Chapter 80: Descant

“My dear High Lords, there is nothing to fear. We might be losing the war against Callow yet there is an obvious remedy to this: this morning, I declared war on Ashur. I will be surrendering unconditionally as soon as they acknowledge this, which ought to take care of our Callowan troubles.”
– Dread Emperor Irritant I, the Oddly Successful

The scent was cloying, heavy against the roof of my mouth before I even stepped into the room.

The incense was the heaviest of the tastes, but there were subtler scents threaded along: sage and cedar, as well as the faint bloom of flowers. The burners from which it all came were spread around the room haphazardly, tended to by chittering gargoyles, and the glow cast by the glass lanterns hanging from the ceiling played shadows along the thick trails of scented smoke rising up. Kairos Theodosian lounged on a seat that was little more than a large bowl of bronze filled with thick red cushions, though as always he’d found a way to have it incrusted with jewels and covered with sculpted bas-reliefs. The Tyrant of Helike greeted me with an indolently raised hand, his brocaded robes of gold and scarlet folded with careful precision so that they would almost hide the length of his arm prone to trembling. Though he’d been thin and sickly for as long as I’d known him, Kairos’ narrow face seemed to have shed the last of its softness: his brown curls hung low on a forehead whose skin looked pulled taut over bone. His good eye, the brown one, moved around lazily as if it could not quite focus on anything. The other one, the red of fresh blood and always wetly shining, almost seemed to have grown. As if the crimson had grown to devour more of the Tyrant’s face as the rest of him pulled back.

“Welcome, friend,” Kairos Theodosian cheerfully greeted me, throwing in an exaggerated wink. “Welcome to my humble shop. You’ll not regret visiting, for our prices are princely and our merchandise most definitely acquired through at least partially legal means. Probably.”

The cheerfulness was nothing new, from this one, but for once it did not entirely succeed at covering something had grown… feverish in the villain. I’d thought more than once that the Tyrant’s position would collapse if he was dealt a grave enough defeat, but now I was wondering if perhaps defeat might not cause in him troubles rather more visceral. My staff rasped against the wooden floorboard as I limped in, and I found a seat awaiting me on my side side of the low table between us. Mine was less a nest of cushions and more along the lines of my favourite seat, the one I’d had creatively acquired from Arcadia. Padded, with heavy armrests. On the low table the sight of a strange game being toyed with caught my eye: three bowls filled with differing numbers of smooth pebbles had been put down, as well as a handful more on the surface of the table itself. Kairos had been moving a few around as I entered. The game did feel vaguely familiar to my eye, though it clearly wasn’t mancala. Not enough seeds or pits for them to be sown in.

“Tired of shatranj?” I asked.

“I grew curious, after reading the treatise,” Kairos mused. “It is a game meant for three, in truth, but trying my hand at the play was interesting regardless. He’s a barren little thing, your Adjutant, but I’ll not deny he is brilliant in his own way.”

Ah, was that were that was from? I’d seen Hakram fiddling with the game once or twice, for it was of his own making, and Robber had once told me the orc had been doing so since before he first came to the War College. I mostly remembered being vaguely irritated that the pot of stones everybody could steal from was called ‘Callow’, accurate as it was to the game’s implicit metaphor.

“Tower-raising, isn’t it?” I frowned. “I didn’t know he’d finished the treatise, much less made it public.”

“It has become rather popular at your royal court, I am told,” the Tyrant said. “And has even come somewhat in fashion as a curiosity in Ater.”

I eased myself into my seat unceremoniously. Amusing as Kairos’ petty schemes could be on occasion, passing amusements hardly made up for the nuisance he was in so many ways. I wouldn’t pick a fight with him without a good reason, of course: so far he’d not aimed his plots at Callow itself, only at my soldiers in Iserre. Yet neither would I forget he’d made bargains with the Dead King and the Bard, in full knowledge of what they might lead to for this continent.

“What do you want, Tyrant?” I asked. “I haven’t got all night.”

“That’s hardly a way to talk to a shopkeeper,” the ruling king of Helike solemnly told me. “I’d be well within my rights to raise my prices for such disrespect.”

I broke the wax over the bottle in my hand and took a sniff at the contents. It did smell like genuine Vale summer wine, to my surprise. A swallow confirmed as much.

“You just called my right hand a barren little thing,” I said. “And likely meant it, given the curse of truth laid on your tongue. I have limited patience for your games, and other business to see to tonight. Speak or I’ll leave and wash my hands of this.”

“You’re free to go, if that is what you truly wish,” the Tyrant shrugged, red eye pulsing.

It might be safer to do so, I thought. With no one to speak to and a continent of close doors facing him, there were not many ways for the Tyrant of Helike to slither his was back into a story that’d keep him from sinking into a swamp of his own making. Speaking with the people of most influence in Salia might do the trick, though, or at least allow him opportunity through talking to cajole the winds of fate back to his sail. From that perspective, the best decision here was to rise and leave without another word. On the other hand, that also left Kairos Theodosian with precious little to lose. Vivienne had warned me he was unlikely to have emptied his quiver quite yet, and it could be argued that villains were often at their most dangerous just before they were defeated. And he’d let slip some of what he was up to, I suspected. Not carelessly but instead carefully, like a fisherman baiting a hook. And to get his foot back in the game the Tyrant would not hesitate to toss me some secrets of worth coming at the expense of his many enemies. Some of which were also mine, as it happened.

I sighed and caught sight of a gargoyle carrying a tray with cups – only one which was empty – and gesture for it to approach. It did and I snatched the empty silver cup before holding it out, reaching into the Night to fashion a tendril of darkness that poured from the bottle into it. More discretely, as my theatrical gesture distracted those in the room, a very thin tendril of darkness crept into the filled cup and stole a single drop before withdrawing. It didn’t look like water, instead like some sort of herbal potion, and though tasting it myself would tell me little I had people in my service who knew much of herbalism and alchemy.

“I’ll buy the wine and the leaf,” I said. “So long as it’s not poisoned, and the price isn’t ridiculous.”

“I never found out how much any of it cost,” Kairos admitted. “A hundred royals?”

That was Helike gold coinage, if I remembered correctly. There were several currencies floating around the Free Cities, and Helike’s was not considered to be one of the more reliable.

“I’ll offer you a whatever’s in my tunic pockets right and now,” I offered instead. “As well as one sentence that is more or less a compliment.”

He leaned forward.

Intriguing,” the Tyrant enthused. “You have a bargain, Catherine Foundling.”

I surrendered the treasures hidden away in my tunic: a handful of half-chewed oats I’d forced Zombie to spit out after catching her indulging, a few pinewood matches and a soiled tablecloth from the palace I’d used to wipe my mail clean earlier.

