Chapter 83: A Mould Unbroken

“Diplomacy is half lies and half courtesies, which is to say it is entirely lies.”
– King Alistair Fairfax, the Fox

The Tyrant of Helike had seemingly decided to strike with his surprises hard and early, which I could appreciate. It’d save us time, since admittedly anything discussed before ‘surprise, the Dead King is here!’ was likely to fall by the wayside. I’d half-expected him to wait until we were halfway through a particularly complex discussion before dropping that into our laps, actually, since Kairos Theodosian was rarely one to avoid heaping insults upon injury. Murmurs spread through the room at the Tyrant daring to speak so boldly in the wake of the First Prince, though I’d seen to it that the people that mattered would already be in the know.

“Shut your cripple mouth and sit down, boy,” Lady Itima of Vaccei snarled out. “It’s a fucking outrage you even have a seat in this hall.”

Hasenbach had implied to me that while Itima of the Brigand’s Blood was – rather ironically, given the legendary hatred of her line for foreigners in general and Procerans in particular – her steadiest ally among the Blood she was also very much out to get the Tyrant’s head on a plate for his actions during the adventure that birthed the Twilight Ways, as well as a handful of prior betrayals. The redeeming aspect of that was that unlike most Levantines the Lady of Vaccei was not insistent on having that head taken on a battlefield or by honour duel. A knife in the dark or poison in the cup would do just as well, for the Vengeful Brigand’s brutal pragmatism in aging war against the Proceran occupation had trickled down to his descendants.

“The Dominion of Levant objects to this departure from the agreed-upon order of affairs,” Lord Yannu Marave calmly translated in more polite terms.

“Look at the other two Blood,” Vivienne murmured.

I followed her own gaze and found the faces of my old buddy Razin and Lady Aquiline utterly calm. I knew precious little about Aquiline Osena, but I’d watched Razin Tanja come apart at the seams in the shadow of Sarcella. I liked to think I had a good grasp on the man, and he was not all that skilled a liar or dissembler – if anything he a rawness to him I found almost refreshing compared to the practiced masks of near every other aristocrat I knew. He would have been embarrassed by Lady Itima’s outburst, if it had come as a surprise to him. Which meant it wasn’t. I let out a small noise of approval at Vivs for that, I might not have caught if not for her sharp gaze. She was getting to be a fair hand at these games, which boded well for the years to come.

Itima Ifriqui’s flare of temper had been planned, it seemed, though I could only wonder as to why. Reinforcing the knowledge that Kairos was hated abroad to the rest of the League? It might even be a simple matter of herding him towards a particular response, though that would mean the true hand behind this was the First Prince. This was her preferred battlefield, not mine.

“Friends, allies, companions,” the Tyrant of Helike enthusiastically said. “How could I dare to defy such ironclad law as the order of affairs? No, I speak now so that an oversight might be corrected.”

“Get on with it, Tyrant,” I called out. “There’s only so long of you orating at your own navel I’m willing to suffer.”

Catherine,” the odd-eyed villain cried, sending me a wounded look.

From the corner of my eye I saw Princess Rozala’s lips twitch in suppressed amusement. It would have been impolitic to wink, I supposed, and besides I had a policy.

“And what oversight might that be, Lord Tyrant?” Cordelia Hasenbach calmly asked.

“Why, there are yet delegates to arrive and be seated,” Kairos Theodosian grinned.

The First Prince of Procer elegantly extended her arm, palm up, and a dark-haired attendant offered her a small ceremonial baton of sculpted alder. Though carved from one piece, it’d been made to look like it was a bundle of small twigs tied together by a string. One twig for each principality, symbolizing that each twig alone was fragile but the bundle was stronger than the sum of its parts.  It’d been a common imagery in Procer until the Liturgical Wars, during which it fell out of favour, and had been around long enough for a few verses back home to have been written about it. Even as Cordelia Hasenbach knocked the baton against the surface of her table I hummed the tune to Two Dozen Snakes A Knot Do Make, Vivienne at my side going rigid to avoid showing reaction.

“And though Billy King did step on them,” Black quietly hummed, lips twitching, “they hardly even-”

Of course Black would know the words, I amusedly thought. He’d ruled Callow for twenty years and unless he’d done so without ever setting foot in a tavern he probably knew most the old songs.

“-noooooticed,” I could not help but finish, swallowing a grin.

Vivienne had joined her voice to the sound as well, though discreetly. Even in a Legion haunt like the Rat’s Nest they’d sung that regularly, legionaries being rather fond of the imagery of anyone stepping hard on the proverbial knot of snakes west of the Whitecaps.

“Your people do have a singular talent for putting mockery to a tune,” the Carrion Lord fondly said.

Our shared mirth had not gone unnoticed by the rest of the hall, a few other delegates eyeing us curiously. It was rather pitiful that between three former Named not a single one of us could properly hold a tune but aside from that I claimed no regrets. Yet Black’s uncharacteristic levity, I suspected, might just be the result of seeking diversions to distract frim his worries about a matter I’d warned him of. While we whispered in our corner the First Prince had begun out first gambit of the day. At the knocking of the baton the attendants were set abuzz like a swarm of bees, the gates to the back of the League delegations’ left and right opening. Down both avenues a small but beautiful desk was carried, and behind the desks a single seat each. Kairos’s good eye narrowed for the fraction of a moment as he took in the second desk before his face eased into a delighted smile. It’d stayed long enough for me to catch his surprise, though.

Come now, Kairos, I thought. You might as well have told me outright. I know how Malicia works, there’s no way she’d ever trust one of her lords to negotiate with the likes of you. Even if they were not treacherous and courting you support to overthrow her, they’d be always a step behind you in any talks. Which meant the old body-taking trick of Dread Emperor Nefarious would have been put to good use. It was a small leap from there to figuring out it was rather likely that Malicia’s host body might have accompanied him in his campaign, or meant to be another surprise attendance at this conference – after all, Black’s presence here meant that in principle the Dread Empire of Praes was allowed to attend. It’d been a risk to bring out the two desks from the start since this was speculation and not certainty, but the First Prince had argued we lost precious little from being wrong while inflicting sharper uncertainty should we be correct. I’d still been against it, but Cordelia’s instincts had seemingly paid off if the Tyrant’s surprise was not mere playacting.

Now he had to wonder how deeply we’d seen through him and if my alliance with the First Prince might not be closer knit than he’d assumed. The painted desks were set to the sides of the League’s delegations, slightly behind their leading table. A subtle slight, that, implying inferior status. Cordelia was apparently not above venting her displeasure through small details, which I found rather endearing. It added a touch of humanity to the ice-cold and masterfully controlled princess I’d been treating with, a woman who’d use even her own grief and shame as tools to get her way without batting an eye.

“How very gracious of you, First Prince,” the Tyrant laughed. “Without further ado, I then present-”

Black tensed. If I’d now known the man I might not have noticed, for he had not moved a hair, but his eyes gained an edge of razor-sharp attention that’d not been there before.

“His Majesty Trismegistus of Keter, the Dead King!”

It was almost amusing the way the older of the Atalante preachers went white as a sheet when the other one rose to his feet. Sorcery coursed down the body of the impostor in thick rivulets, revealing beneath an illusion the same skeletal puppet of polished ivory bones and long purple cloths I had met with last night. I’d been wondering if it’d be the same, or if he had another host form to ride hidden away somewhere in the city. The tall dead thing stood before the desk set out for him, and the room erupted in whispers. Some scribes even cried out in fear, as if they’d been told the Gods Below had come up to see to them personally. It was a different sort of fear they had for the Hidden Horror, here in Procer. Even in the south he was not so much a legend as a sword hanging above everyone’s head: after decades of it not falling down you could tell yourself it never would, and even forget about it.

But every time you happened to look up, you were made to remember that safety was just the tale your parents told you as a child so you’d sleep well. Callow knew the Tower’s shadow like its own breath and blood, but it could not be denied that the Principate knew the Crown of the Dead’s almost as intimately.

It was not all fear, though. Lady Aquiline looked like she was itching to draw a blade, and her fellow Blood all had measuring stares. I glanced at the princes’ table, and my respect for them rose a notch when I saw only cold disdain on those faces. The luxuriantly mustachioed Renato of Salamans took in the Dead King’s clothes with a look that could only be called scornful, and Ariel of Arans leaned to the side and idly spoke to Princess Rozala in a low voice. As for Rozala Malanza, her dark eyes stared at the Dead King unblinkingly. The burning intensity of the hatred I saw in there gave me pause, for I’d seen hatreds great and small in my time and that one was neither shallow nor passing. As for the First Prince herself, her face was a cold and regal mask framed by golden curls, offering only icy loathing.

Parts of the League’s delegation – Atalante, Nicae – were dismayed by the sudden revelation, but others largely indifferent. Delos and Bellerophon’s delegates were respectively keeping notes and looking rather lost, while the Penthesians seemed more cautious than alarmed. Yet it was the Firstborn whose reaction had me savagely grinning. General Rumena, silver-blue eyes staring straight at the King of Death, clenched its fingers into a fist and struck against the table once.

“Prav ruvan,” the Tomb-Maker said.

First claim, it meant. A statement, but also the beginning of something more. Mighty Jindrich laughed, the sound scything through the room filled with murmurs, and struck at its table as well.

“First claim,” Jindrich also said. “For this I offer three spears of finest obsidian, and the Secret of Shells.”

Mighty Soln jeered.

“Cheapskate. First claim,” it said. “A finely made bureau of wood, and the Secrets of Shaping and Sight.”

The only word of that not in Crepuscular was in Chantant, bureau, for the drow were wildly appreciative of the Proceran style of elaborate wooden desks and in deference to that appreciation had been very particular about using the ‘proper’ term for it. And so, as the rest of the hall handled the surprise of the Dead King’s presence, the proud Mighty of the Empire Ever Dark held their bidding war over which of them would have the privilege to first attempt to kill the Dead King on the field and take his Night. The Tyrant cleared his throat, and I felt Black tense again.

“And, naturally, Her Imperial Majesty, Dread Empress Malicia of Praes!”

He sounded, I thought, like a merchant hawking wares at the market. Murmurs bloomed anew as one of the translators from the League rose to her feet. I noted with faint amusement that Malicia’s host-body had chosen to be seated close to the aisle. I supposed the revelation would have lost some of its gravitas if she’d had to politely ask the other League translators to pull forward their chairs so she could stride out with the right sort of presence. The illusion laid there was rather simpler than the one that’d revealed the Dead King: a young Soninke woman was revealed, but one of broadly similar height and body shape as the feigned translator. Bright runes were visible, carved directly into the skin and looking halfway between mutilation and tattoos. The Empress’ puppet made way to her pulpit with a fluid grace that was all Malicia, impressively conveyed halfway across the continent and to a body not all that like her own save in the dark tone of the skin.

Whatever amusement I’d savoured while pondering the practicalities of that theatrical reveal went up in smoke when I turned my gaze to Black. He was looking at Malicia’s puppet with the naked desperation of a drowning man, eyes roaming her form almost obsessively. It took me a moment to understand why. My father was looking for a hint, any hint at all, that this might not truly be Dread Empress Malicia. That it could be a trick or some sort of fake. My fingers clenched as I watched him watch her stand before her desk and he was forced to admit there was no such thing. Something died in those pale green eyes, at that moment, and I realized Scribe had been right. Even now, even after the betrayals and the lies and the mistakes, he’d still intended on finding a way for the Empress to live. And when Amadeus of the Green Stretch grasped the truth, truly came to look in the eye, that he was about to be robbed that recourse? A light went out in his gaze that I suspected none still living could bring back.

Something flickered across his pale face, a weighing of choices, and then something like disgust. In the heartbeat that followed, he pushed back his chair and rose to his feet.

“Alaya,” Amadeus said in Kharsum, voice only barely clinging to calm, “this is a very grave mistake.”

Sigil-marked and burning with hollow fire, the puppet that Malicia rode turned empty eyes to Black. Considering, until she spoke.

“Unless oaths were sworn to the crown of Callow, the correct placement for the Empire’s delegation is behind me,” the Empress replied in Lower Miezan.

“This is madness,” Black hissed, still in Kharsum. “Dark Days protocols and alliances with Keter will not take us through the storm, Alaya. I have secured other means, if you would simply let me-”

The eyes of nearly the entire hall were on the two of them. I wondered how many people could even speak Kharsum, here. It was not even all that common in Praes, much less Callow, and so I doubted even the Procerans had a translator for the main orc dialect. I hid a wince at my teacher’s mistake a moment before he bit his tongue over it, but it was too late.

“Let you?” the Empress softly replied. “Am I then to hide in your shade like a child and let the rules of power to be decided in this ostentatious scrap heap of a city? I think not.”

Something like a twitch of pain marred the puppet’s face.

“Stand behind me,” the Empress ordered, asked, pleaded. “The game can still be won, Amadeus. I yet know how.”

I bit my tongue, knowing from experience that my stepping between those two ancient monsters had ever only earned the disapproval of both, and followed across the face of the green-eyed man the war between the Carrion Lord and Amadeus of the Green Stretch. One had followed and trusted Dread Empress Malicia for most of his life, murdered and sacrificed and bled to see the order they’d built together stand. Yet of the two that creatures was the one that’d turn on the Empress. Not easily, or without cause, but turn on her it would. If the gears turned and the verdict churned out was that victory demanded the blood of his dearest friend, the steel would be whet red once more.

The other, though, was that part of Black that had seen a barren wasteland of empire and wanted to mend it. That’d made a family of a young mage hunted by the most powerful practitioner in the empire, offered friendship to a woman whose curse had devoured her life and charmed the likes of the Ranger and the Assassin through the strange mixture of devotion and black-hearted ruthlessness. The same boy who’d struck a friendship with a tavern girl long before either of them ever saw the Tower’s hulking shape on the horizon.

It was the part of him I loved, if not the one I’d taken lessons from. And I thought it might just be the part of him that, right now, was murmuring in the back of his mind about one last leap of faith. Murmuring that by abandoning Malicia now all the darkest fears – and Gods, how could she not fear when it’d been armies led by Black and loyal to him above all else that saw her rise to the throne? – would be confirmed by his own hesitation, his own weakness. Guilt and love and the chains of a loyalty that had been well-worn long before my birth. I was my father’s daughter, and so this I understood.

As he’d no doubt understood, when for the heraldry of the noble house of Foundling I chose not some glorious beast or some fearsome weapon. I did not even choose to ape the dignity of the Fairfaxes and the Albans by stealing their arms so I might better suckle at the love they’d earned among my people. I’d chosen a silver balance, set on the stark bleak blackness of the man who’d taught me, and on it I’d weighed a crown and sword. Right and might. Principle and necessity.

The wants of the woman, as Akua had once told me, and the needs of the queen.

The thing was, that as much as we – Malicia, Black, myself – were pretending this was a war, it wasn’t. It was the inexorable sound of a noose being pulled tight, the song of an arrow before it tore flesh. It was the march of the inevitable, because while I believed it was Amadeus of the Green Stretch that both the Empress and I cared for, that boy was just who he’d been born to be. The Carrion Lord, the Black Knight, the cold-eyed and stead-handed killer that broke armies and conquered nations? That was who he’d chosen to be. And so, inch by inch, the inevitable one. Those hungry, callous cogs of steel ground up the boy that’d been and the girl he’d loved.

And when the steel came free of the last parts with a wet squelch, the Carrion Lord breathed out shallowly.

“It was never a game, Alaya,” he gently said. “It is a mould, and it will be broken.”

