Interlude: All Ye Villains

“In studying our histories I have cast aside old mistakes, instead embracing fresh and interesting ones.”
– Dread Empress Atrocious, later devoured by man-eating tapirs

The games being played on this marble floor, Hakram thought, were no less deadly than any played axe in hand. Perhaps even deadlier, for an axe took one life at a time while here a streak of ink and a sharp phrase could kindle the death of thousands. Most of his kind despised the ways of the Tower’s court: the poisons drunk and spoken, the colourful clothes worth a manse and the alliances that came and went faster than the tides. It was not that orcs knew nothing of treachery or cunning ways, for though the Adjutant had long left behind the Steppes he still remembered the spoken histories and there were betrayals aplenty in the tales. Some were spoken of as reverently as great deeds unsullied, for though the treachery was not in question neither was the greatness.

Aslog Ironfoot’s warbands turning on Warlord Gorm at the Battle of the Lights, bringing bloody end to Eldest Horde. Dagmar Hardteeth allying with the Queen of Okoro to murder their rivals by sorcery and surprise at the gathering of the thaw. And lesser betrayals, too were spoken of, not worthy of legend. Not even a century ago the Blackspear Clan had broken alliance with the Howling Wolves at the incitement of the Painted Dogs, allowing warbands through their territory, and then ambushed the returning Dogs to take the spoils of the cattle-raids. No legend had come of this, no tale save that Blackspear blood flowed without honour. No, Hakram Deadhand did not believe the Clans to be made of finer stuff than the rest of Creation, for their history spoke otherwise time and time again.

Yet his people disdained those who made sport of their own word, those who pretended to valour and honour while acting otherwise. And there was a sense of that, hanging around this great hall. Vivienne’s words were ringing still, yet the harvest of surprise they reaped was meagre indeed. A few of the Tyrant’s playthings, the Thalassocracy’s man – who like the nation he stood for was this day isolated and out of his depths, ship bound to currents unknown – and those few scribes and translators too low in status to have warranted warning. The Dread Empress of Praes, wearing a mutilated and marked body like a coat, betrayed no surprise. Neither did the grinning devil known as Kairos Theodosian, or the utterly still corpse inhabited by the Dead King.

It was the first of these that Hakram was most wary of. Malicia had lost the reins of much she once commanded, but the most dangerous part of the Empress had ever been her boldness and clever mind, neither of which had been taken from her. Catherine thought her half-spent a force, with jackals circling the Tower and her realm deeply wounded, and dangerous mostly in that way a desperate villain tended to be. The Adjutant was not so certain. The Empress had not even attempted to bring the Carrion Lord to her side, by scrying or sent agent, this he knew for a fact: as the Eyes had people in the Army of Callow, so did the Jacks have people among the Legions-in-Exile. And the Scribe would have forewarned them, if those eyes were fooled, for the Adjutant understood her in a way most frightful.

He would act in similar manner, if Catherine was preparing to throw away her life and life’s work.

And so while the hall twisted and turned, twining around the already half-known revelation that the Grand Alliance had known of Ashur’s unfaithfulness and behind the Thalassocracy’s own back prepared answer of its own, Hakram Deadhand watched the Empress. Malicia was not beloved of his people as her right hand had been, still was, for unlike the Carrion Lord she had neither been warlord nor tireless defender. Yet she was respected, by the wise among the Clans, for having enacted the Reforms without needing to cram them down the throat of the High Lords by civil war as the Black Knight’s iron-handed ways might well have required. She had been good the orcs in a way few of her predecessors could boast, and never given slight without reason nor meddled in the affairs of the Clans beyond the old rights of the Tower.

Malicia had been a fair ruler to his people in most regards, Hakram thought, and looking upon the puppet-thing she now wore he could not bring himself to believe her to have gone the way of the Old Tyrants. The Empress had bought and paid for the Doom of Liesse, it could not be denied, yet meant to use is to serve the principles she had once writ in her treatise ‘The Death of the Age of Wonders’. She’d since used only the blades of assassins, sharp intrigue and the sole doomsday weapon of the Warlock that was already known to Calernia. Still Water was a thing of terror, true, but it should not be forgot that in the eyes of most in this room that terror had already been laid at the Empress’ feet.

She lost little by using it, and gained form the use a great fleet as well as means to influence Ashur into leaving the Grand Alliance. It had not been a careless or desperate act, he thought. Which meant Malicia’s keen edge had not faded, and nothing of the play taking place in this hall was a coincidence. Not even that raw thing that the Carrion Lord’s voice had carried, when he good as begged for a reason not to turn on her. It’d be a damned cold thing, making that cut on purpose.

But cold was oft the winner, in Wasteland games.

“Catherine,” the Adjutant whispered in Kharsum, leaning closer to her. “I think we are being had.”

Tanned face set into a calm look as she studied the hall, his warlord slowly nodded.

“There’s no swing in them,” the Black Queen murmured. “This isn’t their game. We misread them, Hakram.”

As was often the case whenever Catherine’s eyes narrowed and her twisty mind wandered down paths the rest of them could only dimly glimpse, Hakram was forced to take a moment to parse what she’d said. Not enough swing. As in the opposition was not putting up a fight, and so without pause she had decided it meant they saw what was happening as not worth fighting over. It might be argued instead, Hakram knew, that Callow’s entering of the Grand Alliance was good as certain, and so the opposition had not considered it something that could be fought. Yet the Adjutant’s instincts sung in accord with his queen’s, for one did not face the longest-reigning Dread Empress in the history of the Wasteland and the King of Death himself and received so little ‘swing’, as his warlord had said.

Vivienne sat down even as a clarification was requested by the current speaker for the League of Free Cities – Basileus Leo Trakas once more – as to the veracity of the statement made by Lady Dartwick. Confirmation from the First Prince and Lord Yannu Marave followed.

“If they have no stake in this, then their victory lies not in a contested field,” the Carrion Lord quietly said.

“That would mean they’re not looking to get anything out of this conference,” Vivienne said, her Kharsum still a little ragged even though they regularly practiced together. “So why are they even here?”

Catherine’s hand half-reached to the pockets sown within her cloak, before she remembered it would be unseemly for her to light her pipe before so many eminent rulers. She forced it back down and let out an annoyed hiss through her teeth. Odds were, Hakram fondly thought, that she did not even realize how around greenskins she tended to mimic their manners. That particular manner of hissing couldn’t properly be done without goblin teeth, for unlike theirs human teeth had no gaps when put together, but more than once Adjutant had seen goblins shoot her almost awestruck looks when she did it before them. There was a reason half the goblins in the Army of Callow considered her to be a Matron in human flesh, and contrary to what Indrani kept insinuating it wasn’t the height. Well, not only the height.

“Where else are they going to get a gathering like this?” Catherine said. “What happens in the conference is as dust to them, I bet. But they’ve got an audience with the powerful of most Calernia here, don’t they? They’re hear for the ears, not the tongues.”

