Chapter 86: It Pours

“The cruelty of a dilemma is not only in the choice itself; it lies also in the truth it reveals to you about yourself through the making of that choice.”
– King Edmund of Callow, the Inkhand

Akua Sahelian and Masego the Hierophant were, undeniably, two of the finest mages ever produced by the Wasteland. One had been taught the old sorceries of Wolof since she could remember and taken to them with dreadful skill, the other had been apprenticed since he could speak to a warlock who’d dissected the corpses of gods. Their deeds were many and renowned, and their reputations were such as to make men shiver in the dark of night. They’d also used a godsdamned bathtub as the vessel of water for their scrying ritual. I’d excuse Masego in this, since he was usually more concerned with practicalities than appearance, but Akua would earn no such mercy from me. The same woman who’d campaigned with multiple enchanted ceremonial armours was now trying to pretend it’d never occurred to him there might be some slight indignity to this, an innocent look on her face. Yeah, I wasn’t buying that. I spared some of my glare for Hakram, the filthy traitor who must have been willingly complicit in this, and at least he had the good grace to look abashed.

I didn’t have nearly as much time to spend on designing petty vengeances as I used to, but they weren’t getting away with this unpunished. And I wasn’t above delegating my pettiness these days, anyway. A council consisting of Robber, Indrani and Vivienne ought to be capable of coming up with a suitably vindictive reprisal.

I limped up to the side of the copper bathtub, discretely surrounded by carved and inscribed wardstones stabilizing it against the strenuous effects of long-distance scrying, and the faint amusement I’d felt at the absurdity of having to speak with my officers through a bathing implement died. On the surface of the waters I saw Juniper, and what I read there was not promising. She looked exhausted, the thick skin around her eyes touched with muted grey, and beyond that she looked angry. The kind of low festering anger that stayed in your belly, kept simmering there by your own impotence to do anything about its cause.

“Juniper,” I said. “I’d say it’s a pleasure to see you, but it seems that would be premature. Report, Marshal.”

“Warlord,” she gravely replied, dipping her head to the side.

It bared her neck, if only slightly, which implied much greater deference by orc standards than inclining your head in agreement. I’d noticed Juniper tended to fall back into orc mannerisms when she was unsettled, abandoning the more human affectations that she’d picked up in the War College. That was not a promising sign, not that any part of this had been hinting at my night getting any better.

“Time is difficult to gauge accurately in the Twilight Ways,” she began, “but around what we believe to be fifteen hours ago the Legions-in-Exile under Marshal Grem abandoned the march towards Arans and changed direction.”

Fifteen hours, I considered with a frown. Aligning the timelines, and allowing for a degree of imprecision, that around the time the conference’s first formal session had been held. Hakram stirred, having approached my side without my realizing. Consciously, anyway. It wasn’t like he’d been silent, more that his presence at my side hardly warranted particular notice. I glanced at him and nodded, tacitly allowing him to ask the question he wanted to.

“And was reason given for that decision, or even the destination itself?” Adjutant asked.

Juniper grimaced.

“That is complicated to answer,” she admitted. “Both the Army and the Legions were breaking camp, when it happened, and it was not immediately clear what was happening. The messengers I sent were given the answer that this changed march was at the order of the Carrion Lord, which I did not believe.”

My eyes narrowed. All other things aside, Black shouldn’t have a way to contact his people while they were out in the Ways: I’d not put Akua and Masego on the ritual so they could reminisce together about the bad old days. Here in Salia he shouldn’t have the calibre of mages to accomplish something like that, much less without the Observatory to use. Which meant he would have had to give secret orders before coming with me to Salia, which was… dubious. I wasn’t going to blindly trust the man, even if I loved him, but it would be ludicrous for him to turn on me at this juncture. The moment I ceased extending my protection to him the Procerans would slip a noose around his neck, if they were feeling kind, and while maybe I could see him taking calculated risks if he were still partnered with Malicia he’d just burned that bridge in front of the rulers of most the continent. No, Juniper had been right to be skeptical.

“I sough to speak personally with Marshal Grem,” Juniper gravelled, “but was turned away. The rank and file of the exiles were taken by surprise, my queen, but not worried. Staff Tribune Aisha Bishara approached officers she worked closely with during the campaigns and learned that the Legions were returning to Praes.”

Fuck, I thought. That wouldn’t be a secret order from Black, he had to know that his soldiers were exhausted and undersupplied. Beginning a campaign to take Praes before rest and refit would be madness, the Legions-in-Exile had been out in enemy territory for almost a year now.

“Someone got to One-Eye,” I said. “Either he’s dead and being impersonated, or someone has hooks in him.”

“Marshal Grem has a great deal of prestige among the troops,” Hakram quietly said, “but not so much that such a decision would be uncontested. Marshal Ranker might be dead, but there are still Conquest generals. General Mok for the Fifth and Yawa Foehammer for the Twelfth.”

Both were decorated veterans of the invasion of Callow, from what I knew, though General Yawa had been a lesser officer then – she’d been raised to general after Afolabi Magoro died at the Doom and rebuilt the Twelfth from the wreckage of that legions. Neither were anywhere as famous or beloved as the One-Eye, but among their own soldiers their word would carry a lot of weight. If both accused the Marshal of being compromised, people would listen. Juniper grunted in agreement.

“That was my thought as well, and so I pushed again for a face-to-face meeting,” the orc said. “Which is when it was made clear to me that the entire upper echelon of the exiles knew of this order.”

My brow rose.

“All of them?” Hakram slowly said.

“Marshal Grem, all generals and most the legates,” Juniper said. “There was no arguing with that, my queen. The only way I could feasibly prevent them from leaving was putting the top officers of the exiles under arrest.”

“That would have led to a pitched battle,” I grimly said.

While bonds were tight between Black’s army and mine, given the common wars fought and the common descendance from the Reforms and the College, the Legions-in-Exile were not mine. They’d not sworn to me, nor ever intended to. My marshal ordering their highest commanders all imprisoned would have been seen as an attempt to bring them into the fold by force, which would have gone… poorly, to say the least. The Army of Callow would probably have won that fight, between superior numbers and whatever was affecting the Legion officers, but it would have been a bloody business all around and there was no guarantee my barebones mage lines would have been able to fix whatever had been done to the generals afterwards. Juniper wouldn’t have had much of a choice, when it came down to it.

“It was the right call to let them leave,” I said.

“Thank you,” Juniper said, dipping her head forward.

Been worried about my reaction to that, then. Fair enough.

“Hellhounds, remind me,” Adjutant said. “General Birne, Ranker’s replacement. He’s got a golden stripe, doesn’t he?”

The honour granted those who’d fought with distinction at the Fields of Streges, as I recalled.

