as a funeral pyre for him.

          On that note, it would be interesting to see a Malicia Interlude and read her POV about Black being rescued. It would also give us an update on what’s happening in Praes with the Goblins and the High Lords.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. caoimhinh

    “How mundane. How petty. I expected better of you, Intercessor. This is… beneath us.”
    -The Dead King, Interlude: Reckoning

    “Was it really that simple, that… I hesitated to say petty, but what else could it be called? No, not petty. Personal, and in a way that was worse.”
    -Catherine, Chapter 73: Discerning

    Ok, this resonance has me grinning.

    Liked by 10 people

  8. Decius

    “To use any for the improper purpose is the mark of inferior breeding, save if greater game is yet afoot.”

    Wait, it isn’t considered substandard to not have a greater game afoot?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Not everything is part of a greater game.
      That makes it much harder to work out what is relevant to one’s greater game and what isn’t.

      Besides … having a code around killing people makes it easier to reduce the number of overreactions.
      And when said overreactions involves the kinds of things the High Lords (and Praesi leadership/Named) have traditionally gotten up to … maintaining a careful detente and avoiding overreactions is in everybody’s best interests.

      Which, of course, means that the best way to hide your greater game is to follow the norms, not violate them by using the wrong means of murder.

      Liked by 8 people

    2. konstantinvoncarstein

      Akua have said (i think in book 1) that she already killed people to have a good seat at the theatre. She may be boasting to infuriate Catherine, but petty bickering seems a trademark of most nobilities in Calernia, including the Praesi one😏

      Liked by 4 people

  9. superkeaton

    Aw, Scribe, that’s adorable. Hakram remains the top batman for his chosen villain, though. Full props. Also, Cat, when Akua calls you dear heart in code, at least try to look like you aren’t used to it.

    Liked by 7 people

      1. superkeaton

        “Holy hands, Hakman, you’ve lost yours!”

        “Worry not, young Robber. You see, this was simply a trick I picked up in my long studies in the pursuit of justice. While my hand may yet again appear to be missing, it is actually an illusion!”

        Liked by 3 people

  10. It appears the Empress had judged the Liesse Accords to be an existential threat to herself and her continued reign.

    I know we all know this by now, but it feels to me that Malicia has forgotten why she climbed the Tower at all by now.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think she climbed the Tower for the sake of personal power, and all the rest was optimizing for it. She wanted to make Praes more effective because Praes would be hers and she takes care of her things.

      There have been hints of her having more patriotic/altruistic motivations, but they were most likely secondary.

      >Alaya of Satus had been born to the Green Stretch, but her roots were not of the mud. Soninke of no great line was she yet Soninke still, and though some of the ways she kept to had sprung from the shores of the Wasaliti her years in Ater had seen her embrace the Wasteland’s rites. A caged bird in the Dread Empire’s most gilded cage, she had learned the songs of power from the carrion circling the carcass of Nefarious’ reign. With watchful eye and steady hand she’d taught herself to kill without ever baring a blade and to sow ruin with but whisper, the trade and tongue of those born high. Patient and smiling, she had learned the mistakes and the triumphs of those who called themselves her betters, and behind the smile taken the measure of the ailing empire falling apart around her. Like a chirurgeon and a sculptor, her hand had marked the cut. And so Alaya of Satus asserted this: Praes is a game that can be won.

      She wants to win the game. For herself, and maybe also for other people, but primarily for herself.

      >Amadeus of the Green Stretch was the son of corpses now buried, born of a land tread by soldiers under different banners with every season. Duni, he was, his skin the pale shame of old defeats that Praes had deemed filth even in name, and never did he forget it. It was not the Tower’s promises that whispered in his sleep but the footsteps of his youth, the wheel of unending defeats seen from the side with cold eyes. In indignation he had become squire, and so sharp a blade found it that it slew his rivals and knighted him in black. To the banner he’d raised the disgraces of the Wasteland had flocked, be they green of skin and red of hand, Named hunted from above or every sharp mind and soul of steel that knew contempt but no captain. His was a company of the hungry and the lost, sworn to bleed for those unworthy of that blood. And so Amadeus of the Green Stretch asserted this: Praes is a mould that must be broken.

      Unlike Amadeus, who is, in fact, working largely for the benefit of other people.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Daniel E

    My favorite part of this chapter is Cat’s assertion that she is a proper, capital letter Villain in her own right, and warrants the respect that comes with such a title.

    Liked by 2 people

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