They shared a long glance, in a hall where the great and powerful of an entire continent had gathered to speak and yet not a single whisper could be heard – only utter, oppressive silence. What he was going to say now, I’d predicted. I’d told Cordelia what he would say, what would drive him to it, with a degree of exactness that now chilled me. Dark hair flecked with grey, back straight as an arrow, the Carrion Lord turned to address the hall with eerie calm.

“I address now all who would lend ear, mighty of Calernia come to this hall,” the green-eyed man said, in perfect Chantant.

Translators hurriedly whispered as he spoke, for those who did not speak the tongue.

“The so-called Dread Empress Malicia I hereby denounce as unfit to reign and having lost the favour of the Gods Below through carelessness and misrule,” the Carrion Lord said. “I claim the Tower as Dread Emperor of Praes, and ask for the recognition of the delegates to speak in its name.”

Sometimes, I thought, it was an ugly thing to be right.

259 thoughts on “Chapter 83: A Mould Unbroken

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        He has Cat. He’ll always have Cat (For a certain temporary and fatal value of always. Though I honestly believe if she’s the one who sinks the blade in, or at least makes him bring the fortress down around him, he’ll be smiling all the wider because it was her)

        Liked by 13 people

        1. Nafram

          It hurts to see Black declare war on Malicia, even though it was inevitable.
          At least it’s better than what it would be like for him to side with her and go to war with Cat

          Liked by 8 people

        1. KageLupus

          Please. Black would never take another Dread Emperor’s name. Why would he tie himself to any of their legacies when he thinks them all foolish?

          Nothing breaks the Praesi mould more Benevolence.

          Liked by 4 people

              1. WuseMajor

                I mean, when you look at the quotes from him, it’s a pretty credible theory.

                “Morality is a force, not a law. Deviating from it has costs and benefits both – a ruler should weigh those when making a decision, and ignore the delusion of any position being inherently superior.”

                “There’s no surer sign you’re being played than being certain you’ve grasped your opponent’s intent.”

                “Please, do keep digging your own grave. I look forward to your splendidly inevitable demise.”
                —Dread Emperor Benevolent the First

                Those all really do sound like Amadeus.

                And, as long as I’m quoting, have this one that Malicia has apparently forgotten:

                “It is impossible for the Empire to make an appreciable gain so long as this gain is a loss to every other nation on Calernia. To remedy this, we must discard the traditional lines of allying only to Evil polities and make it so that it is in the interest of other powers for us to rise.”
                —Extract from ‘The Death of the Age of Wonders’, a treatise by Dread Empress Malicia

                Given that she’s resorting to classically Evil Schemes now, instead of trying to get into the back room and do some horse trading with these people, it really seems like she’s forgotten the book she wrote and why she’s been successful this whole time.

                When you get the role of Villain in the story, your end becomes certain.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. It’s not credible because 1) these don’t sound anything like Amadeus actually acts and thinks, 2) you sure did omit the High Lords one, huh.

                  Oh, and Benevolent is worldbuilding that would damn suck for erratic to go back on now.

                  Liked by 2 people

    1. Cap'n Smurfy

      Say what you will about Tyrants diplomatic strategies, you kind of have to admire the man who does the social equivalent of saying “Hey guys I invited literally Satan to the peace conference, hope that’s cool. Oh and Hitler’s here too.”

      Liked by 30 people

  1. erebus42

    Love him or hate him (I personally love him) , there really is something so supremely sad about watching a man who cares for so few and so little willingly destroy his most treasured relationship. It had to be done and I never doubted he’d be able to do it, but still damn.

    Liked by 19 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      What I hate is that scribe was right. Don’t really like scribe, sot hat’s part of it. But gotta give her her due. She uncomplicated (for a certain value of complicated, at least made less complicated?) something that almost certainly needed to happen.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. I’m sorry but she did so while refusing to prevent A FUCKTON OF INNOCENT DEATHS that only ‘needed’ to happen to ‘uncomplicate’ this a tiny bit.

        Scribe was in no way proven right to do what she did by this. Right about some of her statements, sure. Right in what she did? No.

        Liked by 5 people

            1. ninegardens

              Pretty sure Augur would have outright prevented the coup given a chance.
              She didn’t have that chance, she was never playing vs Scribe, or Malicia or the traitors.

              Augur’s only goal was to ensure that her cousin had a choice, and she did that by ensuring that the Bard was distracted at the opportune moment. Hence, Pretty sure no blood on Augur’s hands.

              (More disagreeing with Noodleguy than you Shveran, but this seemed the natural place to reply)

              Liked by 3 people

        1. Jane

          Plus, I fully expect her secret to come out at the worst possible moment. She’s right when she says that it’s her entire thing to keep this sort of thing quiet, but in my opinion, this just involves too big a story for her role to work this time.

          Well, plus, now that this is an actual story – as in the one that we’re reading right now – Chekov’s Gun applies in a way that it didn’t for her other schemes.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. Shikkarasu

          Scribe was not Right or Wrong; that’s playing the Game or the Gods, and it is not a game, but a mould to be broken. She was Practical. Hundreds of innocent deaths? Rice on the scale. Wounding a man she loves unconditionally (as a knife loves a steady hand)? Taken into consideration. She is a monster, as are any of the Calamities, and she has been shaped by her time with Black.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Soma

    Damn.

    Abused woman goes power mad and needs to be put down is something that, for me, can only be ever be so sharp, even when well done. I was hoping for… well, something else. Some thing or way where that essence isn’t preserved. It would seem others have had a better read on this than me. Kudos to the foresight on the direction the story appears to be taking to those who had it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mirror Night

      I mean say what you will about EE but I would agree his record on Black Woman looks a little suspect. I mean Akua is a happy slave now (or so it seems and was a monster before hand) and Malicia Is a mad former rape victim that has to be put down by a White Man….not the intent sure perhaps but….yeah not as balanced out as say Weseka is by Masego or Hanno.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Stormblessed

        I disagree with both of you. This isn’t a Dark Phoenix or Daenerys situation. Malicia isn’t a “mad woman who needs to be put down”. She didn’t go mad with power or become insane. She’s just wrong in the eyes of Amadeus and Cat (and the audience by proxy). She still has all her faculties and even might be correct in her assumptions and actions. Her actions might be correct and legitimate *given* the specific outcome she wants. The key difference is that Black wants a different outcome.

        I think on the surface it might appear similar, but that’s only superficial.

        Liked by 26 people

        1. Mirror Night

          I am not sure that particularly matters sure Malica might not be insane sure but she is painted unfavorably by the narrative such that I don’t think the distinction matters. She is wrong in the eyes of Cat and Black thus she is wrong in the narrative and to most of the fan-base. The end results still leaves of the two most significant Black Woman in the series. One as a seemingly happy slave and one dead by her white male BFF. Anyway you spin it the optics of that aren’t great in my book. Unlike say Weseka, these two arent balanced out by Masego or Hanno. An author doesn’t have to intentionally set out to reinforce bad narratives (say crazed rape survivor) to reinforce them by accident.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. So? What’s wrong with that? Isn’t equality imply that some people are shit regardless of skin color? I don’t get you. The rape survivor can’t be bad because rape is bad? Or something? Please explain your position. If a Hero was a rape survivor too, would that make everything ok? If first chapters were changed to someone raping Cat first, would that be ok then? The amount of attention you put to this is ridiculous.

            Liked by 11 people

            1. Soma

              Nothing wrong with it, per se. Just might be less interesting if you’ve seen something often, instead of something you haven’t seen before.

              Some people might be inclined to dislike it for different reasons too, and they’re entitled to those feelings as others are entitled to like it.

              Liked by 4 people

            2. Mirror Night

              I mean that assumes society has achieved perfect equality already it has not so I am not the relevance. I am saying the optics of having a Black Woman overcome rape, rise to the top, only to be put down by her white male bff are rather poor. Same for taking the other black woman who is sure evil and turning her into a happy slave. The cast is broad and diverse sure but it does stand out that Cat doesn’t have any Black Woman on her coalition when she is drawing most of her high council from a country with a lot of Black People. I am not saying I think EE is a Raicst (I dont think he is) but a less charitable person could with what we are seeing so far can make a case he has some issues with Black Women.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. caoimhinh

                Looking at this story through that optic would be extremely superficial and narrow-minded, and also judgemental to a ridiculous degree while at the same time disregarding everything about the characters except their skin color.
                That optic can only be done by willfully ignoring EVERYTHING about them, their circumstances, life choices, personal philosophies, goals and their personal struggles in pursuit of those goals.
                The argument you are pushing for (summarizing Amadeus and Alaya’s clash as “a white man vs a black woman”) is simply ridiculous.

                Liked by 16 people

                  1. Shveiran

                    It is, if one ignores most of context the story operates in in order to draw one’s conclusions.

                    This series is made of five long Book, involves a pletora of themes, and has one of the most diverse casts I’ve ever seen for cultures, genders, sexual identities and genders.

                    The very idea of ignoring everything else and say “yes, but these two women are both black and they are not morally great, so there is a judgment on black women going on”, is frankly ludicrous.

                    It also ignores characters like Indrani, or Aisha, or Captain, who though flawed human being are protrayed mostly in a good light.

                    It ignores that male or non-black rulers have been harshly criticized by Catherine and the fan-base both, so it’s not like Aqua and Malicia are being singled out.

                    If you feel that way, fine. But in my opinion there is nothing about the context, if taken in full, that suggests the context is not trying to portray the characters as human beings and not drawing lines based on gender, race, religion or sexuality.

                    If anything, it is painfully obvious that EE as much as he can to be as inclusive as humanly possible. By this point, I feel like arguing the opposite requires either a very distracted read or straight-out bad faith.

                    Liked by 10 people

                    1. > “yes, but these two women are both black and they are not morally great, so there is a judgment on black women going on”

                      That’s not what is being said.

                      “There is an unfortunate matching of a pattern” does not mean “erratic is judging black women”.

                      Erratic did his best to be as inclusive as humanly possible. He STILL accidentally fell into a bad pattern. Nobody’s saying he’s written Akua and Alaya in bad faith. Just that the result stumbled and fell on its face.

                      Liked by 3 people

              2. Insanenoodlyguy

                You know when some folks say there are some people out there just looking for a reason to be offended?

                This is the kind of thing they refer to. You’re taking amazing characters and being upset because they are a glorious example of villainy, shaped by a well thought out background, and a character having a shockingly dark but cathartic redemption arc… and being upset because they are black skinned. As opposed to… what, being white skinned, thus removing representation and adhering all the more closely to a anglonormative model of older, less inclusive fantasy?

                You know when some folks say they might as well adhere to that model because it’s safer then trying to do something past that out and being inevitably criticized by somebody looking to be offended? That’s also you.

                Liked by 5 people

                1. Nobody’s getting offended, nobody’s making this a big deal, nobody’s saying Erratic hates black people or something.

                  You know what would have solved this problem? Having another black woman or two in the cast that did NOT match an unfortunate pattern. If Aisha had been also Soninke for example the tone of this would have been WAY different.

                  This is still, in fact, a problem of INSUFFICIENT representation.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. denimcurtain

                    If it’s solved simply by changing Aisha’s race when race hasn’t exactly been a prominent role doesn’t that mean this is an extremely superficial problem that requires assumptions (we are the ones deciding Soninke are black and Tagrehb is not), close reading (how often does Aisha’s race come up for instance) and a willingness to elevate skin color as an analog over cultural and historical parallels.

                    We have slave races and discrimination in story. We have countries that still rely on slavery. We have imperialists and the oppressed.

                    I guess it strikes me as strange that something can be prominent enough in one’s mind to make the effort to draw such a connection but matter so little that an unimportant retcon by the author would solve it. Isn’t the goal meaningful representation rather than reducing race to a box that needs to be checked?

                    I’m honestly asking. I’m sure I missed the boat in plenty of parts in this comment but I remember superficial tokenism being a bad thing but now it seems to be in vogue and it’s confusing to see someone drag characters out of a story and make assumptions about what race and role they are in the real world then be ok with a fix that doesn’t amount to that much more than replacing a couple reference points.

                    Liked by 7 people

                  2. Allafterme

                    Excuse me for being blunt, but you are in the comment section of a web novel that is inclusive as it is well crafted that such inclusiveness does not stand out like a swollen thumb like the rest of media, some themes in it are so progressive that I’ll bet my right hand some publishers will shy away from the press it will garner when ErraticErrata finally decide to publish it, and you are saying “Insufficient” Representation. I can only recognize it as acting in bad faith, for the series, for the author and the rest of the fans. I know you are invested in Practical Guide to Evil, but you need to cool down. For I see only one problem here, and it is your mindset.

                    Liked by 3 people

              3. Disclaimer: trigger warning, I am triggered, where’s my safe space.

                Well take down those fucking optics. If the roles were reversed, you would be shutting up. Unlike Malicia, Black was target of systematic racism. I am getting disgusted by this entire fucking topic. Less charitable person my ass, fuck them. And fuck Black Women too. Is Indian women is not enough for you? Or Arab? Both are in Cat’s cast. Now, we don’t have Black women, ergo it’s bad. Fuck I am angry now, I do apologize. I can’t properly articulate how idiotic this is.

                Liked by 1 person

            3. Decius

              ” If first chapters were changed to someone raping Cat first”

              Changed? Did the scene where Cat met Black get retconned since I read it?

              Like

              1. RandomFan

                Huh? In the version I read, (The story at that point was After book 1 ended, but before the first demon attack) Cat ran into soldiers raping someone else, and got involved, and they decided they’d kill her as well as the rape victim to cover up the witnesses- and then Black showed up. I’m not sure whether you remember wrong, or a retcon happened, but I think it’s the former.

                Liked by 5 people

          2. panic

            Ofcourse she is painted unfavorably by the narrative. She is a ANTAGONIST to the protagonist that is Cat. What does it matter that they are black? Would you have prefered that the two individuals who come from a nation and culture where the majority are black where white instead? Because to me that sounds about as silly as you complaining about this. You say seemingly happy slave and don’t even realize how right you are. SEEMINGLY. As in she only looks that way. Don’t you remeber when Cat made her say the truth. That she was bidding her time in the Underdark until she found a way out of her captivity? And when has Malicia ever been crazed? Why is crazed a problem when it’s been established that it’s literally a staple of Praesi culture. Should she now go against the culture AND ethnicity? Should we make her a hero while we’re at it? Perhaps make her the protagonist because clearly The Woe aint diverse enough for you. Stop being a potato.

            Liked by 12 people

                1. Soma

                  Or, for those capabable of looking upon the eldritch horror of Mirror Nights words without panicking, there may be a conversation there about image, context and the society we the readers live in. Only should any be capable of not screaming at the incomprehensible horror of such cthonic sounds, of course.

                  Liked by 3 people

                  1. Shveiran

                    Has it occurred to you that we may have read that same comment and, rather than spitting out of beverage of choice in outrage, actually thought about the words and STILL come to the conclusion that there is nothing of merit in that analysys, in our opinion?

                    The implication here seems that if we weren’t howling simpletons oblivious to the complexity of the world, we’d share your view.

                    That assumption I challenge: it takes more for an analysys to be meaningful than bringing up a relevant issue for the modern world. You need to actually analize the subject, and those insight can be judged and found wanting.

                    Liked by 10 people

                    1. It’s a pattern that’s being matched.

                      No, it does not imply anything about erratic’s intent, worldview or Guide’s overall quality. It’s kind of like throwing stones randomly and accidentally spelling out a bad word. Yes, it’s accidental. No, it wasn’t on purpose. The bad word is still there.

                      There is nothing to analyze beyond “does it match the pattern of the trope?” which it does. Any further comparison shows that yes, erratic is doing his best and doing great overall. But this point? It stands r e g a r d l e s s

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Soma

                      I think my implication was that it is a bit exasperating for me to see my comments and Mirror Night’s being interpreted as being in bad faith because they touch on tough subjects. I don’t think anyone is simple for not agreeing with me.