“And a silver cord from the Siege of Summerholm,” Juniper said, tone approving. “You caught on quick. It wasn’t me that noticed, Deadhand. General Bagram’s got a stripe too, and they’re old friends.”

My eyes flicked between the two of them questioningly, for clearly I’d missed something along the way.

“The golden stripes are considered the highest of the personal honours granted during the Conquest,” Hakram said. “Because only forty-three were granted, and-“

“All by Dread Empress Malicia’s own hand,” Akua finished from behind us.

I glanced at her, and the implication sunk in. She’d once told me that her family considered any spy left alone with the Empress to be compromised. Yet Malicia had outmanoeuvred High Lady Tasia Sahelian, in the end, destroyed her completely. Even that stark a warning might have been underestimating what the Empress was capable of.

“Marshal Grem is certain to have spoken with the Empress in person at least once,” I said. “And I imagine the same would hold true for any general and quite a few of the high-ranking officers that participated in the Conquest.”

And whatever it was she’d done, it was possible for it to affect every single one of those individuals. Shit. That was a fucking disaster. There was no such thing as flawless mind control, especially not from a distance, but even simple planted orders could do a lot of damage. Especially if they were sown generously across the entire old guard of the Legions, which tended to be both the finest commanders we had and my father’s most ardent supporters. I’d believe it too, if I was a legionary and the One-Eye told me his orders came from Black, I thought. After all those years of friendship and loyalty, why doubt it?

“Within an hour of realizing this, I removed the army from the Twilight Ways,” Juniper said. “And ordered every officer who has ever set foot in the Tower or been in the presence of the Empress to be placed under arrest.”

And Gods, both of those decisions had been the right call once more but looking at the scope of the mess I felt like smashing the fucking bathtub in front of me. Not all our College-taught officers would fall under those conditions, but most our Praesi highborn and distinguished veterans would. Which meant all my best and seasoned commanders. We wouldn’t be without officers, since so much of the army was Callowan now, but essentially all the veteran officers we’d taken from the legions cannibalized after the Folly and kicked up the ranks would have to be removed from the chain of command. Without knowing exactly what it was the Empress had done, how it worked and what it could do, we just couldn’t take the risk of leaving them in place. Including Juniper herself, for all that she was still the one giving me a report. Everything she’d just told me would have to be confirmed second-hand by someone not in doubt, for a start, and it’d be a mess to manage that considering most of her general staff was likely to be on the compromised list as well.

Dread Empress Malicia had not so much as swung as sword and she’d effectively crippled the Army of Callow. That, more than anything else, told me I was not wrong to believe this to be her work. How many people alive would be capable of a blow that vicious?

“Who’s in command, at the moment?” I asked.

“Grandmaster Talbot has legate-equivalent rank and technical seniority,” Juniper said. “Yet most Praesi soldiery balks at his command. Legate Tendai is the other candidate, but while she has years under her belt as a frontline officer she is fresh to higher command. For now the two are keeping the peace in accord but tensions are rising.”

Thank the Gods for the Reforms, I feelingly thought. How many other armies on the continent would be able to weather so much of the upper ranks being put under arrest this well? That measures meant to prevent decapitation of leadership by heroes were working almost as well against a villain’s work was a nice touch of irony.

“Has there been any sign of enthrallment in any of our people?” I asked.

“None that I know of,” Juniper said. “Though I am no longer being kept informed, my queen.”

“There won’t be,” Akua said.

I turned to face her, sharply gesturing for elaboration.

“Unlike with the Legions-in-Exile, the Empress cannot suborn the Army of Callow outright,” the shade elaborated. “Which means the greatest gain she can derive of any enthrallment sown in your ranks is delay, keeping your soldiers out of action for as long as she can.”

“Making a third of my officer corps commit suicide would achieve that,” I pointed out.

“It would cripple your army, it is true, but also flush out her hidden hands,” Akua said, shaking her head. “Better to leave the ship infested, and you aware of that. Then either you must send valuable assets to investigate the trouble or go yourself. Either way, a great deal of your might is tied down for weeks. Possibly even months. And should it look like you have a solution, well, it is not too late then to order the killings you described.”

My lips thinned. Yeah, that sounded about right. Either I went myself with Sve Noc at my back, which given the distance and what needed to be done in Salia still would complicate everything, or I sent both Akua and Masego together to be safe – which lost me a great deal of knowledge and power at hand I might need for other tasks. And the moment it looked like I might turn things around, I had no doubt that just like Akua had said the Empress would twist the knife once more. If not earlier, the moment she learned through her spies that whoever went had entered the Twilight Ways. Fuck.

“Thank you for your report, Marshal,” I crisply said, then grimaced. “You acted correctly in every regard, Juniper. This isn’t on you, we were just had by the Empress. We’ll dig our way back to daylight.”

“We always do, Catherine,” the Hellhound said, but she sounded so very tired.

I gestured for Masego to end the ritual, not willing to look at her in this state any longer, then breathed out as Juniper’s image on the water vanished.

“Akua,” I said. “How high are the odds that the Empress can just snap her fingers and have them all commit suicide?”

“I am not certain,” she admitted. “This is not mere sorcery, dearest. A Name is involved, and so there are deeper considerations. In principle, such mastery of others can either be fine or numerous – as it is with Speaking, where one may have an entire crowd kneel once or enchant an individual intricately.”

“Even at the peak of my Name, I wouldn’t have been able to order that many people to kill themselves,” I said. “Maybe two, three at most? For simpler stuff fear and thunder carries it through, but…”

“If we could Speak entire hosts to death, what need would we have of hosts at all?” Akua smiled. “Yes. In truth you were only the Squire, while Malicia is Dread Empress and a great one besides, but I took doubt that even should this be borne of an aspect she could so easily take lives. Especially if the commands were seeded. Having such a decree lying in one’s mind for years would lead to severe disorders of the mind, besides.”

“Unless that mind is prepared for that particular purpose, and accordingly conditioned with enchantments and alchemy,” Masego cut in. “As the Sentinels are said to be.”

Akua conceded with a nod.

“Without a story at her back, I do not believe it is within the power of the Empress to order deaths,” she said. “Though lesser beguilements would be well within her grasp, and in their own way just as dangerous. I am greatly surprised by the skill displayed in the manipulation of the commanders of the Legions-in-Exile, I confess.”

“I’m not,” Vivienne said. “Not considering what you said about stories. It was around fifteen hours ago this all started, the Hellhound said. Give or take a bit, that’s when the Carrion Lord declared rebellion against the Tower.”

I closed my eyes and let out a soft curse.