Utter silence seized the room, sudden and oppressive. Half the hall was watching the same thing, and Adjutant followed their gaze. The Dead King he saw, had moved for the very first time since his body sat. His skull had turned to gaze at Catherine, hollow sockets empty and unblinking. The slightest of tremors was going through the skeletal thing, Adjutant saw, and for a moment he did not understand. Then he did, and his blood went cold.

The Dead King was looking at Catherine Foundling, and shaking as he laughed.

The Enemy was laughing.

Cordelia Hasenbach was not one to boast of bravery, for hers were not the gifts of courage on the field, yet neither did she consider herself to be faint of heart. And yet the sight of the Hidden Horror’s silent tremors of amusement sent a shiver up her spine. That the monster was gazing unerringly at the Black Queen as he did only made it eerier. The blonde princess did not allow it to reach her face, or seep in her eyes, instead thinking of Hannoven. Of the city broken once more, walls torn down and her kinsmen slaughtered to the last. Cordelia thought of the brave men and women who’d died on those walls, keeping dawn from failing just a little while longer, and when cold wroth roared through her veins she fed it the fear. Composure returned to her, for that anger was an old friend, and finally she gestured for the page standing behind her table to step forward. At her side, Agnes suddenly stirred.

“Magon Hadast was killed,” the Augur said.

Agnes, she saw, was staring at the Carrion Lord. The page passed Cordelia a sealed scroll, bearing scarlet wax stamped with the heraldry of the Order of the Red Lion. She set it down and turned a sharp gaze on her cousin.

“Is he dead now,” Cordelia whispered, “or is he going to die?”

Agnes blinked sleepily, a look of utter frustration flickering across her face. It took her a moment to speak again, as if she had to piece together once more when and where she was.

“Soon,” the Augur said. “Many branches but always he dies. The spider waited until he was too deep in the web to turn back. There is nothing anyone can do. Too quick. All the paths are dead ends.”

She hesitated, scowling.

“They are learning,” she admitted.

The spider, Cordelia thought. There were some who called the Scribe the Webweaver, in the Wasteland, yet the Augur had used the word before to mean another. The Assassin, who more than once had tried to take her own life and that of people dear to her. Had this been the order of the Carrion Lord, then? The other villain was said to answer to him alone. Ashur had made bargain with Malicia, and so Magon Hadast was to die? It would sow chaos, Cordelia admitted to herself, until the old man’s successor consolidated power. The heir that’d been groomed before had died at Thalassina and now only distant relatives remained, none of which would be a deft hand a navigating the Thalassocracy’s labyrinth of committees and bureaucracy. It was still unacceptable, if it was truly the Carrion Lord’s order.

Magon Hadast had long been her ally, and for his defection now she blamed him not as the Grand Alliance had failed him before he it. He might yet return, besides, given time enough for it. To have him so casually ordered slain was a foul thing, though no less than should be expected form a rabid animal like the Carrion Lord.

“Darkness looms, Cordelia,” Agnes murmured. “Tarry not in opening the scroll.”

Lips tightening in sudden wariness, the First Prince reached for the parchment and broke the seal. She unfurled the scroll and her eyes moved carefully across the contents. This was not a direct report but instead the welding of several, from across broad swaths of Procer. Three names in particular caught her eye: Prince Otto Reitzenberg, Prince Gaspard Langevin and Princess Beatrice Volignac. The ranking commanders on the three northern fronts of the Principate, at least in principle. Prince Otto’s words were coming from the Morgentor, the last fortress held in Twilight’s Pass, and though he cautioned of the Enemy possibly laying a trap Gaspard of Cleves and Beatrice of Hainaut were both seeing the same thing. And like Prince Otto they’d followed the dead carefully. Cordelia turned to the awaiting page.

“One whose authority was the scroll sent?” she curtly asked.

“Anselme of Beaudry, Your Highness,” the man quietly replied.

A telling detail. Anselme of Beaudry was the ranking officer of the Order of the Red Lion in Salia, and Cordelia had chosen him for that office in large part because his cautious and meticulous nature. He would not have sent such a scroll without first making certain there had been no misunderstanding or sudden change. The First Prince quietly thanked and dismissed the page, mind racing, before glancing meaningfully at one her closest attendant. The young woman approached discreetly.

“Have word passed to the Callowan and Levantine delegations that I will put forward an extraordinary motion for immediate recess and I would request they support it,” Cordelia said. “There is urgent need for a private discussion between us.”

Cordelia allowed time for the messages to be passed, through Razin Tanja for the Dominion and the heiress to the Barony of Harrow for Callow. When the First Prince of Procer asked for immediate recess soon after, the vote in favour was unanimous. The Enemy’s gazed moved towards her as it deigned to vote for the first time that day, silently raising a hand in approval.

The Dead King had yet to speak even once, and some part of Cordelia Hasenbach felt blind dread at that realization.

Half an hour of recess had been voted on, and Hakram found himself part of the handful of guests invited into a nearby parlour by the First Prince. The Blood were likely to be brought in as well, he guessed, for whatever it was that Cordelia Hasenbach had learned it seemed to concern all signatories of the Grand Alliance. The Carrion Lord’s presence along with Catherine, Vivienne and himself was a reality all involved politely refrained from looking in the eye, as the man was deeply despised in Procer and might well have been excluded from such talks if not for the Queen of Callow’s influence. It was an almost amusing turn, that after early years of relying of the Black Knight’s power and influence it was not the same man who was relying on his former pupil’s instead.

There was an almost feverish energy to Cordelia Hasenbach, Adjutant saw when they entered the parlour. Though she was composed as ever, she was standing instead of seated and looking at her gave the sense she had a burning urge to pace that only manners were keeping at bay. Catherine limped in ahead, eyes considering as she took in the sight of the full roster of the Blood as well Princess Rozala. Liveried servants offered refreshments that all refused, and Hakram noted with exasperated amusement that his warlord’s eyes were lingering a little longer than necessary on Rozala Malanza. Half the Blood too, though he was surprised that among the men she seemed to prefer the almost orcish frame of Yannu Marave to Razin Tanja’s, who was much closer in age.

As she was less than discreet he wondered if offence might accidentally been given, but if he was reading the expression correctly Lady Aquiline Osena looked more flattered than anything else by the roving eye. He met Vivienne’s eyes in shared aggravation behind Catherine’s back, though he figured at least they should be pleased she’d not been undressing the First Prince of Procer with her eyes. That might go over poorly, he thought. As the others advanced and went to stand with the other nobles Hakram remained at the back near the threshold, where he could watch from a distance. A set of eyes removed from the thick of it was often more useful than another wagging tongue, he’d found, and he’d always disliked wandering into arguments without first taking the measure of all that was being said.

“Thank you all for coming,” Cordelia Hasenbach gravely said. “And for your trust in aiding my motion.”

“You seem to have received news,” Lady Itima Ifriqui said, rather bluntly.

“I have,” the First Prince agreed. “I have received reports from all three northern fronts against Keter, and they all speak to the same truth: the dead are retreating.”