“Your tunic’s colour matches the cushions, which makes you look significantly less scrawny from a distance,” I added.

“It does, doesn’t it?” Kairos replied, sounding deeply pleased. “That is what I was going for.”

He gestured for one of the gargoyles to waddle forward and handed it my end of the bargain.

“Feed the oats to Hakram,” he instructed.

My brow rose questioningly as the gargoyle whined in protest then scampered away after gathering everything up.

“Hakram is the name of my trusty war steed,” the Tyrant revealed. “It was a most wonderful gift, Catherine, my thanks. I’ve taught her to bully the gargoyles and it has been most diverting.”

Oh Gods, he was talking about the goat wasn’t he? I’d not expected him to actually keep her.

“It was,” I hesitated, then valiantly rallied, “my pleasure?”

He picked up the cup I’d stolen a drop from and sipped from it after dismissing the gargoyle, then leaned back more comfortably into his cushions.

“Would you like to talk about the Dead King?” Kairos Theodosian casually asked.

“Sure,” I replied. “Heard he’s up in Keter. Good manners, maybe a little heavy on the devouring of all living things. Keeps a good table, though.”

“So I’ve heard,” the Tyrant amiably said. “He also intends to send an envoy to the formal talks tomorrow, I’m told.”

My fingers clenched, and I forced them to loosen before taking a sip of wine.

“He intimated as much in Liesse-Before-Twilight,” I said. “Dare I ask where you heard it from?”

“The Dead King,” Kairos smiled. “And his envoy, which he intends to send to the formal talks tomorrow.”

“You’re hosting the Hidden Horror’s diplomats,” I flatly said.

“Diplomat, singular,” the Tyrant corrected. “Tough you are in essence correct. I was prevailed upon to bring the envoy to Salia and introduce them.”

“You must realize that’s twice now you’ve provided aid to Keter,” I grimly said. “Your bridges are not so much burned as turned to smoke.”

“I imagine our friend in Keter would have found a way regardless,” the Tyrant mused, sipping at his cup. “This is hardly a deep collaboration.”

“You’ve repeatedly made pacts with the Dead King, and now serve as facilitator for his diplomacy,” I said. “Kairos, that has consequences. It’s one thing to play princes against each other or to make a red ruin of the League for your schemes. Villainous, true, but it stays within certain boundaries. What’s happening up north, though, is a higher order of war. The consequences of defeat there are… severe is too light a word, really.”

“You seem certain there will be a war,” Kairos said, sounding amused. “As if it were inevitable, written in the stars.”

“At this late hour, it effectively is,” I bluntly said. “There is no offer he can make that will change things. The Grand Alliance will gather and sweep him back into the Crown of the Dead.”

“Or he’ll leave when faced with such an unprecedented coalition,” the Tyrant said. “For he is not an utter fool.”

“Then we reclaim the Kingdom of the Dead without loss of life and begin to siege the Serenity,” I shrugged. “It is not too disadvantageous an outcome.”

“You misunderstand me,” he said. “His armies retreat, and as they do several millennia of the worst rituals Calernia has ever seen are unleashed on the lot of you. And then your shaky alliance, stripped of its common foe, must face the brewing horrors you ignored as your eyes remained fixed on the north.”

“So we should take his peace, should we?” I scathingly said. “Pass the torch to those yet to come and hope they take care of it for us? That’s how we got into this mess in the first place. It’ll be ugly work, closing the door on him, I’ll not deny that. And costly in ways I suspect will resound for generations. But someone will have to pay that price, sooner or later, and it’s cowardice of the worst sort to pass the duty down the line our of petty fear.”

“And it is mere pleasant coincidence,” Kairos mused, “that a great shared cataclysmic war would lay deep foundations for your Accords. Your own Arch-heretic of the North – the King of Death, the peerless Named that suffers the yoke of no laws even in death – crucified over a sea of corpses so that the story of your rules enforced becomes as whisper passed from mother to child across the lands.”

The accusation rang true because he wasn’t entirely wrong. The Liesse Accords being signed and then promptly yielding the end of the Kingdom of the Dead would be the strongest possible mortar to build with. Undeniable proof that even the greatest of monsters could not stand alone against the rest of us when heroes and villains kept to terms. The thought had lurked in the back of my mind for some time now, it was true. On the other hand, unlike what he was implying I was not eager for the horrors that war would bring. Marching on the Crown of the Dead and the creature that ruled it was not something to be lightly considered no matter what advantages it might bring.

“Mock as you will, you offer no other path,” I said. “You never do, Kairos. And still I am a little disappointed, because I figured that no matter how deep in the old madness you went you’d at least grasp the consequences of Keter claiming victory in this.”

“You speak as if the Dead King could truly win,” he said, cocking his head to the side. “As if this confluence was not a carefully arranged affair, a trap laid by subtle hands.”

“I’d be much more willing to listen to hard talk about the Intercessor from you if you’d not make a damned bargain with her yourself,” I harshly said. “Your actions have not matched the distaste you profess.”

“Of those that collaborated with the Bard on that night I am not the one that wounded your side deepest,” Kairos mildly said, “though you know it not.”

“You lie, Tyrant,” I sighed. “Even speaking only truths, you lie. And if you had something that’d cut deep when plainly said you would have spoken it plainly.”

That made it two secrets he’d dangled in front of me now. He’d implied there were disasters brewing elsewhere, earlier, and there were only so many places that could be the case. Ashur was still blockaded by Nicaean fleets, last I heard, and it was possible for it to be turned into a cradle of madness through desperation. Yet I knew Malicia to have schemes afoot, and she stood the more likely culprit: the Tower’s arsenal of horrors had not been unleashed in many years, but it might yet be if she felt there was nothing left to lose. So someone had worked with the Bard on the night that saw Twilight’s birth, then, and I’d been wounded by it. Probably Saint, I decided. It’d explain why the Tyrant had not outright given a name: she was dead by my hand, that account already settled. All he had left was suspicion to sow while speaking exact truths.

“We are pieces in an intricate game, Catherine,” the Tyrant smiled. “One whose board was lain far before either of our births. Did you believe it coincidence, that the Principate would be so weak and isolated? Decades of civil war to bleed it dry, foes on all sides and then even a disastrous campaign to the east before the Dead King had first stirred. There have been but a few times in the history of Procer it has been so weak, and I’d wager none when the greatest heroes of the time were either far past their prime or far short of it.”

“She’s not a god, Kairos,” I said. “And neither is he, despite all his boasting. Even a continent like Calernia has so many moving parts it’s impossible to manipulate it so precisely. They may have seen it coming, helped it along even, but this is not an elegant game of flawless immortals: this is two old monsters riding a tiger and hoping the other one is bucked first. You know they’re not unbeatable. Hells, you handed the Bard a defeat yourself.”