“And that makes an empress calling her subjects to heel,” I said. “Considering most who climb the Tower have an aspect related to authority, she would have had the wind at her back when she pulled that trigger.”

“It would be more complex a matter when it comes to those among the Army of Callow,” Akua noted. “Though some of them were once sworn to her, they are now sworn to you instead.”

“Creation likes clarity,” I agreed. “But that’ll serve to weaken, not protect or prevent.”

Neither of which I was all that sure I could do, when it came down to it. Distance was the element of dismay here, the more I thought about it. Those under my charge that needed help were far, and there was no guarantee that by the time they were reached they would still be in a state to be helped. Possibly I could leave behind someone under an illusion to impersonate me and hope that Malicia didn’t catch on, but given the way it’d be impossible to keep that deception going for too long it’d be rolling the dice to try that. Assuming them Empress didn’t catch on immediately, which give how deeply the Eyes had apparently infiltrated Salia I could hardly be sure of. Sending Masego and Akua would hardly be any subtler, even if I made an effort to suppress knowledge of it, and at the end of the day I had to admit that whatever my decision was there was nothing I could do. Save perhaps doing nothing, which I expected was exactly what the Empress would prefer of me: days passing in indecision, paralyzed by the risks in committing to anything.

For the first time since I’d returned from the Everdark I’d been caught entirely flatfooted, and the impotent anger I’d earlier glimpsed in Juniper was finding a mirror in me. I’d forgotten how much I hated this. How much I hated her. There were reasons to kill the Empress that were personal to me, like the death of people I had cared for, and practical ones as well. And then there was this, the ugly sinking feeling in my stomach and how much I despised that she could do that to me. Still even now, after all I had learned and wrought. Because she was patient and cold-blooded and everything I was not. Gods, the Dead King could still scare me in a way few things could but the only foe who had ever made feel like an arrogant child was the Dread Empress of Praes. The woman atop the tower who had, again and again, made me bleed without my ever landing a blow on her in return.

“Fuck,” I cursed. “All right. I’ll see if I can find a way out of this mess. Meanwhile, Hakram, speak with Talbot and this Legate Tendai. I want Juniper’s report confirmed point by point, and word of everything that’s happened since.”

“As you say,” Adjutant replied. “The Army will still need a commanding officer, Catherine. The Hellhound made it clear the current situation is untenable.”

I’d be able to take care of it, if I went, but if I wasn’t sure I could afford to leave Vivienne here to finish the negotiations without me. She had the judgement to see it through, sure, but cleverness was not what had brought the opposition to the table. They’d taken a seat because they were desperate and scared of me, and though the former still held they simply would not be afraid of Vivs the way they were of me. Which would mean squabbles I wouldn’t have to deal with, heroes not being as leery of meddling and a hundred other little messes we could ill-afford. On the other hand, if it was not I who went then there was only one high-ranking officer who could fill the shoes.

“It will have to be General Abigail,” I said. “At least until the hooks can be dug out of our people’s heads. I’ll speak to her myself. Vivienne, I need you to prepare an escort for her when she’s sent out. At least two full cohorts. I’ll need to consult with-”

Black, I realized in this moment still likely knew nothing of this. Shit. I was not looking forward to that conversation at all.

“- with Black,” I grimaced. “And soon. Akua, Zeze, can the scrying ritual be done again without the both of you?”

“It can be done by our mage lines, Catherine,” Masego reminded me. “They are on Creation again, all this ritual commotion was unnecessary.”

“Right,” I said, mildly embarrassed at having forgot. “Good, then I have jobs for you. Hierophant, I need options to purge the mind of my officers from the Empress’ influence.”

He opened his mouth, but I raised a hand to interrupt.

“I have a dozen things I need to be doing right now, and I’d not remember all the details if you simply told me anyway,” I said. “Write it down for me, Zeze. Prepare all you can, so I can put it to council when everyone is there.”

“I suppose I have nothing more pressing at the moment,” he said.

“Thanks,” I honestly replied. “I appreciate it.”

“And I, my heart?” Akua smiled.

“You’re with me,” I said. “Black will get snippy about you being there, but when it comes to Praesi politics you’re my expert. We’ll head there now, I don’t doubt that with the agitation in our camp Scribe already woke him up.”

I clapped Hakram’s shoulder, nodded at Masego and managed to take exactly one step towards the door before it was thrown open.

“There you are,” Archer said, face serious. “We have a situation, Cat. Chunks of the League’s people are moving.”

“Moving where?” I frowned.

“By the looks of it? Here,” she flatly said.

It was a good thing I knew my way around more than a few languages, these days, because loudly cursing in only one would not have been nearly enough.

109 thoughts on “Chapter 86: It Pours

  1. Frivolous

    Many of the suppositions in the previous chapter confirmed. Congratulations to all who did so.

    In other news, I’m still wondering how and why Hierophant is still dangerous. He’s lost most or all of his magic, but Witch of the Woods still thought he could kill either her or White Knight.

    Liked by 14 people

      1. Crash

        To my understanding aside from his Aspects and knowledge, he lacks magic of his own but can wield that of others and harness rituals just fine. Limitations and methodology on that isn’t quite clear yet but I reckon the Name will find a way, Usher of Mysteries and all that.

        Of note, Hierophant implies, to me at least, more of a supportive role to begin with, a researcher or a wielder and less of a infantry unit, employing creative methods to make use of/invent/discover new ways to use things that are already there and less of “Yes, fireball bigger.”.

        I can’t quite articulate my toughts on this in a nice way but I suppose I always tought of it more as a FFT Geomancer, if you will, than as a Black Mage.

        Liked by 13 people

    1. Oshi

      He’s lost Sorcery but not power. He can call to himself everything his name has granted him. Imitations of the power of gods form what he has Glimpsed. The rest? He can Wrest it from them. This means he can take their own power and use it against them. He may not be able to call on sorcery directly but he can still crush anyone who uses it. It’s a weakness that can be exploited so hes not unbeatable but still friggin powerful.

      Liked by 13 people

    2. erebus42

      His aspects are still good since they’re a part of his name. He can also still wield and potentially usurp the powers and workings of others. That combined with the shit ton of eldritch knowledge in his head is perfectly sufficient to give anyone a bad day.

      Liked by 9 people

    3. Point

      He specializes in piercing the veil protecting higher powers. The White Knight is having some problems when Judgement is busy with the Hierarch; I expect he would have had problems if the Hierophant started poking at his connection to the Choir.

      And, of course, given that one of his aspects is Wrest, and usurpation is the essence of sorcery, I expect he would be considerably less than powerless against a sorcerer.

      Even without his magic, we saw just this chapter that he can still help with scrying. He lacks his own magical power; not the ability to interact with magic. And given the whole usurpation thing, I wouldn’t be surprised if his Role let him mess with others’ magic even without using an aspect.