Exclamations of surprise from many here followed, though not Hakram Deadhand or the queen that had chosen him as much as he had chosen her. Catherine Foundling’s hand went inside her cloak and Adjutant, Name tugging at his feet, was moving before she could even begin stuffing the pipe with a satchel of wakeleaf. He struck a match a heartbeat before she extended her pipe, lighting it neatly, and was offered a thankful flash of pearly teeth before stepping back. The nerve of the Lord of Silent Steps, that it’d think itself fit to step in between the ordained cogs of fate with its little moving tricks. You didn’t need to move swift as an arrow to see too things, just leave at the right time moving to the right pace.

“Does the Hidden Horror seek to hold the northern shores against us?” Lady Aquiline frowned. “It hardly seems necessary, given his advantages.”

“It will allow us time to bring our armies to bear, regardless,” Lady Itima said. “A blunder, this.”

Catherine blew out an acrid stream of smoke that had Lord Yannu wrinkling his nose in distaste at the smell.

“No,” the Black Queen said, “it wasn’t. We just got knifed in broad daylight, make no mistake about that.”

It amused Hakram a great deal that though several of the great nobles here suppressed distasted as the spoken ‘us’, not a single one of them denied it. It seemed that his warlord’s usefulness had at last outstripped the distaste these righteous folks had for the colour of her cloak.

“You believe this to be a scheme,” Cordelia Hasenbach said, then sharply nodded. “I agree. This is a poor decision by the eye of a general, which means it was made by another.”

“They’re going to offer us a truce out there,” Catherine said, jabbing a thumb towards the wall.

The wrong one, Hakram drily noted, if she meant to point towards the hall.

“They?” Lord Yannu calmly asked.

“This is, if not outright the plan of Dread Empress Malicia, at least in part her notion,” the Carrion Lord tiredly said. “This sort of manoeuvre is her very signature: weakening the opposition then posing great incentive to keep a truce that allows her to further work on dismantling her enemies without the direct use of force.”

First Prince Cordelia would not doubt be the first of that western lot to grasp what exactly it had meant, when the Hidden Horror had extended Catherine an offer to sign the Liesse Accords last night.  The implications of it, in the long term.

“We have no reason to accept this truce even if it offered,” Razin Tanja flatly said. “We war against Keter to the end, and Dread Empress Malicia makes herself enemy to all that live through alliance with it.”

Vivienne Dartwick had spent years in the shade of one of the great villains of their age and yet more in the service of another, so it was no surprise she caught on quick.

“If the decision was made solely in this room, you would be right,” Vivienne grimly said.

“They will be seeding rumours of the offer of truce even as we speak,” Cordelia Hasenbach told them all. “In Salia and everywhere they can, which given the reach of the Dread Empire and the Tyrant of Helike is far and wide.”

Her lips thinned.

“There will be riots if we push for prosecuting a war against the Dead King in the face of offered peace while the north is months away from collapse,” the First Prince said. “Mayhaps even rebellion.”

“The odds are strong that the Empress will declare a treaty of mutual protection with Keter,” Lord Amadeus calmly said. “The Dead King ought to agree, as otherwise there would be free hand to settle his sole reliable ally.”

“Why should we pursue if the Hidden Horror retreats to his lands?” Lord Yannu Marave bluntly asked. “Is that not the victory we sought to achieve?”

The King of Death had not even yet spoken, Adjutant darkly thought, and already he was drawing blood among the Grand Alliance’s ranks.

“You would call this victory?” Razin Tanja scathingly replied. “Keter coming and going as it pleases, massacring any who oppose it?”

“Are we then to send armies to die in the Kingdom of the Dead for the sake of your boyish swagger?” Lord Yannu harshly retorted.

“Better honourable death than a coward’s disgrace,” Lady Aquiline sneered.

“This is what he wants,” Princess Rozala said, voice cutting through the rising noise. “Chaos among our ranks. It is why he is marching north instead of south, because if he does not we are a threat.”

“Well said,” First Prince Cordelia calmly added. “Make no mistake, my friends, the Enemy cares nothing for peace. He has only ever known truce, and ever broken it when suited him.”

“We have yet to speak of the League,” Lady Itima said. “The Tyrant offers aid to their wicked lot and sows chaos in his own ranks. It is madness, and I would not let a hound gone sick lounge at my threshold for long.”

“That is the nature of Kairos Theodosian,” Catherine said. “He will set fires until either the world is ash or he is.”

She had not spoken loudly, but it commanded the attention of all in the parlour. She blew out another stream of smoke, visibly savouring the leaf.

“Can’t set fires if there’s nothing left, though,” she idly continued. “And that’s what happens if the Dead King wins. So I’d suggest we all save ourselves some trouble and invite the Tyrant of Helike in here.”

She grinned.

“I’m rather curious how long it’ll take him to sell out the King of Death, this time.”

127 thoughts on “Interlude: All Ye Villains

      1. ChillyPepper

        Then I shall take your offer and introduce said typos in here.

        any played axe in hand > played [b]with[/b] axe in hand (I’m not sure about this one since I’m not proficient in English)
        good the orcs > good [b]to[/b] the orcs
        gained form the use > gained [b]from[/b]
        hear for the ears > [b]here for the ears[/b]
        arrow to see too things > to see [b]to[/b] things

        Liked by 3 people

      2. > Which meant Malicia’s keening edge had not faded,
        Should be “keen”, she is sharp not shrill.

        > Catherine thought her half-spent a force
        Should be “a half-spent force”, as given it becomes ambiguous.

        > yet meant to use is to serve the principles
        “meant to use it”

        > “One whose authority was the scroll sent?”
        on whose authority

        > First Prince Cordelia would not doubt be the first”
        no doubt

        > several of the great nobles here suppressed distasted as the spoken ‘us’
        distaste at

        > he wondered if offence might accidentally been given,
        offense might be given
        (Mostly the Guide sticks to American spelling)

        Liked by 3 people

          1. Eh, not quite I think? I think EE just accidentally a word, since “half-spent as a force” matches what appears to be the intended format and leaving out a conjunction is such an incredibly easy typo to make if you’re writing quickly.

            Liked by 5 people

              1. gingerlygrump

                Agreed. Adjutant narrates in a rather old-fashioned manner, so these linguistic peculiarities fit his usual cadence. He’s gotten more formal as the story progressed, too, as though the administrative functions of his Name are tailoring his thought cadence.

                Liked by 4 people

                  1. Which matches his demonstrated fondness for reciting poetry (while breaking bones, but hey he is an orc, let’s not project our cultural standards here). Good catch, both of you – I hadn’t noticed that Adjutant’s narration style differed in that sort of way, but now that it’s been pointed out I think that’s right.

                    Still disagree about the grammar tho 😛

                    Liked by 3 people

              2. Mm, I certainly know “not so big a deal” is valid? My research on that (because I’m a me) suggests that adjectives of quality would be valid in that formulation, but (at least some) adjectives of quantity would use the “[adjective] of a [noun]” formulation rather than “[adjective] a [noun]”.