“So I did,” the Tyrant conceded. “Neither is invincible, Catherine, I agree. They are cleverer than that. Yet we approach the crescendo of their hatreds, the unmaking of the knot. And I suspect neither’s lasting victory would be a pleasant ending.”

“Help me, then,” I said. “Help the Grand Alliance. You’ve been gathering everyone’s secrets, Kairos. The Intercessor’s, the Dead King’s and everyone else’s. You could be the finger on the scales.”

“I find it most amusing that your good intentions will haunt this world for centuries to come, if you truly win,” the Tyrant grinned. “Ah, the necessary villain. The hard woman making the hard decisions when trouble has come calling and all others are flinching from what simply must be done. I wonder how many atrocities will be poured out of that mould in years to come simply because you scratched that groove deep enough onto the fabric of Creation.”

I’d gotten about as much out of him as I would, I decided. All he was doing now was spreading the poison of suspicion, and I had no reason to indulge him I continuing to lend an ear.

“Even as we speak,” Kairos idly said, “thousands are dying in agony to the far south.”

“End the blockade of Ashur and the starvation will end with it,” I flatly replied.

“It already has ended,” the Tyrant of Helike smiled, red eye burning like a red star. “Tomorrow, Catherine, the Tower reminds the world it is yet to be feared. Magon Hadast will withdraw the Thalassocracy from the Grand Alliance.”

I frowned.

“She doesn’t have the ships to scatter Nicae,” I said. “Or the calibre of mages to not need the ships.”

“No,” the Tyrant agreed, “what she does have is many men who must drink water from barrels.”

Poison? That seemed unlikely, even if it was one that took an absurdly long time to kill. It was possible to craft poisons that had no taste and would not visibly mar water but making one that also took months to kill – the only way slipping that much poison onto so many ships unnoticed was even remotely feasible – would be massively difficult and expensive. It’d also require the skills of the Empire’s finest alchemists employed in concert, as well as exotic ingredients by the barge. Scribe would have noticed such movements, even if the Jacks were fooled. Kairos reached a shaking hand into his tunic and produced a small glass vial filled with a light gray powder, tossing it to me. I caught it, holding it up to the light. That was an alchemical powder, I’d bet rubies to piglets, but not one I recognized.

“Poison?” I asked.

“In a sense,” Kairos said. “If inclined to poetry, I might call it the stillness of death.”

Oh. Oh. Oh shit. Stillness, water? This was the same horror Akua had used to turn into wights the entire population of Liesse. One of the Warlock’s old doomsday tricks, named Still Water. Mere alchemy, almost impossible to detect as it accumulated in bodies. Until it was triggered by sorcery and slew all it’d contaminated before raising them as undead. If the water barrels on the Nicaean fleet had been tainted, there was no telling how much of it Malicia had instantly turned to her service with a mere snap of the fingers. She can’t have done that before they even struck at Ashur, I thought. No one’s that far-sighted, not even the Empress. Yet if the barrels had been tainted in the months since, that meant…

“That can’t have passed by you,” I said.

“It did not,” Kairos agreed.

“And you didn’t stop it?” I frowned.

“Why,” the Tyrant of Helike grinned, “that would rather defeat the purpose of helping her, wouldn’t it?”

My mind raced. While I was less than surprised Kairos would betray even the League he was currently leading to war, I saw little advantage for him in this. If Ashur was willing to fold and leave the Grand Alliance at Malicia’s behest, it might have done the same at the League’s. This did hurt Nicae, which was arguably still his strongest rival for power within the League, but there would have been less costly ways to achieve that. And in truth a great defeat might shake his own position even if it’d not been dealt to him, as the Hierarch’s violent indifference towards such matters meant Tyrant was effectively setting the policy of the League of Free Cities at the moment. This… didn’t fit, I thought. The Tyrant of Helike might have been a true partisan of Below, but however deeply it was buried there was always a method to his madness. The ripples from this would be a blow to the Grand Alliance but not a crippling one, and a victory for Dread Empress Malicia but hardly a substantial one. And it’d weaken the League going into this peace conference. Kairos might have used all this as a mere vessel to get his hands on the White Knight, but it was unlike him to so utterly spoil one game in favour of another.

“What do you want, Kairos?” I asked, honestly lost.

The odd-eyed boy leaned forward, trembling hand touching the bowls filled with stones he’d not touched this entire conversation.

“I’d like us to play a game, of course,” Kairos Theodosian smiled. “Why else set out the stones?”

140 thoughts on “Chapter 80: Descant

  1. Yeah … Kairos needs to end up dead asap.

    Admittedly, so does Malicia.
    And Bard.

    Malicia’s being stupid again, if what Cat has surmised from Kairos’s statements is accurate.
    Unleashing Still Water on Ashur (or anyone else) doesn’t help her. It just means that people are going to be more willing to take the casualties to put her down for good, even after the inevitable losses against the Dead King, and they’re going to be far less willing to let her leave alive.

    Liked by 16 people

          1. Shveiran

            Yes. But he is not speaking plainly, is he?

            ““It already has ended,” the Tyrant of Helike smiled, red eye burning like a red star. “Tomorrow, Catherine, the Tower reminds the world it is yet to be feared. Magon Hadast will withdraw the Thalassocracy from the Grand Alliance.””

            So Malicia is planning something and Kairos believes it is bound to happen tomorrow. He also believes Ashur will fold the Alliance, though the reason why it’s unclear.

            “No,” the Tyrant agreed, “what she does have is many men who must drink water from barrels.”

            It’s an obvious truth, yet any meaning from it is inferred. Malicia HAS men on ships, both hers and her enemies. Fact. Anything more is still up in the air.

            ““Poison?” I asked.
            “In a sense,” Kairos said. “If inclined to poetry, I might call it the stillness of death.””

            What is he speaking about, here? Cat assumes he is talking about what Malicia put in the barrels, yet there is no certainty. Kairos could very well be talking about the vial itself, who I ahve no doubt does contain Still Water. That doesn’t mean there is more or that the barrels have been compromised.

            ““That can’t have passed by you,” I said.
            “It did not,” Kairos agreed.
            “And you didn’t stop it?” I frowned.
            “Why,” the Tyrant of Helike grinned, “that would rather defeat the purpose of helping her, wouldn’t it?””

            What has not passed by him? perhaps the very fact that there is still water in the vial. True, yet misleading, because that’s not what Catherine is thinking about.
            The last part is an opinion asked, it by definition neither true nor false.

            TL,DR: Kairos has said little and implied a lot, to which the curse does not apply. I believe teh very corrections on the boards were placed there to suggest he is more hindered than he really is – he has been cursed not to lie, NOT to always be exact and clear. After all, does he look like he is talking like Masego? Not to me.
            Bottom line, we can speculate wildly but almost nothing he said is useful in that regard and can’t be taken as fact. Also, Pilgrim’s curse is useless and silly.