      Liked by 9 people

    4. Vortex

      We saw with Kairos that all villains get a curse at the end. A final blow guaranteed to land in their stories offered from Below. I think the knowledge and nature of a named who had seen gods slain and been possessed by the dead king could wield that curse in a particularly nasty way.

      Liked by 5 people

    5. Cicero

      Well, he still has his aspects.

      My guess? Some form of Magical Judo. He has no magic to strike with himself, but if another used magic around him he can redirect it and use that as his source of power. Magic includes miracles too. So maybe the White Knight could beat him if he used no aspects, and did not call on the Choir of Judgement in anyway.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. That’s what I’m thinking too. Hanno translated for us the general meaning of Antigone’s assessment, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more nuances than she could convey with a head tilt.

        Liked by 2 people

    6. Allafterme

      When someone else look through a miracle they’ll see, well, a miracle. The Hierophant directly sees source code equivalent of creation and intimately understand them. Let me also remind you that he totally believes to be able to think like a god is simply being a god. He also resides in a Creation that bends over backwards in order to usher even the most ridiculous beliefs of Named into reality (Hierarch anyone?).

      One plus two means that if you are:
      1. Utilizing your Name in bridging the gap in order to use miracle like magic
      2. Your Name routinely relies on your chosen Choir’s support
      chances are you, in fact, should not go 1v1 with the Hierophant…

      Liked by 8 people

    7. Aston Whiteman

      If you know how to stop someone breathing they die.

      If you cut off a Named Magician source of magic they die.

      Zeze is more like a magic martial art monk now..

      Remember how he grabbed a Crow?

      Thank you so much for not being a vote reminder.

      Liked by 4 people

    8. Decius

      He’s lost his ability to use lesser forces, so all he has left is the stuff that results in needing to make new maps, because there is no longer terrain in the area.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Crash

        It’s because he insists on being unarmed! Maybe he should take a page from Tinkles book and equip some more bells, learn some new skills.

        Make every square of terrain count.

        Liked by 2 people

    9. Fern

      Masego has become even more of a strategic asset than before, because of that. Cat can’t use him tactically to shift fights around pivots anymore, unless he has some serious backing from other named (since he’s have to over rely on aspects to do it, and we’ve learned that’s a death knell for named). He’s more useful figuring out the high arcana shit (which he’d be unmatched in, aside from ubua, the dead king, and maybe the witch) that gets thrown at Cat on a semi-regular basis, which means he’d be best served countering the dead Kings strategic plays against the grand alliance, especially if he has other sorcerers (named or otherwise) to lend support.

      However, in a situation dealing with named who draw power from the gods, which is most of them iirc, he’d have a leg up in fucking with their abilities since he’s done it so many times before. The groove has been carved into creation, giving him a big advantage. And like someone earlier said, using wrest to bridge the gap would give him a ginormous leg up as well, and a decent chance for a kill on most named. Usurpation is the essence of sorcery, after all.

      Liked by 5 people

    10. He lost his innate spellcasting. I’m not sure if he lost his high arcana too. But the things he already gained, the knowledge obtained and the powers that are given and taken by his magic yet not his magic alone still remain. He likely no longer has wards and the ability to cast spells immediately, but he has all the know-how and all his gains including that summer princess’s stolen powers.

      Imagine training your body with lots of pull-ups but then losing your fingers. You can no longer do pull-ups because you cannot hold the bar, but you still have the muscular arms gained from those exercises for a while and you can still pull yourself up different ways like with your feet and hanging from your elbows.
      Or maybe a more apt example, amnesia. You no longer remember gaining the knowledge like speaking English, who you are and what you can do, but you can still speak English, know how to operate things and use your reflexes. The basic magic that Zeze lost isn’t like learning his first steps and him being able to walk no longer relying on that at all, but it’s also not complete memory loss because magic is like knowing names and remembering events. He’s in a fantasy-amnesia state where only the convenient to be inconveniently lost things are lost.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think High Arcana understanding is still his. He cannot manipulate sorcery, but he can damn well understand it. Cat has noted that he’s said he ‘functionally’ lost the Gift, not just that he lost it, or something along those lines.

        Liked by 2 people

    11. stevenneiman

      I suspect that Ruin could do some serious damage to a person, and it would only get more dangerous the more metaphysical power that person wields. He might actually not be much of a threat to someone like Archer who mostly relies on Name-boosted mundane skills, but someone who used mighty sorceries like the Witch, or channels a Choir like Hanno? They would be in for hells if they picked a fight with him.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Once again we’re reminded just how much “oh fuk” Malicia can be when she’s basically been a minor character for the past book or 2. How much you want to bet 1/3 of the League’s armies are also under her influence to some degree?

    Liked by 9 people

        1. Shikkarasu

          While I agree entirely, I also desperately want to see that AU. Suicide goats that cannot be stopped and Zombie III Breaking everything that gets in her way. I mean, more than usual.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. Shveiran

          I think you are right, but let’s not forget that Nefarious’ body doubles are not your average zombies. We do not know how they work, not exactly, nor do we know their limitations.
          I don’t think she can, but we can’t really be sure.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. We can if we look at the narrative logic to it. Malicia’s Rule Aspect, story-wise, is based on ‘the weight of her presence’, not the weight of how clever she is. When she’s in the room with you, she’s in charge.

            And the tradeoff for that is that her presence is her vulnerability. Every time she’s in a room with someone she’s making a wager that person cannot in fact kill her if they try, or won’t try. Think Cat in front of the cavalry charge: the very weight is based on the risk taken.

            And when Malicia isn’t coming in person, the weight of her presence isn’t coming either. The weight of the reminder of her is there, but if she’s not exposing herself to others’ Aspects, she cannot use her own either.

            Narratively, she cannot extend her rule and have it convincingly stick over somewhere she hasn’t been.

            Liked by 2 people

    1. sutortyrannus

      It’s a mark of EE’s ability, I think, that for me at least it doesn’t feel forced. She won, yes, and then she blind-sided and kneecapped by something she couldn’t have seen coming. It mirrors Black’s losses in the Free Cities and at Saudant – he’s great against everything he can see coming, and he can see more than most, but the weaknesses lies in things for which he just cannot prepare.

      Liked by 11 people

      1. Crash

        It’s also important to mention that this isn’t a Deus Ex Machina random turnaround, we’ve been aware that Malicia had mindhooks in the Army for a while now, this was properly set-up; it’s that Cat herself didn’t have any way to know it.

        Liked by 10 people

      2. konstantinvoncarstein

        Yeah, and it was foreshadowed a long time ago. It was even said Malicia did that because an Empress should not be completely dependent from another person and that she could not accept that her armies were not loyal to her.