                However, “as a” is different from “of a”, I think, and “as a” is the formulation I think applies – I certainly wouldn’t suggest “Catherine thought her half-spent of a force” would sound right. Let me see if I can put together a convincing example. “Weak” is a similar term to “half-spent”, so I’ll use that. If you think a, let’s say, prince is a weak ruler, would you say you “think them weak a ruler” or that you “think them weak as a ruler”? I’m unfortunately struggling to find the precise grammatical terms to define why, but I think the second one seems correct and the first one does not. Do you disagree?

                Liked by 3 people

                1. “Think them weak a ruler” doesn’t sound right to me, but “despite them not thinking him so weak a ruler” does. Maybe it’s the ‘not’? I feel like it’s a sentence complexity thing, with dropping the particle becoming allowable if it’s at the end of a looong complicated flourish.

                  Liked by 3 people

                  1. Hmm, I do agree that “despite them not thinking him so weak a ruler” sounds better, but I think it’s the “so” that makes the difference since “despite them not thinking him weak a ruler” doesn’t sound any better. In either case there’s neither a “not” or a “so” in the formulation Catherine used. If “Catherine thought her weak a force” doesn’t sound right (which I don’t think it does) then I don’t think “Catherine thought her half-spent a force” is any better since unless I’m mistaken “weak” and “half-spent” are being used as the same type of part of speech in both cases.

                    Also bless u for actually appearing to be interested in this conversation, this is usually the type of discussion that Appeals to Nobody but Fayhem.

                    Liked by 3 people

                    1. OH MOOD re: type of discussion that Appeals To Nobody But Liliet. Sounds like we’re buddies here.

                      And I think it’s the ‘half’ in ‘half-spent’ that’s making it sound ok to my ear? ‘weak a force’ or ‘spent a force’ doesnt sound good’ but ‘half-spent a force’ does. Maybe it moves it further away from adjective and more towards verb form?

                      Liked by 3 people

                    2. > Sounds like we’re buddies here.

                      You can’t see it because this is the internet, but imagine you’re receiving some kind of very grammatical fistbump here.

                      “Half-spent a force” definitely sounds better by comparison than “spent a force” BUT I can’t see what is actually changed about the way the applicable term is being used or the role it is filling in the sentence. So that makes me feel like it’s just obscuring that it’s not valid instead of actually making it valid. Like, it makes it feel less obviously incorrect, but if nothing is actually changed by it then it must actually be just as incorrect, is the reasoning I’m going on there.

                      Liked by 3 people

                    3. -meets the fistbump with own fist-

                      You might be right in strict grammar sense, but I would argue this is one of those places where grammar can be bent in favor of poetry as Hakram’s personal narration style. It would sound more correct without this deviation, yes, but it would sound less like him – and it’s comprehensible either way.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    4. I learned 90% of English grammar informally because as a foreign speaker I only was taught the sturdy basics. Approximately 50% of Guide sentences would be ‘incorrect’ according to how they taught us to do it at school, you know? So I’m used to picking up on informal expression. Sometimes it trips me up as I assume something is informal that’s actually just wrong, but in this case it really does sound much better as is to my ear -\\/(0_0)\\/-

                      Liked by 2 people

                    5. See, English *is* my native language and I’m honestly very fond of it, but I will very willingly admit that if English-language instruction was honest then every “rule” they taught you would come with a footnote reading something like “except for sometimes randomly not, because fuck you it’s English, that’s why”. I can usually file that under “endearingly quirky” myself, but I’ve always thought I would expect that for someone actually trying to learn English for the first time “endearing” would likely be pretty far from the first term to come to mind.

                      I actually did also learn most English grammar informally tho, because I was homeschooled on a very self-directed curriculum all the way up until college, and my parents only insisted on actual formalized study of math during that time period (because they expected, correctly, that I would not be able to “informally” pick up on how to do algebra etc.). So determining grammar rules by this kind of process of “does this sound right, and if so why or why not based on relevant examples or comparisons” is pretty much exactly how I’ve always done it lol.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    6. It’s because the English language has mugged all kinds of other languages and stolen their stuff/words (and rules for those words).

                      Like … seriously, the English language has major Germanic roots, but also extensive Latin/Romance connections, plus Celtic influences, plus Norse influences. Plus Greek.

                      And that’s before it ever got off the British Isles. Whereupon it started nicking stuff from languages even more distant.

                      English is an evolved common tongue from a place that everybody invaded conquered and settled, but nobody could run away or otherwise be displaced from.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    7. > It’s because the English language has mugged all kinds of other languages

                      Yup! The line that… I think it was Stephen Fry? – anyway, the line that whoever it was had that I liked a bunch was that English doesn’t so much borrow words from other languages as chase other languages into dark alleys, knock them over the head, and rifle through their pockets for loose vocabulary.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    8. This is true.
                      I can’t remember who the first version of that line is from either. But it’s a good line, and while a hilarious mental image, it’s basically accurate.

                      Although … for most of the development of English it was may have technically been less chasing them into alleys for their linguistic distinctiveness and more of a beating up and robbing the burglars who broke into its house before tossing them back out the door.

                      Wait, I just realized something – the English language is the Borg of languages.

                      Liked by 2 people

      3. Trebar

        “It was an almost amusing turn, that after early years of relying of the Black Knight’s power and influence it was not the same man who was relying on his former pupil’s instead.”

        not -> now

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Slider

      “It seemed to be the most entertaining thing to do at the moment, and what would life be if we didn’t enjoy it?”
      -Kairos Theodosian, Tyrant of Helike, on the question of his betrayal against the Dead King.

      Liked by 18 people

        1. “This plan involves making an enemy of one of the most dangerous men on this continent for no tangible gain,” Anaxares said. “It is not a good plan.”

          “Don’t be foolish, advisor,” Kairos said. “Making an enemy of one of the most dangerous men on this continent is the point of the plan, not a side-effect.”

          Liked by 9 people

    1. NerfGlaistigUaine

      I’m sad to say that was me. I was also the kid in 1st grade who knew how to carry in addition and trolled my teacher by giving her two numbers that couldn’t be used to show carrying. Three times in a row. Yes, I was a little bastard and still am.

      Liked by 9 people

    2. Ah, I still remember being a little 3rd grader, looking out the window of the car, and then asking “Hey Mom. If 7-4=3, what is 3-7?” And then spending the rest of the trip learning about negative numbers. Good times.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Indeed he did.
        Kairos already told 3 secrets to Cat the previous evening, forewarned him of Malicia’s use of Still Water against Nicae and her actions to move Ashur, plus he helped Cat glimpse a bit more into the nature of the Dead King.

        He’s a true friend of Cat XD

        Liked by 12 people

        1. > He’s a true friend of Cat XD

          You know, I think that’s actually literally true, in his own (awful) way. Though I don’t believe the reverse is. I can’t decide if that makes me more sad happy or more happy sad. But either way I’m certainly amused.