                      I don’t necessarily agree with Liliet that EE has used the tropes they have unintentionally. It is possible that the use of tropes with unfortunate implications intentionally relates to the title of this chapter ‘A Mold Unbroken’, and says something about Amadeus’s intent to break that mold and by extension those unfortunate tropes. Maybe there is something really interesting there, maybe there’s not. Maybe there are even some other really interesting themes in the guide that have some relation to the world we live in and deal with hard topics.

                      It would be nice to be able to explore the narrative, the metanarrative, how they relate, and what that says in a conversation, even if such things touch on hard topics. Conversations can be great ways to find new ways to think about something, and the guide is a complex thing with a lot of ways to think about it. I am a bit exasperated that the potetnial for such a conversation was shut down with assumptions of bad faith and sensitivity, and even more so that there was a veneer of that being done in the name of free speech.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. Shveiran

                      I’ll be blunt:

                      So far as I can see, the reaction to your comments was not spawned by the fact that you are raising a tough question.
                      It was caused, instead, by the belief that you are pointing at one of the most inclusive works of fiction I’ve ever read and saying: “it’s good, but it ought to be better”.

                      That argument (not you, not Liliet, not Mirror Night or anyone else: that argument) I believe to be toxic.

                      Representation will never be perfect. It can only be improved.
                      And while I fully believe that you may very well be trying to do that very thing (trying to make this work more inclusive, I mean) I am convinced this kind of reasoning achieves the opposite.

                      If a work that is already raising the bar so much will still be pointed at and told “yes, but” there will be no making this kind of attention common.
                      It is a snake biting its own tail, you’ll never look at it and say: that’s enough; because it can always be more representative. Maybe next we’ll notice how the only male homosexual was a vile warlock that blew up a city, I don’t know.

                      There is a finite limit to how many characters you can put into any work of fiction and still making them great while allowing the story to flow.
                      This cannot end like you want it to end.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    4. Soma

                      The assumption the guide is above being critical of is toxic. Not because the guide has so much that really desperately needs to be criticized, but because in the course of examining and trying to understand something sometimes one necessarily has thoughts that are, or could be taken to be, critical.

                      For instance, say you see a trope you’re not fond of. If the guide had something to say about that, or intends to subvert it in some way, it may be necessary for the trope to be present somehow in the story. In order to understand what is being said about that trope, or the subversion, a reader would have to identify the existence of the trope. It also might be there accidentally as a potential flaw.

                      The fact that this thing you’re looking at is potentially a flaw means that bringing it up could be a criticism. As potentially part of a statement the guide is trying to make, it might be necessary to identify this thing’s existence to understand what the guide is saying.

                      That said, I think I do regret bringing up a perspective that could, or does, touch on hard topics. To the comments section’s credit, it often seems like a place where good discussions, insights, or conversations could be had, even about tricky and complex subjects. That doesn’t seem to be the case here, and perhaps that’s on me for not being a better communicator, or for not finding a better space to think about these things where it doesn’t disturb other people.

                      Like

        2. Soma

          Entirely possible you are correct. Things could change, be further clarified, or a more fine grained examination could be needed.

          However, the characterization this chapter lends some support the idea of ‘stupid evil’ that caoimhinh, and others, saw in Malicia. One where emotion and some kind of unreasonable distrust and need for control, for some reason, rules her. Not to say it confirms it, merely this chapter does lend some heavy support to the idea this story is moving in a direction where Malicia must be put down.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. caoimhinh

            It always has, the story has been moving towards Malicia being put down since Book 2. You can’t possibly be noticing it only now.
            Alaya’s obsession with power and her distrust of Amadeus became a self-fulfilling prophecy as her own actions drove him to be against her. She is taking actions like the Villains of Old School, so she needs to be stopped, lest all they had built for Praes is destroyed.

            Liked by 8 people

                  1. Aisha is Taghreb who are presented as culturally much more unified / loyal to family than Soninke, without any cultural counterweight being given in anything positive at all in Soninke culture.

                    Which is bad, in context of real world people reading this book in the real world.

                    Liked by 1 person

                  2. Shveiran

                    She is Tagrheb. Though I’m not sure what the fact that she is not Sonike changes.

                    Tagrheb have been describe as having lighter skin than Sonike, as have Indrani and Deorathies.
                    Yet if an argument is to be made about skin colour, “lighter than” does not mean “not black”. Skin comes in a spectrum even in Africa.

                    Of course, the argument could be made that Tagrheb culture and names resembles Arabic ones more than African ones.
                    But then we’d be discussing something other than the colour of the skin of this fictional people, and that is clearly not the basis this arguments are build upon.

                    Liked by 3 people

                1. SITB

                  The biggest problem is that there aren’t enough Soninke protagonists/protagonist aligned.

                  There’s Masego and uhh…? By contrast both Aisha and Ratface were Tagrhebi and both brought viewpoints from that ethnicity (Aisha as a noble, and Ratface as someone who was chewed by nobles). Despite the fact that Soninke are supposed to be the most widespread ethnicity they don’t appear as such in the text.

                  Liked by 1 person

      2. Soma

        I’d preface my comment with let the art take the artuer where it will. The story’s got needs. But still, Malicia as a femme woman with power, and willing to use it, has been a fascinitating part of the guide for me, and fun to think about. Less so in a more typical context.

        An uncharitable reading would lead one to some questions about the presentation of black women, among other presentations. But I do think its to The Guide’s credit that, on such a complicated set up with objective Good and Objective Evil, that would be an *uncharitable* reading.

        Liked by 8 people

      3. Hierus

        “rape victim” “white man” “record on black women”

        Uh. What? I think you can find a crime in everything if you look hard enough.

        In the end both both malicia and akua could not escape their own experiences in childhood and youth which is a story as old as time.

        What makes this so exspcially tragic that the same mailica wrote the treaty on the end of the age of wonders.

        Liked by 10 people

        1. Soma

          It’s a fairly literal reading. Doesn’t mean the story is bad, just, for some people, it might be less interesting given certain characterizations.

          >Uh. What? I think you can find a crime in everything if you look hard enough.

          You are saying that in a story about stories. This work was always going to attract a decent amount of people looking at the meta narrative. May as well complain about a political intrigue story about a Queen having a fan base with an interest in politics. Doesn’t even mean we think it’s bad story. That’s just a thing present here.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Amoonymous

            I mean, I guess if race is everything to you. Given how little it’s thought of beyond descriptions by the characters we see the world through, I don’t even think of it that much in this story (which is to say I don’t think of all of the characters as any race in particular). Obviously I recognize that a LOT of characters aren’t white, but that doesn’t alter my perception of them a ton given that there seems to be less persecution based on skin color in this world anyway.

            Funnily enough I think the most concrete example of persecution based solely on race might be how the Soninke and Taghreb treat the pale-skinned Duni now that I actually give some thought to the matter. Not everything needs to be looked at through a modern sociopolitical lens.

            Liked by 7 people

      4. caoimhinh

        You are simply wrong.
        That’s like saying that EE killed the only gay marriage on scene (Wekesa and Tikoloshe) and calling it a homophobic act, it would blatantly ignore all the background and story building that led to that moment.

        Making this a racial issue is simply wrong, because it has never been about their skin color, it’s about their chosen philosophies and their life choices. Alaya and Akua went down the path they took not because they were black women or victims of abuse, but because they chose to embrace the social ways of the Old Villains. Many of the characters in this story have suffered to some degree, but due to their environment and the choices they made, but ultimately each of the Named took a stand for what they believe in and walk that path to the bitter end.
        Their skin colors are irrelevant to their struggle and their confrontation. This is a clash of philosophies, and with a deep background, it’s a clash that has been building for many chapters, so if you are only seeing a white man and a black woman while disregarding everything else that makes them unique people and amazing characters, maybe the problem who has a problem is you, seeing only the most superficial layer and in fact the most irrelevant in their confrontation.

        In fact, between Alaya and Amadeus, it was him who suffered discrimination due to his skin color, as the Duni are despised by the other ethnicities of Praes.

        You saying that Amadeus standing against Malicia is simply “a white man killing a black woman” is an insult to this entire story, the amazing world-building and character development that led to this moment.
        Shame on you for disregarding all the effort the author had put on this work into such a narrow frame as “white man vs black woman” and for implying that ErraticErrata might be discriminating against black women.

        Liked by 10 people

        1. Mirror Night

          In a Vacuum you may be right but stories do not exist in a Vacuum. Thus it stands out to me that the two most relevant Black Women by far are Villains who need to be proven wrong and put in their place. It just stands out that when you consider how diverse the Core of Cats coalition is, it doesn’t have single Black Woman.

          I am saying no matter the way you spin it the story still at the end of the day has a Black Woman being a Slave to Native American (Cat) and another getting killed by White Man (Black). I don’t think EE is a racist or homophobic but it does raise my eyebrows.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. caoimhinh

            Quite the opposite, in fact. You are the one trying to put them in a Vaccum, trying to make it look as if they are only a white man and a black woman, when they are so much more and their skin color is the most irrelevant part of their confrontation.

            You are oversimplifying the issue and limiting your view to skin color, while willfully disregarding all other factors, which makes this a poor analysis on your part.

            You are trying to spin it so that instead of this being the culmination of a life-long friendship between two of the most powerful and influential individuals of the continent, who are fighting over the course that their nation must follow in order to improve, prompting the clash of two philosophies that will shape the future of their continent; this is according to you, simply “he’s a white man and she is a black woman”.

            Liked by 10 people

              1. caoimhinh

                Nope, it’s just that Mirror Night’s “context” is actually taking this out of context, and judge this situation based only on the skin color and sex of the two confronted characters.

                That’s like summarizing the confrontation of Catherine and Pilgrim as “a bisexual woman vs a straight man”. It’s just a ridiculous frame to evaluate it, as it judges by prioritizing irrelevant aspects of their lives. Not even in metanarrative is this relevant.

                It is ridiculous and narrow-minded to treat Amadeus rebellion against Alaya as a racial issue, worse still to try to accuse the author of discrimination based on such a view.

                Liked by 9 people

                1. I’ve gotta be honest.
                  I’d forgotten that what being of Soninke descent meant for Akua and Malicia and their skin color.
                  Their color hasn’t mattered to the story in any meaningful way.
                  And it still doesn’t. Soninke could be purple or blue or green for all the difference it would make, which is to say none. Oh, maybe there’d have been an early line about some ancient Dread Emperor, Warlock, or other spellcaster having done something stupid that turned them that color, but it wouldn’t affect the story.

                  Masego is also Soninke (I think).

                  Liked by 11 people

                  1. Insanenoodlyguy

                    He is. I was going to say Aisha was as well but a comment about says she’s Taghreb. I don’t have the energy to go and find citations but I’m sure this is correct. I have had the wrong mental image of her the entire story and will likely continue to do so since it changes absoutely nothing of relevance about Aisha to me (Namely the shipping! Kiss the Orc already. Do ittttttt)

                    Liked by 4 people

                  1. Shveiran

                    It’s almost like, because of that, pointing at a single one of them and discussing it makes them meaningless. Because they are connected to the rest, and if you single them out you are NO LONGER DISCUSSING THE SAME THING.

                    I suppose we should complain about the lack of a white heterosexual male in Cat’s inner circle, too. Or de-fanged orcs and curvaceous drows, while we are at it.

                    Liked by 6 people

                    1. Insanenoodlyguy

                      As long as we are really stretching here… how dare EE take the one Black Male Protagonist and strip him of the power he’s had since birth? That sounds like… a shackle to me! At the hands of a White Man (I actually have no clue what Grey’s racial identity is supposed to be?) and a Woman who can’t stop appropriating cultures no less! Fuck this shit, I’m out! (I’m not out).

                      Liked by 7 people

          2. dera

            First, really I forgot all the times about the characters skin colors, because frankly Duni discrimination is the only examples we have in-story.
            And second, it feel a pretty conceited comment. I mean, the story doesn’t relate att all to the colonization of the americas for me, i was at lot more relating this to the South of the african continent really.

            So yeah, just saying that I feel you are projecting a lot on a story who has done, let’s face it, everything possible to escape racials/sex issues

            Liked by 2 people

          3. pentephraxis

            Characters are characters. The story was originally Praes-centric rather than Callow being its own thing, and so the “ruling class” were mostly dark-skinned. Now that the story has shifted so that Praes become narrative enemies rather than symbolic ones, those same people are also the enemy. The very nature of the story is that people who were once your enemies are now your friends and vice versa. Thus, no matter how you slice it, some black person is going to be on the receiving end of some white person’s war, because a fair coin occasionally comes up heads. If a black woman being put in their place by a white man is verboten, no matter how many white people are put in their place by black people (Black has suffered outright discrimination for his light skin), the only way to get that to not happen is to *remove* diversity and make there be either fewer black women or fewer white men.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. pentephraxis

              Not to mention, the significance of black women being dominated by white men is fundamentally rooted in good old Planet Earth. Culture doesn’t carry over just by virtue of being the same color. Alaya’s melanin concentration’s effect on her identity, her interactions, the way she’s viewed, etc., are absolutely unrelated to what someone of the same melanin concentration would experience here on Earth. Praes, and the Soninke bloodline, have absolutely zero parallels to Africa, American slavery, or anything else that contributes to POCs struggles in modern day America. Hell, it’s not even an Earth thing so much as it is an American thing – in, say, the UK (which EE is from!), pretty much *nobody* would interpret it in a racial context.

              Liked by 2 people

          4. Insanenoodlyguy

            Has it occurred to you that with her apparent redemption arc on track, that slave you mention is heading towards a full-fledged redemption? Or does her becoming a proper protagonist not count for whatever reason?

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Redemption through slavery is SUPER unfortunate in the context of real world history and context.

              No, it doesn’t have those implications in-universe. Unfortunately, it’s not in-universe that the readers are.

              Like

            2. Shveiran

              Point me to a single country that doesn’t have a rehabilitation system that doens’t include stripping people of their freedom after they committed a bad enough act.
              So far as I know, those that don’t murder wrongdoers and be done with it.

              But sure, let’s call it slavery. After all, Aqua’s story has so many similarities with historical slavery.

              Liked by 8 people

          5. If you wanted to raise your eyebrows, the place to do that might have been back at the beginning when the darkest-skinned race on the continent was cast as the Evil Empire. After five books’ worth of characterization and backstory… nope.

            Liked by 8 people

            1. Jane

              I wondered when somebody was going to mention that. It was neat back at the start of the story, when Praesi comprised all of the most important characters and so it offered strong representation for people who don’t often get to be seen as important characters, but… It’s kind of ended up more unfortunate as the story has moved beyond Praes.

              It doesn’t really bother me since I don’t visualize when I’m reading (I wouldn’t even remember what characters are supposed to be attractive and who aren’t, if it weren’t for Cat ogling everyone every two minutes), but it’d make me raise an eyebrow if I didn’t know the reasons behind it.

              Liked by 1 person

          6. Stormblessed

            The more I think about, the more I am coming around to your viewpoint in many ways.

            The idea of overarching meta tropes and the pattern that exists across all literature making certain elements less than ideal here I think is fair. The idea that Akua and Malicia being strung up is interesting in that context.

            That being said, I still maintain it’s not a “put down the rapid dog” situation. Those tend to be quick affairs where the once favorable ally is suddenly overcome with madness (ie: Dany and the bells) [also GoT season 8 is not an example of good story telling].

            Also “two most relevant black women” is an interesting phrase. I’ll give you Akua as the “most relevant black women”, but I wouldn’t say Malicia is. She’s been more of a ‘force of nature’ than a mainstay character. She shows up at climaxes and then disappears from the story for large chunks of time.