        Liked by 9 people

      3. I would argue Amadeus could damn well see Saudant coming – not tactically, but strategically. He had to know SOMETHING he couldn’t prepare for was coming, that’s just how narrative storms blow when you’re massacring civilians across hero-protected land. This isn’t a fight won with tactics when you’re in a corner strategically, all he was doing was delaying the ending. He just didn’t know for how long.

        And in this case, Catherine could predict that Alaya had SOMETHING up her sleeve. The problem is, there isn’t a single decision she could have made differently. At no point was there a decision fork of “if the Empress is helpless, go left, if the Empress probably still has nasty cards to play, go right”. Being committed on two fronts has been her problem since Book 4, and frankly, she’s in a better position now than she was back then anyway.

        This is a great blow to morale, but as they discuss here, there’s only so much disruption this can cause. Oh, Amadeus is in trouble, but Callow’s still pretty damn in the green.

        …Wonder if the Empress has that same hook in Sacker. Shit.

        Okay yeah maybe Callow’s far in the yellow BUT again, Catherine did not have better options.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Shveiran

          I think’s it is a fair assumption to make, unless Goblin Names or something along those lines come out.
          I mean, why wouldn’t Sacker be compromised if all other Generals are?

          Liked by 2 people

    2. Fern

      I don’t think so, I’m willing to bet from Cats intuition that she’d need a narrative foothold (i.e. a face to face meeting and authority over them through which she can channel Rule) to do so, and she doesn’t have that with the league.

      Er, well, maybe enough for a tiny suggestion, since she’s subverted a couple city states. Something like “the black queen sees you as a loose end to be tied off, so gets to stabbing b4 she gets to tyin”

      Liked by 3 people

      1. As Hakram already ascerned, the Free States are in complete disarray. They are turning against each other and against their unified pact rapidly, some controlled by Malicia while others are Good or just trying to gain control.

        This wouldn’t be too much of an important facet if not for:

        -Praes recently lost Thalassina in one fell irrecoopable blow. By balance and stability of the Wasteland of Evil that has to be Evil and be given its Due, Creation might have to give it another port city to balance out things and prevent them from being a trade-choked or sea-barred nation.

        -Nicea currently besieges Ashur and does so mostly because Tyrant told them and Malicia’s ghouls and stuff. Not really Good no more, their strings are being pulled.

        -Penthes is already quite in her palm despite them being Good, and Delos would be a good new port city even if Nicea can’t be appropriated.

        -Kairos apparently eradicating all of the Theodosian bloodline that grants Helike its monarchy of historical value. With that gone, perhaps it can be consumed by a different Evil.

        -Things are a-changing and the balance of Good and Evil being rewritten.

        -No way to show that you aren’t waning in the game of Eb and Flood than a successful conquest or annexation, especially Story-wise.

        This isn’t a given or an absolute, and depending on the how Malicia might only create a Pivot deadline demanding to stop her that make things easier on Heroes or force her hand in more direct engagement, but there’s multiple grooves and strings for her to follow that could allow for Praes to conquer some of the Free cities.

        If she pulls those strings well, she might have a plan that allows her to come back up on top, sate the High Lords with successful conquest, give her new treasuries and people to work with, make the Legions in Exile garrison in the no longer Free Cities instead of returning to Praes and thus preventing them inevitably turning against her despite the mind control, create new problems and hurdles politically by technically owning those cities under the Accords if she holds on to them for long enough (creating a negative shadow balance to the Accords from the get-go), gains nobility-worthy lands for Wither that are close to the Eyries but not Wasteland territory, etc.

        Again, this might just as easily prove a pivot against her, but with cool head and careful hand Malicia might defy her fate of dwindling in power by growing rapidly and vastly while remaining uncontested Dread Empress and breaking that Story once and for all.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. And there are three cities striving for sea domination. Even if Ashur by story prevails strongly because Ghouls vs Named never work out (Definite Win vs Evil) and whomever comes second manages to get a close Tie by needing foreign help, the Pattern of Three might enable Malicia to get the permanent win with the third and by default maintain control over it.

          Liked by 2 people

    3. Glass Cannon.

      A giant on clay legs.

      A Jenga tower.

      Catherine can do a lot, but her support base is much more tactical than strategic. She doesn’t have roots, doesn’t have foundation – neither does Amadeus, notably, though he at least has more than she does, after 40 years of community service. Still, his own support is dwindling too, specifically because he’s more or less a nobody who fought his way to power. They don’t have ancestral artefacts, they don’t have centuries of tradition as story weight, their spy networks are as new as their stories.

      Malicia is the same way, incidentally, but unlike these two, she has made a point of using these 40 years to SPECIFICALLY build herself a power base – while they were too busy trying to make the world a better place.

      A queen is a powerful chess piece, but cannot win the entire game by itself.

      This is good timing to remind us of that, and good timing to remind us just how far out of her depth Catherine is, genius mastermind and diplomat or not.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Amadeus is going to be furious when he finds out about what Malicia has done to his people.

    Parts of the League are moving.
    Hmm.
    Kairos knew/expected that the trial was going to end in his death – I wonder if he left contingency directives ordering his people to help Cat.
    Ooh, we know that Kairos killed most, if not all, of his relatives (and this possible heirs/successors) except for his nephew, whom Cat had shot. And Kairos mostly likes Cat, and hates most of the other players, especially the Dead King and Bard, whom Cat wants to go after … so what if Kairos named Cat his chosen heir?

    Liked by 13 people

    1. Jane

      Amadeus is going to be furious when he finds out about what Malicia has done to his people.

      Eh, hurt maybe, but I don’t know about furious. This was the band that had actual death switches on each other in case of severe corruption, after all; it’s not really different from the death switch Cat gave Masego back when he started messing around with demonic corruption.

      It was a smart thing to do, and completely harmless so long as the two of them stayed together. What hurts is that she’s actually putting one of those contingencies into practice.

      Liked by 8 people

        1. Jane

          She hasn’t actually hurt them, though – this is essentially taking away his sword and locking it in the armory. Ordering them back to Praes and (presumably) locking them up is arguably the kindest thing that she could do, as it ends the rebellion with minimal bloodshed ensures that none of his friends die in a fruitless war.

          It’s not actually going to go that smoothly in practice, of course, or we wouldn’t have a story – but in terms of intent, this is pretty much the least malicious secret Evil contingency plan possible. If he were to be furious for that, it’d be the height of hypocrisy, considering that declaring a civil war in the first place would inevitably lead to more of their friends dying. Absent, of course, something like her plan stopping it before it began.