            Liked by 15 people

                1. NerfContessa

                  You mean shot.
                  In the head.
                  With the strongest attack spell you have.
                  Thrice at least.

                  So I hate aes. Sedai and their whole superiority shtick, so sue me….


            1. > What has not passed by him?

              Kairos doesn’t need to lie here — he’s fine with some of his own folks being “stilled”. I’ve little doubt he could either reclaim control of, or destroy, the resulting wights.

              Pilgrim’s curse is a handicap, but indeed it’s not a very serious one, given Kairos was long used to wielding truth and half-told truth as daggers. The thing is, Pilgrim simply didn’t have the narrative weight to do better, and that was in large part due to Cat’s repeated dominations.

              Speaking of Pilgrim, his delay in freeing Masego is clearly what Kairos was hinting at, but even Cat and/or Masego finding that out for real wouldn’t change that much! Cat’s already accepted that Pilgrim is hardly more capable than Kairos of being a true ally to her. And Masego has already continued to develop his Name regardless… after all, he has Cat’s repeated example to show that losing a power-base might be a setback, but an entirely survivable one.

              Liked by 7 people

              1. Jago

                I don’t know if he was aware in advance of the consequences, but Pilgrim didn’t simply “delaying in freeing Masego”, he timed doing that with the Bard command, so that all the attempt to free Masego where resolved at the same time. Probably that is the reason why he did lose as much. And he will never see it as doing wrong, as doing that he weakened a Villain.


          2. stevenneiman

            If I was dealing with such a person from any degree of a position of power, I’d attempt to interpret what they were saying and then demand that they confirm or deny my interpretations.


    1. Skaddix

      Are they really seems like Malicia gets to create a triple alliance with Ashur, The Free Cities and Praes…with everyone else busy up North. This Evil Alliance gets free time to do whatever they want. It makes sense for Malicia to break up the Grand Alliance.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Doubt it, since she has just killed thousands of Nicae’s citizens and Ashur caused the destruction of Thalassina (and Wekesa’s death) mere months ago. This move was made to weaken the Grand Alliance, but it doesn’t actually give Malicia any allies. Kairos allowed her plan to succeed because he has his own and wants to make use of Malicia’s actions.

        Liked by 4 people

            1. She’s got the son (and presumably heir) of the leader of Ashur in her pocket, as well some influence with a number of the other second highest tier citizens.
              Plus, per Scribe and Amadeus, Assassin was sent to Ashur. So it’s entirely possible that a number of the obstacles to Malicia’s exertion of influence in Ashur have been … removed from the balance of power.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. Shveiran

                I know she had those plans in motion, but they were initiated to ensure Ashur didn’t enter the Alliance and the following Crusade.
                At the time, they were sensible.
                Now Praes is the public ally of the Dead King, who is attempting to gobble up the continent, and Malicia is twisting Ashur’s arm with an undead blockade that OBVIOUSLY has no intention to continue as its living predecessor because OBVIOUSLY Ashur will fall in line.
                The situation has changed significantly, hasn’t it? I really don’t see how her previous plans for the Thalassocracy may still be relevant; she spent decades trying to build a bridge with them, but now that ship has been sunk by her latest action. Any leverage she has on the heir isn’t going to hold water: she’ll need an heavy hand, at least threatened, and that means the moment Ashur can flip that alliance it will.

                Liked by 3 people

              2. hakureireimu

                Ashur not waging war against Praes is very far from them allying with Praes. Having a few leaders in Malicia’s pocket isn’t enough to get the populace on-board with dying for Praes.

                Liked by 2 people

    2. NerfGlaistigUaine

      Malicia is dead or soon-to-be-dead. She knows this – she has become an obstacle and a threat to every major power in the west. This was inevitable after Second Liesse failed. She cannot make alliance with her enemies as the bridges there are long burned and the odds of her prevailing against them all are paper thin. If what she sought was exile further offense would be a bad move, but Malicia plays to win, not to run with tail tucked. Therefore, she must seek a way to make her death too costly for her enemies to seek or to break apart their alliance in a way that none of the members can or will pursue her demise. Still Waters, either as hostage or blow, would be a nice first step.

      Malicia is rarely stupid. Her moves at Second Liesse, assassinating Callow’s higher ups, the attack on Salia, all make sense from a political perspective. Crippling your enemies by busting their kneecaps while holding a knife to their throats is sound strategy. However, Malicia has blinders when it comes to the story b/c that’s always been Black’s role. She missed the narrative knife at Liesse and misread Black which led to this entire debacle. Everything after though – everyone wants her dead. She’s done a remarkable job of hindering that outcome with the limited tools she has at hand, but its all coming crashing down now. She’s lost the goblins, the Calamities, the orcs, a significant chunk of her political power base, and most of the legions. Still Waters and whatever cards she has hidden will, I predict, be her last attempts to break apart the Grand Alliance. Sink or swim.

      Liked by 14 people

    3. Pokekid01

      I’m pretty sure Stillwater is being used on Nicae, not Ashur. With the blockade suddenly under Praesi undead control instead of Nicean, Malicia can force terms on Ashur by offering to withdraw the blockade, and threatening to invade Ashur with ground troops.

      What will probably happen instead is the Dead King intervenes, because summoning an army of undead whilst at war with the greatest necromancer to ever have lived on Calernia is a Very Bad Idea™.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Yeah, I wonder if those undead from Nicae will end up as soldiers for the Dead King instead of under Malicia’s control. That would give him a new front for the war all of a sudden.

        Though maybe his contract with Malicia forbids him from doing so.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. Malicia: “Don’t be ridiculous, the Dead King is on the other side of the continent. There’s no way his agents could even reach Nice!”
        Amadeus: _facepalm_
        Malicia: “What?”
        _undead sea serpent roars offscreen_

        Liked by 1 person

    4. stevenneiman

      Mhm. Her problem is that she’s gotten so used to playing with the High Lords in the 40 years of peace she bought with the Conquest and Pravus gold, and of internal stability that Black and Assassin worked hard to maintain for her, that she doesn’t understand that she’s playing different games altogether facing the outside world. She first revealed that when she went over her story guy’s head to do something because she knew he would recognize it as a stupid decision, and it’s only continued. Now she’s forgetting that people who aren’t High Lords hold grudges for mass murder because they actually care about things other than their own power. I think she might have sunk too deep into her Role and become convinced that she can always outwit everyone. And also forgotten that she’s supposed to be doing things for reasons.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. Shveiran

        She is getting, at best, a piece of paper signed by Ashur that will be enforced by an undead fleet.