            Another interesting element you mentioned that I disagree with is how Archer not a Black Woman amongst Cat’s Core Coalition? Archer is literally described thusly when introduced “Her lower face was covered by dark linen, but I could still see her dark ochre skin betraying a bloodline from across the Tyrian Sea and delicate hazelnut eyes” Unless I’m mistaken as to what ‘dark ochre skin’ means, and I might be, I think Archer is literally described as Black.

            Personally, I’d call Archer one of the most important characters and a Black Woman and part of Cat’s core cast. While Malicia is “more relevant” from a pure story perspective (ie: she pushes more plot points) I think Archer is “more relevant” on a chapter by chapter basis.

            I’m trying to respond in good faith. I’ve seen a lot of responses that don’t seem to be doing that so I hope my go achieves that a bit better. (all the people saying “shame on you” are utterly ridiculous) I’m curious for your thoughts. Also Soma’s thoughts , but I don’t think they’ll see this? Should I respond to one of their comments directly?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Soma

              I do really appreciate the effort to keep things civil and have an understanding conversation. The way I communicated things likely contributed to the outrage, or, at least, didn’t stop pressing people’s jitter triggers on a sensitive topic area. For that reason, I’m a little hesitent to continue commenting on this all that much more. That said, I’ll try to give you my view on your questions relatively quick here.

              I believe Indrani is Indian as her name seems to come from a Hindu godess, among other characterization that would seem to indicate she doesn’t look like she’s from Calernia, if I recall correctly.

              On the relevence on Akua and Malicia you may be right that Malicia isn’t the most relevant, but perhaps what Mirror Night was saying makes more sense with ‘prominent’ in place of ‘relevant’?

              On the rabid dog issue, you may be entirely correct. I tend to think of rabid dog situations as being slower, given how it progresses. Initial infection, fairly long incubation, then incurable once noticiable manifestions occur. I think if Malicia has a need for control that overcame her it could fit into this view of the trope, but even then it might not be the most appropriate or relevant of tropes for viewing this. Might be others fit better because of something I’ve missed, or that rabid dog needing to be put down just doesn’t fit with a slow set up.

              Also, the existence of these tropes might not even be a mistake. They could be there because the guide is saying, or is going to say, something about them. It might be interesting to view them as related to the chapter title. Might also be just viewed through a certain lens these things just happen to be here too.

              Like

        2. Soma

          You’re talking about the story. Mirror Night is talking about the metanarrative. These are fundamentally different. They opperate in different contexts, so things can look different depending on the context it is examined in. It’s something that the guide encourages, on purpose or accidentally, by being a story about stories.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Mirror Night

            Yes basically a story about stories would be a story where you expect an writer to be careful about stepping on obvious landmines. This is a rather obvious one where its like gee maybe we should counterbalance Akua and Malicia with some pro Cat Black Women in major roles.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Soma

              I mean, depending on how you planned things out and the dictates of the story you plan to write, it could be hard to fit everything together. Especially depending on the update schedule.

              The differences between a good work and a masterpiece, and a good work is already hard enough to write.

              Liked by 2 people

            2. medailyfun

              Very good point about the story about the author who writes the story about stories! But there’s no guarantees the story you propose would be a nice story, so I would stick to the current one and you can write your own

              Liked by 3 people

            3. I’m not going to blame erratic overmuch for stepping into this. For one, this is a first draft being published as it is written, and judging it by the standards applicable to, like, a popular TV show is a bit disingenious. For another… yeah okay the first point is pretty much the entirety of my point. Erratic fucked up. He also has fucked up with numbers, dates, character names, compass directions and Wasaliti appears to cut through a mountain range and flow from sea to sea.

              Like

              1. NerfGlaistigUaine

                Well, I think even if this was an edited and revised work it’d be an easy point to miss. Fair representation of every group is near impossible simply due to conservation of detail. And while major character black women here, all two of them, are evil, Soninke in general are not portrayed as uniformly worse than others and both Akua and Malicia are complex characters who don’t fall into the usual evil black women stereotypes.

                To be honest, if this was a published work there’d be reviewers up in flames about the Evil Empire being primarily made up of dark-skinned people while the good kingdoms are mostly light-skinned.

                Liked by 2 people

          2. caoimhinh

            That’s not metanarrative, he is trying to find fault by accusing the author of being racist and misogynist, that’s fundamentally different. And frankly ridiculous, given the story we have read so far, that has a diverse cast, not only on race, color, and sexuality, but on backgrounds and personal philosophies, there’s intelectual diversity in this work.

            In the chapter that finally shows us a confrontation that has been built up over the course of 5 books and hundreds of chapters, after all the introspections on the two leading figures of Praes of the last 40 years, and the declaration of their war on each other to decide the fate of the nation they had spent their lives protecting and improving, the only thing Mirror Night sees is a white man planning to kill a black woman? REALLY? That’s petty and narrow-minded.

            Liked by 9 people

            1. medailyfun

              I want to kindly point you to the old story where a person starts silly flame in the comments, mayhaps deserving some laughs, but not much attention. The grooves of the story are very deep in the Creation.

              Liked by 7 people

                1. NerfGlaistigUaine

                  Think Flame would fit better than Bait.

                  I AM proud of this community for being mostly civil even when such a sensitive topic comes up. So far it’s been accusations of stupid/ illogical arguments not stupid/illogical people and no one’s accused anyone’s mother of being a cow.

                  Liked by 7 people

                    1. I was going to supply the obvious answer… but then I reconsidered. Let’s not fall into the trap of defining MirrorNight (and Soma) as essential personae, on the basis of a single argument, no matter how ill-advised.

                      Liked by 5 people

            2. > he is trying to find fault by accusing the author of being racist and misogynist

              Nope!

              Neither Soma nor Mirror Night actually accused personally Erratic of being either racist or misogynist.

              All that’s happening here is a pattern match in a very unfortunate manner, which deserves being pointed out.

              Like

              1. Aotrs Commander

                Do we really want to be in a place where every single aspect of anything has to be strangled by the idea that that it dare not show anything ever in anything other than a completely homogenised fashion, in case it offends someone? Where spades cannot just be spades?

                Liked by 3 people

                1. Moridin isainde vadin

                  Do you want to be a place where any opinion that isn’t gushing about the work isn’t welcome?
                  Pointing this out is a meta observation about the story in our cultural context. I love wheel of time and i still wouldn’t claim that it contains no implications that someone with a critical metatextual eye would find problematic.

                  Like

                  1. Shveiran

                    The argument being made isn’t “critics aren’t welcome”, it is “this critique is unreasonable”.

                    If you take a single piece of anything and hold it up to scrutiny whilst ignoring everything else that gives it context, nothing will ever be able to hold water. Nothing will ever be so perfect that all its parts are perfect in their own ways under any possible light.

                    Pointing -this- out is, in our opinion, not a meaningful meta observation. It is pointing at the Monna Lisa and saying “why isn’t there at least a ginger in the background?”.

                    Arguing for inclusion in works of fiction is, again, not only fine but also necessary.
                    Doing it like this is trying to empty a bottomless well – an unending labor that achieves nothing but tiredness.

                    Liked by 2 people

        3. It’s not a mistake. It’s just ONE layer. There are MANY MORE and you are correct, but this layer also exists, and as Soma pointed out is not counterbalanced by black women in the cast who are not villains. And unfortunately IRL black women are a very specifically targeted group

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Shveiran

            Aside from Archer and Aisha and Captain and Ranger… I’m not even sure the Witch and Raphaella would count as white. But even then, so what? Sonike have nothing to do with real life cultures, they are a culture of warlocks who build giant pyramids.

            WHO ARE WE SAYING SHOULD BE OFFENDED HERE, THE WARLOCKS? Geez.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Soninke are the only black people on the continent, in this story.

              We wish we lived in a world where it didn’t matter. We all really do, and erratic probably most of all, if only just so he can write whatever story he likes without accidentally stepping into real world sucky shit cow dung.

              But the real world sucky shit cow dung still exists. And we can all take a step back and be collectively sad about that.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Shveiran

                Sonike are the race with the darkest shade of skin.

                That does not make them the only ones that can be defined as having black skin. African ethnicities do not have one shade.

                I share your wish, yet I still believe this to be a non issue, and without real base in the text to boot.

                Liked by 4 people

              2. And they’ve been cast as the core of the Evil Empire from the beginning. The thing is, even if someone pulled the same stunt on this epic as someone did on the Earthsea miniseries, (filming it as a bunch of white folks with a token black)… the characterization and backstory here would be utterly unaffected.

                This is a world that’s deep enough to stand on its own; it has its own racial issues, but one thing it does not have in its history is the American Original Sin (Stygia is closest, and that’s not very close). We don’t even have an equivalent to European-style colonialism — the closest to that would be the determinedly-offscreen gnomes..

                To call out the characters’ skin color specifically at the climax of their conflict — that’s not highlighting a genuine issue in the narrative, it’s just a derail based on forcing our real-world racial issues into the fictional world..

                Liked by 5 people

          2. Allafterme

            But adding something to the narrative for the sake of balance and counter-balance IRL is not healthy for the very story itself. EE himself crafted a story where there is absolute equality between men and women and none challenged it because it was cleverly woven into PGtE and never broke the suspension of disbelief. There is a reason new series from CW and Comics market lost much of the wind under their sails. With the words of my favorite monster, doing so would be a “Grave Mistake”.

            Liked by 4 people

              1. Shveiran

                Having one would be perfectly fine.
                ADDING one for the sake of more diversity wouldn’t be, because it would be bending the need of the story to chase after something called “perfect rappresentation” that does not, cannot exist.
                It is a temptation one must avoid, or you never stop one-upping yourself and your story suffers because of it.
                Trying to be inclusive is awesome; trying to include all spectrums of humanity in a single work of fiction is a bottomless well.

                Liked by 6 people

      5. Clmineith

        I could be completely wrong, because sometimes I miss the obvious, but isn’t Cat a black woman herself?
        She’s Deoraithe, or at least part-Deoraithe, right? And they are described as ‘dark skin’. That mean… well, not white, even if you’re making me doubt.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. There are options other than “black” and “white”. “Non-white” doesn’t automatically mean “black”. There’s a dizzying array of non-white women, you are correct (Catherine, Sabah, Indrani, Aisha…), but BLACK women specifically are… Akua, Alaya, Tasia… Ain’t a good look, that’s correct.

          This story is still better than 90% existing ones. This doesn’t mean pointing out off-key beats that are STILL there is wrong.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. pentephraxis

            Except it’s not off-key. Not at all.
            The story is *intentionally* extremely diverse in cast, for color, gender, and worldview. Going to unrealistic standards even – in an egalitarian military you simply would not get a female representation this high, and EE ignored that to make the characters *more* diverse.

            Characters are characters. The story was originally Praes-centric rather than Callow being its own thing, and so the “ruling class” were mostly dark-skinned. There, the POCs were on top and made out to be the little-g good guys. Now that the story has shifted so that Praes become narrative enemies rather than symbolic ones, those same people are also the enemy. The very nature of the story is that people who were once your enemies are now your friends and vice versa. Thus, no matter how you slice it, some black person is going to be on the receiving end of some white person’s war. If a black woman being put in their place by a white man is verboten, no matter how many white people are put in their place by black people (Black has suffered outright discrimination for his light skin), the only way to get that to not happen is to *remove* diversity and make there be either fewer black women or fewer white men.

            Finally, the significance of black women being dominated by white men is fundamentally rooted in good old Planet Earth. Culture doesn’t carry over just by virtue of being the same color. Alaya’s melanin concentration’s effect on her identity, her interactions, the way she’s viewed, etc., are absolutely unrelated to what someone of the same melanin concentration would experience here on Earth. Praes, and the Soninke bloodline, have absolutely zero parallels to Africa, American slavery, or anything else that contributes to POCs struggles in modern day America. Hell, it’s not even an Earth thing so much as it is an American thing – in, say, the UK (which EE is from!), pretty much *nobody* would interpret it in a racial context.

            The “metanarrative” is being used as a defense here, but a meta-narrative is all about finding patterns in the complexities of the story. This isn’t a complexity and it isn’t a pattern. It’s one isolated instance, significant only because of an aspect of the characters fundamentally unrelated in any way to the characters’ identities or even the story as a whole. You may as well complain that something in the story violated the Constitution.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. Clmineith

            Yes, of course. But for some reason, I was sure Cat was Black when I started to write, and then think better and realized I didn’t know. Maybe because the people described as Black in the real world have skin from the-actual-black-color to are-you-really-sure-they’re-not-white. I just didn’t visualized her as Amerindian. The wiki has corrected me.
            Also, when talking about racism and white privileges in western countries, it’s usually White with privileges or non-White without.

            In any case, I’m unsure there is a ‘black woman put down by her white ex-boyfriend’ here. If there is something to complain about here, it’s that the Evil Empire is the nation of Black people. But, well, they act more like racist colonists than like oppressed people. If anything, Callow is the poor (white) nation with natural resources but lesser technology/magic often invaded by the rich (black) nation feeling entitled to plunder the natural resources because their obvious superiority. That was what I understand in the first book, and think it a nice irony.

            Malicia IS a Black Woman, of course, but in a place where Blacks are the elite majority and the gender doesn’t matter, I’m not sure if that matter. Like, there are the unconscious representation of races in the media, and it *does* matter a lot, but ‘race’ elements in TPGTO are not unconscious at all. There are purposely used to make points.
            For me, real non-white minorities are Orcs and Goblins. Even Duni like Amadeus are more similar in status to White people from other countries in real world rather than non-white.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Insanenoodlyguy

              Cat is unsure of her exact parantage, as are most orphans, but from description appears to have Deoraithe and mainland callow blood, with an emphasis on the former in her appearance. WOG is that we’d identify Deoraithe as corresponding in appearance to Native Americans.

              Liked by 3 people

      6. Misguided anger

        Cat is a black woman. Good things happen for her, bad things happen to her antagonists who also happen to be black. Your outrage about racial roles in this work is a bit forced.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. caoimhinh

        True that, but as it is uncomfirmed right now, I simply called him Amadeus.

        Now that I recall it, Amadeus means “lover of God”, right? That’s highly ironic for the Carrion Lord, given his relationship with them XD

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Cap'n Smurfy

    Say what you will about Tyrants diplomatic strategies, you kind of have to admire the man who does the social equivalent of saying “Hey guys I invited literally Satan to the peace conference, hope that’s cool. Oh and Hitler’s here too.”

    Liked by 9 people

  4. Jane

    To be blunt, I think Amadeus is making a mistake in not having talked to Alaya first. He knows that her entire thing is schemes that aren’t what they first appear, that her philosophy is broadly in line with his despite a major difference of specifics in whether deterrence would also fall afoul of Story, and that he’s only had second-hand accounts of what she’s doing since their first major break. He has every reason to think that what’s she’s doing now isn’t what it looks like (although it could be exactly what it looks like; I’m just saying he has every reason to doubt).

    And so his reaction, when first seeing her after months of not knowing what she’s been doing, while he has done little but cause a significant problem, die, and then fall in line with Cat’s plans is… Demand that Malicia listen to him, then claim the tower for himself when she doesn’t immediately listen. In public, where it was never even possible for her to defer to him, because it would be publicly demonstrating a lack of authority.

    This is remarkably like his insistence that they should have purged the High Lords (crippling Praes’s magical talent for a generation, as though that wouldn’t invite invasion by Callow or the other Good-aligned nations), or his failure to do anything to build Cat’s trust in Malicia, as though that didn’t set her on an inevitable course towards rebellion.