          Liked by 6 people

  1. a_man_in_black

    tangle, retangle, untangle, tie the knot again. Erraticerrata i love your writing. i absolutely love every chapter of this story you’ve written. but i truly feel you’re running the risk of getting too clever for yourself. the over-arching plot has grown tangled and confusing. if i have to re-read the last two dozen chapters to try to figure out what is going on, things have gotten too complicated with the intrigue.

    i read this story for the awesome adventure and tales of anti-heroes and heroic villains. the politics, double-speak, spy vs spy drama and intrigue are only useful wherein they enhance that. such things have long since taken over the story, and you’re losing me the same way wandering inn did, albeit for different reasons.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jane

      I mean, one of the consistent themes of this story has been that strong institutions and diplomacy ought matter more than wandering heroes and grand adventures – which would be why Cat’s ascension to godhood mattered less to her ability to fight Procer than her alliance with the Drow, and why the decisions made in that room at this moment will affect the course of the war far more than anything Hanno’s band of heroes can. Not to mention how Cat’s overarching goal in this story is purely political in nature, and few adventures can get a treaty signed.

      Cat’s only one person, and despite her personal power, she’s one of the weaker monarchs in that room (setting aside her influence over Drow policy); it’s only natural that we’d see the political angle grow as Callow becomes less isolated, and Cat becomes a power in her own right.

      I don’t mean to argue with your tastes, but I don’t see how the Guide could stay true to its founding themes without scenarios like this.

      Liked by 16 people

      1. Shveiran

        I think he is arguing the intrigue has grown too complicated, not that it should be less relevant to the plot.

        I don’t really agree, but I think he is making a different statement.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. Ask questions and ye shall receive. The fandom is following, and the fandom is here for you.

      Short recap: Amadeus has been reforming Praes to do a little less starvation+war. He recruited Catherine into the cause, so now she’s leading Callow with an eye to allying wih Praes long-term also. Alaya was also with him on this, but their vision on how to do it and what they actually want out of it has grown far enough apart that their alliance broke, so now Amadeus is chilling at Cat’s. That’s the east.

      Catherine has allied herself with the drow and made treaty with dwarves to attack the Dead King as soon as the rest of the surface forces attack him. That’s the north.

      The Grand Alliance considered Amadeus’s conquest of Callow to be unacceptable, and did not brake in time when Callow was actually granted factual independence again, and went into a narrative trainwreck trying to invade it (that’s Procer and Levant) / attacking Praesi coasts (that’s Ashur). Now Dead King is attacking from the north and they’re in a tailspin that Catherine is trying to pull them out of because she wants continental unity for her own reasons, and also fuck Dead King. She has just formally announced joining the Grand Alliance, which Procer and Levant are also in. The plan was to counterattack him and then kill him, hopefully. That’s the west.

      Levant isn’t really INTERESTED in attacking the Dead King per se, but it’s the right thing to do, so they’re tentatively in. They’re currently the one nation NOT touched by war, and so in one of the strongest positions on the board. No-one else has anything to coerce them with.

      The League of Free Cities is currently acting more like a single entity than a loose coalition of city-states because of the election of a Hierarch, except the Hierarch is Anaxares of Bellerophon who isn’t doing much ruling and is doing fuck knows what (a current point of plot tension: where even IS he???). Kairos Theodosian, Tyrant of Helike, is the dominant military power with a talent for intrigue and so is more or less telling the rest of them what to do. He also suffers from enjoys Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, and so no-one can predict what the League is going to do and who it’s going to side with at any given time. Catherine can sort of follow Kairos’s logic, though, so she’s the current most successful Kairos Wrangler. He seems to enjoy that.

      Ashur got their fleet wrecked in attacking Praes, then got besieged by the League (the fleet of one of its cities, Nicae, to be exact). They’re an island that doesn’t grow its own food, so a blocade is literally starving them. They’re not in a good position.

      That’s the south.

      Of all that, there are currently two major coalitions: The Grand Alliance And Allies, and The League of Evil (name not canon). The former is the faction that Catherine consolidated, and they are the people who are present in the room where the discussion is happening at the end of the chapter. Levant and its rulers, called the Blood; Procer and its First Prince, Cordelia Hasenbach; Callow and its Queen, Catherine; drow and, well, also Catherine tbh, though they had Rumena speak for them formally at the conference.

      The latter, the League of Evil, is very freshly formed. It consists of Neshamah, the Dead King; Malicia, the Dread Empress of Praes (Alaya); and Kairos Theodosian, Tyrant of Helike. Neshamah and Alaya have to be allies because Neshamah invaded on her invitation in the first place: she’s desperate for him to take the heat off her because otherwise she’s out of allies completely, and he’s also kind of desperate becuase if he doesn’t come up with a clever way to stop it, Catherine’s faction WILL wreck him. And then Alaya, in close succession.

      Kairos is there because they asked, and will shortly turn on them because Catherine asked. That’s just how he rolls.

      Catherine’s faction currently has overwhelming military (and narrative) advantage. They are facing two problems, however:
      1) internal cohesion. Very recently most of these people were trying to kill each other. Amadeus is a part of it, and a year ago he ordered Assassin to kill people in Ashur before cutting communication with him, which is now coming to bite everyone in the ass. The Good folks don’t like or much trust the Evil folks, and Levant has no skin in the game in the first place;
      2) Procer is broken to fucking pieces, and it’s the geographical and factual center of the alliance. Their population doesn’t want to fight anyone anymore and is angry at everyone at the same time. The military advantage is only real as long as there isn’t an internal rebellion, and that seems to be what Neshamah is after exploiting.

      If his plan succeeds, the Grand Allliance And Adjacent will have to back down, leaving him alive, the drow more or less homeless (because the plan was to conquer the Kingdom of the Dead as their new homeland), and Alaya untouchable because they’ll have a mutual defense pact. That would be bad.

      The goal Catherine is after is to prosecute war on him, while setting up for Alaya to be overthrown shortly after. Amadeus in this plan takes over as Dread Emperor after her.

      Hopefully this is helpful.

      Liked by 20 people

      1. Except that if Catherine abdicates… well, Callow joined the Alliance, but the Everdark didn’t. Also, Cordelia has fairly well unified Procer, while Cat has gained swing with the Levant, so it’s not so clear that the Alliance is so ready to stand down. Especially since with Procer’s north in rubble, they can point out that any treaty with DK leaves him in an unacceptable advantage for the next round.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Insanenoodlyguy

        Pretty accurate, but I’m not so sure of your timeline. I suspect that the east can not be left unattended while the north is a problem. In other words, she has a bit under 3 months to install Black as emperor and get the east to march north with the rest of them. Or at least sends him off to go do that thing with a little help while she takes the main army up north. Because “Even the Devil we know just showed up in good faith to crush the real BBEG” is a solid story, especially when “I gave my word” is in effect (where several parties expect the evil guy to betray them at the last moment and that moment comes and goes while they shrug and say just that. Can’t have that story without winning first!)

        A civil war cannot be resolved in under 3 months, story or not, I suspect, but a coup/assasination might be. And that is literally considered a perfectly valid succession rite over there.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Yeah, Amadeus is totally definitely going to assassinate Alaya.

          I mean, you’re probably right about everything.

          I’m just thinking about that part like eeeeeeeh yeah this alliance is a MESS.