        That’s not an alliance, really, it is a subjugation; Malicia may try to bind Ashur’s fate to her own to remove the incentive to backstab her, but she has so little time and options I’m ratehr convinced she won’t be able to prevent having crucial points of failure to throw heroes at.

        Liked by 3 people

    5. And she lets the world know she can unleash wights on any city without a 100% secure water supply. It’s no at-will Greater Breach, but it’s still enough of a superweapon that I can see Malicia trying to use it as a deterrent.
      How well building a Death Star will help you, especially since Darth Vader is MIA and unable to kill Han and Luke, is…unclear at best seems like a nice way to put it.


    6. NerfContessa

      Agreed, 3ven the threat of it is, again, same old doomsday weapons.

      She should have known better… But then again, she is stripped for. Choices short of surrendering.
      And allied with the dead. King.

      Ah, that’s gonna be a pain.


    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      Yes, interactions with this little monster should be reduce to the bare minimum. He can’t convince you of going along with his plans if you cannot hear him.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Never Let The Bard Talk.

        That said, Catherine’s a bard in her own right, and can hold her own. She might not gain much from this, but she’s not losing much either. She’s not Amadeus “please don’t make me intrigue I’m already cross-eyed from just the thought of it”.

        Liked by 4 people

  2. Some Smartass

    This is in keeping with my theory that Kairos is dependent on the favor of Below to escape the symptoms of his illness.

    And he has an interesting point that Cat may have created a hard women making hard decisions Role. Obviously an attempt to shake her, but it makes sense.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Oshi

      As Cat said its nothing she doesn’t know. He’s playing for time and then like any good knife fighter showing his blade only when he needs to. Notice how much more circumspect he is in speech? The curse hit deeper then expected.

      Liked by 7 people

    2. Agent J

      I call bullshit. “Hard Woman, Hard Decisions” is literally tattooed on Saint’s back. Might be there’s a Catherine-shaped groove in Creation now, but what of it? What’s the alternative? Stay in the tavern and never make waves for fear of the ripples?

      Liked by 11 people

      1. NerfGlaistigUaine

        It’s watching out for what types of ripples you make. You can’t just dodge responsibility b/c it’s unfair, villains deal in realities my friend. A Catherine-shaped groove could be quite catastrophic. She’s hoping that the Liesse Accords outweigh that, or that one iteration won’t have enough weight to carve such a mold, or she’s got countermeasures for that. But one can’t deny that this sort of hard decision-making may create or reinforce a dangerous pattern.

        Liked by 4 people

            1. hakureireimu

              She’s mostly a hero wearing the mantle of a Villain, and emerged only after Heroes utterly failed for 2 decades. If more people followed her footsteps that’s only a good thing.

              Liked by 2 people

    3. caoimhinh

      Catherine has left a crevasse in the workings of Fate, sure, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be as Kairos described.
      After all, we have already seen another young Callowan woman with an orc right-hand assistant achieving fast military success in the defense of her motherland: General Abigail of Summerholm.
      And she is someone who takes unorthodox choices, but not necessarily the hard measures that Kairos implied.

      Liked by 10 people

    4. The thing is, Calernia has suffered pretty damn badly from the lack of this Role so far.

      Imagine if Good nations were willing to recognize the possibility of a villain working for the greater good.

      Imagine if William saw in Catherine a potential anti-heroic ally back in their first meeting.

      Imagine if Tariq understood what Catherine is not as “a curse brought onto Good by their own failings” but “someone whose decisions are as bad as the situation but no worse”.

      Imagine if Good nations had been willing to collaborate with the saner Dread Emperors on grain trade with Praes, Evil or not.

      Oh, it will birth atrocities, I don’t doubt it. They’ll be smaller ones than the catastrophes they’ll be averting, though.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. ThatOneGuy

        Actually they shall make worse ones for remember this is not our world, but one of a grand game between above and below. the role of the game is to see which side wins and if the pieces do not hold up the banners… Then they shall be discarded and destroyed so that a new more refined game could be made.

        We already know this world is not the first made for the game and this world shall not be the last.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I feel like you are making Black’s mistake here, treating Evil/Good as just jersey’s that teams wear so you can tell who is winning.

        The story makes it pretty clear that they aren’t. They herald value differences.

        If Good nations believed villains worked for a greater good they’d be deluding themselves. We’ve seen like twenty in the story and none of them do anything like that.

        If William told himself that Cat was a potential ally he would be lying to himself. She deliberately caused a Callowan revolution that was doomed to failure so that she could rise in the Praesi ranks by crushing it. He was never a potential ally to her, just a stepping stone. She used him up.

        If Tariq understood Catherine as anything other than a maniac he’d have erred radically. She is inspired to frothing rage at the thought of the Liesse massacre, but turned around and petitioned the Dead King to attack Procer, an event which would have killed many times Liesse’s body count. She hates slavers but enslaves her enemies. She hates nobles but made herself a Queen. She carries a flag explaining that having reasons for doing things is for idiots. There is nothing there to depend on, nothing to bargain with.

        If Good nations had been willing to collaborate with Dread Emperors they’d have been betrayed, as they no doubt were. Like, these are the clowns who brag about what great traitors they are. They have waged wars of aggression with Callow like a dozen times.

        I’m not trying to scoff at the possibility of a ‘hard man/hard choices’ kind of role, like dude was saying upthread, Saint’s ya gal, but Good and Evil in this setting aren’t just flavor text, they describe entirely different cultures. That role would be a hero’s. Villains don’t care about anyone but themselves, so no choice is ‘hard’ for them. Tyrant didn’t make a ‘hard choice’ when he let Malicia slaughter the leagues fleet with Still Water, it was a piece of cake. He thought it was hilarious. Cat didn’t make a ‘hard choice’ when she stole the Drow city’s water, there were precisely zero paragraphs of hand wringing or moral qualms.

        Like, I’m not trying to say that the Good nations are modern progressive democracy fully luxury gay space communism or whatever. They aren’t ‘good’ by our standards, but they are recognizably within the broader scope of ‘human communities/polities’. You can kind of grok their deals if you squint. You can tell yourself that over generations they will figure their stuff out and be less evil, cue White Knight’s musings about slavery.

        The Evil ones…just aren’t. The Drow society is psychotic insanity. The Stygians are slavers. The Praesi are murderers and proud of it. The Goblins are wicked beyond anything humans can aspire to.

        If you pick a random Proceran out of the herd they probably work in a tavern or whatever. If you do the same for the Goblins they are a knife murderer who dabbles in arson.

        Calernia doesn’t need a balance between good and evil, it needs good to win. A ‘Catherine Shaped’ role would be terrible for Calernia, more lakomancy and burning cities, souls bound to cloaks and people crucified by roadsides.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Shveiran

          –> Calernia doesn’t need a balance between good and evil, it needs good to win. A ‘Catherine Shaped’ role would be terrible for Calernia, more lakomancy and burning cities, souls bound to cloaks and people crucified by roadsides.