    For all that that Calamities were the original Woes, he just doesn’t get the idea of people acting outside of his plans, or how that might come back to bite him. Oh, the plan will be a good one, and he’ll have countermeasures to protect his plans since he knows something will happen, but he just won’t understand something like this – like how, say, having had a nice long conversation with Malicia last night, now that scrying works again, would have avoided having had this conversation today.

    Liked by 12 people

    1. Mirror Night

      Yeah it really is amazing that Black didn’t try to clear the air with Malicia at least one more time before his Peace Conference went down. Black doesn’t understand people constantly shows up as a liability. And yeah there is no way Malicia could ever defer to Black in public, even speaking Orcish aint really a defense. Cause while sure most don’t know it, Cat, Hakram, probably VIv know it. I bet good money DK does as well. I even speculate Hanno or GP could probably know it. One cannot show the level of weakness such deference would show in public in front of the whole Continent. Black is suppose to be smart and that is just dumb.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Jane

        I don’t know that I’d say that Amadeus doesn’t understand people – that seems more like Masego or the Dead King to me, while Amadeus has generally understood what to say and do to build close relationships with the Calamities, make Cat his apprentice, avoid the traditional emotional beats of Stories, and use his reputation as a tool. That all conveys a good understanding of people to me.

        But it’s definitely an intellectual understanding, in my opinion, where he knows what to say and do when he thinks about it – and when he doesn’t realize he needs to, such as navigating a problem in his relationship with a close friend, he just seems to fail completely at treating them like a friend instead of a tool.

        Or perhaps a better way of putting it is that he doesn’t seem able to properly apply that understanding when he’s being The Black Knight instead of Amadeus? That he’s compartmentalized himself enough when planning that he stops understanding people intuitively, as he focuses on what he needs to do to win?

        Liked by 3 people

      2. SpeckofStardust

        His trust got shot to hell with the super weapon, and then further shot with the dead king getting set loose, both of which Malicia could and should have informed him sooner of, if she trusted him to make decisions anymore. Which she lost when he started (rather openly) planning for his death.
        After all if he knew the dead king would be set loose he wouldn’t have been caught by the Grey pilgrim and party.
        Black Trusted her and frankly she showed zero trust in him for their private meetings leading up to the doomsday weapon.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Jane

          To build on your point, the Black Knight was also dead-set on what very much looked like a hopeless war against an inevitable Crusade, and was making deep mistakes in his handling of Callow – and when confronted with disagreement, his reaction was to smash Malicia’s plans in favor of his own. There were reasons not to trust his judgement, because he seemed only to care about his victory against the narrative of the world, over and above things like “ensuring Praes survives” and “justifying all of this money we’re spending on Callow in a way that doesn’t make us look like we’ve lost our minds”.

          If Malicia had told him, “I think if we happen to have a superweapon, instead of building one, it will put is in the Dead King’s story of ‘overwhelming doom keeping to itself’ while ensuring nobody possesses the story weight of revenge to use as a weapon against us; this could protect us from the Crusade.”, and he disagreed, would he have deferred to her position as Dread Empress? Or would have just sabotaged it at an earlier point, forcing them into a conventional war that couldn’t be won without unleashing the Dead King?

          They both did a lot to undermine their relationship, because while the Black Knight was the leader of the Calamities, the Dread Empress has to be the Dread Empress; as the leader of an actual nation, her Empire has to come first, not the Story of their names.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Jane

            Or to make a comparison – Amadeus and Malicia’s relationship has been like if Cat were to abdicate to Vivienne after the war and go off to mentor the Drow for a decade, before coming back to tell Vivienne that should implement all of these different policies she’s thought of.

            Cat might be right about these hypothetical policies, but she’s in no position to know all of the practical obstacles to implementing them, or what other plans might currently be in the works that this would interfere with – and regardless of what their old relationship might be, it’s inappropriate for her to tell a Queen to do things as though they were still in their old Band of Five.

            Amadeus used to be the head of their group, and certainly has valuable insights, but he turned down the Tower in favor of reforming the legions, conquering Callow, and trying to remake it into a society that will freely export grain to Praes. He knows next to nothing about what it takes to keep the High Lords in line, and keeps ignoring that fact in favor of what Praes needs to do – which is perfectly fine so long as he’s an advisor to the Empress, since he’s not wrong, but too often he behaved like this was back when they were a band of rebels instead of she an Empress and he her general.

            And this is certainly on Malicia as well, for not setting clear boundaries – she should have insisted that she be more present for Cat’s education, for instance. But this contradiction at the heart of their relationship is the key fault line that has lead to the current problems between them, in my opinion.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. caoimhinh

              Except that we have seen for a fact, ever since Book 1, that Amadeus deferred to Malicia’s judgment in matters of politics and even when he disagreed he trusted her enough to obey her and let her handle matters on her end.
              Amadeus also always told her about his plans, he was open about them and trusted her, it was Malicia who broke trust and did things behind his back out of fear and a need for control. We saw multiple instances that both stated and hinted that Amadeus shared his plans with Malicia, but when Amadeus asked Malicia about what she was doing about Akua, she asked him to trust her, and he did, hence Akua’s Folly happened under the auspice of the Empress.

              It’s not that he left Praes and returned after decades to tell the Empress what to do, it’s that the Empress went back on what they had been building for decades to have her own personal Doomsday Weapon, which he recognized as a terrible mistake and she considered a safe gamble out of technicalities (she didn’t build the weapon, simply had it) while the Narrative Force accelerated the Crusade as a consequence (even if the Villain didn’t make the weapon, if they find it and keep it then they are a target for Heroes, as the Villain with a Doomsday Device is a threat, doesn’t matter if they created it or not).

              Liked by 4 people

              1. Jane

                That is not how I have interpreted the conversations between them that we have seen – that he never truly overruled her in the past sounds to me more like a practical reflection of the fact that she has formal authority and nothing would be improved by his leaving, rather than any true deference on his part. Take https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2016/02/17/villainous-interlude-coulisse/ for instance – he frankly ignores any complaint she makes of his conduct, while he (understandably) gets upset when she pretends she’s going to make a compromise to appease her political opposition. That is not how a general speaks to his superior; it’s how a leader speaks to a misguided subordinate.

                This is a consistent theme regarding their conversations; he doesn’t truly see her as the Empress, even if he acknowledges the political authority that he has given her. Because their inner circle always saw him as the leader, and her as the figurehead, and they’ve been close enough friends that nothing has forced the issue – until now.

                And honestly, even the framing you’re providing puts lie to the fact that he’s truly subordinate to her – “he trusted her enough to obey her”? “Malicia broke trust with him”? He is sworn to her service – he owes her that loyalty no matter how little he trusts her, and it is her right to order him as she wishes, with as few details as she desires. That’s what it meant to put her on the throne in truth instead of taking it for himself – no state can function without someone clearly in charge, and that is meant to be her, not him. Obedience isn’t optional just because they’re old friends.

                And, I would add, he himself has acknowledged that rather than dealing with the practical concerns of running the Empire, he’s been focused on his own projects – the legions, being the uncrowned king of Callow, putting down heroes, so on and so forth. He has very little grasp of what Malicia had to deal with day-to-day in keeping Procer from gaining enough allies to invade, or in preventing the High Lords from doing something truly stupid. So when he says it’s no big deal to give Cat the right to execute Wasteland nobility, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Just letting her kill the one would have been an actual problem if Malicia hadn’t already been near to success in her scheme to break the Truebloods – his alternative was to invite a rebellion when they knew they were already out of time to prepare for a Crusade! While grooming another, more dangerous rebel, I might add. How was any of this a good plan on his part?

                As for the superweapon plan, if she could have trusted him to not break her plan if he disagreed, perhaps she would have consulted with him more deeply. Because honestly, it still looks like a sound plan to me – the Dead King has relied on that story for generations, of being the big scary evil place that isn’t actively threatening the world. It works for him because most traditional narratives rely on Evil being proactive, and passive dangers being a threat rather than a target – if Malicia could acquire that level of danger without being proactive, then she should be able to step into that story herself. Is the hellportal dangerous enough to serve that function? I couldn’t say, and it was broken before it could ever provide deterrence. In such a way that it still served as the catalyst for the Crusade, incidentally.

                But even still… Everybody in the story agreed that the Crusade was coming, and that the Empire would not be able to prepare enough conventionally to win. And everything we saw happen was consistent with that – Cat and Black put up a strong fight on two different fronts, but would be overwhelmed by the reinforcements if they’d been given time to arrive.

                So if Black wasn’t preparing to unleash the Dead King himself, how exactly did he expect to save Praes, Malicia’s priority? Because he shot down Malicia’s plan, but his hardly seemed any more effective – just one that would make Cat less angry. She may have been wrong, but he wasn’t any more correct.

                Liked by 4 people

                1. caoimhinh

                  The thing is, they weren’t simply a general and an empress, they were a team. They built the current Praes together, by combining their strengths and covering for each other weaknesses.
                  Amadeus was not a follower of Malicia, he was her partner, that’s an important thing.

                  So Amadeus didn’t blindly obey Malicia, nor did Malicia left all matters related to Callow to Amadeus, they worked up their plans together, and only in very specific subjects did they work without the intervention of the other, like Amadeus fighting Heroes and Malicia political schemes with the High Lords.

                  Also, keep in mind that Malicia was aware of the Narrative Force at work, she stated as much both to Catherine and Black when she was justifying her actions. Malicia’s reasoning was the if she didn’t make the weapon and wasn’t planning to use it, she would avoid the shackles of the Story. Her justification in front of them also included stating that she didn’t consider them capable of winning, so they had to look for a way to not fight. Which would have been fine except that her method was getting her hands on one of the things they had avoided because Doomsday Weapons are Old School Villan’s means and thus condemn them to Old School Villain’s ends.

                  Liked by 3 people

                  1. Jane

                    They were partners, but they were never equal. Malicia was Black’s follower during their rebellion, and now Black is supposed to be Malicia’s follower – unless she is instead supposed to a puppet or figurehead. They respect each other and are friends, but they aren’t equal.

                    It’s like how Cat’s first response to seeing Vivienne in Procer was to give her a dressing down for thinking her adventure was a good idea – Cat and Vivienne are friends, and respect each other, but Cat is clearly in charge, and Vivienne defers to her judgement, even when it appears deeply questionable. And true, Vivienne gives her some lip, but not about important matters the way Black did. That’s how such a relationship is supposed to work, when one party is the formal head of the nation, and the other is a trusted subordinate.

                    Instead, Black flouted Malicia’s request to end the civil war quickly, or to deal with Cat in a way that didn’t lead to another inevitable revolt.

                    This isn’t sustainable so long as Black is in charge of Praes’s military. A military that can’t be trusted to listen to the orders of the Empress means that the Empire does not truly have a military of their own – they have a vassal of temperamental attitude who has an army, a situation that came to a head as soon as the Crusade began and the army was divided into camps of differing loyalty.

                    If they wanted their relationship to continue as before, then Black should have left the army to someone else while he acted as her independent agent. Or perhaps made him the official ruler of Callow, as a vassal to Praes with loose obligations; Malicia could have managed the politics of it.

                    Instead, in trying to keep their relationship the way it was before despite vastly different circumstances, they may well have destroyed that relationship.

                    As regards Malicia’s reasoning… The Dead King’s ritual was Old School Villain’s means, but it’s still given him millennium of protection by making him obscenely overpowered and killing everyone who might have had a grudge over the costs. If the Doomsday Weapon made Malicia obscenely stronger than the enemies who wanted to invade, without giving a story advantage to any Heroes looking to break the weapon, why shouldn’t the same model work for her? Hasenbach isn’t stupid – she wouldn’t have invaded if she expected to face a Hell’s worth of devils if she tried, no matter how much she wanted the Grand Alliance.

                    Liked by 6 people

                2. Stopping the Crusade was entirely practical.

                  Land armies could only get at Praes/Callow by forcing the Vale – a heavily fortified and garrisoned strategic choke point.
                  Any invasion by sea would maybe be able to force a landing and secure a foothold, but most likely would not have been able to hold onto it long enough for ships to return with the next wave of troops.

                  And without the Doom of Liesse, there’s far less urgency and cohesion amongst the Crusade’s component members. Remember, prior to the Doom, Praes under Malicia and Amadeus had spent decades trying to reshape the image of Praes into a more or less normal nation, not one filled with madmen and Villians who urgently need to be put down for everyone’s well being. The Doom destroyed all of that work.

                  For that matter, Malicia made the war with Procer inevitable by continuing to meddle in the Proceran Civil War long past the point she needed to keep Procer focused inwards for the Conquest of Callow. Not that Callow would have asked for or wanted Procer to get involved anyways.
                  Malicia kept the Proceran Civil War churning until Hasenbach decided to end it and needed to focus Procer on an external enemy in order to remain in power. Malicia either should have stopped funding everyone, or just picked a winner who wouldn’t go after Praes/Callow.

                  Plus, Crusades end in failure.
                  We know for a fact that every Crusade 3-9 has ended in failure. 3 and 4 ended so badly against one of the Terribilis’s that every subsequent Crusade prior to the 10th was declared against the Dead King, not Praes and the Tower.
                  The trend, and thus the Story, is that Crusades fail, despite their nominal advantages. Good defeats Evil … but Evil endures and outlasts Good when it comes to Crusades.

                  Liked by 4 people

                  1. jonnnney

                    Crusades often fail to create a long term change in the borders of nations, but the ones that weren’t aimed at the dead king often succeeded at killing the main villain. Also you say Callow wouldn’t seek help from Procer to fight against Praes when Callow did in fact seek and receive help from Procer in order to rebel against Praes.

                    Liked by 3 people

                    1. Callow didn’t rise up though. Only a few nobles and their personal forces did.

                      The majority of the population just ignored them and even their levies turned on them and went back to work in the fields when it was all over.

                      Even the knights in hiding didn’t bother to join that rebellion. In one extra chapter, Talbot basically pegs the rebellion as a bunch of nobles realizing Callow would never to free in their lifetimes and trying to die gloriously.

                      Liked by 1 person

                3. willfultrooper

                  There are two things that I disagree with. 1. “Black doesn’t know what he’s talking about” – concerning wasteland nobility and cat’s blood thirsty actions and 2. Black owes Malicia his loyalty regardless of trust.

                  To address the first point, though Black doesn’t run the day to day ruling of Praes he does in fact interact with the nobility. This is shown during Heirophants’ flashback regarding his first experience with nobility when he was at a party. So we could assume that he has an idea (no matter how bad that idea is that still establishes a basis of that). It would also be out of character for Black to just give a go ahead without some idea of whats’ going to happen. He knows that the Wasteland nobility run the empire when he and Malicia talk about previous emperors of Praes (It was one of the bonus chapters I forgot which) so it would be fair to say he has a rough idea what the downfall of Praesi nobility might entail. The reason why he’s still so gung-ho about it is because he believes that Praes might be better without the current nobility chief argument in favour would be how Praes is currently a wasteland and for the nobility’s casual disregard of their actions i.e when the then heiress pillaged and looted in Callow in the civil war, Akua got away with it. They are surprisingly strong arguments supporting Black when you think about it. He might not run the empire but to say he has no idea of the wasteland nobility OR the consequences they might entail should Cat butcher them is wrong. He might have a worse idea than Malicia but he still has a fair idea of what might happen. He just weighed their value on a scale and decided they weren’t really worth it.