          Liked by 2 people

      3. > he former is the faction that Catherine consolidated, and they are the people who are present in the room where the discussion is happening at the end of the chapter. Levant and its rulers, called the Blood; Procer and its First Prince, Cordelia Hasenbach; Callow and its Queen, Catherine; drow and, well, also Catherine tbh, though they had Rumena speak for them formally at the conference.

        And Amadeus, leading the Legions-In-Exile as a claimant to Praes. Duh.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Nicely done! One update to the bit on Ashur that I think is super relevant right now: the blockading League fleet from the city of Nicae just got Still Water-ed (Still Water is the same ritual Akua used on Liesse’s population to undeadify them) by Malicia, which means that she turned every person in it into a wight under her control. So Nicae’s fleet is now Malicia’s fleet. Tyrant helped introduce the necessary alchemical agents for Still Water into the fleet’s water, which we know because he basically just proactively bragged about it to Catherine because Kairos. We don’t know (unless I missed it) exactly what reasons Kairos had for doing this beyond “because Kairos”, but he’s a twisty fucker so there’s probably something nasty on top of that.

        Nicae doesn’t know any of this yet. They’re probably not going to like it much.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Yeah, I neglected to clarify what was up with Ashur altogether in this refresher. It’s a recent enough revelation I figure nobody reading serially would have forgotten / lost track of it yet lmao

          Liked by 3 people

          1. I feel like (from my own experience, not pointing fingers anywhere else) you should never underestimate what can potentially slip by someone, especially if the starting premise is that they’re having a hard time figuring out the premise for what’s happening right now. I don’t feel as if I’m having trouble following what’s happening in Guide right now, but my experience with stuff where I did feel like I was having trouble following is that I could miss stuff that other people thought was clear because I had trouble understanding the context that would make clear what things were important. Idk if that applies here for anyone lol, that’s just the basis of what I was thinking.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Good point. My experience is mostly with remembering the last couple of plot beats but being utterly confused wrt any other context, with further-reaching plot threads vanishing into grey fog of ‘stuff is happening’. Too many details making it impossible to track what’s happening large scale; so I tried to minimize details and go over broader dynamics instead. After all, rereading the latest arc will help solve the problm of missing the recent details, but will not solve the problem of failing to understand who are all these people and what they are doing here.

              There isn’t really a perfectly right answer here, I feel =x

              Liked by 3 people

  2. erebus42

    Awww isn’t that sweet, Cat just invited Kairos to sit with her at the popular kids table.
    She does make an excellent point about Kairos though, there really is no fun to be had in a dead (or undead) land.

    Liked by 15 people

    1. SyperNyce

      Kairos’ entire gimmick is change, while a running theme of the Dead King’s entire narrative arc is that without direct interference from the living, the undead *never* change. Gods are even worse about it, so as a self-inflicted undead God, the Dead King is most likely to a T the exact same person he was when he died his first death, only with that static id applied to a dynamic environment.
      He can certainly do all of the creative things he would have thought of before he died, and as a very intelligent monster that is a great many things, but he seems to be incapable of drawing out something entirely new – which is where someone like Malicia comes in, full of new ideas.
      That makes Kairos a great foil, too, because how else do you get one unchanging tyrant to beat another unchanging tyrant other than offering up an infinitely changing bag of tricks for them to chuck at each-other blindly? Sure, most of Kairos’ Spy-vs-Spy powergaming wont stick, but eventually one will.
      What happens when it does, though? Hegemony and stagnation. Sure, the Dead King has a lot of interests and priorities, but they will be sated. Eventually, he will settle on an endless but ultimately effective task like murdering all the angels with the power of bone or something, and he will stick to it forever, or at least ‘forever’ relative to a timescale that matters to the plot, and more importantly, Kairos’ lifespan. Even if the sudden grinding halt to chaos doesn’t make Kairos totally impotent, he will simply be cornered by frail mortality. The only way to beat that would be to apotheoses and make himself the now-all-powerful Dead King’s next eternal enemy down the list, another loss.
      Worse, even if he tolerated that, the Dead King will by definition never, never ever get bored. Zero opportunities to exploit. He will not change his mind, because it’s what he would have done in that situation, and naught else. Once his present objectives are complete, it’s unlikely he will respond in any friendly manner to attempts to set new ones, as that would again digress from his original self. You’re in boring angel war hell forever and you can’t even old age your way out of it.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        It occurs to me that this is why he loved Triumphant so much. She was that change-allower that did so without being antagonistic towards him. For the first time in a long time, he was getting new IDEAS, and without having to get them from somebody trying to kill him! No wonder he still pines for her.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. erebus42

          After Hakram was a good boy and lit his Queen’s pipe for her with out fancy Night tricks.
          “The nerve of the Lord of Silent Steps, that it’d think itself fit to step in between the ordained cogs of fate with its little moving tricks. You didn’t need to move swift as an arrow to see too things, just leave at the right time moving to the right pace.”

          Liked by 4 people

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      Hanno has not tried to kill him yet, and the Tyrant is a part of the conference. If he can help them against the DK, Hanno is probably willing to wait before killing Kairos

      Liked by 6 people

  3. caoimhinh

    LMAO, Hakram is jelly of Ivah and feeling possessive of the position of something as small as lighting the match for Cat’s pipe.

    He’s like “Catherine only needs one Adjutant, thank you very much.”

    On a more serious note, Hakram stating that he would act the same way as Scribe if Cat were to “attempt to throw away her life or her life’s work” shines like a beacon to me as a flag and foreshadowing.
    Given some hints since quite a while ago from Catherine that she plans to “step aside” once the big messes are over, it seems that it will fall on Hakram to snap her out of it if she goes for a more extreme measure like the death route.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      Nah, because I don’t think he’d see it as the same thing.

      Cat’s destiny isn’t “I will rule” it’s “I will be the one that says ‘DON’T MAKE ME COME OVER THERE.’ and have it STICK.”

      She won’t rule Callow, but she will rule Cardinal, albeit perhaps not as a queen.. She will instruct those chosen by fate how to act and when they do not act right take those named who have sworn oath to her, both good and evil, and march them right over there to show exactly why you didn’t want her to come over there. I think Hakram would be just fine with that sort of end.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Yeah, Hakram wouldn’t be after Catherine being Queen of Callow specifically. Her life’s work is the Accords.

        Her life though? He might just be on the same page as Indrani there, not that Indrani was wrong………………

        Liked by 2 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Yep, Cat and co. are not being subtle in the Drow’s involvement. It was one thing to have them participate as a force in the field, but granting them a seat in the political conference of the powers of Calernia changes the nature of the Ever Dark’s involvement and makes it plain for all to see that they have a bigger game afloat.

      Even if he doesn’t know from where the Drow are coming, Neshamah must already have figured out that they will be marching against him.