          Let’s have none of that and stick with Heroes.
          It’s not like they do their best to murder their enemies as well, is it? After all, joining an invading army and murdering people to the best of your Named ability is inherently better than dropping a lake on an army, isn’t it? It’s different, not just a difference in capacity.
          Heroes also don’t deal in horrid demons and devils, they only call on choirs to brainwash people against their will; that is totally cool.
          Heroes are kind souls that craft plagues to eradicate their enemies at the cost of their allies’ citizens because it makes strategic sense, in a “lesser evil” kind of way, which is still leagues better than crucifying mages that do human sacrifice.

          Yes. Villains are bad and Heroes are good, because that’s what this story has always been about. You know what Calernia should do? Keep warring between Good and Evil.
          After all, it’s not like that conflict has caused most of the destruction on the continent since living memory. And hey, just because no side has been able to win in a few thousands years, well, there is no reason to believe it will solve soon, right?
          And after all, if it does end, SURELY Good will win, right? There is no way Good will actually lose and Calernia will be stuck with only Evil because compromise was refused as a possible outcome. It will work out fine.

          After all, compromise is bad.
          You should hate all that have wronged you, and inherit your ancestors’ grudges as well. After all, they wouldn’t have started beefing with people without a good reason, right? We should keep them going indefinitely.
          We are all so much better off teaching our kids to swing swords than trying to build a future where they have a chance to not go to war.

          Liked by 2 people

        1. Big Brother

          I didn’t want the typo thread on my comment.
          1. That’s notes clogging my phone
          2. I don’t like people pointing out my typos, so I’m not gonna do that to someone else. Seems hypocritical.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. copaceticcockroach

        The Dead King had us cornered. To simply put it the bastard had too many Revenants. Couldn’t Ranger wipe more of them out while she was here?

        Pushing hard on my staff, I stood back up.

        “Hakram,” I said, “I’m out of insults, have anymore of them in your pocket?”

        “If I did, they’re burnt as Summerholm’s streets,” Hakram replied.

        I glanced over my shoulder, Hakram had took a hit from a dead mage and whatever that mage did, it burnt through Hakram’s plate like paper.

        “Why Summerholm exactly? It has nothing to do with getting burnt.” I said.

        “Just having flashbacks when you burnt it down with goblinfire. You know watch your life flash in front of you before you die kind of flashback.”

        I had walked into that, didn’t I?

        “Weeping Heavens, keep this up and I’ll side with the Dead King over there, because I’m sure he doesn’t get any backlash from his lackeys.” I retorted.

        “Is this how you’ll go out Priestess of the Night, barely able to stand and throwing jests at the bringer of your death?” the Dead King said.

        “Today, no one is going out, unless they’re going out with me.”

        Everyone wheeled around to see the new voice. I didn’t have to, I knew the person from his childish voice, Tyrant. But, like everyone, I couldn’t believe he actually came, I needed to see if it was actually real. Not like seeing Tyrant would improve the credibility of him being real. It wouldn’t be above him to just send a glamour.

        “Cower you abomination, cower before the hero and his trusty stead,” he said, “I have come to liberate this land and stop the evil that resides in it.”

        The level of smugness in his voice was just painful. I clenched and unclenched my fist. This was going to end badly, couldn’t a villain trying to do good have an easy day?

        “Onward Hakram! We have a king to take down!” Tyrant shouted.

        I rubbed the bridge of my nose. I was certain that if I didn’t flip Hashallim off I wouldn’t have to see an ass riding an ass charge one of the strongest beings in Calernia.

        Liked by 10 people

  3. edrey

    that game is amazing but it’s mean for three, so where is assassin? just make all go to hell, killing their leadership would do the trick
    Cat should talk with that diplomat, telling him something like: the DK should go to the south, nice weather, the sea and without the noisy neighbors

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Sparsebeard

    Well, well, well. It seems the DK is in fact sending an envoy to the accords talks.

    And like often, the chapter adresses many of the arguments made in the last chapters comments lol.

    Personally, I’m much more inclined to let the DK sign, but extract a huge price for the concession… but dawn what Cat said about Villains being more dangerous just before defeat does seem to apply to Malicia more than to Kairos right now.

    For the good points, at least Cat’s stash of wakeleaf is replenish so she’ll be able to blow it in people’s face for dramatic purposes in the nearby future. Because let’s be honest the wine and the wakeleaf are probably the main reason she decided to go in… despite any justification to the contrary lol.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. > Personally, I’m much more inclined to let the DK sign, but extract a huge price for the concession…

      Don’t forget that Catherine still needs to make this look appealing to the Good nations. Pragmatism only brings you so far in the court of public opinion =x

      Liked by 2 people

      1. This. There’s pretty much exactly one place on the continent where you can feasibly settle the drow without either subjugating or exterminating the native population (both of which are Not An Option), and that place is Keter/Sephirah. The Dead King isn’t going to hand over the literal center of his power (because that’s less a concession than an unconditional surrender), which means as far as Catherine/the drow are concerned peace with Keter is a nonstarter on that basis alone. And there are many, many other bases for why that’s the case.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Shikkarasu

      The following is a fan interpretation (mine) of the description in Interlude: Giuoco Pianissimo.

      Three players take turns selecting covered bowls. One contains 6 stones, one contains 8, and one contains 10. Players should not be aware of how many stones are in the other players’ bowls.

      A fourth bowl is set in the middle of the play area containing 12 stones. It is called ‘Callow’

      Players take turns (clockwise, starting at an arbitrary point) declaring one of the following actions:

      •Steal a stone. The player may target another player or Callow. At least one other player must agree to this theft, otherwise no stones change hands. If the last stone is taken from a player they have lost. To ensure honesty a player may be required to show two stones and hand over one of them when Stolen from.
      •Offer a stone. The player may Offer a stone to another player with terms, such as the other player agreeing not to Steal from the giver for a set number of turns, or to not to permit the third player to Steal from Callow. Any Offer may be made, and one counteroffer proposed by the potential recipient. If a player attempts to break the Terms of a deal they forfeit their turn if/when caught. If the counteroffer is declined, or the initial offer outright refused, no stones change piles. (This is to ensure that the game does not devolve into an hour-long haggling session.)
      •Destroy a Stone. The player may remove one of their Stones from the game. No other player need approve.
      •Pass. The Player may decline to act on their turn.

      When a player has twenty stones, they have ‘raised their Tower’ and are the winner.