          Liked by 7 people

          1. Taking the Legions in Exile back to Praes despite them still being loyal to Black and mind control never working out even in the Wasteland would be the single-dumbest thing they could do. They may stop by Wither’s new crib to restock, but I don’t think Malicia would be foolish enough to bring one of the greatest threats to her back to her lands. More likely we soon find out that she sent them elsewhere, like maybe the weakened Free Cities to conquer a new port for her?

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Agreed, actually. The high command appears to be operating under the impression that Amadeus gave the order, or at least more importantly this impression is being maintained for the rank and file – as soon as it’s clear they’re being played, they won’t need Juniper to put the compromised ones under arrest.

              She gets one clean strike, and she needs to make it count. I suspect she has a plan for that.

              Liked by 6 people

  4. Jane

    Hum. I’m guessing that the League isn’t preparing any kind of attack; that’d basically be suicide for little likely gain, and thus a waste of bothering to acquire the League remnants. My best guess would be some sort of disorganized diplomatic situation – with the ongoing chaos of the collapse of the League, there are going to be plenty of people looking for outside intervention; it wouldn’t be strange for some people to turn to Cat for one reason or another, and to bring their allies – either to demonstrate that they’re not alone, or in hopes of shelter after things went badly for them.

    That, or a quick delegation representing Malicia by proxy, offering terms for a truce between their individual kingdoms. In demonstrating that she can cripple Cat’s war against the Dead King, this offers her a good opportunity to extend an olive branch, sincerely intended or not; looking reasonable by saying that she won’t sabotage Cat’s war against the enemy of all life, if only she’d not war on the Tower as well, would help her regain some of the diplomatic capital she’s spent on allying with the Dead King to begin with.

    Liked by 8 people

  5. edrey

    Malicia just play the game like a master, Cat should just go all out with moutains falling from the sky.
    I just hopping Kairos left a gift to betray Malicia at the end

    Liked by 6 people

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      Cat is a master of stories, but Malicia is a master politician.

      Is the timing deliberate? Because the Empress just used a Story, and if it was not an accident and she has a grasp on story-fu, she could be even more dangerous than we thought

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Darkening

        Considering she is a close associate of Amadeus and the main point of the conquest and reforms was to subvert the Story of Praes, I consider it a safe assumption that Malicia has a solid grasp of story manipulation.

        Liked by 9 people

      2. Most everyone in the setting has SOME grasp of story-fu. Surface facts like ‘don’t throw a hero off a cliff’ are universal knowledge. I’m sure Malicia knows how to use her own Aspects, and couldn’t have been around Amadeus for this long without picking up SOME tricks. We’ve seen her discuss story manipulation with him in Coulisse, Book 2 – she was unsettled by how deeply he was meddling, but she was following the train of thought.

        It’s the subtleties of competitive story-fu that she has trouble with, since none of the opponents she’s had experience fighting employed any of it in a manner meaningful to her. She knows how SHE can use it to get an edge, she just has only the foggiest idea of how it can be used AGAINST her.

        Liked by 5 people

  6. Novice

    I swear the only person who can rival Abigail at this point in failing unsuccessfully is Caiaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM. Now all we need is a hyper competent anti-sorcery attendant and we’ll have a stew going.

    Liked by 13 people

    1. NerfGlaistigUaine

      Hell yes. To all the ppl guessing Abigail would become Marshall, ur at least half-right. Still up in the air whether she becomes queen.

      Also I want to give a random shoutout to the fanfic Sasuke Uchiha -HERO OF KONOHA! which gives Sasuke from Naruto the personality of Cain. Great story, great humor, only downside is that its a dead fic. If you liked Ciaphas Cain, you’ll love the fic.

      Liked by 4 people

  7. NerfGlaistigUaine

    So, how are they going to deal with Malicia when the Dead King is rearing back up for war? I thought they’d go and kill her in the three month truce, but it seems like that’s out the window. It just doesn’t seem feasible to me to fight two fronts when just one front is a match for your entire alliance.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. ethericsentinel

    It was a good thing I knew my way around more than a few languages, these days, because loudly voting in only one would not have been nearly enough.

    http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=a-practical-guide-to-evil

    C’était une bonne chose que je sois à l’aise dans plusieurs langues, ces jours-ci, car voter à voix haute dans une seule langue n’aurait pas suffi.

    Es war gut, dass ich mich heutzutage in mehr als ein paar Sprachen auskannte, denn lautes Abstimmen in nur einer Sprache wäre bei weitem nicht genug gewesen.

    Fue bueno que conociera más de unos pocos idiomas, en estos días, porque votar en voz alta en solo uno no hubiera sido suficiente.

    最近では、 一つ の言語だけで大声で投票するだけでは十分ではなかったため、いくつかの言語を知っていたのは良かったです。

    Liked by 8 people

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      Your translation in French is correct but a bit too literal, so it sounds a bit strange. I would say :

      C’est une bonne chose que je sois actuellement à l’aise dans plusieurs langues, car voter à voix haute dans une seule langue n’aurait pas suffi.

      But good post😊👍🏿

      Liked by 6 people

    2. (see, taking a humorous moment for this instead of a dramatic one is MUCH better)

      Хорошо что нынче я владела целой кучей языков, потому что громко голосовать только на одном было бы и близко недостаточно…

      Добре що в ці дні я володіла цілою купою мов, тому що громко голосувати тільки одною було б зовсім недостатньо…

      My contribution ❤

      Liked by 3 people

    3. And typos:
      >The same woman … was now trying to pretend it’d never occurred to him there might be some slight indignity to this
      >“I sough to speak personally with Marshal Grem,”

      sought

      > … the copper bathtub, discretely surrounded by carved and inscribed wardstones

      discreetly.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It should go with the vote thread but sure we could have a typo thread hanging out in the wind, much like Catherine was left by the Dread Empress to hang.

        Dread Empress Malicia had not so much as swung as sword and she’d effectively
        Change the second as to a.

        There were tense errors and once Akua was referred to as he rather than she, as well as other errors. Try to find them all! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        1. ethericsentinel

          I’m honestly not sure why people started posting the typo thread as a reply to the vote thread. Maybe because the vote thread is usually at or near the top? It just seems a bit odd to me, since it seemed like two threads was the norm back in Book 3, when I started following regularly. Not that I checked the comments every week, back then…

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Two threads… three threads… four threads…

            Putting the type thread on the first vote thread means it’ll be in one specific fixed place, and not scattered all across the comment section as people missed others’ typo threads.

            That’s my guess anyway.