                  In regards to the second point, Black does not owe Malicia blind obedience. Even a loyal dog will turn on the owner if abused enough and for Black this was the final straw. She ignored his advice on how the wasteland nobility should be handled – which might not be a sin but for Black who has seen how they act it might as well be one. He put her on the throne true. But he didn’t specifically say that he would follow her blindly and even then loyalty has its’ limits. In fact I would refer to that bonus chapter again when Malicia and Black talk about Emperors of Praes. Black said it was a two person deal. Their methods might differ but their goals were the same, the betterment of Praes. Black wants the overhaul and change of upper society and leadership as well as the better treatment of Orcs, goblins and others living in the Empire. Malicia was to establish strong leadership to allow for a more united and stronger empire by guiding it herself i.e giving all its resources and talent a direction outward instead of inward. Both agreed that Callow was necessary. Black through integration, Malicia through subjugation. In fact just because he crowned Malicia does not mean he would follow her blindly. That’s not why he put her on the throne. He put her on the throne because her central ideology matched his. A better Praes. I don’t remember when Black explicitly claimed blind obedience. I might have missed it, if so I welcome any form of discourse opposing my established points.

                  I do agree however that what Malicia did was a good move for both Praes and Callow, they were in a tight spot, though I doubt defeat was inevitable just that if they won it would be a Pyrrhic victory.

                  When I refer to Black and Malicia’s talk I refer to the chapter Seed I and II. Or at least I think those are the chapter. Anyway, what I mean to say is that this chapter establishes that Black is indeed aware of the influence of the nobility. He may not say it explicitly, that does not mean he is not aware.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. Jane

                    A fair point, but let me clarify a bit with an example; I know how a bakery works. You order the ingredients, mix them in large batches, divide them up into loaves, and sell them to customers at as high a price you can without hurting sales.

                    But I’ve never actually run a bakery in my life; I know in the abstract how it’s supposed to work, and even know a few bakers, but I don’t have the day-to-day experience of finding good suppliers who won’t gouge me, spending all day in a hot kitchen, dealing with unsatisfied customers, or how to try and figure out the right price point for my area. Heck, I don’t even know where I’d put a bakery, or what type of bakery would be appropriate for this area.

                    This is what I mean when I say that Black doesn’t understand what he’s proposing – he’s used to Malicia dealing with all the practical matters of how to pacify the High Nobles, without understanding what really goes into all of those political games that Malicia plays. He knows the Praesi nobility plot incessantly and waste their strength on petty games of power, but he doesn’t play them himself; he’s essentially an outsider, having spent decades spending as little time in court as he can get away with.

                    And so while he might understand that he’s asking for something politically expensive in order to keep Callow attached, he doesn’t understand what Malicia would have to do to prevent the nobility from revolting – either the opportunity cost that would come from her having to spend time breaking apart any potential opposition, or in what she might have to trade away in return. Nor would he understand how that might affect her ability to keep their external enemies divided; if it was put in terms of “I can do this to better bind Callow to us, but the distraction will mean that Procer will invade five years earlier”, would he be so blithe about it?

                    As for whether Black owes Malicia his loyalty… She’s the Dread Empress, and I presume that he swore his loyalty to her, seeing as how he put her on the throne. Someone as powerful and high-profile as him must be either loyal to the throne, or removed as a dangerous element for discontented nobles to rally around. I don’t mean killed, of course – he could just as readily go adventuring around the world as many other Named who don’t attach themselves to a single country do. As Ranger herself did, for that matter.

                    But a monarch who people don’t listen to is no monarch at all – and the country they claim to lead will be a powder keg ready to explode as soon as the many powerful nobles beneath them realize that the monarch’s power isn’t infallible, if it doesn’t first collapse in the face of a catastrophe when someone hesitates to follow her orders.

                    To draw on a theme from the book – the woman may have friends, but the queen may only have subjects. Amadeus and Alaya may be friends, but the Dread Empress must trust that the Black Knight will obey her without fail.

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. You (and others) are thinking in terms of “Black must obey the Empress, because she’s the ruler and he’s just a general”. But… that’s thinking in terms of our own world’s “divine right of kings”.

                      But even in our own world, there’s a level where that doesn’t really apply, where the ground truth isn’t a “God-given” hierarchy, but rather, a power balance among several “top dogs” — where a king who overreaches their actual power is liable to lose their head, when their generals or nobles stand up and demonstrate that the king’s authority is not so absolute after all.

                      And “divine right of kings” really doesn’t apply when we’re talking about the self-acknowledged Evil Empire, where succession to the throne is always a “Klingon promotion”, and “might makes right” is literally the command of the Gods.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    2. willfultrooper

                      I’ll use the bakery analogy just to ensure we at least have a common ground. Like you said, just because I know what a bakery does does not mean that I actually know what goes on in how to manage a bakery. However let me put this in Black’s perspective using the same analogy. Black doesn’t know the entirely of how a bakery works but he has a fair idea, it provides bakeries to people and feeds them all well and good. However, the bakery (or the Preasi nobility) have been making bread that is detrimental to the overall population such as food poisoning to the degree that people are dying because of it. Now they might not be dying all at once but it’s a good guess to say that if this continues the entire town (empire) will have turned into a ghost town if not resolved. You don’t need extensive knowledge about how to run a bakery to realise that it is a danger to the town, in fact it’s safe to assume that removing the bakery would be beneficial for the town, now the outcome might be bad after the removal of the bakery i.e the starvation of the town but it is still a valid assumption to say that removing a bad thing might be a good thing. You can’t say that removing the bakery would 100% result in the starvation of the town. After all, a better bakery (Black overthrowing Malicia *In Blacks’ current perspective – this is an assumption*) might crop out or the town might realise that they don’t need a bakery to feed them, they could rely on fruits or another source of food (a change in government from the nobility system to a democratic system *AS AN EXAMPLE*). Of course, it is still a valid assumption to say that the town will still starve regardless.

                      I’d also like to point out that the main reason why Black actually turned on Malicia is her siding with the Dead King. That is also not the only reason but the one that tipped the scales.

                      Black put Malicia on the throne because they needed, at least in my assumption, one of the two to be the publicly recognised leader of the wasteland and Black might of assumed that Malicia had a better idea and thus crowned her in dread. Now however Black has come to the realisation that the woman who is currently sitting on that throne is no longer the same woman he crown so many years ago. He owed the Malicia he crowned loyalty, but when that woman no longer believes in the same ideas he does then why stay loyal? If you swore loyalty to both king and country and the king swore to destroy the country who would you follow? The kings standard or the country’s? Black may be knight sworn to the empress’s service but he is also a knight sworn to Praes, though he may not have said so explicitly his actions show that he is loyal to Praes. And now he perceives that Malicia is a threat to Praes. Now Malicia might actually be right or Black might be right, we don’t know for certain. All we do know is that Black believes that Malicia is acting in a detrimental fashion against Praes and he now believes that it would be better if she were removed. Now I’m not saying that he’s right or wrong, all I’m saying is that Black had to choose between his empress and his country and he chose his country. Putting a crown atop her head might have made her the leader of said country it did not however make her THE country.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. Jane

                      Ah, I think I see the point where we’re talking past each other – Black does indeed know what he’s talking about with his greater idea of what to do with the High Lords (kill them all, even if it means civil war), though he seems to underestimate the costs.

                      But he doesn’t know what he’s talking about on a smaller scale, which is what I meant – he’s been out of the capital for twenty years, and doesn’t know how much it complicates Malicia’s position when he lets Cat kill a specific High Lord. Especially since those positions were meant to be bribes and rewards to help stabilize Praes’s internal political situation.

                      And this matters when Black has agreed that they’re not going to pursue his larger idea – if they’re not going to immediately pursue purging the nobility, then they need to be properly managed until they can be whittled away more slowly.

                      As for Black’s loyalty in general, he’s free to rebel! It’s how succession works in the Wasteland, after all. What he can’t do is ignore Malicia’s orders to end the civil war more quickly, or sabotage her plans just because she disagrees with him – not if he doesn’t intend to rebel against her.

                      Black’s loyalty if granted must be absolute, given his power and profile. If not granted, he must rebel (as he did) or leave (if he couldn’t bear the thought). This is what I meant at the start of the conversation – that Black isn’t doing Malicia some favor when he trusts her and follows her orders; that’s just a basic part of obeying his Empress, even if their history makes that look more complicated.

                      Liked by 1 person

          2. Except that they weren’t looking at a “hopeless war”.

            They were looking at an inevitable one, in part because Malicia kept meddling in the Proceran Civil War long past the need to keep Procer occupied for the Conquest of Callow. Not that Callow would have asked for Proceran help anyways.
            Malicia honestly should have either gotten out of the Proceran Civil War or picked a winner, long before Hasenbach decided to end it.

            However, the inevitable war was one that they could successfully hold off the Crusade and win. It had been done before, and, honestly, the Story of Crusades is a Story of Failure. Every Crusade from the 3rd to the 9th had ended in utter failure. In fact, Crusades 3 and 4 failed against one of the Terribilis’s so badly that all subsequent Crusades would be called against the Dead King, not Praes.

            The Legions would need to hold the Vales, a heavily fortified and well garrisoned strategic choke point, and the only point where land armies could get to them.
            That leaves a possible invasion carried by sea … or, in other words, enough to possibly grab a foothold, but not enough to keep it long enough for the ships to return with the next wave of troops.

            In short, beating back the Crusade, especially without the threat of the kind of thing the Doom of Liesse represented to drive urgency and cohesion amongst the Crusaders, was entirely practical. It would be bloody and expensive, but entirely doable.
            The Doom of Liesse undid decades of work to make Praes seem like a relatively normal nation that wasn’t filled with raving madmen and Villians in dire need of being put down immediately if not sooner.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Jane

              The Crusades have traditionally failed in the past, yes, but those were all being fought on their home territory – terrible for provisioning an invading army, and protected by High Lords with enough ancient sorceries to break ten armies.

              This Crusade would be the story of liberating Callow, however, a much stronger story – and once they break through the Vales, Callow is much friendlier terrain for them. Either they abandon Callow to the crusaders, land they likely won’t reclaim after the war if they do, or they fight the war on land much more favorable to the attackers; it’s also a lot less likely that the High Lords will (or even can) break out their best defenses if they’re not in imminent danger.

              I would also point out that most every character we saw in the story doubted their ability to actually win the war without some kind of miracle, and that I’m inclined to trust their judgement given how badly things were going for the characters before the Dead King invaded. The Crusade we saw was of the “Worst Case Scenario” sort, true, but all of the most important parties would still have joined, and a later Crusade probably wouldn’t have had the Tyrant nipping at Procer’s heels.

              As regards Malicia’s meddling in Procer, I’d point out that was being done to delay the Crusade – she knew that Hasenbach was preparing the Grand Alliance for her own agenda. Praes was just a convenient target; if she’d given Procer a freer hand, it would have just allowed them start the war earlier. Having taken Callow was cause enough.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. Amadeus and Grem both believed they could win.

                Frankly, it would be bloody and expensive, but as long as your victory condition is that the Crusade stops coming after Praes/Callow? That would be entirely doable.

                The Crusade would have at least half gutted itself grinding through the Vales … if it got through them at all. The kinds of casualties it would take would have basically broken and ruined any units involved.
                Then, they’ve either got to take and occupy a broad swath of Callow to secure their supply lines (or what passes for them) then grind through Summerholm, then invade Praes proper, or leave their supply lines unprotected and try to bypass ad much of Callow as they can and go straight for Ater and the Tower, which would be doomed to failure. Callowans weren’t going to be welcoming them as liberators. Rumors would have been spread that the Procerans were planning on annexing Callow again.

                Also, when I talk about Malicia’s meddling in the Proceran Civil War, all she needed was a few years to consolidate the Conquest, then she could have picked one candidate she thought she had the most leverage on or was otherwise least likely to cause her problems (maybe one that wanted to go after the Levant or the League) and back that one, or one that would have the weakest ruling coalition. She didn’t need to keep it going for as long as she did, she could have let it end years before Cordelia Hasenbach decided to step in and end it. After Cordelia became First Prince, all Malicia could do in Procer was buy some time while ensuring Procer would eventually come after Praes/Callow and maybe getting hooks into some of the possible candidates to succeed Cordelia.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Jane

                  “Two years won’t be enough,” [Black] finally said. “Even if we raised another five legions tomorrow Procer would still outnumber us nearly two to one in professional soldiers. We wouldn’t be able to hold the Vales, and it would all be downhill from there.”

                  This isn’t the quote I had in mind (from Villainous Interlude: Coulisse), but it’s close enough. Black didn’t think the Empire would be prepared for even Procer alone to invade without many more years of preparation – preparation that Hasenbach had no intention of giving them, because she dreamed of ending the meaningless warfare between Good nations by binding them through diplomacy.

                  And Hasenbach still would have Ritual’d her way around the Vales, exactly as she did in the story, and avoided needing to force her way through the Vales. I mean, we saw how things went – Black and Cat barely held on even before the Grand Alliance was able to bring their full strength to bear. If they got the Dominion on their side, which they would have eventually, that would be enough for Procer to decisively win, absent outside interference. It happened earlier than either side planned, courtesy of Liesse, but a Crusade was coming in years instead of decades either way.

                  If Black thought they had a chance, it’s only because he had unreasonable faith that Malicia could keep Hasenbach occupied until he could build their army up more, something that she herself seemed less certain of, and which doesn’t really fit well with the way he was managing Cat.

                  As for the civil war… Honestly, Procer’s an expansionist empire that has had its eyes set on Callow for ages; I think any First Prince had a strong chance of invading (though less effectively than Hasenbach, granted), and likely with a stronger base of support than Hasenbach started with. There weren’t really any good candidates for Malicia to choose from, considering Procer’s nature.

                  She might have stopped it earlier, true, but it would have bled out Procer less, strengthening their relative position in general – and nobody really expected Hasenbach to come out of nowhere like this. It’d have taken omniscience to see coming, considering the strength of her rivals.

                  Liked by 3 people

                2. > The Crusade would have at least half gutted itself grinding through the Vales … if it got through them at all. The kinds of casualties it would take would have basically broken and ruined any units involved.

                  You realize that in the actual timeline that actually took place in the Guide the Crusade basically did get through the Vales without that being the case? Grem and Black were effectively dislodged from the Vales by that battle, and their fortifications were reduced to/buried in rubble. The Vales were temporarily blocked by Wekesa’s magic, but that’s just a matter of digging to get through, which is not a notably casualty-intensive process. That battle didn’t even break the Iron Prince’s forces, and didn’t touch any of the (many, many) reinforcements we’ve seen on the field since.

                  When we continue a little further down the actual timeline we see that the Grand Alliance never actually had the time to finish digging its way through the Vales, but that’s because of Malicia’s unleashing the Dead King. If we remove that from the equation, then Black’s granary-burning spree might have bought them some time, but nothing about how Pilgrim brought that to a stop was contingent on the Doom of Liesse or any of Malicia’s other actions – meaning that presumably in an alternate timeline where Malicia let Black have the conventional war he wanted it would have ended up the same way.

                  This, in turn, means that once Black was stopped any forces that were pulled off of digging because of his actions would be free to return to digging through the Vales. And Praes would now be out more than half of its legions while the Grand Alliance’s forces would have been reduced by a vastly lower percentage, and the actual fortifications in the Vales would already be gone. Which means that Praes. Would. Have. Lost.

                  And as Jane’s quoted passage in her comment shows, Black even knew that himself. Hell, I’ll quote it again (I hope, WordPress is tricky) because it’s worth repeating.

                  Two years won’t be enough,” [Black] finally said. “Even if we raised another five legions tomorrow Procer would still outnumber us nearly two to one in professional soldiers. We wouldn’t be able to hold the Vales, and it would all be downhill from there.

                  I still disagree with Malicia’s actions, but her fears were not in the least bit irrational. And the fact that Black was still insisting on conducting a conventional war despite his own prior assessment that it was a doomed approach means that honestly there are good grounds for considering him to be the one acting more irrationally between the pair of them.