      All of this is probably unnecessary, as the full rules may well be explained on Friday and contradict what I have, but I couldn’t resist.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. NerfGlaistigUaine

        I appreciate it. Or at least I will once I read through it all. Always cool to see fellow fans so invested too and it’d be hypocritical if I criticized long asides

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Shikkarasu

          It’s not clear that this was kept in the final version, since Aisha once played a long game until everyone was too drunk to remember how many stones the others had. I get the feeling that the rule about everyone losing on turn 30 was played with and then discarded. This was also before the 4th version of the game where the totals were secret and one person has only 6 stones.

          That said, this is just my best guess on the final version of the rules. As always I look forward to being proven wrong.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I just reread the chapter, and the last game Hakram played before meeting Cat was in fact an everybody-lost game. So the time limit is clearly still there. (And it’s clearly needed to force the players to actually make progress instead of just stalemating indefinitely.)

            Liked by 1 person

  5. superkeaton

    I figured Akua’s Kool-aid would come back up at some point or another. Nice to see I was right, just wasn’t sure when. I’m also surprised that Cat forgot Hakram’s game, even if it was ages ago. Funny that people play a civilized game made by an orc and a goblin.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Catherine has never played Hakram’s game onscreen, it was brought up in one of the chapters while she was in Everdark.

      Also, Ratface is the one who made the most important contribution to the rules. Robber was one of the people he called ‘too honest’, offending him gravely.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. Zoe

    Worth noting that at no point did Kairos come right out and SAY that the water was tainted or that Malicious was going to use the Still Water protocol. He can’t lie, but he can sure as hell make vague insinuations and let other people jump to conclusions about what he means…

    Liked by 5 people

  7. caoimhinh

    When Kairos first hinted about Still Water, I thought Malicia had poisoned the Praesi refugees near Callow or High Lady Abreha’s troops, thus giving more troops for the Dead King, but on a completely different front.
    That would certainly be a huge and unexpected blow, even forcing Catherine to move her troops East instead of North. Certainly didn’t expect it to be targetted to Nicae. Considering Ashur’s fleet caused the destruction of Thalassina, I didn’t think Malicia would do them favors simply to make them withdraw from the Grand Alliance.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Eh, I’m pretty sure that the son (and presumed heir) of the highest tier citizen of Ashur is in Malicia’s pocket, and she’s got influence with others of the second highest tier.
      And Assassin was in Ashur per Scribe and Amadeus, so it’s within the realm of possibility that some of those she doesn’t have influence/control over are dead now, and no longer an obstacle.

      Liked by 6 people

          1. Agent J

            Of course she will. It’s Cat, she fully intends on indulging her minor vices. Besides, it’d be monumentally stupid of Kairos to pull something like that. Attempting to assassinate a foreign ruler is, to say nothing else, a break in truce and all the excuse Catherine needs to murder him in cold blood.

            And that’s all it would be. An attempt. Because, between her cadre of Legion mages and Callowan priests, Hierophant, Akua M.F. Sahelian, and the literal gods on her shoulders, there’s no way such a plain faced attack would ever work.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. > Besides, it’d be monumentally stupid of Kairos to pull something like that. Attempting to assassinate a foreign ruler is, to say nothing else, a break in truce

              1) He’s the Dead King’s envoy. You can’t just murder a foreign diplomat like that because they have diplomatic immunity. Hierarch might not like it.

              2) I would be completely shocked if Tyrant were to betray anyone. Shocked I say! Shocked! 😉

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Agent J

                1) Not confirmed and irrelevant besides. No one Cat wants to work with would weep for a dead Kairos or a slain envoy of the Dead King. And by this point Cat’s established enough with the Good Nations that it would do nothing to hinder her rations with them.

                2) Betray and survive to betray again. Even after everything that happened at the Princes’ Graveyard, Kairos tried slink off quietly under glamour. This proposed scheme would be laughably ineffectual and give easy pretext to murdering him.

                It’s stupid, but not Kairos Stupid.

                Liked by 3 people

  8. ruduen

    Oddly enough, I’m not sure if Still Water is liable to work again in Malicia’s hands. It’s the nature of that type of trump card/superweapon – it works once for a villain upon the initial reveal, but when it’s being held over someone’s head afterwards, it’s just asking for a heroic counter. Since it was already used in the pass and caused major harm, I can’t see it going unchecked here.

    At the moment, I’m more worried about the other cards that Malicia has in play (Book 3, Chapter 49). She mentioned four, and two of them are gone with Warlock. However, she’s had a lot of time without Amadeus’s restraint or story-based insight, meaning I wouldn’t be sure that the other two possibilities haven’t had additional research by now.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. 1) It was not Malicia who used it first, and it worked very much against her and she did not expect that use.

      2) She’s not holding it over anyone’s head, she’s using it to break the Nicean siege – or rather gain control over it to force Ashur into her terms.

      Liked by 3 people

  9. crescentsickle

    Called it. The real issue everyone has had with Cat is that her existence will echo and ripple for years to come because she has engraved herself on the narrative engine that runs the world via her actions and their consequences.

    From the chapter:
    “I find it most amusing that your good intentions will haunt this world for centuries to come, if you truly win,” the Tyrant grinned. “Ah, the necessary villain. The hard woman making the hard decisions when trouble has come calling and all others are flinching from what simply must be done. I wonder how many atrocities will be poured out of that mould in years to come simply because you scratched that groove deep enough onto the fabric of Creation.”

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Shveiran

      Adding that if that’s what people got worried about, they are full of BS. The only reason why Akua, Malicia and Black, Cordelia, and Adjutant and Hierophant are not making as deep a grove is because Cat is being more successful and bombastic than them; and she has not always been, while this pattern is an old one.
      And that is assuming that previous incarnations of most of the heroic bigwigs are close to their current ones, which is possible yet not certain.

      Liked by 4 people

    1. Shveiran

      What Liliet says.
      Only a moron would take at level face what Kairos says in a crucial moment, because he is amalicious fucker that is onviously trying to twist the truth to pull one on you. What you do is put it in a box, carry on until a later date, and then TALK about it with the fellow involved, becaus eanything else is playing into his hands.
      Seriously, if she does anything less I’ll be so very disappointed.

      Liked by 4 people

  10. This sounds like what Malicia was *really* offering the Dead King. Not just being allowed out, but a new army raised at his opponent’s back.

    It’s really unfortunate that Cat hasn’t been able to guess that the pilgrim, at the behest of the intecessor was the reason Masego lost his magic, but given it’s a pretty big leap we can’t be surprised. Pretty sure Kairos’ plans still aren’t revealed enough that we can really predict what’s being plotted next.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. SpeckofStardust

    “Of those that collaborated with the Bard on that night I am not the one that wounded your side deepest,” Kairos mildly said, “though you know it not.”

    Kairos just because the Dead King was brought out by bard and told to eat the baby doesn’t mean he doesn’t count as a possible answer for that.