            Like

  9. MAybe Cat should send Black to deal with the legions in Exile? (Disprove the “Black gave the order” feel).

    Or maybe she should just call Malicia and say “Gods below and everburning, we don’t want to FIGHT you. We just want to deal with the Dead King and then have a peace treaty- We’ll damn well support your reign if you stop fucking us over with the Dead King… who I *know* you don’t want to win”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s… all too well-established by now the latter isn’t an option.

      Malicia keeps digging herself in deeper, that-wise, and Cat doesn’t expect her to stop. Cannot expect her to stop, not after the Doom of Liesse. If she wasn’t a reliable ally to Black…

      And the former is an interesting option. There are logistical issues, I expect, but… hmm.

      Liked by 5 people

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

    I hope we get to see the aftermath of the Tyrants end from other perspectives but i guess the story is moving on. I’m fine with that as well to be frank.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Aotrs Commander

    Supreme God-Empress Abigail Abigail is still sitting, years hense on her new Combined Throne of Calernia, Above And Below, going:

    “No, seriously, the fuck happened?

    Liked by 7 people

          1. Who’s paying the salary? 😉 But indeed God-King, like Tyrant, doesn’t really do pensions. Or retirement, for that matter — the choice is generally either leaving feet-first, or at high speed in all directions.

            Like

  12. Ιούλιος Καίσαρας

    Seems that Abigail gets another promotion. In this story such things have their own force. Having Abigail directly beneath you in the chain of command is an indication that you won’t keep your job for long. Be thankful if you keep your life.
    Will the story lie the Designated Successor of Callow position in her feet next?
    That or the position of supreme military commander in the war against DK.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. laguz24

      I wouldn’t mind having that little, the person succeeds despite themselves story deconstructed. there is only a certain point chance and circumstance will carry you. At some point, you have to go all-in, and Abigail will not do that.

      Liked by 3 people

  13. chris S

    Next chapter prediction:

    The Universe throws Cat a bone. Malicia’s accidentally allowed for some Executive Narrative Meddling to tip the scales for Cat.

    With the Tyrant and the Hierarch no longer present, the League is in a bit of disarray with no real unified long term goals. The Dead King probably won’t stop at Procer once he comes south, and I think the league realises that.

    And what a familiar story “Former Enemy Appears In The Hero’s Hour Of Need To Aid Against A Larger Threat” is.

    Methinks Catherine might just be getting a temporary replacement for those crippled forces

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Tell that to Cat at First Liesse.

        Providence isn’t clear cut, and we’ve already had Hanno note in his internal monologue that, say, Archer is most likely not consistently a hero or a villain (despite many previous Good POVs pegging her as the latter) despite serving Catherine, because Catherine’s story is not clear cut either.

        We’ve also explicitly had Cat and Hakram discuss that Providence was on their side for figuring out what Kairos was drinking during the meeting, and that it just basically meant the opposition was worse. Stories are relative.

        Against the Dead King / Dread Empress coalition? Cat’s going to get the wind in her sails full on, if perhaps not quite as hard as for the band of five story in Twilight.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Crash

          In short, Providence is a fickle bastard and Cat is very good at wrangling stories.

          Malicia may be smart but so far she hasn’t truly made use of Story in the way that Cat and Black, to a lesser extent (Wow, how far we’ve come eh?), do. She had the advantage to pull this trick yes, but this is very much a villain narrative and that has its drawbacks. Black has been known to stack the odds in practical ways so as not to fall in the pitfalls of old guard villainy, I’d imagine Malicia subscribes to the same school of tought.

          Cat tough? Cat in the height of her “I’m the Squire, Justifications matter only to the just and if I need to be a villain to free Callow, then I will be one.” said this(And I gotta say, this is where she truly won me over. One of my favourite quotes. Akua’s reaction is also great.):

          “I have three things,” I said. “A kingdom, an enemy and a claim.”

          As she wrangled a HERO’S story in the height of her villainy, as a necromantic construct recently come into the name of Squire again, no less. All this right before starting to make her little path in creation as the one who challenges, and gets away with, entire Choirs. Against the tide, wrangling a story where the is none, grasping at the very last straws to weave a narrative, forcing Providence to be on her side even if she has to drag it kicking and screaming, is where Cat has always shone.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. But remember: Cat has yet to defeat a foe when compromise is to be had. The pattern of opposing Choirs and getting away with it is made, but Cat can only win when nothing short of a complete victory is an option because everything else is a complete loss. And even then she managed to break that pattern when allying with Sve Noc.

            So against the likes of Malicia who will always go the rational way and have the ability to change gears rather than cling to being the enemy or their original plan and goal, Cat might find herself unable to win completely. Once proper compromise is given, she has yet to not take it and go for the brutal win. DK might’ve already noticed that, with Cat being troubled by her almost instinctively wanting to agree more than once.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Crash

              This is a fair point but I think that at this point in time she wouldn’t ever extend “trust”, if you will, to Malicia. I very much think that this is the time she would refuse to compromise, she has been making it clear that she needs Malicia deposed and, preferably, to have Amadeus climb the Tower.

              However this does pose what could well be the main problem with the Malicia subplot, this is one of the tougher enemies Cat will be facing.

              As for the Dead King, I really do think that Cat gets the narrative advantage over him, especially because of your point about Total Victory. There can be no compromise in this, he needs to go for the Accords to be safe and, as he has now made clear, he’s no longer willing to back down at all now it’s victory or death, Cat’s historically advantageous grounds.

              Something to think about though, what the fuck is Malicia planning to do about the Dead King? How the heck does she account for him in her schemes?

              Liked by 4 people

              1. I think Malicia’s going for the naive story-fu of ‘the heroes will handle this somehow’. She’s refusing to consider the option DK will win and then continue to win and then eventually roll over the whole continent, that’s just not how things work.

                And for all that I agree with you on what Cat wants to do, as long as she wants Amadeus to be in charge, she’ll always be tempered by the fact he won’t stop trying to save Alaya. Not her reign, not anymore, but her life, at least. And given that even Cordelia noticed how Cat reacted to him having to go against her at the conference, I don’t think she’ll have it in her to force the issue if, indeed, proper compromise is given. Which… it might.

                Liked by 4 people

                1. Crash

                  If the compromise is the sort where Malicia abdicates but gets to keep her life sure that sounds okay by Cat standards.

                  What I meant was more the sort of deal where Malicia tries to hold something over Cat’s head or has a big scheme that is very dangerous and tries to use it to convince her to back down and just leave Malicia on the throne due to “mutual assured destruction” or something of the sort. That one, I don’t see Cat taking it.

                  Reminds me of her meeting with Akua in the Blessed Isles all the wya back in Book 1. A stronger more well prepared offers deals that theoretically saves you trouble, but they are not truly palatable in the long run.