                  Neither of them is really right here – Malicia’s fears are reasonable, but I can’t excuse her methods. I agree more with Black’s philosophy overall but honestly how was a story-savvy Evil Overlord like him even able to kid himself that a plot to orchestrate mass starvation of civilians wasn’t a villain story that’d see him put down? Just because you aren’t using a flying fortress or a grand ritual to do it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a doomed villain story. The real tragedy of this story isn’t that Black’s old friend has gone mad with power and must be put down by her reasonable friend. It’s that they’re both wedded to their goals past the point of reasonability, and it’s tearing them apart. And if Catherine wasn’t around to play combination wildcard/arbiter, it would probably have torn Praes apart as well, destroying both their personal hopes and dreams for their nation. I’m not 100% convinced that arguing over which of them was more wrong is really important given that following either of their paths without interference would have led to utter catastrophe for everything they’ve said they believe in and are fighting for.

                  P.S. I couldn’t find a good place to fit this in above, but I also don’t agree with the people who say that Malicia could have used the Doom of Liesse to squirm Praes’ way into a Dead King-type story where they’re too dangerous to bother since they’re not actively invading. Akua specifically built that superweapon to only be usable by somebody with the Name of Diabolist. Could Warlock have worked around that, with time? Almost certainly – but the key part of that sentence are the last two words. “With time”. Because at that point the story you have is villains trying to bring a superweapon online in time to unleash it against a crusade, which is pretty much a 100% narrative guarantee of failure via heroic interference. Again, they were both wrong. That’s the tragedy of it.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Jane

                    Just to comment on the superweapon thing, since I’ve defended it here…

                    I don’t necessarily think it would have worked, just that it’s not Obviously Stupid the way a lot of people suggest since we have an in-universe example of something similar working and a really good reason that they had to try something. A desperate plan with logical reasoning behind it failing doesn’t mean the person was a fool for trying it.

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. I would agree that it isn’t Obviously Stupid, in that there is a conceivable scenario where it does everything Malicia wanted it to. But I think the odds of that scenario actually coming to pass would be very low (it’s worth noting that the in-universe example you’re referencing is literally older than written history and we haven’t heard of another successful example since).

                      I think we might actually be on the same page mostly? I believe that Malicia was desperately trying for the edge case because it would at least be a chance and a conventional war would give Praes about a 0% chance. I can’t condone her doing so (especially not just to chase something that I can’t see as more than an edge case) since giving Akua that much free rein can extremely easily be predicted to result in atrocity even if Malicia didn’t predict the exact nature of it, but she isn’t called Dread Empress because it’s her job to be nice so I understand why she’d do it. I think she has to go, I think she’s been wrong about more than one thing that mattered, but I don’t think she’s ever been a fool.

                      Liked by 1 person

      3. Insanenoodlyguy

        One thing I am left to wonder though, and this is all background stuff that probably did happen…

        Has he tried to Scry her? He’s been awake for a while, he’s been talking to other people, it seems like at some point he’d phone his up till now BFF. It seems like he’d have done so by now, or vice versa. It’s not great if somebody isn’t taking somebody’s calls.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. SINISTAR

      You fail to account that one of the people who knows him best, and whom has absolutely terrifying power over bureaucracy has been making steady efforts to poison their relations. And his daughter figure knows and has kept silent.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Jane

        And so he never even talks to the person who had been closest to him in the world at all? Despite the fact that he knows darned well that there are things they urgently need to talk about?

        If he’d talked to her only for the rift to deepen, I’d agree that we can’t overlook the Scribe’s role in things, but to never even try talking to him at all is purely on him – he knows that talking to her is the only way to fix things before one of them ends up dead for good.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Soronel Haetir

          How exactly would Amadeus have gotten in touch with Alaya from this distance? It’s not like he had the ability to look up her closest flesh puppet (which may well have been keeping DK company anyway). He doesn’t even have Warlock’s support anymore.

          I seem to recall that he used to have a mirror shard he could use to communicate with her but I somehow suspect that was taken and not given back.

          And even here he asked for both to back down some and have a chance to consider matters only to be told “Heel, you dog”.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Jane

            The same way that Scribe was able to get in touch with Praes. It might not be as secure a connection as he’s used to, but when he’s just been told deeply troubling information about her, and knows that she’s attending the diplomatic conference tomorrow, he doesn’t really have a choice but to talk to her if he wants to have any influence on what happens.

            And for goodness sake, literally every person of importance on the continent (outside of Gigantes and the Golden Bloom, I guess) is in attendance; what else could she do but tell him to heel? If she backed down now, it would essentially be telling the world that he’s the one who’s really in charge of Praes.

            What does her listening to him even look like in this case? He doesn’t know why she’s there or what she’s doing – she could be announcing that she’s willing to agree to a white peace out of deep sorrow for Procer’s losses, for all he knows. I doubt it, but this is a truce conference, after all.

            But no, his demand is “Let me handle this, while you do nothing”. That is frankly insulting and arrogant of him, considering that her plan of bringing the Dead King in was the only thing that saved Praes’s position for the moment, and his plan went disastrously wrong for him and almost lead to the loss of multiple legions.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Magicturtle

              I dont believe scribe would be able to do it in less than a day though… At the end of the day Malicia could easily have contacted him but she chose not to. they have been a team from the get-go and for her to completely cut him out is unacceptable. Sure they have been in disagreement and fought hard with each other, but my understanding is that no matter how hard they fight they still care for each other. As, for example, seen with Malicia´s reaction when learning that BK have been captured. To reiterate even if Scribe could find the puppet in less than a day (doubtful) Would anything have changed? She wouldn’t change her position and would expect BK to heel. We might have gotten an interesting conversation out of it, but thats it.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. You’re not wrong that him asking her to listen to him is entirely irrational and absurd and clearly him riding on emotions.

              That said. You’re putting all the onus for not communicating on him. Shouldn’t that part be split 50/50? It’s not like SHE didn’t have the means to send him a message too, hmm? She, too, chose to tell him to heel in public, putting him on the spot to betray the allies he’s sitting with (which doesn’t just burn his bridges with them, it burns bridges of him being a trustworthy ally period, it makes him publicly break his clearly-to-everyone-involved given word). Instead of contacting him beforehand – there’s only so blatant Scribe would dare be in sabotaging that methinks. And working out some sort of strategy they could follow without either of them blowing their gains to smithereens.

              She did not even warn him she would be there. He learned from Catherine’s GUESS. While she knew full well where he would be and what he would be doing, it’s PUBLIC INFORMATION.

              Even if we assume she did try to contact him and Scribe gleefully burned that bridge, he’s operating without that information. What he sees is her not trying to contact him at all, what he sees is her trying to lean on the relationship she herself had already burned down and he’s already made that clear to her with throwing how badly she betrayed him with Akua’s Folly in her face. He sees madness and irrationality, he sees no hope at all for actually achieving anything.

              So yes, that plea? That was something he needed to say for himself, for his own sake, to see her reaction. Not something he expected to achieve anything at all.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Mirror Night

                I mean I think its more cause of the scrying Block and Black being out of contact. Malicia wouldn’t know when Black got out and was able to talk whereas Black would. So it should be easier for Black to phone the Tower then it is for Malicia to try to call up Black in the middle of nowhere. Normally I would say the onus is on both of them to try to talk but in this case, I think Black has to make the call given the situation.

                Like

              2. Jane

                …He’s been dead, and his soul trapped. That’s a pretty good reason for not trying to talk to him 😛 .
                And before that, they did talk, once, and decided to spend some time apart to cool down (my interpretation, at least); after he was revived, it’s been a matter of days, and he’s been in Cat’s camp (literally, not necessarily figuratively), with little practical way to get in touch with him. She’s likely still trying to work out how to do so without the Jacks seeing everything.

                I don’t disagree that she should try to talk to him as well, but she had no reason to expect that he was going to be making a major move today, and so had less of an urgent reason to speak to him. Plus, she’s not expecting him to die if he doesn’t change his course, while he is expecting her to die; he believes the stakes to be higher than she does.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. > but she had no reason to expect that he was going to be making a major move today

                  Well, he wasn’t going to be making that move if she wasn’t there, I think?

                  What she knew was that he would be present at the conference as a representative for Praes, and that’s what she needed to act on.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Jane

                    Eh, I don’t know. Malicia attending the conference was meant to be a shock to everyone, and whatever her purpose there is, it’s going to be a major play. If she tipped her hand prior to this, it would lessen the shock of whatever it is she’s planning – she has every reason to think that Cat will hear whatever she tells him.

                    Amadeus’s attendance, on the other hand, could very easily have been simple support for Cat, and settling the matter of whether he was going to be executed for war crimes; there was no particular reason to think that he’d be doing anything disruptive at the conference, and she didn’t particularly need Amadeus’s support when acting in her specialty.

                    I do agree that Malicia should talk to him, but her failing to do so just feels like much more of a justifiable mistake than him failing to talk to her.

                    Liked by 1 person

        2. Death Knight

          What makes you think that talk would have settled anything? They’ve had a similar talk before, it effectively kick started Amadeus’ Role waning as the Black Knight.

          Remember how Malicia’s Name is described? A perfectly fitting glove. At her heart and core, she is a control freak and as such will not brook loss of control for ANY reason. She won’t abdicate. She won’t go away to the Tideless isles on an indefinite vacation and her becoming Amadeus’ Chancellor is impossible.

          Moreover, Cat and Cordelia both want her dead and the latter won’t change her mind on the matter (Cat would be fine if Malicia went far away but it’s been repeatedly established that she won’t).

          So even if the talk worked and she stepped down she’d still need to die or go away for all the shit she has caused.

          Black likely realized the situation and simply preempted the process. Cat said in this chapter she already told Cordelia how he would react. So if both Callow and Procer recognizes Black’s claim and pledges to support it all of Malicia’s supporters will defect seeing as Black has the backing of the Grand Alliance, the Goblins and the vast majority of the legions of terror and the entire Orcish race. The writing is on the wall then.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Well, technically, Malicia will likely end up with all the remaining High Lords gathering behind her, because she’s clearly the superior option to him at least and she’s been pretty successful at quashing their own claims.

            Liked by 4 people

          2. Jane

            Amadeus is still a person – even if you’re right, and nothing changes in practice, he would still want a chance to try to talk his best friend in the world out of a fatal mistake. Instead, the thought would always be in the back of his mind that if he’d just had the chance, he could have saved her life. There’s a big difference, emotionally, between having had that talk and watched it fail, and in never having had that talk at all.

            Not to mention, like this, he’ll always wonder what went wrong, why Malicia chose this path – in seeing her reasoning and her motives, he would at least understand what happened, and be able to empathize with her reasoning instead of letting it all be some big black box.

            And from a more practical perspective, none of us know why Malicia is there – if he had some clue as to why, he wouldn’t be caught flat-footed, which is never a position one wants to be in before a major diplomatic conference.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. > Not to mention, like this, he’ll always wonder what went wrong, why Malicia chose this path – in seeing her reasoning and her motives, he would at least understand what happened, and be able to empathize with her reasoning instead of letting it all be some big black box.

              He knows what went wrong, they had this conversation already, in Epilogue III. He just kept hoping she would manage to fix it, but he knows what the break is.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Jane

                Eh, I don’t really agree – Epilogue III covered the immediate break between them, but they were too angry with each other to really talk, and beyond that – like Alaya said, the roots of this ran much deeper between them. There were reasons she went behind his back, and there were reasons why she had to go behind his back, and they only barely touched on those.

                I mean, take Black’s plan of “Give up Callow to Cat, so long as we get the grain it doesn’t matter” vs Malicia’s objection of “Do you really think people will so readily accept giving up the prize that so many bled to acquire?” – no doubt they could have come to a better understanding of each other if Black had been able to discuss how the transfer could be done in ways that would mollify the worst objectors, and Malicia could explain how it wouldn’t just be the High Lords who would be upset, and how looking too weak to hold on to Callow would be a complete disaster for her authority. And also touching on how Black expects that strong institutions would prevent their successors from restarting the cycle by invading Callow, while Malicia explains how it would only take one bad actor for everything to go to hell in the next generation. They might not end up agreeing, but they would at least understand where the other was coming from.

                We don’t need to see any of this as readers, but it’s still the kind of conversation the two of them need to have for Amadeus to have proper closure – or else he’ll just find himself filling in the blanks on his own, while wondering how badly he’s misreading what happened.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Except that wasn’t Amadeus’s plan for Cat and Callow.
                  His plan was to turn Callow into a willing vassal state through Cat.
                  That would necessitate Cat being able to exercise control over domestic Callowan policies and legal systems, within the broader strokes of overarching policy goals and foreign policy as set by the Tower, but one of the key things necessary to convert Callow into a willing vassal through Cat was that she needed to be able to slap around Praesi High Lords when they crossed lines set in Callow. Malicia objected to transferring any meaningful control over domestic Callowan affairs to Cat, even though Malicia would have retained control when it came to foreign policy, and the things that really matter on a broader objective perspective.
                  It would also have served to create a power base in the greater empire independent of and generally opposed to the Praesi High Lords, who Amadeus thinks still have too much power and are inherent threat to the stability of the Empire, but generally supportive of the Legions and, through Cat, the Tower.

                  Problem is, Malicia was unwilling to give up any control, even though she’d gain far more than she lost, and the Empire would be the better for it.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Jane

                    I was talking about their conversation in Epilogue III, as Lilliet referenced, where Cat’s break from the tower was already assured, and that was literally what he said –

                    “They were meant to profit from it, were they?” he said. “After fighting tooth and nail against every measure that made is possible, they still deserve spoils because – what, they were born to that privilege? That they were even spared was a concession. But they were allowed to grow fat off a conquest they actively hindered. I held my tongue because you used their rapaciousness for your own purposes, but oh what a mistake that was. The point isn’t to make Callow a pack of plundered provinces, it has never been that. It’s to ensure we never again destroy ourselves invading that country. Are we so enamoured with that kingdom’s crown we cannot allow anyone else to wear it? We win by slipping the noose, not moving the border. By breaking the pattern that has whipped us ever since Maleficent made an empire out of Praes. It is irrelevant who actually rules Callow so long as we no longer need to invade to avoid starving. From that moment on, we start to grow. To change. To be anything but a snake cursed to eat its own tail and choke. Anything less than that is defeat. Anything more than that is expendable.”

                    He explicitly says that Praes shouldn’t seek to profit from their conquest, that they shouldn’t seek to take land either, and that it doesn’t matter who owns the country so long as they can import food from Callow.

                    Which is completely true in the sense that it would allow Praes to operate as a normal nation again, but which is completely insane from an actual policy perspective.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. It may be technically irrelevant to Black who rules Callow as long as Praes can buy grain and other foodstuffs.
                      However, as a practical matter? Black intended Cat to rule Callow as a willing vassal state, subordinate to the Tower.

                      Malicia didn’t like the idea of Cat ruling Callow as a subordinate vassal state.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Jane

                      …To reiterate, this conversation took place in Epilogue III, after Liesse, where Cat is consolidating her own power independent of Malicia because that whole affair created a permanent rift between them. Black darned well knows that his original plan is completely shredded, and that the most he can hope for is that Cat won’t embargo Praes because their economies are now so intertwined.

                      Black thinks that good enough, but it really, really wouldn’t be enough in the eyes of pretty much any other ruler.

                      And honestly, he was pretty rubbish in with his original plan, too. Cat deeply resented Praes for their management of Callow – she was willing to work within the system, and set old grudges aside, but she never particularly liked Praes. And Black… Did pretty much nothing to change that. He gave her authority, but he never gave her any reason to like any part of Praes outside of the legions – he barely even introduced her to Malicia, his single best tool for encouraging friendly relations between them.