    Like that sentence if it read like say this….
    “Of those that collaborated with the Bard – on that night I am not the one that wounded your side deepest,” Kairos mildly said, “though you know it not.”
    After all Cat doesn’t know that the Bard has collaborated with the Dead King before. And he did kinda do the most damage out of everyone.
    Also nothing of value was gained with this talk and Cat has been convinced that she will need to take steps in order to get everyone to fight the dead king.
    Unless of course a third part gets brought into the talk for the game I don’t think anything useful will come of it.
    After all the game is meant to be played with at least 3, and he does want to play it.

    Liked by 5 people

  12. grzecho2222

    “Catherine Foundling had given the slip to every story that could bind her to an ending, and so left herself only one path: reign eternal, consumed and consuming, a herald of long prices and hard measures having made mantle of the woes of Creation.”

    Liked by 3 people

  13. burguulkodar

    I love the Tyrant.

    Also, very unexpected moves happening! This story always takes some very interesting turns.

    Also, I do wonder why the DK would simply try and face this great alliance when he knows he would lose. And the other option is not just retreat into Serenity, but to strike at the alliance at other angles (Ashur) and with the help of his – very quiet so far – ally, Malicia.

    Good moves! Also we don’t know what bard’s endgame and DK’s counter-game are.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Enough on the awesomeness of this chapter and lawyering Kairos’s words, can we return to the beginning? Does anyone get why Irritant would win by surrendering unconditionally? Knowing him it won’t be a serious political thing, it will be Story-bound. But I don’t see how one would turn around a war by losing another war.

    I don’t think it’s the pattern of three, that wouldn’t apply to Callow if it happens to another country or that he would trigger it at all if he plans to lose the first time around for that guaranteed victory third match.

    And finite doom or being beaten shouldn’t affect the war on Callow, he cannot be a cornered monster or a thought beaten Villain suddenly turning things around, when he does something like this. There’s no actual Villain twist, plan or Story in it that I can see turning Creation against Callow’s invasion. Anything that it could do, would require Ashur to mobilise and send in troops themselves, or do serious political bickering with Callow. Which are again, real politics rather than the Story that Irritant would be quoted for.

    I don’t get it. Does anyone else care to illuminate me?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absent full political/historical context it’s difficult to say with any certainty. But to give it the old college try, my impression is that it’s less about “how one would turn around a war by losing another war” and more about escaping the consequences of losing a war; i.e., he isn’t trying to turn the war around and start winning against Callow, he’s trying to make it so Callow can’t extract any meaningful/tangible gains from the fact that it’s winning.

      As for how that would work, I think the idea is to end the disadvantageous state of being in a losing war without having to surrender to your winning opponent (and directly adjacent nation) who is in a position to actually extract significant concessions. With regards to the story-fu factor that typically goes into Irritant’s oddly successful ploys, I would assume it has something to do with “successfully turning back an invading army (bc let’s be real, how else do Praesi wars with Callow ever start) and then bringing the hurt to them on their own turf” being a meaningfully different and much more advantageous story than “continuing to make war on an enemy who has technically surrendered already”.

      If he surrendered to Callow in order to achieve the desired “technically surrendered already” condition they would have legitimately had grounds to refuse to accept his surrender unless it came with hefty concessions (reparations for war damages/expenses, etc.). If he surrenders to Ashur, even unconditionally, pretty much the max they can reasonably go for is some trade concessions, which incidentally would also help serve as a guarantee that trade with Ashur won’t stop.

      So tl;dr is that it’s a weird ploy, but one that in the Guideverse especially is likely to be oddly successful. Classic Irritant.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I assumed something similar, but it sounded too much like a real political move. Nothing bound in cliches that we’ve already seen in stories from the real world, like ‘You cannot possible defeat all of us’ strenghtening a Hero.

        If it would be a second army actually joining the Callowans with actual soldiers, like Procer showing up and turning a well-earned victory for Callow into certain defeat for Praes, I can see Irritant declaring the disaster averted. The moment Procer would do that, they’re inviting Praes’s next ritual to be a complete and un-Hero-interrupted success that turns around the war. Or for the story that props up Callow’s victory to be broken and evening the playing field.

        But this seems like much too shallow a Story prompt to use, because it contains literally nothing. As Black has shown and Cat has said before, Stories aren’t completely unbeatable. A powerful enough Villain can still best a Hero with brute force even when the Story says otherwise, too many or untethered Story threads are snapped easily, and a Story doesn’t excuse stupidity or mistakes made. And this move by Irritant is too shallow to even sway a single sword swing, as it’s neither reactionary nor with Ashur being actually involved in the war if they’d be surrendered to immediately after finding out war was declared.

        It’s just weird, I expected that I was overlooking some real-life story cliche.


    2. I think, since Ashur wouldn’t be in a position to hold major claims in the long term, they’d be more inclined to make claims they know the Praesi want to give like “5 years of ownership of all Praesi lands up to 20 miles from the Callowan border”. And then, Callow would be unable to move troops through there without first signing treaties with Ashur.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I have been thinking that the Tyrant is the envoy. But what if they got someone truly incredible to be the envoy, someone who would be wants more than anything else to see things settled lawfully?

    What if the envoy is the White Knight?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting thought, we’ve never really seen her exert her Name, but I’ve always sort of understood it to be supremely Intrigue/Charm focused. She might be at her absolute best in an environment like these talks, wheeling/dealing with supernatural skill.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Shveiran

        … And she would survive to open her mouth how?

        If England and the US were negotiating during WW2, and Hitler showed up to say its piece, do you think he would have gotten away with it?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes. Remember, the full scope of his Final Solution didn’t become clear until fairly late… for most of the war, Hitler was just another enemy head-of-state… who had considerable support among the American populace. Bluntly, America, was ready to sit out the war, right up until we were attacked directly! If the Japanese had been able to hold their water, we might well have stood by until the conquest of Europe was a done deal.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Abrakadabra

            Well the japanese were baited to attack for exactly that reason. That is the only explanation if we look at the diplomatic talks before the attack.


    1. Andrew Mitchell

      Oooo, good question.

      Maybe the Dead King’s envoy? It could still work even if the envoy is a shard of the Dead King that’s inside Tyrant. You know, one of those multiple personalities due to possession situations.


  16. gnaruscat

    I’m honestly not sure which dread emperor I love more, Irritant or Traitorous. I think that I’d read a spinoff based solely on either of them.


    1. gnaruscat

      Oh, and Kairos is sneaky. Teaching Cat a lesson on how to win a 3way battle so obviously (if you defeat either the Bard or DK, the other one will defeat you. So you play them off against each other), she completely missed the sneaky misleading truths and implications he fed her.


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