      Liked by 6 people

  4. Truthhut

    I will truly miss the Tyrant and his brand of madness when he inevitably gets his head cut off. If Cat gets here way, he will be the last of his kind to truly get to have a run of the place. Alas, such is the way of progress.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Eh. His kind is exactly the kind that will thrive under the Accords: conniving, backstabby, hilarious, artful at bending the rules to their purposes, taking limitations as an excuse to sharpen their art. Kairos isn’t erratic in the way Catherine and Hanno discussed will be eliminated, he pushes exactly as far as he knows he can without having it blow up in his face. (And when it does blow up anyway, it does so not too catastrophically). Kairos is exactly the kind of Evil Amadeus talked about in his “let me speak for the crooked and cruel” speech. A lil babby rules lawyer who will use whatever weapon is at hand with absolute glee, the more counterintuitive the better.

      The difference made will be in collateral damage. Accords!Kairos doesn’t make flying towers, he makes formal accusations before continental arbitrage court.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Shveiran

        It is an interesting view; as you describe, Kairos certainly has the potential to thrive under the Accords.
        I’m still not totally convinced he’d accept them, though. Like, really accept them, not “of course I’ll sign your delightfully Accords, you dear friend of mine whom I’ll never ever backstab! Whyever would I not?” accept them.

        Whatever else Kairos is – and he is all you’ve described him as – Kairos is also enamored with the all ways. With the monologues and the crackling thunder and the rituals of inevitable doom. His opening move was to poison the representatives of the other cities, strongarm the Evil ones, declare war on all the rest and then face an army alone with glee and will as his weapons.

        I… not sure Kairos really DOES limits.
        He can toe the line, he could do it masterfully. But all the time, he’d just eb waiting for an opportunity to betray the Accords to, just to see if he can. The more time passes by, the stronger the Accords become, the more urgent his need to wreck them will grow.

        Because… well, I’d argue that’s just what Kairos does..

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Oh, that’s absolutely true. Kairos specifically and personally, this one right now, can only be Accords-safe because he has a rapidly approaching expiration date and Accords just won’t have time to make it onto his wrecking list.

          A future Kairos, however, might just accept the Accords as a framework to work with the same way Kairos accepted the League of Free Cities.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. Decius

    The Empire Under Dark has no reason to accept such a truce.

    They can, as an empire, hire mercenaries from outside the empire.

    The wages of those mercenaries can be nothing.

    What’s the problem with a truce?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The Story consequences. Also more practical consequences. It’s just a variation of his earlier offer of “a decade, or make it a century” long truce to Cat. Without the clear and present danger, the urgency of the Alliance will fade and the moment will pass – he can come back at any time, having spent the entire waiting time weakening the Alliance members, but this time with Malicia’s help.

      Also, no, the wages of any “mercenaries” the Drow hired could not be nothing.

      Liked by 9 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          It wouldn’t matter. Even if they did a “this will cost one coin” thing, unless it was every nation accepting the contract on behalf of the entire nation, which would be a “you clever bastards” sort of cheat, there is much less weight to “the everdark has amassed a large army to conquer this land” as opposed to “The united peoples of several disparate groups have united to stop the great evil”. Even if the numbers are still overwhelmingly high, the first group is the kind of thing the Dead king can smash much more easily.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Then there’s the practical realities involved in the costs of feeding and arming large numbers of people. That ignores the cost of paying the troops.

            Armies, especially quality ones, aren’t cheap to maintain, even in peacetime. And wartime armies are even more expensive.

            Liked by 3 people

          2. Decius

            “The Everdark is leading the Crusade, and gaining support from the House of Light and the Black Queen and the Kingdom of Praes, none of which are signatories to the truce. Oh, and the Kingdom of Callow does not permit the pretender to Praes free passage, and is in a mutual defense agreement with the rest of the Grand Alliance.”

            And all the same armies march, perhaps with some different banners, until Malicia makes a move, at which point SHE has violated the truce and triggered a mutual defense clause.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Shveiran

              In my opinion, you are applying an international politics approach to a story contest. It’s not that what you say doesn’t have merit or logic, it is that you are applying them to a field where those arguments do not stick.

              We got a crash course of the interactions between the practicalities of the real world and the story in Book IV, during the peace conference.
              Applying those teachings here, I’d argue that the approach you propose is a losing one.

              On the practical end, to switch from the Grand Alliance to the Allies of the Empire Ever Dark makes the war a much harder sell to the soldiers of Calernia: people are scared, tired, and hungry; they want to go home and check on their loved ones and sleep in their bed without fearing they won’t wake again.
              Selling them on the “let’s bring the fight to the bastard who caused all this and end him once and for all” is much easier than to do the same on “let’s help this weird lot who we never really saw before and that most of you don’t give a fuck about to get a new home by invading an immortal undead overlord.”
              In the first case, you have powerful emotional chords to pull; in the second one, you can try to pull them, but they are once-removed and thus weaker for it; meanwhile, you gain no emotional edge that I can see.

              On the narrative side, you are suggesting putting the hurt on Malicia if she breaks the truce.
              But that doesn’t work because the Gran Alliance would already be twisting their words and not honoring it in bad faith.
              In our world, world leaders do it often, but ours is not a world ruled by the narrative. Here, you’d be reaping bad karma in heaps.

              Liked by 2 people

  6. I expect that Magon’s death eased set in motion quite some time ago – long before Amadeus was seriously planning on splitting from Malicia, and therefore well outside the ability to readily call off.
    Possibly it’s what Assassin has been working on setting up for months, likely in conjunction with other Praesi assets in Ashur, at least initially.

    Kairos is going to flip on the Dead King and Malicia no matter what, it’s just a question of how much he thinks he can extract for it before somebody calls him on his bluff that he’s not going to flip without more.

    Liked by 7 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        It’s still a problem. It’s a hard pill already, but it’s one thing to say, as scribe pointed out “Yeah, we did fuck you and yours over… you had declared war on us and made your intentions clear that you were going to march across our (still nominal) ally, devide up their lands, and use the pathways to come burn us to the ground. We burned you instead. that’s war.” It’s another thing to say “Hey, we want peace now! Buttttt we might still be killing people you like and the fact that they stopped being your ally was something we couldnt’ possibly have known before that arrow was loosed… ooooops?”

        That’s a hard damn sell. That’s some Kairos shit right there. Not on purpose, but doesn’t something like that sound more like it came from him if you just change some of the language?

        “I, of course, set out to help my best friend and forever ally by killing that traitor who abandomed them in their hour of need! Clearly the fact that they were good friends until just now when you heard they were dead suggests I have excellent foresight and duplicitous motives would be suspected only by the untrusting!”

        That’s going to lead to a lot of “Do you seriously expect us to believe this horseshit” at best, or at worst “so that’s how it is, you leave the great alliance and you die right after? Oh yeah, allying with evil is working out great!” and either way, the “deal with the dead king and save my ass so i can distance myself from this clusterfuck” starts looking better then it should.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. That’s why Tariq is a treasure. He’s an idiot, but he can at least confirm “yes this statement is literally true and no treachery is being intended”.

          And Cordelia can figure out the “this would have to have been planned long before Carrion Lord’s body and soul were put back together” thing on her own I think, once she thinks about it -_-

          Liked by 2 people

  7. So…. I gotta admit, I think the DK has got them.

    Like seriously, from any practical perspective, if Malicia and DK sit down at the table and say “Okay, so DK is leaving, dread empire isn’t invading anywhere. Tell us about the Accords if you like, or not. Whatever.”
    What is the team going to do?