                      If he wanted a willing vassal instead of a rebellion, he really should have reconsidered his approach. As it is, all he really did was craft a powerful weapon that happens to be too busy fighting off another enemy to deal with Praes.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. Jane

                      It’s taking all of the expense of a messy invasion and occupation, and setting all of that money and lives lost on fire. The entire idea behind a war of conquest is that what you gain at the end outweighs the expenses – without that, it’s weakening yourself and angering your neighbors for little lasting gain.

                      Moreover, to publicly give up on the occupation of Callow makes it look like they couldn’t hold on to Callow – signaling to Hasenbach that their military must have been weakened past that which was previously considered, and signaling to the High Lords that Malicia might be in a position where she can be challenged. This creates instability both abroad and at home.

                      This even jeopardizes the benefit that Black sees in just leaving, because if Malicia is deposed, the next Dread Emperor is extremely likely to try and re-invade Callow as their first act, to prove themselves “better” than the Empress they replaced, and quite likely tear up the Reforms. At which point Callow again refuses to trade with Praes, and everything Malicia accomplished to try and fix Praes is undone.

                      If they had declared war to open trade with Callow, that would be fine – trade wars are a thing. But to release a country to a borderline-hostile ruler without any perceivable benefit, that looks a lot like unilateral surrender – something that no society would accept without a darned good explanation.

                      Like

            1. Insanenoodlyguy

              Yeah, but that kind of trick won’t work as well this time. Using it once or even on rare occasion as a Magnificent Bastard move is effective. Using it as regular leverage is doomed to failure. Whenever you have a “You will obey or all these people die” one of two things happens:

              1. It’s used, but now you have no leverage, and the weight of the story is that you are a fucker who has to die (See: Akua)

              2. The trick, especially once it’s known, is countered. Masego has an idea that some hero mage can pull off with his advice or Cat’s night can pull the poision out or Akua thought of this a while ago and they’ve already taken steps. You have no leverage, and a whole group of pissed off that just found a great reason to saddle up with the side that wants to screw you over.

              Liked by 3 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          I’m not saying I’m on board with the theroy, but playing devil’s advocate, she’s pulling a Kairos of her own. She knows she’s doomed, so she shapes her downfall to be as favorable as it can. Black doesn’t know she’s setting him up, because nothing sells a lie as well as somebody who believes it to be the truth. He isn’t in on it.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Shveiran

            It’s possible, sure. Though I’d argue that to be satisfying such a twist would need a rather big change of heart from Malicia’s side that has not really been foreshadowed – as in, she hasn’t really been set up as a martyr.
            Not impossible, but I find it unlikely.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Jane

              Well, she’s definitely doing something.

              She’s been characterized as a masterful schemer, but for the entire series, she’s not been shown to do much of anything – just enable Leise, something that could have been accomplished narratively without involving her character at all, and antagonize Hasenbach in their backstory, a character who is theoretically less important than her even if she’s gotten more screentime. If Malicia was actually meant to be as passive or inept as she’s pretending to be, she would have been introduced (or at least hinted) as such, because this isn’t a poorly written series.

              What, precisely, she’s planning could be anything, but a “Of course I was actually on your side all along, I told you this years ago” twist seems likely enough to me, given the contrast between how she acts to Cat and her own personal philosophies – though deliberate self-sacrifice seems more off the table, in my opinion.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Shveiran

                Is that your view of her? Personally, I think she was very active, just not in a flashy way. She dismantled the highborn, played £D chess with several foreign powers set dead against her for decades, maneuvered Callow to cover for her whilst remaining weak even after the breakdown, and made a deal with Keter through little more than cleverness. And Liesse, sure.

                I’m not saying she won’t pull something else out her sleeve, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if she didn’t.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Jane

                  The vast majority of that is off-screen, though; it’s not that it isn’t flashy, but the fact that, in a narrative sense, it’s part of the setting rather than part of the story.

                  We know that she’s the reason the High Lords aren’t a larger problem, but the only role that played in the story was breaking the Truebloods after they outlived their usefulness; we know she played every trick in the book to keep Procer occupied, but that’s something we’ve almost exclusively heard about after the fact; asking the Dead King to come out when he already wanted to and was just looking for an excuse… Just really isn’t really noteworthy. That makes her part of the Dead King’s story, not her own.

                  Contrast this with Akua, who played a very active role as Cat’s antagonist over multiple books before her defeat, Hasenbach, who got half the continent together to invade before outsmarting the Bard, Kairos, who takes every minute in the spotlight he can so that he can use it to betray someone, and Pilgrim, who’s weight is constantly felt in the background.

                  Malicia has been in the story from the very start, without nearly the sort of presence the story’s various antagonists have had; for that to work, she has to have either had some long-running scheme that has a lot of hints in retrospect, or to have been shown to be a lot more active. Otherwise, she just feels less important than all of the other opponents Cat has dealt with, and would feel like an anticlimax given the importance her character is supposed to have.

                  It’s like one of those cliché stories where after spending multiple arcs defeating her rival, the character goes on to kill God in a couple of chapters – it establishes the rival as the real antagonist, and the deity the afterthought that readers think of as wrapping up the story.

                  Liked by 1 person

    1. caoimhinh

      I had thought he would have to be Chancellor first to be claimant for the Dread Emperor Name, but it seems he is just going straight to the rebellion part, right now he is only a Nameless claimant to the Name Malicia holds.
      This nevertheless effectively just started a Praesi civil war.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Yep, but that was called “Right of Usurpation”, which is that whoever kills the Dread Emperor has a right to claim the Tower (check for example, the Santient Tapirs Trial).

          However, Amadeus is claimant to the Name of Dread Emperor right now, so there’s a pull towards that, in such occasions it was common that one would get a transitional Name, like Heir and Chancellor, before challenging the Tyrant of the Tower.

          Anyone can claim the Tower if they kill the Empress, even a Nameless, but since Amadeus is already involved in Name stuff I half-expected him to get a transitional Name before fighting Alaya.
          I doubt Malicia would lose her Name if everyone in the international conference recognized Amadeus as Emperor, but maybe it will weaken her and start to make the Name slip out of her like what happened to Vivienne and Amadeus?

          Either way, this is definitely a pivot for Amadeus and Alaya. It will be interesting to see where this leads to.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Casey Glick

    I think Kairos had a good idea what was going to happen here and by introducing Malicia in this way invited it. Remember that Kairos wants to have fun, to play the Chaotic Evil role to its fullest, and the conventions of this universe sharply constrain him. Although he is allied with both the Bard and the Dead King, he has given Catherine enough information to strongly imply that he supports neither of their games, since their games are “stasis”. Although he enjoys playing the Story, I don’t think he wants to be bound by it long-term, and this is why he’s become such an expert at manipulating it. By forcing the break between Black and Malicia, Kairos takes an important step at ensuring that the Old Order is well and truly broken.

    If you list the top-tier Story manipulators, I think you have Black, Catherine, Kairos, and Grey Pilgrim (plus the Wandering Bard, and the Dead King). What unites all the mortal players is a certain, hem, Practicality, and desire to personally keep free of the bonds of Story. But only Cat and Kairos have been playing against WB and DK.

    In short, I think Kairos is probably Catherine’s closest ally in the MetaMetaGame.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Tyrant wants a new name. He wants to be The Betrayer, an in-world analogy for our Satan, someone who’s always willing to ally with you, support you, and give you everything you ever wanted, but who will ultimately betray the Faustian bargain that you made in a way that you least expected and most regretted.

      Essentially, the Tyrant wants a bit part I’m the future stories to come as long as his bit part comes with immortality.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Allafterme

        To be frank story itself is rather railroaded into the of deeath of Calamities at this point and Ranger is kind of in the back plan since Arcadian War. I just wonder if this particular story thread would bring her into the spotlights and her eventual death or EE will superbly subvert it as always…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hye is ancient and wise and knows better than to allow caring about someone to draw her into a a path that might potentially put her in any actual danger.

          This is all sacrcasm, I hate her, and I really fucking wish she’d pull a mini-redemption here by actually sticking her neck out for Amadeus. But she won’t.

          She hasn’t been a Calamity since she left. She left for a reason.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Shveiran

            Also, Hye is one of the old monster that the narrative doesn’t really need to die. She has no beef with the world changing, and that is what the climax will be about. It’s not really a loose end, though maybe she’ll become involved anyway.
            We can have a good ending without addressing her (unlike, say, Malicia or Black)

            Liked by 2 people

          2. Forrest

            I might remind that the reason given for ranger leaving was that she did not like Alaya, or rather Malicia, and wanted Black to be the Dread Emperor since he did all the work. Oh, and look what was just announced.

            Liked by 2 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      I was wondering how she’d die. That seems likely to be part of it, coming out and being more vulnerable. The Calamities do seem to be on the chopping block of fate. Amadeus might survive (though I don’t think it likely by the end of this story, who knows), but I’ve suspected the rest will not.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Except Ranger left because the Story of the Calamities was not her Story.
        If she returns it’ll not be because Calamities, it’ll be because love of Amadeus. Different Stories.
        Might still not end up great for her, though.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. DNRFTW

    Praes position looks pretty good right now, actually. Nobody likes them, sure, but no one’s in a position to strike at them either. And their politically united, the legions are doing great and they have their doomsday magic still.

    No idea why their so desperate. Let Procer and Levant and Callow and the Drow fight with the Dead King. Praes isn’t threatened?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sparsebeard

      They also lost two of their most important cities, have lost the Matrons and are heading into a potential civil war between the armed forces and the clans vs the WMD rich aristocracy…

      And one of their allies is friggin Tyrant!

      “Tout va très bien, madame la Marquise…”

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Quite Possibly A Cat

    You know, I think Tyrant should defect to Team Good. It would be the ultimate betrayal. Rend the DK in the back and Wish for Amadeus to never take another Name even as he climbs the Tower. That would be another shard of the DK down and take the Dread Emperor Name off the board. Since it is the first step of his Evil scheme it will 100% work.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. ninegardens

        Wait… so the reason that Kairos is destined to die last year (two years ago? Whenever), is because a timetravelling Kairos is going to go back in time and betray him?

        ….
        That’s amazing.

        And yeah, I can totally see Tyrant betray DK and doing a final betrayel…. but not here.
        Now is far too early for Tyrant’s final move.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. An interesting idea, but…
      That’s a lot of power your assuming Wish has, used in a meta way Aspects usually aren’t.
      At the very least, I think that sort of thing would need Narrative weight that I don’t see here.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. ninegardens

    So… just a random point, but why the hell is everyone convinced that Black will be forced to kill Malicia or whatever?

    I mean seriously, if he says “I’m the emperor” and negotiates a treaty and then goes back to Preas and says “Hey, I got a treaty, no Crusades are coming as long as we stop making hellgates, can we please stop fucking up everything now?” is she really going to say no?

    If she’s doing stupid shit based on fear, and he can create a situation where the threat goes away, is there any reason for her to be killed? (And no “Justice for past crimes” doesn’t count)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jane

      We don’t really see enough from Malicia’s perspective to say either way, in my opinion. Personally, I think she would accept “retirement” (exile) if she believed her position to be truly untenable while still being strong enough to demand some conditions, but a lot of readers believe her to desire control too much to let go in any circumstance but death.

      That said, I don’t know that she could accept Amadeus as Dread Emperor, given her justified concerns with him as a non-military leader – he’s not really the right person to put in charge of the country, if you don’t want an ocean of blood to be the result. Ironically, at this point she might actually consider Cat to be the more acceptable replacement after her diplomatic successes, though she’d probably be feeling sick the entire time if she had to hand the Tower to her rather than her dear friend.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. > That said, I don’t know that she could accept Amadeus as Dread Emperor, given her justified concerns with him as a non-military leader – he’s not really the right person to put in charge of the country, if you don’t want an ocean of blood to be the result.

        About that! I still love the theory about Amadeus winding up as Dread Emperor Benevolent bc it fits so nicely (sorry Liliet), but literally the quote from DE Bennie’s coronation is about inviting the High Lords/Ladies to change with him and work together for the future of Praes. Which is dubiously plausible if you assume Amadeus sticks to his previously stated convictions vis-à-vis the High L/Ls. BUT. This moment, right here, could presage the pivot where he actually changes his mind.

        At this point I think we all know that Amadeus is not a man of lightly held convictions – he isn’t changing anything he believes lightly. But this, right here, the pain of losing one of his only remaining friends not to enemy action, but from being forced to turn on her himself? There’s nothing light about that. And I could easily believe in that pain motivating him to FINALLY give Malicia’s perspective of Praes and what it needs real consideration.

        Because let’s be real, he never really has (see previously mentioned point about being a stubborn mofo). He deferred to Malicia’s judgment in the matter for decades, but he never actually accepted her argument/perspective as legitimate/correct (see his exploding at her after Second Liesse). And she always knew that. And after this, I think he’ll have to be asking himself something akin to what many of the commenters have been saying – could this have been avoided if the two of them had just been able to truly talk this all out at some earlier point? And if it could have (I’d say maybe), why didn’t that happen? Was his own well-established recalcitrance at least in part a factor (I’d say it was), and if so isn’t giving her arguments one more chance with a truly open mind the least he owes his friend’s memory? Because I think if Amadeus can let go of himself for long enough to do that (no longer being tied to the same Name will probably help; see Amadeus’ own statements about Names inducing tunnel vision) he actually will see Alaya’s point. Flooding Praes with its own blood to wash away the parts he doesn’t like really, really isn’t actually an acceptable mode of reform.

        Liked by 3 people

  9. ninegardens

    Also, crack theory that I’d love to be true, but probably isn’t:

    Malica and Black have been in regular contact for the past week, and already discussed Scribes scheme, the DK, the Accords, etc.

    Everything that is happening now is part of their cunning scheme.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Insanenoodlyguy

    While still highly unlikely, I am now considering a possiblity I hadn’t before:

    I had put out before the idea that Akua might become empress in an ironic twist of fate, being punished with what she always wanted now that she realizes how shallow that desire was. A new flavor of irony now presents itself to me, the other thing she planned to restore once being a similar ironic hell: As a new emperor emerges, the unlikely tolerance formed along the way brings about the triumphant return of an old name, and so Chancellor Akua begins the process of making the wasteland something better.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ninegardens

      Pretty sure she is still Empress until he actually claims the super ugly throne.


      You know all this leads to the super disturbing thought of … this seems like Bard’s plan.
      Black trying to claim the throne seems EXACTLY like Bard’s plan.
      And when Black first heard about this, he chuckled to himself and thought “Mistake”, but now it looks like he is running with it, and even though Malica is being crazy, I really REALLY do not like this idea of going along with Bard’s plan.

      So can we not.
      Maddy.
      Please?

      Liked by 1 person

  11. You know what I like about Malicia and Black as a character dynamic? They’ve *always* been this way. Even before all the stuff with the previous Dread Emperor happened to them, when they were just two kids talking politics in a tavern, the seeds of this were sown.

    They both always wanted to topple the existing order and build something reformed and better in its place. But Malicia, from the beginning, saw it as “I could run it better”. And Black saw it as “It could be run better”. From the very beginning, the very, *very* beginning this was a difference between them.

    The fact that they’re at odds now has nothing to do with the losses they’ve suffered or the traumas they’ve experienced or the atrocities they’ve committed. It was just the simple inevitable collision of two people with aligned but subtly different values who are both utterly unwilling to yield. And I love that. The fact that from the very beginning this was a doomed friendship. There’s something very Greek tragedy about that which appeals to me.

    And gods, they’re both monsters. They’ve both sacrificed their humanity to be the monsters they are. But it’s beautiful to see the motives which these humans set out with still reflected in the monsters they’ve become.

    Liked by 2 people

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