                  Liked by 1 person

  14. ChillyPepper

    I suspect it might be Malicia throwing Cat into a story/pattern. The old Callow vs Tower story if I am guessing it correctly.

    Army of Callow lead by a knight order, and the Legions of Dread/ Tower forces. Perhaps a highly unlikely scenario.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Noldo

    Would the timing indicate that Malicia made her move in anticipation of Black’s open rebellion (but at a time when Black could no longer react to it) or as immediate reaction to Black’s departure?

    Could the contingency even be triggered by Black’s claim?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think for maximum dramatic timing it had to be triggered by it, but activated manually (she’d have had to give specific commands she wouldn’t have known to give all the way back when the hook was planted after all).

      “I thought you’d say that. Well then, in that case,”

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I just realised something that could be really bad or really good based on your opinion of Malicia: She’s likely going to win this one. Going by EE’s writing pattern, she is the first half foe that demands direct attention so that the true big bad gets time to reach critical mass and those always tend to win, be able of victory or get a tie that is a mutual win. Only the second foe is essentially assured a complete loss.

    We’re at a chapter that suggests that book 5 is about at its end, meaning that Malicia is book 6’s starting issue. She perfectly follows the groove of the pattern: Where Amadeus could smother problems in the crib by patient and careful approaches not following the enemy’s ways, Cat has always been forced to rush in and wrest control in desperate situations. Now I’m not saying that Malicia knows this true-meta, but that makes it all the more likely that it will succeed because neither does Cat.

    Book 1+2 (which are in length and structure a bit of an odd combo book 1 being the first act twice and book 2 being the second act twice):
    Act 1 the Claimant battle. Won by William by surviving and getting the troublesome Pattern of Three. And a very good showcasing of finite doom screwing over too many Villains’ effectiveness.
    Act 1.2 War College. Won by Hell Hound, both practically and she could’ve won if she wanted.
    Act 2 Fighting Akua’s demons. No quarter, complete victory was necessary by devil’s nature.
    Act 2.2 William and Akua I. William gave no compromise, Cat won.

    Book 3 act 1 vs the Fey. The Winter King won, even if Cat also won. Act 2, Akua’s Folly, there was no quarter to be given. Cat wins, Akua doesn’t. Except Cat doesn’t win either.

    Book 4 act 1 the Crusade, binding Cat’s attention and one that Procer certainly didn’t win but neither did Cat. Act 2 vs the Dead King is one that the Dead King won. Act 3, Cat broke the system by winning while Sve Noc also won. Book 4 really abandons the system, probably because Cat became True Villain (Fey) and therefore got the act 1 guaranteed win, act 2 tie, act 3 loss and breaking this guaranteed loss by losing her True Villain status.

    Book 5 is just as confusing. The first half with the seven crowns and one doesn’t really have a clear nemesis and creates another Finite Doom scenario to screw Story clarity. Larat was meant to be the final boss yet won, but he’s hardly the main foe. Saint could be the main boss and lost, and Pilgrim could’ve been the main boss and lost only to be resurrected and ‘win’ by alienating Cat again, Tyrant lost yet won because it’s all as planned. The main Villain DK though, he didn’t lose because he merely got rid of loose ends, got Saint killed and killed Pilgrim too except no not really. But Saint, she was pretty much their best change against him.
    Second act though, assuming we consider Cat being one of the few not losing much to anything and assuming Kairos to be her ally, she won because Bard, Good and pretty much all those against her lost. Except Kairos who got a tie by winning by losing, but we count that as a proper loss.

    So why am I considering that Malicia has a good chance of winning despite the system of a tie followed by a win has been consistent for all of 1 to maybe 2 books? Because the groove is there. Malicia is of the older books that still followed this pattern, the screwing of the win system lies in diplomacy and Malicia made a tie-plausible scenario for herself rather than being an inevitable deadline foe which follows the attrition and time restrains of a recent foe. If utter defeat isn’t a necessity, then a tie is a good option.

    Again, not saying that Malicia can use this True-meta knowledge of EE’s writing style. But from a meta perspective, it’s possible that she has some plan or opportunity to get a win or tie out of this. And that she has enough Story-knowledge from Amadeus to maybe know some in-game Stories that do the same thing. Amongst Calernia’s mortals she’s in the top 3 most Story-knowledgable after all, considering the rarity of such insight and that the likes of Pilgrim, Akua and Kairos only see and profit from the Story from their own perspective and experience.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. See I lacked a bit of clarity here, so before people misinterpretate: The pattern is only clear in book 3 and maybe when counting book 1 and 2 together in them too. But it’s there in book 5, and there’s a decent explanation for book 4 diverging from the pattern by Cat’s base nature being changed during that book.

      And Malicia isn’t foolish enough to allow for pivots and all or nothing situations that are like the wind in the sails of Heroes, so considering her Story know-how she likely will follow this pattern of being the foe that gets the tie or mutual victory by naturally doing what she does and being who she is. She isn’t foolish enough to make an inevitable, a deadline, a doomsday weapon or a no-quarter no compromise situation, which will make a defeat for her very difficult. Cat never won in such a situation before. If there is compromise to be had, she is pretty bound to taking it.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. I wouldn’t bet that money, but can you imagine:

      CAT: “Alaya- why you so evil?”
      Alaya: “What? This angel corpse is a stupid plan. Even you think so. Me removing it means that you can keep your gods damn peace treaty and deal with the DK, and I can stop having to worry about Bard nuking the continent.”
      CAT: “But you’re in league with the dead king!”
      Alaya: “Bard. Is. Trying. To. Nuke.The. Continent. Gods everburning, girl. Of course I’m in league with Nessie. I had a plan for him to retreat! stop screwing things up.”
      CAT: “Why didn’t you just ask?”
      Alaya: “…. Did you try asking Cordelia not to use the stupid Angel? How’d that work for you?”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. ethericsentinel

        See, this would be interesting and credible if Malicia hadn’t already come down on the side of doomsday weapons. (That is how she and Amadeus had their falling out to begin with.)

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Yeah, I totally agree, and realized while I was writing…..

          But I didn’t want to ruin a silly joke.

          In practice I could imagine Alaya drawing the distinction between *threats* of superweapon, and using it, but that isn’t really a distinction I would take seriously.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. What would she do when someone called her bluff?

            Because they would. This isn’t an assured mutual destruction situation when the other side has the same weapon and is similarly (un)interested in using it, this is one-sided threat, and someone WILL go ‘okay so what happens if we go against her ANYWAY’.

            And then Malicia is either back to square 1, or she uses the superweapon.

            Like

  17. aran

    “It will have to be General Abigail,” I said. “At least until the hooks can be dug out of our people’s heads. I’ll speak to her myself.

    She’ll be thrilled.

    Like

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