    Politically, attacking DK now is going to be a nightmare. Black’s shot at taking Malicia from the throne was based on the assumption that she was doing something stupid and reckless, but (at least to outside appearances) she isn’t.

    To all apperances, the entire story could end here with the Accords being signed, DK going home, and all the main cast spending the next decade slowly putting their kingdoms back togeather and grumbling about the Dead King kicking their ass again and Malicia being awful for letting him out.

    Hell- they can probably even get Malicia to sign the Accords, if doing so means that Praes gets to maintain cordial trade relations with Callow, and membership to the new court of courts and school of schools. Her and Black will be pissed at one another, but at the end of the day he’ll be like “What were you thinking?” and she can respond “Hey, it worked.”

    I don’t think that’s what will happen (because story), but looking at the story in the present moment, that looks like a perfectly plausible outcome.
    …. which kind of just shows what a genius move this is, both on Malicia’s part, and on the part of EE.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. DK’s trying to split the forces of the Alliance between Keter and Praes. Here’s the thing though — Callow has joined the Alliance, but the Everdark has not. If Catherine abdicates, she and the Everdark can still take on Keter. And any Alliance truce with Keter can be made contingent on Praes’ behavior, and vice versa. And that’s assuming that both the truce and the Axis of Evil’s contract hold, which is not given.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Right- but Catherine + Everdark is not SUFFICIENT to take on the dead king.
        She NEEDS the alliance, not just for the sake of fighting DK, but because if she doesn’t fight DK she’s got 100,000 displaced Drow with no place to live.
        The Dwarves will only commit below ground if the rest of the continent is in on the game above. Without the grand alliance, all Cat has is one displaced and broken empire- a hammer with no Anvil.

        … also, I’m really not sure how the current move is meant to split the Alliance between Keter and Praes- Was there a quote I missed?

        I totally agree it is contingent on the contract holding, which is not given- but the point is that the IDEA of peace, the IDEA that war is not inevitable is what is being offered to the populous of the continent, and that undermines Cat and Cordelia’s political liscence.

        …. also, what’s to stop Malicia and DK going to work on offering the Drow a better deal than Cat has given them….

        Liked by 2 people

        1. > what’s to stop Malicia and DK going to work on offering the Drow a better deal than Cat has given them….

          Mostly Sve Noc, who rather like Cat and have little reason to trust DK or Praes. (Even if Malicia personally has supported greenskin rights, so has Black, and Praes doesn’t have a great history with nonhumans.)

          Liked by 3 people

        2. They can’t give the drow a better deal, because they don’t have what Cat has to offer.

          Catherine has offered them:
          – the dwarves’ support until they win this war (I don’t want to know what the dwarves will do if the drow go back on their word about fighting the DK and I bet the drow don’t either);
          – a territory that no-one living contests (admittedly DK could theoretically let him have the very same one, it’s not like he’s using it either);
          – potential help from mages, priests and heroes to heal the aforementioned territory until it’s no longer blighted (doubt DK can match that perfectly, given he has no Light users available);

          and most notably
          – good relations with pretty much the entire continent. DK is isolated, it’s Intercessor’s entire game that no-one likes him and no-one’s willing to ally with him except really desperate Dread Emps. Good relations that’ll last for generations, too, with a deliberately set up to last treaty and trade ties. Whereas Malicia’s diplomatic abomination will definitely die with her.

          Oh, and Catherine’s help in navigating surface affairs – someone they actually trust. DK will fuck them over however he can, try to control them in every way he can, there are no pesky “ethics” restraining him. Catherine is genuine in her desire to help and not looking to consolidate power.

          DK cannot match the offer, no.

          Liked by 2 people

    2. caoimhinh

      It’s not that plausible to happen, because they can’t trust the Dead King and there’s too much risk in letting him stay active and existing.
      This was already considered by Catherine when Neshamah offered a truce of 100 years; if the sense of alarm and imminent danger is lost then the cohesion of the alliance against Keter vanishes and they will tend to more practical and immediate matters, while the Dead King can amass his forces for the next invasion.

      The Grand Alliance can’t accept peace with the Dead King, both Catherine and Cordelia know this, probably Amadeus and Tariq too. So they not accepting the trap of a long-time truce with Keter is a consequence of more than Story, there are practical realities to that decision.

      However, that won’t stop Neshamah from making the offer, and some will start having second thoughts like Yannu this chapter, as some of the leaders and the population losing their will to fight the war will mean weakening the alliance army that marches against the Dead King.

      The brilliance of this move is not in its capability of ending the war (it can’t and won’t) but rather in the cost for the members of the Grand Alliance in stopping those who start having second thoughts (political leaders backing off deals, discontented soldiers, rioting population, etc).

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Can we start rumors that Grey was raised with necromancy tho?

    *Cough cough* Its funny how the story disses fools working together and trading information with the Tyrant while Cat has been doing the same thing and even she dissed those fools at one point i think. *Cough cough*

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Shveiran

      Is it? I mean, I’d be colled a reckless idiot if I tried to draw a project for a suspension bridge, since I lack the necessary knowledge; that doesn’t mean no one should draw suspension bridges, so long as they are qualified for the task.

      Tyrant is a viper, so trying to deal with him without being a very skilled snake charmer is a reckless mistake.
      Whereas Cat has played him several time, so it’s clear she has the skill to handle him.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Dreamer

        I wouldn’t really call Kairos a viper. It seems he’s there just to be relevant. It seems like his essence of being. And best way to be relevant is to be a man in the middle. And so it feels like you can’t really “get” him as he wants to be swayed from one side to the other. I think his preferred outcome would be never-ending struggle between Alliance and The Enemy.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Shveiran

          Undoubtedly.
          But this is not a game that can be won without a measure of risk; all I’m saying is, in her case, it is a calcultaed risk. When the Proceran Princes did…it was not.

          Liked by 3 people

    2. Insanenoodlyguy

      The thing is that he’s a player, and so can’t be ignored. But this was because other people let him come and play. Cat is good at fighting him, but she would have told everybody not to let him at the table in the first place.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Decius

        And he would have destroyed his last coin, rather than see an opponent win.

        He’s playing the game to have a chance at winning, because he sees that the first-order ideal strategy makes everyone lose. But he’s still open to the idea of making everyone lose, if they don’t give him a chance to win.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. NerfGlaistigUaine

    I love this comment section. It’s so nice and friendly and there are nearly no blabbering idiots. Considering the forums I usually frequent it’s a true breath of fresh air.

    I’ve talked about religion, death, character motivations, morality, and history with this fic and have never gotten any truly stupid replies. It’s just so freaking nice.

    Liked by 10 people

        1. that entire poem makes me so emotional about Praes’s whole deal

          ‘we are not kind or just,
          deserving or any victory,
          we are a thing of dust,
          promised only misery’

          NO YOU ARE OKAY IT WILL BE FINE I PROMISE AAAAAAAA

          Liked by 1 person

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